Her sweaty palms went cold on her bare thighs as Veronica sat on the bed. Her back and legs felt like limp lettuce. She'd already stripped down to her nightdress, and the orange numbers her nightstand clock flashed told her it was going to be a long night. She waited for the sound of her faucet going off.
The bathroom lights—because her boyfriend left the door ajar—kept her bedroom from being pitch-black. Veronica eyed his carry-on sports duffel near the windows. His hefty baggage then reminded her how he'd spent his entire day hopping on planes.
Théo had just walked in a list of fashion shows in New York, Paris, and Milan consecutively. After fixing up a week-long vacation so he could spend time with her, he'd flown back to the US. Théo arrived an hour ago. She couldn't drive to pick him up at the airport at that point because Kyle was throwing another hissy fit back in the studio—something that had only started happening last month.
She was supposed to be working with her bandmates until nine tonight. But she suspected Kyle might've heard Théo was already in town, so she drove back to her apartment early.
"I don't feel so good; my allergy's actin' up," was her excuse when Kyle had texted her to get back so they could resume recording.
Although she'd taken rest days this week, she still felt a little below par. Working almost fifteen hours a day the past weeks was exhausting them already. Thus her suggestion that they take a good three-day break.
Their songs were nearly done, anyway. They might fall a few more days behind schedule, but they also needed to take some time off.
Now she was trying to quell her nerves to not spoil the night for her hardworking beau. Veronica got up and grabbed his ruckled pile of clothes on the bed. "My clothes smell weird and sorry I smell worse," he said a few minutes ago before rushing to her bathroom to shower.
Ten minutes ticked by before Théo stepped out of the bathroom. He used her long robe, which was the same shade of white as her room's plain walls. Her kind landlord had offered to have the old apartment units repainted last week; so most of her paintings and wall decor were still stuffed in bulky packing boxes in the living room.
Théo leisurely paced towards her while he dried his dark blond hair with her towel. His baggy eyes told her he'd had a heck of a city-hopping this month. The major Fashion Weeks—in New York, Paris, Milan, and London, specifically—most of the time were closely scheduled.
Veronica stood near her closet, thoughts racing, her skin slightly warming up in excitement. His intimidating blue eyes were admiring her from head to toe. It put a small smile on her lips and made her feel quite bashful.
He threw the towel over his shoulder upon reaching her side. "What a view..." Théo teased. A roguish grin spread across his lips. He took hold of her wrist to drag her towards the bed, enveloping her in a tight embrace afterwards. His chin rested on her right shoulder. His arms held her against his chest while they both faced the windows. "What?" he murmured against her cheek when she kept hushed up.
His minty breath warmed her skin. Being this close to him always made her feel warm inside. Comfortable. Safe. "You need sleep."
"Had to drop by the agency first. Vinci drove me to the airport," Théo said. Then he mumbled something about Vincent—his close friend who was also a French model—thinking of transferring to another agency.
Théo replied with a rumbly 'Mm-hmm', then tucked his soap-smelling face into the curve of her neck. "Missed you badly." His hug tightened around her waist. "How many songs left?"
"Just finished the fourth," she answered shortly. She didn't want to elaborate or mention anything about the other night, and her recent argument with Kyle. "We could sleep in," she suggested. She knew how much he'd been busting his rump all month long...his perfectly-shaped, second look-worthy rump.
"Sounds promising." Théo snickered. Despite him looking dog-tired, she still thought he was the biggest temptation on two legs. Admittedly, he was the best-looking among the men she'd been involved with. Probably the nicest, too.
"You okay?" Veronica noted his voice that sounded gruff and a little nasal. "You sound sick."
"I'm good," Théo murmured as he left light kisses across her shoulder. His hands hitched up her nightgown, until the laced hem was already on her waist. "I know you're tired, babe, but...it's been months. And you just look—" He grunted, his hand now sneaking inside her silken nightie. "—and smell so good." His teeth grazed her nape.
At his caresses and smooth, insinuating flattery, she couldn't hold off smiling and biting on her lip in pleasure. "Oui. Vous pouvez."
