“Really.” Matt’s voice is flat and clear of emotion. Meaning he doesn’t believe a word I say.
“Really,” I agree with a nod. “She’s so damn talented though. You should consider hiring her when you redesign the winery’s interior.”
“Who said I was redesigning it?” Matt asked, looking slightly taken aback.
“Have you taken a look around the place? It could use some sprucing up. Bring in a more modern feel.” The winery he recently purchased was dark and dreary, the furnishings in good condition but old. He needs a new look if he wants to make a splash amongst the many wineries in this area.
“Is she expensive? I’m sure that snob Sharon Paxton charges a fortune for use of Ivy’s services,” Matt mutters.
“She’s worth it.” I spot Ivy standing not a few feet away from us, talking with one of my Hush clients who I invited to see the new location. The opening party is small and intimate, much like the resort itself, and I invited only a select few to catch that first glimpse of Crave.
We’ll open the suites in a week. A few finishing touches need to be made, but for the most part, Ivy’s job is done. Though we’re talking tomorrow, maybe even later tonight. If I have my say in any of this, she won’t leave my side again. I want her to move in with me.
Gage is going to shit a brick. Matt is going to call me out on all the lies I’m telling him. But I don’t care. Maybe I should just come clean right now. I want Ivy with me for the rest of my life, forget that stupid-ass bet. She’s worth a million bucks. Hell, she’s priceless to me.
“I’m sure you think she’s worth every penny,” Matt says, the amusement in his voice clear.
“I told her she should start her own design consulting business.” I slip my hands into my suit pockets, my gaze locked on her as she walks away from the client, only to be stopped by one of the waitstaff who hands her a glass of champagne.
“I’ll be her first client. Tell her if she’s considering it, she needs to sign me up,” Matt says. “She does fabulous work.” He’s looking at me again and I tear my gaze away from Ivy to find him smiling at me, looking infinitely entertained. “Nothing going on between the two of you, huh? Your eyes were eating her up just now. As if you know exactly what she looks like beneath that dress.”
Asshole. Panic flares within me. I don’t want to deal with this right now. “Where the hell is Gage anyway?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“I don’t know. He’s been a hard f**ker to pinpoint lately. I’m not sure what’s up with him.” Matt steps closer to me, his voice lowering. “Come on, Archer. Tell me the truth. I won’t say anything to Gage. Are you and Ivy together?”
Guilt settles heavy on my chest. I can’t talk about this here and now. I need to talk to Gage. Get his permission, convince him I won’t do wrong by his sister. I love her. But I can’t confess everything yet. Not here, not now.
“No,” I say emphatically. “She’s just Ivy, remember? She doesn’t count.” Even as I say the words, they don’t feel right. She’s not just Ivy. She’s never been just anything.
Just the girl for me, but that’s it. And that’s enough.
“What did you say?”
Icy dread slithers down my spine as I turn to find her standing before me, her eyes wide, all the color drained from her face. Ah, hell, she heard me. “Hey baby,” I start, but she cuts me off with a look.
“I want to hear you say it, Archer.” Her voice is cold, her eyes hard, and my heart sinks. I’m in big-ass trouble. Damn it, I need her to listen to me. “Ivy, let me explain.” But again she stops me, this time with a shake of her head.
“No. There’s no need for an explanation. I heard exactly what you said. I don’t count.”
“You misunderstood me . . .” I need to make this right, get to her to listen to me. Her expression is tight, her mouth so thin her lips practically disappear, and she’s so rigid I fear she might shatter if I so much as touch her.
I don’t dare try. She’d probably kick my ass, she looks that pissed. And I can’t blame her.
Yet again, I f**ked it up royally. I didn’t even mean to.
“There’s nothing to misunderstand. You said it yourself, Archer. I. Don’t. Count.” She takes a step toward me, throwing her hands out and shoving my chest so hard I have no choice but to take a staggering step backward. “I can’t believe you. After everything I said earlier. After everything you said, then you deny what’s happened between us to Matt like I don’t matter. What an idiot I am to think we could actually have something together.”
I’m losing her. Fuck, I can’t lose her. Not like this. “Come on baby, let’s talk about this somewhere else.” If only I could get her alone, I could make this right. She needs to listen to me. Not in front of Matt and whoever else is nearby, listening in. Matt’s watching us like we’ve both lost our minds and a few guests are lingering, trying to catch bits of our heated conversation, no doubt.
Shit. I’m not just losing the only woman who’s ever really mattered to me all in a matter of minutes, I’m also making an ass of myself during Crave’s opening night.
Feeling helpless, I try to grab her, but she yanks her arm out of my grip, her eyes wild and full of angry fire. “Please, Ivy. I need to explain everything to you. Privately.”
