Mia shakes her head. “Negative. This is the first time I’ve ever actually spoken to her. Not like my mom actually cares as long as she gets a cut of my pretend paycheck, but I’m kind of excited to actually have proof.”

“Why does she think you’re Isabella’s nanny?”

“Because Mateo lies to get what he wants,” she states, pushing send and sliding the phone back into her purse. “I’m sorry, is that news?”

A little unsettled by that, particularly coming from her, I ask, “Would you lie to me?”

Cutting me a glance that’s a little more wary than I appreciate, she states, “Only if it was in your best interest.”

That’s not the answer I wanted. “Have you lied to me?”

“Meg, don’t,” she says simply.

The waitress approaches, greeting us cheerfully and admiring the girls’ new dolls. They try to talk over each other as they tell her about the new school play set we just bought, and how their dolls are going to school as soon as we get home.

Once the waitress goes to put in our order, Lily asks Mia to take a picture of her doll, too.

Actually, remembering I have a phone now, I grab mine to take a picture.

“Man, I’m almost never around kids anymore,” Mia remarks, smiling at the picture she just took on her phone. “I’m realizing I kind of miss it. I should go visit my mom soon. Her boyfriend’s a turd, but I’m basically a Morelli now, so he’s a little afraid of me and it’s awesome.”

“You can come play with us, if you want,” Isabella offers.

Mia laughs, stuffing her phone back into her handbag. I cock my head looking at it, noticing it’s Gucci. I know Vince obviously works for Mateo, but I didn’t think he made enough to support them both with no other work and buy Gucci.

“Is that new?” I ask, glancing from her to the purse.

“Yep,” she replies, running a hand over it like it’s a pet.

“Is it from Mateo?”

She sighs to herself, placing it in the floor beneath the table. “Yes.”

“Vince doesn’t mind him buying you presents?”

“Vince hates Mateo buying me presents, but Vince doesn’t notice new purses.”

“Or shoes?” I remark, thinking of Mateo’s note that morning. “Why’s he buying you presents?”

“Because he’s madly in love with me and that’s why you’re the one taking me out to lunch today—and moving in with him. Obviously.”

I roll my eyes at her. “I’m not asking from a place of jealousy. I want you to have nice things, I just…”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Mia tells me.

“Is he rewarding you?”

Grasping my hand across the table, she meets my gaze. “I didn’t lie for him, Meg. I promise.”

I want to tell her he really did kill Beth, but I obviously can’t with Isabella sitting here, and even if she wasn’t, I probably shouldn’t share that with anyone. I wish I could tell her more. I wish I could tell her how I met him, why I was really there. She’s obviously known him longer; maybe I wouldn’t really have anything to worry about. Maybe he wouldn’t react to it the way I’m thinking he would, and Mia could reassure me of that.

Probably not, though.

Mia seems to get by primarily by not rocking the boat, and it won’t put my mind at ease to keep considering that she could be covering for him. Would she? Probably. After all, Mateo just told me the night before that our loyalty to him is how we survive, whether we love him or not.

Once the shopping trip is finished, we head home. I told the girls in the car on the way that they might be able to have a sleepover in Isabella’s room tonight, and as soon as they got here, they both ran straight to her room to get started.

Adrian carries my bags to Mateo’s bedroom for me.

“Do you know when he’ll be home?”

“I’m not sure. He’ll be here for dinner though, so should be soon.” He drops the last of the bags on the bed and takes a step back.

“Can I ask you something?” I hesitate, but given he was the one who told me about the water that first day, I figure maybe he’ll talk to me. “Mateo told me about Beth last night.”

He seems surprised by this, but recovers easily enough. His eyes move to the necklace then, and he nods. “Okay.”

“Well, he told me about Beth, but I didn’t ask about specifics. It was a lot to absorb. It also seemed like potentially a sore subject, so I didn’t push, but in the interest of not repeating my predecessor’s mistakes, I was wondering if you could give me those specifics.”

“What did he tell you?”

“That she betrayed him and cheated and he…” I trail off, touching the necklace. “You know,” I say.

“He told you that? Huh. That’s an interesting wooing technique.”

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