What he said doesn't register at first, and then when it does I shrug and smile. "Wait to see how many I throw around after we're together."
"Is that a promise?"
There are no maybes this time. I look at him in the mirror and nod. "Yes."
Peter takes my hands as we emerge from the elevator. Nerves flitter through my stomach. This hotel is way posher than any place I've ever stayed. It's daunting and makes me feel like my black dress is substandard. Peter is wearing a suit that he had with him. The only reason I have the black dress is that I anticipated needing it for my mother's funeral; otherwise we wouldn't be able to get into the restaurant here. I didn't pack any cocktail dresses. Peter's brother picked this hotel because he's been staying here.
Peter explains, "Sean is in town for business, but he stayed longer than usual. He hates New York. The guy shows up once a year and leaves as soon as he can." He glances at his watch. I'm starting to think that Peter is intentionally stalling, which is fine by me.
As we exit the elevator, I can see the swank restaurant in front of us. I hesitate. My feet slow, and Peter stops and looks over at me. I hate to state the obvious, but someone has to say it. "We can't afford this, Peter. The hotel cost a small fortune for the room. How are we supposed to pay for dinner too?"
"I'm a Ferro, Sidney. We have deep pockets."
"But you walked away—that money isn't yours anymore. The estate is your little brother's."
He pats my hand, "I have enough to last a while, so don't worry about it."
I tease, "What, do you have a trust fund somewhere that I don't know about?" He nods like it's nothing. "You're rich without being the heir?"
"I was trying to separate myself from the Ferro name and make it on my own."
"And I screwed that up." I lower my eyes to the floor as guilt chokes me. I ruined his life.
Peter lifts my chin and looks me in the eye. "You are exactly what I was looking for. It wasn't isolation or even walking away from my family—it was you. I needed you. I'd burn the trust fund and walk away right now if that's what it takes to show you how much you mean to me." Peter looks toward the hostess, who's been smiling at us from across the room, and then back at the elevator. "Come on, let's go. Forget this. I don't need Sean for this." Peter starts walking away.
I can't fathom what's going through his mind, but he tried to get this meeting with Sean multiple times. Walking away now would be silly. I don't even know what Peter hopes to gain by this meeting. I doubt it's going to be a hug-fest. I don't move. He stops and looks at me. "Money doesn't matter to you, does it?"
"I can always earn more. There are other things that are more precious. I guard those with my life."
The way he looks at me says everything. He means me—that he wants to protect me and take care of me. This meeting with his brother has something to do with protecting me, at least that's the way it seems. "Sidney, I have enough to get us through this. Come on, let's get out of here."
I shake my head and look back at the hostess. "No, this is what you wanted to do. I already made a mess of your life. I don't want to do it again."
Peter smiles at me. "You don't realize how much you're worth, how wonderfully perfect you are. You saved me, Sidney. I can't repay that debt, ever. You didn't screw up my life. You took a broken man and revived him. No one else could do that. It was you, it's always been you, since the first time I saw you walk into that little restaurant in Texas and you circled the floor. You have no idea how lucky I felt that you sat down at my table. You're an amazing woman."
I suck at receiving compliments, and that is the longest, most awesome compliment I've ever gotten. I want to look away, but Peter leans in and kisses me instead. It makes it easier to accept his words. I feel like all I do is take from him, and that I don't give him anything back, but maybe that's not accurate. I let the thought rest. I'll deal with it later. "I love you."
He kisses my forehead and says, "I love you, too. You ready?" I nod and we walk off to meet the craziest Ferro of them all—Sean.
Peter walks past the hostess, and says we're meeting someone. She offers to walk us back, but Peter is already cutting across the incredible room. I'm not sure where he's going until Peter slows as he comes to a table. Peter cuts through the restaurant from the side and approaches a man with his back to us. Peter must have circled the perimeter until he caught sight of his brother. I can't see Sean, and I'm nervous. I can't imagine what this must be like for Peter, but he seems unfazed.
There's a woman seated across from Sean. I can see her perfectly. She's leaning forward, with her dark hair spilling over her shoulders, saying something to Sean when she glances up. She stops speaking and stares at Peter as we approach. Peter is in front of me as we step up to their table.
The grip on my hand tightens a little bit and then releases. I stay a step back as Peter greets his brother. I wonder what they were like as children, if they knew how tragic their lives were going to be. No child thinks that anything like that will happen. The future is always bright; it isn't until you get there that you realize it isn't.
