Page 30 of Pretend Ring Girl

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“Oh, no, just my mom. My dad works the second shift right now, so he gets back around eleven. They just need me to cover a few hours in between sometimes, when there’s a gap.”

“Makes sense. Well, it’s nice that you’re able to help them out.” Elian’s eyes, so like his eldest brother’s in color, are somehow still incredibly different. His seem to be perpetually smiling, while Vincente’s are always so serious.

“Thank you for inviting me today. I had a great time,” I mean for the statement to be effusive, but it comes out kind of dreamy when I get trapped in Elian’s gaze.

He doesn’t reply, just moves in closer as my heart races. And as soon as our lips meet, it feels like a dam of emotion breaks. Anxiety-fueled hormones zip through my body, and I kiss him like he’s providing me air.

Fortunately, no cars come through the abandoned business garage on a Saturday afternoon, and our make-out session is uninterrupted for several minutes until Elian pushes gently against my shoulders.

“Mama, as much as I hate to remind you, I think you need to be on the road heading home soon.”

“Oh, shit, you’re right,” I pant, half laughing. “Sorry, I guess I got a little distracted.”

Elian plants one more soft kiss on my lips. “No need to apologize, mama, but I think we want to keep your mother happy. And that starts with getting you home on time.”

“Agreed.” I lean back in my seat and collect my bag.

“Please let me know when you get home?” Elian hits me with one of his devastating, two-dimple smiles.

My knees tremble. God, I’m pathetic. “Absolutely,” I promise. Then, unable to resist stealing one more, I lean in and kiss him goodbye before resolutely opening my door and climbing out. I make it all the way to my car and slide into my seat before heaving the sigh I’ve been holding. Determined not to be late, I crank up the tired engine of my Nissan and back carefully out of my spot. Once again, Elian waits for me to exit, making sure I leave the parking garage safely.

If only there was such a guarantee about the rest of my life.

When I get home, Mom is primed and ready to go. She’s happy I got to have some fun, but doesn’t have time to pepper me with questions about the day because she’s eager to get to her shift.


Dinner is already in the oven, so I just wait for the timer to go off and feed my siblings, then get them ready for bed and let them watch a movie while I take a shower. It’s nice to take my time under the hot water, and wash away the icky feeling of the day along with the salt from my skin. Truthfully, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I had such a great day, and it felt wonderful to spend time with all three Vargas brothers, imagining what our life could be together.

But on the other, the black and very white reality of who they are quickly cut that fantasy short, and how their father makes his money.

And they brought me on the boat, proposing a fun day of sun and cruising, without giving me a warning that extremely illegal activities would happen below.

Which leads me to question just how involved the guys are in these dealings. Is that theactualbusiness? Are all the other ventures just cover? Is it just the cousins dealing drugs and they allow them to use the boat, but they aren’t actually profiting from it? It’s hard to believe this branch of the Vargas family’s hands aren’t just as dirty as that of their cousins.

My stomach twists with the thoughts flying through my brain. It’s one thing to know all the rumors about possibly illegal business dealings.

It’s another completely to see them in person.

Am I losing my mind, running with the Vargas brothers, knowing full well it would horrify my parents to find out? Talk about a Miami version of ‘the boy from the wrong side of the tracks’. I may be the poor one, but those guys are the ones who spell trouble.

I finish my shower and towel off, pleased by the improvement to my tan—judging from the lines my bikini left—but not happy that my skin is pretty rosy from the sun. I slather on lotion and then head back to my bedroom to dress.

I’d texted Elian as soon as I got home as promised, and we messaged back and forth a few times while I puttered around the house. He told me his brothers were eating out with his parents, so he got himself takeout.

After I finish pulling on pajamas, I wake my siblings on the couch and get them tucked in to their beds. They are practically asleep as their heads touch the pillow, and I’m grateful because it means I’ll have a quiet night.

Just as I close my brother’s door, a knock sounds from the front door and sets my heart hammering in my chest. Who would call at this hour on a Saturday night?

My only instinct is that it has to be someone up to no good. Images of Emiliano Vargas shouting angrily, and even more disturbing, Manuel Vargas staring at me with cold eyes, flash in my head. Could they already be here, trying to take me out before I become a liability?

I run for my parent’s room and use my fingerprint to unlock the gun safe under the bed. It’s set to open for the three of us. Of course, they take me to the gun range plenty to make sure I know how to use it. I just never really imagined I would. The knocking sounds again, and I verify the weapon has no bullets in the chamber before I close the gun safe and shove the gun into the pocket of my sweatpants.

After collecting a loaded magazine from the lockbox on the closet shelf, I race to the other side of the house as quietly as possible and retrieve my phone.

My plan is to open up the phone and dial 9-1-1, ready to hit send before I go investigate.

But I see several missed calls from Elian on the screen, and I realize I might have another option besides the police.