I make my way up to the front door. It’s still light enough outside to see, but the porchlight is on anyway. I’m not nervous in the slightest, because I keep telling myself this isn’t really a date. I have a black-tie function to go to tonight. When I asked Trista to go with me, it was in lieu of working at The Wicked Horse tonight. It’s part of her employment with me, so absolutely nothing to be nervous about.

Nope.

Don’t care I’m meeting her mom and niece.

I barely knock on the door twice before it’s swung open and I’m looking at Trista’s mom. They look unbelievably alike although her mom’s face is slightly aged and she’s a little curvier. But past that, the resemblance is astonishing. At least Trista will know she’s going to be a knockout when she’s her mom’s age, which I guess would have to be early fifties.

“Hello,” she says warmly and motions me into a small living room with a wide smile. “You must be Jerico. I’m Trista’s mom, Jolene.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I say, calling on my suave side I’ve cultured over the years since going into private business. I’ve had to schmooze with big wigs, including everything from U.S. senators to sheiks.

I’m prepared to engage in small talk if necessary, but Trista walks out of a small hallway wearing a beautiful, sleeveless gown I bought for her and had delivered today. It’s a deep sapphire blue and made of satin. It’s simplistic yet very elegant with a square neckline and thin crisscross straps across her shoulders. It drops wickedly low in the back. While it’s not overly tight, it perfectly silhouettes her body. She did her hair in a loose bun that sits low on the right side of her head with wisps of hair left out to frame her face and long neck.

She looks simply amazing as I drink her in, perusing her up and down. When I finally catch her eyes, she’s smirking at me. I give her a wink right back and tell her, “You look stunning. I’m glad the gown fit.”

Trista gives a one-time around twirl, and my throat goes slightly dry at her bare back. I sneak a peek over at her mother, who has one arm across her stomach and the other pressed over her mouth where I can tell she’s hiding an extremely affectionate and proud smile if the light in her eyes is any indication.

“So beautiful,” Jolene finally says. “But then, I’d say that if you were wearing a burlap sack.”

Trista rolls her eyes at her mom. “You have to say that. You’re my mom.”

Jolene laughs and waves off her daughter’s comment. Trista walks over to the couch and for the first time, I notice the little girl sitting there, reading a book.

Her niece, Corinne. She looks like any ordinary child would look, and I see the family resemblance although Corinne’s hair is darker than Trista and Jolene’s.

Trista bends over her, putting her hand under Corinne’s chin to lift it so she gets her attention. “Can you say hello to Mr. Jameson?”

Corinne’s eyes cut to me, and she gives a lackluster, “Hello.”

“Hi Corinne,” I say with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Her eyes drop to her book again, and Trista’s eyes go dim with worry.

Jolene walks over to the couch and sits down beside Corinne as she says, “Now, you two get out of here and enjoy your night. Corinne and I are going to read some books for a while and maybe watch a movie.”

Corinne doesn’t react, but I catch the look between mom and daughter that says all at once, “We love this little girl, yet we can’t make everything right in her world.”

Jolene gives a confident nod to Trista—a silent statement that she’s got it covered. Trista smiles and bends over to kiss Corinne’s head. “Night-night, sweet girl. I’ll see you tomorrow morning for pancake day, okay?”

At that, Corinne lifts her head and gives Trista a delighted smile. “Can I help you flip them?”

Trista makes a scoffing sound. “Well, duh. Of course you’re going to flip them, silly.”

Corinne giggles, and the lines of worry around Trista’s eyes disappear.

“Okay, we’re out of here,” Trista says as she turns to me with a smile. I hold my hand out to her, and she takes it. Turning to her mom, I say, “It was nice to meet you, Jolene. And you too, Corinne.”

Jolene gives me a sweet smile as she puts her arm around Corinne’s shoulder. I even get a shy smile from the little girl.

We walk out of Trista’s home and when we hit the sidewalk that cuts over to the driveway, I say, “Corinne having a bad day?”

Trista sighs in frustration. “Danielle was supposed to call her today but didn’t.”

Never met Trista’s sister, but I can categorically say I officially can’t stand either of her siblings.

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