“Excuse me,” I growl at the people around me, pushing yet another business card out of my face and approaching Jocelyn. “Where’s Parker? She hasn’t come back yet?”
“No. And I’m sure she’ll be busy for a while. Schmoozing, making plans with people…more on her level. After all, she’s just pulled off the show of the season.”
Ignoring her intended slight, pride infuses my chest. “Oh good,” I breathe, relieved. “I thought it went well, but I wasn’t sure. I’ve never been to one of these things before.”
“Shocking.” She turns to face me and lowers her voice. “Look, buddy. You might have gotten away with one good show, but the novelty will wear off. Parker is a brand. A fashion brand. And you don’t fit into it—no pun intended.”
I keep my voice measured, even though I worry there’s some truth to what she’s saying. I stick out like a sore thumb in this place. Among these people. “Like I said, Parker can decide for herself.”
“No, she can’t. She’s too freaking nice for this business. That’s why she has me. To make the hard decisions when she can’t.” She gives me a disgusted once-over. “We’re on our way up. Me. And Parker. There’s no room for anyone else.”
I think of how Parker has been avoiding my eyes all afternoon and my gut clenches. “Did she say she wanted me gone?”
Jocelyn considers lying. I can see it in her calculating expression. “She won’t,” the girl says finally. “Like I said, she’s too nice to do what’s best for herself.”
And what’s best for her is not being with me.
I don’t want to believe it’s true and I fight the urge to give in to the doubt. There is something real between us, isn’t there? I didn’t imagine our connection, even though our time together seemed like a fantasy. But when Parker never comes back, even after I’ve been backstage waiting for an hour, I’m forced to accept that my luck has run out.
Still wearing the suit Parker made for me, I dodge a few greedy-eyed talent agents and leave the venue. I don’t want to go home to my apartment downtown, so I walk. I walk through the city until it gets dark and I circle back, moving restlessly. Without direction. I’m not sure where I’m heading until I get there. The High Line.
Was it really only this morning I held Parker in my arms here?
Took her virginity?
I know I should be grateful for the time I was given with the most perfect woman on the face of the earth, but my goddamn heart won’t stop searching for her. Missing her. I’m never going to be the same. All I can hope for is that she’ll be happy.
My thoughts trail off when I see her.
She’s leaning against the rail, looking out over the Hudson, the moonlight bathing her beautiful face. I’m arrested in place, overcome by the angelic sight of her.
Then I see the tears. I hear her sobbing.
And the night shatters around me.
“Parker,” I rasp, striding toward her, taking her by the shoulders and turning her toward me to check if she’s injured. When I find her whole and healthy, I draw her up against my chest. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she says hastily, swiping at her eyes. “I’m fine.”
“The hell you are. Talk to me.”
She buries her nose in the center of my chest and my heart flops over. “I know I shouldn’t be upset at you for just…for wanting to keep things casual.” She hiccups, her tears soaking the front of my shirt. “It’s normal—healthy, even!—to seek out no-strings sex. People do it all the time. But I thought…I thought maybe we weren’t so casual. And I went and got attached to you. And I think it’s great that you’re going to be a professional m-model now—”
“Whoa whoa. Wait.” There are several things she said that I need to address immediately, mainly the unbelievable part about her being attached to me, but I can’t help but interrupt at this misconception. “Where did you get that idea?”
She sniffs. “Jocelyn said they were offering you contracts. Six-figure ones, probably. And I shouldn’t be jealous that people are going to be looking at you. But I am.” She closes her eyes and wails the last part into my belly. “I don’t want to share.”
“Do you actually think I want to be a model, Nebraska? I don’t. I turned them all down.” My heart is going a million miles per hour as I lift her chin up. She doesn’t want to share me. She doesn’t want to share me. Can this actually be happening? “I only did this show for you. Nobody else. And baby, please don’t share me. Keep me all to yourself. Did you think I wouldn’t want that? Want you?”
“You didn’t say anything.”