I wake with a jolt at the memory of my intoxicating kisses with Dalton last night. I picture his dark eyes and full lips—a vivid vision that seems to transport me into an alternate universe of possibilities and romanticism.
But reality quickly hits me like a cold wave.
“Mommy, wake up!” Rex stands at my bedside, shaking my arm.
I groan. “Yes. Give Mommy a minute. Or two.” Or ten. I push the covers aside.
Confirming my suspicions, the bedside digital clock reads 6:12 a.m. Fabulous, why can’t the kid ever sleep in for once?
I stretch my arms, letting out a yawn. My entire body seems numb and heavy. I hardly managed any sleep after what happened with my boss. All the acting like a couple and a family must’ve made me vulnerable.
But now, with the sun peeking through the resort window and my son’s innocent face watching me expectantly, I snap back to my responsible self. Dalton is my boss, and I must work with him. And flipping heck, the guy is in the next room, and now I must face him.
Maybe this was just a fun fling for him, a little something to relieve his stressful life. Whatever it was, I must push it to the back of my mind and focus on my boy and what is best for him.
I lean over to Rex, ruffle his hair, and pull him into a tight embrace. “What do you want for breakfast?”
“Lucky Charms.” His eyes light up with enthusiasm.
I chuckle. “You wish, jellyfish.”
“I saw them in the pantry.” Rex pushes away from me and crosses his arms, pouting like a little boss.
“Maybe the resort managers provide them here, but we aren’t gonna eat them. Okay?”
Rex lets out a heavy sigh but nods his little head in acceptance. As I rise from the bed, he whispers, “One day, I will have Lucky Charms for breakfast.”
I smile to myself, knowing that one day, I will make it happen. But for now, we are adjusting to the new rules that go with managing diabetes.
I scratch the back of my head and open the bedroom door. The delicious aroma of bacon instantly makes my mouth water. Little Rex rushes past me and into the dining room.
The cold tiles on my feet give off a sharp sensation, almost as if each step is an icy shock that electrifies me to wake up more, but when I round the corner, the rest of my body becomes fully alert.
Dalton stands at the stove, spatula in hand, dressed in a tight tank top, boxer shorts, and bare feet. Wow. I knew he worked out but didn’t know what he was hiding under that suit. Sweet mercy, indeed.
I’m frozen but need to retreat and get out of my PJs. But with Rex’s speed, zooming toward Dalton, I’m caught.
Dalton grins at Rex, and his head lifts to face me. “I see I’m not the only early riser in this household.”
My stomach leaps like a lunatic clown skipping in the mall with no shame. Stop it. Stop fluttering and hoping for more with Dalton. It can’t happen.
He smiles as if he knows what I’m thinking and expertly flips an omelet onto a second plate. “I hope you like eggs.” He says warmly.
“Sure.” I try not to blush.
I take in his disheveled hair and his eyes that glimmer mischievously at me as he slides a plate my way with a flourish. His smile widens as if a private joke is shared only between us. One that Rex cannot find out. Mommy kissed her boss last night. And more than once.
I keep my distance, take the plate from the counter's edge, and sit at the dining table. Rex looks between us curiously and then back to a plastic kiddie plate piled high with fresh fruits, bacon, and an omelet.
“Yes, buddy. That one is for you.” Dalton hands it out to him.
Rex glances between us again before taking the offering. “Tank you. Tank you. This is way better than Lucky Charms.”
“Better for you too.” Dalton winks at me.
All my insides go to mush. Why does Dalton have to be so great with my son? This is torture.
Delicious torture. Dalton approaches with his breakfast, looking like a walking dessert. His white singlet is thin enough to reveal his toned muscles. He pauses a second and grins down at me.
Oh, I’m staring.
He pulls out a chair and joins us at the table. “How are your eggs?”
I blink and stare at my fork with a piece of omelet hanging. When did I do that? Dalton has me under a love spell, which I must break.
I shove the eggs into my mouth, nod, and hum at the same time. “Mmm.” I give him the thumbs up.
Dalton laughs and digs into his food. “I’m glad you like it. I enjoy cooking when I’m on vacation.”
