My work email dings with a new message and I hastily click away from the spreadsheet I was working on, my heartbeat picking up speed.
This is so stupid. It’s probably nothing. I’m getting worked up over every notification.
I steel myself for something dumb like Linda’s upcoming retirement or Jim’s birthday party next week, but instead my stomach leaps in my throat as the subject line jumps out at me—Congratulations on your promotion.
Holy shit. Did I actually get the job?
I open the email, my gaze racing through the lines.
We appreciate your hard work and commitment during your time here.
We’re excited to offer you a promotion to the role of Forensic Accountant.
Attached you’ll find an updated contract covering your new employment terms.
I sit back in my seat, holding my hands over my mouth. Oh my God, I actually did it. All that time spent studying for the Certified Fraud Examiner exam, pouring through information online about the job, answering the mock interview questions Ethan threw my way—it was all worth it.
I reach for my phone to text him, then pause. He’s going to ask me a million and one things, so I should probably read through the contract first.
Double clicking on the attachment, my heart rate spikes at the salary info. Yes, that’s exactly what I was hoping for. Benefits aren’t any different than what I have now, all the job duties are what I was expecting… Wait. What’s this address? It’s in… Chicago?
My desk phone rings and I answer it distractedly, still trying to make sense of this document.
“Hey Lex, it’s Ron,” my boss says from the other end. “Have you checked your email yet?”
“Yeah, I’m looking at it right now.” Seriously, what’s this Chicago thing?
“Ah, congratulations, then. I wanted to call you first and tell you the good news but it seems HR beat me to the punch.”
“We’ll all be sad to see you go, but this will be a fantastic opportunity for you.”
“Thank you. And I’ll miss working in this department, too.” Ron’s been a great mentor during my last year and a half with the company. “I actually had a question about this email, though. It says something about Chicago. Is that just because headquarters are there?”
He sighs, my stomach sinking at the sound.
“Well, originally we thought the position would be here, but the higher ups decided a forensic accountant is more needed in Chicago.”
I do a quick Google Maps search, discovering Chicago is thirteen hours away. Not exactly a daily commute I can make.
“Is that negotiable?”
“Unfortunately, no. I already asked.”
“Is that a problem?” he asks.
“Yes,” I admit. No, I’m not being a team player, but this is really throwing me for a loop. “My boyfriend and I live here. Moving wasn’t something I was considering before.”
“Well, you have the job if you want it. But you’ll need to formally accept the offer by the end of the week. Take some time to think about it and talk to your boyfriend. This is what you’ve been working toward and once you’re in Chicago there will be even more room for advancement.”
“I… I’ll let you know what I decide soon.”
“All right. And congratulations again, Lexie.”
I hang up, my stomach roiling, and I exit my cubicle, heading to the restroom.
My face is pale in the mirror’s reflection—well, paler than normal. What the hell am I going to do?
I grip the edges of the sink counter, blowing out a breath. Ron’s right that this has been my goal for a while, but there are other factors at play. Namely… Ethan. The best thing that’s ever happened to me.
He’s got four months left in his Master’s program for Civil Engineering. It’s not like he can just up and move. Plus, the place he’s interning at now has already guaranteed him a full-time position after he graduates and he loves it there.
His amazing family are all here. They’ve been so generous accepting me into their fold. His mom is everything I’ve ever wanted as a mother figure. She’d be crushed if I took Ethan far away. And that’s assuming he’d leave to begin with. What if…
I swallow convulsively as bile rises to my throat. What if this was a dealbreaker for him? He’s never shown any interest in moving elsewhere. He even off-handedly mentioned buying a house the other day so Skittles could have a backyard to run around in.
How can I give all that up? How can I ask it of him?
As amazing as this opportunity is, I’ll have to decline it. I interviewed for a job here, not thirteen hours away. And I can’t risk losing Ethan. Even if he does go with me, what if he ends up resenting me because of it?
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I pull it out, my lips pressing together tightly as I read the notification on the screen.
Ethan: You find out anything about the job? I bet you got it!
Of course he’d ask me about that. Of course he’d be super caring like he always is.
I pace the empty bathroom, my steps echoing on the tiles.
The door opens after a moment, and Linda pauses as she notices me. “You okay, dear?”
“Um, yeah.” I straighten my shirt and smooth my hair back, then return to my desk, hoping she doesn’t tell anyone about me looking like a crazy person.
I pull out my phone again, internally debating how to respond, then realize how much time I’m wasting. I still have work to do.
Me: I didn’t get it.
His reply is almost instantaneous.
Ethan: I’m sorry, babe. It’s their loss. You need a distraction tonight? How about we go out?
