“Impressive,” I say, meaning it.
She waves me off. “I love to bake, but someday I’ll make Abbi teach me the really complicated stuff.”
Clearly, this kid got nothing of her father’s asshole genetics. She’s fun and sweet and pretty knowledgeable in the kitchen. When I look at her, I can’t help but think about Brinley’s years as a single mom. She has Julian around to help now, but how did she do it before? She managed to get through college and build a career while raising an awesome kid. Was Roman around? Did they try to make it work?
“Hey, Mom,” Cami calls right before I hear the sound of Brinley’s heels on the kitchen tile. “I’m teaching Marston how to make lemon poppyseed pinwheels.”
After our encounter in the hall yesterday, I decided I needed to give Brinley space, and I’ve avoided her side of the building so much today that this is the first time I’ve set eyes on her. She’s a knockout in her fitted black dress with a purple lightweight sweater, but it’s the sight of her shoes that makes my mouth go dry. One skinny strap across her toes and another around her ankle. I’d recognize the shoes I bought her in Vegas anywhere.
She might not remember half the night, but I’ll never forget it—the way she looked after the night was over, after we’d said our vows and celebrated too hard, and finally made it back to my suite. She slid out of her black dress and stood before me in nothing but the lacy bra and panties I’d bought her and those hot-as-fuck shoes.
The bra tied at the front with the most delicate silver ribbon. I kept my hands on her ass as I kissed my way across her collarbone and down between her breasts. I can still remember her quiet little whimper and the way she swayed toward me as I untied it with my teeth. After the bra fell away, I made my way to the little ties on each of her hips until her panties fell to the floor.
“Are you okay, Marston?” Brinley asks, pulling my attention off her shoes. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
I shake away the memory. Was Vegas just a fluke? Will this all end with her filing for divorce and spending her life with Julian? I try to ignore the ache in my gut at the possibility. “I was just noticing your shoes.”
Brinley’s eyes go wide, and red colors her cheeks as she looks down at her feet.
“Those shoes are Mom’s favorite,” Cami says. “She loves designer shoes but can’t afford them anymore.”
Abbi clears her throat from the other side of the kitchen. “Cami, would you come to the storeroom and help me put away the new order?”
Cami looks to her mom. “Would you mind pulling the pinwheels from the oven when the timer goes off?”
“Sure, sweetie. That’s no problem.”
Brinley and I watch Abbi and Cami go before I turn back to her. “Your daughter’s a very talented baker.”
Brinley smiles. “She loves it. I think she’d be in here all the time if I let her.”
My gaze flicks down to her shoes again. “She said you can’t afford designer shoes.”
She releases a stiff laugh. “I mean, can anyone, really?”
I prop my hands on the stretch of stainless-steel counter behind me and study her, unwilling to let her evade the subject so easily this time. “When we were in Vegas, I thought maybe your parents had squandered their fortune somehow, but that’s not it, is it?”
“It’s not their job to provide for me. I’m an adult now.”
“They could, though. One would think that with the kind of money they have, they’d insist on making sure their only living daughter and only grandchild had everything they needed and more.”
Sighing, she leans against the counter opposite me and crosses her feet at the ankles. “I’m not going to give you my rich-bitch sob story if that’s what you’re looking for. I like nice things, but I can manage without them too.”
“I doubt it’s a sob story,” I say softly. “But I want to hear it either way.”
She exhales heavily. “They kept tabs on me all through college. I’m talking strict curfews, designated study times—Dad even went so far as to schedule my classes.” She shakes her head. “I figured it was a small price to pay. I was a single mom, so they weren’t just covering for my apartment and tuition. They paid for Cami’s daycare and my car, my insurance, my spending money. Everything. Most single moms I went to school with were trying to juggle full-time jobs, school, and mothering, and still taking the deep dive into student loan debt. I didn’t like feeling as if my parents were holding the reins to my life, but it seemed like a small price to pay, considering all they were doing for me.”