“Let’s eat before the food gets too cold,” he says.
I nod, taking a step back trying to get myself under control. He fills the coffee cup with wine and waits for me to go outside before following me out onto the deck. I sit down on the iron chair as he sits in a plastic one across from me. I take a second to look around. The whole house is surrounded by trees, and it was built into a kind of valley. There isn’t much of a backyard. It all seems to be forest beyond the small area of grass.
“So how long have you lived here?” I take another sip of wine.
“About five years. I had plans to fix it up, but with my schedule, I’ve only had time to redo my bathroom and bedroom.”
“It’s a really nice house.” I take a bite of the chicken and moan when the taste hits my mouth. His eyes lock on me, making me squirm and lower my head.
“I like it. I really bought it for the view.” He takes a bite from his plate.
I nod. I bought my condo for the same reason. “This is a nice view.”
“Nothing better than coming out here at night with a cold beer and watching the sun set behind the mountain.”
“I’ll have to try that one day—minus the beer.” I lift my coffee cup.
He smiles, and for the first time, I notice a dimple in his right cheek. The sight of that dimple makes my stomach flutter.
“You should smile more,” I blurt like the moron he’s turned me into.
He smiles bigger, shaking his head while muttering, “Cute,” under his breath.
The rest of dinner is nice. We laugh and joke, and he tells me about his job and the people he works with. He never asks me about my work again, nor does he give me an in to talk about it.
By the time we are done eating, a chill has filled the air. Kenton goes back inside and gets me a sweater and the bottle of wine, and then he comes back out with a cigar. I drink wine while he lights his cigar, which smells sweet and has me leaning closer to him.
When he’s done smoking, I’m completely drunk for the first time in my life, and I’m laughing at everything he says.
“Come on, babe. Time to get you to bed.” He pulls me up from the chair, smiling, and I lift my fingers to trace his upturned lips.
“You’re really beautiful,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders.
“You shouldn’t call guys beautiful, baby.”
I smile before frowning. “My son was beautiful.” I am too drunk to notice that his body has gone solid against mine. “Holding him was the only time I’ve ever been happy…until tonight. I was happy tonight.” I sigh, laying my head on his chest. I think I hear him mutter a curse, but my drunken state has me unsure.
“Up you go,” he says softly, putting his arm behind my knees and lifting me up.
I bury my face in the crook of his neck, enjoying his smell. I feel him laying me down, and then my shoes are being pulled off.
“Night, beautiful girl.”
“Don’t call me beautiful,” I mumble, cuddling deeper into my covers.
I feel lips on my forehead and sigh, liking the way his lips feel against my skin.
I wake up to the sun shining brightly through my window. I squeeze my eyes closed and put my hand to my head, which is throbbing. I can’t remember much about last night—just drinking wine and laughing a lot. Apparently, I’m not a drinker.
I keep my eyes closed as I get out of bed and stumble across the hall to the bathroom. I turn on the water and jump into the shower, letting the cool water run over me. By the time I’m done, my headache has lessened significantly. I get out and wrap a towel around myself, tucking it under my arms. I open the medicine cabinet and take a couple of pain pills before making it across the hall to get dressed.
When I’m finally downstairs, I feel almost one hundred percent. I pour myself a cup of coffee before heading to Kenton’s office. I need to get on the computer and print off the application for the hospital. Even though I got the job already, they still require me to fill it out.
My step falters slightly as I make my way down the hall. I can hear the sound of Kenton’s voice. I don’t mean to spy, but when I hear him talking about me, I can’t help but listen.
“I would never take a stripper home to meet my mom, so your point is moot.”
My throat starts to close as I walk closer. I stop in the doorway, taking Kenton in while his face is turned to look out the window. The phone’s against his ear and his knuckles are turning white from the grip he has on it.
“Fuck off. She’s a stripper,” he growls into the phone.
A whimper I can’t control climbs up my throat before I can stop it. His head turns my way, our eyes lock, and his get wide.
“Babe,” he says then pulls the phone from his ear. “Not you, f**ker. I gotta go.” He hangs up and looks at me. I want to run so badly, but my feet feel like they are glued to the floor. “Babe,” he repeats, looking at me with his eyes wide.
“I’m a lot more than a stripper.” I raise my hand before flopping it down at my side when it looks like he’s going to say something. “I’m a person with feelings. I have my own hopes and dreams. I don’t know how you can judge someone so easily without knowing what they’ve been through.”
His eyes go soft again, but this time, I don’t let that stop me. “Honestly, it makes me sad that you’re so close-minded, and I’m glad I now see who you really are.” Tears clog my throat, forcing me to pause. His eyes have changed again, but I don’t know what the look means. “Unlike you, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. The difference is you proved me right more than once,” I say softly, leaving him standing.
I go upstairs and change into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt before grabbing my bag. Then I leave. I get into the car and pound the steering wheel a couple of times when I realize I forgot to find out how much the car had cost him. I do not want to feel like he has something over me. I put the keys in the ignition, promising myself that I will look up the Kelley Blue Book value.
I do a U-turn in front of the house and just drive. I have no idea where I’m going, but there is no way I am going to sit around his house all day. I pull out my phone, thankful that I have my headphones already hooked in so I can make a call. I press Link’s name as soon as I have his number pulled up on my phone.
“Hey, Angel.” My stripper name makes me feel even colder for some reason when he answers.