Becoming a wedding dress designer seemed like a calling, not a career choice. You were your most beautiful, flawless self on your wedding day. In fact, it was the only day in your life where anything you chose to wear, no matter how costly, extravagant, or lavish, was fair game. People often asked me if it felt stifling to limit myself to designing one type of outfit. Honestly, I didn’t know why any designer would choose to make regular, normal clothes. Designing wedding dresses was the professional equivalent of eating dessert every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was like getting my Christmas presents all at once.
Maybe that was why I’d always been the last to leave work. To turn off the lights and kiss my latest sketch goodbye. Not this Friday, though.
This time, I actually had plans.
“I’m off. Happy weekend, everyone!” I slipped into my hot-pink pumps, turning off the light illuminating my drafting table at Croquis.
My corner of the studio was my little haven. Designed to cater to my needs. My drafting table had silver stationery trays, which I filled with pencils, funny-shaped erasers, Sharpies, brushes, and charcoal. I made it a point to put a vase with fresh flowers by my desk every week. It was like having Mom around, making sure she watched over me.
I gave the flowers in my vase—a medley of lavender and white blooms—a little pat, watering them ahead of the weekend. “Be good.” I wiggled my finger at them. “Miss Magda will take care of you while I’m gone. Don’t give me that look,” I warned. “I’ll be back Monday.”
Whoever said flowers didn’t have faces obviously hadn’t seen them wilt. Usually, I’d take my flowers home with me and put them on my windowsill to people watch and get some sunrays next to Daisy, but this weekend, I was going to the Hamptons to accompany Satan, and Daisy had a sleepover at Layla’s.
“Talking to your plants again. Cool. Totally sane.” I heard a mutter from across the studio. It was Nina, my colleague. Nina was my age yet an intern. She was supermodel perfect. Willowy as a swan, with an upturned nose and the skin complexion of a Bratz doll. The only negative thing I had to say about her was she severely disliked me for no apparent reason other than my ability to breathe. Literally, she’d dubbed me “Oxygen Hogger.”
“Move along now.” She waved her hand, eyes still glued to her screen. “If your plants pee, I will change their diaper. Just as long as you get out of my sight.”
Taking the higher road, I turned away, making my way to the elevators. I bumped right into Sven. He planted a hand on his waist, leaning forward and tapping my nose. My boss slash sort-of friend was in his early forties and wore black head to toe. His hair was so shockingly blond it flirted with white, his eyes so light you could almost see through them. He always wore a touch of gloss and dangled his hips when he walked, à la Sam Smith. As department head at Croquis, a wedding-gown company that was in partnership with Black & Co. to sell their lines exclusively at their stores, he called the shots and attended meetings with the executive board. Sven had taken me under his wing when I’d been fresh out of art school and given me an internship that had swelled into a full-time position. Four years later, I couldn’t imagine working for anyone else.
“Where to?” He cocked his head.
I looped my courier bag over my shoulder, making my way to the elevators. “Home. Where else?”
“Lorde help me, thank God you design better than you lie.” He meant the singer, not his Almighty. Sven did the sign of the cross, following my footsteps, his Swedish accent raising the intonation on final syllables. His foreign accent made a subtle cameo only when he was excited or drunk. “You never leave on time. What’s going on?”
My eyes flared. Had Chase opened his mouth? Sven knew Chase, and they ended up at the same meetings frequently. I wouldn’t put it past him. I wouldn’t put anything past him, bar starting a third world war. Chase would be freaked out by the commitment. A war could last months—even years. He didn’t have the stamina to see it through.
I stopped by the elevator bank, punching the button and popping two pieces of gum into my mouth. “Nothing’s going on. Why would you ask that?”
Sven cocked his head sideways, like if he stared me down long enough, the secret would spill itself out of my mouth. “Are you okay?”
I let out a high-pitched laugh. Sven and I were close but still professional. I’d like to think that if he weren’t my boss, we’d actually probably be best friends. But we both understood that for now there were boundaries and certain things we could and couldn’t talk about. “Never been better.”
Someone get me out of here.
The elevator dinged. Sven slid in front of it, blocking my way inside. “Is this about . . . him?”
My jaw nearly dropped to the floor.
“‘Him’ can burn in hell a thousand times, and I wouldn’t spit on him to put the fire out,” I hissed. “I can’t believe you brought him up.”
If I had a penny for every time Sven had caught me crying about Chase in the kitchenette, my station, the restroom, or anywhere else in the office, I wouldn’t have to work here. Or at all, for that matter. I didn’t even know why. In the six months we’d dated, I’d only met Chase’s family a handful of times, and not even his brousin (brother-cousin) and his wife, whom they were close with. He hadn’t met my family—only Layla and obviously Sven. Things hadn’t been serious by any stretch of the imagination.
“Harsh words. What did the poor guy do? You’ve only been dating for three weeks.” He tapped his lips, scrunching his eyebrows. “What’s his name again? Henry? Eric? I remember something all-American and wholesome.”
Ethan. Of course he meant Ethan. My heart slowed, almost to a complete stop. Crisis averted. The doors to the elevator closed, and I frowned at Sven, pushing the button to call it once again. It was already on its way back down. Darn it.
“Patience is a virtue,” I pointed out.
“Or a definite sign he is playing for the other team.” Sven adjusted the collar of my blue patterned blouse. “Firsthand experience, sister. I had a girlfriend throughout high school, Vera. Her virtue remained intact until she left for college in the States, where it was probably shredded by a pack of frat boys to make up for lost time.”
“Poor Vera.” I licked my thumb and rubbed a coffee stain off the corner of his lips.