“I want to sit here with you,” he says, piling food on his own plate. “Even if I didn’t realize how much until I spotted you across the bar.”
Emotion clogs my throat, but I swallow it down with more vodka. We eat in companionable silence for a few minutes, and I feel the alcohol work through me, loosening my muscles and locking away my worries for another time.
“I’m sure your parents are glad you’re in Orchid Valley,” he says, finally breaking the silence.
“They don’t live there anymore, actually.” I smile, ungrateful daughter that I am. “Too many memories, I guess? Dad always wanted to retire in Florida, and he finally talked Mom into it, so they sold the house and he spends his days golfing while she redecorates their place in Boca Raton.”
He nods as if this isn’t a surprise. It shouldn’t be. My parents are a perfect fit in the world of Boca Raton socialites. “So, tell me what I’ve missed. No Mr. Perfect yet, but you went to college? And . . . let me guess, you’re teaching now?”
I shake my head. “Not exactly. I ended up majoring in business so my dad would pay for school.”
He winces. “Some things never change.”
I know he doesn’t mean it as a barb, but it burrows just beneath my skin anyway, festering there. I pick at a piece of sushi. “I guess not.”
“You’re working for him now?”
“No.” And this is something I can be proud of. “I manage a day spa on the lake. It’s called The Orchid.”
His face lights up, and warmth spreads through me at the pride in his eyes. “A spa, huh? I might know a little bit about that line of work. You like it?”
“It’s nothing as big as the places that hire you, but I love it.” My words come out a little rough. “The Orchid is a space for women to relax—to treat themselves and be taken care of, because they spend so much of their lives treating and taking care of others. It’s a place of luxury for those who can afford it, but when I came in, I decided every woman deserved a taste of that. So we also offer free yoga classes weekly and encourage the community to attend. Every quarter, we offer a series of free meditation classes. We also do wine tastings and girls’ nights, and the only expense there is any food you buy or wine you want to take home. It’s been a hit, and these community outreach efforts have improved profit margins rather than reducing them, like the owner’s sons swore it would.”
“Only you could find the intersection of good business practice and civic duty. It’s perfect. They should interview you for the commercial.”
“I don’t mean to sound like a sales pitch. I just truly love it, and I love the people I work with and what we offer to the community.”
“If half these places we work for had someone with your passion at the helm, they wouldn’t need us at all.”
I duck my head, blushing. He has no way of knowing how much that means to me. “Thank you.”
I consider telling him the rest—that the owner is selling, and I want her to sell it to me. She’s given me until next June before she searches for another buyer, but the bank won’t give me the loan I need.
But that’s all content under the heading of Reasons I Shouldn’t Be Here with Him, so I say none of it and instead stare into my drink.
“What are you thinking?” he asks.
I slip off my heels under the table and lift the broken one up for him to see. “I’m wishing I hadn’t tried to run in ten-year-old shoes. I wanted to cut loose this weekend, but dancing barefoot in a Vegas nightclub is on the other side of that line.”
He laughs. “Fair enough. Let’s run back to your room and get another pair.”
The only other shoes I brought are the canvas sneakers I wore at the airport. They’d look ridiculous with this dress, but I’m afraid I’ll sound shallow if I admit that. Savvy has Barbie feet, so anything she has will be too small. “Maybe I’ll go to the boutique down the street and treat myself to a new pair.” It’d totally blow my fun-money budget for the month, even with the cash my parents gave me for my birthday, but it is my birthday, and . . . I really do want to dance.
Marston picks up his phone, and for a jealous moment I wonder if he’s already making plans with someone else, since I’m about to leave. Would it be too clingy to make sure he knows I’m planning on coming back?
Don’t be that girl.
I grab my own phone and text Savvy that I’m going to the mall and I’ll find her when I get back.