Peter pulls me in front of him and wraps his arms around me, making it extremely clear that we are not friends, we're more than that. "This is Sidney Colleli. We're on our way to see her family in Jersey."
Jon blinks and the smile falls off his face. "Are you guys getting married or something? Because Mom won't give her blessing after—"
Peter cuts off his younger brother. "No, we're not engaged or anything like that." Peter sounds wistful, rather than horrified, which bodes well. He earned some points for not freaking out. "Actually, Sidney's mom is dying. We're meeting Sean here for lunch."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Sidney. That's rough." Jonathan takes a long, slow breath and looks at Peter. "Do you want your title back?"
Peter laughs like that's the funniest thing he's ever heard. "Hell no. You keep it."
"Did Mom know you were coming?"
Peter shakes his head. "No, I wasn't sure if I'd need to head this way, so I didn't say anything."
Jon gives his brother a delighted smile. "Well, you couldn't have picked a better day to stop for lunch. Dad has trophy number forty-seven here, and if Sean is coming—fireworks, bro. It'll be awesome! Come on."
I glance at Peter, wondering what Jon means, but the guy already took off. "Does he run everywhere?"
Peter nods. "Pretty much. That was my younger brother, the idiot—that's what my dad calls him."
"Nice." Actually, it's anything but nice.
"Yeah. Jon kind of earned a reputation for being, ah, how shall we say this, impulsive. If he sees something he wants, he gets it. There's no forethought at all or at least not any that we've seen. He still acts like a kid, living life fast and hard. He wants every beautiful woman that crosses his path. If I wasn't standing here, he would have hit on you with a dazzling array of flattery. He's good like that, which is why he keeps getting himself in trouble. I hoped Jon would settle down a little when I left and take on some responsibilities, but apparently not. Sean wants to slap some sense into him. Jon must have done something crazier than usual this time."
I'm still caught on the fact that the Ferro brothers' features are so strikingly similar. It's like the three of them stepped out of the same mold. "How old is Jon? You guys look like triplets. It's kind of freaky."
Peter gives me a shy grin. "Yeah, we get that a lot. Sean is a little older, about a year, and Jon is about four years younger. He just started college when I left, so that makes him a junior next fall, assuming he went to class."
I smirk and look over at him as we walk toward that massive front door. Peter laces his fingers together with mine. I keep talking although nerves are filling my stomach. "I bet you always went to class, didn't you?"
"I'm the Goody Two-shoes of the family. Sean's the black sheep—or he sacrificed the black sheep when he sold his soul—and Jon's Jon. That pretty much sums it up."
"You're the straight-and-narrow brother? My God, who would have thought it?"
Peter laughs and squeezes my hand tight. "It's all in comparison, babe. Compared to Sean, I'm sane and civil. Compared to Jon I'm responsible and levelheaded. Compared to you, well, nothing compares to you so let's just say I'm lucky and leave it at that." He leans in and gives me a peck on the cheek.
I'm sitting at a long table with light-colored linens. There's an enormous bouquet at the center with every shade of pink you can imagine. A long crystal stem holds the arrangement off the table so it doesn't block our line of sight. Brightly colored roses are the focal points with little crystals dripping over the sides—or maybe those are diamonds. The flatware is a matching shade of pale gold. I poke the knife with my finger, wondering how heavy it is.
Peter is seated across from me, and I'm right next to my favorite person again—Sean Ferro. As he lifts his napkin, Sean speaks softly so no one except me can hear his words. "Assessing whether or not it will fit in your purse?"
"I'll have the guards strip-search you on the way out if any of the flatware goes missing."
What a dick. It's like he's trying to start a fight with me on purpose. I redirect my barb with a comment that should shut him up. "I see you messed things up with Avery. Smooth move, Ferro." I'm not calling him by his first name to his face. It feels too intimate, as if I actually like him or something.
I smile at Peter, who is glaring at Sean. Sean looks perfectly civil, but everyone knows it's a facade.
Sean's voice is flat. "She had to work."
I blink at him, shocked. Work means more clients, which means she's with another guy right now. Avery didn't want another guy; she wanted Sean. I shouldn't say it, but I can't help it. "What did you do?" I barely know Avery, but I feel so bad for her. Sean doesn't bother answering me, not that I thought he would. "She deserves better."
"Agreed." Sean's single word packs a punch, and I have no sharp retort. He doesn't look at me for the rest of the meal. The man is an enigma with a dash of psycho.
