“This place has like three hundred rooms.” She was at my heels, waving her arm around.
“Twelve,” I corrected, opening the watch drawer. Rolex or Cartier? The least heavy one was the right answer, in case there was more shoulder hugging. I knew I’d have to at least pretend to like her in front of my old man, and touching her was, unfortunately, a part of the charade. If he’d be half as happy as Mom and Katie were to see her, my place in heaven was secure.
God, I hope they serve booze there.
“Still enough for me to sleep elsewhere.” Madison jutted a hip against the shelves in my periphery. Narrow waist. Wide hips. Not disproportionately so, like that reality-TV family of human clones. She was deliciously feminine. Everything about her delicate and small and round. I wondered if that Dr. Goody Two-Shoes appreciated that about her.
“Why would two lovebirds like us sleep in separate bedrooms?” I closed the drawer, beginning to undress. I trusted Mad could turn around if she felt offended by my partial nudity. Not that it was something she hadn’t seen before. Up close.
“Lots of reasons,” she said breathlessly, snapping her fingers together. “Celibacy. Let’s pretend I’m saving myself for marriage.”
“Sweetheart, you sang your carols in the pantry, Jacuzzi, three of the bedrooms, and the pool when we stayed here last Christmas. Your virtue couldn’t find its way back to your body with a map, a compass, and a GPS.”
“They heard us?” Her eyes widened, and she blushed again. Admittedly, she was a cute blusher. She had apple cheeks and a soft jawline. Too bad she also had the ability to trick me into commitment when I wasn’t paying attention.
“Yes, my family heard us. People in Maine did too.”
“Now, now, we celebrated JC’s birthday, but it was me who did all the dirty work.”
“I don’t recall you complaining.”
“A bit hard, since my mouth was strategically placed between your legs.”
She swatted my bare chest before turning around and pacing back and forth. She linked her fingers behind her neck as I continued to strip down to my briefs, flexing every muscle in my body. I was not above vanity (in truth, I was not above most things).
“I’m not sharing a bed with you.” She shook her head. Stopped. Pointed at the floor. “You’re welcome to the carpet.”
Resisting the urge to ask her if she meant another round with the one between her legs, I bowed my head. “Not sure you are aware, Mad, but it is possible for two people to sleep in the same bed without having sex. Cases of that have been recorded throughout history.”
“Not where you are concerned.” She gave me the stink eye, ignoring my state of undress. Fair point. I wasn’t used to her calling the shots or refusing me in general. Back when we were dating, Madison went with the flow and danced to my tune.
She definitely wasn’t doing that now, and I didn’t know what to make of it.
I was going to launch into another counterargument when she began to unzip her suitcase and fling her clothes out of it. They landed on the floor in a heap of patterned fabrics. Perfect to start a bonfire.
“You’re not going to convince me otherwise, Chase, so I suggest you just make yourself comfortable on the floor with a pillow and a blanket. I will not hesitate to go back home if you don’t respect my boundaries.”
“With what car, exactly?”
“Uber, if need be. Don’t test me, Chase. I am not your prisoner.”
“Nor was I yours,” I muttered.
“Excuse me?” She snapped her head up.
“Funny, I didn’t know you were into that.”
“When did I not respect your boundaries?” Her eyes were so wide I could see my entire reflection in them.
When you made me your boyfriend without my consent.
I realized, even as I said that internally, how carnally pussy it sounded. I could have walked out of my relationship with Madison at any given moment. I’d chosen to stay. I chose her superior baking skills and the excellent fucks and the comfort of deleting hookup apps over my principles.
I also chose to screw it all up.
I made a rough calculation. If I cheated on her, she’d go away, then come back eventually (they all did), and we’d fall into a more casual, no-strings-attached arrangement. I wasn’t a total pig. I’d move her into a nicer place, get her nice things. I just didn’t want to settle down. The mere term bothered me. Settle. You settled for an ugly car to make sure it was secure enough for your family. You settled for a boring date so you could fuck her at the end of the night. You did not settle when it came to your entire goddamn existence.
Thing was, Mad never came back. She blew up, broke up with me, and left for good. She did end up sending me a birthday present, though, in the form of a bag of Daisy’s hair balls and her latest vet bill (which, let it be known, I was enough of a good sport to pay). I still remembered the note she’d added to the invoice.
I got Daisy spayed. I think we can both agree nothing that comes from you should ever reproduce. Feel free to pay this at your earliest convenience.
Back in reality—in our shared room—I felt my jaw tightening. I answered Madison through clenched teeth. “Fine. If you are so worried about grinding your ass against my crotch at night, I’ll sleep on the carpet.”
“Thank you.” Her lips puckered. She was fighting a smile, I realized. Why would she smile? I noticed my ears felt hot. I resisted the urge to touch them. I wasn’t blushing. This was a fact. I never blushed.
“Stop looking at me.” I tapered my eyes, throwing a bath towel over my shoulder.
“Stop pointing at me.” She went back to tossing her horrendous dresses out of her suitcase, biting down a smile. Point at her? Was she crazy?
I looked down.
I turned around, rearranging myself through my Armani briefs, thinking, Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed behind my back. “That’s usually what you think about when your body reacts this way.”
I’d said that aloud? What in the ever-loving hell was wrong with me?
“Go make yourself presentable,” I muttered, stomping my way to the shower before I did more female things. Like blushing again, or maybe fucking swooning in her arms. “And for the love of God, try not to wear anything patterned.”