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Calvin finds this either heroic or pathetic. I can’t tell from his expression which it is.

“And . . . I do love your music. I can see what it means to you, too.”

Calvin bends, taking another bite. The entire time he chews and swallows, he studies me. “And you’d do this for me?”

“I mean,” I hedge, mortified, “unless you’re a violent criminal.”

Wincing, he picks up his water, draining it in a few gulps, and my stomach bottoms out.

“I did steal a pack of gum once,” he says at length. “Age ten. Though no one was hurt.”

I let out a shaky laugh. “I think I can overlook that.”

He nods, licking his lips before touching his napkin there. “You’re serious.”

The moment seems to be slowing down, warping a little into a surreal bubble. “I think so?”

This makes him smile, and I notice how his eyes move over my entire face. “How would it work? In theory?”

My stomach slowly climbs back up from the floor. “From what I understand there are some forms, an interview.” The biggest piece of information comes out a little squeaky: “You’d stay with me. I mean, on my couch is probably the . . . way we would do it. Not, it it—but. Sleeping.” I clear my throat. “Arrangements.”

Calvin considers this, smiling down at the table. “Do you have cats?”

I blink. “Cats?”

“I’m allergic.”

“Oh.” I frown. This is really where his brain goes first? Mine went straight to bare skin and sex sounds. “No cats.”

“That’s good.” He pushes a few pieces of lettuce around on his plate, scoops up a tomato and drops it again. “A year?”

I nod. “Yeah, unless we don’t want to go that long.”

He sniffs, fidgeting with his knife and spoon, straightening them over and over on the table beside his plate. “And when would we do it?”

“Soon.” The word rushes out a little louder than I’d have liked, but I push on. “We couldn’t put it off too long because of the hiring paperwork. Definitely before Ramón starts.”

He nods, chewing his bottom lip. “Right. Sooner would be better.”

My breath catches. Does this mean he’s considering it?

“So we’d be married, and I’d get to be in the show?” he asks. “Just like that?”

“I think so. You’d have your dream, and Robert would have his new musician.”

“I’d also have a beautiful wife. What would you have? Other than a famous Broadway musician husband, that is.”

He thinks I’m beautiful? I hold his gaze from across the table, not blinking, barely breathing. “I’d get to help my uncle. I owe him so much.”

I conveniently leave out the part where I would get to look at Calvin daily—and that would not be a chore at all—hear him play, be near him. Yes, I wanted him for months before ever speaking to him, but he’s so clearly full of joy, and passion, and a playfulness I never could have predicted. I’m even more attracted to him now that we’ve spoken. He’s witty. So talented . . . but not arrogant. Way too sexy.

Calvin looks down at his salad and I can tell he’s mulling this crazy offer over. Oh, my God, he thinks I’m a headcase.

My stomach turns to concrete.

“Holland,” he says slowly, more somber than his previous impish tone. “I appreciate what you’re offering, I really do, but I worry that it’s a burden that you really shouldn’t have to bear. I wasn’t trying to butter you up earlier—you really are beautiful. What if you meet someone in the next twelve months, and you want to date him?”

It’s hard for me to imagine wanting anyone other than him right now. But maybe he’s asking this from his own perspective. Maybe he doesn’t want to be stuck in a situation where he can’t date and sleep with other women.

“Yeah, I mean . . . if you want to date other women in that time . . . maybe you could be discreet?”

“Shite. No. No, Holland, that’s not what I meant. This is beyond generous. I’m still in shock. That Robert Okai wants me in his show . . . that I impressed him. But you, wanting to make my dream possible?”

He lets out a long, controlled breath.

I’m not sure what else to say. I’ve laid it all out on the table and am holding my breath in these long, painful spans, just waiting to hear what he says.

Finally, he lifts his napkin and wipes his mouth again before setting the cloth neatly at the edge of his place mat. His face explodes in a grin. “I’m in, Holland. On one condition.”

I feel the way my brows disappear into my hair. “A condition?”

“Let me take you out.”

I nod, waiting for him to elaborate. When he doesn’t, I look around the restaurant. “You mean like . . . a date?”

“Call me old-fashioned, but I like to date a girl before I marry her. Besides, to pull off this mad plan of yours, I reckon we need to look like we’re in love?” When I nod, he continues. “Come out with me tomorrow night and let’s see if we can stand to be near each other. You’re not going to want me in your apartment if you can’t handle me at a bar.”

He has a point, but I laugh at his wording. “Handle you at a bar? Are you trying to scare me away?”

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