“Still,” I muse. “I bet it won’t be a pleasant conversation.”
Declan chuckles. “You’ve seen enough to know the truth of that. And this will probably strain our already-tenuous relationship and make working with him more difficult, no doubt.”
“Is this project worth it?” I ask him. “Worth the trouble it will cause?”
Settling back in his chair, Declan steeples his hands and taps them against his chin as he considers this. “You know, if it were just the personal relationship I was putting at risk, I wouldn’t think twice about it because there’s so little there to salvage. But I’m a Blackwood. This is my legacy. One day, my father will be gone, and it will all fall on me. Until that time, I still take my work with this company very seriously. It’s far more important than opening a fad boutique.”
It’s at this moment I realize how much I admire Declan as a businessman. His dedication to this company is without question, his loyalty to his name is inspiring, especially since he doesn’t have much of a loving foundation within his family unit.
“You can put it on the back burner,” I suggest. “That project will always be there.”
His eyes bore into mine as he slowly smiles. “You’re right.”
A dinging sound from his laptop indicates a new email, and his eyes are drawn to the screen. Then the corners of his mouth shoot up with a deep grin. He leans forward, taps a few times on the keyboard, and eyes me slyly. “Our test results are in.”
I don’t know what he’s talking about, then I realize… our STD tests. I already know my results will be fine, as the first thing I did after I found out Caleb was cheating on me was to get tested. Of course, he swore up and down he’d always practiced safe sex, but I couldn’t trust his word. Not when he’d violated my trust in him as a person.
“Want to knock off work early—take these test results out for a test spin?” Declan suggests with a waggle of his eyes.
Laughing, I push out of the chair, collecting my iPad. I give him a chastising smirk. “You have a four PM appointment with your department heads, so we are most certainly not knocking off work early. Plus, I need to run some groceries by my parents’ house after work.”
Declan chuckles even as he nods. “Keeping me straight.”
“Always,” I reply with a tart wink.
“Dinner tonight?” he suggests. “After you go see your parents?”
My belly flutters that he wants to see me tonight. “I’d love that.”
Yes, we’d agreed on being exclusive, and yes, we’ve been together every night since Chicago, but I never take that for granted. I never assume he wants to spend all his free time with me, but the fact that he does, well… it starts to chip away at the wall I’ve put up.
“And tomorrow… do you think you could join Leonie and me for dinner?” he asks.
And well… my stomach practically explodes with a case of the butterflies. He wants me to meet Leonie, someone he loves and respects. This is different from him bringing me to dinner at his family’s home in Chicago.
“Count me in,” I quip back, light words so they don’t admit just how much I love that he asked.
“My dear boy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you nervous like this before,” Leonie teases, reaching her hand out to pat me on my arm.
I give her a side look that tells her she’s being obnoxious in a way only she can get away with, and she smirks.
“She must be something special,” she murmurs.
“She’s something,” I agree as my gaze moves across the restaurant entrance. Bailey had texted she was running about five minutes late.
I had intended for us to pick Leonie up together, but Bailey didn’t want to spring herself on Leonie that way. So we decided I’d pick Leonie up for our planned dinner this evening, and I would tell her about Bailey on the way.
As expected, Leonie was over the moon when I told her I was seeing a woman and I wanted her to meet her. Knowing me better than probably anyone, she understood what a big deal this was.
She peppered me with questions the entire way to the restaurant. Laughing, she clapped with delight when I told her how we met and how I offered Bailey the job because she impressed me. I, of course, glossed over anything about The Wicked Horse.
I did tell Leonie about what happened in Chicago with my family. She’s the one person in this world who knows how dysfunctional my family is, and the only person I’ve ever complained about them to. As a young boy, she was a soft shoulder to cry on when I was overwhelmed or emotional. As I got older, she set my boundaries and helped mold me into a reasonably decent human being, although she couldn’t quite get rid of my arrogance. Mostly, she was the one I could vent to when I was angry at my parents for my perceived lack of authentic parenting they offered.