I was on my third sake bomb by the time our first rolls of sushi appeared. The alcohol was already going to my head, but that was the idea. Home was gone. Daniel had thrown us away. I never thought he’d make it an entire week without changing his mind. This was the longest we’d ever spent apart, and the hole inside me got bigger with every passing second.
I’d thought our souls were tied together, fused as one, and that he’d struggle the way I had been; that he’d have to come home because he couldn’t stay away. The more time that separated us, though, the more I began to wonder if our love had been one-sided. Oh hell.
“Here.” I shoved a shot of sake toward Muriella as I downed mine. She eyed it warily, but took it down in one fluid gulp. “I haven’t heard from Stone lately. Have you?” I asked her, desperately needing a distraction.
She scowled and reached for another drink, slamming it back. “No.” She pointed at me. “And don’t start.”
“Don’t start what?” I asked, feigning innocence. I knew exactly what I was bringing up.
“Apparently, he’s too busy for us,” she snapped.
I shoved a piece of sushi into my mouth to keep from smiling. “Let’s just call him now,” I said as I reached for my phone.
“No, ” she responded emphatically, grabbing my arm.
I rarely pushed when it came to Stone Jacobs. And maybe it was a mistake now, but what was happening with Daniel only pressed the issue that I wanted my friend to have happiness. I tried another approach.
“Have you seen this?” I fished the latest issue of Rolling Stone out of my bag and tossed it on the table.
Muriella’s cheeks reddened. She shrugged noncommittally. She’d seen it all right. “Ruby might have sent me an early copy.”
I slapped her in the arm. “When?”
“Couple of days ago.” Muriella shoved back-to-back pieces of California roll into her mouth to avoid an interrogation.
“How often do you talk to his grandmama?”
“Pretty regularly. You know we only communicate by mail.” She stirred wasabi into her dish of soy sauce with way too much interest.
I held up the magazine and let out a low whistle. “He just looks better with age.”
Stone was a cowboy first and foremost. He’d stumbled into acting, and it turned out he was pretty good at it. Like two Academy Awards good. This certainly wasn’t his first magazine cover. Last week he was the Sexiest Man Alive—again —on one of them.
Since Daniel had met him at a business function six years ago, the four of us had become fast friends, though over the years his career had kept him busy, so we didn’t see him as often as I would’ve liked. I had a feeling Muriella wasn’t too happy about that either. Nothing had ever happened between the two of them, and she’d take the Lord’s name in vain before she admitted she had feelings for him beyond friendship.
She snatched the magazine out of my hands. I pretended not to notice her quick look at his gorgeous photo before she leaned over me and shoved it back into my bag.
“Enjoying yourself?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.
“M, I’m just—”
“I know what you’re doing,” she interrupted. “Meddling.”
I pointed to the center of my chest. “Me? Would I do something like that?”
“Yes. Now can we enjoy our meal?” She gripped her chopsticks a little too tightly.
“I thought we were.”
A growl escaped her, but I knew she wasn’t mad when she snagged a piece of sushi off my plate. I sucked down more sake and let the subject drop. I had something else on my mind anyway.
“Has Daniel ever mentioned that his father’s death might not have been a suicide?” I asked, picking up a piece of shrimp tempura roll with my chopsticks.
“No,” Muriella said, shock and incredulity in her voice. “What brought that up? Did he say something to you?”
I told her about finding the autopsy report, and creases formed between her eyebrows.
“How does trouble always seem to find you?” Beneath her exasperation, I heard concern. Muriella worried her lip between her teeth. “Forget about it. I don’t know what the report means or if it’s legitimate, but it doesn’t matter.”
She reached for one of my remaining sake bombs and tossed it back, shuddering as the alcohol went down. Her lips pressed together when she looked at me, all the worry, fear, and confusion I felt reflected back at me.
I sagged back into my seat. “I miss him so much, M.”
Her hand went to my knee. “I know you do. I’m worried about him.”
We stared at our half-empty plates of sushi for a minute before I picked up my chopsticks again.
“I like the music they play here,” Muriella said, pointing at the ceiling as Madonna sang to us. Just like that, we were off somber ground.
“The food isn’t half bad either.” I took a piece of the dragon roll and dunked it in soy sauce-wasabi mixture. “We should have tried this place sooner.”
“I tried to tell you that. Nobody listens to me,” Muriella lamented, and for about two whole seconds, I felt normal, even halfway smiled. A real one, not the forced kind that I’d been sporting for a week.
