“Oh my God, I’m going to cry.” She covers her mouth while holding my hand. “I’m so happy for you two.”
“What’s the holdup?” Tyler’s dad asks, and then his eyes drop to my hand, which his wife is still holding, and he grins. “Congrats, you two.”
“Thank you.” I smile at both of them.
“We’ll give you a few more minutes.” His mom wipes at her cheeks as his dad shakes his head and wraps his arms around her.
“Thanks, Mom,” Tyler murmurs, watching them walk off before he rolls the window back up. “We should head inside. Your mom and dad knew I planned on asking you to marry me tonight. Your mom will want to see the ring; she never got a chance to before.”
“My parents knew?”
“I’m southern, baby. I couldn’t ask you without asking your dad for permission.”
“And it’s the twenty-first century, so I had to ask your mom as well.”
“I’m sure she loved that.”
“I know your family means everything to you. I wanted to make sure they were okay with the idea.”
“Were they?” I question. I know he and I haven’t been together long. I’m not sure if my parents care, but they might think it’s too soon.
“You’ll have to show them the ring and find out.” He leans forward, brushing his lips over mine, before asking, “Ready?”
“Definitely.” I get out of the truck, and his parents come over. I give both of them a hug as they offer congratulations; then we all walk through the parking lot and into the restaurant together.
As soon as we get inside, the hostess leads us to a table, where my family is already seated. When my parents spot us, they both stand, and I smile at them, then lift my left hand facing out and wiggle my ring finger. My mom screams at the top of her lungs and rushes through the quiet restaurant toward us, and my dad shakes his head while smiling proudly. I laugh, holding on to Tyler’s hand tightly, as everyone gets up to hug us and make introductions.
When we all settle into our seats, I feel Tyler’s fingers tighten almost painfully around mine. I look at him, then follow his gaze to where Charles is seated a couple of tables away with a beautiful blonde. As his eyes meet mine, he smiles tightly at me, then looks at Tyler and gives him a hate-filled look.
“Just ignore him,” I tell Tyler, and he looks down at me. “I haven’t even heard from him or seen him since that day at the salon. He doesn’t exist.”
His jaw clenches, and then he mutters, “You’re right,” before kissing me gently.
When he leans away, I glance at Charles’s table, and a feeling of unease slides down my spine when I see his eyes on me. I look away and then avoid looking at his table as dinner progresses.
“Who is that guy?” Tyler’s mom asks, leaning toward me.
“That guy at that other table.” She nods in the direction of Charles and his date. “He hasn’t stopped looking over here.”
“I went to dinner with him once.” I let out a sigh.
“Just once?” She looks confused. “You’d think you were supposed to marry him by the way he’s looking over here. Even his date is annoyed,” she says, and I look at Tyler when he starts to shove back from the table.
“Where are you going?” I ask, grabbing on to his arm.
“I’m going to convince him that he needs to keep his eyes off you,” he growls.
“Stop,” I beg, and he studies me for a moment before he pulls in one breath and then another. I know he’s attempting to get himself under control. “Please just ignore him.”
“Baby.” His jaw clenches.
“I think he’s coming over here,” his mom whispers, and my head flies up. When I see that Charles is, in fact, coming toward us, my stomach starts to sink.
“What the fuck?” Tyler rumbles, and I hold on to his arm even tighter, thinking he’s going to get up and kick Charles’s ass. But then I notice he’s looking toward the entrance of the restaurant, at Detective Miller and two uniformed officers coming our way.
“What’s going on?” I ask as the cops split up at our table, walk around it, and close in on Charles.
“Leah, Tyler.” Detective Miller stops behind us, resting his hands on his hips as he watches the cops put cuffs on Charles. “I planned on calling you this evening to let you know I was able to track down the person we think is responsible for the fire and the break-in,” he says.
I look over at Charles in disbelief. Him. He’s the one. I shake my head as the officers start to lead him away.
“Get your fucking hands off me. I want a fucking lawyer!” he shouts.
“Are you saying Charles set the fire and trashed my house?” I can’t believe this. It doesn’t even make sense. We dated years ago and had only one recent date. I scrub my hands down my face as my family gets closer.