Only with You (The Best Mistake #1) - Page 5

Hearing her mother yelling for her, Sophie reluctantly shuffled into the kitchen and reclaimed her spot at the bar stool next to Will. Nobody acknowledged her return.

Sophie risked a glance at Gray. But he’d apparently decided the best course of action was to pretend she didn’t exist, and didn’t once look her way. Which suited Sophie just fine—she’d happily let Brynn absorb all of that surly, scowling attention.

Didn’t mean she couldn’t study him, though. It was somewhat reassuring to realize that he looked exactly the same as she remembered. Fastidious and boring. The suit had been replaced by khakis and a button-down, but the military-cut dark hair, tense jaw, and piercing gaze were all familiar.

Sophie’s eyes moved to her sister. As usual, Brynn’s light blonde hair fell in a sleek, straight swish around her shoulders. Her light blue sweater set was the perfect color for her gray-blue eyes, and her conservative silk skirt didn’t have a single wrinkle.

Gray had said they’d only been on a couple casual dates. Did that mean…sex? Sophie glanced between the two of them, considering. Instinct told her no. There was too much pretense. Brynn hadn’t once let her orthodontist smile waver, and Gray was hardly staring at Brynn with besotted adoration.

His knuckles were clenched around his wineglass, and his posture held all the approachability of an army general. Sophie had to admit that his tension was perhaps warranted for once. Marnie was currently trying to convince him of the merits of buying a home in the suburbs.

“There’s just so much more room away from the city to start a family!” Marnie was saying to a stricken-looking Gray.

Sophie couldn’t help it. She felt sorry for the guy. There were some things you protected even your worst enemy from. Marnie Dalton was one of them.

She dug her tennis shoe into Will’s shin, trying not to think about how scrubby she must seem in comparison with Brynn’s country-club attire. At least she wasn’t wearing her hooker boots.

Will shot her an irritated glance. What?

Do something! She flicked her eyes obviously in Gray’s direction.

His lip curled. No.

Her toe hit his shin again with more force.

He cut her a glare. You owe me.

“So, Gray,” Will interrupted grudgingly, “how did you and Brynn meet?”

Marnie gasped. “Of course! I didn’t even think to ask. How considerate, William.”

Sophie rolled her eyes. Easy, Mom. Take on one dinner guest at a time. And she’d have bet her nonexistent life savings that Brynn had already told her mother exactly how they’d met. Marnie probably had an entire scrapbook dedicated to it.

“We met at the gym, actually,” Brynn said, setting her hand on Gray’s overworked bicep. “He was at the treadmill next to me, and when I dropped my iPod, he picked it up.”

“Naturally, I had to ask her to dinner,” Gray said with all the emotion of a cyborg.

“Oh, naturally,” Sophie said around a piece of bread. Her mother gave her a warning glare.

“Honey, is dinner ready? I’m starving,” Sophie’s dad said distractedly, tearing himself away from the kitchen TV.

“Let me just plate this chicken and we’re all set. Sophie, dear, if you could grab the wine, and, Brynn, take that salad to the table with you…”

“May I carry anything for you?” Gray asked.

Sophie rolled her eyes. Where were all these pretty manners when he’d left her standing like a cheap whore in a Las Vegas elevator lobby?

Marnie’s hand fluttered to her chest. “Oh, goodness, no. You just make yourself comfortable for our cozy little family meal. Will, show Gray into the dining room, would you?”

Sophie was so busy trying not to sit next to Gray, that she somehow ended up sitting across from him. Much worse. Now she had no way of not looking at him.

He gave her a tense glare. She responded with a cheery smile.

Sophie was just reaching for the salad bowl when her mother loudly cleared her throat and bowed her head. Brynn and Sophie exchanged a puzzled glance. They had never been a religious family. Marnie launched into a horribly maligned grace.

Sophie’s mother shot Gray a pious look after she’d finished. “Thanks for humoring me, Gray. That’s a pre-meal prayer that’s been passed down from my great-great grandmother.”

“Interesting…” Sophie said. “I wouldn’t say it’s familiar, would you guys? Brynn? Dad?”

