Authors: Evelyn Aster
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
“You've done something bad? You didn't really slit your wrists, did you? Do I need to call 911?” Jill's voice sounded panicked.
“No, nothing like that.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. She didn't want to cry. Not in front of Jill. She was going to think she was such a baby.
“If you don't need an ambulance, I'll just come over. Whatever's happened, I'm sure we'll fix it.”
“I'm at Breckenridge. I hooked up with a guy, and he totally bailed on me. I thought... I thought everything was different with him.”
“You hooked—what about your rules?”
“They didn't seem important when I was with him. He spent the night in my room, but I woke up, and he was gone. No note or anything. It doesn't even look like he was ever here except for the Suduko book he gave me.”
“I'm gonna kill him, literally.”
“How? I don't have his phone number or anything. I can't believe how violated I feel right now. I'm such a screw up.”
Grace sobbed despite all the soothing words Jill said and the declarations to hunt him down. She tried to hold her breath to calm herself and heard the whir of the lock. The door handle clicked, and Royce opened it, rolling his suitcase in and leaning their skis against the wall. He added his boot bag to the pile.
Stunned, she interrupted Jill and said, “He came back.”
“He, he brought his suitcase and our skis.”
“Put him on.”
“I don't think...”
“Put him on, Grace.”
She held the phone out to Royce while she wiped the tears off her cheek. “Jill wants to talk to you.”
“Are you okay?”
He sat down next to her and put his arm around her.
“I wouldn't keep her waiting.”
He took the phone and said, “Hello...Royce.”
He watched Grace as he listened. Grace could hear Jill's voice, but not enough to catch what she was saying.
“Yes I know what a pen and paper is for...I didn't think I'd be gone as long as I was...Yes, I realize she's sensitive...I know she doesn't sleep around. It's not like...I'll give her my number now...I have every intention of seeing her as much as possible. I think she's amazing...I understand.”
He handed the phone back to Grace. She put it to her ear and said, “I'm sorry for crying like that. You caught me at a bad moment. I guess I just needed to wait a little longer.”
“Don't be sorry about the crying. He was an asshole for not leaving a note. I don't know what you've gotten yourself into, but I expect a full report when you get back. I can't believe you didn't invite me or tell me you were going.”
“I was embarrassed about the layoff.”
“That wasn't your fault.”
“I'll call you Monday. I swear. Thanks for everything.” She paused and then added, “You're a good friend.”
“Only when you let me. I so would've gone skiing with you. You'd better call when you get home.”
Grace hung up and turned to Royce. He embraced her and stroked her back with his hand.
He asked, “What happened?”
She pressed her head against his shoulder. “I woke up, and you were gone, and you've been gone a really long time. I tried to tell myself you went skiing and you'd be back, but you cleaned everything up like you hadn't even been here, and you didn't leave a note.”
“I remembered our skis when I woke up and knew you'd kill me if I lost your skis along with all the other things that have gone wrong. I didn’t think you’d want to wake up to the dinner mess either, so I put it all outside our door when I left. I really only intended to be gone about fifteen minutes, but I ran into Ted.”
She pulled back with unease seeping in again. “Ted? Your partner in crime?”
He took her hands and said, “Yeah, he had to tell me all about his exploits last night--”
“You didn't tell him about us, did you?” Her fingers tightened around his.
“I told him I stayed with you--”
Her eyes widened, and she squeezed his hands even tighter.
He rushed out, “But I didn't give him any details. He doesn't think I should be seeing you, so I've been trying to convince him I'm really serious about you.”
“He doesn't think you should see me? What's wrong with me?”
She stared at him a moment before releasing his hands. She scooted back to the headboard, grabbed her pill bottle off the nightstand, downed one without water and leaned back against the pillows. She closed her eyes and waited for the emotional pain from the last hour and the ache in her leg to ease up. All she was doing was magnifying everything tenfold at this point.
Royce slid across the bed and placed his hand on her stomach. His body lay right up against her side, but she didn't open her eyes.
He said, “I realize we hardly know each other, but I told you last night that I was in this for the long haul. I'm not running away from you. I'm sorry I didn't leave you a note.” He took his hand off her stomach and shifted away from her.
She took a deep breath. Her concerns unknotted with her muscles. After a minute, her phone chimed. She opened her eyes and picked it up. A text read, “This is Royce. And now you have my number.”
“How’d you get my number?”
“I took it from your file so I could call you. I'd been trying to figure out how many hours I should wait after the layoffs, when you walked into the bar.”
“Hours? You hadn't considered years?”
“Since you haven't noticed, I'm crazy about you.”
She pulled him in for a kiss and lost herself in his lips. They nuzzled and snuggled for several minutes before his phone rang and interrupted them.
He pulled away and apologized. “I should've turned the ringer off. I don't know why my boss is calling on Sunday.”
He rolled off the other side of the bed and answered his phone. Grace listened to a long one-sided conversation with Royce uttering, “Uh-huh.” a lot. At the end he said, “I have plans today, and this is Ted’s specialty. Send him over alone, and I'll catch up on Monday.”
Grace's stomach dropped. This was not going to end well. She'd just recovered from thinking he'd left her, and now he really was going to leave her. Of course in the back of her mind, she knew he'd be going to his job on Monday, but she hadn't wanted to face the reality of it. She wanted to stay in the cocoon of new romance. She turned her eyes to his suitcase by the door. He must've been planning on spending the rest of his time at the resort with her.
Royce tossed the phone on the bed, opened the curtains and looked out. Light brightened the room in contrast to the dark mood she sensed from Royce.
He said, “It looks like our time together is being cut short.” He turned around with a pleading stare. “I'm really sorry Grace. The company we're working for next week realized they'd planned their restructure all wrong and need Ted and I to go in and do it for them.”
