Page 10 of Pretend Ring Girl

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Even though I’ve set the ringtone to a more moderate level and a less startling sound, my desk phone makes me jump when it rings. I scramble for the receiver, scarcely able to catch my breath in anticipation that it’s Elian on the other line. “Hello?”

“Miss King, your lunch date is waiting outside.” Rebecca’s voice is full of smile, and I can actually picture her grinning wickedly on the other end.

Of course, I have no idea that Ihada lunch date. My left-over pork chop and mac ’n cheese is in the office refrigerator.

“Sloane, please. Okay, great, I’ll be right out.” Excited energy ripples through my body, and I hurriedly touch up my makeup while trying to calm my breaths.

Somehow, I strut through the office with confidence, glad I wore a dress that hugs my body and emphasizes what little curves I have. Rebecca winks as I pass her desk, and I only pause for a moment when I see the car waiting for me is not a silver BMW, but a sleek black Porsche with tinted windows.

Hmm, looks like Elian has more than one set of wheels.

Even though he doesn’t get out of the car to open the door for me, I’m not bothered. There’s a cop right up the street watching us warily, so I tug open the door and slide inside.

Except the driver is not Elian, but his slightly older brother, Sandro.

My nerves skitter like wild animals, and heat colors my cheeks. “Um, I’m sorry. There must be a misunderstanding. Rebecca said my lunch date was waiting for me, and you were the only car. I thought-”

“Thank you for joining me for lunch, Sloane,” Sandro is dressed more business casual than the last time I saw him, with chinos and a white button-down shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows and top two buttons open. “I thought we’d grab something downtown. I don’t want you to be late getting back. If you’ll just close the door?” He gestures to the passenger door, which is still hanging open.

“Oh, um, okay.” I pull it closed and clip my seatbelt, and Sandro pulls smoothly into traffic. He doesn’t speak, so I check my cell phone for missed messages—there are none—and then observe him quietly.

Of the three Vargas brothers, Sandro is the largest. Both taller and more burly than his brothers, he’s also the most laid-back. The thick forearms revealed by his shirt have ornate whorls of tattoos, and although I’m intensely curious to see the rest, I’m still entirely confused as to why he’s here.

“So, did I miss a memo or something? I don’t think I was aware of a lunch appointment?”

His jaw flexes with a grin. “No, we didn’t have a formal appointment. But I recall an unpaid debt that came back to me when you reminded me about your school notes.”

Realization flooded through my system. He’d promised to take me out in repayment for copying my notes and had never delivered.

A snort escapes me. “Trust me, I gave up on you following through ages ago. No hard feelings, I promise. We don’t have to do this.”

“Who said anything about ‘have to’? I’m here because I want to be. Either way, we’re almost there. What will one meal hurt?”

Guilt bubbles in my stomach. “Well, I went out with Elian last night, and I-”

“I know,” he cuts me off. “And he knows I’m here. You didn’t think I was going to let him have all the fun, did you?”

“Allwhatfun?” I demand as he pulls into an empty spot directly in front of a Peruvian restaurant. A valet runs out to open my door and helps me out, then accepts the keys and a tip from Sandro.

With his hand on the small of my back, Sandro guides me into the colorful restaurant. We’re seated immediately, and I never even see a menu before food and drink begin arriving at our table.

“Wait, I don’t even get to order for myself? And you never answered, what ‘fun’ are you talking about, exactly?”

Sandro chuckles, running thick fingers through his dark, wavy hair and leaning back in his seat. “I know the owner. I called ahead and asked him to put together a menu so we didn’t have to waste time ordering. Elian said you liked seafood, so I figured this was a safe bet. But if you don’t like something, feel free to order something else. It won’t hurt my feelings. And the fun,” he leans in closer, his amber eyes twinkling, “is getting to finally take you out.”

They place several dishes in the space between our plates, and Sandro busies himself with scooping a portion of each dish onto my plate before serving himself. I can’t stop myself from staring when he licks his fingers, the way his thick lips wrap around the digits, making me involuntarily lick my own lips. And, of course, he catches me watching with a sly grin.

Annoyed and flustered, I reach for my glass of white wine and take a sip for a distraction. It’s crisp and light, refreshing and citrusy, and I just know it’s going to pair well with the seafood.

“I still don’t understand. Elian told me your parents forbid him from dating in college as part of his punishment. I don’t see what that has to do with you fulfilling your promise to buy me lunch for using my notes?”

He spears a piece of ceviche and pops it into his mouth, grinning. “I suppose I should come clean. When I told Elian about our deal back in school, he was pissed. Said he wanted to ask you out, but he couldn’t because of our parents. Said he wouldn’t have a chance with you if I swooped in first.” Chuckling at the memory, he sips his wine before continuing. “So I promised not to take you out until he got the chance to sweep you off of your feet first. That way, he couldn’t say I got in his way.”

“And now it’s okay?” I question, my indignation rising as I cross my arms. “What is this exactly? Is this some kind of bet? I am not interested in being some weird competition between you two.”

“Relax, Sloane, it’s not a bet or a competition. We’re just two men who had a gentleman’s agreement, and now it’s been fulfilled.”

“So what is this, then? Just pay back for my notes?” I raise one eyebrow to glean the truth from him following my mother’s method.