Page 70 of We Were Once

“Happy Birthday, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Turning around together, we head back to the house before the cold reaches our bones. Just inside the door, I give her one more hug. “It means a lot to me to know you’re on my side.”

“Always.” Swatting me off, she says, “Better get ready. The guest of honor can’t be late to her own party.”

“I thought it was fashionable to be late to events?” I tease.

“No, just poor etiquette.” She grins, but I know deep down, she believes that. Even though she’s making a new life for herself, some things will never change. She always errs on the side of propriety.

“I’m going. I’m going.” I dash up the stairs tempted to keep going to the far end of the hall, but I also don’t want to wake him. Joshua’s going to need the energy for the long night in bed I have planned after this shindig.

* * *

“I’m so late,” I mumble two hours later, poking the stem of the earring into my ear. I screw the back on and add the other. Getting one last look, I touch the ends of my hair, loving how the stylist gave me old Hollywood glam soft waves on one side and pinned the other back with crystal-encrusted hair pins.

It’s a different look for me, but I only turn twenty-one once, and my mom was right. I look like a starlet on the red carpet in this dress she found for me in the city.

It’s not low cut in the front and actually hides all my cleavage, but the dress was made for a special occasion. Spaghetti straps that lead over my shoulders crisscross until the fabric resumes just above the dimples of my lower back. The fabric is flowy, and the color dreamy in a rich purple. I’m not sure how my dad is going to feel about it, but I feel amazing.

The one carat earrings in each ear add just enough sparkle not to compete with the gorgeous silver shoes covered with Swarovski crystals. The smoky eye makes the green of my eyes pop and as I run my hand over the front of my body, I’ve never felt sexier or more grown up.

A knock on the door pulls my attention from the mirror. “Chloe, are you in there?”

“Yes, coming.” I swing the door open excited to see him, but gasp when I do.

Joshua Evans is many things, including handsome, intelligent, charming, and oh so sweet to me. But holy hell, I was not expecting this. His chin is tilted down, a shy spark in his eyes as he looks at me. “Wow,” he says, running his hand down the back of his slicked back hair as his gaze sweeps over me. “You look . . .” He sounds choked up when he says, “You look gorgeous, Chloe.”

“Thank you.” Now I’m the one who feels shy, not only from the compliment, but that he looks so incredible in a suit. I kiss his delectable lips, and then adjust the knot of his tie. “You look very debonair.”

He brings me closer under his admiration. “How am I going to keep my hands off you?”

“You don’t have to. You’re my boyfriend. Perks of the job.”

Heat penetrating from his large hands can be felt through the thin silk caressing my ribs as he holds me close. “I like the perks of the job when it comes to you.” Dipping his head, he kisses my neck. “I could devour you. You look so good.”

“I’ll take you up on that offer later.”

Whipping upright, he chuckles. “You’re naughty in Newport, Miss Fox.”

“Thanks to you, I’m naughty in New Haven as well.”

“Very true.”

“Anyway, it’s my birthday. I can be dirty if I want to,” I sing-song. I grab his ass, keeping him pressed to me. My body craves him as much as my heart. He was the key to awakening me, showing me the world through new eyes. I never want to go back to life before him. “I’m also utterly in love with you, Mr. Evans.”

“Such sweet words from a sexy mouth.” We kiss, and then he whispers, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that it’s dangerous to wear your heart on your sleeve?”

“Yes, you, but I still can’t resist you, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and choosing you anyway.”

“I like you choosing me.” Our fingers may have healed, but the connection sparks through my veins when our hands bond and our lips meet. Like our hearts, we’ve become one again.

“Are you ready?”

His elbow comes out when he moves to the doorway. “Born for it.”

You can hear the party in full swing—conversations, laughter, crystal glasses clinking—before we reach the top of the stairs. Taking our time, we stroll down, the featherlight fabric floating behind me. I stop him when he’s one step lower, still hidden from the guests, and say, “I love you, Joshua.”

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