The Billionaire's Embrace Page 60

God, I was being paranoid. Maybe my mother was simply trying to be nice, although the idea was so foreign that it was difficult for me not to automatically reject it as anathema.

“I’m not sure what you prefer to drink, dear,” my mother said to Regan. “I have white wine and red, and an assortment of hard liquors, and soda, if you’re a teetotaler, although I can’t imagine anyone could possibly be so dull.”

“Um, white wine is good,” Regan said. “Thank you.”

An unsophisticated drink, my mother would be thinking: real wine aficionados drank red. But she simply said, “Of course,” and went off toward the kitchen.

I gave Regan an encouraging smile, and squeezed her hand. “Not so bad, right?”

She let out a breath and smiled weakly. “I guess not. Carter, I never know what to say to her. I must seem like such a bumpkin.”

“Then fuck her,” I said lightly, and was rewarded with Regan’s wide eyes and startled laugh.

My mother returned with a bottle of white wine in one hand and a bottle of my favorite Scotch in the other. She poured drinks for the three of us, and then I stood and helped her into her chair. Old-fashioned, maybe, but my mother appreciated the chivalry, and it was a simple gesture that inoculated me from a lecture about how nobody had manners anymore.

Carla, the maid, brought the food in shortly, and I smiled at her in thanks as she set my plate before me. In keeping with the apparent theme of the evening, the food was simple—chicken and vegetables—albeit elegantly plated and impeccably cooked. My mother would never serve a meal that was less than world-class.

“So, Regan,” my mother said, “tell me again how you and Carter met. I don’t seem to recall.”

That was a polite fiction, of course. She hadn’t asked, the last time we were here. She hadn’t asked Regan a single question, actually, and in retrospect, I didn’t understand why I had allowed her to be so rude. I was distracted, maybe, or so desperate for Regan and my mother to get along that I willfully ignored any evidence that their meeting was going less than splendidly.

It was a good sign, then, that my mother was taking an interest; but I wished she had opened with a different question.

Regan, poor thing, looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. “Well, um,” she said, and took a hasty sip of her wine. “I was—we met at my job.”

“Yes, dear, and what was that?” my mother asked blandly. Surely she saw how uncomfortable Regan was.

Regan straightened her spine and looked my mother straight in the eye. “I was working as a cocktail waitress,” she said. “Carter was one of my customers.”

“I see,” my mother said. “And are you still employed in that... profession?”

“No, I quit that job. Now I’m working as a legal secretary,” Regan said.

“A secretary,” my mother repeated. “Well, I suppose that’s a step up from a cocktail waitress, heaven forbid. We’ll have to find you more suitable employment. A mere secretary is no match for my son.”

I set down my fork, preparing to step in. I was angry that my mother had made such a pretense of being humble and welcoming, and yet was being just as unkind to Regan as she had before. Regan was my guest, and my girlfriend; I wouldn’t tolerate her being spoken to like that.

But before I could open my mouth, Regan spoke. “Look, Angie,” she said, hot color in her cheeks, “I know you don’t like me, and that I’m not the person you would have chosen for Carter. But it’s not up to you, and you don’t get to treat me like crap just because you wish I would fall off the face of the earth. So please knock it off with the condescension. I’m not as dumb as you think, and I am in fact aware of when you’re insulting me.”

I stared at her, surprised and impressed. I hadn’t thought she would stand up to my mother like that—but it wasn’t the first time that Regan had surprised me, and I doubted it would be the last. It was part of what I loved about her.

“Well,” my mother said. She set down her napkin and gave Regan a considering look. I was prepared for her to give Regan a thorough dressing-down, and for me to have to swoop into action and end the evening prematurely; but instead, she said, “I suppose I was wrong about you. I told Carter that you didn’t have any fire, but it seems that you do.”

Regan looked as startled as I felt. She must have been expecting my mother’s wrath as well. “Oh,” she said. “Is that a good thing?”

My mother looked at Regan down the length of her nose. “Of course it is,” she said. “How can you be a politician’s wife with no fire?”

This again. I leaned my head against one hand and said, “Mother. Regan isn’t my wife. And I’m not going to be a politician.”

“Yes, we’ll see,” my mother said, with the smug look of a woman who was accustomed to getting her way. She turned back to Regan. “A woman needs backbone to get by in life. Are you interested in the law, then? Criminal justice? We’ll have to get you some type of formal certification. A paralegal is far more respectable. Have you considered further schooling?”

“I was thinking about maybe being a lawyer,” Regan said.

My mother’s eyes lit up. “You don’t say.”

I groaned and buried my head in my hands.

“None of that, Carter,” my mother said. “Eat your food in silence like a good boy. Regan and I have many things to discuss.”

Amused, I did as I was told, and finished my dinner while my mother grilled Regan about her current job, her previous experience working in a law office, her night classes, her boss, and her career ambitions. Poor Regan would be enrolled in law school by the end of the evening. In a way, I was glad that my mother was pushing her. Regan had too little faith in her own abilities, and I didn’t feel that it was my place to hassle her about her long-term career goals. Maybe Regan would respond well to my mother’s nagging. Stranger things had happened.

After our plates were taken away in preparation for dessert, Regan excused herself. As soon as she had left the room, my mother turned to me and said, “You’ve made up your mind, then.”

I knew what she was asking me. “Yes.”

“Very well,” my mother said, and sighed. “It’s true that she isn’t the girl I would have chosen for you. But if this is what you want, I’ll do my best to like her.”

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