I move out of his bedroom and into the lounge, slipping a pod into the machine on autopilot.
‘Alicia Jane Douglas. Would you mind telling me what the hector you’re doing?’
‘I’m making coffee,’ I say only half-jokingly. ‘Where’s the outrage in that?’
‘Young lady, I’m serious.’
Young lady? Uh-oh. In my mom’s native tongue that’s really, really serious. It sobers me.
‘What about? What’s happened?
‘“Ethan Ash isn’t wasting any time moving on from Sienna Di Giorgio after her shock engagement to Tom Banks. The Grammy award-winning star was seen leaving his hotel with the same mystery woman he was spotted out and about with in SoHo last week. Could romance be on the cards for the heartbroken singer?”’
I grab the coffee cup out of the machine and stare at it, my heart racing. ‘What is that?’
‘It’s in the papers,’ she hisses. ‘I’ve had a photographer come to my house. This morning!’
Worse and worse. My mother believes calling on someone before midday is just plain rude. I grimace.
‘I’m sorry, Mom. It’s... It’s not like it sounds.’
‘Alicia, your father and I have barely recovered from your last run-in with poor decision-making. We’ve hardly lived down the reputation of what you did then. And now this article? Your father is the minister of this town, missy. How the hector is he going to explain this to his congregation?’
Colour flames my cheeks and a noise behind me alerts me to Ethan’s presence.
‘The same way he did last time,’ I say, not caring that Ethan’s there. ‘What I do has nothing to do with you or him. You can say what you want. Disown me.’
‘It’s not that simple. You are, in fact, our daughter. You moved to Manhattan and assured us you wouldn’t be changed by it. That you’d be the same good girl we raised. And now you’re sleeping with married men and celebrities?’
Pain lashes through me. Because even my mother can see that being with Ethan falls into the same category of foolhardy as my relationship with Jeremy.
‘It’s okay, Mom. This isn’t a big deal.’
‘It’s a big deal to me! And to your father!’
Invoking Daddy is another sign that she’s seriously pissed off.
‘So? Who is this man? Did you really spend the night in his hotel?’
Argh! Possibly the least comfortable conversation of my life and Ethan Ash is watching me, one shoulder propped against the doorframe, his eyes resting on me with undisguised interest.
‘It’s not serious,’ I say slowly, and then wince.
‘Not serious? You’re giving your body to a man and it’s not serious? Good Lord, who are you? I think it’s time for you to come home. Spend some time with your father and me, remember how we raised you.’
‘Mom...’ I shake my head. ‘It’s okay. My immortal moral soul is not in jeopardy.’
Ethan laughs—just a soft sound, but it pulls at me. It pulls at me in a way that makes me need him. Not sexually, though. I need him to hug me.
Everything is spinning out of control—and the irony is that it’s because of him yet I want him to fix it.
‘You’re laughing at me.’ My mother sniffs.
‘I’m not, Mom, I’m really not. But I’m twenty-five years old. I think I can be trusted to handle my own life.’
‘You had an affair with a married man!’ she exclaims, and I cringe, squeezing my eyes shut. ‘You brought him home to us. You clearly aren’t handling your life.’
‘I had no way of knowing that,’ I remind her softly. Her outrage hurts. The facts of my situation were all she cared about, and not the extenuating circumstances—like Jeremy’s psychopathy. Nor the fact that there was no way for me to know that my ‘fiancé’ was a married father of two!
‘I want you to come home.’
‘No.’ I square my shoulders. ‘I know you’re worried about me, Mom. But I’m fine. I’ll... I’ll come for Christmas, okay?’
I instantly regret the promise, but it does its job and mollifies her.