Page 40 of Pretend Ring Girl

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“Well, are you ready?” Sandro’s voice is a deep rumble in his chest where my head rests.

“Ready?” Surely he’s not already thinking about round two?

“To go swim, gorgeous. That is why we’re here, after all.” He chuckles. “Or were you thinking something else? I might rise to the challenge of another round, but not this quickly.”

“Swimming sounds perfect.” I rise on my elbows and take in his adoring expression. “Let’s go.”

* * *

We spend some time wading in the cool water, staving off the heavy Miami heat. But eventually the sun gets too hot, and we clamber back aboard the boat for shade. Sandro lays out the picnic lunch he brought and explains how the different items he procured from a specialized deli are prepared.

I would never have guessed the man knew so much about pickling.

“So, you’re really into this foodie thing, aren’t you? Vincente made it seem like a curiosity thing and nothing more, but the way you talk about the food, and the processes, it feels like you really care.”

Sandro pops an olive into his mouth, rolling it around before delicately removing the cleaned pit with his fingers. “I do,” he agrees. “I think it’s so fascinating, to understand how something like this,” he fishes another purple olive from the plastic dish, “can go from completely inedible to delicious, sometimes using actual poison. Isn’t that fascinating?”

“I’d say it’s kind of horrifying,” I tease, “but I understand why you find it interesting.”

“I have an obligation to my family, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy other interests in life. The price of being a Vargas is steep. But the benefits are many. For example,” his expression turns from serious to playful, “I get to be on this boat right now, with you.”

“And that’s a benefit of being a Vargas, is it?” I arch an eyebrow. “You know, I have dated other men.”

“Yes, but how many of them had a yacht?”

“So that’s what you’re going with?”

He laughs. “You’re funny, gorgeous. I always remembered that about you, even from that one class. The way you’d tear into me for not taking notes, and then still hand yours over for me to copy, it cracked me up. But I guess I forgot just how funny you are. Or your tongue has gotten sharper.”

“Both are probably true,” I agree. It’s definitely nice to be complimented on my sense of humor by a man. I can’t say that’s happened too often. “But I really didn’t know back then that you were interested. I just thought you were a huge flirt and used me for my notes.”

“Ah, well, that is also true. But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested. We just had to wait until the time was right.”

“So, Elian explained to me that because he had to prove himself to his parents, he couldn’t date at all in college.”


“But there’s one part of this I don’t understand. We graduated over a month ago. If he was just waiting for graduation to be back in your parent’s good graces to ask me out, why didn’t he say a thing until we happened to run into each other at Kellermans?”

“Well,” he scratches the back of his neck. “There’s two versions of this story, and I’ll let you decide which you want to believe. The first is that Elian was settling into his life being the golden child again, and also trying to figure out how to make a grand enough gesture that you’d consider it after he basically ignored you for four years.”

“Okay, seems plausible.”

“The other is that we already knew what we were looking for, and Vincente didn’t think you were it.”

“Oh.” That takes me aback. So he doesn’t really want me, after all.

“I mean, that was before we ran into you at Kellerman, right? So after that, you met some kind of approval and things moved forward. In that version of the story.”

Somehow, this version seems even more plausible than ‘Elian was shy’.

“If you were to hazard a guess why Vincente might not have approved before, what would it be?”

Now Sandro looks distinctly uncomfortable. “Well, if you held a gun to my head and made me choose, I’d probably say he thought you were too young or immature to consider for what we wanted. All he knew about you was what Elian relayed about your catering shenanigans. So maybe Elian made you sound sillier than you are, somehow?”

“Yeah, maybe. I swear I never met him, but Vincente seemed to know who I was on Monday. If that was how he knew me, I suppose it wasn’t the best first impression.”

“Regardless,” Sandro smiles, “we’re full speed ahead now.” Leaning over the remains of our picnic, he kisses me, tenderly nipping at my lips.