Wow. Listen to me. One week here and I already sound like a jaded New Yorker.
I grab the intercom and let the front desk know to send Devan up. Then I stick a bookmark in my book and replace it on the shelf beside the big, comfy leather armchair in the living room that I’ve sort of claimed as my own in the past week, and beeline toward the main entryway.
It’s worth it to get a clear look at the expression on Devan’s face when she first walks inside. “Holy shit, girl,” she blurts, before she even raises her arms and extends them toward me for a hug.
I laugh as I step into her embrace, squeezing her tightly around the waist. “I know, right?”
“You told me you were living in a crazy penthouse, but I had no idea you actually meant a like… mansion on top of a building.” She stares with her mouth hanging open at the high ceilings, the hardwood floors. The floor to ceiling windows that line the living room—well, actually, the whole side of the apartment that face Central Park in fact—and she drifts toward them until her nose is pressed right up against the glass. “This is gorgeous,” she breathes, her breath fogging up the glass.
“Come on, I’ll give you the full tour.” I grab her hand and tug her behind me, grinning all the while as I point out the living room features, the dining room, the kitchen. When we reach the bedroom, she bursts out laughing.
“God. Here I was worrying about you, fearing you’d been kidnapped or something that first day, and you were just too busy living up the life of luxury.” But her eyes sparkle as she says it, and I can tell that despite the teasing, my friend is genuinely happy for me. “You like it here, though?” She waves a hand at the building. “I mean, besides all the stuff and the amenities and the location, which are obviously fantastic. You like Xander?”
I can’t stop the smile that spreads across my cheeks, ear to ear. “I do. I really do.” And unfortunately, despite this whole faux engagement scenario we’ve gotten ourselves embroiled in… it’s true.
Which scares me. More than anything.
Devan’s eyes shoot wide again, and I blink, casting a glance around, trying to figure out what apartment feature has caught her eye this time. The claw-footed tub we can see through the far door of the bedroom’s en suite bathroom? Or maybe the shower that could easily hold four people?
But no. She’s looking down. At my left hand, I realize.
“Is that…?” She grabs my wrist without waiting for an answer and turns my hand back and forth so the rock catches the overhead light. It’s so large that it throws honest to god rainbows against the walls.
I tug my hand free and quickly twist the ring around, so the diamond faces toward my palm. It makes it a little bit less obvious, anyway. “It’s just… something Xander bought me.”
“Are you two engaged?” Devan’s eyebrows could practically kiss her hairline, they’re so high right now.
“It’s a… bit of a confusing story.” I bite the inside of my cheek. “But… kind of?”
Devan crosses her arms and gives me that adopted big sister look that only she can pull off. “Melanie, if you were planning on eloping without even so much as telling me—”
“It’s not like that!” I protest. My restraint withers under my best friend’s glare. There’s only so much I can hide from this girl, and a secret this big isn’t it. With a sigh, I tiptoe back into the living room and collapse on the couch, patting the seat beside me. Devan hesitates, but only for a moment, before she perches on the cushion next to me.
“So, spill,” she says.
“It’s just for a little while.” I toy with the ring on my finger, spinning it around and around. A new nervous tic I’ve picked up. Normally I don’t wear jewelry, and never anything this large or noticeable. So it’s easy to distract me, to toy with when I’m feeling anxious. “Basically, Xander’s Dad is holding something over his head. He’s really, uh… controlling, I guess. He wants Xander to get married and settle down before his dad will let him have whatever it is. Hence.” I wave my left hand. “Pretending, for his sake, anyway.”
Devan’s frown deepens. “Okay, this whole thing is getting weirder and weirder. What does his dad have over him? Do you know?”
I shake my head and spread my hands wide in a shrug. “Money, I’d guess? Some kind of inheritance?”
“How much more money could Xander possibly need?” Devan glances around at the apartment in which we’re sitting. I hate to admit it, but she’s voicing the one question that’s been eating away at me, too.
I want to know what exactly Xander values so much that he’s willing to go through with this whole messy, wild plan. What could be worth it to him? And is it worth it to me? adds a voice deeper in the recesses of my mind. Because we’re gambling with more than just his family’s opinions or respect at the moment. At least, I am. I’m gambling with my heart.