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Cinnamon (Spice and Stone Book 1)

Cinnamon (Spice and Stone Book 1)

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Cinnamon Cooper’s biggest fear is that the world will discover she’s the daughter of the notorious Anise Crystal, whose high-profile escapades make headlines regularly. The latest bombshell? The late Richard Greystone left a large share of his family company to Anise, creating chaos in the Greystone family and sending the public into a frenzy of speculations.

 As the rumors swirl, Cinnamon can’t help but wonder: is Richard Greystone her elusive father? Had he been Anise’s lover?

 Enter Jaxon Wilde, a charmer from the Greystone inner circle, who captivates Cinnamon at a lavish perfume launch on her twenty-fourth birthday.

 Instant attraction sparks between Cinnamon and Jaxon, but the looming revelation about her infamous lineage threatens to derail their budding romance. Now, Cinnamon faces a dilemma: continue the sizzling connection with Jaxon and risk the explosive truth, or brace herself for being dropped like a hot potato when he discovers her mother’s shocking identity.

 Cinnamon must decide whether to follow her heart or succumb to the shadows of her mother’s notorious past. Get ready for a rollercoaster of passion, intrigue, and the ultimate test of true love.

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Chapter One

Cinnamon entered the hairdressing parlor and spa where her sister worked and tried to sit unobtrusively in the stylish waiting room. She would probably wait for Cayenne for a while; it was a little after five, and they had agreed to meet at five-thirty. It was her birthday, and they were going to celebrate, but she didn't mind the wait.
The waiting area was like a hotel lounge; the chairs were comfortable, the smell there was amazing and soft jazz music played in the background, creating a serene atmosphere. She would flip through some magazines, see the latest hair trends and spa treatments, and covertly watch the customers come and go. You had to have money to afford Lookbook Hair and Spa's services.
They were a full-service beauty place owned and operated by Tony Ray, who was famous as a stylist to local celebrities and a few international ones. After being on her own for two years, her sister had been over the moon happy to get her own station at this particular salon. She made more money here, met many influential people, and was usually the first to hear when juicy stories broke nationally.
Unfortunately for them, their mother, Anise Crystal, was dominating the current news cycle again. Even today's local newspapers, displayed on the magazine rack beside her, had as the headline: “Former Escort Anise Crystal says she deserves every penny she inherited from the late Senator Richard Greystone. His wife, Noreen Greystone, says not so fast!”
Cinnamon read the first couple of paragraphs:
The war between the late Richard Greystone's family, owners of the Caribbean's leading wine company, Greystone Wines, and Anise Crystal, known for her relationships with high-profile men and who had in the past dabbled with prostitution, has escalated. Noreen Greystone, determined to protect her family's legacy and the reputation of Greystone Wines, hastily organized a press conference at the vineyard estate. Standing before a backdrop adorned with the vineyard's iconic spice and stone logo, she addressed the media with poise and frustration.
“As the wife of the late Senator Richard Greystone and co-owner of Greystone Wines, I was blindsided by my husband’s will. I am not disputing how he wanted to disburse his personal wealth; it was his to do with as he pleased. But leaving shares in our family business to Anise Crystal is a slap in the face to everything we've built together,” Noreen declared, her voice unwavering. “Greystone Wines has been a labor of love, a testament to the dedication and passion that our family has poured into it for generations. To see it potentially tainted by associations that run contrary to the values we hold dear is both distressing and unacceptable.
“The family's legal team will be challenging the validity of the contested bequest. We vow to protect the interests of Greystone Wines and its stakeholders, ensuring that the vineyard will continue to thrive with the same excellence it has always been known for.”
In the meantime, Anise Crystal has responded to Noreen’s press conference with a sly wink and her signature sultry smile.
“Richard has his reasons for giving me equal shares as his sons in the family business. I intend to honor his generosity by accepting those shares. I have run a business selling wigs for years; it is reputable and profitable. I resent the inferences that Noreen Greystone is making about me, that I am somehow not worthy.
“I say, bring on the lawyers, grandma. I have my own lawyers, too.”
Cinnamon grimaced. She didn't need to read further. At that point, Anise was taunting the family.
Admittedly, it was all salacious and juicy; speculations ran rife as to why the Senator would leave most of his personal wealth to a non-family member and, worst of all, to Anise, a woman who had admitted publicly to doing sex work when she was barely in her teenage years.
