Beautiful Sacrifice (Maddox Brothers #3)(6)

Taylor’s movement caused my father to notice his arms. “Hotshot crew, eh? And part-time doodle pad by the looks of it.”

Taylor chuckled, glancing down at his right arm. “My brother’s a tattoo artist.”

“You’re not really dating this deadbeat, are you?” As usual, my father’s question was more of a demand for an answer.

Taylor looked at me, and I grinned.

“No,” I said. “We’re in love.” I strolled over to Taylor, who looked as surprised as my father, and I planted a soft kiss on the corner of his mouth. “I get off at eight tomorrow night. See you then.”

Taylor smiled and reached around my middle, pulling me to his side. “Anything for you, baby.”

William sneered, but Blaire gently touched his chest, signaling for him to stay quiet.

“Falyn, we need to talk,” she said, her eyes making note of every tattoo on Taylor and every frayed edge of every hole in his jeans.

“We’ve talked,” I said, feeling confident while being hugged to Taylor’s side. “If I have anything else to say, I’ll call you.”

“You haven’t spoken to us in months. It’s time,” she said.

“Why?” I asked. “Nothing has changed.”

Blaire’s eyes fell from my face to look down my body and then came back again. “Quite a lot has changed. You look atrocious.”

Taylor held me away from him, gave me a once-over, and then made a show of his disagreement.

Blaire sighed. “We’ve given you space and time to figure this out on your own, but enough is enough. You need to come home.”

“So, his upcoming campaign has nothing to do with it?” I nodded toward my father, who puffed out his chest, indignant.

His audacity to even pretend to be insulted made it almost impossible for me to keep my cool.

My face contorted. “I want you both to leave. Now.”

William angled his body and stepped forward in an offensive move. Taylor steadied himself, ready to defend me if necessary. Chuck had stood up to my parents before, but standing next to Taylor was different. He barely knew me, yet there he was, in a protective stance in front of me, glowering at my father, daring him to take another step. I hadn’t felt that safe in a long time.

“Good night, docs,” Phaedra said in her shaky Southern twang.

Taylor took my hand and led me past my parents into the dining area of the café.

Phaedra shut the door in my father’s face and cranked the key in the lock as Blaire watched. As Phaedra turned her back to them, my parents continued on to their original destination.

Chuck crossed his arms, staring at Taylor.

Taylor looked down at me even though I could claim all of five feet nine inches. “You did that just to piss off your parents, didn’t you?”

I flattened out my apron and then met his eyes. “Yep.”

“Do you still want me to pick you up at eight?” Taylor asked. “Or was that just for show?”

I glanced at Kirby, who looked entirely too happy about the situation.

“It’s not necessary,” I said.

“C’mon”—Taylor flashed his teeth, a deep dimple sinking in the middle of his left cheek—“I played along. The least you could do is let me buy you dinner.”

I blew my bangs out of my eyes. “Fine.” I untied my apron as I left him for home.

“Did she just say yes?” Taylor asked.

Chuck chortled. “You’d better take it and run, kid. She hasn’t said yes to anyone in a while.”

I jogged up the steps to my apartment above the café, hearing the front door click after someone had let Taylor out. After taking just a few steps to the window overlooking Tejon Street, I watched as Taylor walked to his pickup truck in the parking lot.

A long sigh separated my lips. He was too cute and too charming, and he was on a hotshot crew. I was already one statistic. I wouldn’t let him turn me into another. One dinner wouldn’t be hard, and I sort of owed him for playing along while I’d pissed off my parents.

I was well practiced in walking away though. One dinner, and we’d be done.

My fingers flitted under the cool water gushing from the showerhead. The pipes sang a sad song, expanding and trembling within the thin white walls of my quaint two-bedroom loft above The Bucksaw Café. It seemed like it was taking forever for the hot water to kick in.

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