Tears prick my eyes for a moment before I blink them away. How did I ever manage to land a guy like him?
Me: Yeah, that sounds great. Love you.
See, it’ll all be fine. I’ve got a great partner, a great family, and a great job. I have everything I need.
“Are you sure this place is open? It doesn’t look like anyone’s here.”
Lexie parks in front of the darkened building and I peer through the windshield, but it’s not like that makes anything clearer.
“It’s dinner time,” I respond. “Why wouldn’t they be open?”
She looks over at me, doing everything but rolling her eyes. “We’re the only car in the parking lot.”
“Maybe everyone else walked here? Let me check.”
I hop out of the passenger side and read the sign on the door. Who the hell is closed on a Monday night?
“They’re closed, aren’t they?” she asks as I return.
“Yeah…” Crap. I’m supposed to be cheering her up tonight, not disappointing her more. “How about we go to that place… What was it called?” I’m having a brain fart.
She blinks at me in confusion. “What?”
“That Italian restaurant we ate at about a year ago. The trattoria.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s good. I don’t know where it is, though. You drove that night. When’s your SUV going to be fixed, by the way?”
“The mechanic said it should be ready tomorrow.” Another four hundred dollars down the drain. Maybe I should get something new.
“Remember when I was the one with car problems?”
“Thank God that’s over.” When Lexie got the job she has now, the first thing she’d bought was a new car. No more having to worry about her getting stuck on the side of the road somewhere in that rust bucket.
“So where’s this trattoria?”
“Uh, Spring Street, I think.”
She hands me her phone. “Here. Look it up in Maps so I know how to get there.”
I type in trattoria spring street, hoping the place is open tonight since apparently some restaurants aren’t on Mondays.
Huh, that’s funny. Lexie last searched directions from here to Chicago. Wonder if she wants to visit there or something.
As the results load, an email notification drops down from the top of the screen, and I can’t help but read the subject line.
RE: Congratulations on your promotion
Say what now? Did her company change their mind?
I open it as she starts the car and I skim through it, confused. Her boss is offering her moving expenses and other relocation assistance, plus more money. This makes it seem like they’d offered her the job and she turned it down. Is it a negotiation tactic on her part? No, she told me she hadn’t gotten it.
“What is it?” she asks and I look over at her dazedly.
“I thought you didn’t get that promotion.”
Panic flares in her gaze for a moment. “What?”
I hand the phone back to her. “Your boss just sent this email. And they’re offering you more.”
She goes quiet as she reads it, then sets her phone on the dashboard, but doesn’t answer me.
“A notification popped up,” I comment, not sure what else to say. “I wasn’t snooping or anything.”
“I know you weren’t,” she replies quietly, but still doesn’t respond to the issue at hand.
“So… did you actually get the promotion?” Why wouldn’t she tell me if she did?
Her hands twist in her lap, then clench together tightly. “I decided I didn’t want it.”
What? But she was so excited about it. Spent months studying for the exam required for the job and everything. “Why?”
She puts the car in reverse and backs out of the parking space. “So where’s that trattoria again?”
“Park the car.” We’re not going anywhere until she explains herself.
“I thought we were going to dinner.”
There’s a mulish set to her lips as she parks again.
“Will you please talk to me?” It’s like we’re back at the beginning of our relationship when she would clam up about everything.
She reaches over and fits her hand into mine. “There’s nothing to talk about. Really.”
Does she think I don’t know her by now? “Bullshit.”
Her grip tightens, but she still stays quiet.
“Why isn’t the job a good fit all of a sudden? Big jump in pay, more specialized work you’re great at and excited about? What’s not to like?”
She interlinks her fingers with mine. “Ethan, don’t worry about it.”
Yeah, like I’m not going to worry when it comes to her acting all secretive. What had that email said again? Moving expenses, relocation assistance… Wait. Why would she need to move? “Where’s the job at?”
She looks down at her lap. “Chicago.”
That must be why it was on her Maps history. “What’s wrong with Chicago? It seems like a cool place.”
She picks at her nails, not answering me. What the hell is going on with her?
“It’s not like you’re not used to cold winters. And they’ve got a ton to do there.”
She wipes at her cheek, but not before I catch the reflection of tears in her eyes.
Whoa. Something’s seriously wrong. Lexie hasn’t cried in years.
“Hey, hey.” I twist awkwardly over the center console to embrace her. “What is it?”
She lets me comfort her, still wiping at her eyes. “I just don’t want to go there.”
“Okay, no problem.” I stroke her back until she calms. “Gotta say, I got excited for a minute imagining me as an engineer at a high-rise downtown and you in your fancy accounting office across the street. We meet for lunch every day then go back to our swanky apartment in the city at night. We’re that couple everyone is jealous of, you know?”