She missed him. She didn't expect to see him again this soon. But he'd made an effort to fix up a pleasant surprise for her, and she couldn't be any happier.
Veronica held in a complaint when the guy snuggling to her pinched her nose again. She was close to drowsing off, and she knew he had been working the whole week. But by the looks of it, he still seemed uneager to call it a night.
"You're falling asleep. Am I that boring?" Théo lay to her right, propping himself on the bed using his elbow. Her thick blanket partly covered her and his lean but impressive build.
His job as an international high fashion model didn't allow him to grow bulging muscles, which she favored. He was just one of those people who were born photogenic. "It's past midnight, Reynaud." Veronica yawned.
"Best hours of the day." His shadowed eyes and cheeks glistened under the dim lamplight. Théo snickered and dropped his head on her pillow.
"Goodnight! This is final." She tried not to smirk at his teasing, then turned to the side to start praying. But his strong arm rolled her onto her back again.
"Right." He leaned over her, splayed his hand atop her stomach, and began kissing her on the mouth.
Oh dear. Not again. He was using his mouth-to-mouth skills like a pro, making her giggle when she felt his soft lips smile against hers. She closed her eyes, and she just savored the amorous gesture.
"Did you miss me?" Théo murmured while reiterating in between kisses how much he missed her, which she understood.
After all, it had been months since they'd last spent time together. Although she wasn't one to say it out loud over and over, she missed him like crazy, too. His gaze focused on her face when she touched his chin.
"Je t'aime beaucoup," he mouthed. His warm palm now stroked the curve of her hips.
Veronica forced her lips to smile. Her logy brain was again erring into what had been keeping her on edge for days now.
"Ça va?" Théo groped for her hand underneath the covers, still seeming engrossed in her anything but striking features. He pressed her palm onto his lips to kiss it twice.
Sluggishly, she sat up and folded her legs under her blanket. Her hand hiked up the thick covers to swathe her scantily clothed upper body. She tapped the tip of his nose and suppressed another smile. "Tone it down, man. Getting schmaltzy."
"We should just get married," he mumbled after a brief silence. For a moment, his eyes just centered on her reaction. Worry subdued his effort to keep up a neutral expression when her smile faded.
She heaved a sigh and didn't bother to feign shock. "Théo—"
He let go of her hand and darted his stare to the ceiling. "You didn't say you love me, too," he muttered, his strained smile drawing faint lines on his face.
"Stop it." She snickered and dipped her head to leave quick kisses on his cheek. "You're too cute when you're petty."
"I'm not being petty," he said with a stern tone, his lashes hiding half of his eyes. Théo squinted at her. "Haven't seen you in months," he stressed. "I think 'desperate' wouldn't be overstating it." His noisy sigh afterward denoted annoyance.
Her lips rucked up as she watched his scowl compound. She wanted to give him an apologetic kiss and say something reassuring, but, at the moment, all she wanted to do was kick herself in the head for letting him feel a little less important...after being stuck on the plane and sitting through two connecting flights on the same day.
"Sorry. I'm just...surprised. Really thought your flight was scheduled this June," was her flimsy explanation. But she knew he always liked surprising her. She wondered if he treated his exes the same way then. Probably.
In her groggy head, she then tried to vividly recall how the two of them met.
She met him through Jamie, a common friend, a working model who moved to France years ago to pursue a career in Europe. They hung out often when Veronica visited her relatives and college buddies in Paris.
Months of elaborate songwriting was what she had initially planned for her stay in Paris. But the whole city was still too rousing and eventful to pass off.
Some nights, she would hang out with Jamie and her boyfriend, who also knew Théo's friends. She officially met Théo that night they were celebrating the holidays in Paris.
She hadn't met a guy as nice, friendly, and funny—on occasion, in a coarse manner when a little intoxicated. "He's just real easy to get along with," she'd told Jamie over and over every time Jamie tried to pry.
Théo was also a thoughtful, sensitive guy, generous, and just a nice friend to be around—he was just that likable. At first, Veronica kept reminding herself she was just having fun.
"We're just two people having a good time," she'd told her mom a number of times.
