Page 16 of Buying the Bride

Mandi sighs. “I was afraid this was going to happen.”


“You’re falling for him.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes you are. I see it in your face and I can hear it in your voice. You can’t get involved with these guys, Sylph. They are clients, not people.”

“They are people,” I say.

“But not our people,” she says in the same lecturing tone I just used on her. “These men would never date anyone who doesn’t come from a family with money, or who isn’t on their level.”

My face must give away how crestfallen I feel because she gives me a sympathetic look and says, “I know. It sucks. I once had a client who I thought was into me. He took me on lavish vacations, wined and dined me. We even had sex on several occasions. I thought we had something special. But it turned out he was just trying to make his ex jealous. It worked. As soon as she was back in his life, he gave me the boot. I knew better, but I let myself fall for him anyway. It was heart-breaking. That’s why you can’t feel things, Sylph. You have such a big heart, which is why you have to protect it.”

“I know. You’re right,” I say. And I know she’s right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. “I’m not falling in love or anything. I’m just enjoying my time with him.”

“Good.” She looks at my suitcases. “What’s all this?”

“I’m staying with him while his family is in town.”

“That’s normal. But like I said, sleeping with him isn’t part of the deal, so don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do.”

There’s nothing I don’t want to do with Heath, but there’s plenty I want to do with him—and to him. Problem is, he isn’t budging. “That won’t be a problem.”

Heath calls to let me know he’ll be back at the condo by eight in the evening and wants to go over a few things with me before I meet his parents tomorrow. While I wait, I decide to run to the grocery store to pick up a few things since his refrigerator is bare.

I stop at a roadside stand for fresh fruit and vegetables. I pick a few things up there and stop at the store for everything else I’ll need for tonight. I love to cook. My mom taught me from the time I could walk. Since I grew up on a farm, we never ate out, so learning to cook was essential.

I decide to make peppercorn steak with glazed carrots and a salad. Rooting through his cupboards, it’s obvious none of his pots and pans have ever been used. Some of them even have price tags and stickers attached. Now’s a good time as any to break them in. I learn my way around his kitchen. Since it’s clear he never uses it, I take the liberty of switching things around so the arrangement makes more sense.

I finish making dinner just as Heath walks through the door. He stops in the walkway and looks at the table that’s set.

“Hope you’re hungry,” I say.

He’s still looking confused when he hangs up his jacket and walks over to the table, studying the dishes I’ve set out. “I am, actually. I was about to ask you if you wanted me to call in something, but I see you’ve already done it. Who brought this? It smells amazing.”

Now it’s my turn to be confused. “No one brought it. I made it.”

“You made this?” he says.

I giggle at the way his says this, as though it was some great feat of engineering. “Yes, I did. Sit before it gets cold.”

He does as he’s told. I watch his face as he takes a bite, afraid he won’t like it. It’s just down-home country food. Nothing fancy. He’s probably used to eating in five star restaurants similar to the one in the file where we had our second pretend date. When his next bite is so big it barely fits in his mouth, I know he likes it.

“This is extraordinary,” he says with his mouth full. “Did you go to culinary school?” he asks, taking another heaping bite.

“No, just picked up a few tips and tricks from my mom. She’s a far better cook than I am.”

“I can’t imagine that.”

He cleans his plate and fills it again with seconds. I forgot how much I love cooking for someone. Mandi never eats my cooking because she’s always on some new diet. My ex always enjoyed my cooking, but he never appreciated it. Cooking was always just expected. It was required. Dinner on the table at 6PM sharp, or else …