Six Weeks Earlier
Today was huge. Huger than huge. Okay, it wasn’t really, but I needed to remind myself that the little milestones in life were as important as the champagne-worthy events. For example, just three months ago, I’d opened my very own boutique in downtown Santa Barbara. Think eclectic, handmade clothing and accessories, sort of like that one aisle at Whole Foods with the mishmash of tie-dyed scarves and hemp bracelets. Not my lifelong dream, but my products were made by women, for women, and I loved the idea of making money while helping people. After three months, I’d gotten the helping part down, but not the making-money part. Sales were the pits, and I’d already received notice of a rent increase at the end of the year.
You’ll figure it out, Lily. You always do. I drew a happy face on the puppies and kittens calendar stuck to the wall behind the register. It was important to stay positive and focused.
My smile faded as it dawned on me that today also marked another event. Six months. Six months since I’d seen Maxwell Cole—cocky, SOB billionaire and quite possibly the most hypnotically sexy and complex man in the world—and asked him to forgive me for some pretty awful things I had done.
And it had been the roughest time of my life. Rougher than working for the man. Rougher than falling in love with him—my boss—a man so far out of my league that I hadn’t been able to believe he wanted me back. And certainly rougher than the day I effectively tanked his multibillion-dollar company. An edgy, cosmetics juggernaut he’d built with his own two hands.
And I fucked it up.
With my own two lips, aka my big fat mouth. All because I believed—erroneously—that he didn’t have feelings for me.
Crap, Lily. I blew out a breath and ran a hand over the top of my hair, smoothing back the loose strands of my ponytail. “Stop it. Just stop it.” I’d already decided months ago to be done with the self-flagellation. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t undo the past. And either way, I’d moved on.
“Every journey starts with one step,” I muttered to myself and put another smiley face on my calendar. And as of today, I’d made it six months. I’d put my life back together and was even dati—
The cluster of silver bells above the front door to my tiny shop jingled to welcome the first customer of the day.
“Welcome to Lily’s Pad. Let me know if I can help y…” I glanced up from behind the register and lost my grip on the pen in my hand. “Max?”
“Hello, Lily.” His deep, exquisitely masculine voice washed over me like a tsunami of emotional shock.
“Max, what are you doing here?” My eyes stuck on his face, drinking in every virile detail. Maxwell Cole wasn’t what people would call a handsome man. Handsome implied someone who might be nice looking or pleasing to look at. This infamous, thirty-four-year-old billionaire was so much more. Women saw him and couldn’t look away from his six-three frame, underwear model physique, hazel eyes and chiseled jawline that gave him a godlike appearance. It was the same stunning good looks he’d used to build his multibillion-dollar cosmetics company. He used to model in his ads. Semi-nude. Yes, total eye candy for women of every age.
“I heard you’re hiring a part-time assistant.” He pointed to the sign in the window with one of those muscular arms I used to enjoy wrapped around my midriff when he took me from behind with his substantial co—
Don’t torture yourself. He dumped you hard. Obviously, the man was here for a reason, although I couldn’t fathom what that reason might be.
He continued, “I also heard you might be looking for a husband. But I don’t have any experience. Think you might consider me anyway?” He shoved a hand in his jeans pocket and looked at me with a wickedly sexy grin.
Huh? My mind couldn’t quite absorb his words or their meaning. I was far too busy realizing how much I’d missed him and how fucking delicious he looked. He wore these expensive sexy jeans that hung just right on his hips and a dark gray button-down shirt that said, “Yeah, I’ve got money. Yeah, my body is a temple of male perfection. No, you can’t have me—I’m for looking only, ladies.” In other words, everything about the man screamed unattainable. His dark messy hair, his overgrown stubble—not quite a beard—his full kissable lips and jaw and chin and everything about him was…perfect.
I swear, that man could wear a neon yellow jockstrap and orange traffic cone on his head and still look like he’d strolled off a runway.
Wait. He just asked me to marry him?
Nope. Nope. I’m dreaming. I have fallen and hit my head, and any moment I’m going to wake up with a splitting headache.
I suddenly realized that Max’s mouth kept moving, but I hadn’t heard a word.
“Sorry? Could you repeat that?” I blinked some more.
He stepped forward, putting himself on the other side of the counter, opposite me. “I know I should’ve called. I wanted to a million times. But I needed time to sort out a few things.” His smile faded, and the look in his hazel eyes hardened.
Did he mean he needed time to forgive me? I didn’t know, but clearly he had, and I felt a huge weight lift from my soul. I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying it around.
I nodded my head. “I understand. I did ruin your company.”
“Fuck the company. I was going to let it all go anyway. You and I both know my mother needed to be gone from my life.” His mother, the cruelest piece of sadistic human-shit on the planet, had owned fifty-one percent of his company, making it difficult for him to keep a distance. Still, I had to believe that if not for me, things would’ve gone down differently. Maybe he could’ve found an investor to buy her out or something. But because of me, he’d been forced to sell Cole Cosmetics to a Canadian competitor for half its original value. I hated thinking about all that. It made my stomach knot with guilt.
“You’re only saying that to make me feel less crappy,” I said softly. “That company was everything to you.”
“No. You were everything to me and you still are. I realized it when I watched them pry your bloody body from your car with a crowbar. Do you have any idea what that did to me?”
Oh. That. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten, but I rarely thought of that day anymore. Mostly because losing Max overshadowed all of the surrounding drama. But seven months ago, right as everything blew up with his company, a news van chased me on the highway near Chicago, hoping to get a story about my relationship with my infamous boss. I plowed my convertible Mini into the center divider and made mincemeat out of my face.
Now, before you start thinking that it must’ve left me with a horrible disfigurement, I’ll have you know two things. One, I was born with an extremely ugly face. I mean nose from hell, an unusually large chin, and—well, let’s just say that small children often cried when they looked at me. “Mommy! It’s a monster.” Think Chaka from Land of the Lost but with a very petite body, nice teeth, and long wavy blonde hair. That was me.
Now are you seeing why I couldn’t quite believe my international sex symbol of a boss loved me?
Moving on to point number two: The accident did leave me scarred—forehead, chin, and one side of my nose—the place where the side mirror of my car broke off and impacted. But by then I had already made up my mind to fix my ugly face against Max’s wishes. Long story short, when the accident happened, Max—despite being furious with me for what I did to his company—still made sure I was put back together by the best. Now people stared but they didn’t retch, and with a little makeup, I could cover most of the scars.
“I’m so sorry, Max. I can’t say it enough times.” Yes, I had apologized to him already—after my accident, after he’d made sure I was put back together, after he had to sell his company, and after I’d made a mess of our relationship. But my plea for forgiveness fell on cold ears. He could hardly look me in the eyes that day.
“I’m the one who is sorry.” Max planted his arms on the counter and leaned in, his eyes filled with a sternness that meant he wasn’t messing around. “None of those events would’ve happened if I’d simply told you how much I love you and asked you to marry me. I should’ve been stronger, but I wasn’t.”
He was taking the blame? Him? “But…but…I…you…you were so angry and…” I shook my head. I was the one who messed it all up.
He grabbed my hand from across the counter and squeezed it. “I was hurt because you didn’t trust me, Lily. You didn’t believe in us—fuck.” He drew a breath. “I didn’t come here to rehash this crap.”
“Remind me again; why are you here?”
“Marry me, Lily. Because I love you. And I never want to let you go.”
2 Mimi Contemporary Romance packs (Fugly, Fug2, HPC, Tailored+ SWAG)
and 10 paperbacks