That, too, had been a recent interview where Anise had told snippets of her life story, stuff that Cinnamon and her sisters hadn't heard before.
“I did sex work at the tender age of thirteen. I needed to do it to survive after I ran away from home. It was a dark time in my life. No child should ever have to do that. I had customers who many would regard as standard bearers in this society. Let me tell you, there are freaks all over society, and you should not put anyone on a pedestal.”
That interview had coincided with Richard Greystone's death and revelation of the contents of his will. And suddenly, there were all sorts of theories floating around town. The chief one was that Richard Greystone had been a customer of Anise when she was a child prostitute and had left her his money and shares in his wine company to assuage his guilty conscience.
His reputation was taking a posthumous beating in the public sphere. His three sons and their children were catching heat for some of the speculations floating around. They couldn’t grieve in peace. For some sections of society, they were guilty by association.
Everyone was shell-shocked, including her.
Her mother’s story had always been fodder for local gossip. Anise had lived quite a fascinating life. She had run away from home at twelve years old, got pregnant at thirteen for a mystery man, and refused to share his name with anyone, including Cinnamon, the result of that pregnancy.
She had married Paul Aubry, the famous sculptor, at eighteen and became his muse. She made the news when she found out that Paul was molesting the two children they had together. She had almost killed him; luckily, her aim was bad, and the bullet intended for his head had missed by a few inches.
According to the news, Paul had run out of their upscale neighborhood with Anise screeching behind him, “Not my babies! Not my babies! I will kill you!”
Neighbors had to intervene, taking the gun from her, which by that time had run out of bullets.
There were also her public breakups with a succession of high-profile men. After every breakup, Anise’s pictures would be plastered across the papers, social media, and the internet. And that’s where Cinnamon had a problem.
She looked exactly like her mother. And if someone didn’t know that she was Cinnamon Cooper, an accountant at Moretti Bedding Company, they would assume she was the woman in the pictures.
Granted, Anise wore loads of makeup and various colored wigs, but the resemblance was there, nevertheless. Looking at Anise was like seeing herself in costume.
That was why she didn’t wear makeup or wigs or dress suggestively. That would make her Anise Crystal’s clone. It was eerie how much she resembled her mother. She saw her face staring back at her from newspapers everywhere she went.
They had the same almond-shaped eyes, the same dark caramel-hued skin, the same thick curly hair, the same pouty lips, and cute little upturned nose. They had the same body shape, way of laughing, and hand gestures. Her great-grandmother, Sadie Murphy, who she had lived with until age twelve, used to say, “Anise gave birth to herself when she had you.”
And it was true.
They were nothing alike in temperament or personality, though. Where her mother was outgoing and the life of the party, Cinnamon preferred to be in the background. She liked quieter pursuits.
But they looked alike, and that was enough. Whenever the various scandals involving her mother broke out, and she was pushed into the limelight, that uncanny resemblance would haunt Cinnamon. Luckily, her sisters looked nothing like Anise, so they passed under the radar quite fine. This burden was hers to bear alone.
Currently, Cinnamon was living like a hermit because of the resemblance. Since the latest will fiasco, she was practically living in fear that someone with a keen eye would look at the pictures of Anise and ask, “Isn't this you in heavy makeup and a wig?”
She didn't date because of that reason. If a guy knew who her mother was, inevitably, he would start to mix the two of them in his head and assume that she had the same good-time girl persona her mother portrayed to the public. There would be certain sexual expectations of her, and it happened like clockwork. She was fed up with it.
One lecturer in her final year of college had asked her to go into the parking lot with him after class; he had actually said he would pay her. That was at the height of another of her mother’s scandals when she had a blow-up with her famous boyfriend, and he had called her a glorified whore. The papers had run with that for weeks, and her lecturer had trouble separating her from the storyline.
She had reported the lecturer, of course. The university gave him a slap on the wrist and completely sided with him, basically calling her a liar. She hadn’t dated since then. She had put herself under house arrest; her life was boring with a capital “B,” and she was not altogether sorry about it.
Until she found someone worthy of getting hot and bothered about, who saw her as an individual and not a piece of meat or judged her based on her mother's colorful reputation, she would be quite happy not to put herself out there.
