“Where’s Julian?” Mom asks the moment she reaches the table. She stares hard at the seat next to me, as if she’s willing him to appear.

“Gonna cut right to the chase, then,” I mutter, but my words are completely muffled by Cami’s sprint toward her grandmother.

“Grammy!” she shouts, jumping out of her chair.

As disappointed as my parents were to find themselves with a pregnant teenager, they truly love my daughter, and my daughter loves them. Cami is probably the only reason I still have a somewhat functional relationship with my parents. I keep the peace for her—even if my parents and I don’t always agree on . . . anything.

Mom stoops down to hug Cami then whispers something in her ear that has her running to the kitchens, where I’m sure she’s chasing down some delicious baked goods my mom instructed the staff to have on hand for her.

I arch a brow at my mom, who pulls her most innocent face. “Just one tiny treat won’t ruin her meal,” she says.

Sighing, I rise to hug my mother. “Julian’s not going to make it today.” I force a smile and lie through my teeth. “Last-minute work meeting.”

Mom gives me a hard look. “He works hard and he looks at you like you’re a prize. Maybe we should move up the wedding to make sure he doesn’t get away.”

I fight back a grimace and take my seat. Sometimes the best thing I can do is not respond. I’m thankful Cami is still busy in the kitchen when Dad finally makes it to the table. “Where is Julian today?” His eyes land on my hand, and his lips twist. He’s spotted what Mom somehow missed. My naked ring finger.

“He can’t make it, but I actually need to talk to you and Mom about the wedding,” I say, shifting under his scrutiny. I’m twenty-seven years old, and he can still make me feel three inches tall when he looks at me like that.

The air in the room grows stiff with his tension. “What did you do, Brinley?” Dad asks sharply.

Mom takes a seat and lifts her glass of ice water with a shaking hand. “Let’s at least hear her out before we get upset, Abraham.”

Dad frowns and sits beside his wife.

I take a deep breath and focus on Mom as I say the words I’m sure she’s already anticipating. “Julian and I broke up last night. We’re canceling our wedding.”

Mom gasps. “What?” Okay, so maybe she hadn’t figured it out. “You’re kidding. Tell me you’re kidding.”

It’s Dad who doesn’t look shocked. “You’re always determined to make fools of us all, aren’t you?” He shakes his head. “Do you ever think of anyone but yourself?”

I drop my gaze to my hand and my bare ring finger. “I’m so sorry for the position this puts you in.”

“What about Cami?” Mom asks. “I was so proud of you for finally doing right by her—giving her a strong male influence in her home—and now you’re just throwing that away. And why? Do you even have a good reason for this?”

I lift my chin and roll my shoulders back. “The truth is, I never had a good reason to marry him.”

“Ridiculous,” Dad grumbles. “You have no sense.”

“It’s true. Julian and I are good friends, and we care about each other a lot, but not enough to get married.” I swallow and try to muster my courage. “Cami and I are doing fine on our own, but I was hoping you’d consider releasing my trust to me early even without the wedding. I wonder if the provisions in the trust might allow for exceptions if—”

“Why would I do that?” My father’s face is red, as if his anger is literally making his blood boil beneath his skin. “You’ve just proven exactly how irresponsible you are, and you want us to shell out a bunch of cash for you to play nail salon for the rest of your life?”

I swallow, bracing myself for an uphill battle. “I understand why it might look that way, but I’m only asking for the money so I can make an investment. You know I planned to buy The Orchid after the wedding, and I still want to do that. If I don’t buy it before June, I’ll lose my chance, and the family will sell to someone else.”

“Maybe you should’ve thought about that before you destroyed your chances with a good man,” Dad says.

Mom places a hand on his arm. “Abraham, let’s slow down. Maybe we could consider this investment.” She turns to me. “Your grandfather decided the terms of your trust, but maybe we could talk to our advisors and consider buying The Orchid ourselves—that way you don’t lose it, and we don’t have to compromise on terms that were important to us.”

“No.” The word snaps out of me, but I take a deep breath and try to explain. “I want this for myself, and I don’t think it would be good for our relationship if you were the owners of the company I was running. We tried that when I worked for Knox Bourbon after graduation, remember? I don’t want to work for you.”

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