“All this food you’re bringing home is making me fat.”
Silence fills the space between us, and after a beat of us staring at each other, he looks down, rubbing the bridge of his nose. When he finally lifts his eyes to mine, his expression isn’t tight, but patient—the opposite of what I expect from anyone in his position. He licks his lips, and then says, “You’ve never failed at anything, and you apparently got a bad grade. It’s screwing with your head.” His touch to my cheek is cautious as he closes the distance. “You’re not fat. Don’t put how you see yourself on me. I think you can afford to eat dessert or carbs or whatever you want for dinner, lunch, or for breakfast. You need new eyes. You’re healthy.”
Kissing my hand, he adds. “You’re intelligent.” His hands slide over my hips. “Sexy.” Lips at my ear, he whispers, “Caring,” softening my stance. The scrape of his scruffy cheek against my sensitive skin sends goose bumps across the tops of my arms as I shed the armor and lay down my weapons. “You don’t have to be perfect at everything. You’re already perfect to me.”
The hurricane inside me dies down as fast as it grew. I rest my palms on his chest and finally look into his eyes, feeling like crap for starting this war. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be. We’re on the same team. So next time, how about we talk about it instead?”
Slipping my arms around him, I rest my head on his shoulder. I feel awful for so many things today, but for picking this fight with him tops that list. Tilting his head to the side, he lifts my chin with his finger and then kisses my wobbling lower lip. “Don’t cry. I’m not mad.”
“Everything is neat and orderly in my life,” I say, sniffling, “except you, but you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“We never have played by other people’s rules. I like us how we are. Let’s not change for anyone.”
My body begins melting from how good this man is. He loves me, and I love him. “Okay.”
Rubbing his thumb over my cheek, he asks, “Tell me what happened today?”
“You called it. I got a bad grade, and I need to study more.”
“Then we’ll study more.”
I could go on and tell him about my dad, but what’s the point in upsetting him more than I have. We’ll just have to prove that our love won’t ruin my plan but improve my life.
Hugging him as much as I can, I need to feel him, feel our hearts beating together once again. “Thank you.”
“I’m always on your side. Don’t lose sight of that, even if you’re mad.” Taking my hand, he kisses each knuckle before turning it to place a kiss on my wrist. With his head bowed and his eyes closed, his lips remain against the soft, pale skin. “I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo.”
I didn’t expect this admission, but I find relief from the change of topic. “Oh, yeah? What design?”
“An anchor. It’s for you.”
“Because I drag you down?” It might have been too soon for jokes, but his smile reassures me. Our fingers fall together like laces. “You’re my salvation, Chloe.”
A confession so direct might intimidate some, but I hold onto it like a lifeline. My heart is never prepared for the sweet things this man says to me. Visions of an anchor on him have my gaze rolling over his skin. “And you’re my hope.” Getting a tattoo is already crossing my thoughts. “What if I got one too?” Something totally for me. Something no one can take away or use as leverage against me. “Something for us,” I say, staring at our hands bonded together. “Two halves of one anchor on the inside of our fingers where they touch now.”
“Together they complete the big picture.”
My dad was wrong.
Joshua’s here for Chloe, not Chloe Grace Fox, helping me discover who I am while complementing the dream I’ve always had. Now I’m more determined than ever to make my dream come true with his support and putting the work back into my studies. Because of the unknown ahead, and despite the fight, he’s given me something to hold onto—himself. I smile, not nervous or scared. Excited. Exhilarated. Hopeful.
Most of all, I’m certain about one thing. Joshua is integral to my new plan, and I’m willing to ink my skin for him.
The second the needle touches her skin, her phone buzzes and panic enters her eyes as she stares at the screen. “It’s my dad.” Her hand begins to tremble to the point that the tattoo artist stops. Looking at me to assuage her fears, Chloe asks, “What do I do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t want to talk to him right now.”