Most people would not believe if she told them that she had never kissed a guy. She had never been moved before. Ironically, Anise had drummed that into her head into her late teens.
“Do not get intimate with someone unless you really want to. Don’t let society force you into thinking that everyone is doing it. Set your own pace, girlie! If you never want to do it, don’t. If you feel like doing it, come and talk to me about birth control because I will not be a grandmother in my early thirties!”
Cinnamon smiled at the irony. Anise’s mother, Rosemary, had become a grandmother in her thirties.
It was her twenty-fifth birthday, and she couldn't help but feel far behind developmentally.
She didn't want her twenties to pass her by while she cowered in a corner, afraid to show her face. Maybe she should move to another country; she had studied international accounting with that in mind.
While she was thinking, some women had come in, chatting and laughing, carefree and happy. One of them was getting married soon, and they were there to have a group massage and makeovers. They giggled when one of them joked about bikini waxes, and Cinnamon watched them enviously. They looked to be her age.
It was nice to have girlfriends who you were at ease with, to help you with your wedding, and to share jokes with. Her two closest friends were overachievers; Nafia and Ella were too busy to hang out these days. Nafia was doing her doctorate and working full-time as a lecturer. Ella was doing her law degree and recently had a baby.
Ella was the reason Cinnamon was working at Moretti Bedding; her boyfriend, Marco Moretti, owned the company. His lone accountant, Sheila, had been perishing from all the work and needed help.
Ella had suggested Marco hire her, and while she had been grateful for the job so soon after college, she hadn’t needed to send out resumes and beat the pavement like her peers, but she was usually swamped with work. Moretti Bedding still needed at least two other accountants, at least someone to deal with payroll exclusively. And Marco was thinking of expanding. At this point, she was so busy she may never have a meet-up with her friends again.
At least she had her sister Cayenne. The three-bedroom townhouse had belonged to their grandmother, Rosemary, but for some unknown reason, when Cinnamon turned eighteen, she had handed her the key and the deed to the property and told her, “This is yours. You can continue to rent it or go on your own, whatever you desire. I know you want to escape living with Anise.”
Cinnamon had opted to escape, as her grandmother had so succinctly put it. Being on her own would be no different than living with Anise in her penthouse apartment decorated in unrelieved pink.
Cayenne and Sage joined her shortly after that; they were fourteen and twelve at the time, so she acted as her sisters' mother for a few years.
Sage was still at Mount Faith, a university in the hills; it was far enough from Kingston and bad influences. Sage had gone through a rebellious stage that had worried them all.
It was a relief that she had passed her external exams and had gotten into college. The college was far enough from the Kingston environment to give her a reset.
“You weren’t waiting long, were you?” Cayenne pushed her head around the waiting room corner and winked at her. “Why so glum, girl? It's your birthday. We're gonna party like it's your birthday.”
Her sister was always a bundle of sunshine. Born with a sunny personality and unmatched enthusiasm for life. It shone from her face.
Her hazel eyes were always dancing with joy; they tended to be greener in certain lights. Cayenne looked more like her father, Paul Aubrey. She had his coloring—light skin and green hazel eyes—but she had inherited their mother's height and modelesque build. All three of them had inherited that from Anise. This month, Cayenne was rocking blonde braids that hit her somewhere near her hips.
She was pretty and sweet and lovable. Cinnamon's heart melted when she saw her; bless Cayenne for wanting to celebrate her birthday.
“Happy birthday, Cinnamon,” Tasha, one of the hairdressers, came around the corner. The rest of the people in the waiting room wished her a happy birthday, too, so much for being unobtrusive. Cinnamon grinned and tried to bear it.
“Come on, girl,” her sister said brightly. “Let's get cracking. I have a surprise for you.” Cinnamon got up and sighed. She hated surprises.
“Okay, so remember last week when I was on the phone with Alex, and she squealed out loudly, and you asked me what was wrong with her?”
“Yes,” Cinnamon nodded.
Cayenne and her bestie, Alexandria, were always on the phone, squealing about something; they acted like they were still in high school when they were talking with each other.
“The reason she was squealing was, drum roll, please,” Cayenne said eagerly.
Cinnamon looked at her and said without enthusiasm, “Drumroll.”
