This was my first morning back to work after three months. And, for the first time ever, we were driving to work together. Oddly, it felt comforting and domestic.
The me from five years ago was rolling in his grave. But current-me couldn’t have been happier. Before I’d met Emilia, life was like an old-school video game played on a battered handheld. Small, requiring lots of imagination to spice it up and leaving lots of room for improvement. With her, it was like being engrossed in a full-immersion virtual reality, an experience unique to itself. There was no life before Emilia.
I glanced at her. She had her head down, focusing on her hands, which worked in her lap. At her request, I’d kept the top up on the car so it wouldn’t mess up her hair. After I reached out and downshifted, I took one of her hands in mine.
She sent me a worried look. “Nothing. Except that we’re late. And everyone’s going to see us walk in together.”
I raised a brow. “Is that a problem?”
She sighed. I pulled my hand from hers to shift again, then replaced it. “No one knows about our relationship. They’re going to know why I got the job.”
“You were hired to fill in for Cathleen’s maternity leave. Everyone thinks you’re doing an awesome job. Mac’s thrilled to have your help for DracoCon. Does it matter how you got the job?”
She shook her head. “No but—I never wanted to be that girl, you know?”
I frowned. “What girl?”
“The girl who’s screwing the boss.”
“Sounds hot to me.”
“Of course it does.”
I paused, noticed her hands working in her lap again. “It will be fine. Why don’t you just go in first and I’ll sit in the car for a few minutes. No one will see us walk in together.”
She smiled. “Thanks.”
“What about tonight, though? Everyone’s going to see us leave together.”
She smoothed her skirt across her lap with her free hand. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been looking for a place. I can’t afford to rent in Irvine, but—”
“What? Why?” I frowned.
“Because Irvine’s one of the most expensive places to live around here. Maybe Tustin, I looked at one place last week—”
I refrained from looking at her. Best to play dumb and make her “explain” it to me. Sometimes if you got someone to voice their concerns, they came to understand how unfounded they really were. “No, I mean why are you looking for a place? You’ve been at my house while I was gone. Can’t you just stay?”
“Well, we weren’t living together. I was just kind of…staying over.”
I kept a straight face, though I was damned tempted to crack a smile. “But now we’re living there together.”
She coughed and shifted in her seat uncomfortably, fidgeting in that way she did when she wanted to avoid talking about something.
I feigned puzzlement, shifted gears again. “So you’re upset that I didn’t formally ask you to move in with me?”
She made a face. “No.”
I knew what that meant. Yes.
“Emilia, will you move in with me?”
“I’m already there.”
“No I mean move your stuff in and stay and live with me.”
She was quiet for a long moment. “That’s kind of a huge step, isn’t it?”
This time it was much harder to fight the smile. She was getting skittish already. “Well, we’re already doing it, by default. We don’t have to call it anything.”
“So we’d be like…roommates?”
I opened my mouth and then closed it, tossed a glance her way. She was grinning like she was enjoying a great joke. “Roommates with benefits,” I corrected.
“Hmm. Does ‘benefits’ translate to ‘morning sex that makes us both late every day?’ Because that might get me in trouble with my boss.”
“Not a chance. As long as the morning sex is with me, you won’t get in trouble.”
She elbowed me. “I meant get in trouble with Mac.”
“But I’m Mac’s boss.”
“I’m serious. I mean, maybe it’s a bad idea to live together while I’m working for you.”
“Odds are we will hardly even see each other, for one thing. And for another, we started before you ever started working there. Plus—haven’t you ever had that fantasy of doing the boss in his office on your lunch break?”
“No,” she said in a deadpan voice. “Never.”
I let the smile show, finally. We’d see about that one. Suddenly I had to fight the image of pushing her skirt up, bending her over my desk…Oh yes, we’d definitely have to see about that one