Brynn quickly hid a smirk behind her napkin, and even Chris seemed to be struggling not to laugh.

Marnie studiously ignored them and gave her white napkin a snap

before letting it flutter to her lap. “So, Gray, Brynn mentioned you’re from Chicago. Do you have family there?”

Gray paused briefly before responding, and Sophie could have sworn she saw something raw flash across his face. “My brother actually lives here in Seattle. He’s in law school at the University of Washington. And my sister lives in New York.”

“What about your parents?” Sophie asked. She realized she had yet to speak directly to Gray, and the last thing she wanted was for her family to take note of her odd behavior.

“My parents are dead,” he replied flatly.

Whoops. Sophie’s family glared at her and she stared guiltily at her plate. As if she’d meant to hit on a painful topic.

“Tell me, how is it that a fine, successful fellow like yourself isn’t married yet?” Will asked with sham interest.

The silence around the table became even more pronounced. Sophie could have strangled Will. Sure, he’d distracted everyone from her faux pas over Gray’s dead parents, but her best friend knew full well that the topic of marriage at Sunday dinner was off-limits. Especially since Marnie was already mentally selecting wedding colors.

Gray stared at Will.

A welcome break from him staring at Sophie, but awkward nonetheless. The man really had to learn the art of fake smiling if he was going to survive in this family.

“I was engaged once. It didn’t work out,” Gray said finally.

Sophie jerked in surprise, her knee hitting the bottom of the table and sending her water glass sloshing onto the ivory tablecloth. Her mother shot her a death glare, but Sophie barely noticed. He’d been engaged? The thought of him proposing to anyone strained all of Sophie’s brainpower. And the thought of him being in love? Well, that simply did not compute.

The man couldn’t even make it through dinner with adequate conversation; how had he thought he’d survive marriage?

No wonder it hadn’t worked out.

With the awkwardness at the table reaching DEFCON ten, Brynn shot her a beseeching look, which Sophie tried to ignore. She knew what her sister wanted, and she wasn’t in the mood. Brynn wanted Sophie to sprinkle some ditzy conversation over the group—making everyone else comfortable by making herself into a clown.

Such antics had sort of become Sophie’s shtick over the past few years. While nobody in the family seemed to expect Sophie to be impressive, they’d come to rely on her as a sort of social wizard. At the awkward wedding when Uncle Abe had too much to drink? Here comes Sophie starting the conga line. Or at the fund-raising gala where Brynn slipped on a stuffed mushroom and tore her dress clear up to her hoo-ha? Enter Sophie with spontaneous karaoke.

But Sophie didn’t want to play that part tonight. Not in front of Gray. She was still reeling from the fact that the one man she’d hoped never to see again had infiltrated her personal life. She caught Brynn’s eye and shook her head. Not this time.

But then Sophie’s eyes fell on Gray and she felt a twinge of empathy. His face looked strained, and his knuckles were white around his fork. He was obviously out of his element.

And he had done her a favor by not outing her in front of her parents. Perhaps she could return the favor and make them even.

She sighed and gave in. It wasn’t like Gray’s opinion of her could slip any lower. Sophie took a bracing sip of wine and slipped into her flighty, charming mode.

“So, Gray,” Sophie said with an easy grin, “I don’t suppose Brynn has told you about the time that the two of us decided to camp in the backyard and got so scared by a raccoon that we both wet our pants?”

Brynn looked slightly ruffled, likely wishing Sophie hadn’t selected a story that involved her peeing in her Rainbow Brite panties. But, hey, if Sophie was taking one for the team, she was bringing Brynn down with her.

Sophie moved easily from story to story, carefully keeping the conversation light and substance-free.

By the time they’d finished dessert, Sophie had exhausted her arsenal of childhood memories, but her sister had relaxed and even Gray seemed to have temporarily released his shoulders from their military pose.

Marnie returned to the dining room carrying her grandmother’s silver coffee set.

Something she dusted off about once every…never. Not because Marnie wasn’t the silver set type. She totally was. The fancier and more antique, the better. But actually using the set meant getting it dirty. And dirty was not Marnie’s thing.