“You are supposed to make a sound, not say it,” Cayenne said, “anyway, my customer, Devina Shae, used to be a model…”
Cinnamon groaned.
“She was hosting her fifth perfume launch party at her mansion in the hills and gave me two invites. I would have taken Alex, but it's your birthday, so you get to go instead. I cannot abandon you on your birthday.”
Cinnamon stifled a sigh. She had a new accounting system to navigate on her own so it had been a rough day at work and the middle of the week.
Going to a party was not her kind of scene. Enjoying a three-course meal at her favorite Italian restaurant, Bud and Sally's, would have been nice, though. It was just around the corner from the townhouse. She would start with their signature Caprese salad, with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil drizzled with balsamic glaze. After the Caprese salad, she'd go for their homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli. She'd finish off with their Nutella-flavored gelato.
“Your lack of enthusiasm is telling,” Cayenne said as she opened her car door.
“I was thinking Bud and Sally’s,” Cinnamon said. “I can literally smell the aroma of garlic and herbs wafting through their kitchen right now, and it's close to the townhouse.”
“But we can go to Bud and Sally's anytime. Tonight, I want us to dress up and rub shoulders with the bougie. Who knows, maybe you might meet someone you like. I'm getting concerned about you.”
Cinnamon rolled her eyes and got in the car. Cayenne just voiced her number one fear. Was something seriously wrong with her? Where was her sex drive, her attraction to others? Not even a spark was lit with anyone since her late teens.
“Maybe something is wrong with me,” Cinnamon said out loud.
Cayenne laughed. “I refuse to believe that. There is someone for everyone; maybe you haven’t found your someone yet. When you do, you won't be able to contain yourself. I can't wait to see it. Maybe he is at this party.”
“Maybe he is at Bud and Sally's,” Cinnamon countered.
“Oh really,” Cayenne laughed, “we've been going to Bud and Sally's for four years; have you ever seen anyone there to stir your interest?”
“No,” Cinnamon said.
“Aren't you more likely to find someone at an uptown party put on by Devina Shae, one of the most connected hostesses this side of Jamaica?”
“I am not looking for someone,” Cinnamon said. “And I am not in the party mood.”
“The way you live is unhealthy,” Cayenne snorted, “you go from work to home, and you don’t socialize on the weekends.”
“Because I have my mother's face,” Cinnamon said.
“And it's a beautiful face,” Cayenne said, “the resemblance is not as glaring as you think. Anise's true face is covered underneath a pound of makeup and her various wigs. You are much prettier than she is; you look far more natural and less world-weary. You need to show off that face. You, my dear sister, are going to live your life too. You will have a wonderful birthday night at this uptown party, even if I have to force you to have fun.”
“Okay already,” Cinnamon huffed, “but we are not staying past ten o'clock. I have a hard day's work tomorrow; it's payroll time, and the senior accountant refuses to use the new software, so it's all down to me. I mean it, Cayenne, not a minute past ten.”

Chapter Two

Jaxon Wilde stood in the shadows beside a potted ficus tree with a drink in his hand. He was bored out of his mind. His mother had invited him to her fourth—or was it fifth? —perfume launch. He had forgotten which number it was, but it made her happy when he showed his support for one of these ventures, so he had done her bidding. He couldn't say no. He was happy that she was returning to life, throwing parties, and working the social scene; she was even dating again. Her newest fiancé, Nelson Greystone, was sticking close to her, his hand casually splayed on her half-naked back.
Jax didn’t know how he felt about that. The Greystones were family friends; Nelson's children were a part of his life in some capacity or the other. He was best friends with Leo, Nelson’s oldest child, and for a few years, he had been engaged to and lived with Carissa, Nelson’s daughter.
Currently, Nelson was a potential investor in what would be his dream villa concept on ten miles of white sand beach in St. Mary. It would be expensive, and Jax needed the backing of rich investors like Nelson.
It would be a drop in the bucket for Nelson. He was one of the richest men in Jamaica; his personal net worth was impressive, and that was without his recently deceased father’s wealth added to it. But he hadn’t signed yet. When he signed, everybody would want to hop on.
Jax grimaced. A lot was riding on this latest venture, and Jax was weary of the many overlapping lines between him and Nelson Greystone. Anything could make Nelson pull away on the personal front.
If he married his mother, there would be an added blurry layer between business and the personal.
