He looks around the room and runs an aggravated hand through his hair. Of course it manages to fall perfectly back into place. “All of this was in one suitcase?”
“I am totally out of my depth here.”
“That’s been my general impression so far. Be more specific.”
I drop onto the bed, kicking aside a hot pink bra and groaning when it snags on the heel of my shoe. “Whenever I tell lies, I get caught. I once told my professor I had to miss class to take care of my sick roommate, and he looked up right as my roommate walked past us in the hallway. He knew her from his Tuesday/Thursday lecture.”
“Your mistake was in going to class at all. Just send an email like a normal liar.”
“Or there was the one time in high school I had my cousin Miguel call in sick for me and pretend to be my dad, but the office called my mom to confirm because my dad had never called in before.”
“Well, that was just poor planning on your part. How is any of this relevant right now?”
“It’s relevant because I’m trying to look like a wife, and have been researching how to lie.”
Reaching for my leg, Ethan wraps a warm palm around my calf and plucks the bra from my shoe. “Okay. Does a wife have a specific look?”
I snatch the lingerie from where it now dangles on the end of his finger. “I don’t know, like Ami?”
His deep laugh echoes through the room. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
“Hey. We’re twins.”
“This isn’t about looks,” he says, and the mattress sinks under his weight as he takes a seat at my side. “Ami has this indescribable confidence. It’s how she carries herself. Like no matter what happens, she’s got her shit together enough for the both of you.”
I’m conflicted between being proud of my sister—because, yeah, she does make people feel that way—and vainly curious about what he thinks of me. Vanity and the confrontational side of me that rears its head around Ethan win out. “What impression do I give?”
He looks at my phone, and I’m sure he sees the words How to lie convincingly in the search bar. With a laugh, he shakes his head. “Like you should put your head between your legs and pray.”
I’m about to push him off the bed when he stands, looks meaningfully down at his watch and then back up at me.
Passive-aggressive hint noted. Standing, I give a final look in the mirror and reach for my purse. “Let’s get this over with.”
• • •
AS WE MAKE OUR WAY to the elevator, I’m reminded of the supreme imbalance of the universe; even in unflattering overhead light, Ethan still manages to look good. Somehow the shadows sharpen his features rather than unattractively exaggerating them. Standing in front of the mirrored doors, I note the result is not the same for me.
As if reading my mind, Ethan bumps his hip into mine. “Stop it. You look fine.”
Fine, I think. Like a woman who loves her cheese curds. Like a woman whose boobs pop out of her bridesmaid dress. Like a woman who deserves your disdain because she isn’t perfect.
“I can hear you thinking about that one word and reading more into it than I intended. You look great.” Once inside, he presses the button for the lobby and adds, “You always do.”
These three final words bound around my cranium before they absorb. I always look great? To who? Ethan?
The floors count down and it feels like the elevator is holding its breath right along with me. I meet the eyes of my reflection in the mirrored doors and glance over at Ethan.
You always do.
Color blooms high on his cheekbones, and he looks like he’d be happy if the cables snapped and death swallowed us whole.
I clear my throat. “In a 1990 study, researchers showed that it’s easier to catch someone in a lie the first time they tell it. We should figure out what we’re going to say.”
“You needed Google to tell you that?”
“I do better when I’m prepared. You know, practice makes perfect.”
“Right.” He pauses, thinking. “We met through friends—technically not a lie, so it will be harder for you to screw it up—and got married last week. I am the luckiest man alive, et cetera, et cetera.”
I nod in agreement. “Met through friends, dated for a while and oh my God, I was so surprised when you begged me to marry you.”
Ethan’s lip curls. “I got down on one knee while we were camping at Moose Lake. Proposed with a Ring Pop.”
“Details are good! We smelled like campfire the entire next day,” I say, “but didn’t care because we were so happy and having lots of celebratory tent sex.”
The elevator falls deathly silent. I look over in a strange combination of horror and joy that I’ve managed to render him speechless with the prospect of sex with me. Finally, he mumbles, “Right. We can probably leave out that detail for your boss.”
“And remember,” I say, loving his discomfort, “I didn’t mention you, or being engaged, even at the more casual lunch at the interview, so we need to look a little windswept by it all.”
