Page 54 of I Promise You

Those three dots dance on my screen, go away, then come back. Can’t. Sister has hip hop tryouts at six. Give me your email and I’ll send some questions. Texting doesn’t work.

Email? Oh, Serena, no. Talking to you—in person—never gets old like it does with other girls, and the next time it happens, I want you alone…

I don’t reply, set my phone down, and get dressed. I inhale a deep breath, remembering her face when I gave her the charm. If she knew the secret of that purchase, the exact when of the day I bought it… What would she think? That I’m crazy?

Even Sawyer doesn’t know.

An hour later, after deciding I can’t stay away from her today, I check my hair in the mirror, smoothing it back over my head, then get out of the Escalade.

Magnolia Prep looms in front of me, a two-story gray stone school with turrets bookending either side. I’ve been to the public school and here a few times to talk to the football players. High school coaches love it, and it’s good press and shows a connection to the community.

Unease curls in my gut. I hope this is okay, just showing up here. I’m just…trying to figure out how to woo her. She needs slow and easy, but what if she doesn’t like surprises?

“There you are.”

I start and glance over at the lady quickstepping it to catch up with me. A small dog trots behind her with a pink bow in her hair.

“Nancy?” I say.

She pats my cheek. “You remembered.” She scoops up the dog and puts her in my arms. “You carry him. They don’t like to let me in with Betty, but you’re semi-famous around here. She cries if I leave her at home. Buster, now, he hates everyone, so he stays home. I should say she’s my emotional support, but I’m hers. What a conundrum.”

I blink.

She hooks her arm in mine, and I hold the dog in one hand as we enter the cool interior of the school. “You came to support Serena and Romy—I like it. Shows initiative. Serena, bless her heart, she didn’t invite you, that’s for sure, or she would have mentioned it. She’s about as useful as a steering wheel on a mule when it comes to men. I was going to set her up with Turo’s son, but his divorce is still pending. And he’s forty. I reckon that dog won’t hunt.”

“I see.”

“He sent me an orchid today.”


“Mmm. We had sex for the first time last night. I do love a good orchid. Exotic. Classy. They need a lot of care though—like my Serena.” A mischievous grin crosses her face. “Did I mention Turo’s Italian?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Ah.” She bobs her head, sliding on the glasses hanging from a chain around her neck. “Vane… Don’t make his mistakes, honey. She walked in on him, you know. Saw the BJ.”

Oh, shit. Serena didn’t give me particulars.

“Are you better than him?”

I nod. I’ve had one-night stands before, even threesomes with girls, but I don’t cheat in my brief relationships. Fidelity means something. Loyalty is essential. Maybe because I suspect both my parents found their love in other places before they divorced.

Vane must have been out of his mind.

She leads me into the basketball gymnasium. Loud music blares from one end of the court. I rove the stands, my eyes landing on Serena, her head bent, laptop in hand. Several adults sit around her, but she’s got an area saved. Her glasses are on and her lips are pursed. She twirls a piece of hair.

Nana sighs. “She’s pretty, huh?”

“Beautiful.” My breath hitches.

“She’s smart too. On the other hand, she’s as confused as a fart in a fan factory when it comes to the stove. I fudge the truth and say the meatloaf’s good, but she puts too much ketchup in it. I gag every time. If she offers to cook for you, ask for spaghetti. It’s not the best, but edible.”

“Okay.” Should I be taking notes?

“She snores and likes to hog the TV. She gets crabby on her period. She loves music. She adored her parents, bless them. My son and Tamara were so in love, like kittens in a basket, a match made in heaven. She needs that, something real and solid.” She darts her eyes at me.

I’m solid, I say in my head.

“Serena!” she calls, flapping her hands. “Look at the cute nugget I found! Sexy football player! For you! If I had a bow, I’d put it on him!”

A flush rises on my face as people stop talking and look over at us. Geeze, Nancy.

Serena’s head rises, and I sigh, feeling that fist of pressure lighten since she told me she had coffee with Neil. She stands to walk toward us, a frown on her face.

“Well, I’m worn out. Hold on to Betty, honey. I’m gonna go talk to Tree Boy about condoms.” She sashays away to the bleachers.

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance