Chapter 360 Little Victories
Sitting alone in my hotel room, surrounded by plush furniture and golden accents that gleamed in the soft lighting, I felt a pang of homesickness. The luxuriousness of the room was stifling in an odd way, as though constantly reminding me of my charade with a mobster.
Shaking off the momentary melancholy, I decided to call Moana to calm my frayed nerves.
Taking a deep breath to compose myself, I dialed her number and waited for the ring to connect. The familiar sound of her voice, warm and comforting as always, came through within moments.
“Ella, my love! How was your flight? Did you make it to the hotel?”
“We did,” I said, faking a sense of enthusiasm in my voice. “The place is…well, it’s something.”
“Where is your fiance?” Moana asked. “I’d like to say hello, if you don’t mind.”
The word ‘fiance’ made my body stiffen. I glanced at the empty space next to me, where Logan would have been if we were an actual couple. But we weren’t. He was in a room of his own, doing his own thing.
I couldn’t quite decide if I preferred it that way or not, the logical lawyer part of me knew that it was for the best, but the sleepy, scared-of-flying Ella with the yellow stuffed duck almost missed his company already.
“He’s… in the shower,” I stammered, hoping that Moana bought my lie.
“Well,I hope you know that we’re all excited to meet him tomorrow,” Moana said, blissfully unaware of the tension her question had sparked.
“I’m looking forward to it too,” I said, though in truth, I wished that tomorrow would never come. Meeting my family, particularly my discerning father, would be the make-or-break moment for this intricate lie that Logan and I had entangled ourselves in.
“Are you alright, Ella?” Moana’s voice broke through my thoughts, her soft voice brimming with concern.
I forced a smile, even though she couldn’t see it. “Yeah, Mom, I’m just tired from the flight.”
Then, as if on cue, my eyes landed on the stuffed duck perched on my bed-the gift Moana had given me when I was a little girl. I held it up in the frame, so she could see it over our video call. “Look, your gift was my travel companion again.”
Moana chuckled. “I never thought that little duck would turn out to be so precious to you.”
“It’s not the duck that’s precious, Mom. It’s you,” I said, my voice filled with emotion for reasons I couldn’t explain. “I’m so glad you came into my life, and into Dad’s life. You’ve made everything better.”
Moana’s voice wavered a bit when she spoke again. “I can’t wait to see my little girl tomorrow.”
“I can’t wait to see you either,” I said, my own eyes misting over. I cleared my throat before adding, “Oh, and tell Dad thanks for the town car.”
“You know your father. He just needed to make sure his baby girl had a nice ride to the hotel. Even if I told him it was a bit too much.”
I laughed. “I know that was his way of snooping, making sure everything was as it should be.”
“Well, you know Edrick,” Moana laughed. “And this hotel you’re staying at, it’s quite over-the- top lavish, no?”
I blushed, suddenly feeling self-conscious. So they had snooped, just as I expected. “That was my fiance’s idea, not mine.”
“Hmm, he must be an interesting guy,” Moana mused. “You’ve always been so down-to-earth. It must be strange being involved with someone so different.”
If only she knew. Logan was more different from me than she could ever imagine. A mobster from a world that clashed with everything I had been brought up to value. “Yeah, no kidding,” was all I could manage to say.
My stomach chose that moment to growl, betraying my hunger. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mom. I love you.”
“Love you too, Ella. Can’t wait to see you.”
As I hung up, I looked around the room, taking in the opulence that suddenly felt so incongruent with who I was. And in an unexpected way, despite the lavish furnishings and the plush pillows, it felt oddly empty.
Just when I had unpacked the last of my travel essentials and started browsing the room service menu on the nightstand, I heard a knock on my door.
Curiosity piqued, I got up and smoothed down my casual clothes, thinking maybe room service was preemptively delivering something delightful. Maybe Logan had purchased some sort of package that included special treatment, which I figured wouldn’t be out of character for him.
But when I opened the door, it was Logan, leaning against the frame, arms crossed over his chest.
“I’m bored,” he said with a smirk.
“You look like it,” I quipped back, my eyes meeting his for a brief second before darting away. “What do you want?”
“I’m starving, Ella. But I’ve got no idea where to go around here. Any recommendations?”
I weighed the question, noting the careful casualness of his tone. Was he really just asking for recommendations? Or was this an invitation? My wolf whined at the possibility, hopeful for any crumbs of Logan’s company. But I silenced her with a stern mental shove.
“I’d suggest this place called La Bella, if you’re into Italian food. Or there’s a place downtown with really good sushi.”
He perked up at the mention of the restaurants, his eyes twinkling. “Will you come with me?”
I hesitated, caught off guard. My first instinct was to say no, to re-establish the boundaries I had put in place since we arrived. “Logan, there’s no need for us to hang out outside of meeting my parents tomorrow.”
He sighed, looking oddly vulnerable for a moment. “Ella, we have to spend a year together in this arrangement. A whole year. What’s wrong with wanting to spend a little time together?”
“That’s if my father approves,” I shot back, a little sharper than I intended.
He grinned, showing that cocky self-assurance that I found equally endearing and annoying. “Sure, when your father approves. So, what do you say? Will you go get something to eat with me?”
My heart started to race. The conflict within me was almost unbearable. I was hungry, sure, but it wasn’t just for food. I was hungry for a connection, something I hadn’t admitted to myself until now.
My wolf was practically begging me, howling in my mind for me to give in, to let us get to know him better. To let us see if the chasm between our worlds was indeed unbridgeable or just a river we could learn to navigate.
But alongside my wolf’s desires were my own reservations. The more time I spent with Logan, the more tangled our lives would become. Was I prepared for that level of complication? My parents’ looming judgment also served as a potential end to our arrangement, and if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t exactly want to form any connections that would be more painful to sever in the long run.
But then again, it was just dinner. And I was starving.
“Fine,” I huffed, feeling my convictions crumble beneath the combined weight of Logan’s hopeful gaze and my own hunger pangs. “Wait here while I get dressed.”
Logan’s face broke into a triumphant grin, as if he had just won a significant victory. And in a way, he had. A little victory, maybe, but significant nonetheless.