| 19 | Happy Fucking Valentine’s Day ||

“No, no, no, no, no. How many times do I have to tell you that the food needs to go in the alcove near the bar? I have a reason for the things that I tell you.” Lacey took a deep sip of the red wine in her hands.  She winced. “Cory, what is this?” She pointed to her glass with a frowned-up look.

The woman frowned back. “Red wine.”

“This is really―” She shivered, pushing the glass toward the woman. “Awful. Really awful.”

“You said get red wine.”

“True, but did I tell you to poison our guests? No. Here.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a company credit card. “There’s a wine place two blocks north. Talk to Tiffany and get five cases of something better. Take those two guys with you. Yep, the ones standing around doing nothing.”

The woman nodded and went to do Lacey’s bidding.

“Don’t block the display.” She pointed at two men holding balloons. “Put the banner a little higher. Higher. A little higher. Okay, good. Tie some balloons to that too.” She ordered to people on ladders. She leaned on the bar. “Excuse me. Double shot of tequila, please.” The bartender didn’t even flinch.

Good. Lacey thought. She didn’t pay the bitch to judge or question. She paid her to make drinks!

She paused.

Did she just call that person a bitch? She rolled her eyes. Damn biker shit was rubbing off on her. No! She shouted in her head. She was her own person. She didn’t want or need Devlin Sinn. Gah! The man was infuriating, to say the least. She knocked back the drink and slammed it on the bar.

She pulled out her phone and hesitated staring at his last message like she had every day for the past couple of weeks. She closed her eyes and thought about him stopping by, after some shit, who knew what, that brought him bleeding to her door.

She turned him away. How could she turn him away? Her chest burned to reconcile that, then her good sense told her to keep on down her track. She was right to turn the man away. She felt relieved after he left. That was, once the heavy feeling of loss subsided.

No, she was right. He would never match up to who she saw as a partner. She pressed the reply button and started typing:

No, it’s on me. I should have said no five years ago like I did the other night. Have a good life.

She raised an eyebrow, scrutinizing the message before she hit the send button. She took a deep breath and smiled. That felt good. It was so final.

Her smile slowly faded.

It was so final. So final that she would never see or hear from him again. It was like it never happened. She erased all of it. That’s what she wanted. She deserved better. She deserved the perfect match for her, and Devlin Sinn was far from that. She did the right thing.

She stuffed her phone in her pocket, straightened her suit jacket and turned to the commotion of preparations that was going on around her. She glanced at her watch. Three more hours and things were looking great. She frowned when she saw something amiss.

“Hey! Corey! Who oversees the table displays?”

“Uh,”

“I said every table. Every single table. Not every other table. Not tables at random. Every table.”

“Okay, Lacey. I’ll get Donald right on it.”

“Thank you.” Lacey paused when she saw Rita stroll in, late of course.

“Oh, my goodness, Cruella. This place looks amazing. The flowers are absolutely perfect.”

“I know. I had to pick those damn things up a week ago and keep them alive in my office space, so my florist wouldn’t sell them to some swanky wedding.”

“Mhm. You okay? You look a litt―”

“NO! Don’t just toss your coat wherever the hell you want! There is a designated place to hang it. Come, I will show you the way.” She linked arms with her friend and led her to the coat closet.

“Girl, when was the last time you were laid? Because you’re acting like―”

Lacey growled. She sounded like the jungle cat she felt like. “That’s what’s wrong with women these days!” She shouted and pulled away from Rita. “Acting like we need men. NEED those selfish, ungrateful, incompetent idiots to make us feel good about ourselves. No, ma’am, not Lacey Diaz.”

“Damn girl, that shit’s deep.” The woman said, eyeing Lacey suspiciously. She frowned, leaned in and sniffed toward Lacey. “Have you―” She made another strange face. “Have you been drinking?”

She crossed her arms and stood straight. “I had a couple drinks. What’s wrong with that?”

“Uh, nothing, except you don’t drink. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen you finish a glass of wine before.” She pulled a hanger from the rest. “You uh, you wanna talk about it?”

She looked away. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine.”

“Mhm, okay boo. Well, if you need me, I’mma be avoiding you.”

Lacey pinched her nose, finally alone. Was she acting out of her normal? Was she that person?

“Rita, wait.” She caught up to her friend. “Is it so wrong having expectations? Is it so wrong knowing what you want? Is it so wrong to want someone who will respect you and give you more than just sex?”

There was a small silence. “No, it’s not wrong, but there are standards, and then there are Lacey Diaz’s standards. Listen, I’m not saying you should settle for less than you’re worth, but everyone will always disappoint you if you expect them to be some perfect marble statue. Even I can’t live up to those kinds of expectations, and I’ve known you your whole life.” She took a deep breath. “See, there’s what you think you want. That long ass laundry list of things you pile on one person to somehow be that, and then, there’s the beautiful reality.”

