“Poor me.” Sven swatted my hand away. “I was so busy trying to be the man I thought my parents wanted I completely missed out on my ho years. Don’t let that happen to you, Maddie. You go and be that ho we all want to be.”
“You’re projecting.” I winced.
“And you are missing out,” he countered, poking me in the breastbone. “It’s been months since you broke up with Chase. It’s time to move on. Really move on.”
“I did. I mean, I have. I am.” I pressed the button to the elevator three times in succession. Click click click.
“Oh, look, an incoming text message from Layla.” Sven held his phone up to my face. Oh, I forgot to mention that since Sven and I couldn’t be best friends, my best friend had actually become his best friend. It really messed with my work/personal-life balance, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at times. Like now. “Let me read that for you: ‘Tell your employee to take this weekend to enjoy herself. Force her to have fun. Make mistakes. Sleep with the man of her dreams.’”
“I’m not . . . ,” I started, but he shook his head, turning around, waving his hand as he sauntered back into the studio and bent over Nina’s shoulder, glancing at what she was working on. The doors to the elevator opened. I walked in, shaking my head.
“Over my dead body.”
Half an hour before Chase was supposed to pick me up, I knocked on Layla’s door. She opened, pushing a stray lock of emerald-green hair behind her ear, holding a kicking, screaming four-year-old in meltdown mode. Layla was a curvy, the-only-dimples-I-have-are-on-my-ass-and-that’s-the-way-I-like-it girl, with the most enviable wardrobe, consisting of boho-chic dresses, floaty skirts, and over-the-shoulder knit sweaters. She didn’t seem to mind his advances at tearing her eardrum. The pocket money must be worth it.
“If it isn’t Martyr Maddie,” she chirped lovingly, giving me a one-arm squeeze. I hadn’t changed from my work clothes. A blue blouse with printed cherries, paired with a gray pencil skirt and pink pumps. “Shouldn’t you be with your ex-boyfriend right about now?”
“Just came by to drop off my keys.”
Okay. That was a blatant lie. Layla had a spare in case of an emergency. I just needed to talk to her before I left. “Thanks for watching over Daisy. I usually walk her three times a day, for twenty minutes minimum. She likes Abingdon Square Park. Specifically chasing after a squirrel named Frank and catcalling other dogs. Just make sure she doesn’t run into the street. There’s a measuring cup in her food bag—one scoop in the morning, one in the evening. Her vitamins are by the utensils drawer, yellow pack. Don’t worry about changing her water too much. She drinks from the toilet bowl anyway. Oh, and don’t leave anything on the counter. She will find a way to open and eat it.”
“Sounds like me after a night out.” Layla grinned. “Frank, huh? Are things serious between them?”
“Unfortunately for him.” I winced. I recognized Frank by the bald spot between his eyes. Daisy loved that squirrel, so of course, I fed him every time we went to the park.
“She also might pee in your shoes in protest when she realizes I am gone,” I added.
“Jesus, she is worse than a kid. That see-you-next-Thursday ex-boyfriend of yours really made sure you’d never forget him with this parting gift.”
I shrugged. “Better than C-H-L-A-M-Y-D-I-A.”
“I know how to spell.” The kid poked his tongue out, making both of us look at him incredulously.
“Thanks, I owe you one,” I said.
“Don’t mention it.”
The kid in her hand was now tugging at her hair, yelling his mother’s name.
“Ground control to Martyr Maddie, are you there? I asked you if Sven read you my text,” Layla said, ignoring the ball of commotion in her arms. I hated that nickname. I also hated that I kept earning it by never turning people down when they asked for favors. Exhibit A: attending my own fake engagement party in the Hamptons this weekend.
“Yup.” I plastered a cheerful smile on. “Sorry, I drifted. He did. You’re insane.”
“And you look like you’re on death row.”
“I feel like it too.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I know how devastating it is when a gorgeous, well-bred gazillionaire whisks you off for a weekend in the Hamptons after slipping a four-hundred-fifty-K engagement ring on your finger. But you will survive it.”
Let the record show I hadn’t been the one doing the investigation on how much the ring cost. That was Layla, over a bottle of wine (okay, spiked Capri Sun) the minute Chase left my apartment building. I’d summoned her to an urgent meeting, during which she browsed Black & Co. Jewelry’s website and concluded the engagement ring was a limited edition and was no longer for sale.
“You know what it means.” She wiggled her brows then, pouring a shot of vodka into a cup and squeezing the Capri Sun into it. I’d shut her down immediately.
“Yes. That he wants to make sure his family thinks the engagement is legit. That’s all.”
Now, I was still trying to douse her optimism with a good portion of reality.
“Really, I prefer to look at it as being kidnapped by a cheating, lying, arrogant piece of sh—” I eyed the kid, who went completely silent, bug eyed, waiting for me to complete the sentence. I cleared my throat. “Sheep.”
“She said a potty word.” He pointed at me with a chubby finger.
“No, I didn’t. I said ‘sheep,’” I protested. I was arguing with a four-year-old. Ethan would have had a heart attack on impact had he found out.
“Oh.” The kid poked his lower lip out, mulling it over. “I love sheep.”
“Apparently, we don’t love this one, Timothy.” Layla patted his head. She closed the door half an inch. “Can you promise me one thing?”
“Do I have to?” I sulked. I knew she’d want me to be positive and optimistic.
“Try to make the most out of it. Instead of thinking about who you are going to spend the time with, think about how you’re going to spend your time. The one-hundred-fifty-million-dollar property you will be staying in on Billionaires’ Row, eating clambake delicacies, sipping wine that costs more than your rent. Bring your sketchbook. Take a breather from city life. Make this trip your bitch.”