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 pocket suddenly felt like a ticking time bomb.
Nicole was beautiful, smart, and challenging enough to keep him on his toes. They’d been dating for over a year and the timing felt right. 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 badly. 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. He ran to the bathroom and splashed water on his face, but his skin still felt hot and his stomach clenched.
It didn’t have to be tonight. There would be a better time for this. As he dried his face and hands, the panic started to subside. He left the bathroom, feeling slightly better, but also feeling guilty.
Idiot. Weak, foolish idiot.
Nicole smiled up at him as he approached their table, until she took in his blotchy face and her eyebrows came together in worry. “Are you okay?”
He could pretend he was, but even choking down a salad seemed like an impossible feat. 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. I guess it’s a good thing I drove.”
Nicole hated his messy work truck and had once again insisted on taking her immaculate Yukon Denali. Whatever made her happy. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, putting down enough cash to cover their drinks and a tip. 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 her SUV, and he quickly went to open the driver door for her.
“I don’t think so. Maybe I’ve been working too much.”
She touched his arm. “Well, go home and get some sleep.”
Preston walked around and eased into the passenger seat, trying to relax. 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 his driveway. “Are you going to be okay?”
He looked over and nodded. “I’ll be fine. And I’m sorry about leaving the restaurant.”He kissed her lightly and got out, relieved to have the night over with. He had some thinking to do, and he hoped the next time he saw Nicole, he’d know what was holding him back.