I swallow and touch the corner of my mouth. “When I’m on vacation, that’s the last thing I want to do.”
He slides his arm across the table, and his thumb brushes the back of my hand. “I believe you.” Dalton looks at Rex, then retracts his arm. “Last day here. Our fake island romance is about to be over.”
I twist my head awkwardly, not sure what he means by that. I try to focus on my plate, but it’s all blurry. So I was right. This is just something Dalton does—kisses women, but there’s no commitment. Well, that works for me. A single mom can’t seriously get involved with a billionaire like Dalton.
But how will I work with him come Monday like this weekend meant nothing to me?
I step out after breakfast and try to avoid immediately returning to work mode. This weekend has been everything I needed. Sunshine. Ocean. Pam and Rex. I can’t get the dynamic duo out of my thoughts.
I head down the steps and make my way to the beach. Ocean waves crash over my feet as my phone chirps Mother’s ringtone. I consider not answering, but I know better than to let things like this stew over time. Better to respond now and get it over with.
Holding back a groan, I force cheerfulness into my voice and answer. “Have you been down to the beach yet? It’s beautiful.”
Her derisive sniff is enough to tell me that she won’t be waylaid from her mission. “Dalton, I’m going to cut straight to the point. This thing you’re doing with Pam, I won’t stand for it.”
My shoulders snap back, and I grind my teeth before I can stop the motion. “This is my life.”
“And it’s your father’s company.” Mother interrupts. The sound of her heels clipping in sharp taps tell me that she’s pacing. “Your father, may he rest in peace, would be rolling in his grave if he knew you were consorting with the help.”
“No, he wouldn’t. Dad was all about equal opportunity.” I can’t help saying the words. How many times did Dad warn me not to look down on someone because of their financial situation? “You’re the one who’s concerned. Dad would’ve hugged me and said he was proud of me.”
I can practically hear the anger building as her steps quicken. “I’m telling you this because you’re my son, and I love you. Having further romantic interactions with that woman will not be tolerated. I will not allow you to shame our family name in this manner.”
Shame the family name? What is she talking about?
She must take my silence for agreement because she lets out a quiet sigh. “I knew you’d see it my way in the end. I’d hate to pull you from the CEO position.”
“You can’t do that,” I answer automatically, but my stomach clenches tight. “Dad gave the company to me.”
“He did. And you’d do well to remember that.” Her heels speed up again. “There are ways, Dalton. Ways for me to take over. I don’t want to do that. But I will if you insist on following this path.”
I can’t let her get away with this. How could she possibly take the company away from me? It doesn’t make any sense. I run a hand over my face and around the back of my neck. The move reminds me of how Pam watched me this morning. Her mouth had opened in a little O like I’d surprised her. And the way she stared? Remembering it brings a rush of iron to my willpower. It’s time I stand up for this. For us. I refuse to let Mother railroad me.
I have every right to date–and marry–anyone I choose. I won’t let her manipulate me, or I’ll spend the rest of my life living under her thumb. Mother is strong-willed. It’s one of the things we argue over since we’re so alike in that regard.
“You don’t get to decide this for me. I don’t care how many doctor’s daughters you want to line up and try to force me to date. I don’t care how much money or social standing they have. I’m going to marry for love. And if that means marrying Pam, then so be it.” It’s the most I’ve ever shown her of how I really feel. I’ve spent months with Pam, seeing her every day. The feelings grew stronger this weekend, but they began a long time ago when she showed me how loving and genuine she is.
Mother’s stunned silence greets my tirade. Even her pacing has stopped.
I breathe through my nose, dragging in the smell of salt, sand, and ocean. I mean every word. Whatever this is between me and Pam, I want to explore it. I think I know where it will lead–if Pam and Rex agree.
I attempt to appeal to Mother’s soft side. She has one buried under the societal matron persona. “Rex needs a good role model. A man who can show him how to get back up when life knocks him down and how to push against the world. I can do that.” And so much more. These feelings I have for Pam, they’re not going away.
“It’s a mistake.” She hangs up without saying goodbye.
No. This is the opposite of a mistake. This is exactly right.