"So you'd rather travel 4,000 miles just to see him, instead of driving over here to spend a weekend with me..." was her mother's doubtful reply. "Nothing more than a stretch of friendly dates, huh?"
"Yep." Veronica just grinned at the retort. She didn't imagine her close friendship with Théo then was anything worth pondering until he showed up one evening at her doorstep, dressed in worn-out jeans and sneakers, and clutching an early birthday present for her. They became official after that.
"Via," Théo prompted when she kept looking timid. His deep voice drew her back to reality in a blink.
She inched closer to tug at his forearm. She was the one clasping his hand this time. "How's Tristan and Clara?"
"How's the therapy?" she asked, curious about how his nephew was doing after a few months of speech therapy.
Tristan was Clara's only child and Théo's only nephew. After a kidnapping incident that terrified them all, Tristan had suddenly stopped being communicative. He would utter a few words at times, but he often preferred to be alone in his room, isolating himself from the outside world.
The trauma was still evident, but at least the kid wasn't predisposed to outrageous and spontaneous tantrums. Unlike other traumatized victims of child abduction and abuse. Those poor, innocent children...
Thus Théo and Clara deciding to put Tristan under intense supervision of a new speech therapist and child psychologist. It was expensive for a single mother, so Théo had to pay for it all.
"Tris liked the birthday gifts you sent." Théo smiled at her briefly. "Thanks, love."
"Yeah. Chatted with Clara last week. Video call. Tris still wouldn't look at the camera, but at least he smiled and waved at me twice."
"He's doing a little better."
"Cops still have no new leads?" Veronica pulled a face. Whoever kidnapped Tristan deserved to be jailed and be subjected to trial. Be included in the child predator registry, at the very least.
"No." Théo sighed. His apparent disappointment and frustration just etched more creases above his thick brows. "Useless corrupt idiots."
"Maman won't even talk to me about it."
"Still?" She scoffed. She never liked how Théo's mother seemed too busy with her career to care about her family in Paris. "Maybe it just...stresses her out more."
"Clara's doing much better, though."
She nodded faintly in acknowledgement. At least his sister was trying to move on. Veronica mulled over the thought of raising a kid.
At this point, she was just scared of having kids of her own...only to have something that terrible happen to her child. It would just crush her heart and probably turn her into a bitter, world-loathing, self-absorbed hermit.
"Just awful. Wouldn't wish it on any parent."
"So, no kids? Ever?" Théo murmured while staring at her, his lips still stuck in a pout.
"I just don't have it in me. To be a parent." She glanced away. "Can't even take care of my cat," she muttered with a half-meant chuckle. It was true, though. She couldn't even find the time to care for her pet because of her job. "So, if you want babies, better find yourself a new girlfriend."
"Never said I want a lot." Théo scowled at her monotonous joke. "And I didn't say 'now'."
"It's just not for me."
"So...no plans at all?" he sighed after a long pause. His eyes avoided hers while he sat on the covers, slouching on the side of the bed.
The look on his face made her want to swear to herself. Frustrated and put off would best describe him at the moment. Although it wasn't well-defined, she could tell he was really cut up that Jamie had tattled about his plans to propose.
He probably just realized she was nowhere near comfortable pondering about married life. "Okay," Théo murmured with a frown.
In assurance, she drew him closer and pressed a kiss on his forehead.
An awkward embrace and a long while of uneasy gestures happened before he spoke up. "You didn't even give it a thought," he mumbled, his voice sounding deeper.
"Of course I did—"
"So...not right now?"
"Too soon, don't you think?" she whispered. It was too late when she realized she used Kyle's words. Her previous plan of breaking up with Théo so they could take a break made her want to bang her head on the wall now.
"Still think it's nothing serious?" Théo asked with a straight face. "You'll just laugh, but..." He shrugged faintly. "You're the marrying kind."
She snorted at his line to lighten up the mood, preferring to change the subject. "But I'm actually not." She let her eyes convey her uncertainty.
Just when she was about to hold his hand, Théo started explaining why he thought now would be the right time for their relationship to progress into something more permanent.
It just rang alarm bells in her head once again. "Not so sure we're set for that," she said almost too quietly to be heard. It took her much effort not to shy away from his steely gaze.
