When we reach the car, I open the passenger door and help her in. When she settles and starts to grab the seat belt, I ask with a jerk of my head over my shoulder at the realtor sign in the yard. “You’re selling your house?”
Trista grimaces. “Trying to. Had a buyer, which would have given me the equity I needed to pay off my… um… loan, but found out there’s a termite problem. So that fell through. I’m kind of at a standstill now because I don’t have the money to fix the damage.”
Oddly, I’m relieved that’s the reason she’s selling, and not because she may be moving away. I give her a nod and close the door.
When I get in on my side, I turn to her. “Do you need some money to get it fixed?”
Trista’s head snaps my way. “What?”
“Money,” I repeat. “A loan.”
Trista snorts at me. “No thank you. My indentured servitude to you is almost up. I need to get out and find a job with real benefits.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “I mean a real loan. With a long-term repayment and low interest. I’d help you out if you needed it.”
Her head tilts to the side. “Why? Your favor to Jayce has essentially been repaid.”
If I tell her the truth, it would be something along the lines of, “Well, Trista… see, I care for you. I think. I’m not sure. I’ve got all these crazy feelings that I’ve never had before. Not with Michelle. Not with anyone.”
But of course, I don’t tell her that because this thing will be over in ten days and we’ll go our separate ways. Whether I use my relationship with Trista to hurt her brother remains to be seen, but I’m not about to give in to admitting any of these feelings that might be nothing more than a passing fancy.
So instead, I just say, “If you need help, call me. If not, that’s fine too.”
“Okay,” she says hesitantly and before it can get anymore awkward, I change directions.
Leaning across her, I open the glove compartment and pull out a black velvet box. I open it and show her the contents.
Trista gasps as she ogles the diamond necklace in horror. “You said this wasn’t a date.”
I grimace, because I did tell her that in a fit of anxiety after I asked her to go to this, then hid behind my excuse that it was part of her job duties to me. “Relax, Trista. It’s on loan from a friend. It turns into a pumpkin at midnight.”
Trista’s chest decompresses with the amount of air she expels in relief, but then I reach into my coat pocket and pull out a much smaller box. Handing it to her, I say, “But… I did buy these for you to wear with the necklace. They’re yours to keep.”
I busy myself with taking the necklace out of the box to undo the clasp. It’s a beautiful graduated diamond tennis necklace that I think Helena told me was a total of ten carats. The diamond earrings I bought are each a carat, although I could have afforded much more and had contemplated something much bigger. But that spoke too much of things I wasn’t ready to talk about, so I went smaller so there was no pressure on either side.
“They’re beautiful,” Trista murmurs as she looks at the earrings.
“Here,” I say gruffly as I hold the necklace up. “Turn around so I can put this on you.”
I easily clasp the necklace around her neck, running my fingers over her bare shoulder when I’m done. I get a blast of satisfaction over the way she shivers. She turns back in her seat, taking her gold hoops out of her ears and putting in the diamond solitaires. Pulling the visor mirror down, she looks at herself with a smile.
“Thank you,” she says without looking at me. Her voice is so warm with affection, I feel my throat constrict. Almost as if she could sense my unease, she adds, “For a non-date… you know, actually just working tonight, I’m taking home a pretty nice haul.”
The tension within me releases, and I laugh at her. “Just the earrings, let me remind you.”
Trista grins as she turns in her seat to face me. She puts a palm on my thigh and squeezes. “Seriously… thank you. The earrings are totally unnecessary but totally appreciated.”
I smile back at her, feeling like I just won something. A prize. A medal. Something big and shiny that denotes I achieved something monumental here. I’m quite afraid the warm feelings I’m developing for Trista are the achievement, and I don’t know if that makes me happy or scared.
Jerico and I meander along the perimeter of the ballroom, looking at the items available for silent auction bids. The charity dinner is being held at the Bellagio and is set to begin soon. But first, patrons are liquored up and then set loose on the tables, all to raise money for homeless veterans.