Isn't She Lovely Page 53

The crowd parts briefly and I finally see her, my breath hitching a little in a way that annoys me. If forced to choose, I prefer the swimsuit version of Stephanie on a boat, but this version is pretty spectacular.

Her dress is strapless and white, but there’s a black belty thing just under her boobs to keep it from being too boring and bridal. And I don’t have a foot fetish or anything, but I’m digging the white sandals combined with the black toenail polish. I know the black polish is for the sake of this evening’s theme, but it also reminds me of the dark polish she wore when we first met, and I love the subtle nod to the real Stephanie that’s lurking beneath the good-girl dress and makeup.

She’s talking to some dude our age I don’t recognize, and I can tell from the way his gaze keeps dropping away from her face that I’m not the only one who appreciates her primping effort. A stab of something hot and bitter creeps up my back, and I recognize it as the same emotion that went through me when I walked into our apartment and saw her and David together.


I slide up beside her, putting a hand on her back. She glances up at me as she accepts the glass of champagne, and I can sense the amusement there. She knows exactly what I’m doing: I’m claiming.

“Hey,” she says softly.

“Hey,” I say back.

The other dude’d have to be a moron not to get the hint.

Our eyes hold for a beat longer than necessary before she puts on what I recognize as a society smile. It’s the same one I’ve seen on my mother and Olivia countless times, and I don’t know whether I’m proud or annoyed that Stephanie seems to have mastered it.

“Ethan, this is Austin. He goes to NYU too.”

“Oh, yeah?” I ask, extending a hand. “What major?”

“Econ,” he answers as he shakes my hand. He’s friendly enough, but I can tell he’s lost interest after learning that Stephanie’s taken, and after a few minutes of stale chitchat about favorite professors and what’s next after graduation, he moves away, leaving Stephanie and me to ourselves.

She clinks her glass to mine before turning toward the water and bracing her forearms on the railing. “I’ll give you this, Price, you filthy-rich kids certainly know how to do a party right.”

“You don’t think it’s pretentious?” I ask, turning to mimic her posture.

Stephanie snorts. “Of course it’s pretentious. But it’s also pretty damn nice.”

Her voice is devoid of scorn, and I’m oddly relieved that she can hang in this world without feeling disdainful of all the opulence. Because even though it is opulent, and completely, disgustingly over the top, it’s also my world. It’s my future. One day it’ll be me hosting Hamptons parties on behalf of Price Holdings.

I drain the rest of my champagne, letting the flute dangle from my fingers by its stem over the water. “You know, now that I’m here, I feel a little foolish that I was so scared to face this alone. I don’t know why it was so important that I have a girlfriend. There’s no shame in a twenty-one-year-old coming to his parents’ party alone, you know?”

She glances at my profile, and I can tell she’s surprised by the admission. And perhaps a little irritated, seeing as I’ve dragged her out of her element when she’s undoubtedly wishing she were lurking in some little hole-in-the-wall theater in Soho right now.

She bumps her hip lightly against mine. “You saying you want me to leave, Price?”

Now it’s my turn to glance at her profile and her turn to stare at the water. “No,” I say slowly. “I don’t think I’m saying that at all.”

It’s the closest I’ve come to admitting that there’s something between us other than the plan, and I can tell from the flush on her cheeks that she knows it. I should let it go, but I’m suddenly desperate for reassurance that I’m not alone on this limb. That I’m not the only one who wants to make this weekend more than a good-bye.

Because I suppose that it will be a good-bye. There’s no future for the heir to an empire and a girl who simply wants to be left alone.

But I also want to show her that I’m more than the Price Holdings heir apparent. That there’s more to what I feel for her than a stupid agreement. And that there’s more in the balance than a stupid screenplay.

So I push her. Just a little. “You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?” I ask softly. “I can get you back to Manhattan within a few hours, your part of the bargain completely fulfilled.” But tell me you want to stay.

She says nothing for several seconds, and my heart starts to thud in panic that I’m wrong. That she’ll take me up on my offer and be on the next jitney back to the city before I’ve had a chance to …

Shit. I’m not even sure what I want out of her this weekend.

It’s not sex. I mean, it’s not just sex. At least not until she gets answers from that asshat ex-boyfriend of hers. I meant what I said that night. Stephanie deserves answers.

But whether or not she and Caleb had sex that night, she doesn’t remember it. Which means that whoever she sleeps with will essentially be her first. And she deserves her first to be someone other than a guy who’s more or less paying her to pose as his girlfriend.

But still, I want her to choose to be here.

Choose me. I don’t say it. But I want to.

“I don’t want to go home. Not yet.” She says it so softly that I think at first I’ve imagined it. But then she turns to face me, her blue eyes shining with support and friendship and something else neither of us will name.

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