Page 22 of Pretend Ring Girl

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Vincente sighs again. “Speak of the devil…”

Sandro answers, “And they shall appear.” When his face materializes out of the darkness, he slides into the booth seat next to Vincente, with a shocked expression. “Those bastards! Diego swore up and down they ran out of scallops. Now I see why, you thief.” He grabs one from the basket and pulls it free of the toothpick before popping it into his mouth. “Hey Sloane,” Sandro adds with a wink, “I was wondering where my brother had squirreled you away.”

“Yeah, me too.” Elian appears to my right and slides into the booth next to me. He bumps me with his elbow before reaching for some food. “I haven’t seen you all night, Mama. Having fun?”

“We were,” Vincente answers with an edge in his tone, “until you two showed up.”

“Hey, don’t blame me,” Elian shrugs, “if you hadn’t stolen all the scallops, we wouldn’t be on a mission to hunt them down.”

“Technically, it is my night,” Vincente replies coldly, all trace of the playful man from before gone.

Both Sandro and Elian glance at him in surprise. “Uh, your night? What are you talking about?” the middle brother’s attempt at sounding confused is blatantly bad acting.

“She overheard Carmen and Isa, guys. She already knows something is up. I was just about to explain it when you showed.”

“Without us?” Elian’s tone is indignant. “I’ve been waiting for this girl for four years and you were just going to dump the whole thing on her without giving me a chance to explain myself?”

“You had your chance. That’s what the rest of us were waiting on,cabròn.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” Elian’s reply is angry.

“HEY!” I shout over them. The panic had been rising in my throat, and it feels like I’m about to be swept away in a hurricane. “Can you stop fighting for a minute and tell me what the hell is going on?”

The three of them freeze immediately. Elian, who had been revving up to continue shouting, snaps his jaw shut. Sandro appears a little guilty, even as he shoves another scallop in his mouth like he thinks they’re about to disappear, and Vincente’s lip curls up slightly.

When he speaks, Vincente’s voice is measured and slightly amused. “Yes, I think we can manage that. Here, let me refill your glass first.”

Once I had a fresh glass of champagne, I sat back in my seat and let my eyes rove over the three of them.

No one speaks.

“Well?” I ask.

“I… don’t know where to start,” Elian admits sheepishly.

“How about you,” I turn to Vincente, “explain what you mean about how it’s ‘your night.’”

He clears his throat. “Well, technically, I invited you here, and you’re here with me. So it’s my night to have you to myself.”

“So what those girls said is true? You guys all… take turns? This last week I’ve been trying to figure it out, but am Iactuallydating all three of you?”

“It doesn’t usually go like this,” Elian rushes to explain. “Normally we have a talk about it-”

“Usually? Normally?What does that mean? Is this something you guys do regularly?”

“It’s something… we’ve been trying out,” Vincente says slowly, then lets out a sigh. “We saw, growing up, that our father was gone for work a lot. He left our Mamá alone with us, and because she loves him so deeply, it hurt her every time. She was sad and lonely, and nothing we could do would make her feel better.

“We are all bound to run our father’s business. None of us want to have a wife who will end up being left alone, sad, the way our mother was. So we tried to come up with a solution, as boys do.”

“As boys do…” I echo faintly. “And what, pray tell, was your solution?”

Sandro speaks up. “The solution is that instead of the three of us having three wives, we would have one wife together. When we’re all home, she will be the most pampered and adored woman on the planet.” His voice is deep and sincere.

Elian interjects, gazing at me hopefully. “And when one or two of us have to leave for work, she would be equally adored and pampered, but with fewer men in the house. We could ensure that she would almost never be alone. There are three of us, to do the work of one man. Yes, the business will expand, but this way we could do better by our future spouse than our father could do for our mother.”

“And so you thought you’d just have no problem finding a woman who’d fall for this?” I snort, grabbing for my glass and taking a huge swig as I try to wrap my head around their revelation. “Someone who decides the dollar signs are worth the degradation?”

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