“You can’t go. I simply won’t allow it. Or I know . . . I dare you . . . to stay right here with me.” Tiffany acts as though she’s found the hidden switch that will enable her to win her way.
She’s sideways across a chair in the living room, head lolled back and legs bent over the arm.
“Tiff, we’ve been through this. I’ve been going back and forth from the US to London for half a year now while we got the site built and ready. It’s time.” She pouts, her bottom lip poking out adorably. I grab it, much like Nan does your ear if you piss her off, and wiggle her face back and forth. “You’re going to be fine. You’ve got a great apartment—”
“Because I stole yours.”
“Taking over the lease,” I clarify. “You’ve got an amazing car.” That one hurt, but shipping Cammie overseas was ridiculously expensive. It was cheaper to just buy a new car once in London, and as Colton reminded me, he was richer than God and could afford to buy me any car I wanted. But Cammie’s going to good hands, at least, now that Tiffany knows how to drive a stick.
“Again, stole yours.”
“Bought it free and clear at a slight discount. A bigshot job that you earned.” I dare her to disagree on that one. Colton’s exit led to a large amount of shuffling as some people chose to follow him to London.
It meant that Miranda moved up to the executive floor as an operations leader, filling in some of the oversight roles Colton had previously managed. The management ones that were beyond Miranda were handed off to other VPs. And that rearrangement put Tiffany into Miranda’s old role. She’s the front desk supervisor now, in charge of Megan and two other new girls.
Tiffany doesn’t hide her haughty arrogance. “I am a badass boss. And at least now, I don’t have to see Ricky and Miranda making out in the copy room. My best guess is that they’re sneaking off up on the fifth floor.” I bet she’s right but don’t throw Ricky under the bus.
“Ace is doing well with his new job, and Kevin graduated from obedience training with flying colors.” Actually, Kevin’s going to doggie school was life-changing for him and Ace. Turns out, Ace is really good with dogs when he’s not wallowing in self-pity. He started his own doggie day care and training business and has clients all over the city. The multiple daily walks have helped him lose weight and feel great, he says. I think he likes the small dogs a lot too, a pseudo-replacement for the baby he thought he’d have.
“Have you seen his latest pup? It’s the tiniest little thing, named Dumbledore. He’s going to do great things,” she intones. I don’t know if she means Ace or the dog.
“Maybe you can take Dumbledore? I bet he won’t suck your soul while you sleep, at least.” Oops, I overplayed. Tiffany pouts again. “I know you love Sophie and take such great care of her when we’re going back and forth, but she’s my baby.”
“She’ll have to go into quarantine before you can bring her into the UK,” she whines. “Poor baby will be so scared.” I raise one brow at her theatrics. “Fine, she’ll probably have all the other quarantined animals bowing down to her reign of terror. But I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss you.” She crosses her arms over her chest, that lip making a reappearance. “Nope, you’re not going.”
I sigh, playing the only card I have left. One I don’t want to play at all, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Besides, I don’t think it’ll really matter. “Dad will still be here.”
Tiffany’s eyes brighten and her lips twist in evil glee. “That’s true. Daddy and I will both be here, all alone without you. He’ll need comforting, and so will I . . . we can cry on each other’s shoulders. And if things get carried away from there . . . well, who could blame us?” She shrugs as if it would be a totally unintentional oops for her to seduce my dad.
I point a manicured finger at her. “Keep your too-young paws off my dad, Tiff. No-go zone. Girl Rules remain in effect.”
She nods, not agreeing in the slightest but wanting to seem as though she does. “Oh, of course. I would never, Elle.” She even crosses her heart, kissing her finger and holding it to the sky in promise. Which would be reassuring if she didn’t follow it up with a damning question. “But just in case, should I sign the cards ‘Love Dad and Mom’ or ‘Love Dad and Mum’? You’re going all British, you know, and as your stepmother, I want to respect that.”
I growl, dumping her out of the chair and to the floor. “I hate you sometimes.” I don’t. I never do, not even when she’s pushing my buttons like they’re nuclear defense controls.
She pops up, laughing, and hugs me tightly. “I love you too, Elle. And I’m going to miss you like crazy.”
I squeeze her even tighter, not wanting to let go. I might’ve been trying to convince her it was going to be okay here without me, but I was just as much trying to convince myself.
I give her one last dare. “I dare you . . . to live large and recklessly every day without me here. Maybe wear clothes that don’t match just for the hell of it, get a tattoo of the artist’s choice without peeking, and be open to all the great things coming your way. Because you deserve each and every one of them, Tiff.”
We’re both crying now, big, fat, ugly tears. “Gah, don’t do that to me! I was doing okay,” Tiffany says, though both of us know she wasn’t doing fine at all. She wipes her cheeks, holding me at arm’s length. “You too. I dare you . . . to create something magical over there in London. A fairy tale life and love better than you could’ve ever imagined.”
