Page 27

“I love your ring,” I said, nodding at the girl next to me, her hand curled around a champagne glass.

There was another moment of silence before a chorus of “awww”s went through the group.

“That is so sweet of you to say,” Ring Girl said, putting her other hand to her chest. Wow. I’d seen big boobs in my day, but these things. They could have had their own zip code. “Chad got it for me for our anniversary.”

More “aww”s. The sound was like nails on a chalkboard. I didn’t do “awww.”

“How many years have you been married?” I asked, feeling like I had this small-talk thing down.

“Not our wedding anniversary, silly,” she said, laughing like I was just too cute. “We’re not married, just dating.”

“Oh,” I said. “How many years have you been together?”

“Two months today,” she said proudly.

“You’ve been dating for two months, and he got you that?” Whoever this Chad was, he was a certifiable idiot. Or whoever this ring girl was, she was rather talented at what she did.

“No, she got that because she’s been giving him BJs for two months,” the girl to my left said under her breath before snickering. “She’s obviously very good with her mouth.”

The girls all joined in with her snickering, even the girl who gave the best BJs on the block, apparently.

“Wow,” I said. “Good for you.” I had no other reply. Sybill was right: There was nothing going on up there.

“What about you?” a dark-haired girl across from me piped up. “Let’s see your ring.”

Holding out my hand, I couldn’t help the smile that formed. One always did when I looked at my engagement ring. It had a special way of reminding me of Jude’s and my past, as well as the promise of our future. There was powerful stuff in that ring.

“How big is that?” she asked.

Continuing to admire it, I said, “A third of a carat.”

A few sharp snickers, followed by a hush. When I looked up, I found the dark-haired girl fighting a smirk. “Oh,” she said, flashing her ring that was ten, if not twenty times bigger than mine. “I didn’t realize they made diamonds that small.”

Another round of snickers. And now I was pissed all over again. At least it wasn’t at Jude. He’d worked his ass off to save enough money to buy my engagement ring, and these self-righteous bitches who had likely never worked a day in their lives were going to take a piss on his hard work?

Yeah, not on my watch.

“They come in all shapes and sizes,” I said, meeting her stare with my glare. “Kind of like brains.” Quirking a brow, I spun on my heel and left. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

Looked like I was going to have one female friend in this crowd this year. One true friend was worth more than fifty frenemies who laughed at my engagement ring. Bitches.

After not-so-casually slipping away from the lionesses’ den, I wandered around the backyard. Since it was more like a park than a yard, it should have been easy to find a quiet spot.

I could still hear the dull roar of the party when my phone chimed in my purse. Assuming it was Jude, I was ready to hit ignore when a different but familiar phone number showed up on the screen. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking, but the caller on the other end wasn’t one for long conversations anyway.

“Hey, Dad,” I answered, as I continued to weave my way through the landscape. I was pretty sure there was yet another god-awful, overstated fountain waiting at the end of my path, so I switched directions.

“Hello, my Lucy in the Sky,” he greeted, sounding like the dad of my childhood. The dad who hadn’t become an emotional and physical shut-in for the entirety of my teen years. “I’m just calling to say hi and check in.”

I smiled the biggest smile I was capable of right now. Dad called every week, same day, same time. You could set a watch by Dad’s calls. “Hi, yourself, and thanks for the checkup. I’m in San Diego visiting Jude.”

I didn’t offer anything more. If I told my dad about Jude’s and my fight over the McMansion, there’d be no getting him off the phone in a few minutes.

“How’s the Jude man?” he asked eagerly. I wasn’t the only big fan of Jude Ryder in the Larson family. Dad was a close second in that department.

“Jude’s . . .” I searched for the right word: A shade past nuts and drinking the California Kool-Aid were probably phrases I should keep to myself. “He’s been really busy, Dad. I think all the sun, long hours on the field, and dollar signs are making him a little crazy.”

Dad chuckled to himself.

“Crazier than normal,” I clarified.

“Any updates on the nuptial front?” Dad asked, making a not-so-smooth segue.

I groaned. “Not you, too,” I whined. “If it’s not you, it’s Mom. If it’s not Mom, it’s Jude. If it’s not Jude, it’s somebody else. What is it with everyone wanting to know every little detail about our forthcoming or not-so-forthcoming wedding?” I didn’t mean to be so snappy with my dad. It was just a case of wrong question, wrong time.

“Lucy in the Sky,” Dad said, sounding the picture of calm, “I don’t want to just know every detail of your wedding, forthcoming or not. I want to know every detail of your whole life.” I could hear that fatherly smile in his voice. “But since you’re no longer a kindergartener, how about I just settle for knowing if you’re happy?”

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