The elevator dings, and the doors open into the lobby. “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble pulling that off.”
“And be charming,” I say. “But not like, likable charming. Passably charming. They shouldn’t leave wanting to spend any actual time with you. Because you’re probably going to die or turn out to be terrible in the end.” I catch his small, irritated scowl as he heads into the lobby and can’t help but throw in a little dig. “Basically, just be yourself.”
“Man, I am going to sleep so well tonight.” He stretches, like he’s prepping to starfish on the enormous bed. “FYI, watch the left side of the sofa. I was reading there earlier today and noticed there’s a spring that digs a little.”
Soft music echoes through the lobby as we make our way to the exit. The restaurant is just off the beach; it’s convenient because when all this blows up in my face, it will only be a short walk to drown myself in the ocean.
Ethan opens the door to the expansive courtyard and motions for me to lead the way down a lighted path. “What is this company again?” he asks.
“Hamilton Biosciences. They’re one of the most well-known contract biologics company in the country, and on the discovery side, they have a new flu vaccine. From all of the papers I’ve read, it sounds groundbreaking. I really wanted this job, so maybe mention how happy we are that I was hired, and that it’s all I’ve talked about since.”
“We’re supposed to be on our honeymoon, and you want me to say you’ve talked nonstop about their flu vaccine?”
“Yes. I do.”
“What’s your job again? Janitor?”
Ah. There it is. “I’m a medical-science liaison, Eragon. Basically I talk to physicians about our products from a more technical standpoint than does the sales force.” I glance over at him as we walk. He looks like he’s trying to cram for a test. “He and his wife are here for their thirtieth anniversary. If we’re lucky, we can just ask them a bunch of stuff about themselves and not have to talk about us at all.”
“For someone who claims to be unlucky, you’re putting an awful lot of faith into your lucky streak.” He does a small double take when he registers that this has hit me like a truth slap. We stop in front of a shimmering fountain, and Ethan pulls a penny—but not that penny—from his pocket and tosses it inside, “Seriously, calm down. We’ll be fine.”
I try. We follow the path to a Polynesian-style thatched-roof building and step up to the hostess stand. “I believe the reservation is under Hamilton,” Ethan says.
Dressed in all white save for a large gardenia pinned in her hair, the hostess scans a screen in front of her and looks up with a bright smile. “Right this way.”
I move to step around the podium, and that’s when it happens. Ethan moves into my side, his palm pressed against the small of my back, and just like that, our carefully preserved bubble of personal space is gone.
He looks down at me with a sweet smile and soft, adoring blue eyes and motions for me to lead the way with the hand not currently straying south. The transformation is . . . amazing. Debilitating. My stomach is in knots, my heart is lodged in my windpipe, and there’s something very aware happening along every inch of my skin.
The restaurant is on stilts above a lagoon, and our table is near a railing that overlooks the water. The interior is elegant but cozy, with leaded glass candle holders and wicker lanterns that make the space glow.
Mr. Hamilton stands when he sees us, fluffy white robe mercifully replaced with a floral-print shirt. The giant mustache is as robust as ever.
“There they are!” he crows, nodding to me and reaching out to shake Ethan’s hand. “Honey, this is Olive, the new team member I told you about, and her husband . . .”
“Ethan,” he supplies, and his dazzling smile punches me right in the vagina. “Ethan Thomas.”
“Good to meet you, Ethan. This is my wife, Molly.” Charles Hamilton motions to the brunette at his side, rosy cheeks and a deep dimple making her seem too young for a woman who’s celebrating three decades of marriage.
We all shake hands and Ethan holds out my chair. I smile and sit as carefully as I can. The rational part of my brain knows he won’t do it, but the lizard brain expects Ethan to pull it out from under me.
“Thank you so much for inviting us,” Ethan says, megawatt smile in place. He drapes an easy arm across the back of my chair, leaning in. “Olive is so excited to be working with you. It’s like she can’t shut up about it.”
I laugh a Ha-ha-ha oh, that rascal laugh and carefully step on his foot beneath the table.
“I’m just glad she hadn’t been snatched up yet,” Mr. Hamilton says. “We’re lucky to have her. And what a surprise to find out that you two just got married!”
“It happened sort of fast,” I say and lean into Ethan, trying to look natural.