“It’s way too late to protest now. From where you’re sitting, I had it all, every advantage, every privilege. My education was paid for, and I walked straight into a VP job in Daddy’s company.”
“I’ve never complained about my employment.” She’d been grateful for it. “Well, up until you fired me anyway.”
He seemed to ponder for a moment. “You think I squandered my birthright.”
“Those are your words, not mine.”
“Then, give me your words.”
She took a minute to come up with an answer. “I think you’ve always had a lot of options. And most of them were very pleasant options. It’s not hard to understand why you’d choose the easiest path.”
“Apparently not you.”
“That’s because I never had any easy options.” The memories of her teenage years brought a knot to Amber’s stomach. “I could work my butt off and only just get by, or I could give up and spiral down like my mother.”
She took a drink, letting the cool water bathe her throat.
“Some might say spiraling down would be the easy path,” said Tuck.
“To a point. But after a while, it gets a whole lot harder.” The thought of living like her mother—the drinking, the smoking, crappy housing, used clothes, the carousel of shabby men—made her physically ill. She took another sip.
“What would you do?” he asked. “If you were me? If you had what I have?”
“I’m not trying to tell you that I’m morally superior.”
“What would you do?”
Her instinct was to continue arguing the point. But instead, she considered the theoretical question. “Then or now?”
“Then. No, hindsight is too easy. Now. What would you do now?”
“If I were you,” she said. “I’d go home. I’d leave Dixon alone, and I’d go home, work hard and prove to my father that he was dead wrong.”
“Because that’s the hardest path?”
“Because that’s the most satisfying path.”
Tuck stared into her eyes for a long time.
She grew uncomfortable, worrying she’d made him angry.
“Will you help me?” he asked.
The question surprised her. But there was only one possible answer. And she meant it sincerely. “I will.”
“Will you like me?” As soon as he’d uttered the words, he looked away. But he wasn’t fast enough to hide the uncertainty in his eyes.
She realized he’d made himself uncharacteristically vulnerable with the question. She knew she had to be honest. “I already like you.”
His posture seemed to relax. “You’re one in a million, Amber.”
He couldn’t be more wrong about that.
“I’m incredibly average,” she said. “Thing is, in your world, you don’t often come across incredibly average.”
A knowing smile came across his face. “Stand up.”
The request was abrupt and she wondered what she’d done wrong. Did he want her to leave? He didn’t look angry. But then, it was getting late.
“Put on your shoes.”
She slipped her feet into the delicate high heels. But as she made to head for the door, he gently grasped her shoulders, turning her away, propelling her in the opposite direction.
“What are you doing?”
Before he answered, they were through a set of open double doors and into the bedroom.
“Look,” he said, turning her toward a full-length mirror.
There was nothing to see. The dress still looked great and it still went with the shoes. But her hair was coming loose and her makeup had faded. Her cheeks were rosy from the earlier wine and maybe from debating with Tuck. Her eyes were slightly shadowed with exhaustion. She really did need to get some sleep.
He brushed his fingertips across her shoulder, his tone going deep. “Is there anything about you that is remotely average?”
His words sent a tingle down her spine.
“You’re amazing, Amber. You’re flat-out amazing. You’re gorgeous and smart as a whip. You’re insightful and funny.” He brushed her hair from the side of her neck. “And I can’t get you out of my mind.”
He eased slowly forward until his lips connected with the crook of her neck. They were soft and hot as she gazed at his image in the mirror. He kissed her again, lips wider this time, leaving a circle of moisture behind.