Page 59 of Pretend Ring Girl

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Mom is practically beside herself. She can’t seem to decide if she wants to try to hug me or sit, so she hovers over a seat with her arms outstretched.

I’m definitely not interested in a hug at this point. I choose a seat across the table from her, and my father sits between us. My heart is galloping a mile a minute. I know she’s stone cold sober, but the fear I feel in her presence is real.

“Sloane,” she begins, “First, let me say I am so incredibly sorry. I know what I did was horrible, and I’m completely ashamed of myself. I have no excuses, but I hope you’ll consider my apology. You did not deserve it, and I take full responsibility for my actions. It was not your fault. Your father and I have agreed that I need to work less, spend more time with family, and I’ve started a 12-step program.”

Well, that certainly surprises me. She laid it all out there. I didn’t even have to ask. But it feels like there’s more, so I wait with bated breath.

“While this is completely unrelated, we have some concerns about your recent activities we’d like to discuss as a family.”

My heart pounds, heat fanning across my back.Oh god, this is where they call me out for being involved in a criminal organization. Little do they know there’s so much worse that’s happened in the last forty-eight hours.

A loud knock sounds at the door. Startled, I glance at my dad first, then at my mom.Did they call in reinforcements to cart me off to jail?But they both look just as confused as I am.

Icy terror floods my system.What if it’s Manuel, come to make good on his threat to hurt my family?

“Sloane!” Vincente’s muffled voice comes through the door.


I scramble out of my seat and rush to the door, grinning maniacally at my parents before saying, “Just a sec!” and slipping outside.

To discover not just Vincente, but allthreeVargas brothers.

“What are you doing here?” I hiss, relieved to see them but terrified that a single door separates them from my parents, the cops who are literally working to arrest them.

Elian pushes past Vincente and hugs me. “We couldn’t let you face it alone,” he murmurs into my hair. “Vin told us what happened, and we wanted to be here for you. Come on, we’ll grab your stuff and have you out of here in no time. Sandro even brought some bags. See?” He gestures and Sandro holds up duffel bags that look suspiciously like recently emptied gym bags. I think I spy a protein shaker in the side pocket.

A small laugh burst from my lips. “You guys are seriously the best, but you have to go.”

“No way, we’re not leaving you.” Vincente’s voice is firm.

“You have to. I’m literally in the middle of a sit-down with my parents, and I don’t want them to know about you. Cops, remember?”

“It’s fine,” Vincente insists. “We’ll work it out, we always do.”

“No, you’re not listening,” I insist, just as the door behind me opens.

Dread pours over me like icy water. “Sloane, what is going on out here?” My father’s voice is like the nail in the coffin.

Vincente stares at my father, and I don’t dare move a muscle. There’s a long, painful moment of silence. Then Vincente says clearly, “Semper in fide.”

After a beat, my father replies, “Semper in unum. Would you like to come in?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.


Once we all trudge inside, my gaze pingpongs between my dad, the guys, and my mom in rapid succession. I am at a complete loss as to what just happened, but somehow the men I thought were my father’s mortal enemies are settling themselves at my parents’ rickety dining table, and my mom is fetching them drinks without comment.

I watch the scene unfold for a few minutes until my confusion bubbles up and escapes my mouth.

“Okay, does someone want to tell me what the fuck is going on here?”

“Sloane, language,” Mom scolds.

I scoff. “So we’re going to pretend like the craziest thing going on right now is that I said fuck?”

She rolls her eyes, but my father is the one who answers. “Have a seat, Sloane. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions.”

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