I look at my reflection in the mirror, tears welling up in the corners of my eyes. So maybe this feeling I’ve been searching for isn’t fake after all. Everything about the dress is delicate and lovely.
I step out of the dressing room and Mandi is instantly on her feet. She covers her mouth with her hands and says, “Oh my god, Sylph. That’s really it this time. That’s the one.”
I nod and start to cry. So does she.
“Mandi, I’m in love with Heath,” I tell her.
She doesn’t look surprised. “I know. I can tell by the way you talk about him.”
“I know you think it’s stupid, and that pursuing him is a mistake, but I’m going to tell him how I feel.”
She shakes her head and keeps fluffing the skirt of the dress. “I don’t think it’s stupid. I just don’t want to see you get hurt. But if this is what you want, I will be here for you. No questions asked and no judgement.”
I hug her. “And you’ll be my maid of honor? Fake wedding or not?”
“Absolutely. You better believe I’m going to catch that bouquet.”
As soon as I get back to Heath’s apartment, I unbox the beautiful dress Mandi bought me. I can’t stop looking at it. I want to try it on again, but I’m afraid of getting it dirty. I can’t believe we found the dress of my dreams and it was half the price of the one Arora paid for.
I’m admiring it with the box lid off when there’s a knock at my door. I open it and find Heath leaning against the door-jam with his hands in his pockets. His lovely smile makes my heart flare up every time.
“Can I come in?” he asks.
“It’s your apartment. Your rules. You can come and go as you please.” My words come out snarkier than I meant them to. I guess I’m fed up with all of this: the harassment from his siblings, the lies. But mostly I’m sick of having to hide my feelings from him. This has become more than a job for me and I need him to know that.
He tilts his head watches me a moment before coming in. He shuts the door behind him. He motions to the couch and we sit.
I’m about to spill everything, all of my feelings, when he says, “I’m sorry what my brother and sister did to you. What I did to you. We shouldn’t have been looking into your past. It was a violation of your privacy and it’s clear whatever happened between you and your ex is still painful for you.”
A lump forms in my throat. I swallow it down so I can speak. “It’s fine. I’m fine,” I lie.
He shakes his head. “No, you’re not. What happened between you two?”
“I was a stupid kid. I thought he would take care of me, but it seemed he was looking for more of a pet than a partner—actually, no. That’s not it. People treat their pets far better than he ever treated me. I just wanted someone who would be there for me. I kept trying to change him, and I was too embarrassed to admit I’d messed up, so I stayed.”
“What made you finally decide to leave?” he asks.
I look off to the side, away from him. I can’t face him when I admit the truth of what happened.
“He came home one day and I didn’t have his clothes washed and ready for a football game he was going to. He punched me in the face and gave me a bloody nose and black eye. I called Mandi after he left for the game and she came over and helped me pack. I left that night and I never went back.”
Heath’s hands are shaking. It’s obvious he’s trying to hold back his rage. “I’m going to make sure no one ever hurts you again.”
“You can’t make sure of that. After this job, when we go our separate ways, you can’t protect me.”
“Marry me,” he says.
“Isn’t that already the plan?”
“I mean for real. I’m in love with you and I want you to marry me.”
My eyes nearly jump out of their sockets and my mouth springs open. “What?”
“It sounds crazy, I know, and I might actually be losing my mind. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with the woman I paid to marry me. All I wanted was to run my company without my family lurking over my shoulder, but … then you came into my life and shook everything up. I love you, Sylph.”