Lacey frowned. Is that what Jacob thought? Is that how he felt? Under the smiling and spontaneous flowers and long weekends out of town, is that how he felt with her?

“What’s that? T-the beautiful reality?”

“None of that shit matters when you find the person that’s just right for you. It won’t be perfect. It’s going to be a challenge in some ways, and peaceful in others. Adventurous and mundane. It’s probably not going to make any sense to anyone else. That means you’re doing something right.”

Lacey crossed her arms really trying to decipher what the hell her friend said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”

Rita laughed and slung an arm over Lacey’s shoulder. “Good. Now let’s get you another drink.”

Two hours into the event, Lacey smiled, leaving the table of a few regulars. She was feeling on cloud nine. Things were filling out nicely with a good mix of men and women. The jazz band arrived and was playing in the background. She leaned on a bistro table listening to the woman’s soothing, sultry voice as it glided over a series of notes.

She was startled out of her thoughts when the door came crashing open. Before she could get her thoughts together, she was certain the liquor wasn’t helping with this, in walked not one, not two, not even three, but a whole string of burley, gruff bikers.

Her insides lodged in her throat. She headed toward the door as the crowd started to grow silent. Even the music started to fade as all attention went to the door. “Please,” she addressed the room, everyone, carry on. Everything is under control.” She didn’t even believe the shake in her voice.

“Excuse me, sir, you’re n-not on the list,” Marcy said.

“I sure as hell am on the goddamn list!”

“Uh―”

“It’s okay, Marcy. I will take care of this.”

The woman nodded and scrambled to her feet.

“You will not fucking take care of me!” The Devil roared.

She didn’t feel the confidence, but the liquid burning in her was enough for her to fake it. She crossed her arms and stood toe-to-toe with the man. She ignored the sizzling desire that snaked from her middle through her body at his nearness and ignored his obnoxious display of alpha male energy. “Don’t think you’re going to come into my party and act like a bull in a China shop.”

“Well, Lacey, if you can be petty, then so will I.” He pulled out his phone and showed her the message she sent earlier. “What kind of shit is that?”

“The truth.” She lifted her chin. “I don’t need you. I didn’t want you to come. There’s no need―” She choked on her words, when the man pulled her flush to him. Her hands splayed on his strong chest as a shiver shot through her body.

The corner of his mouth lifted but the humor never met his dark eyes. “You’re trying my patience.”

“What patience?”

“You have no idea.”

He grabbed her face when she tried to look around. “This has nothing to do with them. This is about us. Our fight.”

Us? She could only laugh in her head. “I’m not going to fight with you.”

“Too bad, ‘cause that’s why I’m here.”

“Outside.”

The stubborn rogue crossed his arms and took a strong stance.

“This is not how I run things.” She pointed toward the door. If he thought he was going to embarrass her in a room full of her peers and friends, and employees, he was mistaken.  “NOW!”

He held her physically, mentally, and spiritually for an extended bit of time before letting her go, turning and walking out the door.

She cleared her throat and turned to the bikers who all had various looks her way. “Please, come in. Sorry, but you have to leave your uh, jackets behind the main desk.” They slowly started peeling out of their gear and handed them to her. She folded them nicely and tucked them behind the counter when Marcy slowly made her way back to her spot at the front desk.

“I’ll be back.” She said, to Marcy before addressing the bikers. “Please mingle, have fun. Free drinks at the bar.”

She walked outside in the crisp night. Even the brew in her gut couldn’t keep the chill from penetrating the cloth of her suit jacket. She folded her arms over her chest and looked around. There, near the rows of bikes parked on the sidewalk. His back was to her, and his shadowed silhouette was her demise.

She took a deep breath before taking a few steps toward him. He frowned at her over his shoulder.

“Have you been drinking?”

She shrugged. “Why are you here? I thought things were clear the other night when you―”

“Doesn’t excuse the shit you pulled. I was going to come to support your shit, regardless of― because―”

“Devlin, let’s not pretend anymore. Let’s not―” She sniffled and wiped the tear from her cheek. Her eyes were focused on the ground, and she hated the weight in her chest. It was so easy to send the message, but with him there. With him so close, the damn hope bubbled up inside of her like vomit. She cleared her throat and her mind. “I think we’ve wasted enough of each other’s t-time.”

“Lacey―”

She raised her eyes to find dark ones glistening even in the dim street lights. Was that emotion? Was that caring? Did he care? Was this not just a rebel, dickhead move to try and ruin her event? Had she hurt him?

“How are you getting home?”

“Rita or a cab. I’m in no condition to drive.” She didn’t think she could hurt such a man. Maybe she was seeing what she wanted.

“I’ll take you home.” He whipped a leg over his bike and held out the helmet to her.

“I-I can’t just leave my event.”

“That’s why you hired all those damn people, right?” He stretched his arm with the helmet toward her.

“This won’t change anything.”

He looked down then back up at her with a nod. “Get on the damn bike.”

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