“I understand why it bothers you, so I’m going to see what I can do. Maybe it can be done more gradually so it doesn’t impact her business so dramatically.”
“You baby her still.”
He tensed slightly. “Maybe. Old habits die hard.”
“She’s not as helpless as she seems. If you’d seen how she spoke to me…she can be truly vicious. If she uses that personality in her business life, she’ll do fine.”
“Jealousy can turn people into very ugly versions of themselves.”
My thoughts swirled around the sentiment. I’d been forced to expel James from our office to satisfy Blake’s own jealousy. I pushed off of him abruptly, despite his effort to keep me there.
By the time I reached the kitchen with every intention of cleaning until I wasn’t so pissed anymore, he was behind me. He spun me and pushed me back to the counter.
“Stop what?” I snapped.
“What do you want me to do? Destroy her business?”
“You’re smart, Blake. I think you can figure it out. Put her on a payment plan. Make her take out a loan. Maybe she can start selling what I imagine is a sizeable designer shoe collection. But I don’t want her claws in you, at all, in any way.”
He rolled his eyes. “Her claws are not in me. Yours are. Like, right this fucking minute.”
I gave him a hard stare. I didn’t care what he said. His assurances were a waste of air if whenever I crossed paths with Sophia, the look on her face told a different story. Until he’d severed their connection, she’d always dangle it in front of me.
“You’re mine, and the next time I see her face, I want her to know it. Call me jealous, and if that makes me ugly, then so be it.”
He pushed my hair back behind my ear. “I like that you’re protective. It doesn’t make you ugly.”
“Then end it with her. Please.” I softened in his arms, wishing he’d just do the right thing.
A long moment passed between. My resentment melted into a pile of disappointment.
I lifted my gaze, but before I could say anything, his lips were on me, silencing me, giving me everything I wanted.
Marie stood behind me, curling small sections of my hair. Alli had a concentrated look on her face as she brushed some color onto my cheeks.
“You’re fussing too much, Alli. This is an engagement party, not the big day. I’m fine.”
She stood back, head cocked to the side. “You are now. You look perfect. Also, you should get used to it. Getting married is like prom on steroids.”
My lips lifted with a smile. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You keep saying things like that, I’m going to take Blake up on his offer to elope.”
Fiona looked up from her seat, another bridal magazine in her lap. “You wouldn’t!”
“No,” I relented. “You’re the only friends I have, and if I deprived you of this wedding, I’m sure neither of you would ever speak to me again.”
“Nonsense.” Alli fluffed a spiral of hair that Marie had just released. “We should go dress shopping soon though. I think that’s the key to getting you into wedding mode.”
I sighed. “You could be right. Maybe I should start looking at those magazines for ideas. I don’t even know where to start.”
“Well, don’t look too hard, because Alli and I have picked just about everything out for you already,” Fiona chimed in, her eyes glittering with humor.
I laughed. “Okay.”
“Satin and strapless.” Fiona opened it to a page, showing me a photo of a beautiful model bride.
“Hmm, pretty. What about lace?”
Alli widened her eyes a bit. “Is that what you want?”
“I don’t know, maybe. I think Blake likes lace.”
“Must run in the family,” Alli quipped, her eyes alight.
I laughed, trying to keep myself still so Marie wouldn’t inadvertently catch me with the hot iron.
Fiona did little to mask her look of disgust. “Oh my God, this conversation has to end. Please. You’ll give me nightmares.”
Alli and I laughed, sharing a look.
The door opened then, and Heath poked his head in. “Mom wanted me to tell you guys that people are starting to show up, so come out whenever you’re ready. Don’t make them wait too long to meet our guest of honor.” He winked.
“Go away, Heath. You’re going to make her nervous,” Fiona said.
“It’s fine. I have my liquid charisma right here.” I lifted my nearly empty champagne flute.
Marie loosened the last curl. “You don’t need liquid charisma. Everyone will love you.”
I warmed at her words. Of all the people here, Marie was my only family, though the more I thought of it, the more that line between Blake’s family and mine began to blur. Alli lived in both worlds right along with me, and I was far from an outsider in the Landons’ lives. They were a warm and welcoming family that I was belonging to a little more each day. The absence of my own relatives mattered less, and the times when I mourned not having a more normal family were fewer.
“We’ll be out soon. As soon as we’re beautiful.” Alli ran her fingers through her already perfectly straight hair.
“You’re already beautiful, gorgeous.” Heath smirked, his eyes fixed on Alli.
She blushed, pretending to ignore him.
“Gross, get out.” Fiona tossed a throw pillow at the door, missing her target as she closed the door shut, his laughter audible from the other side.
Marie curled the last piece of my hair. “You’re all set, baby girl.”
I stood, taking in my appearance once more. I wasn’t as concerned about how I looked as I was about holding my own in front of all of the Landons’ friends and family. This was going to be family overload, but I was as ready as I ever would be.
Alli hooked her arm through mine and gave me a little nudge. “Let’s go charm the hell out of the Landon family tree.”
“I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Blake met us as we left the spare room where the girls and I had stationed ourselves to get ready. He looked delectable in dark jeans and a pin-striped collared shirt rolled up at the sleeves and loose at the waist. He’d look good in a burlap sack, a toga, basically anything. While everyone else meandered farther into the house, I stayed back to steal a moment with him.
“You look stunning. I can’t wait to show you off,” he said, his eyes darkening.