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She lifts my glass and sniffs it. Setting it back down, she looks between the two of us and smiles. “Nothing.”
“Ready to go?” he asks.
She nods, her long earrings swinging along her jawline. “If you are,” she answers, folding into his side. She looks toward me. “Come home with us?”
I can’t help noticing how much she looks like our mother tonight. Her hair is pulled back, she has makeup on, and she’s wearing a long black dress. She looks beautiful.
“I think I’ll stay a bit longer. When is Trent leaving?”
“You should tell him now,” Jason mumbles in her ear.
“Now now.” Twisting, she says to me, “In three days.”
“There might not be time,” Jason says louder.
“Come on, you two, I’m right here. Just tell me.”
“I don’t know how to say this,” Serena says, looking nervous and inhaling a deep breath.
Seriousness overtakes me. “Say what?”
“Baby, just tell him before you give him a heart attack,” Jason pushes.
She blows out the breath she was holding. “Jason and I are going to take Trent back to the University of Hawaii together.”
I give her a blank look. “Okay, have fun. When are you coming back?”
“It’s more than a vacation. We’re going to get remarried while we’re there.”
I stare at her for a long beat. Then I stand up and open my arms. My sister collapses into them. “I’m really happy for you,” I say.
She wipes away some stray tears and I offer my hand to Jason. “Congratulations, man. I know it’s been a long road.”
“I’ll take care of them better this time,” he promises.
And I believe him. I’ve been on this roller-coaster ride for three years, but he’s been on it for five. He distanced himself from his family to keep them safe as he pretended to be a dirty detective, all the while working under a special task force. He joined forces with a drug cartel to learn their inner workings and let his wife and son believe he was on the take. He sacrificed a lot to bring the cartel down. He deserves this second chance. But what’s most important to me is that my sister and Trent are happy. And as long as they are, I’m happy for them.
“What do you say we grab the boy and all stop for ice cream at that place he likes with all the toppings?” Jason says to Serena.
“I don’t eat that shit anymore,” Trent says, joining us.
I try to hide my smile but can’t. Instead I cross my arms and watch.
“Trent Holt, that’s enough of the potty mouth!”
“Mom, I’m not four. You don’t have to say potty mouth.”
“Son, let’s just humor your mother and leave the foul language for your uncle.”
I shake my head and laugh. “Have a good night, everyone.” I hug them all good-bye and watch as they head out the door, hoping that this time maybe they really can be one happy family.
With the room almost empty, I stare at the buffet tables that have already been broken down.
“Can I get you anything else?” the bartender asks.
I shake my head no and toss a fifty on the bar. “Have a great night.”
My fingers curl around the base of the crystal typewriter with the words California’s Journalist of the Year scripted across it. Despite the glamorous surroundings, a sudden wave of loneliness floods me as I exit the now-empty Crystal Ballroom. I can’t shake the feeling as I make my way out. I consider stopping in the lobby bar when I see the cocktail waitress in there but decide I’d better go home. I don’t want to do something I’ll be kicking myself for tomorrow.
Next I take my time wandering the corridors of the grand hotel and by the time I find an exit door, I notice I’m in the staff parking lot. Just as I’m about to turn around, I spot S’belle’s car. The little cabriolet sits among a few other stray automobiles. My spirits suddenly lift at the sight and I have a driving need to see her. Thoughts of her—her smile . . . never forced but always bright, her hair . . . red like fire, her body . . . hot and sexy—have flooded me with need all night, yet it’s her attitude . . . sassy but somehow innocent . . . that has made me burn for her.
For the longest time I stare up at the abundant stars in the clear night sky. I undo my bow tie and take it off, shoving it into my pocket as I question whether I should even be attempting to talk to her. Just then the sound of the side door opening startles me and I stand up straight. I nod toward the two guys wearing white server jackets and black pants, each carrying large silver trays. The taller one is the one who came to get S’belle earlier.
I relax back against the brick wall and consider just going home. But when the door swings open again and I spot that distinctive curtain of red hair, it’s too late. Her arms are loaded with smaller-sized pans and her attention is focused on the two guys, so she doesn’t notice me. I stand back and Caleb’s words echo in my head—leave well enough alone. The parking lot lights cast shadows over her as she walks farther away from me into the darkness. That’s what I decide to do—leave well enough alone.
“I’m parked over to the right,” her sweet voice calls to the guys ahead of her.
She fumbles in her purse while trying to balance the load in her arms. She seems to be losing the battle. And then without thinking, I rush over toward her, trying to grab what I can from her hands, but I’m too late and it all crashes down. Pans bounce off the blacktop, denting and skidding as they land, but our eyes aren’t on the fallen items—they’re on each other.