I take a deep breath of ocean air while the seagulls float above me with their squawks and squeals–so similar to Mrs. Jeffries’s whining voice still stuck in my head. A slight groan catches in my chest. I needed this vacation, but not any more drama in my life. I should be soaking up the beauty of Nantucket with its expansive beaches. The shoreline stretches before me like a golden ribbon. I shove off my sandals and let my feet sink into the warm sand. Rex plays contentedly on the beach, unaware of Claudia Jeffries’ detest toward us. According to her, we are after Dalton’s money. Being wealthy doesn’t appeal to me if it means becoming like Claudia. How does Dalton stand his mother? Has being raised by her affected him in some way? He often speaks about how his father had kept their family balanced and sane. But now he’s gone, and all the responsibility is on Dalton’s shoulders. No wonder he’s grumpy half the time.
Dalton would always unload his stress after a call or a meeting with his mother. That’s why he calls me his best PA and how I got the job in the first place. My friend, Anna, couldn’t handle the stress of Mrs. Jeffries and Dalton’s grumpiness. She said by the way I handle Rex’s meltdowns, I could manage anything as Dalton’s PA. Not sure if that was a compliment or not, but I had a road-in with her recommendation, and the interview went well. Ten months later, and I’ve survived. I manage to pick up on his moods and distract him to other tasks. But now, even my superpowers have diminished against his mother’s vile behavior. It’s me who needs somewhere to offload my heaviness.
Melanie. I sit straighter and brush the sand from my hands. I can call my sister the marketing guru who finds the positive in any situation.
I dig into my tote bag and retrieve my cell. It doesn’t take long for Melanie to answer.
“Hey, girl. How’s Nantucket? I’m so jealous.” Melanie’s bright voice lifts my mood a notch.
“It’s gorgeous here. It would be a perfect place for your honeymoon.”
“Is there much to do there?”
“Plenty. I’ll grab some brochures for you. We’re staying in this cute resort by the beach. It’s a family-run business, like a home away from home. Rex is having a blast.”
“I picked out his tuxedo yesterday. Rex is going to look adorable as our ring bearer.”
“Not long now.” She’s so lucky to have found a great guy in Adam.
“Well, it’s great to hear you’re having a good time there. You deserve a break.”
I scoop up some sand and let it run through my fingers. “It’s not a vacation. And I can’t relax much with Mrs. Jeffries speaking trash behind my back. She’s infuriating.”
“What’s she saying about you?”
“The woman doesn’t know this is a fake relationship, so she’s freaking out that I’m after Dalton’s money. I’m not good enough for him. Thinks I’m a single mom who’s a gold digger.”
Melanie gasps. “That’s nasty. Did Dalton stand up for you?”
“Not really. He seems to avoid aggravating her. Plus, he probably gets a kick from her thinking he’s dating me. He knows it’s not real, so maybe he won’t fuss and vouch for me.”
“Oh.” Her tone is full of disappointment. “From what you’ve told me, he sounds like a good boss. Other than when he’s stressed.” Melanie sighs. “After the weekend, he’ll set his mother straight that you’ve stopped dating, and then Cruella can relax. Try to enjoy your time there. Surely you don’t need to spend that much time with her.”
I hear my name from behind me. I turn over my shoulder, and Dalton is waving from the path.
“I’ve got to get back to work. At least I’ll be able to pay off the medical bills.”
“Yes. Focus on that—being debt free. That’ll be a vacation in itself.”
“Exactly. Thanks for the chat. I appreciate you.”
“That’s what sisters are for. Send me pictures.”
“Will do. Bye.” I end the call and collect my things. “Rex, baby. Time to go into town.” Cinderella needs a gown for the ball.
I’ve always been a self-confident woman, and I’m comfortable taking risks, but pretending to be Dalton’s girlfriend seems more dangerous and exhilarating than bungee jumping. He’s been such a gentleman this afternoon and perfectly attentive and patient as I try on dress after dress.
I squeeze into a satin gown that cascades to my ankles, but the front finishes above my knees. The strappy heels accentuate my toned calf muscles. And that tanning cream worked a treat. My legs haven’t had much vitamin D for a while.
I tug the zip to close and smooth my hand over my stomach. What will Dalton think of this gown?
I step out of the fitting room in the beautiful cobalt dress, expecting to consult with him on whether it’s a good fit. But when I step out, I am met with a gaze that is far from professional. It is one of admiration and attraction. I swallow hard. Something is changing between us.
The air seems to thicken, and my brain tells me that I should back off and leave the store. Still, I linger, our eyes locking. A strange feeling blossoms inside me—electric, frightening.
I shake my head to clear it, forcing myself to remain focused on the task at hand. This isn’t the time to get entangled with my boss. We aren’t equals, and there’s no way to predict how it’ll end—my job might be in jeopardy if things didn’t work out. Best stay professional.
Even if I wanted to, I can’t let feelings develop between us. We’re both here to do business, not explore a relationship.
“Mommy. You look like a princess.” Rex breaks the electric current in the air. He leaves the blocks he was playing with, which tumble in his wake. He runs to me and touches the satin. “So shiny.”
I gently take his hand away, unsure of what he’s been touching lately. “Thank you, sweetheart.” I shyly glance up at Dalton. “What do you think?”
He pushes his palms on his knees and rises. “What do I think?” He rubs the back of his head. I’ve never seen him hesitate to find words. The guy could write speeches—he’s so articulate. Dalton drags a hand down his cheek and across his mouth. “It’s perfect.” He stands taller, and his smile grows. “You look perfect, Pamela.”
My stomach dips at hearing him use my full name for the first time. I glance at my toes and then at Rex beside me. “Okay. I’ll get changed. Won’t be a minute.” I flee to the fitting room and do my breathing exercises. What in the world was that? I’m in deep poo poo.