“Your father came out of the conference room this morning before I went in there. Deborah was there and I was just talking to her about what a good job she does around here and she started crying.”
Seth looked uncomfortable as he said, “You think my father made her cry? Did she say something?”
“Not really. I mean, she didn’t say anything about your father but she did say something strange to me.”
“She said you were a good boy and not your father… something like that. Then she looked me dead in the eye and said, “But be careful, don’t make the same mistakes I did.” I was about to ask her what she meant when everyone came in.”
“She was warning you about me?”
“I don’t think it was so much about you and me as it was her… maybe her and your father… I thought.”
Seth raised both eyebrows then and said, “You think my father and Deborah are…? Ew!”
I laughed at that. “Seth, your father is what…? Maybe fifty-five. He’s a nice looking man. You don’t think he sees women?”
He shrugged and said, “I suppose. I just don’t like to think about it. Especially not with Debbie.”
“Why? You don’t like Deborah?”
“No. It’s because I do like Deborah. She’s way too good for him.”
“Seth!” I tried to sound incredulous, but I laughed and gave myself away.
“I’m serious,” he said. “He claimed to love my mother and to this day claims it’s why he stayed single after she died… but I was there; I saw how he treated my mother. She deserved better too. A lot better. My mother was an incredible woman and he treated her like dirt.”
“How long ago did your mother pass away?”
“Five years ago,” he said. “I miss her every day.”
“Yeah, I know how you feel,” I said.
“I’m sorry, Erin. You lost both of your parents and a lot younger than I lost mine. I’m being insensitive. I got off track anyways. What was the point of all of this again?”
“I was just wondering how Deborah knew about us more than anything.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been bragging, although I think I have a right to,” he grinned and waggled his eyebrows up and down.
I laughed, “You’re hopeless.”
“Seriously,” he said. “Do you mind people knowing? I mean, I guess we haven’t talked about exclusivity but I know that I don’t want to see anyone else and I’d love to be thought of as part of a couple with you.”
“You’re so sweet sometimes,” I said. Once again he’d made me warm all over.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just sometimes. The rest of the time, you’re still a little arrogant.”
He laughed, “There’s my outspoken red-head. But you didn’t answer the question.”
“No, I don’t care that people know. I’d like to be known as half of that couple as well.”
“Good,” he said with a wink. “Because I was hoping to take you to the Ball this weekend.”
“Oh this,” I said, picking up the invitation.
“Yep, that. My father puts it on every year. It’s like a thank you for the shareholders and top performers of the company. I’d love it if you would go with me as my official date.”
How could I refuse? A night to get dressed up like a princess and debut on Seth’s arm—good! A night with the opportunity to get inside the inner sanctum and do a little bit of snooping—great. Coming face to face with James at last… not so good, but doable. “I’d love to,” I told him.
After I said yes to Seth about the ball, I was equal parts of excited and terrified. I started out the week excited. I left work early for the first time since I started the job at Hunter Corp. and I went shopping. I love to shop, but for me this trip was a nerve-wracking experience. I was going to be on the arm of the CEO. That alone would put the spotlight on me. I was also going to be meeting his father for the first time. That would have been nerve-wracking in and of itself. But this was not just any father. This was the man I had loved to hate most of my life, my arch nemesis.
I went from boutique to department store and even to the mall. Then I went back to the boutique and once again to the mall for my shoes and a purse to match the gown I had finally settled on. I’d gone back and bought the first dress that I tried on. It was a dark green formal evening dress. The boutique called it a “Military Ball” dress. It was a sleeveless, sequined mermaid style dress with a brush train in the back. The neck was a split “V” design and it fit like a sleeve across my bust, waist and hips. I loved it the first time I tried it on but was worried that maybe it was too much. After I tried on several others, I decided that I wasn’t going to do any better in terms of style or a color that would flatter my bright hair, my green eyes and my pale skin.