And maybe not; Nelson had not batted an eyelid when he heard Jax and Carissa were no longer together.
“You would have made a fine son-in-law,” Nelson had said regretfully. “But Carissa said it was her choice to leave, and I know how that feels. When your mother broke up with me, I thought the world had ended.”
Jax had politely smiled through the story, silently wishing he wasn't as ambitious, and needed Nelson Greystone's money to make his dreams happen.
His fingers were crossed, the relationship between him and Devina will work this time. Nelson was single again after his second wife Sandrea had divorced him nearly a year ago, and his mother was single again after husband number three, Williard Wentworth, had a sudden heart attack and died.
No doubt Nelson had ceased his chance to rekindle their romance. They had been high school sweethearts. But had gone their separate ways when his mother met Darren Wilde and fell head over heels in love with the actor who had been the heartthrob in his day.
Nelson had licked his wounds and finally moved on and married someone, too, but through the years, he had made it clear that Devina Shae had been his one true love.
His mother never made any statements like that. She fell in and out of love as easily as she changed her shoes.
After divorcing her second husband, Lorenzo Moretti, she had been giddily in love with her third husband, Williard Wentworth. Williard had seemed to love her just as much. He had been devoted, even going so far as overzealously upping his exercise regime to impress his younger wife. Unfortunately, that had contributed to his demise; he had a heart attack at the gym.
Devina had grieved at his passing, and six months later, she was in love again. Nelson probably thought he had finally hit the jackpot.
She was still beautiful and youthful looking at fifty-five. People were usually taken aback when she introduced him as her eldest son. She usually had to clarify that she had him in her twenties with her first husband, Darren Wilde, the famous actor.
His parents had married quite young and divorced a few years later. He had lived with his father’s parents while Devina had flitted around the globe, first as a model and then as the face of her perfume company.
When she moved back home after a few years of living abroad, she returned with a new Italian husband, Lorenzo Moretti, and a baby son, Marco.
It had taken Jaxon years to get over his resentment of the usurpers. He had even grown attached to Lorenzo, who stuck around for twelve years, long after their marriage had died, and then he left and went back to Italy. Jax had been devastated by that divorce.
“When I marry, it will be forever,” he had promised himself fiercely. He didn't want to make the same mistakes as his mother; he didn't want to put any child of his through the revolving door of different partners that had been his life while his mother sought love and companionship.
He took things slow. Maybe too slow? Carissa certainly thought so. They had been together for five years and lived together for two, and he had not been particularly moved to take things to the next level.
“I knew I would find you over here, hiding in the shadows,” Marco walked over to him.
“Hey, little brother,” Jax murmured. “Why are you stalking me?”
“Because I sent you an email, and you haven’t responded,” Marco said. “You were the one who said I should send you a comprehensive proposal and you would get back to me. I am still waiting; I deserve peace of mind to know whether you will invest.”
“I will invest in your expansion,” Jax said. “I’ll have my secretary send over a more thorough response. I’ll pay you a visit tomorrow and glance over the books. That’s your only warning of my coming.”
Marco grunted. “It's fine; I have good accountants.”
“You do know how I normally do things, don't you? I will spend three or more months at your office and bring my team. We stick around and make sure that everything is in tip-top shape, and then I leave one of my trusted lieutenants on your staff.”
“Yes!” Marco said excitedly. “Anything you say, anything you want.”
Jax sighed inwardly. What was he doing with shares in a bedding company?
He was mainly a property investor; he only gave special attention to companies he was interested in, which were usually linked to the construction industry.
This would be a sacrifice on his part, but one he would willingly do for Marco, who had taken over the business from his father and wanted to make it bigger and better than how he got it.
He had intended to spend two months off the grid at his cabin in the Blue Mountains for a well-needed vacation after the major headache that was his latest investment—the Wilde Building in New Kingston. It was a multi-purpose residential complex that had all the amenities and functionality of a luxury hotel.
He usually rested himself after high-octane big projects like that. But Marco needed help, and this was his area of expertise. He invested in small companies, helped them to grow, and kept some shares. He hadn’t made any losses to date.
“I am going to take a picture or two with Ma, and then I am going to sleep over here in my old room,” Marco said tiredly. “I was up all of last night with Noah; he is teething. Ella is studying for her bar exams, and I was babysitting.”
