She clears her throat. “Nothing. It’s fine. I’m happy for you, Nicola. I really am. You deserve someone who sees you for who you really are and have I mentioned how smoking fucking hot he is?”

Nerves bubble in my stomach. This has to be about what she said, whatever she found on the internet. I want to ask, but if it’s really that bad then I’m not sure I want to find out while sitting in her office. “Thank you,” I say.

“What else do we need to figure out for the gala?”

“You’ll ask Tristan?”

I nod. “Yeah, I think he’ll get a kick out of it.”

“Perfect.”

She dives into preparations for the rest of the gala and we go over food and decor and what kinds of our ice cream might be served. Now that Tristan helped me have a breakthrough, I’m hopeful that Orange and Basil might be one of the flavors that we could debut. We go through everything that we can think of until it seems Jill has everything under control. The gala really isn’t part of her job description as our media and PR person, but she loves it, so she volunteers. I help because it’s a big job, and it’s always something that helps our sales and gets us good press for a non-profit event.

In fact, it’s actually becoming pretty big. We have some minor celebrities on the guest list this year and I would love for it to turn into a thing that people travel to Leighton City for. Not only would that help the company, it will help with general tourism and the economy of the city. Need something to do for Valentine’s Day? Come to Leighton City, home of Thompson’s Ice Cream for a romantic weekend.

By the time we’re finished it’s almost five, and I have an idea. “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“Since my parents don’t know about Tristan and me, it’s been…hard to find time together. I was wondering—”

“If you can use me as an alibi to go get laid with your super-hot new boyfriend? Girl, I got you.” She grins. “Hell, take an overnight bag and tell them that you’re helping me work on the designs for the centerpieces.”

“The centerpieces are done, aren’t they?”

Jill smirks. “Yes.”

“Thank you.”

“Go get some ass.”

I roll my eyes, but I’m grinning as I leave her office, and I pull out my phone. This is going to be a welcome surprise.

8

Nicola

The lie goes smoothly, and I find myself packing an overnight bag, knowing that I’m going to spend the night at my boyfriend’s house for the first time in my life. That question about what Jill found is still nagging me, but I can’t make myself look it up. I’m terrified that it will ruin everything, and if it does ruin everything, then I want one more night with him that’s untainted.

I’m not sure if that makes me selfish or stupid, but I’ve made up my mind.

Tristan was ecstatic when I told him I was able to spend the night, and I’m happy too. We haven’t had an evening together like this. All we’ve had was last Saturday where we spent most of the day at his house and I helped him unpack—at my insistence. But tonight will be dinner and maybe a movie and definitely something more than that.

“Bye,” I say to my mom, who’s working at the kitchen table.

“Bye, sweetie. Have fun,” she says absently.

I’m definitely planning on it, and I get out of the house before she can ask me any more questions. I didn’t have to use Jill as an excuse. I’m an adult. If I want to go out and spend the night elsewhere, I don’t need permission. But I also know that it would bring up a lot of questions, and that’s not something I want to get into right now either.

Tonight is going to be great. Especially once I show Tristan the surprise that I’m wearing under my clothes. This isn’t exactly the most comfortable underwear I’ve ever had, but the look on his face is going to make it all worth it.

I pull up to his townhouse, and the cheery light pouring out of the windows into the snow makes my heart ache. Somehow, impossibly, this already feels like home.

When I climb up the steps, he opens the door before I even knock and sweeps me into a bruising kiss that ends up with me pressed against the doorframe, gasping for air and nipples hard. “Not pulling out the stops tonight, are you?”

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “You’re mine for the night. I want to make the most of it.”

“I’m glad.” As he pulls me inside I’m enveloped by the mouth-watering scent of Italian food. “You cooked for me?” I can’t help but smile.

Tristan nods as he helps me take off my coat and hands me a glass of wine. “I won’t pretend that it’s up to the standards of someone who went to culinary school, but I can hold my own in the kitchen.”


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