I chuckled, standing up. I leaned down, patting his shoulder in a patronizing manner. Internally, I was a few heartbeats away from a stroke. My family finding out about Madison right now would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. Katie already knew, but she was going to keep her mouth shut to keep everyone happy, and we’d always covered each other’s fuckups.
Then again, giving Julian the role was letting the bad guy win, and I’d seen enough Michael Bay movies to know Black & Co. wouldn’t have a happy ending under Julian’s reign. Besides, I deserved to become CEO. I’d worked my ass off for a decade while Julian had been busy fighting and making up with my goddamn ex-fiancée, now his wife.
I bent down, whispering into his ear, “You lured us in here knowing Ethan was going to show up. You set us up.”
He sat back, lacing his fingers together. He didn’t have to confirm it. His face said everything there was to say.
“You play a very dirty game, Julian. The gloves are off.”
“Now, that’s the reaction I was expecting after I stole your girl all those years ago.”
“You don’t steal leftovers. You dig for them in the trash.” I smiled cordially. “But now it’s on, and that side of me you just awakened, Julian? You’re not going to like it.”
That night, I tossed and turned in my bed, but sleep never came.
My bedroom was right across from Ethan’s. Chase was all the way at the end of the hall. I’d had the audacity to ask Katie about the sleeping arrangements when no one could hear us. She eyed me and asked, “Are you really dating Ethan?”
“It’s complicated,” I whispered back. She looked almost hurt, and I could see why. Katie had been adamant whatever she was seeing between Chase and me had a future. Not to mention I’d picked up on something between her and Ethan at the table.
“Complicated how?” She raised an eyebrow.
“What I’m trying to say is, Ethan is all yours,” I said, meaning it. “If you’re interested, that is.”
“God, am I that transparent?” She put her hand to her cheek.
I’d laughed. “No, just . . . open in ways I wish I could be.”
Now I needed to reinforce my claim I wasn’t dating Ethan and end it once and for all. I checked the time on my phone. It was half past three. Almost morning. I knew Ethan was asleep. But I also knew that, come morning, things were going to get ten times more awkward if we didn’t talk it out. After Chase and Julian had left Ethan and me, Katie and Lori had appeared from the dining room, demanding to know what had happened. I’d never gotten the chance to talk to him.
Slowly, I peeled the blanket from my body and slid my feet into my slippers. It was hot and humid, and I wore nothing but a white satin chemise.
I skated to the hallway, then rapped on Ethan’s door. A gruff sound came from behind it. “Come in.”
I stepped inside. The room was bathed in darkness. The outline of his body under the covers moved as he rearranged his frame, sitting up.
“Are you up?” I whispered.
“Yeah. You too, huh?”
I nodded. “Can we talk?”
“It’s been long overdue, don’t you think?”
I sat on the edge of his bed, twisting my fingers together in my lap. His head was pressed against the headboard. I felt his gaze on my silhouette. Thank God we were in the dark.
“I know.” He cut me off, rubbing at his forehead. “Just . . . don’t. Don’t finish that sentence. I think I always knew. You were never really mine. I learned to accept that to a certain degree. I continued my steady hookup with Natalie, thinking if I kept my heart out of the race, maybe it would stay at arm’s length. I thought it was a matter of time before Chase would screw it all up again and you’d come running back to my open arms. I kept waiting for you to step back from the Black fog, but he just kept sucking you in. The truth is, Maddie, it’s not just that we’re over. We’ve never really begun.”
“I wanted us to be a thing,” I said. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks, falling on the bare skin of my thighs. I didn’t know why I was so upset. “You’re perfect, Ethan.”
“Please don’t say that. It’s what all my girlfriends said in high school.” He sighed tiredly. “Perfect is boring.”
I shook my head, pressing my knuckles to the sides of my eyes, drying the tears. “No, it’s not. But perfect and broken do not coexist. Broken needs another broken to become whole. I have more issues than Vogue. I never really got over my mother’s death, and . . . and . . . I have this compulsive need to please everybody. Which is why we’re both here having this conversation.” I motioned around us with a wave of a hand.
He laughed, sitting up fully now to be next to me. Thigh to thigh. “I’ve a feeling Chase is the definition of broken.” Ethan sighed. “You’re a good match.”
I smiled sadly. “Lucky me, huh?”
“Unlucky me,” Ethan countered. I swatted his arm. He was grinning in the dark. The atmosphere was shifting into something lighter. I wanted to keep it that way.
“Hey, can I ask you a question? Kind of personal, but I always wanted to know and will never get to find out.” I nudged his knee with mine.
“Lay it on me.”
“What’s your favorite position?” I scrunched my nose. “Like . . . sexually.”
“Missionary,” he said. “Definitely missionary.”
I smiled. Damn you, Chase. The arrogant jerk never got it wrong.
Ethan tucked his hands between his legs, nudging me with one of them. “Hey, do you think things would be different if he wasn’t still in the picture?”
I mulled his question over for a few seconds. Honesty was the least I could give Ethan after everything we’d been through in our short, unconsummated relationship.
“No,” I said finally. “You’re a fully formed person, and I . . . I don’t think I ever will be. I think there’s a part of me still floating in the universe, searching for my mother.” I stopped, frowning as I realized something. “Maybe that’s why I’ve always been so obsessed with weddings. I’ve been hoping to find that something in someone else. Subconsciously. But I need to find it in myself.”