“We plan on doing that once we’re back. Life was easier when I didn’t need to check so many boxes on my tax form.”

Avery rolled her eyes. “You’re marrying Mr. Country Western Superstar whose last single was number one for how many weeks?”

Trina laughed. “A few.”

“More like six, but who’s counting . . . and you’re so loaded, presidents call you to see which way you’re voting, and would you mind holding a fundraiser?”

“That was a governor, not the president.”

“Splitting hairs and you know it.”

Trina’s laughter grew. “God, I miss talking with you all the time.”

Yeah, Avery missed her friend, too. But since she became the other half of Wade Thomas, Trina was a little more preoccupied than when she was single. “It’s okay. The newness will wear off and I’ll be here.”

“God, I hope not. The sex is so good.”

“Now you’re just bragging.”

“It’s nice to have something to brag about. Seems like the only one who knew they had a functioning vagina was you.”

Avery looked at her dormant lap. “Glad we all have something to talk about, then,” she lied.

“Oh, is Shannon finally dating?”

“I don’t think pigs have learned to fly.” Avery leaned forward and circled Thursday. “I’ll call Shannon when I hang up with you.”

“Perfect.” Trina sighed. “Can you believe I’m getting married in a month?”

“I hope so, since I have a maid of honor dress hanging in my closet.”

“I’m so excited.”

And for the next thirty minutes, Trina relived every exciting moment so Avery could catch up.

The silence between the occasional noise of a fork touching a plate, or glass clinking against a table, was the only thing Avery could focus on.

Adeline sat across from her, perfectly alert, back straight, shoulders squared . . . fake smile in place. The proper English tea was her mom’s idea of a good time. They’d been meeting every other week for six months. Somehow, a friend joining them made enduring the two-and-a-half-, sometimes three-hour purgatory better. Today it was Margaret. Not Maggie, not Mags . . . Margaret. The stick up her ass was nearly as large as the one up Avery’s mom’s. Two women who lived in the same galaxy of one-upping the other would make most people squirm. Avery was simply happy the focus was off of her.

At least it had worked in the past.

“It’s been positively forever since I’ve seen you, Avery.”

Avery leaned in for the air kiss to the side of her cheek before the waiter tucked Margaret’s chair under her.

“My wedding, I think.”

Margaret’s fake pout was almost as bad as her phony smile. “Oh, yes. Such a shame about that divorce.”

“Oh, well. Have to get the first one out of the way sometime,” Avery said.

Adeline shot her a nasty look.

“I’m happy you’re so well adjusted with the situation. Bernie seemed like such a nice man.”

Avery was fairly certain that Margaret’s only barometer for judging Bernie’s character would have come from the two-second handshake at the receiving line during the reception. But like most of Adeline’s friends, people with money were quickly referred to as dear friends. It only took a season or two for those new friends to become old friends.

Margaret’s husband was a partner in an investment firm, and good ol’ Maggie herself was a domestic engineer that employed a housekeeper, a cook, and a driver. In short, Mags spent her time memorizing the names of the “important” people in her husband’s social circle and had high tea at the Waldorf as often as she could. The reason Avery knew so much about Margaret was because the woman was a mirror image of her mother.

Adeline had never held a job, although she did have a liberal arts degree. A piece of paper she waved over Avery repeatedly while she was in college, doing her best to flunk out. The problem was Adeline did nothing with her degree other than brag that she had one.

“I wouldn’t give up hope on Bernie. He’s still in love with Avery,” Adeline told Margaret.

“I wouldn’t bet money on that,” Avery said.

“He would take you back in a breath.”

The waiter took that moment to walk up to the table. “Ladies?”

He was tall, young, and very cute.

“Champagne,” Avery spat out before her mother could order them all tea.

“Avery, please. It’s teatime.”

The waiter kept his smile in the corner of his eye. He’d obviously seen women like her enduring tea with their mothers before.

“Fine.” Avery smiled. “I’ll take some tea with that as well.”

The waiter tried not to laugh.

As expected, her mother ordered all the fancy proper tea bullshit without asking anyone’s opinion. By the time the wine came to the table, Adeline and Margaret were deep in the gossiping world of who said and did what.

“And did you hear that Avery is the maid of honor for her dear old friend Trina Petrov and Wade Thomas’s wedding?”

“I do think I heard about that. Isn’t he someone famous?”

Avery didn’t even try to open her mouth and get a word in. Adeline felt she had a name to drop, so she did.

“Only the wealthiest country music singer out there.”

Avery wasn’t sure that was true, but again, she just sipped her champagne and let her mom gossip.

“Maybe you’ll meet the right man at the wedding,” Margaret suggested.

I’m not looking!

“Never know,” Avery said instead. The conversation about Avery’s future husband had started at birth. Men want educated wives. You’ll never find a proper husband if you continue to be outspoken. Polite women find proper husbands. That had been Adeline’s constant diatribe at every family dinner, every school visit. Howard, Avery’s dad, chimed right in with the expected “Yes, dear” and “Listen to your mother.” It was no wonder that Avery fostered temporary friends with benefits over relationships her entire adult life. The last thing she wanted to do was become what her mother wanted her to be. Polite, respectable Avery Grant were words that would never pass anyone’s lips.

The tiers of finger food arrived at the table to help soak up the liquor. She reached for the sandwiches at the same time her mother did.

“What happened to your hand?”

Avery glanced at her krav maga battle scars. Her knuckles were purple and blue after her sparring match with Leslie.

“You should have seen the other guy.”

Adeline sucked in a breath. “That isn’t funny.”

“I accidently hit it against the wall, Mother. Relax.”

“You should be more careful. Men don’t like women who are bruised and broken.” Her mother dismissed all concern for her hand with her retort.

“Good thing I’m not looking for one, then.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you are.”

Avery bit into the tiny cucumber sandwich, which tasted a lot better than it sounded, and then washed it down. “I’m working, Mother. Making good money and have a purpose other than being another man’s possession. You might want to get used to the idea.”

“You’re working?” Margaret turned her attention toward Avery.

“It’s a silly little hobby she picked up last year,” Adeline jumped in.

“A full-time hobby that is making me six figures a year. Without being shackled to anyone.” Especially her parents.

“Grant women don’t work. This is just a season.”

“Sure, whatever you say, Mother.”

The stiffness in Adeline’s upper lip displayed her displeasure with the entire conversation.

“Are you serious about not wanting to marry again?” Margaret asked.

“Been there, done that . . . got the check. I’m doing fine on my own.”

Adeline started to grumble before Margaret jumped in.

“I don’t understand why you bothered with plastic surgery, then. Isn’t the whole point of those things . . . to find or keep a man?”

Avery blinked a few times. “What are you talking about?”

Margaret lowered her voice and leaned forward. “Your nose job, dear.”

Inadvertently, she lifted her hand to her face. Her blood started a familiar beat in her head. “That wasn’t a choice.”

“We should just drop it, Margaret. Avery is very sensitive about her surgery.”

Avery pinned her mother with a look. “I’m sensitive about why I had surgery. I don’t give a crap about the nose job.”

“I don’t understand. I thought you said Avery was fine-tuning her face to attract another man.”

The confusion started to settle in Avery’s mind. “So you told Margaret that I had surgery but didn’t tell her the truth behind why?” she asked her mother.

Adeline blinked several times and kept her chin up. “I didn’t want you to be embarrassed, darling. Everyone has nose jobs. It’s not a big deal.”

Avery placed both hands on the table and leaned forward. “Someone rearranged my nose on my face with the bottom of his boot, Mother.”

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