“No, not with Black & Co. It’s a private buyer.”
“How could a private buyer purchase it? It’s not for sale yet. And even if it was, no one has seen it. That’s why we’re here. To show it for the first time.”
“Yes, well, the buyer is confident they’ll like the dress.”
“What about our commitment to Black & Co.?”
“We found a loophole in the contract. The money was too good to turn down.”
“But—” I started.
“The dress is sold. This is not the issue.” He cut me off, his movements a breeze. We were getting farther away from backstage and into some sort of an office floor.
“What is the issue?” I tried to regulate my breaths. Oh, snap. What if it had been purchased by a celebrity? What if the celebrity didn’t want anyone else to see it so they could have first dibs and show it off? What if the whole runway thing was canceled and I could just go about my day and watch the show from the sidelines? I could already imagine myself seeing the dress draped on Dua Lipa on the cover of OK! magazine—was she dating anyone these days?—and getting giddy. Pride made my chest swell.
“The buyer has an unusual request.” Sven finally stopped. We were far enough from backstage not to be seen, standing in front of a white wooden door.
I tucked flyaway locks of hair behind my ear. Sven swatted my hands away. “You did not sit for forty-five minutes to get your hair curled just so you could ruin it a second before the show.”
So I am doing the show? What happened to my Dua Lipa dream?
“What’s the request?” I huffed, tired of being kept in the dark.
“Well”—Sven looked around, a little queasy—“you’ll have to ask the groom.”
Sven pushed the door in front of us open, and I tripped forward on my heels from the shock. A pair of big, confident hands caught me at the last minute.
Chase was holding me.
Not only was he holding me, but he was staring into my eyes, his twinkling blue-grays full of mischief and heartbreaking warmth I had never seen in them before.
“Hi,” he whispered.
“H-hi . . . ?”
I pushed myself up on both feet, aware that I probably had puke breath, and looked around me. Everybody was here. Well, everybody I knew from New York, anyway. Lori, Katie, Julian, Clementine, Sven, Ethan (Ethan?), Grant, Francisco, and all the colleagues I was close with. Nina and Layla slipped in just as I took count of the people in the room. Apparently, they’d been behind Sven and me the entire time.
I looked between Chase and Sven, trying to will my heart to keep from hammering its way out of my chest. Jumping to conclusions could crush me. Plus, I’d known Chase for not much more than a year. Granted, it had been one of the most intense years of my life.
“You have a request for me?” My mouth defied my brain as I uttered the words, internally begging him to be the groom. Or . . . not to be the groom. What if he was marrying someone else? Finally going ahead with his plan to please his family, but with some other girl? Was that why he’d been so nice and weird with me this week?
God, what if it was Ethan that was Katie’s groom, and I’d just jumped the gun? My head was spinning. I needed to sit down. Chase offered me a curt nod. I needed more. I needed words.
“Please say something,” I said, my mouth cotton dry. “Anything. I’m freaking the hell out.”
Chase scratched his eyebrow. Such a mundane thing to do, but I’d never seen him do that before. Look unsure or contemplative.
“You’ve been planning your wedding since the day you were born. I know because I asked your father. I asked your father because I drove to Pennsylvania last week to meet him. I met him because I’ve been trying to figure you out. I think I did.”
“You did?” I blinked.
“You’re the type to go for public love declarations. You want the big, messy, multicolored fairy tale. I’m not sure if it can get any more public than what I’m about to do here.”
Sven clapped his hands excitedly from the corner of the room, jumping up and down. “He is channeling his inner Hugh Grant. I’m so here for this.”
Chase shot him a look, then turned back to me.
“I was just wondering if . . .” His eyes ran down my cleavage in the dress, and a smirk twisted his lips. Like he’d found his footing. I needed him to do that. Find his footing. Talk.
“If?” I tried to keep my voice neutral.
“If I could be the lucky bastard to destroy this masterpiece with my teeth while half-drunk and fully in love with you on your wedding night.”
“Oh,” I breathed.
“Oh,” he repeated, his smirk widening. “I’m also wondering if I could be the man to hold your hair when you puke and not be the reason you got stupid drunk in the first place.”
My breath stuttered in my chest. It reminded me I had terrible breath. As if reading my mind, Layla slid two pieces of gum into my hand, then took a step back. I shoved them between my lips. Minty. Chase continued.
“I’m wondering if we could get engagement photos together, somewhere that doesn’t smell like the eighties, maybe, without having to worry you are about to leave there and go on a date with some bastard in a funny tie and a pair of tights—no offense, Ethan.” He turned and winked at my ex-whatever-he’d-been-at-the-time.
“None taken, I guess.” Ethan shrugged from beside Katie, holding her hand. I laughed through my tears. That was the best, worst marriage proposal I’d ever heard, and Chase wasn’t even done yet.
“Wanna know what else I’m wondering?” He cocked a brow.
“Dying to.” I laughed through my tears.
“I’m wondering if you could look at me the way you did the first time we met. Like I was a real possibility. With raw potential to be something you wanted for yourself. I want to be your every fucking thing, until we bring a replica of both of us into this world and become slaves to them, because you’re into having kids and shit.”
I cackled. And cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I drank him in, hopeful and boyish and dashing, with his imperial height, tar-black mane, and sparkling eyes that were never exactly the same color and always kept me on my toes. He took my hand. He was trembling, and for some reason, it undid me.