"I just thought you'd like to know."
"What else would we have gotten? You're not used to getting good grades."
I had done my duty and there was nothing left to say. I started for the door when he blocked my escape.
I was alone with Trevor in his room-a dangerous place to be.
"Anything else you'd like to do?" he asked.
I wanted to say,Get that picture back, but I sensed Trevor wanted a stolen kiss-a treasure that was far more valuablethan an A..
I'd never let myself succ.u.mb to that. Even if I wasn't dating Alexander, nothing would ever be sacred or special with Trevor.
I didn't mention seeing the painting. I was too touched and slightly bothered that he'd spent his money on a picture of me. It was ironic that Trevor would be the one to help Alexander buy back the Mansion and divert his father from his plans.
It would be awesome to throw it in his face. But I didn't dare do that to my partner.
I offered my hand instead. I figured I was safe with that.
He held it like he didn't want to let it go.
His golden hair was perfect against his suntanned face. I knew he wanted to kiss me-and I wasn't sure
whether it was love or l.u.s.t or just because I was a girl alone in his room.
"I know there's a part of you that wonders what it would be like," Trevor said.
"I already know," I said. "The cheerleaders have it written on the bathroom walls."
I withdrew my hand and left his room before he tried to hold any other part of me.
"h.e.l.lo, Miss Raven," Jameson said as I entered the Mansion. "Alexander will be down in a moment." I waited in the parlor room.
"h.e.l.lo, Raven," Mrs. Sterling said, stepping into the room. "Did you like the auction? I thought it was a blast."
"Yes, I'm so proud of Alexander."
"I always knew he was talented. But Constantine-he knows now," she said with a wink.
"I just got off the phone with Mr. Berkley," Mr. Sterling said in a low voice as he entered the parlor. "He said someone made an offer and they are going to come for a tour of the Mansion."
"When will they be here?" Mrs. Sterling asked. "We already have company" she said, referring to me.
"He told me he should be here by now."
"I hate lateness," Mrs. Sterling said. "It is so rude."
Alexander came into the parlor.
"A prospective buyer is coming to the house. We'll be able to sell the Mansion and return... Where is that man?" his father asked, agitated.
"He's here," Alexander said.
"Where, standing in the hallway?"
"No, standing right in front of you."
"I don't understand."
"I am going to buy the Mansion."
Mr. and Mrs. Sterling were bewildered.
"I've been trying to tell you," Alexander said. "This is my home.In this house, in this town, with this girl." He smiled at me.I was so proud of Alexander for taking charge of his life but was sure I was going to be in big trouble with his parents. I was ready for them to scream at me or throw me out.
"Maybe I should be leaving..." I said.
"No, stay.You need to hear this," Alexander said, and turned to his parents.
"Don't you see? I've been successful on my own since I arrived here. And these accomplishments are because I met the girl of my dreams, Raven."
His parents looked at me, and I felt an immense pressure build.
"Because ofJagger , I've had to leaveRomania several times. And now that I've helped theMaxwells , I'm supposed to leave this town. I'm not leaving anymore."
"How did you plan to purchase the Mansion?" Mr.Sterling asked, still shocked.
"I'm going to use the money I raised from the auction as a down payment. And when I turn eighteen, I'm going to pay off the monthly mortgage with my trust fund."
"That money is for your future" his mother said, "Your grandmother wanted you to have it for that reason."
"Thisis my future, Mother. Grandmother wouldn't want it any other way. And neither would I. This mansion may not mean anything to you. But it means everythingto me."
"I don't understand," his mom said. "I want you to live with us."
"I know, Mother," he said, and held her hands. "But I'm almost eighteen. I could be going off to college, taking night cla.s.ses. Instead, I'll be here.Painting and being with Raven."
Mr. Sterling paced around the room, wiping his hair off his brow. "This is quite a shock, you must understand. I didn't realize, Alexander, how you have grown.That you are so much like your grandmother. That you both are..."
Alexander and I felt a glimmer of hope.
"When I saw that you were the artist behind those paintings, it was clear to me then that you'd found a home here. But..." He paused. "There is no way you are buying the Mansion.""I am!" Alexander said boldly.
"No, Son, I'm taking it off the market. It is rightfully yours. There is no reason you should have to pay for it."
"But, I want to-"
"I know. And that is the reason you shouldn't.Because you care so much about so many things. I'm not allowing you to buy the house from me. We'll invest the money you earned. My mother must be watching over us right now. I know she is smiling at you-and frowning at me. I made a big mistake looking at others when it was you I should have been showcasing.My own son. Jameson, get Mr. Berkley on the line."
"Mother, I'm sorry-"
She put her fingers to her lips. "You are the kind of man I always wanted you to become-you just became one a lot faster than I was ready for."
"I have to confess I haven't slept well since we decided to sell the house," Mr. Sterling added.
Jameson walked into the parlor..
"Jameson, there has been a change in plans. The Mansion will remain aSterling legacy. Mrs. Sterling and I will be returning toRomania , but Alexander will live here. I understand you will be returning with us and we'll find another butler for Alexander."
Jameson stood as straight as he could and took a deep breath. "Sir, if you don't mind, I have a reason for staying in town, too," Jameson confessed. "Alexander is not the only one with a soul mate."
Jameson stood outside the Mansion, packing theSterlings ' remaining bags into the trunk of the Mercedes. I held Alexander, who was anxious, around the waist. I wasn't able to calm him.
A gentle rain began to fall, and within a few minutes a trickle turned into a shower, but Alexander and I stayed put.
Mr. and Mrs. Sterling descended the front steps of the Mansion.
"It was lovely meeting you, Raven. We hope to see you again soon" Mrs . Sterling said, offering me her hand. "Welcome to the family."
Instead of taking her hand, I leaned in and hugged her hard. It was as if I were breaking the rules and hugging the queen ofEngland , but I didn't care. This woman meant the world to me.
"Alexander, darling, you know I love you," she said with a strain in her lyrical voice. She was trying to mask her emotion. She kissed her son good-bye on both cheeks.
She stood back as Mr. Sterling extended his hand to mine. "It was a pleasure to have met you, Raven. We are all happier for it." He gave me polite kisses, one on each side of my face.
"We will not be such strangers anymore," he said to Alexander. "I'll await your next round of paintings."
Alexander's eyes lit up as he shook his father's hand.
"Thanks, Dad," he said.
Both men were surprised by his sudden affection.
"Well, we must be off," his father finally said. But there was something missing from Mrs. Sterling's wardrobe as we all stood in the downpour.
"Where is your parasol?" I asked.
"Who needs an umbrella in the rain?" she said, and stepped into the car.
We continued to stand there as the car slowly pulled away and drove down the Mansion's drive, past the gate, and into the street. Mrs. Sterling didn't look back. Perhaps if she did, she would never have been able to leave.
I felt sad, for Alexander and for me.
Tears welled in my eyes, and I couldn't help but frown.
"Why are you crying? I thought you'd be happy," Alexander said, wiping a tear from my face.
"I thought I'd be, too," I said. "I didn't want youto move, Alexander. But I didn't want them to either."
Alexander gave me a soft kiss in the rain. As the car disappeared, he put his arm around me and led me back inside my second home-theSterlingMansion on Benson Hill.
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