I lean over the rail with Rex by my side and gaze at the gentle waves lapping against Nantucket Ferry’s hull, completely happy to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. But Dalton, my workaholic boss, stands a few feet away, fiddling with his phone, not so ready to leave work on the mainland. Though he offered to get us a private boat to take us over, I refused. I’m not going to feel more indebted to him than I already am. When I mentioned he didn’t need to go all out for us, Dalton brushed off my concern—said he was just glad to have someone accompany him without any interest in his wealth and status. I didn’t know being so rich had so many complications.
It only takes thirty minutes, and the ferry arrives at the dock with a sudden jolt that sends Rex flying and landing with a thud. He scrambles to his feet and shouts, “I’m starving. Let’s find food.”
Dalton lets out a bark of laughter. This is more surprising than my son’s nonchalant attitude about falling over. I thought Rex would have a meltdown.
I take my son’s hand in mine. “Patience. We need to wait for everyone to get off the big boat.”
He screws up his button nose. “How many people?”
“All of them.”
“But I can’t see.” His slight frame pushes up onto his tiptoes
Dalton bends to his level. “Do you want to hop on my shoulders? You’ll see everything from up there.”
Rex peers up at him in awe for a moment before nodding vigorously. “Yes, please.” His little voice is adorable. It must be working on Dalton too. Rex may be a little tyrant at times, but he sure is a cutie pie.
Rex climbs onto Dalton’s back and loops his legs over his shoulders. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. It’s all a little too weird seeing Dalton finally letting go of work and seeming relaxed for once. I didn’t imagine him liking kids. Totally the opposite, actually.
When we’ve disembarked and are away from the dock, Dalton lowers Rex to the ground. I take my son’s hand, and Rex peeks up at Dalton and takes his hand too. My boss seems to have no problem with this. We make our way down the main street. Rex decides he wants Dalton and I to swing him in the air every few steps. His giggles make my insides want to burst with happiness.
And just then, my nose catches a delicious scent. A bakery called Sweet by Design beckons me to enter. Dalton must notice me drooling as he acts like a gentleman, opening the door for everyone with a flourish as we walk on through. Inside, laughter fills the bakery, and cakes are decorated in all shapes and sizes. We are truly in sweet paradise.
I’d checked Rex’s insulin levels before leaving the mainland, so he should be okay to have one treat. Rex tugs on Dalton’s pants, and I can’t believe the smile my boss gives my son. Every time it blows my mind. Without hesitation, Dalton scoops him up and holds Rex to the display cabinet, hugging my son’s back to his chest. Why does this scene make me melt like a chocolate lava cake? I take a deep breath and force my gaze away.
A chirpy staff member with blonde hair in a perky ponytail gives me a welcoming smile. “What can I get for you today?”
My shoulders relax. “Hi.” I point to the oatmeal cookies. “They look delicious.”
“Honey, everything I bake is delicious.” She winks. “I’m Ellie. Is this your first time on the island?”
“I live on the mainland. But I haven’t been here since . . . well, since I had a kid.”
Ellie glances at Rex in Dalton’s arms. “He’s got his daddy’s eyes.”
“Oh.” I shift on my feet. “You think so?” Why did I just go along with her assumption? That’s taking the fake relationship a little too far. “Can you make it three cookies? Thanks.”
“Sure thing.” Ellie collects a miniature tong and places the cookies carefully in a paper bag.
Dalton shuffles over to me, still holding Rex around the waist. “This little man wants a vanilla slice. Is he allowed that amount of sugar?” The concern in his expression is quite endearing.
“Um.” I squint at the slices smothered in a thick layer of icing on top. “They look huge. Better not.”
“I can go halves with him if that helps.”
Rex holds up a prayer sign and gives me round eyes like he learned this from a Puss in Boots movie
“Fine. I’ll eat the cookies all by myself.” I take the bag from Ellie.
