Page 37 of I Promise You

I murmur the same back to him.

“How much do I owe you?” I ask Dillon.

Before he can answer, Julian juts in and gives me a prod in my ribs. “Why didn’t you tell me your car was stuck at the Pig? How long?”

I sigh. “A week. You were working late shifts and I was going to get around to it today at some point. I didn’t have any catering gigs this week, just class and the Gazette. I was fine.” I explain how I called the manager and she told me it was cool to leave the Highlander.

He gives me a disgruntled look.

My chin tilts. “I like to walk.” Magnolia doesn’t have a bussing system, and Nana needs her car for her visits to the senior center and to drive Romy to and from school. If we had more money, I’d buy my sister a car, but we don’t.

Julian exhales. “It wouldn’t have taken much for me to run over there.”

The truth is, he’s got a new, demanding girlfriend and spends most of his extra time with her. I’ve heard him on the phone with her trying to explain why he’s over here repairing this or that. Two weeks ago, it was the garbage disposal. The week before that it was a gutter that came down in a storm.

“Well, well, who do we have here?” Nana’s voice comes from the porch. She approaches us wearing leopard-print leggings and a black Guns ‘N Roses shirt. Her unlit cig still dangles from her lips, but thankfully she’s taken out the rollers and teased her hair up in the back, the ends flipped up à la 1950s. Betty is in her arms.

Buster paces the porch and yips, sending indignant looks at the crowd until he gets the nerve to jump down the steps and trot after her.

I start with introductions—

“Oh my God! Dillon McQueen!” is shrieked from the front door as Romy throws it open.

Dillon laughs as he looks at my face. I laugh with him and he stops, pausing, something on my face making him blink. Butterflies take off in my stomach. Stop, I yell at them.

“Why didn’t you tell me you invited friends over!” Romy grouses as she makes her way over to us. She fluffs her hair, an excited look on her face. “Eek! I need an autograph!”

“Sure,” Owen and Dillon say at the same time then glare at each other.

Romy runs off to get a piece of notebook paper and a pen, comes back, and all three guys sign it as if it’s something they do all the time.

Dillon rakes his eyes over Julian. “You with Serena?”

I start. When Julian and I go out, people do sometimes think we’re together. We grew up as an affectionate family and often hug and tease each other, and we don’t look alike. He’s got the bulk of Dad, the dark hair and blue eyes, while I’m petite with light brown eyes. “Brother. A protective one,” Julian says, eyes glowering at Dillon.

Yeah, that was subtle. He’s (understandably) wary since Vane.

“Hmm.” Dillon’s gaze comes back to me.

“It’s not every day I get to meet Serena’s friends. Why, I didn’t even know she knew any football players,” Nana says, thrusting Betty into an unprepared Sawyer’s arms. He blinks and cradles the dog as she licks his face.

Nana smiles at them, lasering in on Dillon. “So, what I want to know is… Would you eat a bowl of live crickets for twenty thousand dollars?”

Romy chokes, and I groan inwardly.

Dillon looks at me. “I see where you get it.”

I shrug. “We’re Southern—you should see the relative we have locked up in the attic.”

“Uncle Charles is dead and you know it,” Nana quips.

“He wasn’t locked in the attic. He passed away in Miami,” I retort.

Dillon laughs. “How many crickets are in the bowl?”

“Twenty. A thousand dollars for each cricket,” she declares.

Dillon tucks his hands into his shorts and speaks in his lazy tone. “Well, ma’am, the NCAA doesn’t allow us to accept gifts from anyone, but if we’re speaking hypothetically, I suppose I would. I like a good challenge.” His eyes drift over me.

“Are you a Southern boy? You talk like it, but there’s no accent,” she asks, eyes narrowed.

“Nana doesn’t trust Yankees,” I warn him.

“I was born in California but moved to Alabama when I was a kid. My mama’s from Montgomery so I have Southern roots.”

She walks a circle around him. “My parents were from Montgomery. What’s her family name?”

“St. Claire.”

Nana’s lips purse. “Is she the one who married that man who owns all the hotels? McQueen! That’s your family, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She puffs on her unlit cig. “Holy cow. Butter my butt and call me a biscuit. Good job, Serena.”

I wince. “Nana, it’s not like that.”

“Does your mama know how to hunt and fish? Or is she one of those highfalutin’ debutante types?” she asks him.

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance