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She’s the miracle I didn’t know I needed.
Her mesmerizing curves, her timeless beauty…
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“Are you sure you can’t stay? I would feel so much better. Safer.”
Elliot flashed me an irritated look but it only lasted a second before it melted into a small smile as he drew me close. “I told you, Zoe. This is a big meeting. Head of the department wants to see my pitch. I have to get ready for my presentation. This could be the big break I’ve been working towards. Besides, the cops have already told you there’s nothing to worry about.”
“No, the cops said there was nothing they could do without proof. As if I didn’t give them enough already, with the letters, the threats, the…other things.” I tried to tamp down my shudder as I stared up into his handsome, clean-shaven face. The brown eyes that I knew so well. The dark hair perfectly swept to one side. Yes, I knew how hard he had worked for this meeting. I knew how much it meant to him. I also knew that out there, somewhere, some obsessed person was sending me threats and gruesome photos…and worse.
It had been going on for months now and the police had just shrugged it off. So had Elliot. I had tried, but lately it had been getting worse. More detailed, more obscene, and then the boxes had started coming. Tiny, delicately wrapped presents containing a dead bird, a mouse.
I shoved the thoughts away and forced a smile to curve my crimson stained lips.
“I know, Elliot. I just wish you could stay and watch me.”
“Zoe, I’ve seen you perform hundreds of time,” his smile turned up a little more, “Honestly, you hear Mozart once and that’s all you need.”
“I’m not playing Mozart, El. I’m playing my own composition, for the first time and–.”
“I asked you not to call me that.”
“What?” I paused and looked up at him, confused.
“El. You know I hate that. I’m going to be the new director of development at HG Productions. I can’t have you calling me El.”
I bit back the retort the sprang to my lips, drawing in a deep breath. “Sure. Of course. You just know how nervous I get before a concert. And with everything else going on…” I waved it away, wishing I could bat away the butterflies fluttering madly in the pit of my stomach just as easily.
The nerves always came, before a performance, waiting in the wings backstage just as I was now. They had ever since I was ten and had played my first piano recital. And before every show in the fifteen years since, without fail. It was worse tonight.
“I know, Zoe. But you’ll be amazing. You always are.” Elliot leaned down and brushed a dry kiss across my cheek and some of the nerves dissipated, replaced with the warmth of love and familiarity.
“I can’t wait until we get married.” I whispered the words on a sigh, drawing another smile from the man that I’d known and dated since my freshman year of college. The man who I knew better than I knew myself.
When the only thing I’d ever known was chaos, Elliot was the stable one, the steady one. The one who had brought order and stability to my life. I loved him for that.
“As soon as I get this promotion, I promise.” He repeated the words I’d heard for a year and half, “Today is my chance, our chance, Zoe.” He kissed me again, his gaze catching mine. “I’m doing this for us, Zoe, you know that right?”
“I do, of course I do, I just–.”
“Miss Carlyle? You’re going on in ten. You ready?” The stage hand said before moving his attention back to the clipboard in his hands, not realizing the chain reaction of bombs he’d just set off inside me. My pulse skittered out of control and I had to drag in three more deep, gasping breaths before I could speak again.
“Yeah. Yes, I’m ready. Tommy, right?” I waited until the young man nodded, “Could you do me a huge favor and have some hot tea waiting in the green room for me during intermission? It always helps calm me down before the second half.”
“Sure thing, Miss Carlyle.” Tommy said with a serious look on his face as he carefully jotted down my request on his clipboard, “Anything else I can get for you?”
“No, that would be perfect. Thanks.”
I smoothed down the tight fitting red gown that I chose to wear for tonight’s concert, some of the butterflies calming with the conversation but as the stage hand walked away they came flurrying back up inside me.
“That’s my cue to get going.” Elliot said, breezily unaware of the turmoil twisting me up. He gave me another light kiss and a half hug. “You’ll be amazing, Zoe. Go knock them dead.”
“I will.” I sighed the words, inhaling the scent of his piney aftershave. “You too, okay? I want that wedding.”