Collide

By: Gail McHugh

Chapter One

Chance Encounters

She calculated the flight from Colorado to New York at three hours and forty-five minutes, after which, she knew her life would be forever changed—more so than it already had. Gripping the sides of the seat, palms sweaty, Emily Cooper closed her eyes as the engines prepared for takeoff. She had never been fond of flying; in fact, it scared the living shit out of her. Though she did remember times where the torture of being 30,000 feet in the air was actually worthwhile—the first time she left home for college, an escape to a tropical island, or a visit to see her beloved family. However, this trip included none of those enjoyments—it only held feelings of loss and grief.

Looking at her was one of the reasons she still woke up every day—her boyfriend, Dillon. She could tell he noticed the look on her face was filled with the uncertainty of what lay ahead.

As he held her hand, Dillon leaned over and stroked a piece of hair away from her face. “Everything’s going to be alright, Em,” he whispered. “Before you know it, we’ll be on the ground again.”

She forced a smile and then hesitantly turned, watching the snowcapped mountains disappear beneath the clouds. Her heart sank further as she inwardly said goodbye to the only true home she had ever known. She rested her head against the window and let her mind drift over the past several months.

In late October of her senior year in college, she received the call. Until that moment, life had seemed…good. Dillon had come into her world the month before, her grades were where they should have been, and her roommate, Olivia Martin, had turned out to be one of the closest friends she would ever have. Picking up the phone that day, she never expected the news she received.

“The tests came back, Emily,” her older sister, Lisa, said. “Mom has Stage Four breast cancer.”

With those last six words, life as Emily knew it would never be the same. Not even close. Her rock, the woman whom she adored most in her life, and the only parent she had ever known had less than three months to live. What followed after was something she could have never prepared for. Long weekend trips from ‘The Ohio State University’ back home to Colorado to aid in her mother’s last few months would become Emily’s norm. She watched her mother wither away from the strong, vibrant soul she once had been to the weak, unrecognizable woman she had become before she died.

With sudden turbulence jolting her nerves, Emily gripped Dillon’s hand and looked over to him. He gave her a quick smile and nod, essentially letting her know they were fine. Resting her head against his warm shoulder, she started to think about the role he had played through everything. Countless flights from New York to Colorado to be with her. Beautiful gifts he sent to take her mind off the madness that consumed her life. Late night calls talking with her to make sure she was okay. Even down to arranging for the funeral, giving her advice on selling her childhood home, and ultimately moving her out to New York. It was all part of why she adored him.

As the plane descended into New York’s La Guardia Airport, Dillon looked at Emily while her hand was white-knuckling his. He gave a light chuckle and leaned over to kiss her. “See, that wasn’t so bad,” he said, stroking her cheek. “You’re now officially a New Yorker, babe.”

After what seemed like forever navigating their way through the airport, Dillon hailed a taxi, and they made their way to the apartment Emily would share with Olivia. That had become a sore topic with Dillon. When he and Emily spoke about the move, it was his wish to have her live with him. Emily thought it was best, at least for the time being, that she move in with Olivia. Making the trek across the country was a hard enough adjustment by itself, and she didn’t want to add more pressure to her situation. Even though she loved Dillon—and she loved him something fierce—there was a tiny voice in her head telling her to wait. It was something that would come further down the line for them. He eventually gave in to her decision but not without putting up a decent fight of his own.

Once they arrived, Emily stepped out of the taxi, the sounds and sights of the city immediately hitting her in the process. Car alarms blaring, brakes grinding, and sirens wailing shattered through the air. People talking and yelling with their footsteps pounding against the busy concrete sidewalks and the frantic flow of tightly packed cars consisting of a sea of yellow taxis were unlike anything she had ever seen or heard before. Steam billowing from potholes looked like ghosts floating up from the hot pavement.

The sprawling trees and clear lakes in Colorado were now being replaced by steel and concrete, loud noises, and a clusterfuck of traffic. This was definitely something she would have to get used to. Drawing in a deep breath, Emily followed Dillon into the building. The doorman tipped his hat and buzzed Olivia, letting her know that they were there. They made their way up to the fifteenth floor, thankful for the elevator.