Sean introduces his brother to the woman at the table. "This is Pete Ferro."
Peter corrects, "Actually, I dropped the Ferro part. It's Dr. Peter Granz."
Sean's voice is deeper and more jaded sounding. "You took her name?"
Peter nods. "It felt right after everything that happened." Peter changed his name to hers after she died. That's so tragic and beautiful that I have to fight the awwwhhh that wants to crawl up my throat. I wonder what it does to him. Hearing her name every day must remind Peter of the life that slipped between his fingers.
They say a few more things before Peter looks over at me and pulls me forward. I've been hanging back like a wallflower. The woman across from Sean has been watching me, but she doesn't say anything to me. She's polite and asks if the men are twins. She looks like a model. Her hair has no frizz and her makeup looks like it was painted on by da Vinci. "This is Sidney Colleli."
Sean stands and turns to look at me. At that moment I see the striking similarities between the Ferro men. They look like photocopies, but Sean's eyes are different, harder. He inclines his head to me. "Good evening, Miss Colleli."
"Please, call me Sidney."
"Very well, Sidney." Peter pulls out the chair next to Sean and my heart flip-flops. Even if Peter doesn't think Sean is nuts, I'm not ready to breathe easy around him. I lower myself in the chair and then Sean sits back down. Peter takes the seat across from me and smiles. It's a look that says don't worry.
Sean glimpses over at me and says, "This is Avery Stanz, my…" I wonder why he hesitates. I look at the woman and an amused smile sparks at the corners of her mouth.
"Your, what?" she says, as she leans forward and bats her eyelashes at him. Sean narrows his gaze. I can't tell if they're teasing each other or if they have a relationship that's in the weird middle spot where no one wants to be the first person to call it what it is—dating.
Sean continues to gaze at her without speaking. I shift in my seat and look over at Peter. He gives me a look that says he has no idea.
Avery smirks and makes the introduction for him. "I'm Avery Stanz, his favorite call girl." She winks at Sean at the same time my face flames red. For a second I think she's teasing him, but the look on his face says otherwise.
Sean leans back in his chair, and he shakes his head. He's smiling, but I can't tell if he wants to strangle her or hug her. "I spoke too slowly. Now you both know how fucked up things have gotten and why I haven't left New York yet. I'm sure you noticed the pattern shift, Pete. Everyone else has." Sean's eyes shift back toward Avery as he's speaking. The look he gives her is so intense that I can't look.
Peter watches Sean but doesn't say anything. The silence drives me nuts, so I blurt it out. "For real? Like you sleep with men for money?"
Avery's perfectly pink lips switch from a coy, sexy grin to a big fat smile. She laughs and looks over at me like she didn't notice me before. "Ah, here we go. Sidney's my kind of girl—"
"I don't do girls," I squeak, which makes Avery start laughing. She lifts her napkin to her mouth to muffle the sound because it's way too loud for the restaurant. People look over at us. I'm pretty sure my face caught fire because there's no way blushing could possibly make it sting this bad, this long.
"Oh my God, she blushes, too!" Avery drops the napkin and grins at me.
Sean translates, "Avery blushes an abnormal amount for someone in her profession and has a tendency to say whatever random thought flies through her mind. She thinks you're her long-lost sister from the look on her face." Sean grimaces after I hear a scuffle under the table. I think she kicked Sean.
"Shut up! You'll scare her off," Avery teases.
I lean forward and raise my hand, like I'm in school. "Can we stop talking about me like I'm not here?"
Peter tries not to laugh and flashes his baby blues at me as he covers his mouth with his hand to hide the growing smile on his lips.
"Oh my God. I love her." Avery stands and smooths her dress before walking over to me. "You guys talk about boring man stuff. We're going to the bar to get better acquainted." Avery touches me lightly, but when I don't get up, she threads her arm through mine and pulls me.
"Um, I don't do girls."
"Yeah, I got that, sweetie." She's still laughing at me. "Come on. Let's leave the boys alone so they can talk."
Oh. Now I feel stupid—well, stupider. Avery holds on to me as we cross the room, arm in arm, toward the bar. An old guy nods at her, and I wonder if they know each other. A few male heads turn as we walk by. My dress is much more conservative than hers, so I assume they're looking at her. I'd die to have her body. It's all curves in all the right places.