Page 16 of Pretend Ring Girl

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“Oh, yes, thank you,” I force myself to stop worrying the bead and clasp my hands in my lap instead, waiting for him to pour me a glass from the already open bottle.

Once I have the delicate stem in my hand, he grabs his own from the sleek bar ledge and raises it.

“A toast to our future working together.”

I clink my glass with his, and meet his eyes nervously. They’re warm and friendly, crinkling at the sides with his relaxed smile.

Something in his gaze settles my nerves, and I take a sip. I’ve never had actual French champagne before, but this is definitely dryer than the Asti I’m used to. Softer on the palate, refreshing instead of sweet. My feverish brain wanders.

“Do you approve?” Vincente’s tone is amused, and I meet his laughing eyes again.

“It’s very good, different from what I’m used to, but I like it. I’m sorry if it looked like I didn’t.”

“No, you just looked as if you were thinking very hard about something. I wasn’t sure if it was the champagne or something else.”

Truthfully, I’d been thinking about how similar his eyes are to Elian’s when he smiles, but I’m certainly not going to say that out loud.

“I’m not an expert on wine, by any means. But last year some friends and I went to a winery on spring break—one of them got a Groupon deal—and we had a tasting. I had a few I liked, but this is different. I’ve had sweeter sparkling wines in the past. I think I prefer this one.”

“Well, that shows you have good taste,” he grins. “It’s not exactly something you can pick up at the local liquor store.”

I don’t know how to react to that statement, and my voice is flat. “Then I guess I’d better enjoy it while I can.” I turn away from him and look out the window, taking a long sip. Somehow, his words rubbed me the wrong way. Like it was a reminder that I don’t belong in his world and this is my one night, like Cinderella, to get a small taste before I go back to being a chambermaid tomorrow.

“Hey, I’m sorry if that was offensive.” Warm fingers touched my jaw, causing electricity to leap across my skin as Vincente gently turns my face back to him. “I’m certainly not trying to give offense. I was honestly trying to compliment you. Few people our age appreciate a drier, more elegant wine over the sweeter, mass-produced options.”

His dark eyes were sincere, and heat pooled in my belly the longer he held my gaze. Those eyes are so familiar…

“It’s okay,” I answer. “I’m not afraid to admit I’m nervous. Monday I was just a recent college grad starting her first ‘career’ job, and now four days later I’m in a limo wearing the fanciest dress I’ve ever touched, on my way to a boat party. My head is still spinning, if I’m honest. What even happens at a boat party, anyway? Why this dress? Shouldn’t I be in, like, white pants and loafers?”

Vincente’s head tips back and he laughs, a deep throaty sound that sends ripples of pleasure through my chest. “You’re something else, Sloane. I love your sense of humor.”

“You do?” I gaze up at him in wonder. “You always seem so serious. I kind of imagined Elian was the joker.”

“Oh, no, you’re right about that. He’s definitely more outgoing than me. I’d say Sandro is more of the joker… and watch out, he loves to pull pranks, don’t say I didn’t warn you. But I’m not devoid of a sense of humor, either.”

Heat floods my cheeks. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to imply you don’t have a sense of humor.”

He chuckles again. “It’s fine. I know what you meant. I was just teasing. I tend to be more serious in public, but that’s because one of us has to be. My father expects us to take over the business together, but he expects me, specifically, to lead. So I have to be on top of things.”

“I suppose that’s fair.”

“To answer your question, when wealthy people like my father want to show off just how fancy they are, they host parties on giant yachts. Because just a regular old party would never do, you know. So everyone gets dressed up to the nines, and the caterers have to bring all the stuff and prepare fancy food in the ship’s galley kitchen, and people wander around the big beyond all sense and horrifically expensive ship in their fancy clothes, sipping champagne and eating overpriced appetizers. It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds, but the view of the city is nice at night, and it’ll be more fun for all of us if you’re there.”

I was enjoying his sarcastic diatribe, but I nearly choked on the last part. “Why me? I really don’t even understand what I’m doing here.”

Vincente leans closer and fixes me with a flirtatious smile. “You’re here because we want you here, Sloane. Can we leave it at that for now?”

I’m completely lost in the intensity of his gaze, and heat is rapidly pooling in my belly. “Okay,” I reply in a breathless whisper. Our faces are so close now, I can feel his breath on my cheek. My tongue runs over my bottom lip, and the image of us kissing pops into my mind.

The car slows and goes over a bump. I over correct out of surprise, holding my glass far away from my dress for fear of spilling even though it’s nearly empty.

Vincente’s lips curl into a half smile. “Looks like we’re here.”


Even though I grew up in Miami, and am painfully aware of the amount of money that some people have, I still sometimes find it difficult to wrap my head around it. I know, for example, there are people in the world whose bank accounts have so many zeroes, they think nothing of buying a private island, flying a private jet, or owning a fancy yacht.

But the knowledge that these things exist, and then actually seeing them in person, are two completely different things.

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