Fire and Ash (Immortal Touch) (6 page)

“Not exactly. We’re thinking end of April, first of May. Somewhere around that time.”

“So soon?”

“We don’t want anything elaborate. Just a simple ceremony with a few family members and friends.”

Well, on the upside, at least they didn’t intend to bankrupt her with something ostentatious. She wasn’t about to grovel to Edwin for him to pitch in with the cost, even if it was his responsibility. He’d shown a long time ago what he thought of responsibility.

Julian must have been reading her mind. “Incidentally, I intend to cover all the
expenses myself. We would appreciate your involvement with the preparations, though. Originally we had planned on a private ceremony, but…” He hesitated at this point. “I have no family to speak of, other than Lainie, you see. It never occurred to me before how important it would be for Eva to have her family in attendance. So…I leave it to the two of you to decide who to invite. Money is no issue. I’ll take care of accommodations for the guests, travel expenses - whatever it takes. I want everyone who matters to her to be there.”

My
stars.
This guy’s a definite keeper.
“Are you sure? I mean, I don’t mind helping out financially…”

“Thank you, but
really, there’s no need for that. It will be no burden to me, I assure you.”

Handsome, wealthy and one hundred percent devoted to her daughter’s happiness. He was almost too good to be true. She could only hope and pray there was no skeleton in his closet
waiting to pop out after it was too late. But no…she shouldn’t think that way. He’d given her absolutely no reason to be pessimistic.


Have you thought about where you want to have it?” she asked.

“No…just someplace close to Brightwood. Why don’t we do some research online tonight?” Eva suggested.

“We do need to get started on this if you’re dead set on doing it so soon.”

“You know me. I’ve never had a lot of patience.”

“Mm. Are you sure you’re not doing this because you think you have to?” Abby couldn’t help herself. She wanted to think that her daughter would trust her enough to come to her if she was pregnant, but who knew? It wasn’t as if she’d been acting quite like herself lately.

“I’m not knocked up, if that’s what you’re asking
!”

“Okay, okay…just checking.”
Uncomfortable silence…change the subject, quick.
“Are you planning on taking Rio back with you?”

“Well…yeah,
I’d like to. Unless you want to keep him for company.” She glanced at Julian. “Would you mind? He hasn’t been declawed.”

“I don’t mind
at all.” He gave her a covert smile. “You already know that I relate very well to animals.”

Abby cleared her throat and stared into her tea glass. “Actually it would probably be best if you took him back with you. Grant’s allergic to cats.”

Eva’s eyebrows shot up. “Mom! What have you been up to while I was gone?”


Oh, nothing much. Working, taking care of things at home, same ol’ same ol’…”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay, so I might’ve made time for a few nights out with
Dr. Hunky
, as you so eloquently dubbed him. And I seem to recall it was your suggestion in the first place.”

“D
o you hear me complaining? I think it’s great! How come you didn’t mention it before?”

“I don’t know. It didn’t seem all that important compared to
your
news.”

“Well, of course it’s important. So how’s it going - are you two hitting it off or what?”

“I’d say so.” Abby felt her cheeks grow hot. It was far too early in the game to place any bets, but things were going well so far.
Very
well. She only hoped it didn’t end in disaster. She didn’t want to go through that again.

“Dr. Reynolds is a pediatrician,” Eva informed Julian. “Mom’s been working with him for…how long’s it been now?”

“Seven years.” Wow, spoken out loud it sounded like a heck of a long time. Seven years of worshipping the handsome doctor from not-so-afar, when all the while he’d been interested in her as well. Or so he said. When she thought of all the time she’d been robbed of, simply because of her insecurities…

Damn Edwin. May he develop a
n incurable rash on his nether regions.

“We’ll definitely have to invite him to the wedding,” Eva
suggested.

“That would be nice.” Abby bit her lip,
reluctant to bring up the subject of Edwin. “And your father? Were you planning on having him there - provided he’d even come?”

Her daughter’s eyes got the same
troubled look in them they always did when Edwin’s name was brought up. But her answer surprised Abby. “Yes, I think so. If it wouldn’t bother you, that is.”


Doesn’t bother
me
. I can be civil.”
The question is, can he?


I think it’s about time I let go of the past. We’ll invite him and his family. If he wants to show up, fine. If he doesn’t, then at least I can say I tried.”

Abby nodded. There was little else to be said. Though she wouldn’t have blamed the girl one bit for excluding the man who’d abandoned her so callously. It was scary to know there were men in the world who had so little conscience.

But seeing the doting way Julian looked at her daughter, she had all the confidence in the world that Eva had found one of the last remaining good guys.

~*~*~*~

If Sami thought she was going to get through her first few weeks without running into
Mr. Reid
again, she was mistaken.

He was constantly coming and going. Carrying a set of golf clubs one day, a briefcase the next. One late afternoon he strolled past with a voluptuous woman who looked
as if she belonged on a pair of mud flaps. She clutched his arm possessively, almost desperately, and Sami couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pity. She might not be an expert on men, but she’d seen enough to know the poor woman was going to get nowhere with her ingratiating behavior. It was true that men like Asher Reid craved attention - that was a given - but they also grew weary of it very quickly.

She ignored the spiteful voice that reminded her of her bare ring finger. Apparently she was
no prize, herself. Otherwise her fiancé wouldn’t have felt the need to entertain himself with extracurricular activities of a sexual nature. The Adema song
Betrayed Me
ran through her head yet again, and she spent the rest of the day humming it to herself. Therapy.

