Page 45 of Pretend Ring Girl

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“May I?”

I nod slowly, closing my still-open mouth, and turn to present him my back.

After gently brushing my ponytail over one shoulder, Vincente sets the cold jewelry on the other, then reaches around my neck to take the clasp in both hands and fasten it gently in place.

Not only is it cold, but it’s heavy. I’m not sure if it’s the weight of diamonds, or just the knowledge of what the necklace symbolizes, that weighs more.

Gulping, I turn back to him for approval.

“Lovely,” he murmurs, “but still missing something.”

“Oh no, did I forget something?” I check and verify I have my bag. “I didn’t see anything else in the box with the dress?”

“No, it wasn’t with the dress,” he grins, giving me his one-sided smile, before lifting a smaller box than the one that held the necklace. It’s teal and covered in leather instead of velvet.

“This is for you.” Vincente opens the box to reveal a bracelet. The metal is worked to resemble a vine, and the leaves are entire diamonds in their own right, or set with multiple small, round diamonds.

I watch wordlessly as he lifts it and uses both fingers to open the delicate clasp, then present my wrist for him to fasten it around.

“There, now you’re ready,” his warm fingers brush over the delicate skin of my wrist.

“Are you coming in? I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage that clasp on my own.” My heart flutters under the weight of his gaze.

“That’s not part of the mission, Sloane. The mission is just the necklace. The bracelet is a gift.”

The giant lump in my throat is back. I cough in shock.

“A gift? Vincente, it’s beautiful but I can’t accept it. I haven’t owned anything so expensive in my life. How on earth would I explain it to my mother?”

He leans forward and plants a gentle kiss on my cheek. “You don’t. If she questions it, just tell her it’s just costume jewelry. I have a feeling she isn’t exactly an expert on diamonds, and likely won’t believe you’ve received a platinum vine from Tiffany’s. Most people can’t really tell the difference.”

Great, and now I am terrified about losing two priceless pieces of jewelry tonight instead of just one.

Even so, I’m awed and insanely grateful. “Thank you,” I lean in to return his cheek kiss, and inhale deeply of his warm, sweet scent. Heat pools in my belly, and it hasn’t escaped my notice that Vincente is the only brother I’ve yet to actually kiss. The thought of where this night might lead has me squirming in my seat.

When we reach the restaurant, we’re immediately guided to a quiet booth tucked into a nook that actually possesses velvet curtains, which the server immediately closes once he takes our beverage requests.

It’s peaceful here, and I find my racing heart slowing as I realize I won’t have to fear being spotted or recognized. No one will know who is at our table, and we can simply enjoy each other’s company for once.

The meal goes exceptionally well. Vincente’s dry sense of humor reemerges, and before dessert he’s had me in stitches multiple times from his shockingly good impersonations and insightful critiques of current events.

Tucked away in our cozy, velvet-lined retreat, I’ve completely forgotten about the real purpose of my evening. And even more dangerous, I’ve forgotten about the real world, the one in which I’m not in charge of my own life.

My phone has been buzzing inside the beaded black purse that Vincente gifted me, and I’ve ignored it throughout dinner. My mom knows I’m out, and no one else would send me a message that needs immediate attention.

However, it buzzes insistently, someone calling, getting to voicemail, and then dialing again immediately.

“Sorry,” I interrupt Vincente’s impression of a professor I hated at U of M to fish out my phone, and my heart sinks.

It’s my mom.

I pull up her text messages and see over a half dozen in the last half an hour.

Sloane, I know you’re out for dinner, but I need you to come home ASAP

I have to go to work

Your dad is on his boys' night