“I could care less about any of that shit,” I tell her, my voice raising. “And Jade doesn’t care either. That you have the nerve to call you and dad a perfect match is fucking laughable. You two despise each other.”
“Watch your language,” Dad threatens, surprising me that he even has something to say. He usually prefers to loom in the background, only interacting when good shit is going down.
And this is definitely not good shit.
“I’m not going to sit here and let you insult my girlfriend,” I continue. “You either apologize to her or we’re out of here.”
Mother lifts her chin and looks down her nose. That expression used to scare the shit out of me when I was a kid but not anymore. She’s all bark and no bite. She always has been. It’s why I’ve gotten away with pretty much everything my entire life.
“Apologize to your mother for using such foul language,” Dad says but I ignore him.
“I refuse to apologize for stating the truth.” Mother lowers her voice. “This girl isn’t the one for you, Shepard. Can’t you see that?”
I turn to look at Jade, how her skin is so pale her freckles stand out, her eyes full of a multitude of emotions, none of them good. She’s mad, upset, disappointed, nervous…yet all I can see is that she is definitely the girl for me.
“I can’t.” Reaching out, I take Jade’s hand that’s lying in a fist on the table and clasp it in mine firmly. She lifts her gaze to mine and I offer her a reassuring smile. “I’m wondering why you can’t see that she is the girl for me,” I say, my eyes never leaving Jade’s.
“You can’t be serious,” Mother starts but I ignore her.
“Let’s go baby,” I whisper to Jade and she leaps to her feet so fast I’m surprised she didn’t knock her chair backwards.
Mother sputters in protest. Dad is yelling my name. The server is approaching our table, carrying a tray laden with our drinks and Jade and I push past him, though I offer him up an apologetic smile.
No way am I staying through a torturous meal while my mom slings insults at Jade. No fucking way. I’m standing my ground. If I let her get away with this shit now, what will happen the next time I bring Jade around them? Mother will never let up.
And there will be a next time. I can guarantee it. I’ve been fighting it all week but tonight, right at this very moment, I know without a doubt that I’m falling. Falling in love with her.
So I’m taking care of what’s mine.
I think I’m in a total state of shock.
I have no idea what happened back there at the restaurant but holy shit, it was weird. I felt like I was in a movie. One of those cheesy made for television movies that they show on Lifetime, with all the overblown drama and exaggerated bad guys—or mom, in this case. The way she looked at me, spoke to me, how she called me a freaking gold digger right there at the table, in front of Shep and his dad.
Shep defended me the entire time. He never caved. Not once. He was on my side and oh my God, it felt so good, knowing that he was defending me with an unwavering intensity I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed before.
It was awesome.
Though we haven’t spoken since we left the restaurant and that was five minutes ago. I think he’s still too mad. Not that I can blame him. I’m mortified over what happened too. His mom is a nightmare. He warned me but he didn’t offer up much detail as to how truly awful she was.
And she is definitely awful.
“Jade, I’m so fucking sorry,” Shep finally says and I chance a glance at him, the way his long fingers are curled around the steering wheel, his knuckles white. His expression is grim, his mouth drawn thin and his jaw looking like it’s going to crack, it’s so tight.
“It’s not your fault,” I start but he cuts me off.
“I should’ve never brought you there. I thought she’d be cool. I thought she’d accept you and see just how great you are. Instead, she was a total bitch.” He stops at a red light and turns to look at me, his eyes full of sorrow. “I’m sorry.”
I lean over the center console and reach out, placing my hand on his smooth cheek. “Hey. It’s not your fault,” I repeat.
He blows out a harsh breath and turns his head so he kisses the palm of my hand. “I hate what she said to you,” he murmurs against my skin.
A shiver moves through me. I hate it too, but what’s done is done. “I think she’s just trying to defend you. Protect you.”
“In the rudest way possible.” The light turns green and I drop my hand from his face so he can continue driving distraction free. “Don’t make excuses for her. She called you a gold digger, Jade.”
“We don’t need to relive it,” I say with a wince.
He sends me an apologetic look. “Sorry. You’re right. What the fuck is wrong with me? What the fuck is wrong with her? Jesus.” He punches the steering wheel and I place my hand on his thigh, surprised at how rigid the muscle is. He’s so tense he feels like he could shatter.
“Calm down. It’s over. We survived,” I reassure him as I run my hand up and down his thigh. “Let’s just go back to your place and relax. Order takeout.” Because yeah, I’m still hungry since we never ate dinner.
He frowns. “Damn it, I can’t. I have to go to the house and help Tristan and Gabe. The last night it’s open, remember?”
How could I forget? Great. Now I’ll have to spend tonight alone.
“You could go with me,” he continues and I shake my head.
“No.” Hell, no. I don’t like that place. Last time I went I got drunk and almost snorted a line of coke with the Em and Ems. That was so unlike me. First time I go, I get thrown into a bet and Shep wins me.
That you can’t protest.
Yeah, maybe I can.
Okay, fine not really.
“You can stay at my place,” he suggests and again, I shake my head. I don’t want to be the lonely so-called girlfriend waiting for her man to come home. How pathetic is that?
“Just take me back to my dorm,” I say, sounding like a sullen little girl. Feeling like a sullen little girl because this night didn’t go as expected at all.
I really thought his parents might like me. That we’d have a fabulous time over dinner getting to know each other with his mother revealing funny stories about Shep when he was a little boy. We’d all laugh and she’d tell her husband that I was the perfect girl for their boy and oh yeah, that so did not happen.
What seemed to really piss her off is when Shep dropped that bomb about us spending the summer together, which makes no sense because he still thinks I’m going home over the break. I never told him about Mom selling the house.
It’s like a totally weird coincidence.
“What did you mean earlier about the two of us spending the summer together?” I ask.
He’s quiet for a moment and I’m about to repeat myself when he says, “Oh. That.”
“Yeah. That,” I say wryly. “Why did you say it?”
“Well, I’m staying here again for the summer. The thought of going home—especially after what happened tonight—there’s just no way. And I know you planned on going back to your mom’s but I was going to ask if you wanted to…” His words trail off and I stare at him hard, willing him to finish the question.