"I'm fine with this, but...the more time we spend apart—" His breath hitched. "—the more I think I have to do something."
"I mean, it's a good job. Pays the bills, helps me take care of Tristan and Clara..." he said with a slight pout. "But I can't do it forever. And I don't care that your parents don't like me, or whatever."
"Wow. You're really going there," she quipped, only to be disappointed when he didn't even give back a fake smile, or blink.
"You're a lot fun to be around, always appreciative and caring. I dunno...you just...make me feel good about everything," he sighed, prolonging his stare. "We're still good?" His question was a murmur. His creased brows and the anxiety in his eyes told her he supposed she would call the whole thing off.
"Ugh! Man, you're such a cheeseball sometimes." She pulled him into another embrace, hoping he would understand her decision. Bemused, she hugged him tight, gauging what he was now contemplating.
He was stubborn and was just a go-getter through and through, but that was just him. It was one of the things she loved about him.
"I'm not complaining or anything. Just...it's bad enough that I barely see you." Théo closed his eyes and massaged his forehead, as if exasperated. "Just don't want it to end up like—" He sighed and placed his forearm on his thigh.
"Um..." Veronica placed her fist over her mouth to conceal a grin. "Yeah. I think you've already pulled out all the stops there."
"Any chance you'd say yes?" Théo swallowed and stared at her face again. "Like...in a year? Or two?"
"At least think about it."
"Love, can we not..." She sighed, uncertain of what else to say. She stared back into his imploring eyes. She knew she shouldn't say anything more, or else she'd hurt him worse.
"Est-ce que tu m'aimes?"
"Yes." She wanted to glare at him. Did he really need to ask her if she loved him? "I considered it a couple times, too." She bit on her bottom lip and averted her gaze. "Doesn't do me any favors, though," she mumbled.
It put a grin on his face before he drew her to him. He kept kissing her until she responded to his affectionate gesture, not at all expecting his gladness at her indefinite reply. "I'm sorry." He hugged her back. "Sometimes I just hate seeing you with someone else." In between kisses, Théo murmured promises she desperately wanted to bear in mind.
Sadly, she knew otherwise. "We're good." Veronica put her chin on his shoulder to hide from his scrutinizing gaze. "Just chill..." she joked.
"It screws with my head that, we just can't be in the same place at the same time, on the same page about things..."
The statement only left her tongue-tied again, and she just listened, now taken up with his insecurity. One way or another, something must've made him suppose she'd been having more indecisive moments whenever their relationship was at issue.
Sure...she loved and trusted him more now. But she was as work-focused and ambitious as he was. A couple of reasons already threatened to point out the inevitable. Would they even get to year three?
Although it hurt to think her family thought he was not the man for her, she wanted to stay positive. She really did.
•Groggy and relaxed, Théo got up when he felt a light tap on the leg. It was his girlfriend. She just interrupted his siesta. He stifled a yawn, grabbed his cargo shorts, and zipped his fly. Veronica smiled and thanked the uniformed masseuses as they left the two-bed hotel room.Théo watched and muffled a loud yawn. With her phone in her hand, Veronica walked back to the other bed, barefoot and with her thighs partly covered by denim shorts. Her pale, dainty hands gathered her long brown hair. His girlfriend grinned when she caught him ogling.Even sleepy and with his energy way below normal level, he couldn't help getting winded up by the mere sight of her. Her sporty bra showed off her beautiful shoulders. Her long-lashed eyes focused on her phone. She kept texting, prolonging the comfortable silence in the room.The fact that she chose a single room pleased him of course. But he knew she just didn't want to double the bill. The fact that it was a two-bed room dismayed hi
• "This bed's too cold." Veronica chuckled, not expecting his complaint. While Théo pretended to look annoyed, she switched off the lights, then snuggled to him under the covers. "Better?" she teased. "Perfect," Théo sighed. His arm circled her waist while he pretended to focus on the television screen. An impish grin put small slits beside his eyes. Veronica kept a side comment to herself. She was bra-less with nothing more than a thin sheath of sleeping gown over a small pair of scanties. He wore nothing but his boxers. No doubt he wanted to do something else later. They killed time watching TV, but she also kept her mind busy pondering things, committing to memory how addictively good it felt to be this intimate with him...to have him right next to her while he hugged her close. It had always been like this. Time apart always told her what they had was more than physical. He'd made clear of that himself from the beginning. "This isn't just a test run for me. Alright?" T
