Love by Design - 2
Having Emmy back in my bed was a thing of wonder. I blinked open sleepy eyes, just needing to see if it was really her next to me. Last night felt like a dream, but there she was, laying so peacefully, her cheek resting on my pillow, dark eyelashes fluttering and a mass of brown waves tangled around her face. My heart surged. She was here.
I trailed my hand lightly over her hip and backside as she lay asleep on her stomach. I loved her body . . . it was so soft, so smooth . . . it just invited my touch. Last night she’d said we’d need to go slow. But I was thankful she’d still spent the night with me. I’d never felt true peace and acceptance like I had when I was near Emmy. She accepted me for me—with her, I wasn’t the man on billboards or in magazines. I was just me. Despite my shortcomings, despite all my fuck-ups, she was here by my side. After nearly losing her, I’d earned a second chance and I would do everything in my power to make things right again.
I gave her butt a gentle pat. “Wake up, baby.” I should let her sleep in, relax, but I was too selfish. Knowing she was here, back in New York and back in my life, made me want to seize the day. Carpe diem, or some shit. I was too restless to let her sleep. We needed to make up for lost time. Now that I had her back, I wasn’t going to waste a minute.
Emmy let out a small groan and stretched before rolling over toward the sound of my voice. She blinked up at me sleepily. “Morning.”
“Hi.” I continued letting my hand skim over her body, my fingers lightly dancing along her exposed skin where my T-shirt she’d worn to bed had ridden up. I knew I was just torturing myself. I needed to keep my hands to myself or I was going to have a massive case of blue balls later. “What do you want to do today?” I had visions of bathing her in my deep tub, taking her out for brunch at my favorite place in the city, and then maybe cuddling up in front of the fireplace later. But I was game for whatever she wanted. She would be calling the shots.
“I need to get home,” she said, flinging the blankets back off her legs to climb out of bed. “I left Ellie hanging last night, and besides, I haven’t been home in months.”
Disappointment coursed through me. She was fleeing already. “Can I at least feed you first?” I asked, rising to stand behind her and pull her back against my chest. I couldn’t resist letting my hands slide down to the curve of her hips.
“Just coffee,” she murmured.
“You got it.” I kissed the back of her neck and slowly released her.
While Emmy dug through her suitcase, I headed into the galley kitchen near the front of my apartment. It wasn’t a room I used often. I liked to cook, but cooking for one was a waste, so I tended to order out rather than prepare a depressing meal alone. And besides, I hated doing dishes. That was why I’d hired Magda, my housekeeper. She was fabulous.
I added coffee to the machine and set it to brew. Emmy emerged a few minutes later, her hair combed and secured in a low ponytail, dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a long-sleeved tee. She looked adorable. I was going to have a hard time letting her go. Especially because she’d just returned from an extended stay in Tennessee. I’d intercepted her at the airport. My first bit of good luck since she’d left me.
When I’d told her about her boss’s, Fiona’s, pregnancy—possibly with my child—Emmy had quit Status Model Management without a word and fled for the comforts of home. I couldn’t say I blamed her, but after running into her at the airport when returning from a shoot in Miami last night, and convincing her to come home with me, it seemed she was willing to give me another chance. Now that she was back, my body wanted to make up for lost time. But my heart was reminding me not to push her. I couldn’t lose her again and there were a million little things I’d missed about her. I’d never felt this way about anyone before. I was desperately in love with this girl. I needed to show her that she could trust me. I wouldn’t fuck this up again.
I added milk to her coffee, remembering how she liked it, and handed her the mug. “I don’t even know where you live,” I admitted.
She took a sip of the brew and smiled at me. “This is good coffee.”
“I have it flown in from Italy.”
“Wow.” She took another sip. “Why don’t you come over then? You can see my place and meet Ellie.”
I leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Perfect. I’m going to jump in the shower and I’ll give my driver a call. About fifteen minutes, okay?”
Approaching the door to my apartment, I was a bit self-conscious for Ben to see my place. The apartment itself was located in an older run-down building in a not-so-charming neighborhood in Queens. Ellie had relocated to a cheaper unit during my absence. Compared to Ben’s luxury apartment in Gramercy Park in the heart of downtown, this place was a piece. But it was all Ellie and I could afford. And it was home. For now.