That screeched to an abrupt halt when Billy Vera’s voice came over the speaker, introducing the song “At This Moment.” It was a good one but not what I needed to hear in the fragile state I was in. I signaled the waitress for another drink and waited for Muriella’s disapproving look.
It didn’t come, and normalcy went right out the window.
The waitress delivered my sake and refilled our water glasses, M thanking her for the both of us. When she stepped away, unblocking my view of the rest of the restaurant, my heart stopped.
Weaving through the tables behind a hostess was Daniel, and he wasn’t alone.
I gripped Muriella’s thigh as he touched the woman’s back and whispered something in her ear. A laugh escaped her before she dug her fingers into his arm.
I burned from the inside out. It had been a week. That was all. I saw this for exactly what it was. This was a date. Not business. Not a friendly dinner. A fucking date.
And fuck him for being a sight for sore eyes. Daniel was devastating as always in his three-piece suit, this one charcoal gray. The tie was one I’d bought for him, the black silk shimmering in the light. He’d used it to bind my hands while he deliciously tortured me. Now he was wearing it with this underage Barbie doll.
The hostess led them to the vacant table right beside us. I was staring, but I couldn’t stop. I should have been graceful, polite, the bigger person. Instead my mouth hung open. When Daniel’s eyes locked with mine, a little gasp of pain escaped me. I barely felt it when Muriella took my fingers in hers. My attention was solely on the man I loved more than anything and the fact that he was looking at me as though I were a stranger.
A week ago, his eyes would have lit up on seeing me. There would have been a warmth in them that radiated to my soul. If I was lucky, I would have gotten a smile. But Little Miss Perfect had stolen his attention. She’d gotten my smile. I hated her.
“Daniel, what are you doing?” Muriella hissed.
“Trying out this place. Is it any good?” he asked casually, like we were all old friends bumping into one another.
“Stop it,” M replied, her eyes scolding him for pretending to be something he wasn’t.
“Muriella, I’d like you to meet Giselle Larsen.” I caught the slight. Muriella was more important than me. That was fine. I didn’t want to be forced into introductions with someone I cared nothing about knowing.
Giselle’s face lit up. “It’s wonderful to meet you, Muriella. I’ve heard so much about you.” She extended her hand, which Muriella ignored, but Giselle wasn’t discouraged. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you. Rumor has it you’re an amazing cook.”
The girl, who was half Daniel’s age, was nice. Really fucking nice. I hated her even more. Hated that she knew anything about my family at all.
Muriella grunted some sort of unintelligible response. I tightened my hand on hers when the attention turned to me. “Giselle, this is Vivian DeGraw,” Daniel said, another slight by introducing me to her. “Vivian, this is Giselle.”
“Lovely to meet you, Vivian,” Giselle said with a bright smile while I sat there like a bump on a log. It was rude, but I didn’t say a word in response. My throat was literally frozen.
She blinked up at Daniel with big doe eyes, and his actually softened when she ran a finger down his cheek. “I know we’re doing romance tonight, but we can join your friends if you like.”
Daniel tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, and this time my whimper of pain was audible. They all looked at me, but I was locked on Daniel, biting my lip to keep from crying out again as agony ripped through my chest. His eyes cooled when his attention shifted to me. I couldn’t take any more.
I fumbled out of my seat, yanking my hand out of Muriella’s, and barreled past Daniel and Giselle, stumbling out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk. I made it all of a block before I doubled over, leaning against a brick building for support. My lungs constricted, refusing air. It felt like my entire body had gone into lockdown, my legs finally giving way so I collapsed on the sidewalk.
He’d meant it. We were over. Daniel had moved on, and so fast. I saw the way he’d looked at her. I squeezed my eyes shut and beat a palm against my forehead to expel the memory of him tucking her hair behind her ear.
“Vivian,” Muriella called, dropping the suitcase I’d carried to the restaurant so I wouldn’t risk the chance of seeing him if I left it at M’s. She sank to the sidewalk beside me, her arm going around my shoulders.
We sat there so long, a couple of people actually threw money at us. With the front of the restaurant still in view, we witnessed Daniel and Giselle leaving, her arm looped through his, her body pressed to his side. I whimpered, and Daniel turned to look as if he’d heard me, but we were shrouded in darkness, so he kept going in the opposite direction. My heart went right along with him, leaving the hollow shell of my remains on the Manhattan sidewalk.