•// Recording studio //"The 28th? Okay. Got it. Thanks."After confirming their tour dates, Kyle put his phone away. He strolled back into the booth with his electric guitar clinging to his torso. Jay (the band's manager) had told him Veronica was informed of the schedule changes, so he didn't bother to check up on her today.They were supposed to be busy in the studio, but she'd called in sick again. With her Frenchman back in the city for a short break, Kyle knew she'd been spending all week with the guy. Her voice had been a little iffy the last time they got to work on a song, but it could've been worse.She must be in a pricey hotel right now with Mr. Supermodel eager to make the most of his "me" time. Maybe the lovebirds would be heading to the beach later, if Kyle knew any better.He understood. She hadn't spent time with the guy in months, which was always t
• Théo straightened in the backseat and stared at the woman beside him about to start crying. What she just told him didn't quite sound right. He was still pretty jet lagged; maybe he'd misheard her. "Honestly..." Veronica took the handkerchief he offered and wiped her eyes. "We both need it right now." "No." She must be sloshed. Or high? Did smoking weed affect her judgment and emotional state this bad? "It doesn't have anything to do with that. Okay?" "Quoi?" He looked into her glinting eyes while his brain did a rewind. She probably thought he was still brooding over her refusal to his stupid proposal. "I should've talked to you sooner. It's not fair; I know. And I feel awful. I'm not trying hard enough." Her voice wavered, and he could only watch as she tried to steady her breath. "It's just— You're doing so g
•The clock read 1:34. Kyle stared at his laptop screen. It was the first time he got to read the interview—well, interviews—although the articles said they were posted about two years ago. Even after he'd spent almost twelve hours in the studio today, sleep wouldn't slip into his system. Hopefully his currently nocturnal sleeping schedule would be back to normal after recording. It had become the norm ever since the band's first nationwide tour.Some familiar knocks on the door made him exit the browser and get out of bed. He jerked the door open and wasn't surprised to find his favorite singer standing in the hallway, carrying their smallest keyboard. Sheets of paper were sticky-taped on the right corner of the instrument."Eureka moment!" Veronica beamed at him. She stepped right inside before he could fully open the door."It's midnight; we have the entire week." Kyle ruffled his wavy hair that reached his shoulders. Only a few steps behind her, he watched his bandmate position
• Great. She pissed him off again. Now he looked like he'd rather go clubbing and get plastered with his city friends than spend half an hour with her. Although in hindsight, she couldn't really blame him for wanting to turn tail and just leave her by herself.He didn't need to be here. Perhaps Théo only asked to meet up with her again because he felt like she badly needed company. For her sake, and despite his ever-busy schedule of commitments, he made time tonight just to see her. Check up on her. Still so caring. Thoughtful and sweet. She really didn't deserve him. "We're just gonna stand here?" he murmured with knitted brows matching his frown. A thick jacket was carelessly placed over his shoulder. His shirt clung to his body while his hair, sneakers, and crink
• Unbearably awkward moments stretched into minutes while he got dressed. Théo hung his clothes and ignored her, his movements quite rushed. He wasn't talking to her―as expected. Stiff on the hotel bed, Veronica stayed hunched over and kept her mouth shut. She focused her distracted mind and gaze somewhere away from his face. His very handsome face. And beautiful eyes and mouth... Ugh! What the frick was going on with her? Such desperation. It was pathetic. It was driving her mad, annoyingly helpless that her chest ached at the mere sight of him. Théo staying here with her all night, alone with her in a small room...it felt too much to handle. She shouldn't even be in New York right now. She should be back home, working with her bandmates, finishing the recording. But, of course she drove out to the city. She needed to see him. One night would be enough. Just this once. She had to straighten things out with him―be it the last time he'd come see her. Was it another sign of depres
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