Her eyes went soft as she traced the design back and forth. “I honestly had no idea if we could have a future when we first started hanging out, but that man has worked his way into my heart so deep that if something ever broke us apart, I’d want this memory anyway.”
“He’s lucky to have you, Simone.”
She released a sigh, sounding as hopelessly in love as I often felt.
“He’s been through a lot. So much that he probably never told you, Erica. But I’ve never met a man in my life who opened his whole heart up the way he has. It’s like, when we stopped dancing around the friendship thing and just committed to giving the relationship a chance, nothing could come between us. No games, no bullshit. It’s just us.”
I swallowed over the emotion thick in my throat. “Jesus, you’re making me cry. Knock it off.”
She smiled, blinking away what seemed to be the beginnings of happy tears too. Stepping off the stool, she came around to hug me.
“I missed you,” I said. The words threatened to set off the waterworks for real. I’d loved my great escape with Blake, but I’d missed my friends too, more than I realized until this moment.
She gave me a squeeze. “I missed you too. You and all your fucking drama.”
I laughed when she pulled away. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries. Keeps things interesting in my otherwise tedious life of coffee and croissants. No more getting shot and all that, though, okay? I kind of need you alive. Business suffers when you’re not around feeding your habit.”
I rubbed my fingertips under my eyes, catching any remnant moisture from my mini breakdown. “I’ll do what I can.”
She brushed her hand down my arm. “You’d better. All right. I have to get back to work.”
“Me too. I have a ton to catch up on.”
“No doubt. Hey, do me a favor. Slap James on the ass while you’re there. Tell him it’s from me.”
I rolled my eyes with a smirk. “I’ll save that one for you, Simone.”
She laughed and waved me off.
I walked the few blocks to the new office in the building that Blake and I now shared. I climbed the stairs to the second floor and paused a few seconds in front of the frosted door that read E. Landon, Inc. I smiled inwardly.
Mrs. Erica Landon. I was enjoying the ring of it. I’d taken Blake’s name with no objections, but professionally he hadn’t made an effort to bring my projects under the umbrella of his company. And in a time when I was fast losing hope, he’d arranged for the office space that would allow me to work on new projects to fill the void.
Determined to keep the past in the past and embrace this next chapter in my life, I opened the door to it. Inside, the team—a mix of old and new—worked at their desks.
Alli squealed loudly when she saw me. “You’re back!” She rushed to me and hugged me tightly. “And so tan!”
I laughed as we separated. “A week on an island will do that.”
“I’m insanely jealous. But what are you doing here? I thought you’d take a couple days to settle in first.”
I shrugged. “I couldn’t wait.”
Geoff and Sid caught my attention from their workstations nearby.
“How is everything going? What did I miss?” I asked. Geoff’s eyes lit up. “Tons. Where do you want to start?”
“Wherever you want. Bring me up to speed.” A giddy feeling bubbled through me—a familiar eagerness to speak the language of business and technology, and being thrown into the flurry of details surrounding a cutting-edge project.
Sid rose and leaned against his desk. “We’ve got two new apps you can test out.”
“Hey, stranger.” A deep voice rang out from behind me. James appeared through the door. His nearly black wavy hair was disheveled and matched his long black T-shirt and jeans. He leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. “Glad you decided to come back.”
“Well, I couldn’t stay away forever. Anyway, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself without you guys keeping me busy.”
“Happy looks good on you,” he said, playfully tapping the tip of my nose.
His deep blue eyes seemed to see right into my soul, the way they always had. My friendship with James had morphed into something far more meaningful than anything I might have expected when I hired him to join the original Clozpin team. Our brush with romance had been brief and misguided, but I was grateful we hadn’t lost the connection that had brought us there to begin with.
“Thanks,” I said, giving him a little shove. “You too.”