I picked up the phone. “Ella Boothe.”
“Hey, beautiful. How’re you doing?” Dominic’s voice always calmed me in some ways while exciting me in others. And, even through all the stress, this time was no different.
“I’m still here,” I said with a sigh.
“Who was that girl with the voice that answered the phone?”
“Girl with the voice? What does that mean?”
“She had a nice voice. Sexy and sweet at the same time. Beth? That was her name, right?”
“Yeah. Beth. She’s my temp for now.” I knew he was trying to lighten the situation, but I wasn’t really in the mood.
Either he wasn’t catching on, or he was that resilient. Or he had a death wish. “Well, if sweet and sexy Bath is screening your calls, I’ll have to call more often.” I could hear his smile through the line.
“Well, sweet and sexy Beth is married, Dominic.” I practically snapped at him. “So, back off.” Okay, I did snap at him. But I didn’t want to play his try-to-make-me-jealous games. I wanted his full support. I wanted to feel like he was there for me no matter what. Because I felt like he was all I really had.
“Easy, Ella. I’m just playing. Listen, I’m going to come by and take you to lunch. Just something simple. Maybe the cafe?” He sounded hopeful, but I wasn’t sure about leaving Beth on her first day.
“I don’t know, Dominic. I’ve got Beth here, and it’s her first day.”
“Well she gets lunch, too, right? Just take yours at the same time. Tell her when to be back, and I’ll make sure you’re back before that.”
“All right. Meet me at twelve. Just come in to the office.”
The man had to be given credit for his punctuality. He walking through the door at exactly twelve. My door was open, so I listened to Beth greet him in her polished professional manner before showing him in.
“Beth, you can take lunch now,” I told her. “Just be sure to be back by twelve-forty-five.” She nodded and backed out, closing the door on her way.
I noticed that she picked up the bank phone and made a call. It was short, maybe a quick call to her husband to tell him she was going to lunch. It was a perfectly normal gesture, but for some reason I felt a deep part of my sub-conscience questioning it. When she hung up, she gathered her things and left for lunch. I shook my head a little and turned to the strong presence of the man who refused to be ignored.
“Well, Mrs. Boothe, shall we attend to lunch?” He turned on his sweetest smile. The one that could melt the ice around the coldest of hearts.
“When you smile at me like that, how can I say no?” I smiled back and shook my head at him. I grabbed my purse and waved him to the door. “After you, Mr. Sterling.”
Lunch was uneventful. Dominic and I avoided talking about Cassie’s case, sticking to the impending opening of his store.
“So, I’m wondering. Will you do one of those things where you open officially, and then throw a big grand opening sale two weeks later?” I asked.
He shook his head, his brow crinkling with his frown. “No. I never understood that. A grand opening should be when the store opens, not weeks later. There will be a huge grand opening celebration and sale the weekend the store opens. No waiting around.”
I glanced at my watch. “Oh no! It’s twenty of one. I told Beth to be back by quarter of. I need to get back.” I began cleaning up, but Dominic put a hand on mine.
“Let me,” he said, picking up where he had stopped me. His movements were efficient, and the table was clear in thirty seconds. As he walked back from the trash can, I stood, and we headed back to his car.
He held the door for me, but he crouched beside me instead of closing it. His hand found my thigh as our gazes locked. “Ella, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything that’s going on with Cassie. I’m sorry for stirring up old emotions and feelings, especially when you have to deal with Michael’s problems everyday. I know I told you that just having you in my life was enough. . .” He drifted off, dropping his gaze. “It’s not enough. I can’t be this close to you and not have you. Even just a little bit. I know you said that Michael is coherent, but he can’t give you what I can. Please let me try to make you happy.”
So many emotions tore through me I was lost, spinning helplessly in the whirlwind. So I grabbed on to one of the stronger ones as it sped by. And I lashed out at him. “Are you kidding me, Dominic? Are you seriously dropping this on me now? You’re timing is impeccable. My life is a shambles for so many reasons, and you want to complicate more than you already have? What the he--”
He crushed my tirade with his hungry mouth. His lips were sweet from the soda he’d been drinking. He wasn’t kind. His tongue forced it’s way into my mouth, tangling and fighting with my own. The weight of his assault had me pressed against the seat, unable to fight back. Unwilling, too.