“Is that the pet name we’re going with? Babe?”
He backs out of the parking stall and starts driving. “You don’t like it?”
“It’s okay. It makes me think of the pig, though.”
“Are you putting in a request, then?”
“I’ve always been partial to sweetie, mostly because I’m not sweet so it makes me laugh.”
“How about dollface?”
“Ha! Only if you want me to cringe.”
“Okay, how about Subject Changer. That fits you well.” He squeezes my hand. “Nice try, but what’s wrong . . . dollface?”
I sigh. “My mom and I had a huge fight.”
“So arrogant. Do you think everything is always about you?”
“What was it about?”
He smiles. I love his smile. I don’t want to talk about my mom. I want to talk about his smile or kissing. I could talk about kissing.
“What is it about me your mom doesn’t like?”
“Mainly that you’re rich. If you could just change that one thing, it would make my life a whole lot easier.”
“I’ll work on that.”
“Thanks. You’re so accommodating.”
“So she wants something different for you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Different than her past?”
“Right. Basically she doesn’t want me to meet a rich guy, get pregnant, and have the rich guy run.”
“She attributes that to his money?”
“I know, it’s ridiculous.”
“So is that what started the whole living-above-a-doll-store thing?”
I think about how my father’s parents gave her the money to start the doll store. “Yes, actually.”
“So wait, have you lived there your whole life, then?”
“Wow, she’s extreme.”
What does “extreme” have to do with living above a doll store? “In some ways, I guess.”
“I thought my mom was, but your mom wins the prize.”
The ballroom at the hotel is the most beautiful room I have ever seen in real life: big chandeliers, patterned tile floors, thick ceiling-high curtains. Xander steers me toward a table at the front and I take a deep breath. What was that lame advice Henry gave me before I met Mason? Oh yeah, be myself. I wasn’t sure that was going to work here. Maybe I could pick someone else to be for the night.
Then I see Mrs. Dalton, and I want to run and hide. Any other time in any other situation and her presence would’ve put me at ease, but after what my mom said, my hand feels hot in Xander’s, like a spotlight is being shone on our clasped fingers.
I stare at her too long because our eyes meet. Sweat beads along my forehead and I wipe at it. She smiles and waves.
“I think we’re being beckoned.” He winks at me with his word choice. I want to be playful back but I’m too nervous.
“Caymen,” Mrs. Dalton says. “I didn’t know you were coming. It’s so good to see you. I’m glad to see that Alex has worked his charm on you.”
“It was hard, Grammy. This girl wasn’t easy to sway.” He kisses my hand.
“Most things worth having aren’t.”
It might just be me, but that doesn’t sound like the response of someone who is mad her grandson is dating the help.
“You treat her nice or else.” She points at Xander with the warning.
“Aren’t you supposed to be saying that to her about me? I am your grandson, after all.” He bends over and kisses her cheek and whispers something that makes Mrs. Dalton laugh.
“What did you say to her?” I ask after we walk away.
“I told her that you are fully capable of giving and carrying out your own threats and you didn’t need additional bodyguards.”
“This is true.”
“I’m supposed to mingle for a little while before we sit down, but instead I will dance with you then we’ll find our table.”
“You don’t want to dance with me?”
“No, I mean, sure, I’ll dance with you, but don’t pick tonight, your mom’s special night, to be the bad son. She’ll blame it on me.”
He laughs. “No, she won’t. My mom has actually commented recently about how much more responsible I’ve been. She attributes that to you.”
“I didn’t realize I was such a good influence on you, considering I’ve been the queen of irresponsibility lately.” According to my own mother.
“Come on, they’re playing our song.”
I listen for a minute. A live band in the corner is playing some classical piece, and as Lucas had mentioned there is no lead singer. “This is our song?”
“Well, it’s your band, remember? So really any song they play is ours.”
“So true.” Wearing heels makes me the perfect height to nuzzle against his neck. I unbutton the three buttons of his suit jacket and slide my hands inside to his back as we sway to the beat along with some other couples.
He starts making up ridiculous words to the song and singing them badly in my ear.
“You should grab a microphone. The band needs you.”
“What? You prefer the smooth voice of Tic?”
He laughs. “Me, too.”
A woman’s voice cuts through our banter. “Hello again, Caymen.”
Xander stops and turns. “Mother.” He hugs her.
Then she surprises me with a hug of my own. Her hair is blond and styled. Her eyebrows are shaped to perfection, and she must get something injected into her skin to make it so smooth. “It’s good to see my son smiling so much. A smile looks good on him, don’t you think?”