I keep talking, trying to distract her from whatever’s going on in her head, until she leans back to look at me. “You’d move to Chicago with me?”
I blink at her, unsure what she means. “Where else would I go?”
Her brows knit, a wrinkle forming in the center. “But your family is here. And the job offer after you graduate.”
Wait… “Did you decline this because of me?”
She swallows hard, confirming my suspicion without having to say a word.
Holy fuck. “You know I’d follow you wherever you want to go, right?” I motion between us. “This is forever. I thought I’d made that clear.”
Her lips tremble. “I was afraid…” She trails off and looks down at her lap.
“Afraid of what?” I ask softly. “That I wouldn’t go with you?”
A tear rolls down her cheek, and this time she doesn’t bother to wipe it away, letting it linger as she gives a shaky nod.
“Lexie.” I reach across the divide between us and kiss her gently. “I will always choose you. No matter what. You are the most important person in the world to me.”
She releases an unsteady breath. “You are to me too.”
I cup her jaw, thumbing away the tear track down her cheek. “Do you want the job?”
She hesitates for a moment before admitting, “Yes.”
“Then we’re moving to Chicago.”
Her soft laugh untangles the knot that’s formed in my stomach. “You can’t. You’re still in grad school.”
“Only for a little while. What’s four months in the grand scheme of things? I can travel on the weekends to see you.”
She gives me one of those deadpan looks I love. “It’s thirteen hours away.”
“Okay, so every other weekend.”
“My family?” I interrupt. “My job?” What other excuses will she make?
“They need civil engineers everywhere. I’m not confined to any one place. And we’ll see my family during the holidays. They’ll understand. Your dad too. If you want this, I’m right there with you. No hesitation.”
She strokes my arm, encircling her slim fingers around my wrist. “I didn’t want to ask it of you.”
“I’m offering. Like I said, this is forever.”
Lexie’s always been it for me, since the moment I laid eyes on her.
She gazes at me with hope, reminding me that despite her tough exterior, she sometimes reverts back to that girl wishing someone will put her first.
“You know I don’t like talking about mushy stuff,” she murmurs. “But it’s still hard to believe it when you say things like that. Not because I think you don’t mean it, but because I’m just so lucky to have you. It almost doesn’t feel real sometimes.”
“It’s real,” I promise her. “And this is only the beginning. I want everything with you.”
I smile, tracing her familiar features with my gaze. She’s so beautiful. “Yeah. Marriage, house, kids—the works. I’ve already got a ring picked out when you’re ready.”
Her eyes widen. “You… You would want to…”
God, I love getting her flustered. “I’m not in a rush. I have no doubt I’m spending the rest of my life with you.”
Her mouth opens and shuts like a goldfish.
“Babe, why are you so surprised every time I say this kind of stuff to you?”
She gives a self-deprecating smile. “I don’t know. I should be used to it by now.”
“Yeah, you should.”
She leans forwards and hugs me, burying her face in my chest. “You really have a ring picked out?”
“You want to see it?”
She looks up at me and bites her lip, nodding.
I pull out my phone and bring up the image from the jeweler’s website, then hand it to her.
“Holy shit,” she blurts out as she looks at it.
“You like it?”
She blinks, gaze transfixed on the screen. “I love it. But it seems like so much. Can we afford that?”
There aren’t any prices on the site, so she must be guesstimating. “You don’t need to worry about it. I’ve been saving for a while.”
“A few years. Since we moved in together.”
Her lips twist, tears filling her eyes again, and she sets the phone down on the dashboard before reaching for me. “I love you.” She kisses me deeply, urgency in her kiss. “I want to marry you.”
My heart swells, and when I lean back to look at her, there’s a serious expression on her face.
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you too,” she says. “There’s never been anyone other than you. No one I’ve let so close. No one I’d rather go through life with. You make everything better.”
My throat clogs with emotion and I swallow heavily. She so rarely gets sentimental like this. “Are you proposing to me?”
She blinks fast, her lips parting with shock. “Oh no, am I ? I didn’t mean to.”
I bite my lip to hide my grin. “You want to do this now?”
She nods, still wide-eyed, but resolutely.
I take her hand in mine. “Alexandra Anastasia Adams.”
Her gaze narrows. She hates her whole name.
“My darling Lexie. My one true love. My soul mate. My—”
“Ethan,” she laughs.
I let loose the grin that wants to break free before sobering. “You’re the love of my life. I will always be yours, no matter what. And I want you to be mine in every way that matters. Will you marry me?”
She nods, reaching forward to cup my face and kiss me. “I’ll marry you,” she whispers against my lips. “You make me so happy.”