She was on her knees replacing a power supply
at the front desk when she looked up to see him leaning against the counter, grinning like a dog with a bone.

“Hey, Sam-I-Am,” he teased.

“Hey,” she mumbled. What was it about the man that rubbed her the wrong way? Maybe it was that omnipresent narcissism. He seemed to expect the world to bow down and worship him.

“How’s it going?”

“Fine.”

“Any problems?”

“Nope.”

“Anything I can help you with?”

“No, thanks.”

“Not much of a conversationalist, are you?”

She gave him a cool stare. “Not really, no.”

He crouched down so they were on the same level. “Tell me. Do you hate all men, or is it just me?”

“At the moment, I hate them all. Nothing personal.”

“Ah…a woman scorned, am I right?” His mocking ridicule made her want to shove him on his ass.
She wondered how he’d react to
that
.

“I’m busy. Do you mind?”

“Not at all. I’ll just watch.”

“Terrific.”

“What are you doing?”

“Replacing a dead power supply.”

“And tonight?”

“I…huh?”

“What are you doing tonight?”

Was he freaking
serious?
“Why do you want to know?” She frowned at him suspiciously.

“Just curious.”
He straightened suddenly and whisked a cell phone out of his pocket. “What’s up, Kendall?” He walked off without a backwards glance, his interest diverted.


You need medication,” she muttered, slipping the screwdriver back into her tool case. Straightening, she almost bumped into Logan and Stuart.

“I’m heading out, guys. I’m supposed to meet the wife for lunch,”
Logan announced.

“Why don’t we break for lunch too?” Stuart suggested to Sami.

“Sounds good to me.” She pulled her own phone from the pocket of her khaki shorts and scanned it quickly for missed calls. “Is the poolside café any good?” It had only recently opened for the season, and she was dying to try it out.

“Not a huge selection, but what they have is
good. I was actually headed that way myself. Come on - I owe you lunch anyway, remember?”

Ten minutes later , seated at a picnic table over grilled grouper sandwiches, Sami couldn’t help but smile as she took in the sights and sounds of the paradise surrounding her. The sky was a
n unblemished blue whose brilliance was only rivaled by the Gulf of Mexico beneath it. A soft breeze tickled her neck, bringing with it the distinctly tropical aroma of salty seawater intermingled with the delicious smells from the café’s grill. Small children giggled and screeched while splashing happily in the shallow end of the heated pool as their mothers slathered on coconut-scented suntan lotion while keeping a watchful eye.

“What’s so funny?” Stuart wanted to know, dumping what seemed like an obscene amount of ketchup into the basket beside his fries.

“I was just thinking. This is worlds apart from the factory where I used to work.”

He smothered a french fry with ketchup and popped it into his mouth before answering. “I can imagine. Pretty sweet, isn’t it?”

“That’s an understatement. You know, I was worried out of my mind when I lost that job, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.” She bit into her sandwich. “Holy moly, this is good.”

“They get the grouper fresh from the market. It’s local.”

“Mm…I think I just died and went to heaven.”

“You know, I’ve been trying to persuade Reid to hire an onsite IT person for months. I’m glad
you
applied. If it had been some geek that looked like me, we’d probably still be understaffed.”

Sami’s eyebrows shot up. “What are you saying, exactly?”

“Oh. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I just meant…well, it’s no secret he has a thing for good-looking ladies.” Stuart’s face turned bright red. “I’m not implying that’s why you were hired or anything. Your qualifications were a perfect fit.”

“Hm.” Sami watched as a young father tried to persuade a toddler in a frilly pink swimsuit to jump into the water.
The inflatable floaties kept her chubby arms from reaching her sides. “Let me ask you a question. Does he have a reputation for sexually harassing his female employees?”


Not that I’m aware of. I don’t think you have to worry about that - he’s very professional. He gets around, I guess you could say - I’ve never seen him with the same woman twice - but as far as I know he’s never dated anyone employed here.”

“How
very noble of him.” Never the same woman twice…that sounded about right.

“I shouldn’t have said anything. I didn’t mean to make it sound like…”

“Don’t worry about it, Stu.” She made an attempt to change the subject. “I noticed there seems to be a family vibe around here. Will we get much of the spring break crowd?”


Oh yeah - everyone does. It’s inescapable. We have extra people on security during that time though. They’re pretty good at keeping the bullshit to a minimum.”

Sami took a sip of her Coke. “Didn’t I see something on the news not too long ago where a girl fell off a balcony
or something?”

Stuart shrugged indifferently. “Yeah.
Next door at the Jade Palms. Glad it wasn’t here. Seems like there’s always one or two incidents of that every year. Usually it’s during spring break, when kids are plastered and acting a fool. This girl was by herself when it happened, but she’d been drinking so who knows. Coulda been a suicide.”

“Hm.”
The little girl finally grew brave enough to make the leap into her daddy’s arms. Her mother applauded and cheered from her deck chair. “I was kind of surprised when Ash…Mr. Reid told me he lives here.”

“Yeah, I think he likes to surround himself with excitement. He’s kind of an adrenaline junkie.”

“Do you live nearby?”

“I live farther west on
Laguna Beach. Actually I rent a house from Reid.”

“My condolences,” she said automatically.

Stuart licked some stray ketchup off the side of his hand while eyeing her through the thick lenses of his glasses. “You seem to have it in for him. Did he do something to get on your bad side?”

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