“Watch your mouth, little princess.”
“I’m so sorry, Dani.” She walks over and wraps me in her small arms.
I could probably really cry now a lot easier than when I was trying to fake it, but I’ve never been one of those girls who weep constantly. It would be easier to just go upstairs, take off the dress mom and I spent hours looking for, scrub off the light makeup she helped me apply, and pretend this night didn’t happen.
An hour later, I’m sitting in my bedroom, still wearing my perfect dress. My makeup is still done and my hair is still flowing in long waves. And I’m no less mad at the men in my life than I was earlier. I’ve considered climbing out my window. I’ve considered asking my best friends, Lyn and Lila, to come help me escape. But what would be the point? Rambo-Dad already scared away my date, the only boy left in school who had been willing to ask me even though his friends had warned him about my father.
I lie down on my bed and stare up at the ceiling. Maybe I should go away for college. I planned on living at home while I attended Georgia Tech, but there is no way I can deal with this stuff any longer. If my father had things his way, I would be shipped off to become a nun. Or he would buy an island and make it an all-girls cult.
“Uhggggg!” I yell to the empty room.
“Seriously, Dani-girl, things can’t be that bad.”
I jump up when I hear the deep, gravelly, insanely sexy voice coming from my bedroom door. That voice. My lord. The things it alone does to me should be classified as illegal.
My hair slaps me in the face, a good handful landing in my open mouth, and I hastily pull it out before I turn to where he is standing.
My lord, he’s beautiful. He’s always been. My heart speeds up when I take in his smirking face and the mischief dancing in his brown eyes.
“Cat got your tongue?”
I shake my head.
I shake it again.
“Do you really have some flesh-eating, boil-slash-Ebola-like sickness?” he laughs.
I narrow my eyes at him, and his rich laughter booms through the room.
“I’m just kidding, Dani-girl. Come on. Get yourself ready and let’s go rock this prom.”
My jaw drops again. “What?”
For the first time, I notice that he’s dressed in a perfectly tailored tux. My eyes travel down his tall form to his shining, black dress shoes. On the way back up, my eyes hit the corsage spinning around his finger before I look back up into those gorgeous eyes.
“Let’s go, beautiful.”
“Does Daddy know you’re here?” I ask, not moving from my spot.
He sighs, steps into my room, and walks over. His cologne, Gucci Black, wraps around me. He’s worn the same scent for years. I perversely sniff it every time I hit the mall with Lyn and Lila. That scent—it’s my undoing.
He grabs one of my hands and gives my knuckles a kiss before placing the corsage around my wrist. He gives my hand a squeeze before letting go. Placing his strong hands on my shoulders, he presses down until I’m seated on my bed. Kneeling before me, he takes my feet one by one and fastens the straps of my black heels before standing and grabbing my hands, again, to pull me to my feet.
The whole time, I act like a freak and just gape at him.
What in the hell is going on?
“Ready?” he asks.
“Uhhh . . .”
“Right. You’re ready,” he laughs, grabs my hand, and pulls me through the house, down the stairs, and into the entryway of the house, where my parents are waiting.
Mom has her camera ready, forcing us to take some pictures, for all of which I’m sure I’m just standing there in a daze. I think I smiled in them, but I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Daddy smiles big and triumphantly the whole time, like he’s won some battle here.
“Oh, good. You got here,” Nate mumbles through a sandwich he’s stuffing down his throat.
I shake out of my stunned stupor and look over at him. “You did this?” I ask with disbelief.
“Well, duh. Can’t have my little sister miss her prom because of some boils. Plus, I knew this guy,” he says, pointing at our father, “wouldn’t mind him.” He takes another bite before he looks over my shoulder. “And I know he isn’t going to try to pet the cat.”
“Nathaniel Gregory!” Mom gasps.
“What? Why do you think Dad acts like he does? Just because I’m willing to say the words doesn’t mean you have to freak out.”
I look over at my mom, who has turned bright red.
Daddy laughs at her embarrassment and pulls her into his arms. “Are you sure we didn’t drop that one a few times as a baby?”
She slaps his hard stomach and shakes her head. “You look beautiful, honey. Have fun, okay?”
I smile at her and move my eyes to Daddy to judge his mood.
He just smiles at me. “I trust him. He won’t let any of those pimple-faced, prepubescent boys touch a beautiful hair on your head. Have fun, sweetheart.”
I walk over and give them both a hug, standing up on my toes as far as a can to whisper my gratitude in his ear. He’s annoying, overprotective, and possessive of his girls, but I love him and I know he comes from a good place.
“Uh, excuse me? Do I not get any little-sister love here? I’m the one running this show, you know?”
“You’re such a dork, Nate,” I laugh and give him a hug before turning back to my date.