When I lean back, she’s smiling from ear to ear, wider than I’ve ever seen.
She kisses me again, that smile on her lips, but as the kiss grows longer, both of us turn serious as the heat grows between us, desire pooling low in my belly.
She’s right there with me, raking her hands through my hair, the kiss turning rougher, wild.
Forget dinner. I want her.
“Park over there,” I tell her, pointing to a shadowy corner of the abandoned lot. Thank God we’re alone out here.
She maneuvers the car into the darkness and I scoot my seat all the way back, loving the combination of lust and love in her gaze as she shuts off the ignition and turns to me.
She climbs over the center console and straddles me, her breasts at eye level. Don’t mind if I do.
She grinds down on me as my hands sneak under her shirt and pull the cups of her bra down, shaping her soft weight.
“Like that,” she whispers as I circle her nipples with my thumbs. “And then—”
She shudders as I lightly pinch her next.
“I know what you like, babe.” After three and a half years together, I know exactly what gets her off. “Let me take care of you.”
Forever. This woman is mine forever.
She nods, breathing heavy. “You’re so good to me.” She moans, still grinding down on my hard dick.
I glance around at the empty parking lot just to make sure we’re alone, then lift her shirt to suck a nipple in my mouth, pinching the other again.
Her hands grip my shoulders roughly, movements becoming more erratic.
“I need you.”
God, I’m right there with her.
She moves her palms down my chest, my body alive with her touch, and down to my jeans, unbuttoning them. The zipper goes next and I shift my hips to give her easier access as she reaches into the slit of my boxers and strokes me.
I groan, resting between the valley of her breasts for a moment as I adjust to the way her hand moves, using the exact speed and pressure I like. As much as I know her body by now, she knows mine equally well.
I fumble with the button and zipper of her pants, and she takes over, maneuvering around in the small confines of the car to slip off her jeans and panties, her lower half beautifully bare.
After wiggling my pants down enough so my dick pops free, she straddles me again, sliding her seam against me. Since she got that IUD two years ago, we haven’t had to worry about condoms.
Cupping her ass, I pull her closer, moving my hips so I glide against her, teasing both of us. “We haven’t done anything this crazy since—“
“That frat party,” she finishes. “That was a memorable night.”
“Very memorable.” I skim my lips over her neck, enjoying the soft mmm she makes. “I’m still half-surprised you went for that. I was so desperate for you.”
She grinds against me, her arousal coating me. I’m dangerously close to slipping inside.
“I was too,” she murmurs, raking her fingers through my hair. “Even if I hadn’t admitted it to myself then. I wouldn’t have done that with anyone else. Only you. I’ve only ever wanted you.”
My chest swells with pride and pleasure as I kiss her deeply, moving her fully atop me so I sink inside her.
She lets out a sound of satisfaction as she lifts up and back down, riding me, the growing need within me familiar yet something I’ll never get enough of. A lifetime with this woman would never be enough.
She cups my jaw, tilting my chin up to look at her, and her gaze shines with love as she leans down to kiss me. “I’m going to be your wife,” she whispers.
My grip tightens on her waist, a thrill of excitement running through me. “I can’t wait.” Does she want a long engagement? I’d marry her tomorrow if she was game for it.
“I hope you don’t expect me to be a traditional wife,” she continues. Behind the lust, do I detect a note of nervousness?
“I want you just the way you are. Always have.”
“I love you,” she murmurs, kissing me deeply.
She leans back, leveraging herself against me as she picks up the pace, her nails digging into my shoulders as I pump into her from below. Damn, she knows I like that.
Her lips trail across the shell of my ear, goosebumps skittering down my neck, as she whispers, “I’m yours forever, Ethan.”
I groan, my palms sliding over her hips, gripping the sides of her waist as I match my thrusts to her pace. She knows being intimate is the only time I get possessive.
“Say that again.”
“I’m yours. And you’re mine. My fiancé.”
A zing of desire races down my spine. “I can’t wait to put that ring on your finger.”
“Me either,” she says, such longing in her voice, it pushes me over the edge.
I reach between us and rub my thumb over her clit, her inner muscles tightening, and she joins me a moment later, her cries a thing of beauty.
As she finishes, she slumps against me and I wrap my arms around her, reveling in this closeness.
“Want to go to the jeweler’s with me tomorrow? They can measure your finger for the right size.”
She nods against the crook of my neck, then leans back to look at me. “How’d I ever get so lucky to have you?”
“Babe, I’m the lucky one.”
I relish the tenderness in her gaze, loving it all the more because she doesn’t display it for anyone other than me. I’m the only one she’ll be this vulnerable with. The only one she trusts so completely.
And now, it’ll be that way forever.