A few minutes later, we’re all settled with our treats and some drinks. I bite into a cookie and close my eyes. The crumbly texture of oatmeal and the sweet, understated taste of vanilla with the right amount of cinnamon leaves me in a satisfied food coma.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid hit a sugar high this fast.
Rex zooms around Pam and me as we leave Sweet by Design and head toward the sandy path leading to the Rose Resort. The little tyke held our hands at first, but we must’ve been too slow for him. He darted away after a few seconds and has been in constant motion ever since.
Pam gives Rex a look that I recognize as the Mother Death Glare. She tells him with a single glance that he’s skating on thin ice when he starts trying to climb the picket fence that lines the walkway. Roses are interspersed with white planks, their fragrance filling the air. I consider picking one for Pam, but then I bet she’d give me that look.
“What’s this place like that we’re staying at?” Pam tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and plucks Rex up from the sand. She brushes sand from his legs, and he takes off again the instant his feet touch the ground.
I chuckle at his antics. “Based on the reviews, it’s a quaint space with all the amenities. Access to the beach, a sauna, pool. And the owners are super nice.” I shrug when she waves her hands like she wants me to continue. “It’s supposed to be family-friendly, and the online pictures of our unit look cozy.”
“Cozy? What’s that mean?” Pam halts and shields her eyes from the sun. “We’re not sharing a room.”
Heat scorches my face. I hold up both hands in a surrender pose. “No. Nothing like that. It’s . . . well, I guess it’s like a small house? Apartment? There are two bedrooms and a sleeper sofa. I thought it would fit our fake relationship but still give you and Rex privacy. Plus, the whole family-friendly bit sold me on the place. Rex is going to love it.” I spent hours researching every available location on Nantucket before I decided on the resort, but Pam doesn’t need to know that.
“Oh.” Pam resumes walking.
Rex barrels between us, whacks my leg with a piece of driftwood, and darts away. “Catch me.”
“Rex.” Pam’s voice holds a warning tone.
I grin at her and bolt after Rex. “You better run faster, little man.” I catch up to him in a dozen strides and sweep him into my arms.
He screams and laughs while wiggling and bashing me on the shoulders with his makeshift weapon.
Pam’s laughter catches me by surprise.
I turn to face her, and the sight of her fully relaxed sends my mind into a tailspin. Spin. The ball. Ugh. I smack the heel of my hand to my forehead. “Did I mention you’ll need a dress for the ball?”
Pam shakes her head from side to side, her mouth puckering. “I brought a cocktail dress. Is that okay?”
I hide a wince and lower Rex to the sand. “I’ll call Mother. She knows all the best places to get a dress. Consider yourself Cinderella and me your fairy godmother.”
Pam crosses her arms, and now I’m getting the death glare. “I’m not a needy servant.”
“I didn’t say that.” Mother answers before I can add anything else. I offer a quick hello and get straight to the point. “Where’s the best place to get Pam a dress for the ball?”
“You’re bringing her to the ball?” Mother’s voice raises a full octave. “Dalton. Son. You can’t keep helping her. All she wants is your money. The more you give to women like her, the more they want.”
“Let’s go, Rex.”
I turn at the scuffle of feet. Pam and Rex hurry away, hand in hand. My chest aches with a sudden desire to chase after her and make all her problems disappear. She’s nothing like the woman Mother says. Pam, out of all the women I’ve ever met, is the most genuine, caring, and hardworking woman I know.
I’d eat a bucket of wet sand before I believed Mother’s harsh criticism. I make a mental note to apologize once I catch up to them, but I need to finish this conversation first. “Stop it. Pam’s great. And, yes. I brought her to Nantucket. Now. Unless you want her showing up in a potato sack, which I know she’d do just to make a point, I need to know where you bought that silver gown you wore to the Gatehersh event.”
Mother’s sigh is long and expressive, but she gives me the name of the shop, and I hang up while wearing a smile.