Chapter One

New York City

“I don’t understand, Armand.” Sniffling, Mimi used a tissue pulled from the box conveniently located on her friend’s desk to dab her moist nose. Until Rick, she’d never been with a man who mattered so much or had the ability to tinker with her mental state. She wasn’t prepared for him to have such power over her emotions. Blindsided by her vulnerability, she was struggling to get back her usual confidence.

“There I was, experiencing the most intense, eye-opening lovemaking of my life and the next morning I woke up to find the man I shared it with was gone.”

“Gone? That’s a strong word to use. He’s my friend, so I might be biased, but I think he truly cares about you. No, I know he cares. I’m sure he’s away on business and can’t be disturbed or something like that, right?”

“There was a message on my phone saying he’d been called away for a meeting. Since then, there’s been a few texts, but they say nothing more than he’s thinking of me. Great, thank you, you’re thinking of me. No, if the man is awake, his phone is on him, so why isn’t he talking to me?” There had been a time or two when his cell had buzzed at inconvenient times, but not recently, at least not since she’d threatened to toss the device out her bathroom window.

Rick was too handsome with his lovely brown hair, which leaned toward wavy, so he kept it closely cropped. And his body, even clothed in a traditional suit and tie, was fit. Broad shoulders tapered down to a lean waist, long legs and the best ass she’d ever seen. Yes, he was beyond gorgeous, but he was also a good man. Thoughtful and kind and always thinking of others was him, so why couldn’t he at least talk to her, verbally, not by text or direct message. Of course she cared for him, loved him, but this ability he had to twist her world upside down was new and she wasn’t comfortable with it at all.

“Well, he’s working and you know how deep he falls into a project. Besides, the man’s work ethic is unmatched.”

“I know, but something’s wrong. I’m not a clinging person, but it feels weird not to connect with him at all. Whatever I touch or do seems off. Soured, you know what I mean? Even my morning hot chocolate somehow doesn’t put a zip in my step and you know how much I enjoy my first cup of the lovely brown sweetness.” Some people enjoyed coffee, the British tea, but she couldn’t think about starting a day without a cup of hot chocolate.

“Oh yes, that’s definitely a sign the end of the world is upon us. I know how much your preferred liquid nirvana means to you,” he offered with a smile and a small giggle. “On my last trip to Paris, didn’t I bring you a canister of chocolate powder from that place you lust after, the one by the Jardin des Tuileries?”

“Angelina. Yes, you did and the spread was also lovely, thank you,” she offered, while feeling as if she were unraveling over something silly. Nothing was normal anymore and she wasn’t someone who handled disorder without a plan of action in hand. She had to know if her spiral was obvious to others. “Do you think I’m crazy?”

“No, never! You’re my muse. If you’re crazy, then what am I? Ready for a straitjacket to be brought in by a bevy of doctors?”

“You mean you haven’t designed one yet?” The man had an uncanny ability to make her laugh at herself, him and life in general. That was one of the reasons why she had stopped by for a visit during an incredibly busy time for Armand. She was being selfish by interrupting him and knew it, but couldn’t think of what else to do to make things right again.

“Of course I have. It’s black with pretty pink hearts fluttering up one side, over the shoulder, and down the back with flames following a similar path on the other. Love and desire are what hold me together and they’d also take me down. It’s currently in production.” Armand couldn’t keep a straight face and burst out laughing before he finished speaking. Mimi found his openhearted joy and different approach to trying times infectious.

The lighthearted turn their conversation had taken was exactly what she’d needed to help reclaim control over the insecurity she hadn’t known since high school. Her life had been fine before Rick, although it was even better than she’d imagined possible with him in it. She’d made a mistake in not preparing for when he might not be there. It was her life and therefore it was up to her to make the right choices to ensure the path she traveled went where she wanted, in the way she wanted it to go.”