My mother approached the table at a sudden pace, setting a plate of cold bagels and assorted cream cheeses in front of us. “I’m sorry for not being better prepared; I normally try to keep appropriate food on hand for guests ...” She grimaced, her anguish equally divided over the food choices and the stranger before her, and sat down next to me with a heavy sigh.

“This is wonderful, Mrs. Campbell. He grinned at her, that devastating, gorgeous grin that diminished his fierce features and instantly endeared anyone to his cause. I watched my mother, saw the surprise on her face, and she glanced down quickly, taking a sip of coffee with a shaky hand.

“Mr. De Luca, how long have you been seeing Julia?”

His hand reached out, covering mine, and he gave me a small smile before turning to her. “Two months, give or take. We met through work. My firm had the pleasure of having Julia as an intern.”

The emotions showed clearly on her face as the words flitted through her mind. Two months. My firm. Attorney. “I see. Julia ... reports to you?”

He laughed. “No. I work in family law. Julia was the intern for our corporate law department. We met in passing one day.”

Family law. My mother’s eyes shuttered slightly at that sentence, and I grinned despite myself. I knew what she was envisioning, bedraggled lawyers carrying worn briefcases to and from court, fighting back child-support cases for broke, deadbeat dads. I was grateful for the table hiding my hands, my ring hidden.

“Two months?” My father’s voice came out confused. “Why the rush to get engaged?”

My mother suddenly gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth and looking at me in accusation. “Julia!”

I laughed out loud, knowing what she was thinking, the laugh bubbling out of me and spilling, uncontrollably, onto the table. “God, Mom, I’m not pregnant.” Her face watched me suspiciously, traveling from my face to my stomach and then back to my smile. “I swear.” I looked at my dad, at his pale face. “Dad, I’m not. We’re not getting married until after I graduate in August. We’ll be engaged for a year.”

That announcement relieved her, and she sank back into the chair. “This ... it’s just a lot to take, Julia. I still don’t know why you had to go and break it off with Luke. That boy loves you so much.”

I met her eyes with a warning look. “Mom, that bridge is so far crossed it is ridiculous. I am in love with Brad. I am marrying Brad. With or without your blessing.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Julia. Don’t be dramatic. Of course you’ll have our blessing.” She reached over, rubbed my forearm reassuringly, then turned to Brad. “Now, Brad, what does your family think of this? Have they met Julia?”

My world fell apart right there, with her predictable response, and I begged him with my eyes to have the correct answer to her innocent question.

“I am not close with my family,” he said casually. “They are aware that I am engaged, and Julia will meet my family at Thanksgiving. That is, of course, if you will allow me to borrow her for that holiday?” He grinned sheepishly, and Mom did her best to respond.

“Well ... we wouldn’t want to stand in the way of your plans. Certainly, I’d want your family to get a chance to meet her.”

“I don’t have to, Mom.” I looked up, suddenly aware of the potential parachute before me, ignoring the bemused look Brad was sending my way. “I mean, I know you and Dad like to have me here for Thanksgiving ...” Please. Please. Please.

My flag of distress was ignored by all parties. Mom shrugged, waving her hand casually. “Oh no, Julia. We’ll probably spend it with the neighbors anyway. Go. Get to know his family. That’s more important, especially with a wedding coming up.” Brightness suddenly lit her face. “When is the wedding?”

And with that one thought, Mom fully became Team De Luca. I should have known. My mother, the one who had wanted so badly to plan a fairytale wedding despite Luke’s and my limited budget. Fuck the fact that her loyalty to Luke had, moments before, seemed boundless. Fuck the fact that she knew nothing of Brad’s family. The wedding was the crack that Brad’s easy charisma and my father’s support fully broke open. Three stale bagels and two rounds of hugs later, she became fully cemented as our new biggest fan and we were headed back to our world.

One ex-fiancé and family introduction down.

One terrifying Thanksgiving and whoknowshowmany of Brad’s exes ahead.

Chapter 12

OCTOBER

Days until wedding: 304

I leaned over the bar and scanned the bartenders, trying to catch someone’s attention so I could order a drink. It was a futile effort, everyone else seeming to capture their attention easily. I began waving my arms like an idiot, a twenty-dollar bill in my hand.

“Come on.” Brad’s voice was in my ear, and I turned, my arms still moving. “I’ve got us a table.

“With a waitress?” I raised my eyebrows, not wanting to lose the headway I may or may not be making in the ‘get the bartender’s attention’ foot race.

“Yes. Come on.” He tugged on my waist, his large hands encircling it and pulling. I gave one final look at the oblivious bartenders and then turned to follow him. We moved through the dark club, bodies everywhere, the hum of voices and music creating a blanket of energy.

New York truly was a city that didn’t sleep. Two-thirty in the morning, and the club showed no signs of slowing, the energy around us ramping up with each additional song pumping through the speakers. My mind wandered to our hotel room, six skyscrapers over, to the weekend bag already alongside expensive new purchases. Forty-eight hours in this city seemed enough time to spend a fortune and party our asses off.

I grinned down at Brad, who relaxed back on a leather loveseat, a table before him with a chilled bottle on ice. “Looks like you had better luck than me.” I carefully navigated around the table until I was settled in next to him on the leather seat.

“Don’t be too impressed. I had a little help.” His head tilted to the left and I turned, my gaze pulled upward.

Dark blue eyes stared out from a gorgeous face, beautiful lips curving into a smile. A black suit, paired with a black shirt, hid a body that was no doubt perfect. I felt the stranger’s hand tug gently on mine, and he leaned over and placed a soft kiss on my knuckles.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Julia. My name is Marc.” He gently returned my hand, and I struggled to speak.

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