“Thanks for letting me get ready here,” I say, my words coming out slowly as I concentrate on putting on mascara without blinking while it’s wet.
Brenton laughs from where he’s buttoning up his white dress shirt in the bedroom. “Like I was gonna deny you to opportunity to have a bubble bath.”
Our engagement party is tonight, at the Knox mansion, and I decided to take full advantage of this fact and coyly suggest that it be more efficient if Brenton and I got ready at his parents’ place so that we could enter the party together. In reality, I just wanted to take the world’s most luxurious bubble bath in the jacuzzi spa tub he has in his bathroom.
After soaking for an hour in rose scented bubbles surrounded by candle light and listening to sounds of smooth jazz, I feel as though I’m more prepared to take on the parade of VIPs and Fortune 500 executives who will undoubtedly be mingling in the main ballroom of La Casa de Knox.
Being in this house has always felt surreal to me, like I’ve been transported into another dimension. With its high ceilings and marble pillars and priceless collection of artwork and excessive number of rooms, it seems too good to be true, and each time I set foot over the threshold, I feel as though I’m walking through a dream.
And seeing as I still haven’t entirely wrapped my head around the fact that any of this is happening, I figured an element of fantasy would fit into the evening seamlessly.
“You know me so well.” I turn to flash him a smile once my mascara is dry and notice that he’s perched on the end of his bed, staring intensely at his phone. Picking up my blush, I ask, “Everything alright?”
“Yeah, it’s just Tana,” he says vaguely, though the corners of his lips are pulled downwards into a frown. “Telling me my schedule for next week.”
I turn my attention back to applying pink powder to my cheekbones, knowing full well he’s not telling me the entire truth. “Are you really busy?”
“Always,” he snorts in response, tossing his phone onto the bed and picking up the forest green tie I told him would best compliment the grey suit he wanted to wear.
“We can skip sushi next week if you want,” I offer, knowing he has a lot on his plate at the moment. With Harrison on the verge of retiring, he’s beginning to divide up his CEO responsibilities between Brenton and Lucas Whaley in some sort of competition to see who’s more capable of handling the workload. Unfortunately for Brenton, that means he’s been working pretty much constantly.
“Of course not,” he pauses in the midst of perfecting his knot to shoot me a reassuring glance. “I’m never too busy for lunch with you.”
I part my lips to make a comment about how he’s way too corny for me to handle, but his phone buzzes, so I lift one eyebrow knowingly, turning just my head to face him. “Really? Cause your phone is blowing up.”
“Bodhi,” he replies, quickly typing a text response and then tossing the phone on the bed again and returning his attention to his tie. “He’s leaving my place now.”
The mention of Bodhi immediately makes me tense as I replay the conversation we’d had in the Bateman Building lobby just three days before. It’s been on a continuous loop in my mind since it happened and I haven’t yet figured out a way to make it stop. I know actually facing my fears would probably be the most effective solution, but as of this moment, I don’t really feel like making that happen.
Besides, I don’t need that kind of drama at our engagement party. The fact that there’s a party at all is enough. Now that an official statement has been made to the press, we’re both getting asked about it constantly, by both people we know as well as complete strangers.
“Are you enjoying having him stay with you?” I ask, turning my face side to side to check that my blush is the correct shade of pink, figuring I should make polite conversation as to not alert Brenton to my currently fragile emotional state where Bodhi is concerned. “Is it like being in college again?”
“Kind of,” he shrugs, pushing the knot of his tie all the way up before sitting back down on the bed to begin the process of getting into his shiny black shoes. “You know, without all the empty takeout boxes and parade of girls.”
I’m not actually sure whether he’s kidding, because although we’re close, I don’t think he’d ever feel the need to tell me about his sexual exploits. But there is a tightening of something in the pit of my stomach and I wonder if it’s because I don’t particularly like thinking about Bodhi’s romantic past. I know that’s not fair, one, because I hardly know him, and two, because, well, everyone has a past, but I can’t help but feel a little sad. Doing my best to hide my temporary heartache, I turn to face Brenton as I let my hair out of the messy bun I’d had it in, glad that I’d curled it before beginning my makeup routine and now all that’s left to do is brush it out. “Quite the wild pair, huh?”
“You know it,” he laughs, glancing up at me and freezing, his brows furrowing in confusion. “What was that?”
“What was what?” I blink innocently as I began to brush my hair out into loose curls, mostly because I have no idea what he’s talking about. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself. Because the truth is that I’d felt a twinge of something I couldn’t quite place.
“That look you just got,” he says, gesturing to my face in general, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were jealous.”
“Of all the girls you slept with in college?” I snort, rolling my eyes. “That’s hilarious.”
“No, not of me; I know you better than that,” he replies quietly, “Is this about Bodhi?”
“What about Bodhi?” I reply, setting down my hairbrush on the bathroom counter and turning to face him once my curls are properly loosened, my heart rate spiking as I decide the best course of action is to feign innocence. I’m amazed I’m able to speak any louder than a whisper.
He keeps his gaze direct, not buying that I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. “Are you into him?”
“That’s ridiculous.” Apparently, I’m getting really good at being in denial mode.
“Is it?” He doesn’t back down. “Because there was definitely a weird tension between the two of you at lunch the other day.”
Of course there was, because I’d just told him our secret and he’d just told me how he felt about me. Considering the circumstances, there wasn’t any way for either of those conversations to end with us being completely content.
Sighing, I decide it’s best I come clean about at least one of the secrets I’m keeping. I hate that I’ve been hiding anything from Brenton, even if it’s only been a couple weeks. We’ve always been honest with each other, even when it’s been hard to do so, because we value our friendship too much to allow secrets and lies to tear us apart. It’s about time I remember that.
“Okay, I might have a tiny confession,” taking a step towards him, nervously twisting one of the silver bangles on my wrist. “The first day I met Bodhi, there’s a possibility that I might have momentarily forgotten that we were supposed to be engaged and flirted with him a little bit.”
That’s not even the biggest secret I’m keeping, but it’s a start. And honestly, I’m not sure I can explain how everything else happened without going back to the very beginning.
“Raina!” he gasps, looking a little too distressed for his own good. It’s not really that big of a deal. I flirt with people all the time. Though, I guess I should be more selective about who my flirtations are directed towards.
“I know, I know,” I sigh, admitting my carelessness in order to keep him calm, “but it was just the one time. And I told him nothing was going to happen.”
As soon as I say the words, I realize I made a mistake. Because up until this very moment, Brenton was just assuming that I flirted and then remembered that I’m fake engaged and shut it down, because that’s what a mature, responsible adult would do. Unfortunately, that’s not how this played out and now Brenton knows that Bodhi and I have had more than one conversation about this topic.
Brenton tenses, standing up straight now that his shoes are laced up and fixing me with a hard glare. “Hold on, did he make a move on you?”
“No, he just sort of admitted that he has feelings for me,” I say quietly, deciding that it’s too late for me to back down now. I’m also a little confused as to why his eyes are all fiery. “Why are you so angry? It’s not like we’re actually together.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t know that,” Brenton shoots back, crossing his arms over his chest.
Oh. I guess it does make sense that he’d be upset about one of his best friends hitting on a woman he thought was in a relationship with Brenton. Only in this case, Bodhi’s not that oblivious.
I scrunch up my nose apologetically, sticking my hands into the pockets of my fluffy purple bathrobe. “That’s not entirely true.”
Brenton’s expression shifts from anger to annoyance mixed with confusion. “Excuse me?”
“I might have told him the engagement is fake.”
“And why would you do that?” he sighs. He’s using the same tone my father would use with me when he caught me sneaking in after curfew in high school. The not angry, just disappointed voice. Which, to be honest, is worse than if he was just angry.
And I guess the fact that I probably could have talked my way around telling Bodhi the truth makes me feel a little guilty as I shrug and say, “He was just asking so many questions and I knew he wasn’t going to let it go.”
Any disappointment disappears from Brenton’s face and is replaced with what looks a lot like fear. “Asking questions about what?”
“Marley…,” he says her name as though he’s hearing it for the first time before he winces and lets out a long string of curse words, ending with, “Shit. He knows about her too?”
“He kind of figured it out when he saw her at your office,” I explain. I guess Brenton isn’t aware that he looks at Marley as though she’s the one holding the entire galaxy together. “Is she the reason you’re so down tonight?”
Nodding slowly, he turns his back to me to grab his suit jacket and most likely hide his sadness. “She’s not answering any of my calls or texts.”
“Give her some time,” I say softly and sympathetically. “She had a bit of a bombshell dropped on her.”
Finding out that the guy you’ve had a thing with for the past three years is now engaged to another woman is enough to cause anyone to need some alone time.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he sighs, shrugging on his jacket and walking towards the full length mirror in the corner of the room to make sure the complete outfit looks good.
“I’m always right,” I remind him, watching as he straightens the lapels of his jacket, giving his reflection a nod before turning to face me again. “I’m sorry I told Bodhi.”
I really am. I should get better at keeping secrets.
“It’s okay,” he shrugs, sticking his hands into his trouser pockets.
Letting out a little sigh of relief at the fact that there’s no longer any tension between us, I return to the bathroom to actually get into my dress, a cute little purple number that I impulsively bought online months ago but hadn’t found a reason to wear. Leaving the bathroom door slightly ajar so that I can still talk to Brenton, I shrug off my robe and step into the dress, wiggling it over my hips as I speak, noting that I sound out of breath. “I’m a little surprised you didn’t tell him yourself.”
“I thought about it,” he admits. “I guess I just figured that the less people that know, the better.”
“That makes sense,” I say, doing all sorts of aerobics to zip the dress up as far as I could before stepping back into the bedroom to ask Brenton to do the rest. “But we’re gonna go crazy if we have to keep this secret just between the two of us.”
I pull my hair over my shoulder to allow him to pull the zipper up to my neck, surprised when he says, “Are you just saying that because it means that something can happen between you and Bodhi?”
“No!” I whip around to face him, digging my bare toes into the carpet to keep my balance. “Nothing’s going to happen between us. I don’t care if he knows. I’m not going to screw this up for you, Brenton. I promise.”
And I’ll do everything in my power to keep that promise. Brenton’s saved my ass on more than one occasion and I’m not going to let him down just when he needs me the most.
He smiles softly as he responds. “I know, and in case I haven’t said it recently, thanks. I know I roped you into this crazy lie, but you’re holding up like a champ.”
I could definitely be doing a lot better, but I appreciated the vote of confidence. Laughing, I reply, “Well, what are best friends for, right?”
“Right,” he grins, opening his arms to pull me into a hug and whispering in my ear, “Love you.”
“Love you,” I say back, glad that we’re back in sync.
He squeezes me tightly and kisses my temple, letting go when we hear a voice ring out, “Sorry, do you guys need a minute?”
I startle at the sound of Bodhi’s voice, having not noticed him enter the room and immediately drop my arms from around Brenton’s middle, wondering why I kind of feel as though I’ve been caught cheating.
Bodhi’s gorgeous, of course, and I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less. Having forgone the suit route, he’s wearing black trousers and a pinstriped white button up under a fitted black vest. A thin black silk tie is situated around his neck and his shirtsleeves are rolled up to the elbows to reveal his inked forearms and saving him from looking a little too buttoned up.
“No, you’re okay, bro,” Brenton says with a bright smile, his hands returning to his pockets. “Hey, so Raina told me that you know.”
That’s a very vague statement and I can tell Bodhi’s running through every possible option of what I could have said before finally settling on, “That the engagement’s not real?”
“Yeah,” Brenton nods. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you myself.”
Bodhi shrugs and I know he’s genuinely unbothered by Brenton keeping that secret. “It’s okay. I know you have a lot going on.”
“Thanks for understanding.” Brenton steps forward to squeeze Bodhi’s shoulder in gratitude. “But just so we’re clear, that information doesn’t leave this room.”
“Understood,” Bodhi nods, and despite knowing him for all of two weeks, I decide that I trust him completely. His gaze shifts from Brenton to me and then down to my bare feet before back up to meet my gaze again, a smirk kinking his lips. “Ready to go?”
“I’ll meet you guys down there,” I say, knowing it’ll be quite the scandal if I show up to my engagement party barefoot. All that’s left for me to do is pop on some earrings and slip into my shoes, but I don’t want to keep them waiting. Besides, we’re already running late, and one of us should probably be down there greeting the restless masses.
Brenton smirks at me knowingly. “Trying to make a dramatic entrance?”
“You know it,” I laugh, flashing him a grin.
Brenton lets out a warm laugh and heads towards the door and Bodhi follows suit, but not before looking me up and down one more time and sending a wink in my direction. I manage to wait until they’ve left the room to start blushing.