Yeah. I’ve got it so bad.
Here’s the thing though. I feel awful because I still haven’t told him I don’t have anywhere to live for the summer. I mean, does he really need to know? Not like it’s his problem. But Kelli’s furious at me. She doesn’t understand why I just can’t confess what’s going on and ask for his support and help. Because seriously, I need help. I’ve been looking for a roommate everywhere and have come up empty so far. Enid has committed to giving me forty hours a week at the store, so that’s good but I need somewhere to live.
And I have nowhere. Kelli’s offer to come home with her for the summer is starting to look like my only option. Though she might pull it if I don’t fess up to Shep and let him know what’s going on.
He’s been acting odd too. I can’t put my finger on it and finally chocked it up to him being nervous over this dinner with his parents. He’s never introduced a girl to his family before so this is a big deal in their eyes. It’s a big deal in my eyes too. So I forgive him for being a little sketchy and staring at me too long sometimes, like he wants to say something but he’s not quite sure how to approach it. Every time I ask him what’s up, he says never mind, or it’s nothing and I reluctantly let it slide.
Nerves, we all have them. It’s been a hell of a week. I’m ready for it to be over.
“My mother just texted me,” Shep says as he comes to stand by my side once more. The restaurant’s waiting area is packed with people and we’re pressed so close to each other I can feel his body heat radiating toward me. “They just pulled into the parking lot. And the hostess said our table would be ready in a few minutes.”
I blow out a harsh breath. “Okay. Good. Great.”
“Hey.” He takes my hand again, his fingers rubbing against mine in this soothing way that makes me want to purr like a cat. “They’re going to love you, I promise.”
“Yeah?” I lift my head and meet his gaze, startled when he leans in and drops a sweet, soft kiss to my lips. I really love it when he does that. “What if they don’t?”
He tilts his head, his expression incredulous. “How can they not? You’re beautiful. Sweet. And you like me. That’s all my mom has ever wanted. For some poor girl to actually see something in me,” he teases.
“There’s plenty to see in you,” I tell him sincerely. “You have a lot to offer, you know.”
His gaze dims and he shrugs. “Financially, yeah.”
I’m taken aback. We never talk about his financial situation. I could care less if he’s rich or not, though I did take advantage of that amazing kitchen at his house a few nights ago and made a huge batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies for the boys. I think I now have Gabe and Tristan firmly in my back pocket.
“I don’t care about your money,” I tell him almost fiercely. “You know this.” It’s never been about that between us. I tried my best to avoid him from the very start and he chased after me like a man possessed. He wore me down. And not with a bunch of expensive gifts either.
“I do. And I appreciate it.” He touches my nose with the tip of his finger. “But that’s all anyone has ever really seen when it comes to me. That’s all I can offer. That or a quick lay.”
I’m about to tell him that’s totally not true but then he’s turning away from me, an almost pained expression crossing his face. I turn in the direction he’s looking to see an elegant, perfectly dressed couple approach us, the both of them smiling though they don’t necessarily look happy.
“Shepard.” The woman embraces him first, clad in a powder blue skirt suit that I think might be Chanel and a cloud of expensive perfume. Her hair is this color I can only describe as rich butter blonde and it’s cut into a perfectly symmetrical bob. She’s absolutely flawless. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?”
“Mother.” He gives her an awkward hug and then turns to the man who looks shockingly just like Shep, only an older version. And he’s a little shorter. Shep shakes his father’s hand, who offers him a clipped hello in greeting, barely looking him in the eye. The familial love is just overflowing.
Oh, boy. What am I getting myself into?
“This is Jade.” Shep is suddenly by my side, his arm curled around mine as he presents me to his parents like I’m some sort of prize. “Jade, these are my parents.”
He doesn’t offer up their first names so I’m figuring it’s not proper for me to use them. “Hello, Mrs. Prescott.” I smile, my cheeks hurting from the frozen position they’re in. “Mr. Prescott.” I’m about to offer my hand but I can tell they’re not going to offer theirs in return so I don’t.
“Well, aren’t you lovely,” Mrs. Prescott says, her assessing gaze roaming all over me. I think I just got thoroughly checked out by Shep’s mom. “All that red hair…I didn’t figure you one with a penchant for redheads, Shepard.” She flashes a smile at him.
I want to roll my eyes. Or sock her in the face. But I refrain from doing either. I hate that my hair is always the first thing anyone sees.
He slips his arm around my waist and smiles down at me before turning to face his mom. “There’s more to Jade than meets the eye, Mom. She’s not just cute freckles and red hair.”
Okay. I sort of want to melt at his words. He’s the only guy who’s ever fully embraced the freckled redhead look I’ve got going on.
“Mmm, hmm.” She studies me with a critical eye, judging me on sight, I’m sure. “Well, it’s wonderful to meet you. I’m very interested in getting to know the girl who’s finally tamed my boy.”
I stiffen at her words. Did she really just say that?
“Oh, I’m not tamed yet,” Shep says as he starts to laugh, as does his father.
His mother just scowls at him. “You’re getting too old for the antics, you know. You must settle down sometime, darling.”
“I’m not a kid anymore. And there are no antics,” he protests and I think of all the many antics he’s up to on a daily basis. Hello, illegal gambling house. “I’m freaking twenty-one years old. Not ready to throw in the towel and settle down just yet.”
Of course, I know this. But it still sort of hurts, to hear him say it. Ridiculous, considering we’ve been seeing each other for all of a month, and I’m definitely not expecting wedding bells and engagement rings already. I’m still a teenager for the love of God.
The tension is palpable between them—between all of us—and I smile politely, my brain searching to come up with something neutral to say. “How long are you here for?” I ask, wincing at the lameness of my question.
“We’re only here for dinner. We’ll drive back down to Los Angeles tonight. Our plane leaves first thing in the morning,” Mrs. Prescott explains, her gaze flicking to mine before she resumes her stare down of Shep.
His dad says nothing, just stands next to us and checks his phone. Something I wish I was doing. Anything to not have to deal with whatever’s happening between Shep and his mom.
“So Shepard. When did we last see you, hmm?” It feels like his mom is trying to bait him. Or irritate him. And by the annoyance I see flickering in his gaze, it’s working. “You didn’t come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas.”