“I don’t want to hear your explanations. They’re worthless. Absolutely worthless. Just like whatever happened between us the last few weeks is worth nothing. I should’ve known it was all an illusion. That you would dismiss me so easily to Matt, I just . . . I can’t do this, Archer.” She walks away, holding her head high, but I can see the wobble in her step. I hurt her so badly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to recover from this.
I wonder if she’ll be able to recover from this. That she would jump to the conclusion that I don’t care about her hurts too. After everything we’ve shared, she wouldn’t even f**king listen to me.
It makes no sense.
“Well, you sure went and f**ked that all up,” Matt mutters as soon as she’s gone.
“Shut up,” I mumble. I can’t just leave to go after her and it’s killing me. This is my damn party. I have to be here to greet everyone and it’s only started.
But I want to chase after her and explain. I need to explain. That she heard me say that . . . breaks my f**king heart for her.
“Why didn’t you just tell me the truth? I knew you were lying anyway,” Matt says.
“So why did you keep on asking then?”
“Because I wanted to hear you admit it. I have to say, it made me happy for you, man, seeing you when you first walked in with Ivy. Your entire face lit up when you were staring at her, and she looked at you like you hung the damn moon.” Matt shook his head. “Leave it to you to say something so stupid, you f**k up a good thing with two simple words.”
Yeah. Leave it to me to f**k it all up with two words. Just Ivy.
The woman I’m in love with.
The woman I hurt.
The woman I failed.
Two weeks later.
“WE’RE STILL ON for lunch, right?”
Sighing, I check my schedule and see that my lunch hour is completely free. How unfortunate. I’ve become so unsocial it’s painful. “I don’t know if I’m up to it, Wendy,” I start, but she cuts me off with an irritated snort.
“Screw that business, girlfriend. I’m taking you out to lunch whether you like it or not. We’re going to that sushi place you love, we’re going to order not one but two of our favorite rolls and then we’re going to devour them until we feel like we’re going to burst. What do you say?”
Sounds like a nightmare. But I can’t say that to Wendy. She’s my best friend and she’s only trying to cheer me up after that fiasco of a so-called relationship with Archer. “Fine. Want me to meet you there?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind. Say around twelve-thirty?”
“That should work.” Luckily enough, Sharon doesn’t mind if my lunch hour is flexible, as long as she can get a hold of me whenever she needs me. The more I’ve worked with her, the more I enjoy it.
She didn’t ask questions about the Archer experience either. I forwarded her pictures for my online portfolio, she expressed her pleasure with the interior design I came up with, and that was that. Nothing else was said.
Just the way I prefer it. Talking about Archer—heck, even thinking his name—hurt too much.
“See you then.” Wendy pauses, and I clutch the phone tight, scared of what she might say. “Chin up, okay hon? Don’t let this get you down. He’s just a man, after all.”
“Right, just a man,” I say weakly, wondering if she realizes she’s mirroring the same hurtful thing he said about me.
Just Ivy . . . she doesn’t count.
If he walked into the room right now, I’d probably slug him in that too-pretty face of his. Let’s see if he would refer to me as just Ivy then.
God, I miss him. I want him back—I’m in love with him. But I can’t forgive him for saying what he did to Matt. Doesn’t help that I spoke to my brother, and he told me some story Archer had spun to him as well. Denying that we were together, swearing up and down nothing was going on between us. Something about a picture Gage saw online of the two of us together, smiling at each other like we’re in love.
Archer didn’t bother to tell me about that picture either.
He lied to everyone. He lied to me. My heart still aches.
But would I ever get over him? I really, really hope so.
I throw myself into my work because it’s the only thing that keeps my mind occupied and off my troubles. I move through my days like some sort of ghost. Functioning, able to complete my tasks, meet with clients, answer the phone, only to go home and crawl into bed. Watch sappy movies and cry into my pillow, wishing I wasn’t alone.
I am a pitiful, horrible wreck.
In my sleep, he comes to me. Smiling that beautiful smile of his, the dimple flashing, and then I’m suddenly in his arms. Slowly melting when he whispers how much he loves me. Until I’m falling completely under his spell, ready for him to make love to me.
Then I wake up and realize it was all just a dream and I’m alone. Without him. I tell myself it’s better this way. He would’ve hurt me sooner or later, and it was best that it happened sooner, no? Now it’s out of the way, and I can move forward.
But my mind and my body are stuck in the past, still longing for Archer. I can’t help it.
Not that it’s been that long since the incident, as I refer to it. Less than two weeks, that’s it. He’s called. He’s texted, but I refuse to answer him or talk to him. At least he hasn’t called my work, or worse, my parents.
God, that would be mortifying. Bad enough he’s phoned Gage repeatedly, who calls him all sorts of vulgar names before he hangs up on him.