THE SAME. EVERY get together was always the same. The people and the scenery never change. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I sighed and tried to keep a pleasant expression on my face. It was easy enough. I’d mastered it over the years. Smile, answer their questions, act interested in their life, and move on. Those were the survival steps required to get through an event among the Rosemary Beach elite.
As a child, it was fun. I played with the other kids. We found things to entertain us and our parents didn’t mind too much when Nate Finlay or Cruz Kerrington led us astray. It was easily exciting. Not a dull moment. But then puberty came and it all changed.
I turned my head to look at my parents. My father was handsome and didn’t look like a man on the back side of his forties. He was loved by this crowd, as was my mother, who I had always believed was beautiful. My father kept his hand on the small of her back, and the love in their eyes as they spoke to each other was real. You could see it. No one could question it—their love oozed from them.
Being raised by two people who had lived a fairytale romance set my relationship expectations a little high. No, make that ridiculously high. I wanted what they had and believed it was a given that I’d have a great romance too. The heartbreak of that notion is that at the age of twenty-two I had still never been in love. I’d thought I loved Cruz Kerrington once. We were kids. He’d kissed me, and I saw that fairytale in my future. Then the next week he’d kissed Melanie Harnett, and my fourteen-year-old heart was crushed.
That wasn’t the end of my dream, though. Cruz would flirt and wink. Come up beside me in the halls at school and whisper things in my ear. But he never did it in front of anyone. Girl after girl was on his arm, in his arms, and in the backseat of his BMW. Slowly, Cruz managed to disillusion me and the dream in my head.
“You’ve been quieter than normal tonight,” Caspian Manning, my cousin, said to me as he took the seat beside me. He was rarely at these events since he lived in Fort Worth. But mom had said he wanted to transfer to a college in Florida. She was hopeful he’d move here. I never imagined him anywhere else except Uncle Mase’s ranch, but he wanted something else from life. I could tell him Florida was a bad choice. Go west.
“A lot on my mind,” I said with less of my fake smile since he knew me too well.
He smirked. “Like how much longer until you can go home and hole up with a book in your room?”
I gave a small lift on my left shoulder then gave him my own smirk. “Mostly.”
He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Reckon these people ever think about leaving this place? These balls or whatever shit this is y’all do, all seem the same. Nothing exciting but that shrimp dip over there.”
“It’s a fundraiser for Dyslexia. Your parents are two of the sponsors. Don’t be a snot.” His mother, my Aunt Reese, had dyslexia for years and didn’t know it. Once she realized what her problem was she learned to read and finished school. She was a real inspiration.
“Yeah, I know. I get it, but last month there was another party here and the month before that. We always get the invitations. I see them on the kitchen counter. Fancy ass paper and gold wax stamp sealing the back,” Caspian said with a sigh and then surveyed the room from where we stood.
I wanted to agree with him but I kept my mouth shut. Last month was the annual cotillion where the girls who have come of age are presented to society. It’s so incredibly outdated, yet they still do it every year. I did cotillion when I was their age—I still have nightmares.
“Someone needs to take the booze away from Cruz. The dude looks like he’s bordering on tipsy headed to smashed.”
That, unfortunately, caught my attention. I followed his gaze and saw Cruz laughing a little too loudly and swaying a bit. I quickly checked the room for either of his parents and didn’t notice them. They would be very upset, and it would cause a scene. This would have been a good time for Nate to step in. But Nate wasn’t here. He was in Alabama with his fiancée where he now lived.
I waited a minute to see if anyone around him was going to do something when another drink was placed in his hands by a server. Not good.
“I better do something. His parents will be humiliated if he ruins this event.”
“Good luck,” was Caspian’s response as I reluctantly headed toward Cruz.
I didn’t go near Cruz for good reasons. However, his parents owned this place. Kerrington Country Club was theirs. If Cruz got crazy and did something ridiculous, I’d feel terrible for them. As much as I didn’t care for him, I liked his parents very much.
Before I reached him, he had handed his nineteen-year-old brother Blaze his drink and taken another from the tray. Two Kerrington boys getting drunk was even worse. I may never forgive Nate for moving, because for the first time in years I was forced to interact with Cruz.
Avoiding him had become a talent. A talent I was rather proud to possess.
I walked up unnoticed and snatched the glass right out of Blaze’s hand before he could tilt it back for a sip. “Don’t think so,” I said placing the full glass on a waiter’s tray before turning to Cruz who was watching me with an amused but confused grin. “As for you, let’s get out of here before you do something stupid. No wait, you’ve already given bourbon to a nineteen-year-old—before you can do anything else stupid.”
Cruz laughed then. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Cruz Kerrington, and you are?” He was mocking me.
“Don’t be an ass,” I replied with a scowl.
He threw his head back and laughed loudly. Too loudly. When he met my gaze again his eyes were still laughing at me. “I can’t believe that Lila Kate Carter just said the word ‘ass.’”
Why had I liked him once? Did I actually think I had loved him at the time? God, I was dumb when I was younger. “Cruz. Please. Let’s go.” I grabbed his arm to force him out when Chanel—whose last name I couldn’t remember, but that first name was hard to forget—stepped in front of me.
“Where are you going, Cruz?” Chanel asked. “We had plans.”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Ask Lila Kate.” He didn’t pull away from me. He seemed to be enjoying the awkward situation instead.
Chanel’s large brown eyes snapped away from Cruz to look at me. She was angry. I didn’t care. If she wanted to get Cruz out of here she was welcome to. “We’ve already made plans. He’s taken,” she all but growled at me.