She was meant to be mine. No other woman will do—but being engaged to the likes of me won’t be easy. The paparazzi, the media, my fans—we’re about to step into the eye of a storm.
I’ve run from it before, but I won’t run from it again. She’s my sweetheart, and no bride of mine will be cast into the background—not by me. Not by anyone.
*Written as a novel continuation/conclusion to BACKGROUND NOISE: A TENNESSEE GRACE SHORT*
“Simon, I understand that. But Ashley—”
I look up from where I’m standing, behind the kitchen island,and focus my attention on Corie. That’s the second time Simon has cut her off in a span of three minutes, and it’s starting to piss me off.
“I’m aware that time is money,” she says, her phone tucked between her ear and her shoulder as she sprays down the window I took her against a couple of hours ago.
I’m not the least bit surprised that she’s busying herself with the task. She cleans when she’s anxious. I haven’t been able to get her to break the habit, even though I’ve got a cleaning crew that drops by a couple times a week to take care of stuff like that. She’s also really self-conscious about leaving behind evidence of our love making. Soiled sheets are one thing—the oil from her skin smeared across the living room window? I’m impressed it lasted this long.
A smirk curls the side of my mouth as I watch her bend down, giving me a nice view of her pretty, round ass in those tight blue jeans before she straightens, shaking her shoulder-length, wavy brown locks out of her face. She tugs a few paper towels from the roll she’s got in her hand, pausing all movement as she listens to the man on the other side of her call.
“Simon—three days. I’m asking you to push the interviewthree days. The article isn’t even set to print until—”
He cuts her off again, and she huffs out a sigh, rubbing at the window vigorously. No longer capable of keeping my distance, I abandon our half-made sandwiches, rounding the island as I stomp into the next room. Corie’s wadding up the used paper towels in her hand as I approach, and she turns to look up at me when I stop just beside her. Our gazes lock, and my chest swells when her eyes soften. Then I hold out my hand, signaling that I’d like her to hand over her device. She scowls at me, simultaneously shaking her head.
“Darlin’, let me talk to him,” I insist.
She pulls in a deep breath and shakes her head again before she speaks. “You know that I wouldn’t be asking this if it wasn’t a request that came from Ashley, right? We’re both fully aware that the tour is less than six months away. I’m also not ignorant of the fact that publicity is important—but I’m just asking for—”
When he cuts her off again, her face falling in frustration, I reach for her phone without permission, knowing good and well that she’s too small to best me. Quickly bringing the device to my ear, I mutter a greeting to my publicist of a year and a half.“Simon—is there a problem?”
“Oh, hey, Ashley,” he greets in reply, his tone light and jovial.
I furrow my brow, verbally expressing my confusion as I ask, “What are you doing, man?”
“Just giving her a hard time, throwing off her scent.”
I free a sigh, regretting ever having told him that I was even thinking about proposing.
“That’s not necessary.”
“Really? I thought for sure, when she asked me to move GQ, that meant this weekend was—”
“Yeah, it is. Doesn’t mean you need to talk to her like that.”
“Ah, come on. You know I’m just playing along.”
In truth, Simon is not only great at what he does, he’s also a pretty good guy. He’s been a part of the music industry longer than I have, which means he’s been around for decades. At forty-three years old, he brings a good deal of experience to the table that a guy like me can benefit from.
On the flip side, he has a bit of a reputation. He can be a real hard-ass. No doubt, it’s worked in my favor before; but seeing as how he’s talking to my woman, he needs to learn she’s not to be on the receiving end of his ire—whether he’s kidding or not.
“Simon,” I clip, shifting my gaze out the window.
“All right, all right. I’m backing down.”
I nod, happy to have gotten my point across. “Can you move the meetin’?”
“Yeah. I’m on it. No big deal.”
“Right,” I scoff, shaking my head at him—regardless of the fact that he can’t see me doing it.
“So this is it? You’re really going to go through with it?”
I look back at Corie and find her staring at me, her eyes bouncing as she studies me anxiously. Thinking about spending the rest of my life with her brings a smile to my face I don’t even try to hide. She arches an eyebrow at me, as if silently asking me what Simon’s saying, but I ignore her. Instead, I reach up and slip my fingers around the side of her neck, then up to her nape, where I bury my fingers in her hair and gently pull her closer to me. She comes willingly, the roll of towels still tucked under her arm, and the wad of used ones held tightly in her fist.
“Yup,” I tell Simon before pressing a soft kiss to Corie’s forehead.
“If you’re sure, then I’m happy for you. Nobody deserves to get the girl more than you, Ashley.”
“I’m sure. So, cool it, would you?”
“Put her back on. I promise to be nice.”
“Here she is.”
When I pull the phone away from my ear and press it against hers, I then gently tilt her head to the side, so she’s got it tucked back between her ear and her shoulder. I let go of her neckwhen she starts speaking, but I don’t get the chance to back away from her before she’s gripping a fistful of my shirt.
“Okay. Thank you. I’ll watch for your text,” she tells Simon. “Bye.”
Finished with her call, she lets go of my shirt to take hold of her phone before she says, “Ashley, you can’t keep doing that.”
“Doing what?” I ask, feigning innocence with a shrug.
“You know what,” she murmurs, her lips turning down in a slight frown. “There are going to be times when some of the people you work with aren’t going to like what I have to say. Case in point,” she tells me, lifting her phone to emphasize what she’s saying. “You can’t keep rescuing me. I have to be able to handle these things on my own.”
“Not sayin’ you’re wrong, Corie, but if I’m around when someone’s talkin’ to my woman the way he was just talkin’ to you, I’m gonna butt in. It’s about respect, sugar. He knows better.”
I watch as she fights a smile, stepping closer to me before she says, “And I get that, but I had that handled.”
“Sweetheart, now you listen here,” I pause, leaning down until my forehead is almost touching hers. “Somethings you don’tneed to handle—and seein’ as I’m your man and your boss, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve got the right to determine what I deem appropriate. You hear?”
She purses her lips together, fighting another smile before she places a hand against my chest, pushing herself up on her tiptoesin order to touch her head to mine. “I love you, Ashley Hicks.”
“I love you, too, darlin’.”
I watch as she closes her eyes and draws in a deep breath before she settles back down on the soles of her feet and gives me a gentle shove. “Get out of here before I kiss you. I have one more call to make and then your schedule is clear.”
“Al’right,” I reply with a chuckle, backing my way out of the room. “Lunch will be ready in a few.”
“I won’t be long.”
She turns away from me, headed for the sofa. On my return trip to the kitchen, I look over my shoulder and see that she’s replaced the paper towels in her hand with her tablet. Seeing her work fills me with a double ounce of pride. Selfishly, I’m glad that I was right—glad to see her doing so well in her position. She’s thriving, and it’s so damn gorgeous to witness. But I’m also just proud of her. She’s determined, smart, and ambitious. Not once has she tried to ride on my coattails, or use our relationship to justify a lack of effort on her part. She works hard, and I’m lucky to have her.
Leaving her to do her thing, I think back on my short exchange with Simon.
There’s not a single doubt in my mind that she’s the one, and nothing is going to stop me from dropping down to one knee tonight to make that truth crystal clear.