"Happy birthday, beautiful."
Gavin stood in the hallway, a fragrant bouquet of pure white roses in his hand and a beaming grin on his face.
"Thank you," I said, taking the flowers and inhaling their heavy scent. "They're gorgeous. But where will I-"
"Already taken care of." From behind his back, Gavin produced a gilded vase covered in floating cherubs and swirling ivy. "This hotel has everything."
Stepping past me, Gavin set the vase on the dresser and took the bouquet from me to set the flowers in a simple arrangement that coordinated perfectly with the room. If luxury was in the details, Hotel della Regina defined the term.
I took one last moment while Gavin's attention was on the flowers to check my appearance. For this very special day, one that would run nonstop from a morning outdoors to a fashion show to a night out, I had selected a very special outfit.
A strapless, A-line dress in a dreamy shade of cream that made my fair complexion look like fine porcelain, decorated at the hem and neckline by black embroidered flowers, and pulled together by a narrow black belt. Add a black cashmere cardigan to ward off the chill, a pair of black peep-toe heels, and a boxy tote that held a pair of black ballet flats for emergency foot relief, and I felt like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
"Ready for you big day, Cinderella?" Gavin asked as he moved to stand behind me at the mirror.
I tucked one wayward strand of light brown hair back into the neat ponytail sitting low against my neck. "Absolutely," I said, turning. "You ready, Prince Charming?"
Gavin offered his arm and I slipped my fingers into the crook of his elbow. Our eyes met, and I caught a glimpse of intense emotion.
His voice low and intent, he answered, "For anything."
Oh my. And the day hadn't even begun yet.
My legs threatened to go wobbly and send me to the ground-or into Gavin's arms, which might have been their motivation-but I remained on my feet and reasonably stable. Still in my heels, even.
Gavin stood and pulled his jacket off the chair back with a flourish and signaled the waiter for the bill. When we were out of the café, walking down the street with his arm wrapped securely around my waist, he asked, "What's next on the list?"
As if on cue, a bell tower pealed out three loud gongs followed by two smaller chimes. Three thirty.
"Actually," I sighed, though I wasn't sure if I was reluctant or not, "it's time for me to head to the runway."
Without further comment, Gavin hailed a taxi and asked him to take us to the Fiera Pavilion. As the tiny car wove through heavy, Saturday afternoon traffic, we remained silent.
My thoughts swirled around my feelings for Gavin. How was I ever going to survive backstage at Ferrero's show?
"You know," he finally said as we neared our destination, "we could just pick up where we're leaving off after the show."
He said it softly. Quietly. And I knew what he asked.
He was asking me to make my decision now. To choose him over Elliot and spend the rest of the day and night with him.
If I were certain of my feelings, I might have done just that. But deep inside I knew I wasn't ready. To protect my heart, and his as well, I had to say no. Even when a part of me deep down inside wanted desperately to say yes.
Gavin waved off my explanation. "That was unfair of me to ask."
The taxi screeched to a halt and Gavin leapt out of the car to open my door. He asked the cab to wait, promising a bigger tip.