“Have you told him you love him yet?” Mariel looks at me like the correct answer is definitely no. She peers at me judgmentally over her wine glass as she takes a long, slow sip.
“Yes. I have,” I say, draining the last of my martini to prepare for the tongue-lashing I know I’m about to receive.
“Oh my God, Millie. Why? You’ve only been together—I mean really together—for two months.” She shakes her head with so much force that her dangling earrings slap her repeatedly in the face.
“I said it because it’s true. I do love him,” I say, quickly adding. “Mason said it, too. We’re in love. Why is that bad?”
Mariel has become my best girlfriend since I moved to San Diego six months ago. Let me emphasize girlfriendbecause her husband, Chase, is my best friend. He has been since the day my dad—his best friend—died. I haven’t always made it easy for Chase to love me, but he never gave up and that’s made me almost as devoted to him as I was to my dad.
Mariel motions to the waiter to bring her another glass of wine. It’s her third. She usually stops at two. This is obviously about to get serious. “It’s not bad, Millie. It’s just unrealistic. You aren’t living in the real world right now. You’re still recovering from the kidnapping. He’s still adjusting from stepping down as an active SEAL. You both had traumatic, life-changing things happen recently. You shouldn’t be making big decisions.”
“I don’t think being in love is a decision. It just kind of happens.”
She rests her chin on her hands as she bats her eyelashes. “Oh sweetie. That entire statement makes me want to slap you so badly.”
“What?” I say, laughing. “How long did it take you to realize you were in love with Chase?”
“I’ll let you know when it happens.” She flashes her most wicked smile at me.
I’ve known them since I was sixteen. They took me in for a few months after my dad died. They have the most loving marriage I’ve ever seen, but they are complete opposites. Deep down, Chase—like me—is a dreamer. Mariel is not. She’s one hundred percent pragmatic all the time. It’s probably why Chase married her. It’s definitely why I value her friendship. She keeps us grounded.
“Of course I love him, Millie. But it hasn’t always been easy. It took Chase years to adjust to not being active anymore. I’m still not sure he’s there and it’s been almost ten years. Our marriage has taken a lot of work. A lot. I’m just saying this little blissful bubble you and Mason are in right now isn’t going to last.”
The waiter thankfully delivers me another martini. “Well even if reality sets in . . .”
Before I can finish, Mariel grabs my hand across the table and pats it. “Not if, sweetie. When. When it sets in.”
“When,” I say sharply. “When it sets in, I’m still going to love him.”
She sits back and crosses her arms. We stare at each other for a few minutes before she finally says, “And what are you going to say when he asks you to marry him?”
I roll my eyes so severely it almost gives me a headache. “Oh my God, Mar. He’s not going to ask me to marry him. You’re drunk.”
“I am,” she laughs. “But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. That’s what comes after the ‘I love you.’ Marriage then babies. And I know you’re not ready for all that. I mean, are you?”
“No. God no. Not even close.” I’m starting to think the double shot in my second martini was a mistake. My brain is getting fuzzy. “He’s not either. I know that. I mean it’s only been two months.”
She flings her hands in the air like she’s suddenly conducting an orchestra. “And finally you say something that makes sense,” she says, slamming her hands back down on the table. She hits them five more times to emphasize each of her next words. “It’s only been two months.”
“I really hate you right now.” I eat the last olive from my martini and fling the cocktail pick at her.
She laughs victoriously. “Have you even had a fight with him yet? Do you know enough about each other to disagree on anything?”
“There is one thing we argue about,” I say slowly.
“Oooo. Do tell.”
“Well you know how independent I am . . .”
“Girl, please.” She starts massaging her temples. “I almost killed you during your college years. You put us through hell with your bullshit independence.”
“I’m not explaining my reasons for that again,” I say, pointing at her. “Let’s stay focused on the present please.”
“Fine. Please go on, princess.” She drains the last of her third glass of wine.
“Well we’ve been having arguments because Mason is overly protective of me and it’s driving me a little crazy. For some reason, he feels responsible for my kidnapping—even though he wasn’t there. It’s made him start acting like my bodyguard as much as he acts like my boyfriend. He tries to control everything. And I’ve never been very good at being controlled.”
She takes a deep breath. “Yeah. That’s something Chase and I went through. First, you know that’s just part of who they are. That’s what they do for a living. SEALs protect people. They control people. It’s hard to do that at work and then completely turn it off when you get home. It took years for Chase to turn that down and he’s not nearly as alpha as Mason. You probably need to give him a break. But bottom line, he’s never going to lose that completely, so you either learn how to live with it or the relationship isn’t going to work.”
That’s not the advice I wanted. I was hoping she would have a magic solution—like a pill Mason could take to turn down the alpha a little bit.
“And second,” she continues. “The reason he feels responsible for the kidnapping is precisely because he wasn’t there. He and his team worked the mission with you from day one. Then not to be there when the shit really went down . . . That’s a tough pill for these guys to swallow. Add in the way he feels about you and I’m sure it’s enough to make his head feel like it’s going to explode. He thinks he failed you and failed at the mission. These guys don’t like to fail and they rarely do. It’s tough on them.”
“So what you’re telling me is that I’m the problem. That I need to let him control me because of the way he’s programmed.”
“I’m saying because of the way he’s programmed, he’s going to control things one way or another. Whether you can tolerate it is up to you. Do you think you can give him a little control here and there?”
“Yeah. I mean I do already. There are areas where I don’t mind it at all.”
“Sexually.” She nods her head way too enthusiastically.
“Oh my God! I didn’t say that.”
“But the sex is great, right? You know what I’m saying. When they get all alpha and take control . . .”
“Mar! You’re like my mom. Stop it.” I bury my face in my hands and then peer through my fingers at her. “But yeah. It’s out-of-this-world. Like crazy good.”
She makes a check mark in the air with her finger. “Knew it,” she says smugly. “And that’s part of what’s blinding you from reality. No judgement on that part though. Get yours, you know?”
“Oh my God. No more wine for you. You’re out of control.”
She stands up suddenly, swaying slightly. “I’m going to the bathroom. It will give you ample time to think about how right I am about everything.”
I watch her until the click of her stilettos fades away into the restaurant. I know she’s right about the blissful bubble. Since Mason moved here, we’ve been surviving on a steady diet of sex and surfing—absolutely no real world problems allowed. It’s been breathtaking. But in the last few weeks, a few ugly issues have been trying to creep into our utopia.
Captain Culver—Mason’s old boss—called him last week and asked him to take control of his SEAL team again. The guy who replaced him was injured and won’t be back for months. Mason said no, but I can tell he wanted to say yes. He misses that life. It’s something I don’t understand—that absolute love for your job. My dad felt that way about the teams, too. He told me he thought about quitting every day after I was born. He never did though. And sixteen years later he died on the job. I can’t take another man I love dying that way. Mason knows that, but it doesn’t make him miss the job any less.
My old boss, George, has been calling me, too. He wants me to come back to the CIA. I have absolutely no interest in going back. I chose that career path only to find out who my mom was and who killed her. I spent eight years focused on almost nothing else. I know the truth now. I have no need to be at the agency anymore. And more importantly, I have no desire to be there. My biggest problem is that I have no idea what I want to do with my life now.
Mason’s regretting his decision. I can’t make a decision. It’s all threatening the bubble. I hate when Mariel is right. But it looks like reality might be starting to set in. All I want to do right now is go home and cuddle up on the couch with Mason—maybe keep the bubble intact for at least one more night.