“I’ve changed my mind. I want Lila Kate to take me. I’m bored with you,” Cruz said. “And you’re mean.”

What? I jerked my gaze from Chanel to Cruz who was still grinning like a drunken idiot. “You’re more fun. Let’s go.”

“She’s real, Chanel. She’s fucking real,” he said calmly, and then he smirked at me. “You better get me outta here before I cause that scene.”

I didn’t argue. I was annoyed, but I didn’t argue. I didn’t take his arm this time. I just led the way out of the ballroom and outside the building. Away from the valet, because there was no way he was getting in his car and driving. I took him to the clubhouse instead. I figured he could sleep it off in there on one of the many large expensive leather sofas.

“Where are we headed? Are you taking me to the tenth hole to have your way with me?”

I knew he was joking. But it still got under my skin. “Not interested in having any way with you. Just saving Woods and Della the headache of their oldest acting like a moron in front of everyone.”

He chuckled. “God, you’re always so good. That’s sexy you know that? Your angelic face, killer body and perfect manners. It’s a combination that guys fantasize about—to get you to be wild. Taste some freedom.”

“I have plenty freedom,” I managed to say, although his description of me was a little startling.

“The untouchable Lila Kate Carter,” he continued. “So desirable and so freaking icy cold that you can’t get close.”

I stopped at the steps leading up to the clubhouse and glared at him with disbelief.

“You,” he said running a finger under my chin, “are an expensive china doll that can only be seen and not touched. It’s so tempting, but you know that if you try, it will shatter. So you don’t break it. You stay back. Admire from a distance. Until you’ve had too much to drink and you give in a little. Just to be near her.”

I didn’t like this. Not any of it. I wasn’t a breakable doll. I was very strong. I wasn’t emotional or dramatic. I was tough. I was obedient. I was a rule follower. That didn’t make me cold. “Just because I don’t get drunk, party and sleep with every guy in town doesn’t make me cold,” I shot back at him.

“No, but you’ve never gotten close to any guy. That verges on icy.”

“I am not!” I raised my voice. That wasn’t fair.

“Really? Then how about this?” he said just before he wrapped his arm around my back and pulled me to him. The whiskey on his tongue was the first thing I tasted as he kissed me. He did it like he was trying to force me to react. Like he was pushing me for more. He did it like he didn’t mean it at all. His hand squeezed my waist painfully and nothing about this moment was sweet or romantic.

I placed both my hands on his chest and pushed him back. He staggered back easily then shook his head with a smile. “See. I told you.”

Both our heads turned to see her storming toward us in heels so high that it was impressive she was so agile in them and didn’t break her neck. I would fall over.

“Well, Chanel, you found me. Good,” he pointed his thumb at me. “This one isn’t gonna work out. So, you get to go into this clubhouse with me and show me those red panties you said you weren’t wearing.”

Chanel looked smug. Like she’d won a prize that we had been competing for.

“You left me in there,” she pouted.

“Had to try out the other option. It was delicious but needs a little thawing for my taste,” Cruz drawled as he looked at me with hooded eyes. “Goodnight, Lila Kate.”

They walked into the clubhouse with his hand on her bottom. She was already kissing his neck. It was that easy for him. And he was that shallow.

His awful behavior was not what I wanted. If fairytales weren’t real, then I wanted adventure. Which meant I had to leave Rosemary Beach.

THE MONEY THAT my grandfather had deposited in my trust fund remained untouched. I had gone to a private college on a scholarship for dance a little over an hour from here. I had been in private dance classes since I was three years old and had asked my dad if I could wear a tutu and twirl around on a big stage one day.

Originally, my dream had been to open a dance academy here in Rosemary Beach. But over the years that had changed. The more the fairytale in my head began to crumble, so did that idea. I didn’t want to travel the world and spend endless hours chasing a dream to be a famous dancer. I saw the dedication that went into it. I had friends who had gone on to do just that. It was all they had time for. It was their life. I wanted something else.

This past May, I had graduated with a Major in Literature and a Minor in Dance. I was still trying to figure out exactly what I was going to do with my degree, and what path I wanted to pursue. Nothing seemed right. Instead, I spent my time looking at condos to buy with some of my trust fund money. Living with my parents at twenty-two years old, almost twenty-three wasn’t exactly a goal of mine.

My idea to leave and find adventure had been exciting. But standing on the front porch of the house that had always been my home with a suitcase by my side and my parents hugging me goodbye was harder than I had imagined it would be.

“Call me. When you get to Sea Breeze, call me from Nate’s. Please,” my mom said as she held me tightly. As cliché as it may sound my mother was my best friend. I never went through a rebellious stage where I hated my parents or thought they knew nothing. I’d gone to my mother about all my problems.

“I will. And I’ll let you know my next stop as soon as I figure it out,” I assured her. I had a friend in Birmingham, Alabama who had taken a teaching position at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She wanted me to come for a visit. But I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep driving along the Gulf Coast or take that northward turn on my journey.

“Tires are new, oil is changed, and it’s been completely looked over,” my dad said as he nodded at my silver Land Rover that had been a college graduation gift from my mother’s father. “If any light comes on, take it directly to the nearest Rover dealer,” his voice was tight with emotion he was trying hard to conceal. My mother was my best friend, but my father was my hero. I’d told him so at two years old, and it was still true today.

I moved to hug him tightly. “Thank you. I love you, Daddy,” I said feeling tears sting my eyes. He held onto me as if he could keep me here forever.

“I love you, baby girl.” His deep voice cracked when he spoke. I blinked hard to fight back the tears threatening to spill. They didn’t need to see me cry. I wanted to do this. I needed to.

“I knew this day would come. We raised you to believe in yourself. Find what makes you happy and go get it. I couldn’t be prouder of the woman you’ve become.”

His words did not help me as I struggled not to cry. I swallowed hard and nodded my head against his chest. Then inhaled deeply, pulled myself together, and released him. I couldn’t stay here in this safe world where my dad took care of me and find my life.

“I am who I am because of you two,” I told them with a smile. “I’ll be fine. And I’ll call with updates regularly.”