“Of- of course,” I stammer. “And I mean, I do want… kids. Someday. Myself, that is.”

“Good, good.” His father beams. If he notices a sheen of sweat on my forehead, or the extra unease I’m feeling now, he doesn’t mention it, at least. “Ah, here’s Xander, back again.”

“What have you been saying to her this time?” Xander arches an eyebrow as he passes his father a glass of Scotch, so strong that I can smell the smoky scent of it from half a couch away. Then he drops back down next to me and hands me a glass of cool ice water.

I grip it between sweaty palms. “Just talking about our future, of course. Our marriage, our prospective children.” I try to keep my voice hard, but I can’t help it. It cracks a little on the last word.

Xander frowns, just a little, and glances from me to his father and back again. “Ah, I see. Jumping five paces ahead of yourself as usual, Dad, are you?” He forces a smile, and his father returns it, and I sip my water, praying to remain unnoticed in the background, at least for a little while longer.

From there, the conversation shifts into easier topics, at least. Xander’s father asks about my career, my background. We agreed not to lie about more than absolutely necessary, so I tell the truth. I talk about being a waitress at a small-town restaurant, about my mother’s passing and me living with my childhood best friend as a roommate at the moment. Part of me worried about Xander’s father judging me. After all, my life is certainly very different from Xander’s, or any of the rest of his family’s.

But far from it, his father seems impressed. “A good work ethic will serve you well no matter what field you enter,” he tells me again and again. “Service work is some of the hardest around, and servers don’t get nearly enough credit for it. So bravo to you for dealing with so many people in that capacity, day in and out.”

I laugh, and to be honest, by the end of the night, I warm to William a lot more than I was expecting to. He’s funny, he’s smart. He doesn’t look down on me for my background or seem disappointed that his son selected some poor country girl to wife up. He just seems… genuinely happy that Xander’s getting married. And to someone who—at least according to the lies we just fed him—wants to start a family at some point.

I’m not sure what I had been picturing tonight. Some miserly old man unwilling to give his son a penny of inheritance until he bent to his father’s will, I guess. But somehow, meeting William makes this whole thing all the more guilt-inducing. Whatever Xander wants from his father, how could it matter enough to lie to his face like this? If it’s just money, then isn’t Devan right? Doesn’t Xander have enough of that? After all, I’ve seen his penthouse, and the way he travels. I’ve used his limitless credit card.

What more does he need?

Those questions chase themselves through my mind as the night draws to an end, and William walks us to the front door. Before we leave, he hugs me again, tightly, and pats my shoulder as he lets me go. “Thank you,” he says, gaze fixed on my face. “For being here for him. Xander may not always know what he needs in life, but I have a feeling you’re it, Melanie.”

The words sink like a weight straight to the pit of my stomach. If only you knew the truth, I think, but cannot say aloud. Instead I make myself smile and wave, and turn to hook my arm through Xander’s, so we can descend back down the ornate front steps to the car, where Andrew is leaning against the hood and texting as he waits for us.

Before we’ve even reached the car, Xander catches me around the waist and pulls me into his arms. The front door is already shut, so I know it can’t be for his father’s benefit. But still, he kisses me anyway, hard and full on the lips, his arms snaking around my waist to crush me against him. When we break apart, he smiles, breathless, his lips inches from mine. “You were perfect,” he whispers. “That was incredible.”

“You think?” I murmur, hoping he won’t hear the pain and conflict in my voice.

“Of course. He loved you.” Xander draws back and holds my hand, continuing the rest of the way down the steps to where Andrew holds our door.

I hesitate outside the car, my arms crossed, not stepping inside the vehicle yet. Andrew takes one glance at my expression, then Xander’s, and quietly steps away from the car, pulling a cigarette from his pocket as he heads toward a far corner of the drive to give us space. “Does this mean he’ll give you what you want now?” I ask, my voice pitched low, so it won’t carry all the way up to the front door.

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