Page 36 of Pretend Ring Girl

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“So,” Vincente Sr. smiles pleasantly in my direction. “My boys tell me you had quite the trip yesterday.”

“Y-yes, sir,” sweat beads on my upper lip, and I try to subtly wipe it away while ignoring the river of sweat pouring down my back under my t-shirt.

“Yes, it was a beautiful day to be on the water,” he agrees, and takes a bite of his eggs, chewing thoughtfully. “Though not ideal, seeing what you did.”

Once again, I agree. “No, not ideal.”

“Well, as usual, my boys have a solution, and Alicia and I are okay with it. But I want to know what you think.” His amber eyes twinkle as he watches me, but I’m not fooled. He plays the jolly man, but he’s assessing me shrewdly.

I try my best not to look nervous. Elian has put himself in my line of sight behind his father, and he nods encouragingly. “I would like to accept the offer to become part of your family,” I recite, as he instructed me in the car.

“Excellent,” Vincente Sr. booms. “My boys are all quite taken with you, it seems, and they want you to join us, so I’m happy it’s what you want as well. All we ask is that your loyalty to the family comes first. This is over your job, your friends, even over… legal situations. Foremost, you do what is best for thefamily. Do you think you can handle that?”

A hard lump has formed in my throat. I know what he’s saying underneath all of those words. The light-hearted nature he presents is just frosting on top of a very serious question.Am I ready to forsake everything my parents raised me to value?

I cough to clear my throat, then nod. “Yes, sir, I can handle it.”

“Excellent,” he smiles again, and stands up, wiping his hands on a cloth napkin. Alicia stands as well this time, and the elder Vincente steps forward to offer me his hand. “Welcome to the family.” We shake, and he tugs me into a hug, then kisses both of my cheeks.

Alicia comes around the table, and I’m passed off to the elegant older woman who hugs me in a perfumed cloud and also kisses my cheeks. “Welcome to the family, Sloane.”

“Thank you,” I smile maniacally as I try to look less nervous and more excited.

As if sensing my discomfort, Vincente dismisses us jovially. “Boys, why don’t you take Sloane down to see our newest toy? It’s not as impressive as the Queen, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Sandro grabs my hand and tugs gently. “Come on, gorgeous.” The other two guys follow as we head toward the water.

I wait until we’re out of earshot of his parents before I ask, “Was that it?”

Sandro looks at me from the corner of his eye. “What were you expecting?”

“I dunno, something more ‘oath-like’. Maybe a bible to swear on? Some sort of blood ceremony?”

He throws his head back and laughs. “We’re not vampires, gorgeous, we’re just a family. Words have importance, and in my family we hold you to your word. That’s all, nothing more nefarious than that.”

“So what is this task I have to do to prove my loyalty?” The anxiety is eating a hole in my stomach. I basically handed them a blank check and no matter what it is, I have to cash it.

Or else.

“I’m sure we’ll find out before you leave today. Meanwhile, just relax. Papá won’t have you do anything too dangerous, I promise. We told them last night how we feel and what we want. You’ll have to do what he asks, but for our sakes, he won’t make it too bad. Just enough to be a test.”

“Yeah, that’s still not giving me any idea of what I’m in for,” I protest. “Elian basically said ‘not murder,’ so I guess I know the upper limit. But there’s a lot of grey area in there.”

Sandro chuckles again. “Okay, it’ll probably be something like delivering a message to someone or handing off a package. Something that is an important part in something… less than legal, but not super dangerous in and of itself. It’s mostly symbolic, and allows for you to be implicated if you were, in fact, going to flip. Which we know you aren’t, so it’s fine. It’s just a way of dirtying your hands just enough that you’re putting your money where your mouth is.”

I try to be relieved that this show of loyalty is less than I feared. Even so, I can’t turn my back on twenty-two years of perfectly legal behavior.

“So, what do you think?” We’ve reached the dock, and Sandro gestures to the white boat I’d glimpsed earlier.

“It’s pretty. Smaller than the other one. And it looks fast.” I don’t know what to say. I’m not exactly a boat connoisseur.

“Very good! We named it the White Rabbit, and yes, it is fast. Want to go for a ride?”

I glance up at Elian and Vincente, who flank us, smiling. “Um, sure?”

“We won’t go for long. Maybe go check out the sand bar? But it’s a very different experience than the Queen, I promise.”

“Okay, sounds fun.” I’m still on the edge of the blade, wondering what exactly Vincente Sr. is going to require me to do.

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