I pace between the kitchen and foyer and run my fingers through my hair while pressing the phone to my ear. “I don’t care. Get it done.” I jab the button to end the call and toss the phone onto the mahogany table. It hits the wall and slides, knocking into the hand-cut crystal vase Mother insisted I needed.
The vase makes a hollow sound but doesn’t wobble.
I huff a dry laugh. Too bad. I’ve never seen an uglier piece that is less fitting to my style.
“Hey, boss. You want me to stick around for cleanup?” Jamison steps from the kitchen. He’s in full chef mode with his white chef hat in place, matching a pristine chef jacket buttoned all the way up.
Delicious smells emanate from the kitchen.
“What did you make?” I bark out the question, still annoyed with the call.
Jamison’s eyebrows shoot upward. “What’s got your tie in a knot?” He waves a hand before I can answer. “Forget I asked. None of my business.” He straightens his shoulders and folds his hands in front of him. “Tonight, I have prepared for you and your dinner companion a lovely meal of roasted lamb in a mint sauce.” He rattles off the rest of the meal, but I’m not sure I know what he’s saying.
The change in his tone tells me I’ve offended him.
“Sorry, Jamison.” I clap his shoulder. “It sounds delicious. No need to stick around. I’ll clean up.”
He looks me up and down, and this time he smirks. “Must be some date.”
The doorbell peals, sending musical notes throughout the house.
I point at Jamison, who holds up his hands in surrender and backs away. “Gone, boss.”
I hurry toward the front door. I want to impress Pam, though I’ve no idea why. I despise when women appreciate me for my money. This feels like something different. I want Pam to appreciate me for the man I am, not the money in my bank. Which is why I insisted Jamison leave, and I made sure no one else would be here tonight.
The doorbell rings again when I’m halfway across the foyer. Through the glass panels on either side of the oak door, I see Rex. He cups his hands around his eyes and peers inside while bouncing on his toes.
He jumps and claps, and his hand moves out of sight. The bell rings again and again in rapid succession like the boy is rapid-fire pressing the button.
I can’t help the laugh that bubbles up, and I’m smiling when I pull open the front door.
Rex bounds inside. “Wow.” His jaw drops as he bolts past me. “Holy smokes. Mommy, look at this.”
His feet tap a staccato beat against the polished floor.
Pam hustles in. The yellow sundress brushes her knees, the wide straps accentuating her neck and the tangle of curls falling down her back.
My mouth dries. I’ve never seen her like this.
Flustered. She’s flustered now, her hands fluttering around her face. “Rex, wait.” She winces in my direction before rushing past. “Don’t touch that.”
“Look at this.” Rex’s grunt drags my attention away from Pam.
I turn in time to see Rex attempting to pick up the brass elephant a client sent me as a thank you for helping her.
“Rex.” Pam hisses through her teeth. She grabs the boy by the shoulders. “Let go.”
Rex releases his grip on the statue and peers up at Pam. His eyes are wide and expressive, bright with curiosity. He spins toward me. “Do you have a dog? Mommy said you have a theater. Can I watch a movie?”
“I’m so sorry.” Pam runs a hand across her forehead, massaging it gently. “He’s finally feeling better. And I’m grateful he’s back to his usual self.”
But she’s exhausted. I see it in the slump of her shoulders and the purpled shadows under her eyes.
“He’s usually better behaved,” Pam calls out while bolting after Rex when he shoots toward the curved staircase.
His tiny legs carry him up the steps faster than I thought possible. I consider going after them, but it’s kind of fun to watch Rex’s boundless energy.
“He’s not going to hurt anything.” I try to stop Pam, but she’s already gone.
I wait at the bottom of the staircase with my hand on the newel cap and one foot on the bottom step. I could follow them up, but I hesitate.
Rex climbs onto the railing faster than a monkey up a banana tree.
“Don’t you dare.” Pam plants her hands on her hips. Fear carves a line between her eyes. “Reginald Maxwell Peterson.”
Rex’s eyes widen. He gulps and seems about to climb down, but then a mischievous look enters his eyes, and he slings a leg over the rail and slides down, zipping past Pam. Laugher rings out, the sound bright and bubbling. A sound I’ve never heard in this house before.
It warms me all the way through. How can anyone hear that sound and not immediately fall in love?
Pam thunders down the steps after Rex. Mortification covers her face, and she drops her gaze to Rex, who’s rolling across the floor, laughing and holding his hands against his stomach.
“Again.” He shoots to his feet.
“Absolutely not.” Pam grabs him up and holds him on her hip. His legs drape almost to her knees, but her stern expression sobers Rex.
His lower lip puckers.
“Why don’t we eat?” I’m anxious to end the standoff.
Pam lets out a breath that might be relief and follows me.
I push open the doors to the formal dining room.
Pam takes one look and stops in her tracks. Her eyes widen more than Rex’s, and she gulps. “Wow.” She takes a step back and shakes her head.
“What?” I eye the room. It’s the same as always—crystal chandelier over the table. My family’s china takes up two place settings.
“Could we…” She trails off and eyes Rex, then takes another step back when he wiggles and tries to slide from her grip. “Is there somewhere else we could eat?” She motions at the table. “This all looks wonderful, but–” she looks down at her dress, then at Rex in his cute jeans and t-shirt with the tiniest stain on the shoulder. Pink colors her cheeks. “I’m afraid we’ll break something.”
Why? Oh. It hits me like a two-ton boulder. She’s ashamed. I should’ve considered that when I set this up.
Pam despises handouts, and what I’ve done tonight suddenly feels like I’m rubbing her nose in the fact that I have money when she doesn’t.
I wave a hand and work to keep my voice nonchalant. “Of course. Come on. Let’s get Rex set up in the theater. We can eat on the balcony. It’s right outside the theater. You’ll be able to see Rex the whole time.”
Within minutes, Rex happily eats his special dinner made by Jamison while Pam and I settle outside. A quiet breeze rustles across the balcony and lifts Pam’s hair from her shoulders. She closes her eyes, and I see peace in her expression for the first time in weeks.
I realize then just how worried she’s been.
“Tell me about this ball.” Pam opens her eyes and catches me staring. “What are the rules to this…fake relationship?”
I clear my throat and lean into the upholstered chair. “The ball is the main event, but I need you with me the whole weekend. We’ll establish from the moment of arrival that we’re a couple.”
“And how will we do that?” She fiddles with her fork, glances at me, and then away.
I follow her gaze toward the ocean. Nantucket waits in the distance. We can’t see it from here, but I have the sudden impression that this trip isn’t going to be as simple as I first thought.
“We’ll need to be seen together. I’ll take care of the travel details. All you need to worry about is bringing Rex. Anything you need, you tell me.” I infuse seriousness into my voice. “I don’t want either of you to be afraid to ask for anything. It’ll be expected that I take care of you.”
Pam seems about to protest. Her head jerks toward me, her lips puckering.
The look draws my gaze to her mouth, and I find that I can’t look away.
Pam leans away and crosses her arms. “Rules, Dalton. I’m agreeing to this, but only if I know exactly what you want from me.”
My brain is a muddled mess. All I can think about is whether her lips are as soft as my mind thinks they are. Would she kiss me back or slap me? Probably both.
I shake my head to clear the thoughts. “We’ll eat all our meals together, preferably in public.”
“Public displays of affection?” Pam’s voice squeaks, and her blush has my insides doing cartwheels.
“No kissing.” She holds up her hand in a stop motion.
I nod even though I’m completely against her command. “Fine. No kissing.”