And those all too familiar friends bubble up inside me, anticipation, excitement, and restlessness. I’m ready for this, to be with Colton in a new country, with a new role at the new headquarters, in our new home.
“Elle, dear, how lovely to see you.” Mary’s false welcome and delight at seeing me unexpectedly are just that . . . fake. But I’ve gotten rather adept at the play-nice-while-cutting-sharp British style.
“You too, Mary. How are you?”
I don’t need to ask. I already know because Nan keeps us apprised on every little thing. I swear, that woman knows gossip from one side of the city to the other within moments of anything happening.
Because of Nan’s gossipy ways, I already know that the trusts are doing exceptionally well under their new professional guidance. In fact, with Helen here now to help Colton at the office, Nan has been grooming me to take over her liaison role with Mr. Hamish and the private manager, wanting to keep it in the family without allowing Edwin access through Mary.
Oh, yeah. I’m in the family now.
Colton and I had a small ceremony on the front porch of our newly renovated home at the Estate. Dad and Tiffany flew over, and we coordinated so that Mr. and Mrs. Fox could see the grand opening of HQ2. Lizzie was a flower girl, even though she’s technically too old for that, but she rather got a kick out of throwing flower petals at Colton. It had been lovely and small and private. The exact opposite of the large, public spectacle Mary would’ve wanted to show off to her snooty friends, but it hadn’t mattered because she hadn’t been invited.
I do wish that Colton and his mother would make peace, but she’s chosen to stick by Edwin for now. We’ll be here, waiting with cautiously open arms, if she ever decides to reach out.
As for Edwin and Eddie, they’re constantly chafing against the allowance Nan has set them on, begging for more when their blustering demands don’t net what they want. Truthfully, Nan is more than generous, ensuring that Mary and Lizzie are well-kept but not giving in to childish tantrums for trips to Paris with Eddie’s tart of the day.
“I’m well. Very well, I suppose,” Mary answers generically. “How’s Coltie? I haven’t heard from him in so long.”
I smile, not sure if she truly missed him or if it’s a dig at his not acquiescing to Edwin, and by default, her. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter and I answer honestly.
“He’s very well, actually. Fox is up and running, and he’s serving as Regional President, with a full staff. He’s happy. We’re happy.”
Okay, so maybe I’m a little more than adept at playing nice while cutting deep. My words all sound like the humble brags Mary and her ilk are so accustomed to, but I know exactly how hard it is for her to hear about Colton’s good fortune. She bet on the wrong horse and lost big.
Really big. She lost her entire family. Something I can sympathize with.
“That’s good, quite brilliant,” she says, a waver in her voice. “And you? If Colton has a staff, what are you doing?”
I place a hand on my flat belly, knowing this will be the sharpest wound of all and hoping it will be the one that removes the cancer that is Edwin Wolfe from her still-beating heart while there’s a chance.
“I’m doing very well, thank you for asking. Growing the next generation of Seymours and politely disagreeing with Nan over whether we should name the baby after her grandfather. Neville is a lovely name, but it’s rather outdated, don’t you think?”
Her eyes are shining, hope and pain mixed in equal measure. “Seymour? Don’t you mean Wolfe? Though I suppose Neville Wolfe isn’t much better, is it?” She titters.
I’m surprised she doesn’t know. Shocked, actually. Even if Nan or Lizzie didn’t tell her, news spread along with our wedding announcement. You see, when we married, I didn’t just take Colton’s name. We both changed our surnames . . . to Seymour, in honor of Nan and her family tree. She’d been right touched and had even cried, blasting Colton and me both for ruining her mascara.
“We’re Seymours, Mary. Colton and Elle Seymour. I thought you knew.”
The tears overflow, and I feel the first bit of hope that maybe she’ll come around. “I guess I’d say something about returning to his roots, but his name has always been Wolfe. Until now, I suppose.”
I take her hands hesitantly, not prepared for this degree of familiarity with her but feeling like it’s the right thing to do. “He’s a wolf through and through, but he’s a Seymour by blood. So are you, and this baby will be too. You could meet him or her, if you’d like?”
Testing, teasing, hoping, praying. This is more delicate than any dare I’ve ever completed.
She nods. “I think I’d like that.”
“Would you like to call Colton? I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.” I hold up my phone, pressing his name, and when he answers, I tell him there’s someone who wants to talk to him.
When I hand Mary the phone, I feel those same old feelings. Success, accomplishment, and even power. Not over Mary, but over the ability to create our own destinies. I get the feeling she’s starting a new one right now.
I’m a wife, soon to be a mother, a US transplant in the UK, a daughter, a friend, a daredevil, and a tornado of chaos. But even so, I got my happily ever after.
Maybe Mary can too. I wonder if my dad would like her?
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story and had a some good laughs! Don’t say goodbye to these characters just yet though. Want to see where they are just over a year later? Grab the extended epilogue here or go to my website at laurenlandish.com and click on The Dare.
Read on for a preview of my book My Big Fat Fake Wedding. It hit #1 in all of Amazon in October 2019.
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