Upon entering the apartment, Olivia let out a high-pitched squeal when she saw Emily. She raced over and gave her a hug. “I’m so happy you’re here,” Olivia said, cupping her hands over Emily’s cheeks. “How was the flight?”

“I got through it without needing any drugs or alcohol,” Emily smiled. “So I would say it went well.”

“She was fine.” Dillon walked over and snaked his arm around Emily’s waist. “I wouldn’t have let anything happen to her anyways.”

Rolling her brown eyes in Dillon’s direction, Olivia crossed her arms. “Right, because you’d be able to stop a plane from crashing, Dill-Pickle. I mean, Dillon.”

Dillon shot Olivia a hard look and placed Emily’s luggage on the ground. “That’s right, Oliver Twist. I’m fucking Superman, so don’t forget it.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been around you both at the same time,” Emily sighed. “I forgot how fond you two are of one another.”

Olivia smirked and reached for Emily’s hand. “Come on, I’ll show you around the place.” Pulling Emily down the hall, she turned around to Dillon. “Make yourself useful and unpack her belongings or something, Donkey-Dick-Kong.”

Effectively ignoring Olivia, Dillon sank himself into the couch and flipped on the television.

“Oh my God, Olivia,” Emily giggled, following behind her. “Where the hell do you think up these names for him?”

“Pfft,” Olivia waved a dismissive hand. “He makes it easy.”

“Well, you both are going to drive me nuts now. I can feel it.”

“I make no promises, but I’ll try my best to refrain from doing so, friend.”

As Olivia gave a grand tour of her new home, Emily noticed it was a sleek modern apartment that included two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Although modest in size, the kitchen held white antique cabinetry, granite countertops, and stainless-steel appliances. A large window in the living room paraded the direction of Columbus Avenue, a nice area in New York’s Upper West Side. The apartment was breathtakingly beautiful to Emily, and if it weren’t for Olivia, she would have never been able to afford something like it—at least not without Dillon’s help. Although Olivia worked and took care of herself, she came from a well-to-do family, so money was never a problem. Despite growing up on Long Island’s North Shore, Olivia and her brother, Trevor, were two of the most down-to-earth people Emily had ever met.

After helping Emily settle in, Dillon left the two women to themselves, letting Emily know he would be back later that evening. Promptly grabbing a bottle of red wine and two glasses, Olivia dragged Emily to the couch.

Tossing her champagne blonde hair to the side, she gave Emily a bittersweet smile. “I know you’ve been through a ton, but I’m really happy you’re here.”

Emily cast a smile that matched Olivia’s. Her emotions levied between the sadness of the circumstances that landed her in New York to happiness that she was taking a huge leap in her relationship with Dillon by moving out there—even if she wasn’t living with him.

She took a sip of wine and propped her feet on the ottoman. “I’m happy, too, friend.”

Olivia wore a curious expression. “Did Dick give you anymore hell about the living arrangements?”

“No, he didn’t,” she remarked, “but he definitely wants me to move into a place with him by the end of the summer.”

“Well, you tell him that he’s going to have to fight me off during that battle,” she huffed.

Shaking her head, Emily laughed at Olivia’s statement.

“I’m serious, Em; he needs to give you some space right now with this move.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere for a while.” Emily glanced around the apartment, her eyes resting on the stacks of moving boxes in the corner. “I’m really not looking forward to that,” she said, gesturing toward them with her head.

“I don’t have to work tomorrow,” Olivia replied, pouring her second glass of wine. “We’ll do it then. For now, let’s just relax a bit.”

Over the next few hours, that’s exactly what they did. Relaxed. No talks of cancer. No talks of death. No talks of life’s expectations. Just two close friends sharing a bottle of wine in their apartment. One friend returning to the city she grew up in and one friend beginning a new chapter in her book of life.

Two weeks later, Emily stood in front of the Italian restaurant located in Midtown Manhattan. She pushed the door open to what would be her new job for the summer. Her eyes scanned the place for the man that hired her a few days before—Antonio D’Dinato, a native New Yorker in his late twenties.

“There you are, Emily,” Antonio smiled as he approached her. “Are you ready for your first day?”

