Preston Ford couldn’t stop sweating. A trickle ran down the back of his neck, and he quickly swiped it with his hand. His glass of ice water was sweating too, and he picked it up and took a long drink, hoping to get rid of the lump forming in his throat. Thank goodness Nicole wasn’t back from the ladies room yet. Was this what a panic attack felt like? This was supposed to be a magical night, and yet the ring box hidden in his jacket suddenly felt like a ticking time bomb.
He loved Nicole. She was beautiful, smart, and challenging enough to keep him on his toes. They’d been dating for over a year. And picking out the perfect ring for her had been a breeze, mostly because he knew the password to her Pinterest account, where she’d posted lots of ring examples for him to choose from.
Other people had commitment issues, like his friend Shaun who flitted from relationship to relationship, never satisfied with anyone. Or his sister April, who consistently picked men destined to treat her bad. This was not supposed to be Preston’s problem. But apparently it was, and the more he acknowledged it, the more uncomfortable he became in his own skin. Oh, no, he was going to be sick. He ran for the bathroom and lost his appetizer in the nearest toilet.
At least now he had a reason to end the night early. As he washed his hands, the panic started to subside, and he knew it wasn’t because his stomach was now empty. Sadly, it was because he wouldn’t have to propose tonight.
Idiot. Weak, foolish idiot.
Nicole smiled up at him as he approached their table, until she took in his pale face and her eyebrows came together in worry. “Are you okay?”
He shook his head. “I don’t feel good. Do you mind if we call it a night? I’m sorry.”
There was a flash of disappointment, which she quickly hid. She stood up and picked her purse off the back of the chair. “Of course. Do you want me to drive?”
He shrugged. If it would make her feel better, so be it. He reached into his pocket and handed her the keys, and then put down enough cash to cover their drinks and appetizers. Nicole put her arm around his waist and guided him out of the restaurant, her thoughtfulness only making him feel worse.
“So, food poisoning, do you think?” She approached his car, and he quickly went to open the driver door for her.
“I don’t know. It came on a little too fast for it to be the restaurant’s fault. Maybe I’ve been working too much.”
“Well, go home and get some sleep.”
Preston eased into the passenger seat and tried to relax, letting his eyes close. Yes, sleep. That’s all he needed. And a swift kick in the pants.
Nicole let him rest and didn’t say anything until she pulled into her driveway. “Are you okay driving home?”
He opened his eyes and nodded. “I’ll be fine. And I’m sorry about leaving the restaurant.”
She leaned in to kiss him and he pulled back, realizing his breath probably wasn’t something he wanted to share.“I don’t want to get you sick.” He kissed her forehead lightly and got out to walk her to her door, eager for the night to end. He had some thinking to do, and he hoped the next time he saw Nicole, he’d know what was holding him back.