Home > Fake Fiancée(16)

Fake Fiancée(16)
Author: Ilsa Madden-Mills

I threw my arms up. “I swear you love football more than you do me.”

“He’s hotter than a red jalapeno, Sunny!” She fanned herself. “He moves like lightning, and not all quarterbacks can run, let me tell you. Some just stand there like grumps and throw the ball—but not him. Nope, he’s got some speed on him. He’s the whole package. I’d like to know the size of his rudder . . .”

“Mimi,” I shook my head. “Don’t even go there.”

She giggled.

“This calls for a celebration.” She reached in her beach bag she’d brought down and pulled out a flask. I watched her pour a healthy amount into both our glasses. Mimi was a bit of a hippy and a free thinker when it came to me. If she had a beer, she offered me one. If she was having sex, she didn’t hide it from me. Truthfully, she was more of a friend than a parent figure, but by the time I’d arrived at her doorstep three years ago I’d been done with anything that had to do with the word parent.

She sat back. “Go on. Take a sip. And then I want all the details on how you met.”

I sputtered at the taste, getting a whiff of strong alcohol. “Um, it’s . . . good.”

“It’s a Long Island Iced Tea. Got the recipe off the internet. I googled it.” She lifted her glass as if to say cheers. “The internet has nothing on this old woman.”

I giggled. “You always know exactly what I need, Mimi.”

Her face changed, the lines around her mouth deepening as she frowned.

I set the drink down carefully. “What’s wrong?”

“Your father called.”

A breeze fluttered, cooling us off in the September humidity. Laughter came from the people playing checkers at a nearby table, and somewhere from one of the open windows I heard the drone of a gameshow. The Price is Right? Family Feud?

It didn’t matter—because she’d brought him up.

A small shrug shifted her frail shoulders. She cleared her throat, her eyes swinging to my face and then back to her tea. “I hadn’t spoken to the man since the day your mama left here to marry him, so there’s no love lost between us, but he asked me to give you a message, and I will.”

“What is it?”

“He’s dying.”

My chest froze. “From what?”

“Cancer.”

One of Mimi’s sisters had passed last year from bone cancer, and I’d seen her at her frailest. My father was a big man, and I couldn’t imagine his frame bent by weakness. I tossed myself further back in the seat, desperately analyzing how I felt, but there was no answer. I was a mixed-up bag of emotions when it came to him.

I hated him. I loved him.

He was the only immediate family I had.

Yet, after my wreck when the police had dragged the lake looking for my body, I’d never volunteered I was alive. Not until I turned eighteen. Mimi had supported me in that decision because she’d seen the marks on my back.

The beginning of my family’s demise had started when my brother had been delivered stillborn. Born five years after me, his grave was in the Blaine family cemetery in Snowden. A framed photo of him had sat on my mother’s nightstand, a tiny boy wrapped in a blue blanket, his lids tightly shut. His name had been Lincoln, and although my parents never discussed him in front of me, I’d hear their hushed voices through the thin walls at night. Most of those conversations would end with my mother crying, the sound muffled as if she pressed her face into a pillow.

Mimi nudged my arm gently. “Forget all that. I’ve told you, and that’s all we have to say about it. Let’s focus on the good news. Tell me about Max. Is he as handsome as he looks on TV?”

I smiled rather absently and rambled off an answer, but my thoughts were scattered somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina, remembering a family that had broken my heart.

Sunny

FOR THE TENTH TIME, I checked my appearance in the small compact in my purse. My hair had been styled until it was straight, my makeup was minimal except for pink lipstick and mascara—but my hands were still shaking.

I was freaking out. I shoved the compact back in my purse and zipped it shut, analyzing why I was so antsy.

Was it being in close proximity to Max again?

Or was it the deception itself?

Both.

It had been five days since our little agreement, and tonight was our first official night out as a couple. Of course it had to be at a place where I wouldn’t know anyone—a football party.

I stood in front of the door—the one I was supposed to be knocking on—and sucked in a sharp breath.

I could turn around and call the Uber to come back and get me.

I could go home, bake some chocolate pie, and draw up some T-shirt designs.

Or . . .

I could go in there like a boss and show these people I was worthy of an Oscar.

Think of the money, Sunny. You need it.

He hadn’t written a check yet, though. I could always back out right now.

No.

I shook my arms and stretched my neck, psyching myself up, prepping for a long night of being Max Kent’s arm candy. Batting my eyelashes and summoning my inner groupie, I stared at the wooden door and practiced. “Hey, baby. I’ve missed you.” I did a delicate finger wave. “I love you, Maxie-Pooh.”

“In the great scheme of things, Maxie-Pooh isn’t that bad. I’ve been called worse,” a deep voice murmured from behind me.

Caught.

Mortification swept over me. I spun around on the sidewalk to see Max and Tate, both clad in jeans and blue Leland shirts that clung to their sculpted chests. They towered over me, one dark with glossy hair that swung around his shoulders and the other slightly smaller with a headful of sandy blond hair.

   
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