Amanda had fallen asleep on her stomach. After we’d played around in the water until we were both very satisfied, we’d come back up to lay out on the towels she’d brought with us. I’d coated her back with sunscreen, and she’d dozed off while I was rubbing it in.
I’d lain here and watched her sleep for the past thirty minutes. I’d also fought the urge to throw a towel over her ass. Every time I felt eyes directed this way, I made sure to stare them down until they looked away.
After having to leave her to go work, I’d come back pissed off. I was still looking for a job that could pay me what I needed. I was even looking into working night shifts somewhere. Anything to get me out of this hell I was in.
Seeing the text from Jason Stone had been all I’d needed to push home the fact that Amanda deserved more than what she was getting. I couldn’t even tell her I loved her. She hadn’t said those three words to me again. That one time she’d told her brother, and that was it.
I knew she was waiting on me to say them, but how could I? Did I want her? Yes. Did I need her to breathe? Yes. Could I imagine life without her? No. But could I be in love with her, truly in love with her, and deceive her at the same time? I wasn’t sure. Love was honest. It was pure. I was neither of those things. So how could I love?
Her eyelashes fluttered, and opened slowly. Sleeping beauty was waking up. My chest hurt just looking at her. She was amazing. Everything about her.
“Are you watching me sleep?” she asked, smiling up at me.
“It’s fascinating,” I replied.
She buried her face into the towel, but I could see the pleased grin on her face. She never asked for affirmation, but she needed it. That surprised me. I’d have thought she’d had enough of it growing up and didn’t need it, but now I wondered if she had gone without it. She had a dad who worked all the time and mother who was on every committee in town. Had she been the rich little girl in the big house with no one around but her brother to tell her that she was beautiful, that she was smart, that she deserved more than a sorry-ass loser like me?
She sat up and stretched. Almost every golden inch of her body was on display.
“I have another family dinner tonight. So I’m going to have to head home soon,” she said with a frown on her face.
She had family dinner every week. Since her dad had left them, she never missed it. I could tell it was important to her mother and she didn’t want her mother upset.
“Okay. I’ll stay home and do homework and wait on you to crawl into bed and send me a naughty text message.”
She giggled and pulled her hair up into a knot on her head. I loved watching her do little things like that. I could sit and watch her all damn day and never get bored.
“Naughty text message, huh? I thought that was called sexting,” she replied.
I reached over, grabbed her arm, and pulled her on top of me. “Oh yeah, we can sext all you want to. You can tell me all the things you want me to do to you, and I’ll tell you just how I’m gonna do it,” I whispered in her ear, then took a nibble.
“Mmmm, okay. I like that idea,” she replied.
Smiling, I slipped my knee up between her legs. “You just have to promise to play with that pretty little p**sy for me.”
Amanda gasped and slapped at my arm. “You are so bad, Preston Drake.”
“Only with you, baby. Only with you.”
Her phone started playing that country song about cowboys and angels. It was her ringtone. She needed a new one. I was beginning to get jealous of any guy in a cowboy hat.
“It’s Willow,” she said, looking over at me. “She doesn’t know about us. Marcus isn’t telling her because he’s afraid she’ll make him tell Mom, and he wants to wait and tell Mom after the wedding. No more added drama and all.”
Shit. I’d assumed he’d never tell their mother. Or at least I’d hoped by the time he did I’d have another job and I’d be able to deny it. Mrs. Hardy didn’t really have any proof. As far as she was told, I was there to do the plumbing. I had to find another job. Before this damn wedding.
“Hello,” she said, pressing the phone to her ear. “Yep. I’ll be there. Did you bring the dress home? . . . Yay! Now let’s hope it fits. I feel like I’ve gained five pounds lately. . . . If it doesn’t, I’ll go on a diet. Promise. . . . See ya in a little bit.”
Amanda clicked her phone off and smiled before crawling off me and standing up. “I’ve got to get home and take a shower before dinner. Low is bringing my bridesmaid dress over.”
