Chapter Two


The sound of lively conversations filled the restaurant. Friends and family sat around six large tables in a small party room set off from the main seating area. The big ocean facing windows stood open, letting in the last sunshine of the day as well as a cooling sea breeze.

Cassie felt naked in her thin dress. Her shoulders were bare and her legs exposed. Despite the tropical heat, she wished she had a sweater. Or her long sleeved pink work shirt. She missed the safety of her work clothes.

“Oh my gosh, Cassie. You look amazing,” Janessa announced, hurrying across the room to greet Cassie and Brianna.

“You like it?” Cassie asked, looking down and inspecting the cute little cherries on her dress.

“Like it? I love it,” Janessa told her. “Brianna has great taste.”

Cassie tried not to feel hurt that Janessa knew Brianna had picked it out. Was it really that out of character for her to wear a cute dress?

“I definitely have great taste, but Cassie's got the legs for it,” Brianna agreed, giving Janessa a hug. “Sorry, we're late. It was my fault. Too much great taste and not enough shoes.”

Janessa chuckled and showed them to their table. Cassie and Brianna were seated with the bride and groom. Janessa's teenage daughter sat next to her mother. Cassie sat down in her chair and took a sip of water. The glass was slippery with condensation, but the cold felt good on both her hands and her throat.

“Where's Julia? Is she here yet?” Brianna asked, looking around the room. Brianna, Julia, Cassie, and Janessa had been roommates in college. They were still close friends, despite life taking them in different directions.

“Her mom's sick, so she's not coming for a couple days,” Janessa replied. “She'll be here in time for the wedding, but she's going to miss the bachelorette party tomorrow.”

“Darn.” Brianna frowned. “She was supposed to help Cassie be wild.”

Cassie rolled her eyes. “I don't need everyone's help.”

Janessa made a cough that sounded suspiciously like an attempt to cover up a laugh.

“What?” Cassie asked her.

“I am excited to see you let loose and relax,” Janessa replied diplomatically. “I hope you get drunk and at least flirt with a sexy guy. You've been so stressed lately. You deserve some fun.”

“Get drunk and flirt?” Cassie said, sarcasm dripping off her voice. “Wow. The bar is set so high. How will I ever accomplish that?”

“Baby steps,” Brianna told her. “We have faith that you can do far more, but this is a good place to start.”

Cassie rolled her eyes at both her friends. Was she really so lost in her job and being responsible for the hotel that she'd forgotten how to have fun?

“I'll be right back,” Janessa said as more people came into the dining room. She stood gracefully, walking to greet the newcomers. She looked beautiful, Cassie thought. Janessa was thin with light brown hair that was tucked up into a neat bun at the nape of her neck. Her simple sundress was cornflower blue, and Cassie knew Janessa had picked it to match her eyes.

Kyle, Janessa's fiance, caught Janessa by the door and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. She grinned at him, her smile warming her entire face with love. He said something to her, and she nodded. Together, they both came back to the table. Janessa sat, while Kyle remained standing. He picked up a water glass and tapped it with his butter knife.

“If I could get everyone's attention,” he called out. His voice carried well in the small room. He waited patiently for the murmur of voices to die down. “First, Janessa and I would like to thank you all for coming. We're so glad we have family and friends willing to travel for our big day.”

There was a slight smattering of applause.

“I can't wait to marry the love of my life,” he continued, making Janessa smile. “I know that I'm not the most attractive man in the world or the richest, but when I'm with her, I feel like I am.”

A chorus of awws went through the crowd. Kyle was an average looking man with moderately good looks, but would never be movie star handsome. He had gone the route of shaving his head rather than trying to hide the male-pattern baldness that most of the members of his male family shared. It suited him.

“I'd like to thank Katy for bringing her mom and I together,” Kyle said after the pause.

“And thank you for my new car!” Katy shouted back. “Best trade in offer ever!” The crowd chuckled and Kyle winked at his soon-to-be step-daughter.

“Anyway, I hope you enjoy dinner tonight. The bachelor and bachelorette parties are tomorrow. Make sure to see Janessa or me if you have any questions on those. The rehearsal has been moved to five pm on Friday, rather than six, so make sure you're on time if you are in the party.” He shrugged and glanced around the room. “That's it for announcements. Thank you all for coming.”

Light applause filled the room once more. Kyle sat down with a smile for his bride, and the hum of conversation resumed.

“How are you, Katy?” Cassie asked, reaching for another sip of water.