Smiling, she took in his dark, shoulder-length hair. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“A little overwhelming for a Colorado country girl, but your resume showed you have enough experience to handle the place. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”

She followed him into the kitchen where he introduced her to the cooks on the line. Each of them held a friendly smile, but Emily knew from waitressing her way through college that the friendliness would soon come to an end. Eventually, they would be yelling at her to pick up her orders from the window, and no doubt their faces would be less jovial. She threw on her black apron when Antonio directed her to a young waitress around her age. With a smile on her face, Emily studied her hair. It was a rainbow fest of every color imaginable, streaking through an overlay of bleached blonde.

“Hi, I’m Emily,” she smiled as she approached her. “Antonio said that I’m shadowing you today.”

The girl returned the smile and handed Emily an order book and a pen. “So you’re the new cat on the block, huh? I’m Fallon; it’s nice to meet you.”

“Yep, the new cat. It’s nice to meet you, too.”

“Well, have no worries. I think I started working here straight out of the birth canal.” Her laughing gray eyes were wide. “I’ll show you the ropes, and before you know it, you’ll be able to run around here with a blindfold on.”

“Sounds good to me,” Emily laughed.

“I heard you’re from Colorado?”

“Yes, Fort Collins actually,” Emily answered.

“You drink?” she asked, handing her a cup of coffee.

“One of my addictions, thanks,” Emily took the cup from her. “Have you lived in New York your whole life?”

“Born and raised.” She took a seat at the coffee bar, gesturing for Emily to join her. “It’s early yet,” she said, looking to her watch. “The rush will start within an hour or so.”

Emily sat next to her and took a sip of her coffee. She glanced around the restaurant, watching as the busboys set up the tables. Antonio spoke to them in what Emily assumed to be Spanish. His voice rose in an anxious tone as he motioned out to the streets of New York.

“So what brings you across the country to the city that never sleeps?” Fallon asked. “Are you an actress or model? Which is it?”

“Nah, neither of those reasons,” she replied, trying to ignore the pain anchoring itself in her chest. The fresh wound still searing deep felt like salt had been sprinkled over it. “My, uh, mother passed away in January. There was really no reason to stay out there after she died.”

Fallon’s face softened. “I’m sorry to hear that. Death definitely fucking sucks, that’s for sure. My dad died a few years ago from a heart attack, so I know how you feel.” Fallon let out a sigh and looked away for a moment. “No matter what age, race, or economic status we hold, death touches us all at one time or another.”

Emily found her comment wise beyond her age, but then again she knew death seemed to bring out a completely different way of looking at life once someone was gone. “It does. I’m sorry to hear about your dad.”

“Thanks. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.” Fallon paused in thought. “What about your dad? Did he move out here with you?”

Another sore topic, but these days sore topics were plentiful and unavoidable. “Nope. I haven’t had any contact with him or his family since I was five. I really don’t remember him.”

“I’m batting a zero here with you,” Fallon joked. “Sorry. Maybe I should ask about puppies or something?”

Shaking her head, Emily smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. Besides, I don’t have any puppies so that would be a dead end.”

“Neither do I. They’re cute, but I don’t do the shitting all over the place that well,” Fallon laughed, tossing her hair into a ponytail. “So what made you come to New York specifically? Do you have any other family here?”

“Not here. I have an older sister in California though.” Emily took a sip of her coffee. “But my boyfriend Dillon lives here. We started dating during my last year of college.”

Fallon smiled. “College sweethearts, huh?”

“No, actually, he was already living here in New York when we met. My roommate from college, Olivia, has a brother who came to visit her one weekend, and Dillon went with him.”

“Isn’t it amazing—the paths that bring people together?” Fallon stared into Emily’s eyes. “I mean, had your Dillon not taken the trip with your roommate’s brother, you two would’ve never met. Life is all kinds of weird like that.”

Emily knew she instantly liked Fallon. “I totally agree with that. Fate and the roads that get placed in front of us. It’s like one huge puzzle that ultimately fits in the end.”

“Exactly,” Fallon smiled. “So what did you study in school?”

“I graduated with a teaching degree. I’ve started to put out some resumes, hoping to land something for this fall.”

Fallon frowned, her lip ring shimmering in the light. “So you’ll be leaving us by the end of the summer?”

“Nah, I’ll probably work part time then.”

