The Dom’s Bride Penelope Bloom ~ Page 2

"Because it is crazy," says Jamie. "But if you weren"t a little crazy, I probably wouldn"t like you. So""

"I just want to be there for a kid who needs it. You know""

Jamie motions to the office around us, where at least a dozen of our co-workers are either on the phone or escorting young troubled teens through the building to smaller conference rooms. "Seriously, Steph" You"re a social worker." She waves her hands around like there"s some mysterious magic to the title. "We"re saving sarcastic teenagers by the boatload every day. I think you can let yourself off the hook if you don"t bring one into your house, too."

There"s an empty pit in my stomach that never really goes away. Whether Jamie has me figured out or not, my messed up past isn"t something I"m going to burden her with. The emptiness chews at me day after day, begging to be filled with something. I dig my fingers into my thighs and squeeze to stop my thoughts from wandering down that dark path. I don"t need to dredge up the past. Especially not right now.

So I do what I always do. I put on a smile and act like I"m already over it. "You"re probably right," I say suddenly. "Maybe it"s for the best."

"See"" Jamie says, picking her sandwich back up and begins mauling it like it owes her money.

I watch her with a grin that isn"t forced at all. She and I have been friends since high school. For all her oddities, Jamie is a good friend. She may give me shit whenever she gets the chance, and she may be borderline crazy, but at the end of the day she has my back.

"So," she says, swallowing a big mouthful and then pointing a fallen piece of lettuce at me aggressively. "Am I going to have to drug you and drag you to the auction this year" Or are you going to be a good girl and come willingly."

"Ugh," I say, letting my head fall into my hands. "That"s tonight, isn"t it" I totally forgot."

"I know you did. You didn"t seem miserable enough."

"Honestly, I"d rather just go home and drown my sorrows in a deep bag of chips. Maybe wash it down with some wine and ice cream."

"First of all, Yes," she says, closing her eyes and clearly imagining the junk food feast. "But no. You are coming because it won"t be fun without you. Besides, Heather would definitely knock you down at least three pegs on the good-favor chart if you miss it. The auction is her baby."

I know she"s right about Heather, which makes me grind my teeth. Heather is technically one of our supervisors, even though I doubt she"d know me or Jamie by name if her life depended on it. Still, she expects every one of her subordinates to be as fervently devoted to their job as she is.

"Is this one of those things you"re never going to shut up about if I try to resist"" I ask.

"Pretty much." Jamie pulls an apple out of her bottomless lunch bag and takes a big bite.

I shake my head. "I"ll think about going. Okay" That"s the best you"re going to get right now."

"Good," says Jamie. "I"ll pick you up tonight, then."

I tug at the strap of my dress in annoyance as we wait in line to be let into the auction.

"Stop messing with your clothes, people are going to think you have herpes or something."

I give her a look of disbelief. "Do you even know what herpes is""

She shrugs. "All I know is people are going to think you have it."

"Sometimes I can"t tell if you"re being serious or just messing with me."

"That"s part of my charm." She flashes me a cheesy smile as we are let through the front doors into the convention center where the auction is going to take place.

"Oh my, oh my," Jamie says. Her eyes are locked on the bar at the other end of the large room, which is already crowded with well-dressed men and women. "Did Heather actually spring for an open bar this year""

I raise an eyebrow. "It"s not like her to be loose with money."

"Like I care." Jamie tries to tug my arm and lead me toward the bar, but I pull back.

"I"m not really into the idea of getting sad drunk tonight."

Jamie looks me up and down. "You want me to be your sober buddy tonight""

I can tell she"s sincere, but the last thing I need is to drag her down with me. It"s part of the reason I wanted to stay home and wallow in my own sorrows. "No." I give her my most convincing smile and squeeze her hand. "Go enjoy the booze. I"ll be fine."

She works her lips to the side, hesitating. "No. It"s okay, I don"t need"


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