“Great. This place is amazing,” Katy replied. She was the spitting image of her mother, just thirty years younger. “Nice dress by the way, Aunt Cassie. It looks great on you.”

Cassie beamed. Teenager compliments were the real deal.

The doors to the private dining room opened with a slam that made everyone turn and look.

Lorna had arrived. She sashayed in like she owned the place. At least she'd waited until the speech was over. She hadn't at the last family dinner Cassie shared with Lorna.

“Sorry I'm late everyone,” she announced. She posed for a moment at the entrance, her skin-tight black pleather dress hiding nothing of her perfectly plastic-surgeon sculpted body. Cassie wondered how Lorna could wear pleather in tropic humidity like this. If Cassie were wearing that, she'd not only melt but have the pleather squeaking with her every movement.

Lorna was in her early forties and currently between rich husbands number three and four. Number three had been a plastic surgeon, and she'd utilized his services well. She had curves in all the right places and better than nature could ever provide. Her dyed blonde hair hung in graceful curls down her back, and her makeup was perfect. Her blue eyes looked around the room, judging the women for competition and evaluating the men for their net worth. If Cassie ever needed to describe what a gold-digger looked like, she planned on simply describing Lorna.

Lorna walked over to Cassie's table, passing up several empty seats. “Kyle, dear, where am I supposed to sit?”

“We have you at the table over--”

“I'll just pull up a chair here,” Lorna cut him off. She grabbed a chair and scooted between Cassie and Janessa. “I'm family after all.”

“Everyone here is family,” Janessa muttered under her breath, but luckily Lorna didn't hear her.

“I'm glad you made it, Lorna,” Kyle told her. “I knew you said your flight was coming in late.”

“Oh, the nightmare at the airport. It's why I only fly first class these days. It was simply horrid.” She sighed dramatically. “But, I'm here now. My little cousin is all grown up and getting married. I couldn't miss this.”

You couldn't miss meeting wealthy husband number four at a place like this, Cassie thought to herself. It wasn't a kind thought, but she only felt a little guilty about thinking it.

“Wine, please.” Janessa motioned to a waiter. “I was planning on taking it easy tonight, but now I feel like I need a glass.”

“Can I have one?” Katy asked hopefully.

“No,” answered Janessa, Kyle, Brianna, and Cassie at the same time.

The waiter came over, and Janessa ordered a glass of white. Cassie motioned to him to make it two. He nodded and quickly returned with two glasses of white wine.

“Where's mine?” Lorna asked him, looking up.

“Ma'am?” The waiter frowned.

“Where's my wine?” Lorna smiled, but it wasn't a warm or a kind smile.

“I didn't know you wanted one,” the poor waiter stammered.

“Well, obviously I do.” She shook her head. “I want a red. Not the house red. A good red. Something with body.”

“Of course, ma'am.” The waiter nodded quickly and disappeared to get Lorna her wine.

“You just can't get good help these days,” Lorna said with a shrug, smiling around the crowded table.

Cassie bit her tongue. This was what Lorna did. She was the queen of making things uncomfortable.

“So, Kyle, this resort is beautiful,” Cassie said, trying to change the conversation. “The wedding is on the beach, right?”

Kyle nodded. “We have a private area of the beach booked. It's absolutely stunning. Janessa picked it out.”

“You'll love it,” Janessa gushed. She flushed with excitement, and maybe the fact that she'd downed almost the entire glass of wine. “It's got this crystal clear water, and we're having this little arch thing put up. The reception is going to be outside in the main courtyard where you can see the ocean and--”

“Where is my wine?” Lorna demanded, interrupting the conversation.

“Lorna, it's been thirty seconds,” Cassie said without thinking.

Like something out of a horror movie, Lorna's head slowly turned and faced Cassie, her eyes mean and cruel.

“Excuse me?”

Cassie swallowed hard.

“I just meant that it's a busy room. He's probably making sure you get the best wine they have,” Cassie quickly stammered. Corporate rule number seven: always make a problem sound like a positive.

Lorna's lips narrowed, and she flipped her golden hair over her shoulder. The woman knew how to hair flip effectively. “It's lazy is what it is.”

She rolled her eyes dismissively at Cassie before turning away and starting a conversation with Kyle. Cassie let out a small sigh of relief. Being in Lorna's cross-hairs was never a pleasant experience.

“Don't aggravate her,” Brianna whispered. “You know the drill. Smile and nod. She'll get bored and go bother someone richer than us.”

