My heart swells. Some people are given a family to care for and protect them by virtue of being born. The rest of us have to find our family in the friends who’d do more for us than our blood relatives ever would, and I thank God for mine every day. We make our own family. Those words came from my sister weeks before she died. They were both advice and a promise to the sister she was leaving behind.
With the other side of the semicircular booth empty, it’d be awkward to sit thigh to thigh with Marston now, so I slide into the booth opposite him and take a plate with shaking hands. I’ve been so nervous about tonight—hoping my plan would work and terrified that it might—that I’ve barely eaten all day. “Thank you for the food. You really didn’t have to get all this.”
He shrugs. “Alec gets cranky if he doesn’t eat regularly, so the food really benefits all of us.”
“When did you two meet?” I ask around a bite of pretzel.
“College. We interned for the same company junior year.”
I look toward the mass of teeming bodies on the dance floor but can’t spot him or my friend. “Can I trust him to be good to Savvy?”
“Without a doubt,” he says solemnly. “I wouldn’t have let her sit with him to begin with if I didn’t think so.”
I love that he takes the question seriously rather than mocking my protective instincts. “I appreciate that.”
“I’m sorry if I upset you when I asked about your life,” Marston says. “All the times I’ve thought of you, it never occurred to me that you’d still be single. I just assumed you’d be pregnant with a third kid by now. Married to . . .”
Somebody my parents approve of. He doesn’t have to say it. Before Marston Rowe blew through my life like a Georgia storm in springtime, that was exactly where I was headed.
He swallows. “Anyway, I’m sorry about how I asked. Ten years later, and the idea of you waking up next to someone else kind of turns me into a jealous prick.”
My eyes widen at that—the idea that he cares enough to be jealous after all this time. “I’m not married.” I let out a long breath at the pang of guilt that slices through me. Would he forgive me if he knew about Cami? Would he understand? “What about you? Did you ever find someone?” I already knew from internet stalking that he’s never married, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t someone special along the way.
“Oh, hell no. No one would want to put up with me.” His smile is grim and does little to soften this declaration. He shrugs. “I travel all the time and work too much.”
“A lot of people travel and work a lot.”
“True.” He swirls the amber liquid in his glass. “I guess I’ve never met someone who made me want to trade in my life for marriage and kids.”
It’s so hard to imagine that. Every memory I have of Marston is filled with his unconditional affection and protective and loving disposition. It was easy to imagine him with a family of his own. “Once, for a little bit, you wanted those things.”
“Only with you,” he says, his voice low and rough.
My laugh is half crazed. “I don’t know if I’ve had enough to drink to return that kind of honesty.”
He chuckles, then murmurs into his bourbon, “Me neither.”
I take a sip of my fresh martini and resist the urge to guzzle it, but no amount of alcohol can compete with the buzz from those words. Only with you. “I can’t believe I’m really sitting here.”
Marston’s chest swells as he draws in a deep breath. “I’m a little stunned myself. What are the chances?”
Our meeting would’ve been statistically improbable, but like I told Savvy, I helped the odds. She’s the one who insisted we come to Vegas to celebrate my birthday, but I’m the one who planted the seed.
Last month I did a web search for Marston on a whim—something I don’t allow myself to do more than a couple of times a year—and I saw that his consulting firm was overhauling a Vegas resort and the grand reopening was scheduled for my birthday. I mentioned in passing that I wished I was the kind of girl who ran away to Vegas for her birthday, and Savvy took it from there. After that, it was as simple as a little social media stalking to see which Vegas clubs Marston frequented on prior trips to Vegas and . . . voila! “Coincidental” run-in.
“I mean more than running into you,” I say. “I mean that I’m surprised you even want to sit here with me.” Because when I last saw him ten years ago, I didn’t just push him away—I shoved as hard as I could. The pain of losing my sister made me crueler than I thought possible, and the desperation of my grief and guilt fooled me into believing that if I cut him out of my life, I might be able to salvage my disintegrating family.