Bella laughed. “You always lose it mid-March,” she said, chopping up carrots and celery and putting them in separate baggies. If she didn’t give Zoe healthy snack options, she went straight to the bad stuff. “I feel bad, though. I’ve run the gamut of babysitters because of the wedding, and I promised myself I’d be home with Zoe on weekends.”
“One teeny, tiny Friday night? For your best friend? I’ll personally call Avery and Taylor and beg them on my behalf.”
“You are desperate.”
“After St. Patty’s Day passes, I get depressed. It seems like spring will never come.”
She understood. March seemed like the last punch before they got some sunny days that gave them hope. Tourists began trickling in for spring break, and the wedding season exploded. Soon, she’d be working nonstop. She usually neglected Daisy during that time, so it might be a good idea to indulge in a girls’ night out. “Can you get a sitter for Meg?”
“I’ll pay the first stranger I see on the street corner, at this rate.”
Bella laughed. “Liar. I’ll make a few calls and see if we can go tomorrow.”
“Thank you! I’m going to dress up! And we’ll get an Uber so we can get drunk!”
She shook her head and dumped some hummus in a small bowl. “Whatever you want.”
She clicked off with Daisy whooping, and quickly checked her planner. It’d only been two short weeks since Adele’s wedding, and she’d tried to spend as much time with Zoe as possible. She explained to Gabe she wanted to ease into telling people they were together, but so far, she hadn’t found the right time to tell her sisters. Every time she had their ear, she chickened out.
She rationalized that once their relationship was outed, things might change. Right now, it was like this supersexy secret. He’d come over and occasionally watch a movie with her and Zoe. Other times, he’d show up after her daughter went to bed, and they’d spend hours making love and falling into one another. Each time got better. It was as if pieces of her were breaking open after each encounter. He’d leave before dawn, pressing a lingering kiss to her mouth, and she’d snuggle in the sheets that smelled like him, giddy with joy.
During the weekly meetings, he stared at her across the conference-room table, the fire in those dark eyes properly banked in front of her sisters, but she recognized the look of desire. He’d sip his espresso and calmly share his schedule, and she’d imagine his lips coasting over her naked breasts, the dirty words whispered in her ear, the way he slid deep inside her body and claimed her.
So far, no one seemed to notice how their relationship had changed since the wedding. Of course, Avery was steeped in planning her own wedding for October, and Taylor was furiously working on her art. But her sisters never commented on the new lightness in her step or the easier way she laughed. She took it as a sign that it wasn’t time yet to come out to the world as a couple.
Grabbing a pen, she scribbled in her date with Daisy, then checked the business schedule. Taylor and Avery had weddings that night, so they were out. Gabe had an afternoon function—probably best not to bother him. Pierce was working. She texted a few backup babysitters she trusted, but they all seemed to have something better to do than babysit on a weekend. Finally, she called Carter.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Listen, if I ask you this, you have to be honest with me if you don’t want to, okay?”
“As Avery tells me, I’m a bit brutal with my honesty, so I don’t think that will be a problem.”
She dragged in a breath. “My friend Daisy is desperate to go out for a night—she gets a bit squirrely at the end of winter.”
“Don’t we all. Even Lucy is getting bitchy over this weather.”
“She wants to go tomorrow for a girls’ night, but everyone’s busy. I’d need someone to watch Zoe. And I know you just took her recently, so I understand if you want a night to yourself.”
“Bella, it’s fine. I enjoy Zoe’s company, and Avery is working a wedding all night. We’ll order pizza in. Not a problem.”
“Thanks, Carter, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I’ll drop her off at seven p.m.?”
Relieved, she tidied up the kitchen and went to check on Zoe, who was coloring a giant poster board of Elsa from Frozen. “Mama, look, I’m almost finished!”
She appraised the artwork, legitimately impressed. “Honey, that’s really good. You may have Aunt Taylor’s gift for art.”