Cassie took another sip of her wine. It had been a long day of travel, and she was tired. A good night's sleep would make it much easier to deal with Lorna. Lorna did have the ability to be funny and pleasant when she wanted to be. Maybe tomorrow would find her more agreeable.

At least, that's what Cassie hoped.

The food arrived shortly after Lorna's wine. Cassie had a delicious looking white fish with fresh mango salsa. It smelled wonderful and tasted even better. Cassie nearly moaned with the first bite. She couldn't remember the last time she had fresh fish that tasted this good. It probably was due to the fact the ocean was just steps away.

“I ordered my steak to be medium-well. This is medium.”

Cassie internally sighed as Lorna's shrill voice broke the once happy silence of people eating. This poor waiter, Cassie thought, looking over at Lorna's plate. The steak looked perfect to Cassie's eyes. Granted, it wasn't the way Cassie would order a steak, but it looked like a solid medium-well done steak. There was nothing wrong with the food. It was just Lorna being difficult because she could be.

“I'm so sorry, ma'am.” The waiter wiped his hands on his apron. “I can take it back to the kitchen for you.”

“Yes. You do that,” she told him, tossing down her fork and looking annoyed.

Cassie shook her head slightly and took another bite of her fish.

“Oh, you all go ahead and eat without me,” Lorna announced sadly. She sighed, looking like a true martyr. “I'll just sit here and wait.”

Janessa sighed this time.

They were now in the awkward position of eating and making Lorna look like an angel for letting them do so, or not eating and showing solidarity with her. Kyle set down his fork.

“We'll wait for you.” He smiled at his cousin and she, in turn, beamed at him. It was easy to see that Kyle didn't see Lorna's true nature.

“You've always been the best cousin,” she cooed.

Brianna made a slight gagging sound, and Cassie had to stifle a laugh.

Luckily, the waiter returned quickly with a fresh plate of food for Lorna. It was another perfect steak that looked nearly identical to the previous one.

“There. That's a medium-well steak,” Lorna said as he set it down. “That wasn't too hard, was it?”

“Anything else, ma'am?” the waiter asked, giving her a fake smile. It made Cassie wonder if maybe the chef had spit in Lorna's food. In fact, Cassie sort of secretly hoped he did.

“No. But your manager will hear about your poor service,” Lorna informed him. She looked pointedly at his name tag. “You'll be hearing about this, Fernando. If that's your real name. I'm going to have you fired.”

The poor man took a step back with a shocked look on his face.

“Seriously, Lorna?” Cassie couldn't help herself. Maybe it was the wine giving her liquid confidence. Maybe it was the new dress. Maybe it was just a death wish. “The guy didn't do anything wrong.”

Lorna's blue eyes flashed. “Excuse me?”

“The waiter didn't do anything wrong. He brought you the wine you never ordered. He fixed your meal. He's been nothing but polite.”

Two pink spots bloomed on Lorna's cheeks.

“Oh? So because you're some hot shot hotel manager, you think you know better than me?” Her eyes narrowed as she focused on Cassie. “You work in a crappy hotel. You wouldn't know customer service if it slapped you in the face. You don't have any class. If you did, you'd understand why I want to speak to this man's manager. It just shows how terrible you are at your job. No wonder no one important stays at your hotel.”

The table gasped and went silent. Hot tears stung at the back of Cassie's eyes. She was proud of the job she did. Cassie was damn good at it, and she was the reason her hotel was rated the best StarTree Hotel in the Phoenix area.

But Lorna wasn't done.

“I don't even know why you're here, Cassie. I get that you're friends with the bride, but you're going to ugly up the pictures, and you don't fit in with the type of people here. You're low class. We're high class. You don't belong with people like us.”

The table sat in shocked silence for three heartbeats. Even the other tables had quieted. Cassie put on her manager's face. It was the one she used when dealing with difficult guests and vendors. It was firm without showing emotion.

“Wow, Lorna. You're right. If you're class, then I don't want any.” She stood up, carefully placing her napkin on the chair behind her. “Excuse me. I need to use the restroom.”

“Running away solves all your problems,” Lorna replied. She leaned back and crossed her legs, daring Cassie to respond.

Cassie nearly sat back down, but she knew it would just be proving Lorna right. So, Cassie turned and left the table. Her hands shook as she headed out of the dining room and into the hallway leading to the bathrooms. Her face ached with the heat of her blush and her eyes stung with tears she refused to let fall. Not while Lorna might see.

She wouldn't give Lorna that satisfaction.

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