“Cool beans,” she quipped, standing to her feet, her tall, lengthy frame towering over Emily’s. “So do you club?”

Emily wrinkled her brows. “Club?”

“Yeah, go out clubbing,” Fallon replied, shaking her hips from side to side.

“Oh, you mean dancing,” Emily laughed. “Yes, in Colorado I did, but I have yet to do it here in New York.”

“Killer. I love breaking in newbies to the club scene.”

“Well, I’m down for getting broken in. Let me know when.”

“I will. I’m dating this older guy in his forties, and he gets me into some of New York’s hottest clubs with no cover charge at all.”

Emily nodded and took a sip of her coffee.

“The sex is just an extra bonus,” Fallon added.

Emily nearly choked on said coffee. “Oh, that would definitely be an added bonus for sure.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” she smiled. “Okay, new girl, let’s get going here.”

Throughout the day, Emily followed Fallon. She showed her how to use the computer and introduced her to quite a few of the restaurant’s regular customers. They shifted between very upscale business-suit types to your “Average Joe” construction worker. There was a heavy lunch rush that came around noon, and one of the waiters had called in sick, so Emily took a few tables. Even though she wasn’t familiar with the menu and felt shaky on the computer, she made it through without any major problems. By the end of her shift, Fallon had her head buzzing with which guests tipped the best to which servers were the cutthroat types. For the most part, considering it was her first day, Emily thought it went well.

On her way out the door, Antonio stopped her with a to-go box filled with food. “Emily, my delivery boy quit,” he said, his eyes thick with worry. “Do you head in the direction of the Chrysler Building?”

“I don’t, but it’s only a few blocks away, right?”

“Yeah, it’s right on Lexington and 42nd.”

“Do you need me to take that there?” Emily asked, pointing to the box he was holding.

“Yes, please.”

Emily shrugged. “Not a problem. I’ll walk it over and just take a cab home from there.”

“Thank you so much.” He handed her the box, letting out a sigh of relief. “I’ll throw a little extra cash into your pay next week.”

“No need, Antonio. I like sightseeing anyway.”

“Nah, nah, nah, I insist. We’ll see you tomorrow, Country.”

Laughing, Emily shook her head, amused at her new nickname. She rocked onto the rounded heels of her waitressing shoes and stepped out into the hot, humid air. June in New York was undoubtedly warmer than Colorado. She made her way through the city wide-eyed, still in awe at the fact that she lived there.

The air was thick with the bustle of traffic and the aromas from food vendors’ carts. She was adjusting to New York better than she had anticipated. From the vibrating subway underneath her feet to the mixed array of faces, everything about the city intoxicated her mind. It was sensory overload at its finest. Three short blocks later and quite sweaty from the walk, she arrived at her destination.

Though his father had told him stories about it happening, until that fateful afternoon, Gavin Blake had believed that love at first sight didn’t exist. Even though he had the full attention of the blonde sitting at the information desk, his eyes locked on to Emily when she walked in. He took in the way she smiled as the security guard approached her. Her beauty instantly hit him. But more so, he felt drawn to her as if a rope bound his waist, and she was on the other end pulling him to her. Blinking twice, he shook his head at the magnetic connection.

“Miss, can I help you with something?” the security guard asked.

“Hi, I’m making a delivery,” Emily replied, glancing at the receipt. “Floor sixty-two.”

Before the security guard could answer, Gavin called out from across the lobby. “I can take her up, Larry.”

The receptionist, who had gained Gavin’s attention prior to Emily walking in, pouted her lips as he walked away.

Emily’s gaze slid over to where the voice came from. Her breath hitched at the sight of the tall, devastatingly beautiful man who was making his way toward her. She felt thrown off kilter as though her equilibrium had skewed itself all over the building. Her eyes raked across his inky, black hair cut short and styled in a slightly haphazard way. He had breathtakingly chiseled features; his mouth seemed to have been painstakingly carved to perfection by an expert sculptor. Her eyes flicked down to what appeared to be a toned body hidden beneath his gray three-piece suit. Trying to make it seem as though she was unbewildered by his insane male hotness, she turned her attention to the beefy-looking security guard.

“Are you sure, Mr. Blake? I can show her up.”