“That’s what she says. I’m definitely going to be an artist when I grow up.”
She smiled. “No wedding planner? You don’t want to work in the family business?”
Zoe scrunched her nose and considered. “I do like weddings, so maybe that will be my backup.”
“I’m impressed by your logic. Everyone needs a plan B. But I’ll be happy with whatever you become, as long as you’re happy.”
“Welcome. How about carrots with hummus for a snack?”
“Any brownies left?”
A long-suffering sigh emitted from her small mouth as Zoe furiously colored in Elsa’s gown. “I guess I’ll take the carrots.”
Bella set her daughter up with snacks, then pulled her laptop out to work. A text came in from Daisy, informing her with tons of sad emojis that she couldn’t find a sitter and had to cancel. Damn. She knew how badly her friend needed an escape. Maybe she’d go over there with Zoe, and they’d come up with something fun to do. Maybe a spa night. She’d bring her polish and foot bath, and they’d get Chinese food.
Bella texted Carter to let him know it was off, and immediately her phone rang.
“What happened?” he asked. “I thought it was important.”
“Daisy couldn’t get a sitter for Meg, so she had to cancel.”
“I can take her.”
Surprise hit. “Wait, you’re offering to take two little girls on a Friday night? Are you high?”
He laughed. “Honestly, I don’t mind, Bella. They’re good kids, and they’ll keep each other occupied. Tell Daisy I’m happy to watch Meg.”
“Have I told you you’re my favorite almost brother-in-law?”
He gave a short laugh. “And your only one, but I’ll take the compliment. See you tomorrow.”
She quickly let Daisy know and was assaulted with heart emojis with champagne bottles.
Bella smiled. Good. She wanted her friend to be happy, and a girls’ night out would be fun for both of them.
Gabe got home late from the bridal luncheon, craving a cold beer, a shower, and a couch. The old-fashioned tea party was supposed to have been low key and an easy one to manage. Instead, it’d been like Disney princesses gone wild, with drama, family chaos, and hysterical tears from the bride, who insisted the MOG had been picking on her. He’d had to go into Code Red mode, and by the time it ended and everyone was happy again, he was ready to collapse.
He glanced at his phone, but Bella still hadn’t texted. She didn’t have any weddings tonight, so he’d hoped they could go on a date, or he could take her and Zoe out to dinner, but she’d never responded. As he showered and changed into casual clothes, he couldn’t help the uneasy twist in his gut at her behavior since Adele’s wedding.
She seemed in no hurry to announce they were involved in a relationship. Not even to her sisters. He’d figured she’d be proud and happy to tell everyone, but instead he was still a secret. Sure, he’d been over to the house to hang with her and Zoe, and been invited to her bed at night with open arms. He’d spent every precious hour wringing out her pleasure, his name spilling from her lips a symphony to his ears. But he left before morning because she didn’t want Zoe to see him.
He understood. It was a big change for Bella’s life, and he had sworn to be patient. He would not be the man who whined and asked why she was holding back—not after all the time he’d spent dreaming they’d be together. He just needed to take it down a notch and trust her. Go with the flow and ignore the tiny voice telling him she had no intention of making their relationship public. It was just his old insecurities cropping up, messing with his head. They’d talked everything through and wanted the same things.
When he got out of the shower, he saw he’d missed Carter’s call, so he dialed him back.
“Hey, come over and have a beer. I’m bored.”
He laughed. “Where’s your woman?”
“A wedding, of course. I have buffalo wings, chicken fingers, and pizza here I’m ready to share.”
“You had me at wings. Be over in five.”
Figuring he’d hear from Bella later, he headed over to Carter’s house, looking forward to some good eats, TV, and male bonding.
When Carter opened the door, he wore a pink pointed hat with streamers down the back. “Come on in.”
Gabe stood still, staring. “Umm, dude. Is this what you do when Avery goes away? I mean, it’s cool, I just didn’t know.”