“The guy strippers don’t actually have sex with the women. It’s different.”
Before we can continue this scintillating discussion about the finer points that differentiate male strippers from female prostitutes, Declan jumps out of bed and starts dressing.
“Once we’re at the resort, I’ll order a shopper to bring you a proper wardrobe,” he says, pulling up his socks.
“I have a proper wardrobe.”
“Back home, sure. But not here.”
“I can find a Target or a T.J. Maxx and get a few things,” I counter. “I just need some basics.” I perk up. “What about thrift shops? Are they any good in Vegas?”
“No,” he says slowly, giving me a long-suffering look. “The resort has one of the best retail sites in the world attached to it. You can get what you need at Prada, Chanel, or Armani.”
“Why would I buy anything there? We’re not going to a fancy ball, are we?”
“No. But you deserve some nice clothes for our wedding. And honeymoon, wherever we end up.” A few seconds pass as he eyes me. “Hell, any clothes at this point. That dress is close to rags, and I can’t have you running around Vegas naked.” His hand goes to his mouth, eyes narrowing. “As appealing as that might be.”
The enormity of what we’re doing catches up with me. I don’t have a stitch of clothing that wasn’t picked out by my mother, including the plaid butt floss masquerading as underwear. Speaking of which, the tartan thong is hanging off the handle of the fire extinguisher.
“I can buy my own clothes.”
“A professional shopper will deal with all that,” he says with a wrist twist. “It’s what they do. They’ll make you look stylish.” The instant the words are out of his mouth he winces, realizing what he’s said.
“I see.” You could use my voice during physical therapy sessions to ice a hundred knees.
“A long time ago, Declan, you told me you always mean what you say.”
“I do! It’s just—”
I stomp across the bedroom, fling open the door, storm out and slam it. The air pressure on the plane makes the door close with an anemic pffft.
That was so unsatisfying. If you’re going to storm out in a huff, do it with better props.
I charge out into the cabin and realize I have about sixteen paces before I reach the cockpit. Damn. He follows me, his heavy sigh a clear sign that this is an argument he’s not going to stop having. The fight between us over money is so irrational I can’t quite find words for it.
Oh, yeah. I can.
He’s a billionaire. Officially, even. His stock options matured enough recently, along with trust holdings, for Declan to call himself one. It’s real. I’m about to become a billionaire’s wife.
On the surface, that’s great, right? You’re doing a crazy football cheerleader routine complete with pools filled with fifty-dollar bills and Tiffany necklaces as lamp chains at the idea of being engaged to a wealthy man, but halt right there. I’m just a girl from Mendon, who grew up in a tiny Cape Cod dormer house, who shared a one-bedroom garage apartment with her sister until two years ago.
My last car looked like the Iron Giant dropped trou after a double-double and pooped on it. And the car before that started by shoving a big-blade screwdriver in the hole and turning until the engine groaned.
You try shoving a long, tapered instrument in a dark hole and getting something to turn on.
Um. I mean....
“Is this about the money?” Declan’s words slice through my thoughts. We’ve had the same argument for two years. He wants to indulge me. I feel uncomfortable. He argues I’m not letting myself enjoy and it’s a reflection of low self-esteem. I assure him my sense of self-worth has nothing to do with not wanting a two-hundred-dollar hot stone massage or a $2,500 pair of shoes, thanks, and maybe he should check his own privilege at the door and see if his need to be a big spender is compensating for something.
That last bit kind of ticks him off.
“It’s about wanting to wear what I want to wear. Not what some professional shopper picks out for me. The last time we did this she dressed me like a porny version of Hello Kitty.”
“Pink leather is in.”
“I looked like a walking labia, Declan. With glitter.”
“Maybe that’s a thing?”
“Maybe you wish it were a thing.”
“Maybe if you’d just accept a gift from me, I wouldn’t feel like you’re holding back trust.”
“You really believe that?”
He has the decency to look uncomfortable. “No. But it was worth a try.”
“Declan,” I groan. I hate this conversation. And yet I have a disquieting feeling it’s rearing its ugly head now because this is a cornerstone of our relationship. The clash between our backgrounds took a backseat to all the similarities between us, and the complementary ways we fit into each other’s lives. Now, under conflict, we’re finding the fissures.
“Beginning our descent,” the pilot announces. “Please take your seats, Mr. and Mrs. McCormick.”
The unearned title makes me smile, a bashful grin that twists the corner of my mouth up, the other held in place by my teeth as I bite the inside of my lip. The tension between us eases as we strap in, a bottle of chilled sparkling water in a silver bucket on ice on a table next to him, the bucket’s twin next to me, filled with a bottle of bubbly.
Without asking, because he knows me so well, Declan opens the sparkling water and pours me a glass. I’ll sip it during the descent to pop my ears over and over. His fingers brush against mine and I give him a soft smile.