The Ferros have a tradition of requiring all the children to be seated first, prior to their parents. Peter told me that it's supposed to promote family unity or something like that. I'm surprised that Sean is here with us. He's been such a bastard that I can't imagine him bending to anyone's wishes. Jonathan leans forward with both his elbows on the table and looks completely bored. Maybe that kid is like a high-strung collie and prefers running over sitting. I wonder what his story is, what the guy did to piss off his entire family because Jon seems utterly calm considering his mother is going to throttle him at any moment. Then again, the despondent, emotionally disconnected thing seems to be a Ferro trait. All three of them have it to some extent, even Peter. As for Jon and Sean, that's where the similarities stop—well, except for the heartbreak stamp plastered across their foreheads. I wonder if Sean was given a warm greeting like Peter. If so, I didn't see it.
A few moments after we are seated, the patriarch enters the room. Mr. Ferro is well past his prime with silvery hair and a broad smile on his face. Fit isn't the right word to describe him, but he's not overweight either. To make matters more interesting, there's a woman on his arm who is close to my age. She's wearing a clingy silver dress that dips insanely low, showing off very ample cleavage. She smiles at the boys and waves the tips of her fingers at everyone except me.
Jonathan mirrors her little wave and winks, but the other guys ignore her as if she'll be gone in a week. I watch Jon straighten as his father walks into the room. At first I think it's out of respect, but the way Jon's eyes light up when he sees the mistress makes me wonder if the youngest Ferro is crazy enough to steal his father's girlfriend. Damn, and I thought my family is messed up. Where is Mrs. Ferro, and why does she put up with this crap? I'd like to ask that question, but I don't. Instead I sit still with a polite smile on my face and wonder why Peter came back here.
When Mr. Ferro sits down and spies Sean, he's surprised, but when he glances at Peter, he's stunned. His shocked features instantly morph into a huge smile. Mr. Ferro rises, steps away from Boobie Barbie, and rounds the table. Just as Peter stands up, Mr. Ferro gives him a bear hug similar to the one Jon gave earlier. "Pete! It's so good to see you!"
His dad shoots out more questions than Jon. Peter doesn't actually answer any of them. Instead he just smiles and nods. When his father glances at me, Peter takes that as his cue for the introduction.
"Dad, this is Sidney Colleli." Peter sweeps his hand in my direction. Sean completely ignores the introduction and keeps tapping away at the screen on his phone. He took it out as soon as he sat down. I glance at Jon quickly and get a flirtatious nod, complete with charming smile.
Mr. Ferro has an impressed look on his face. "So you're the woman who brought my son back to the land of the living?" He says it like I did something miraculous, like Peter was six feet under. Everyone is looking at me, Sean included.
Was Peter really that far gone? He didn't seem like it when I met him. I knew he was hurting, but the shock on everyone's faces to see Peter here and happy isn't lost on me. "He's a good man."
Sean sounds bored, like my words will make him fall over and go comatose. "Of course he is. He's a Ferro."
"And you!" Mr. Ferro gives Sean a severe look. "You missed your mother's birthday and every major holiday in between."
"My apologies," Sean replies, sounding completely apathetic. "I've been working." Sean is wearing a black sweater that looks to be made of silk and a pair of dark jeans. There are boots on his feet, and his hair is messier than usual. It's a strong contrast between the suit he wore last night.
His father is obviously irritated with Sean. He's about to say something when another voice cuts him off.
"Well, well. Both my prodigal sons have returned." An older woman with golden hair appears. It's cut short and tapered to her head in a fashionable style. The cold depths of her eyes make her appear soulless. There's no light on her face. Maybe she adopted Jonathan, because he's still smirking at the mistress like he plans on hitting on her after lunch.
Mrs. Ferro walks over to Peter slowly, assessing him. A cornflower-blue suit makes her appear regal and utterly proper.
Mr. Ferro's voice is civil, but there's a lot of tension, as if there are decades of unspoken words and worries. "Constance."
Mrs. Ferro inclines her head, but that's all. She walks past Peter without a second look and takes the seat at the head of the table. Mr. Ferro sits sandwiched between his wife and his arm candy. Every single one of them acts like this is totally normal. My mother would have stabbed my dad with the salad fork if he cheated on her, never mind flaunting some bombshell and bringing her to lunch at our house. What the hell? I glance at Sean, but even he fails to comment on it. Oh my God, if this is normal, no wonder they're so messed up. The tension is so thick that it's choking me.