“I call it his secret weapon.”
Xander furrows his brow. “You do?”
“Mostly in my head but sometimes behind your back.” I give Mrs. Spence a sideways glance. I’m being myself; hopefully she isn’t put off by sarcasm. She has a smile on her face so I think I’m safe.
Xander pulls me against his side. “Oh well, that explains a lot.”
“I just came by to say hello. I can’t stay, though. Someone has to run this event.” Then she trails a hand down my shoulder. “But let’s talk later, you and me. I’d love to get to know you better.”
I nod and smile even though I want to say, “That sounds like torture.”
As she leaves Xander takes my hand and pulls me close again, swaying with the music. “Now, not that I expect you to remember their names, but let me point out all of my family members.”
Not only does he start naming off a lot of people in the room, but he assigns a ridiculous short story to each. “And that,” he says, pointing across the room, “is my cousin Scarlett.”
“Ah, the doll.” I tilt my head. “Yes, she does look a lot like that doll.”
“Right?” He laughs, and it’s almost as if she knows we’re talking about her because not only does she see Xander, but she starts walking our way.
She gives him a limp-looking handshake and then kisses the air by his cheek.
“This is Caymen.”
“Hello. I’ve heard so much about you.”
I give Xander a sideways look. Does he talk about me all the time? And what is the appropriate response to that statement? “Sounds like Xander needs to get out more if I’m the topic of interest.”
Scarlett offers a smile about as wide as her doll counterpart and then squeezes Xander’s bicep. “Did you see who your brother brought tonight?”
“No, we haven’t been over there yet.” Xander cranes his neck, obviously trying to scope out his brother’s date.
“Don’t if you can avoid it. Major Cinderella complex.”
Xander laughs. “Seriously? Lucas?”
“It doesn’t surprise me with where he goes to school.” She curls her lip.
Has Xander not told anyone in his family that I’m poorer than dirt? But if he had wouldn’t he try to cover up what Scarlett just said instead of sounding like he agrees with it?
“Anyway, good to meet you, Caymen, but Bradley just walked in and I have to go.”
We watch her walk away, and I wait for him to smooth things over now that she’s gone. Maybe say his cousin is a total stuck-up snob (which she obviously is). But he doesn’t. He offers me his elbow and says, “Let’s go sit.”
He leads me straight toward Lucas and I say, “I thought Scarlett said we should avoid them.”
“We can’t avoid them all night. It’s assigned seating and I’m hungry.”
“Caymen,” Lucas says, standing and giving me a one-armed hug. “I didn’t think you were coming tonight. You thought you’d give boredom a try after all?”
“Yeah, well . . .” I don’t even know what to say. I’m still in shock from what Xander and Scarlett just said.
He gestures to a girl on his right. “This is Leah.” Leah doesn’t stand but smiles up at me.
“Good to meet you.”
Xander pulls out a chair for me and I sit numbly.
“Where’s Samuel?” Xander asks, looking around. There are two name cards left at the now two empty seats.
“He’s on his way.”
Samuel arrives less than five minutes later, and like when Lucas and Xander saw each other at the airport, Xander and Samuel hug like they haven’t seen each other in ages. Lucas joins in. Next Samuel introduces his date and we exchange pleasantries.
“Samuel,” Xander says, putting a hand on my lower back. “This is Caymen Meyers.”
“The Caymen Meyers?” He smiles big and I’m struck by how different each of the brothers looks. Xander definitely got his dad’s darker looks and the others look fairer, like their mom.
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Samuel says.
We all sit down, and Samuel holds up his empty glass and gestures for a passing server who comes and fills it. “So, Caymen, you’re related to the Meyers of SCM Pharmacy?”
I start to say no, but Xander beats me. “Yes, they’re her grandparents. They’re on the guest list tonight.” He looks around. “They haven’t arrived yet, but as soon as they do I will force Caymen to introduce me.”
Samuel continues, “My dad has a lot of respect for your grandfather. He says any man who can turn a profit like that on mid-level stores must be a genius. I’d like to pick the brain of a shrewd businessman like him myself.”
I’m too stunned to think. Is this why Xander’s family has been perfectly fine with me? He’s been pretending I’m rich?
“I don’t have grandparents.”
Lucas and Xander laugh then Lucas says, “She says things with such a straight face, how do you know when she’s joking or not, Xander?”
“She’s always joking.”
Samuel smiles and then says, “I hadn’t realized the Meyers had any relatives living around here until Xander told me.”