“So that’s what you do? Bartend?” I’d never been an elitist, but for some reason I couldn’t resist the temptation to knock him down a peg.
“Blake . . .” Fiona’s voice lowered.
“I’m in grad school,” he continued, leveling a steady stare my way. “I bartend to make ends meet. My parents aren’t putting me through school, so I’m paying my own way.”
My father chimed in then. “That’s very commendable, Parker. There’s nothing quite like owning your successes. We’re not strangers to hard work, are we, Blake?”
“I’m certainly not,” I replied. “I can’t speak for Heath, of course.”
Heath smiled and made an offensive gesture, which thankfully our mother didn’t notice. We chuckled, and the tension was broken for the time being. Dad had made his point. My wealth had changed our circumstances, but we’d come from a blue-collar family. Maybe I’d give Parker the benefit of the doubt, but not until I knew more about him.
“Erica, will you tell us about the new project you all are working on?” my mother asked. “Greg and I have been wanting to hear about it.”
Apparently I was the only one interested in grilling the new guy, so I let Erica and Alli take over the conversation and talk about their work.
As dinner progressed, Parker made small talk with my parents and the others. If he’d been put off by my interrogation, he made no sign of it. By my side, Erica had barely touched her food. Her fork trailed through her potatoes.
“You okay, baby?”
She glanced up at me with a small smile. “I’m fine. I think I’m just exhausted. It was a long first day back.”
Her words reminded me of my own fatigue. We’d hit the ground running as soon as we got back, which I was regretting about now. “Do you want to go rest?”
Eyes closed, she exhaled heavily. “I think so. I’m sorry, Greg. Dinner was amazing. Can I take some home with me?”
My mother got up from her chair. “Of course! Let me make you a plate.”
Erica moved to leave, and I rose with her.
“I’ll walk you home,” I said.
“You don’t have to.”
I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, grazing her cheek with the backs of my fingers. “I’d feel better if I did.”
She placed a hand on my chest and smiled. “I’m fine. Enjoy time with your family. I’ll see you when you get back. You don’t have to rush.”
I placed my hand over hers, rolling the pads of my fingertips over the diamond bands on her ring finger. Damnit, I hadn’t seen her all day, and sharing her with my family tonight wasn’t the same. I’d grown addicted to having her all to myself. As much as I’d neglected matters at work this past month, at a few points today I had entertained the idea of taking off with her again as soon as we could.
I relented. “All right, but call me if you need anything.”
“I’ll be fine.” She brushed a kiss against my lips and left us for the night.
We finished dinner, and while my parents busied themselves with packing up the leftovers, Heath, Parker, and I had lingered around the table.
“So how’s married life treating you?” Heath said, leaning way back in his chair.
“Very well.” I reached for my beer, tipping the bottle to my lips. The past month had contained some of the best days of my life, and I was looking forward to many more.
“I still can’t fucking believe you’re married.”
I lifted my hand, examining the thin platinum band I’d chosen. “Believe it.”
Parker cleared his throat. “How about you, Heath? Are you and Alli looking to tie the knot?”
Heath lifted his eyebrows and let out a short laugh. “Not sure that’s any of your business just yet.”
Parker shrugged. “Just curious. I’m new here. I mean, when you find the right person . . .” He looked past us, to where Alli and Fiona sat chatting together in the living room.
I straightened in my seat, my muscles flinching under my sleeves, preparing to knock Parker into next week. “You’ve been seeing my sister all of a month.”
He took a swig of his beer. “Closer to three, but who’s counting?”
Heath shook his head with a laugh. “Can’t argue with that, Blake. You locked Erica down with a ring after a few months.”
“She’s different,” I muttered.
Parker cocked an eyebrow. “How so?”
“She doesn’t have any big brothers, for one,” I said, the threat in my voice unmistakable.
He pursed his lips with a nod. “Fair enough. Do you have some hoops you want me to jump through? Bank statements or something?”