“I’m very sure, Larry. I was on my way up anyway.” Gavin turned to Emily. “Let me help you with that,” he said, gesturing to the box.

His voice was as smooth as brandy and made Emily’s stomach flutter. She tried to find her words. “It’s alright, really. I’m okay holding it.”

“I insist,” Gavin smiled. “Besides, it’s an old Boy Scout thing.”

Forget about the charm that bled from his pours or his piercing blue eyes, his dimpled smile alone had Emily instantly convinced that unlimited amounts of women dropped their panties for him on his command.

Daily.

Reluctantly, she handed him the box and tried to play cool. “Okay, well, since you put it that way, you’ve earned your merit badge for the good deed.”

“Why thank you. It’s been a while since I’ve earned one,” he laughed. Turning in a leisurely pivot, he led the way to the elevators.

Emily followed and caught a glimpse of herself against the brushed aluminum doors. She knew that she looked like a shitty, sweaty mess just coming from work, and all she seriously wanted to do was run away when the doors opened.

“After you,” Gavin said with a smile.

As Emily walked in, Gavin’s eyes devoured her auburn, silken hair that fell just above her waist. He had never favored a woman in a ponytail—nonetheless one that looked like she had just been in a food fight—but to him, in that moment, she was the most magnificent creature he’d ever laid eyes on. Between her heart-shaped face, petite coke-bottle physique, and the smell of her perfume wafting in the air around them, Gavin found it hard to catch a decent breath. Stepping in, he tried to ignore his heightened awareness of her—but it was no use.

“Looks like Armando’s been replaced?” he said, pressing for the sixty-second floor.

Emily tried not to fidget as she met his gaze. Being this close to him only made her realize exactly how gorgeous he really was. He was a potent force in such a small confined space. She parted her lips to accommodate her fast breathing. “Armando?”

“Yeah, Armando,” Gavin smirked, looking down to the box of food. “Bella Lucina. My office orders from there almost weekly. Armando’s usually the delivery boy.”

“Oh, of course, but I’m not the new delivery boy. I mean, I work there. Well, obviously, I do since I have the uniform on, and obviously, I’m a girl, not a boy.” Emily cringed, knowing just how asinine she sounded. Drawing in a deep breath, she started over. “I waitress there; my boss asked me to drop off the food on my way home because the delivery boy quit.” She started to blush and wanted to drop dead right there. Literally. Drop. Dead. “Really, I can articulate educated complete sentences.”

“Long day at work? I can sympathize,” Gavin laughed, studying her face further. She had the greenest eyes he had ever seen and a tiny beauty mark perfectly positioned above her lip.

She smiled. “Yeah, a very long day at work.”

A ding in the elevator sounded on the thirty-ninth floor. The doors opened and in walked a woman. She was as tall as Gavin in her black stiletto heels, wore a white business suit, and her crimson hair was twisted into a bun.

“Well, hello there, Mr. Blake,” she rasped, pressing for the forty-second floor. An alluring smile ran across her lips as she leaned into Gavin’s ear. “I’m hoping we can pick up where we left off the last time I saw you.”

Gavin took an easy step back, his face smoothing into an unreadable impassivity. He simply nodded.

The woman smiled and turned to face the elevator doors.

Gavin glanced at Emily again, embarrassed that an unexpected one-night stand was in the elevator with him. “So have you worked at Bella Lucina for a while?”

Emily bit her lip and smiled. “No, today was my first day.”

“A new job. That can be stressful.” Gavin returned the smile, shifting on his feet. “I hope it went well for you.”

“It did actually, thanks.”

When the elevator doors opened, the unnamed woman stepped out and turned to Gavin. “Call me.”

He gave a curt nod, and with that, she walked away. The doors closed, leaving him and Emily alone once again. “She’s not my girlfriend if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Emily shot him a look, bemused by his remark. “And who’s to say I was?”

Her unexpected sexy feistiness prickled across his skin. He shrugged noncommittally, trying to get a feel for her. “And who’s to say you weren’t?”

“You don’t know me to assume much of anything I’d be thinking,” she scoffed, a laugh escaping her lips.

“That you are correct on,” he smirked, sidestepping himself to be closer to her. “But, I must admit, I’d like to get to know you.”