Scuffed, yellowed walls and worn gray carpeting lined the narrow hallways. Green paint was peeling from our front door, and the smell of three-day-old Indian food permeated the corridor as soon as you entered the building. Charming, I know.
Ben attempted a reassuring smile as I fumbled with the key in the lock, but I could tell his eyes were assessing every detail. He’d nearly choked when I’d told the driver to head toward the Queensboro Bridge. Not all of us could afford to live in the insanely expensive heart of Manhattan like he did. I didn’t know what he’d expected.
Finally freeing the second dead bolt securing the door, I pushed it open.
I’d hoped perhaps Ellie would be in her bedroom and I could have a word privately with her about Ben before he was accosted by her questions. Sadly that was not the case. Ellie was standing in the living room wearing only a towel, her hair thrown in a messy bun, mustache remover cream spread above her top lip.
She spun around, hearing our entrance. “Geez! Thanks for the warning, Em.” Clutching the towel tighter to her chest, she scurried down the hall for her room.
Oops. I guess I should have texted and told her Ben and I were on our way over. I was out of practice on the etiquette of being a good roommate after living at home with my parents for the past month and alone in Paris for the two months before that.
“Sorry, Ellie!” I called out to her retreating backside. I knew she was going to be mortified that a guy as hot as Ben had seen her with depilatory cream on her face.
Ben smiled weakly. “I take it that’s your roommate?”
“Yeah, that’s Ellie. And I think I’m in trouble with her.”
Giving Ben the grand tour took all of about three seconds. I was acquainting myself with the apartment at the same time. Dumpy living room with beige couch—check. Small but neatly organized kitchen—check. Narrow hallway leading to our bedrooms and a shared bathroom—check.
He smiled politely, but I knew this wasn’t the type of living quarters he was accustomed to. I wondered if he’d ever stay over, or if he’d insist we stay at his place. Before I had time to ponder it further, Ellie came charging out of her bedroom.
Her eyes were bright and determined, her dark hair flowing in loose waves over her shoulders. “You,” she poked Ben in the chest, “are on my shit-list.”
He cocked his eyebrow up. “Uh . . . excuse me?”
“You heard me,” Ellie said, her tone firm and unwavering. “I’m onto you. And Emmy will not be your plaything until you get bored. She’s the fucking shit. You got that, mister?” She poked his chest one more time for emphasis before I caught her wrist and pulled it away.
“I completely agree. Emmy’s the best,” he said.
Ellie lifted her chin, throwing her shoulders back. “Good. We’re on the same page then. But just know, I’m watching you. And I won’t hesitate to kick your ass if need be.”
“You’re Ellie, right?” he asked.
She nodded, seeming to realize that she hadn’t yet introduced herself.
Ben stepped in closer, meeting her intense gaze. “I’m going to take care of this girl. She’s mine. And I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay then.” Ellie’s tone had softened.
My heart soared at hearing his sweet declaration.
Ellie met my eyes, looking for any signs of trouble. I kept my face neutral and gave her a small smile. She returned my grin and headed off into the living room, leaving Ben and me standing alone in the hall.
He pulled me to his chest and pressed a light kiss to my forehead.
“I’m sorry about that. She means well,” I offered.
“I know, babe. No worries.”
Ellie was a tough-ass New Yorker. That was for sure. She spoke her mind and didn’t take crap from anyone. Apparently she was also fiercely protective of me. It was flattering and also a little bit scary.
Ben leaned down to angle his mouth against mine, kissing me tenderly. “I love you. I’m going to go so you guys catch up and talk, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks for the ride home. You didn’t know you were coming all the way to Queens today, did you?”
He smiled and pressed his lips to mine once more. “Nope. But you’re worth it.”
He’d have a forty-five-minute subway ride back unless he called his driver again. Was that guy just at the ready, waiting for Ben’s call? No time to ponder it. I walked Ben to the door. He gave a brief wave to Ellie and kissed me one last time.