I didn’t want her to leave me, but I also needed to spend some time finding a job.
“I’ll be waiting on my sext.”
Mom had been acting weird all night. She was normally very happy on family dinner night. She adored Willow and getting to assist in planning the wedding—which was now on the beach instead of the church where Mom had wanted it— something she looked forward to when we were all together.
She’d said very little about my dress, which fit perfectly, much to my relief. While we’d all discussed the wedding cake colors and if the groom’s cake should be cheesecake or chocolate cake, Mom had stared out the window.
When the door closed behind Marcus and Willow, I turned to go up the stairs.
“We need to talk.”
I stopped and looked back at Mom. She was standing at the bottom of the stairs with her arms crossed, staring up at me. Something was definitely wrong.
“Okay,” I said, walking back down the steps and following her as she made her way into the living room.
“Sit down, Amanda.”
I was suddenly very nervous. The serious tone of her voice wasn’t something I was used to hearing. I couldn’t figure out what in the world this could be about. Unless . . . she knew about Preston. That could be bad, but at least we were about to clear the air and I wouldn’t have to hide it from her anymore. Besides, I was positive once she got to know him she’d like him. She’d just never really spent any time with him.
“I received an interesting call today from a friend of mine. It was someone who saw you today. On the beach.”
It was about Preston.
“So you know who I was with, then?”
She nodded. “Preston Drake.”
“Listen, Mom. I know you don’t approve of him. But all you know about him is that his mother is low class and he grew up rough. He has gotten into some trouble growing up, but he’s different now. If you’d just—”
“He sleeps with women for money. He’s a gigolo, Amanda. A very well-paid one.”
I busted into a fit of laughter. Where in the world had she heard that? It was ridiculous. How had she come up with something this insane?
“This isn’t a joke, Amanda. I saw him.”
She saw him? What the heck did that mean? How did she see him?
“Mom, whatever it is you think you saw, you didn’t. Preston doesn’t sleep with women for money.”
Mom walked over to the chair across from me. “I went to visit Janice. She had volunteered to do some work on the Sea Festival committee. She hadn’t been expecting me, and I noticed she seemed a little nervous. We talked over everything for about thirty minutes. When we stood up to leave and walked to the door, Preston Drake was sneaking up her staircase. He stopped and looked at me like a deer caught in the headlights. Janice got all flustered and made up something about Preston coming to fix her toilet. That boy was not there to fix her plumbing.”
There had to be a better explanation. He wasn’t going up to the mayor’s bedroom to sleep with his wife for money. This was Sea Breeze, Alabama. Not Los Angeles. What had gotten into my mom?
“You mean to tell me you think Preston was there to service Janice? That’s crazy, Mom. It is very likely he was there to help her fix her toilet. He does odd jobs sometimes.”
My mother let out a weary sigh, and her face pinched into a frown. “I stood outside long after she closed the door, and I watched the window in her bedroom. Preston Drake was in there. He closed the curtain, and soon Janice’s shadow joined him.”
“It was a shadow, Mom—”
“I told Blanche about this the next day. I figured if anyone knew, she would. Blanche pays Preston for sex. She has been since she and Ken divorced. Apparently, he has a small, discreet client list among the wealthy women in this town. Preston is a high-priced gigolo who services attractive older women. He doesn’t do odd jobs, Amanda.”
I was dreaming. I had to be dreaming. This was a nightmare, and I was about to wake up. I shook my head and stood up. I couldn’t sit here and listen to this. I didn’t believe it. Preston was too good. He would never lie to me about something this big.
“I was worried you wouldn’t believe me. You fell for those pretty-boy looks of his. Why don’t you ask him? See what he says. Watch his reaction. Then you come back and tell me this is a lie.”
I grabbed my keys off the hook beside the door and ran outside. Preston could explain this. Because this couldn’t be true.