Great. He wasn’t just hot in his urbane, outrageously expensive suit. He was conceited, too. Emily blinked out of her semi-daze, trying to ignore how enticing he smelled being that close. “Well, I can’t. I’m sorry,” she replied, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear.

Before he could respond, the elevator doors opened on the sixty-second floor.

“This is where I get off.” Emily turned to grab the box from him. “I appreciate your help carrying it up for me.”

“Not a problem. This is also where I get off.”

“You work on this floor?” Emily asked, noticeably confused.

Not wanting to tell her that he owned the company located on the floor, he decided on a partial-truth answer. A boyish grin slid across his mouth. “Yes. I’m the one guilty of placing the order.”

Emily’s eyes flicked to his luscious lips and then back to his face. “So you knew when I walked in that I was on my way up here?”

“I had a few minutes to spare. I was waiting downstairs in the lobby for you.” He flashed a smile. “Well, I was waiting downstairs in the lobby for Armando, but instead I was graced with the beautiful woman who stands before me. I decided to be a gentleman and help you with the box.” He stepped out of the elevator, his stride strong and graceful. “Care to join me for dinner? There’s more than enough here for you.”

“I…I can’t. I’m sorry,” Emily replied, hitting the button to close the door.

“Wait!” Gavin swiftly leaned in and held it open. Knowing his approach was too strong and feeling like an asshole at that point, he tried to recover the situation as best as he could. “That was rude of me, and I apologize; my mother seriously raised me better than that.” He tossed a nervous hand through his hair. “I’d love to take you out to dinner sometime. I know an office setting like this isn’t romantic by any means. I just work a lot. But, like I said, I’d love to take you out one night.”

Before Emily could reply, a svelte dark-haired woman called out to him from behind a desk. “Mr. Blake, you have a call on line two.”

Smiling, he turned to face the woman. “Please take a message for me, Natalie.”

Quickly, with trembling fingers, Emily hit the button to close the door. It shut completely before Gavin could turn around. Leaning herself against the wall, she grabbed onto the brass railing, trying to compose herself. The effect the stranger had on her was unnerving. She shook her head at the breakneck pace of events, regretting that she’d agreed to drop off the food. Nonetheless, she made her way out of the building and went home.

“He was that good looking?” Olivia asked, taking a seat at the kitchen table.

Emily placed a finger over her mouth. “Jesus, Olivia, Dillon’s inside. Keep your voice down.” Her eyes darted to her room and then back to Olivia. “Yes, he was that good looking. Take-your-breath-away good looking. Want-to-strip-your-body-naked-and-let-him-devour-you-alive good looking. Certified-eye-candy good looking.”

Olivia let out a gut-belly laugh and then quickly covered her mouth. “Sounds very fuckable,” she whispered. Nodding in agreement, Emily giggled. “I think you need to take the delivery boy’s position instead.”

“I don’t know; it was just the strangest reaction I’ve ever had with someone. And talk about embarrassed at the way I handled myself. A preschooler would’ve done better.”

Smirking, Olivia took a sip from her glass of wine, her brown eyes sparkling. “It may make for some great sex tonight with Douche if you keep Mr. Tall, Dark, and Fuckable Handsome in mind.”

Emily walked over to her and lightly slapped her on the arm. “Stop. No more Mr. Tall, Dark, and Fuckable Handsome thoughts for me.” Emily took her hair out of her ponytail. “Besides, I love Dillon. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Fuckable Handsome will be the gift for some other woman, believe me.”

“Okay, okay,” Olivia laughed quietly. “But at least you know you have a backup in case.”

Before Emily could discuss her newfound fuckable eye candy any further, Dillon strolled into the room dressed in his finest suit and tie. Walking over to him, Emily instantly forgot about the sexy stranger as her eyes feasted upon his dampened dirty-blonde hair and handsome face. To her, he was all the fuckable eye candy she needed.

“I thought we were hanging here tonight?” Emily asked, circling her arms around his waist. “I rented a movie.”

He placed his arms on her shoulders. It was easy enough for him since he was much taller than Emily’s tiny frame. “I’m having dinner with a potential client.” He sauntered over to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water. “It was an unexpected call. We’ll watch it another night.”

