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The captain showed up for his dinner date with Charisse just as she was kissing Conor. I don’t think this will end well.
Charisse tried to hold Conor’s hand. It would be better to excuse herself from the date and apologize. Maybe Daddy would understand, but she was pretty sure he wouldn’t. He hated Conor. More important, was Conor going to understand?
Conor stepped away from her and towards Armand.
“Are you Josh?” Conor’s face was washed over in crimson.
Charisse stepped between the two men before Conor could hit him. She said, “This is the captain from that ship that got lost at sea. His name is Captain Armand Nell.”
Conor backed off, but his face remained red. He glared at Charisse.
Charisse tried to ignore Conor and continued, “Armand, this is Conor Grishin. He actually owns the shipping company.”
“Oh, um nice to meet you.” Armand sounded confused but held his hand out to shake.
Conor took the hand and said, “Sorry, I mistook you for someone else. Thank you for saving the crew and ship.”
“Yes, of course. It was my job.”
The bells jangled again, and Marie rushed in. She slipped in her six-inch heels, but Armand caught her.
“Mother fucker,” she said. Her ankle had twisted, and she limped as Armand helped her to a chair. “Thank you,” she said as she sat down. “A few weeks wearing sneakers, and you wouldn’t know I’ve spent half my life in heels.”
Thank God Marie had arrived. If only it had been a few minutes sooner. Overwhelmed by Conor’s earlier compassion and her own guilt, Charisse stood to the side of the group, holding one elbow with the other arm dropped to the side.
Conor stared back at Charisse, his face completely blank. It was like when someone whispered when he was really mad instead of yelling. She wanted Conor to glare at her.
Charisse heard Armand say, “It doesn’t look swollen. Do you want to try to walk on it?”
Marie didn’t answer right away, causing Charisse to tear her gaze away from Conor and look at her sister. Armand had placed his hands on Marie’s ankle. Her leg was bare because she wore a blue leather mini dress that hugged her body in all the right places. His black hands made a lovely contrast to her porcelain skin. But it was Marie’s expression that surprised Charisse.
Marie appeared as if she’d been stung by love at first sight. Even more telling, she stuttered when she spoke. “Uh, yeah, I’m sure it’s fine.” Marie stood up abruptly and winced but stayed standing.
Armand rose slowly and said, “Well, if everything’s all right, I’ll go back to the hotel.”
“Wait,” said Marie, and then as if she realized she was displaying her emotions to the world like she was a shop window at Macy’s, she slid disinterest over her face and flipped her hair back. “I was here to take my sister to dinner. Would you like to go with us?”
“Your sister?” Armand turned to stare at Charisse. “You two are sisters?”
Charisse felt like someone had put tape across her mouth.
Conor said, “You’re a little late, Marie. I already know Charisse and the captain are going out. It was a good performance though. For a moment I thought you’d actually hurt your ankle.”
Marie swung her purse at Conor and hit him in the arm. “You don’t have to be such a bastard about it. I did hurt my ankle.”
Charisse forced her lips apart and said, “I’m sorry, this is all my fault. You seem like a very nice man, Armand, but I’m dating Conor. I tried to turn you down but my father kept pushing the issue.”
Armand held up his hands. “Believe me I understand. My parents are always matchmaking.” He turned to address Conor, “She did turn me down, but I’m afraid her father and I were persistent.” To Marie he said, “It looks like I’m out of a date. Would you like to show me around Manhattan? We could go back to your apartment and get better shoes.”
Marie gave him a genuine smile, something Charisse hardly ever saw. “I’d like that.”
Charisse watched the couple leave the store, knowing Conor was staring at her. Outside the sky dimmed with the setting sun. Office lights appeared brighter. “I’m sorry,” she said when they were gone.
“So Roy set you up on a date, and the words, ‘I’m seeing Conor,’ couldn’t make it out of your mouth? Since when is our relationship a secret?”
“It’s not, but I needed my trust fund. I tried to borrow against it to buy the salon, but Daddy controls the trust fund. I was hoping he’d sign it over to me at lunch, but he made it clear he’d only do that if I went on a date with Armand.”
“You’d rather play whore to your father’s pimping than take the salon from me, no strings attached?”
Fury and humiliation erupted inside her. “Get out,” she yelled.
“Fine, and the salon is no longer for sale. You’d better tell your lady luvs that changes are coming.” The bells clattered against the door when Conor threw it open. Charisse’s heart beat against her rib cage until Conor was no longer in sight.
She’d lost the salon. She’d lost Conor.
Still strung out from the adrenaline coursing through her, she walked to her station, grabbed a broom leaning against the wall and started sweeping up after the last customer. She was bound to cry her eyes out later, but now she was too shocked to feel anything.
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