I swallow. “That’s not the life I want, Savvy.” I hate the disappointment in her eyes, but I understand it.
She nods. “Okay, girl. Whatever you want, you know I’m behind you.”
* * *
With rare exception, I never take a lunch break, but today I give myself thirty minutes to run home. I should use the time to eat something healthy and trainer-approved, or to do any one of the dozens of real-life tasks that always seem to get pushed aside, but emotional exhaustion hangs on me like two hundred pounds strapped to my back, so I collapse on the couch and close my eyes.
I’m used to an empty house in the middle of the day, but when I hear the sound of heavy steps coming into the living room, I know Julian’s here. He doesn’t live in my condo with Cami and me—I insisted we wait until after the wedding—but he owns the building and is the only reason Cami and I can afford to live here.
His smile is as warm as his hazel eyes when he steps into the room. “Hey, beautiful.” He’s a sight to behold in pressed slacks, a dress shirt, and tie, his sandy-blond hair artfully tousled, but I’m too tired to fully appreciate how good-looking my fiancé is.
I sit up and rub my eyes. “Hey, babe. What are you doing here?” I try to force a little enthusiasm into my voice, but judging by his confused smile, I’m not all that successful.
“I stopped by The Orchid to see you, and they said you went home. Are you okay?” He takes me by the hands and pulls me off the couch, wrapping me into a big hug, and some of my tension melts away. Julian is warm and always smells like his clothes just came out of the wash. Back in his arms again, it’s easier to remember why we’re doing this. We’re good together. Stable. Solid. We can make a good life together.
“I’m fine,” I say, closing my eyes. “Just tired.”
He pulls back and tilts my face toward his with one big hand. “You don’t have to pretend with me, Brinley.”
I try to swallow, but gratitude and guilt make a logjam in my throat. “Between wedding planning, long hours at work, and family stuff, I can’t keep my head above water these days.”
He strokes his hands down my arms, a pinch of worry creasing between his brows. “You don’t have to do everything yourself, you know.”
I shake my head. I want to bury my face in his chest again, but I’m afraid if I do, I’ll lose the courage to talk. Already, I feel the words fading away. This feels like a crazy dream, and I don’t want to make it all real by speaking the truth, but I need to tell Julian about Marston. Last night, I walked straight home, paid the babysitter, and checked on my sleeping daughter.
By the time I settled into bed and called Julian, I’d already decided I couldn’t tell him over the phone. While I’m not sure of the standard protocol for telling your fiancé that it turns out you’re already married, I’m pretty sure it’s a conversation best had in person.
But now Julian’s here, and I’m out of excuses. “It’s not just that.” I head to the kitchen and busy myself preparing a new pot of coffee.
“What is it, then?”
I lift my gaze. Julian moved to Orchid Valley and set his sights on me immediately. He got me into bed with his charm the first night we met, but he could’ve just as easily done it with his looks. In the years since, I’ve learned everything else I need to know. He listens when I talk, cares about my daughter, and works as hard as I do. He’ll be a good partner, but is that enough? “Are we about to make a terrible mistake?”
His gentle smile falls away, and I’m aware of his attention with every move I make. He’s an attentive guy. I think that’s what drew me to him. But Julian has never been the issue in the Brinley-plus-Julian equation. It only took him one drink to talk me into joining him in bed, but it took him six years to talk me into being his wife. And now I have to tell him I’m already married.
“There’s nothing about marrying you that feels like a mistake to me,” he says.
There it is. I squeeze my eyes shut as guilt lodges in my chest. This isn’t a massive leap of faith for Julian. His feelings go deeper than they should if we’re really planning on making this a temporary arrangement.
“Hey.” He turns me so my body’s square with his and gently squeezes my shoulders until I open my eyes again. “We’re already friends, and we’re good together—in bed and out of it. I’m not worried.”