Emily frowned at his nonchalant tone. “How many unexpected dinners can you have in one week, Dillon?”

After letting out an audible sigh, Olivia pushed to her feet and made her way out of the room.

Dillon leaned himself against the counter. “You know it goes with the territory, Emily. I’m a stockbroker; that’s what I do. I need to wine and dine a client a little in order to gain the account.”

“I get that, Dillon. I really do.” Emily walked into the kitchen and pressed her body against his. “But I’ve been here less than a month, and I’m constantly being left alone when you have these meetings.” She playfully pulled at his tie. “I saw you more when I was living in Colorado than I do now.”

Backing away, his brown eyes narrowed on her slightly. “You sound like a whiney sorority girl.” He twisted the cap off the bottle of water and took a sip. “Just relax. I shouldn’t be back too late.”

A frown marred the space between her brows. “A whiney sorority girl? What’s that supposed to mean? Why did you even come here to shower then?”

“I got the call after I got here, that’s why.”

“Maybe you need to go sleep at your place tonight.” She undid her apron and threw it on the table. “You’re out wining and dining these so-called clients at least five nights a week.”

Walking closer, his voice rose as he eyed her. “What are you trying to imply, Emily? Do you not think that I’m taking care of clients?”

“I have no idea. I just thought you’d be here a little more than you have been,” she answered, tossing her hand through her hair. “Maybe to help me adjust a bit with the whole move.”

After taking a sip of his water, he cocked his head to the side. “I moved you out here on my dime. What more do you want from me?”

“That was low, Dillon,” she breathed out, her green eyes wide. “I didn’t ask you to do any of that. I could’ve stayed in Colorado, and we could’ve continued a long-distance relationship.”

Dillon stepped closer, lifted his hand, and gently brushed her cheek. “No, you couldn’t. You love me, and you needed to be here with me after everything that happened.” He slid his thumb against her chin. “And I love and need you here, too. Now stop the bullshit, let me go take care of this client, and I’ll be back later, okay?”

Assessing and reevaluating the situation on the fly, Emily pushed up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips against his. He eagerly accepted her advance as he groaned into their kiss. Fisting his hands in her hair, he drew her closer, pulling her into his chest.

Emily spoke against his mouth. “Alright. Go do your thing, and I’ll see you later.”

“So I’m not being forced back to my apartment tonight then?” He smiled against her lips. “If you really insist, I guess I can sleep at my place instead of here.”

“Stop being a wiseass, Dillon. I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”

“Okay, you’ll have my undivided attention then.”

Dillon laced his hand in hers and she followed him to the door. After giving her one last kiss, Emily watched him walk out of her apartment.

When the door snapped shut, Olivia re-emerged from her room. Sinking into the couch, she patted it for Emily to follow suit. “Alright, spill it. What’s the deal, woman?” Olivia asked.

“He just seems distant, you know?” she replied, sitting next to her.

“Look, you know I can’t stand Dillon.” Olivia paused for a second and tapped her chin. “Actually, I hate him.” Emily rolled her eyes, and Olivia laughed. “But, really, in his defense, and only because my brother works in the same office, they really have to take care of potential accounts.”

“Yeah, but is Trevor out five nights a week taking care of these people?”

“No, but I guess Dillweed’s more of an aggressive broker. Considering he’s an asshole, I’m pretty sure I’m right.”

“Okay, friend, enough cutting him down,” she said, shaking her head. Olivia laughed, and Emily contemplated her words. “Maybe I’m overreacting. I don’t know. I guess between trying to adjust to my mom’s death and the move, my brain’s short circuiting.”

Olivia placed her hand on Emily’s shoulder, her eyes softening with sympathy. “It’s a shitload to take in all at once. I couldn’t imagine going through it.” Olivia pulled her close, giving her a tight hug. “You’re a strong woman, and you’ll get through this. I know you will.”

“Thank you, Olivia, really. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you. I was blessed having you as a roommate in college and now living here with you. I’m forever indebted, honestly.”

Olivia let out a laugh. “Now you’re getting overdramatic on me, girl.” She stood up and walked over to grab the movie that Emily rented. She popped it into the DVD player and settled herself back onto the couch with Emily. “Tonight’s a certified ladies’ night.”


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