Tonight, my life is going to change.
In preparation for it, I spent all day at the spa. Treated myself to a facial, massage, wax, mani, and pedi. My skin is smooth, my face is clear, my fingers and toes are painted a perfect demure pink. My muscles are relaxed and loose, but my brain …
My brain is jumpy. My stomach is a mess of nerves. My outward appearance is the exact opposite of my inside because so much is on the line. Everything I’ve strived toward these last few years is coming to the final pinnacle tonight.
I found a dress to wear for this special moment a few days ago at Barneys, one I knew Zachary would approve of. A navy-blue sheath, it hits just above the knee and skims over my curves, subtly sexy because he doesn’t like anything overt. Obvious.
Meaning he hates everything my older sister wears, does, says. He doesn’t much approve of the way my blunt baby sister acts, either.
But that’s fine. He’s going to ask me to marry him tonight. Not Lily or Rose.
There’s nothing obvious about me. I’m the epitome of understated. I would make the perfect politician’s wife. Standing behind my man, offering my never-ending support all while wearing the pleasant smile I’ve mastered over the years. There have been a few slipups in the past. I struggled once. Fought for my life, really, and survived.
My father and grandmother like to pretend none of that ever happened. Zachary doesn’t even know about it. It’s a moment in time—before I met him—the family prefers to sweep under the rug.
It’s so ugly, Violet, Father told me once. Wouldn’t you rather forget?
So I try. For the family.
Zachary arrives at my apartment right on time because heaven forbid he’s ever late. One of the many qualities I admire about him. He’s punctual, thoughtful, efficient, handsome, and smart. So incredibly smart. Some call him conniving. Others call him cutthroat. Rumors swirl that there are other women. I’m not stupid. I have my suspicions. They might have even been confirmed once or twice. But when we’re engaged, when we’re married …
That will change. It has to.
Zachary and I have a perfect relationship. The sort of relationship I’d dreamed of since I was a little girl. One that Lily mocks constantly, but what does she know about love?
Sex and addiction and getting into trouble, she knows plenty. But love? I don’t think she’s had a real relationship in her life.
I have. Boyfriends throughout junior high and high school, then my one very serious boyfriend in college. The one I’d originally thought I might marry. The one I gave my virginity to midway through freshman year. I’d been a real holdout, one of the last remaining virgins among my friends.
He dumped me the beginning of our sophomore year. Right after everything … happened. The incident, I like to call it. The thing no one likes to talk about. So I don’t talk about it either.
After the breakup, I remained single. Tried my best to rise above everything that happened by focusing on finishing school and then on my career, my legacy at Fleur Cosmetics.
I might have quietly fallen apart for a short period of time that not many know about. We kept it secret. Father didn’t want any more public humiliations. We lost Mom so long ago and he always said I was the most like her. Delicate but determined. Smart but not always practical.
I lived up to his expectations for a brief, not-so-shining moment. I needed therapy. I needed medication. More than anything, I needed to be numb. Craved being numb. Feeling emotions only hurt, and I was so tired of hurting.
But eventually I knew I needed to learn how to cope on my own.
Father let me return to work after my brief stint away. And when Zachary Lawrence started working for the company two years ago, getting to know him, I was soon interested. And so was he. I could tell. I didn’t care if at first he talked to me only because I was the CEO’s daughter. I flirted. I wanted his attention.
And I eventually got it. Got him.
I knew dating someone I worked with wasn’t the smartest move, but I couldn’t help it. Where else can I meet a man of such good quality? Someone I can trust? I have trust issues. No surprise, considering what I’ve been through.
While my father calls most of the shots, the company really is a family business. Both Rose and I work there. Even my grandmother still comes in and consults, though she’s now eighty-five and mostly retired.
She loves Fleur Cosmetics and Fragrance. My grandma is Fleur Cosmetics and Fragrance. She started the brand. It was her face that appeared in the magazine advertisements and billboards for so many years. Dahlia Fowler is a legend in the cosmetics industry.
And despite my weaknesses and my father’s once complete lack of faith in me, I desperately want to follow in her footsteps. With Zachary by my side, of course, considering he works in the brand marketing department and has higher aspirations. The two of us could take Fleur to the next level. I know it. He knows it.
Together, we’re a force to be reckoned with. And once we’re married …
“You’re lost in thought.”
Zachary’s deep voice washes over me and I blink, realize that he’s watching me. His brows are furrowed and his mouth is turned down. He looks concerned.
“I’m fine.” I smile, hope lighting within me when I see the worry etched all over his handsome features slowly disappear. His blue eyes twinkle as he reaches across the table and takes my hand, grasping my fingers tightly.
“I have something I want to discuss with you,” he says in that low, reassuring way of his.