The Billionaire's Embrace Page 20

Agreeing to dinner had been a huge mistake.

I didn’t even know what Carter’s mother’s name was.

She led us to the dining room—a large space that contained a long table surrounded by chairs, and not much else in the way of furniture. One wall was lined with windows, and the other walls were covered with artwork. Three places had been set at one end of the table, and she herded us in that direction.

“Sit down and have something to drink,” she ordered. “I’ll see about dinner. It will be just a moment.” She sailed off through a doorway.

I immediately grabbed Carter’s arm. “What’s your mother’s name?”

He looked startled. “Angie. Evangeline. Why?”

“I can’t keep thinking of her as Carter’s mother,” I said.

He smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t recommend referring to her as Angie,” he said. “Call her Mrs. Sutton, she’ll like that.”

Mrs. Sutton. Right. Because it wasn’t as if we were both functioning adults. I swallowed my anxiety and smiled at Carter as he pulled out my chair for me. At least there was plenty of wine.

Carter poured me a generous glass and took the seat opposite me. “You look pale,” he said.

I glanced down at my left arm. “I still look brown,” I said.

“So literal! It’s a figure of speech,” he said. “You’re too worried. She’s going to love you.”

I didn’t think she was, necessarily, but I kept it to myself. Carter didn’t need to be burdened with my doubts. They were burdensome enough for me.

Angie came back into the room, followed by a woman who was carrying a huge platter. It was the maid, I realized. Or cook, or whatever—personal assistant—whatever her exact title was, she was obviously hired help. And here I was, essentially hired help myself, seated at the table, waiting to be waited on.

I didn’t belong here.

The maid set the platter on a sideboard and shot me a look that I couldn’t read. You don’t belong here? Stay away from these crazy white people? I feel your pain, sister?

“I hope you like fish, Regan,” Angie said. “Carter wouldn’t give me any information as to your dietary preferences, so I was forced to guess.”

“Fish is great,” I said. Had Carter told her anything about me? I was Pinoy; liking fish was practically genetic.

And then it occurred to me: the only Filipinos this woman had ever spoken to were probably maids.

“Great,” she said, like the word tasted strange in her mouth. “Well. We should have an enjoyable dinner, then.” She stood expectantly beside the chair at the head of the table, and Carter stood up to pull out the chair for her.

It was like being in a parallel universe. Who took formal dining so seriously, when it was just your son and his low-class girlfriend?

Angie sat, and Carter sat, and the maid set plates in front of us, Angie first and me last.

I wondered if it was a hidden message.

I unfolded my napkin and spread it across my lap. The plate was carefully arranged with three small hors d’oeuvres that I couldn’t even identify. The first course, then. How many courses would there be? Eight? Ten?

“Carter, tell me how business is going,” Angie said. “You’re too important to give your poor mother updates.”

Carter laughed, picking up one of the hors d’oeuvres and popping it in his mouth. It was meant to be eaten with the fingers, then. Good to know. He chewed and swallowed, and then said, “It’s going well, Mother. You know that. You read the quarterly reports.”

“Yes, but that’s not the same as hearing it from the source,” Angie said. She picked up her wine glass and took a sip. “Your father would be very disappointed to know that you aren’t keeping me in the loop.”

Carter rolled his eyes. “Fortunately, he’s dead, and doesn’t know.”

I raised my eyebrows, a little shocked despite myself. I had always been taught to show utmost respect for the dead—but what did I know? My dinners only required one fork.

Angie frowned at Carter, giving him a stern look over the rim of her glasses. “You’re a very naughty boy. I hope he rises from the grave and haunts you, just for that.”

Weren’t either of them sad that Carter’s father had died? Didn’t they miss him? They were talking about it so lightly, like his death was a joke, or like he hadn’t really died at all, just stepped out for a few minutes.

Carter just grinned, and ate another hors d’oeuvre.

I had just put one in my own mouth, figuring it was safe for me to eat, when Angie turned her laser focus on me. “So, Regan. Is your father still alive?”

I chewed automatically, because there was food in my mouth. What kind of question was that? Who just asked someone if their father hadn’t died yet? “Yes, he’s alive,” I said.

“And what does he do?” Angie asked.

Frankly, I didn’t know. He had never been able to hold a job for more than three months, and I had no idea if he was currently working, or even if he still lived in California. “We don’t speak much,” I said.

“Hmm,” Angie said. “Family strife. A poor indication.” She looked at Carter. “Were you aware of this?”

“Don’t hassle her, Mother,” Carter said. “I told you to be nice to her.”

Angie sniffed. “I am being nice. I’m simply trying to get to know the girl.” She turned to me again. “Where did you go to school?”

“I grew up in California, so I graduated from high school out there,” I said.

Angie raised one eyebrow. “No, dear. I meant your college education. Dartmouth, perhaps? You seem like a Dartmouth girl.”

I looked at Carter, incredulous. Hadn’t he told her anything? Why hadn’t he prepared me for this lion’s den I’d walked into? “I, um. I didn’t finish college,” I said stiffly. “I spent a few semesters at CUNY.”

“I see,” Angie said. She frowned at Carter. “We’ll have to remedy that. She can’t be of much use to your political career without the appropriate pedigree.”

His what? Carter hadn’t said anything to me about wanting to go into politics. And why was I going to be involved? We had been dating for a month—it wasn’t like we were engaged.

Carter buried his face in one hand. “Mother. I am not going to have a political career.”

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