“Restructure?” Grace’s hands clenched the sheets.
“To put it bluntly, they need us to figure out where to cut workers.”
Anger boiled up and burst out. “So you were responsible for firing me all along. Why did you lie to me about it?”
“No, no!” Royce landed on the bed, but Grace held up her palms to keep him back. He continued, “We did not plan the restructure for your company. That was all in-house. Believe me, if it had been up to me, I would've suggested moving you and your project manager to other departments of the company. You were responsible for half your team’s productivity by yourself.”
Grace crossed her arms over her chest. “But you're going to go and decide somebody else's fate?”
His stare hardened. “That's what I do. Look at it like being in a bad relationship where one partner realizes it and the other doesn't. The break-up is good for both, even if it takes the person being dumped longer to realize it.”
“What? Is this your way of dumping me? Get out!”
“No, I didn't mean it that way.”
“Out. I'm serious. I can't handle you being here right now. God, I can't believe what I've done.”
Grace recoiled when Royce tried to touch her. Shock set in like when Eric had tried to kiss her in the clinic, but instead of Royce being her hero, he was the cause of the anguish.
He stood up—his face set in a frown. “This isn't over Grace. If you could stop being crazy for one second you'd--”
“Fuck off!” she yelled.
He headed out the door, leaving his ski stuff and suitcase behind.
When the door clicked shut, Grace slid under the covers and pulled them over her head. She allowed the tornado of pain that had whirled through her life since Friday to churn inside her heart and radiate agony everywhere. She didn't want to lose her job. She didn't want to break her leg. She didn't want to lose Royce.
But she couldn't stand the thought of the man she'd grown so intimate with in such a short amount of time going out into the world and reaping pain every damn day.
Grace couldn't understand how her life had spun so out of control. She had routines. Now her life was an unscripted mess.
She threw off the covers and sat up. Her gaze immediately fell on Royce's suitcase. She'd have to see him again. She wanted to see him again.
But she hated his job.
She stretched out to the corner of the bed where her second phone and app books sat. She took the phone and decided maybe running through its mazes would help her mind sort through her own problems—the main one being Royce. Telling her to quit being crazy had been like a smack in the face. Then again, she might've overreacted a little to him being called into work. She just hadn’t let herself think about what would happen Monday.
The app loaded with a tinkling melody and a chime at the end. Three jewels glistened in various points of a maze, and Grace ran her finger over the screen, collecting two of them on the way to the finish. She was definitely off—she should've gotten all three. She went on to the next level and focused entirely on the puzzle.
Several levels later she heard a knock at the door followed by “Room service.”
Glancing at the clock, she saw it was 9:30. This had to be some sort of peace offering from Royce. Her stomach grumbled even as her heart fluttered. She eased out of bed and crutched over to open the door, or try to. The waiter had to push through to get it to open wider.
He rolled in two carts as if there was a family of five in the room. “I think there's been some mistake. I can't possibly eat all of this.”
“Room 854, right?”
“Perhaps this will help.” He lifted the silver top off of one of the plates, revealing a note on the lodge stationary. Grace had to smile. “Enjoy,” said the waiter, departing before she'd even thought to tip him.
She snatched the note up to read it. “I didn't know what you wanted for breakfast today. Please forgive me for talking like an asshole. I know my job is a problem, but I also know we can work past it. I'm nuts about you. Royce”.
Grace fell back on the bed and grabbed her main phone. She pushed Royce's name and didn't have long to wait before she heard, “Grace, I'm sorry.”
“Would you like to have breakfast? Some jerk sent me ten plates of it in the hopes I'd forgive him.”
She heard a knock at the door. She said into the phone, “Come in.” The lock clicked, and Royce pushed into the room, crossed over to the bed and lifted her into his arms.
“I'm so sorry. I know I said all the wrong things, I just get very defensive about my job.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder and said, “Can we talk about this after breakfast? I'm starving.”
He kissed away the remnants of her annoyance—all but the thought that a man like him shouldn't be firing people for a living. He carried her over to a chair at the table. With a flourish of his arm, he took the silver covers off all the plates. Omelets, pancakes, waffles with whipped cream and French toast with strawberries all called to her.
“I'll start with the bacon and eggs and go from there,” she said.
After setting her plate and a glass of orange juice in front of her, he took an omelet for himself and sat across from her.
She giggled and said, “I guess you noticed this is what I ordered yesterday morning. I really don't eat a huge breakfast all the time. But yesterday, I hadn't eaten since---” she didn't want to mention the layoff. “Since I left work.”
“We’ll eat like this whenever we have breakfast together, which I hope is every time we see each other.”
Grace's heart flip-flopped. She really liked this guy. He'd called her a conundrum, but she thought he was more of one. She said, “So I'm picturing you with an apartment like George Clooney in
Up in the Air.
Do you have spoiled milk in the fridge?”
Royce smirked. “I admit, my apartment is much like his, but I hope the comparison ends there—though if you find me as attractive as George Clooney, I wouldn't mind that.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, you like men too? Guys usually want three ways with two girls. I guess I'm the lucky one.” As soon as the words were out, she dropped her fork and bit her lip, her eyes still wide. She couldn't believe she'd said something like that.
Royce grabbed her hand and leaned across the table with a grin. “I don't think you're as prude as you lead people to believe, Grace Arden. But I'm not sharing you in bed with anyone.”
Grace knew she blushed and had to change the subject. She cleared her throat and withdrew her hand from his. “So, where do you live? Yes, it's time for twenty questions. I don't want you to disappear again without giving me some details of your life. You've gotten off pretty easily--” Grace bent her head down, and a laugh slipped out. “But maybe not as easy as me.”