All That Really Matters - Nicole Deese Page 0,1

eight seconds later, my phone began to vibrate with notifications—likes, comments, emojis. An immediate endorphin boost. The temptation to scroll through them proved too much. After all, my manager-turned-boyfriend showed no signs of waking any time soon, and truth was, even if he had woken up, he’d tell me to reply to at least the first twenty or so commenters. Something to do with increased visibility and reach.

You’re so cute, Molly! And so is your boy toy! Hubba hubba . . .

Ah, sorry girl! But at least that maxi dress is ADORBS on you! Link please???

Good hair days like that should never be wasted tho. Wake him up already!

I liked a few dozen comments, replying in kind to their emoji strings and creative hashtags, then scrolled through the rest of my feed, hovering over the latest post by Felicity Fashion Fix, the snotty diva and ex-client of Ethan’s who once stole an entire vlog series idea from me two days before mine went live. I breathed out my nose the way Val always encouraged me to and tried to let go of the negative static in my chest . . . but not before glancing at Felicity’s latest follower count. 415,687. What? How on earth did she get such a big jump in followers so quickly? What is she doing? Besides stealing other people’s ideas, of course.

When Ethan finally began to stir, it took a hefty force of will to silence my phone and shove it in the crack of the chair cushion. Yet I did it with a smile, because that was what committed couples did for each other. At least, that was what I’d read from a popular blogger I followed: “Healthy couples ignore the pressures of social media to be socially present in their relationship.” I’d saved the pretty graphic to my photo reel just two days ago. Ethan and I didn’t get much face-to-face time since he traveled for business roughly three weeks out of the month, but perhaps the strain of a long-distance relationship would dissipate if we practiced being more socially present with the time we did have together.

“Hey there, sleepyhead,” I crooned from the recliner, where I’d kicked off my shoes and tucked my frozen feet under the skirt of my dress. Most days, springtime in northeast Washington was just a less snowy version of winter. “Welcome back.”

He jolted at the sound of my voice and blinked. “Molly?”

“Happy date night.”

Ethan rubbed at his eyes again. “What time is it?”

I glanced at the wall clock, surprised at how much time had passed while I’d been scrolling my feed. “A little after six.”

He pushed himself up to a seated position. “You should have woken me. I don’t even remember dozing off.”

“No way, you looked way too peaceful to disturb.” And it was nice to see him without a screen on his lap or in his hand. Ethan wasn’t the greatest at leaving his work behind. Then again, neither was I. “Besides, you’ve been up since two in the morning Pacific time. Dozing off for a few minutes seems perfectly acceptable—even for someone as immune to naps as you are.”

He ran a hand through his thick butterscotch-colored locks, and my breath actually hitched in my chest at the sight. In no way did he look like a man who’d spent his entire day traveling on an airplane. He smiled at me with those same midnight blue eyes that had won him many a client—myself included.

“Well, I hope you don’t hold it against me, because I’ve been looking forward to tonight. To being with you.” His expression cleared, then sharpened on my face. “There’s actually something big we need to discuss. I wanted to tell you in person.”

The professional tone made my palms grow damp. “Something to do with the agency?” There’d been a lot of changes happening within the Cobalt Group recently. Most had been great—bigger sponsors to partner with their contracted influencers, which, of course, meant bigger paychecks, bigger referrals, and a bigger bottom line. But nobody was immune to the volatile nature of our industry. There was always somebody waiting to rise to the top. Somebody willing to do more at whatever cost.

“Wait,” I said, remembering the chicken. “Before you answer that, I need to check on our dinner first.”

As if on cue, the oven timer buzzed as I scrambled to my feet to make for the kitchen. But Ethan’s hand reached out for mine, and he tugged me toward him. He held out