Beneath These Lies (Beneath #5)

by Meghan March

“I’M IN LOVE. IT’S OFFICIAL.”

My head jerked up from the invoice I was scanning at the sighed words. Lowering my pen to the blotter, I stared at one of my gallery employees as she wiped down the front glass door, letting the bright sun of the French Quarter glitter through without tourists’ fingerprints marring the surface.

Trinity had been wiping down that door for two years as an employee, and before that, from time to time when I’d bring her to the gallery as my “Little” in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

“Excuse me?” I said.

Trinity was all of eighteen years and three days old, and I was pretty sure she didn’t know any more about love than I did. At thirty-two, I’d given up on the concept. Well, I’d given up on men in general, and since I wasn’t into the ladies, that ruled love out of the picture.

“I’m in love. With Derrick. He’s the one.”

Her tone was emphatic, hopeful, and incredibly naive to my thinking. If she were a cartoon, there would be stars in her eyes and a giant red heart pounding from her chest.

She’d been with this Derrick guy for almost four months, and I didn’t know much about him except the fact that he was so different from the boys in school. Different wasn’t always good, so it wasn’t shocking that I was rather skeptical.

“Well . . . that’s exciting.” I wanted to be supportive. Trinity hadn’t had the easiest upbringing, and I wanted nothing but the best for her. Including the full-ride scholarship she’d earned to art school in the fall.

She tilted her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “You need to take that down with love and I don’t ever need a man attitude and keep it on your side of the room. Not all of us want to be crazy old cat ladies when we grow up.”

From my perch at my minimalist desk, I winced. Ouch. That stung. I don’t even have a cat, I wanted to argue. But that was a moot point.

“I just haven’t found a guy worth my time. That’s all.”

“Maybe if you’d talk to men, you might actually decide to give one a chance.” Trinity’s gaze was sharp on me, and as usual, she missed nothing.

“I talk to plenty of men.”

Her dark eyebrow arched. “Hate to break it to you, but customers don’t count, Valentina.”

“They have penises, so I’m saying they do.”

But her point was well taken—none of the customers I interacted with spurred the least bit of interest. The tourists were transient, and I wasn’t getting involved with someone long distance. The local guys who came in here and thought they saw something they liked had a tendency to flash their money around. I was happy to take it because it kept my bottom line healthy, but there was nothing attractive about a man who felt the need to use money to get my attention.

How about a flirty conversation that actually got my blood pumping? Witty banter? Apparently that was too much to ask. Hence, why I’d given up on men.

Trinity’s mouth dropped open. “You said penis. At work.”

A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth. Eighteen years and three days did not an adult make.

“And you’re eighteen, as you’ve informed me a dozen times in the last few days, so I’m assuming this isn’t a new word for you.”

“No, but . . .”

At least I knew I could still scandalize my employees by throwing out the word penis on occasion. “Face it, I’ve seen more of them than you, and I’m really not impressed with what comes attached to them.”

Especially because you couldn’t tell whether the man attached to the package fell into the category of man or monster—or a combination of both. My humor fled at the thought, but Trinity didn’t pick up on that.

“Well, if you saw Derrick’s package—”

I covered my face and groaned. “No, thank you. I do not need that visual.”

A husky laugh interrupted us.

Crap. I cringed as I thought about a customer overhearing this particular conversation. But when I jerked my hand away from my face and caught sight of the person in the doorway, relief flooded through me, along with the reminder that I really needed to get that door chime fixed.

Yve Santos smiled as she strolled inside on fabulous red platform sandals and a retro yellow dress. Actually, it was Yve Titan now.

“If you’re talking about packages, I’m down for this conversation.”

I pushed away from my desk and stood with a smile. “I bet you are. What brings you in today?”

Trinity eyed Yve with awe. My friend had become something of an idol to her. Yve had also grown up in less-than-ideal circumstances, but now owned a successful shop in the Quarter and was married to Lucas Titan, a rather infamous businessman.

Yve crossed the wide wooden planks of the gallery to meet me in the middle. “I came to invite you to my belated bachelorette party. Tonight. Sorry for the late notice. I wasn’t going to have one, but Elle badgered me into it. As soon as I said yes this morning, she had it planned in about five minutes. I think she’s afraid Lucas is going to find out and kidnap me before she has a chance to start ordering shots.”

That sounded about right. If ever there was a man likely to kidnap his wife, Lucas Titan would be at the top of the list.

“Then by all means, we should go out and celebrate while we have the chance.”

Warmth filled my chest at the happiness Yve had found. She and I had come to know each other after facing the same monster—although it had been infinitely worse for her because he’d been her husband—and we’d both held our heads high and survived. Thrived even. And for that reason, I would go out and celebrate.

“Good! I’m so glad you’re coming. We both deserve to celebrate.” Yve squeezed me with a quick hug and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “We’ll come by and get you at your place tonight around eight.”

“Perfect. See you then.”

As soon as Yve left, Trinity looked at me with a big grin on her face. “Bachelorette party? Sounds like the perfect opportunity for you to find yourself a man.”

“MORE SHOTS!” ELLE YELLED, SWIRLING her hand in the air.

The shot glasses lined up on the table seemed to multiply, and I didn’t know if there were actually more or if I was seeing double. Rubbing a hand across my face, I stared at the glasses again.

Seeing double wasn’t usually a concern for me. I never let myself get more than a touch tipsy because I hung on to my control with an iron grip.