As Marnie poured the coffee and sliced an apple tart that was too perfect to be homemade, Sophie’s gaze caught on her father.

Oh no. Sophie knew her father’s “serious

face” too well. Chris Dalton had apparently realized he was letting his daughter’s suitor off too easily.

“Uh-oh. Here we go,” Will whispered.

“Gray, what is it you do for a living?” Chris asked.

Gray cut a very precise bite of Marnie’s apple tart before responding, “I’m in the hospitality business. Hotel acquisitions, specifically.”

Chris leaned back in his chair and studied him. “So you’re a sales guy?” This was not a compliment.

“Sort of,” Gray replied.

Brynn set a hand on Gray’s arm. “He’s being modest. He’s the CEO and president of the company.”

“President, that’s not bad,” Chris said. “You must have a decent education behind you, then?”

“Dad,” Brynn said warningly.

“Yes, sir, I got both my bachelor’s degree and my MBA from Northwestern.”

“Mmm. Adequate. You probably got all the ‘wild’ out of your system in school? Ready to settle down and be a man?”

“Oh my God,” Sophie muttered into her coffee.

Gray set his coffee aside. “I’m not sure I was ever the ‘wild’ type, Mr. Dalton.”

“Shocker,” Will said as he helped himself to the rest of Sophie’s tart.

The table fell silent for several moments until Brynn broke the awkward quiet.

“Hey, Soph, how’s the job hunt going?”

Sophie closed her eyes briefly. Crraaaappp.

When she opened them, she wasn’t surprised to see her parents staring at her.

Brynn let out a distressed sigh as she read the situation. “They didn’t know.”

Sophie gave a sharp shake of her head.

“Sorry,” Brynn muttered. But the damage was done.

“Job hunt?” Marnie said, her voice two octaves above normal.

“Oh, Sophie,” her father said wearily. “You didn’t get let go, did you? In this economy, dive bars like Stimp’s…”

“It was Stump’s, Dad. I worked there for four years, how do you not know this? And no, I didn’t get fired. I quit.”

Somehow Marnie and Chris looked even more dismayed than when they thought she’d been fired.

“Well…okay,” Marnie said slowly. “I can’t say I’m not relieved that you won’t be working at that…dump any longer.”

Marnie turned to Gray, whom Sophie had been carefully avoiding. She could imagine what she’d read in his eyes: Wow, whorish and unemployed.

“Sorry to drag you into family business, Gray,” Marnie said with embarrassment. “It’s just that we worry about our Sophie here. Always a free spirit. She’s spent the past few years being a barfly and giving us heart palpitations worrying about her getting shot up by some alcoholic motorcycle ruffians.”

Will caught Sophie’s eye and mouthed, Motorcycle ruffians?

“It wasn’t that bad, Mom,” Sophie ground out. “Can we talk about this later?”

But Sophie’s father wasn’t ready to drop it. “Your sister said you were job hunting. Surely you didn’t quit one job before you had another lined up?”

Sophie took a gulp of her wine.

“Oh, Sophie,” her mother breathed in the tone known as Great Disappointment.

“I think it’s great,” Will said loyally. “Soph’ll find something in no time.”

“Says the man who’s been self-employed since age sixteen and only has to worry about himself,” Brynn muttered.

“Not everyone needs a laminated life plan to tell them what underwear to wear and what job to take,” Will snapped back.

“At least I wear underwear,” Brynn swiped back.

Gray looked puzzled at the vehemence of Brynn and Will’s snapping. Don’t try to make sense of it, Sophie thought. They hate each other just for breathing.

“More dessert?” Sophie asked the group brightly. All she wanted to do was head home and cry into a bubble bath. It was an especially practical idea since she probably couldn’t afford tissues or her water bill. Her tears could just fill the tub.

“Hey, Gray,” Brynn was saying in a thoughtful voice. “Didn’t you say your new secretary backed out at the last minute?”

Sophie’s eyes flew to her sister at the random change in subject. Nothing about Brynn was ever random. Sophie went on high alert, and allowed herself a brief look at Gray. He too looked wary.