Xander looks at my hands, but if he wants to protest, he bites his tongue on it. “It’s probably a good thing she’s worried,” he says, which makes my eyebrows shoot skyward.


“It means she really cares about you. She’s a good friend. Any friend would be worried on behalf of a friend doing something impulsive like this.” His smile widens. “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Just means that you’ve got someone in your corner.”

I can’t help it. I smile back at him. “I didn’t think of it like that…” I say slowly. My gaze drifts away. “But you’re right. Devan’s always had my back. Especially lately.”

He doesn’t ask, but I can feel the curiosity practically radiating off of him. When I steal another glance over, I find him watching me quietly, waiting for me to offer more. Not wanting to push me to reveal more than I’m ready to, I guess.

But to my surprise, I realize that I want to talk about this. I want to get deeper with Xander. Even if this is just a business relationship, it’s still a relationship of sorts. And we should both know one another. What we’re getting into. If nothing else, it will help convince his father that our faux engagement is a real one. “My mother passed away two years ago,” I murmur. “She fought for a long time—cancer. But in the end, it was too much.”

I don’t mention how deep in debt I am from all of her medical bills. It doesn’t feel right to complain about that. After all, I loved my mother. I would have done anything in the world to help her fight. I still would, if I could. So I was happy to pay all of that money, to sign her up for all the experimental trials. To do everything we could, test every trick in the book to fight her illness.

But now… Now, she’s gone, and I’m left to pick up the pieces. To pay off amounts I could never manage to repay, without Xander’s offer.

I swallow hard around a lump in my throat. Yet again.

“I’m so sorry, Melanie.” Xander’s palm comes to rest over mine again, and this time, I don’t shy away from his touch.

A buzzer sounds, followed by a garbled announcement. The plane is boarding. I stand, Xander following. “It’s in the past,” I say. “I still miss her. I always will. But without her… Devan’s the only real family I have left.”

Xander’s hand squeezes mine with understanding as he leads our way toward the front of the line. Even though there are a ton of other passengers lined up already, Xander heads for the front counter, and after one look at our tickets, the attendant waves us to the front. “Right this way for first class,” she replies with a broad smile.

I don’t realize what that means until we enter the plane. When we get there, my jaw drops. The seats are huge. Bigger than the whole front half of my car. And it looks like they recline all the way back and turn into beds.

I’m still gaping at the seats when another flight attendant appears with a tray of sparkling wine flutes. “Champagne?” she asks.

I blink a few times as Xander takes one and hands the other to me. Then he bursts out laughing, probably at the stunned expression on my face. “Haven’t you ever flown first class before?” he asks.

“I’ve never flown before period,” I respond.

Now it’s his turn to look stunned, his eyebrows flying up. “Really? Never?”

I shrug and look away, feeling my cheeks heat up. “My family worked hard, but we never exactly had a lot of spare cash lying around. Not enough to go on a trip long enough or far enough away to justify flying, anyway. When we managed to go on vacation, it was driving up to the nearest lake and chilling on the beach for a few days or visiting my grandmother. That kind of thing.”

When I glance back over, Xander’s watching me, thoughtful.

It makes my blush even worse. “You don’t have to look at me like that,” I mumble. “I know it’s weird. We just didn’t have any money for luxurious stuff, you know?”

“It’s not weird,” he replies right away. “I just never considered before what that would be like.” His expression turns inward, and he grimaces a little. “My family never exactly tended to branch out, socially. It’s making me realize how many interesting people I’m missing out on because I never hung out outside of our, ah…”

“Social class?” I respond with a wryly arched eyebrow.

He chuckles softly. But he nods, too. “Of course, that’s changed since I’ve started traveling more for the company, visiting a lot of the farms we sponsor. But talking to you makes me think about that even more.”

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