Jax chuckled. “Why don’t you two hire a babysitter?”
“She called in sick,” Marco sighed. “Ella said all this is a part of parenting, and I should deal.”
Jax laughed. “I didn't think you two would still be together, and now you have a kid together. Make sure you stick it out for Noah's sake.”
“I know, I tell myself that every day,” Marco sighed, “but I don't know… there is this girl at work. I can't get her out of my mind…”
Jax frowned at his brother fiercely.
“I know, she is off-limits. It's just that I am young; I am just twenty-six. I never lost my sight when I moved in with Ella. You lived with Carissa; were you a hundred percent faithful?”
“Yes,” Jax nodded. “Carissa and I had a pact. If either of us wanted to cheat, we would end it.”
“I can't make a pact like that with Ella; she’d kill me,” Marco said wearily. “Anyway, gotta go; I feel woozy. I need a bed, stat.”
He walked away unsteadily.
Jax scowled. Thanks a lot, little brother, for bringing up Carissa.
He was certain she would show up tonight. She was his mother's publicist; she had started her own business a few years ago and was working hard to make a go of it.
He wondered idly if he would be moved if he saw her tonight. It would be his first time seeing her since she left their apartment. She had called it quits three months ago after two years of them living together.
“I'm in love with someone else,” she had walked into the living room with her bags packed. “As agreed, we tell each other if something like this should happen, so I would like to end it with you before I move in with him.”
She had kissed him on his brow and left.
Her abrupt departure from his home and his life had hurt, admittedly. He wondered who she would bring as her date tonight. From what he had heard through the grapevine, she and the guy she had left him for hadn't made it past a month. His attention was fixed on the entrance to the pool area, hoping to get a glimpse of her.
He moved further into the shadows, leaned on the balustrade, and placed his drink on the wall. And then he saw a vision of beauty.
She was wearing a black sheath dress which hugged her modest curves.
Her hair was curly and long, in a side part; she wore bright red lipstick that emphasized her generous lips, and she had a killer shape.
He straightened up from the wall; a shaft of awareness ran through his body. Instant hot attraction swamped him, flooded his system, and made him slightly dizzy.
He had never in his life experienced that before. It was as if everything in his life up to now had just fallen into place.
He needed to know who she was. He felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Hey.” It was Carissa.
He had been so focused on the girl he hadn’t seen her come in.
“Hey,” he dragged his eyes reluctantly from the beautiful girl, gave Carissa a half smile, and then fixed his attention back to the girl.
“What a warm welcome,” Carissa declared. “I guess you haven't forgiven me for walking out on you?”
“Huh?” He dragged his attention from the girl and back to Carissa.
“You are punishing me. You are still mad that I left.”
“Actually, no,” he managed a smile. “You are forgiven. Life goes on.”
“Leo said you haven't found anyone else,” Carissa pouted, displeased with his flippancy.
“I don't tell my best friend all my business.”
“Well, I believed him because you take your time where relationships are concerned. You always take things slow. It took you five years to propose. And then, when we were living together for two years, not a word about marriage.”
“You didn’t mention it either,” Jax said absently. “You were busy with your business, and I with mine. There was no space for a wedding in all of that.”
“I heard the Wilde Building is up and running.”
“It is,” Jax nodded. “I moved in a month ago.”
“I am currently single, moved on from Fabian, and I can take a breather from the business these days; it is doing well.”
Jax grunted. He wondered why Carissa was telling him that. The girl was in a group chatting. She was probably from one of the modeling agencies. His mother usually hired girls who wore her perfume to mingle with the guests.
It's such a pity he didn't date models. He had a distinct bias against them. His mother had been a model for years and, at that time, had abandoned him to do her job. He didn't need a shrink to point out why he stayed far from models in his dating life.
Maybe he would take a chance on this model. His attraction to her was that potent. He grabbed his drink, “See you around, Carissa,” he said. “I'm sorry to hear about the demise of your most recent relationship and glad to hear about the success of your business. You know I have always wished you well.”
Carissa snorted. “I could come back, renegotiate that wedding that we never got around to discussing.”
“Maybe we never got around to it because neither of us loved each other. It was so easy for you to leave, and it was so easy for me to forget you.”
He left her and beelined straight for the girl who was heading for the food station. Maybe he should find them a seat.