“Good point.” He ate another bite of cake, then set the plate on his desk. “If the cake was the good news, what’s the bad?”


Gracie slumped in the seat and hung her head back. “Alexis. She called me in what felt like the predawn hours but was really only about ten to tell me that Zeke had forgotten his briefcase at home so she’d gone by his office to drop it off. In the process of performing her good deed, she walked in on Zeke having what looked like a very personal relationship with…” She paused, straightened and looked right at him. “Brace yourself.”


“I’m braced.”


“Pam.”


It took him a second. “Pam, my ex-wife?”


“One and the same.” Gracie leaned forward and put her hands on his desk. “So, have you seen her since you’ve been back in town?”


“Seen her as in caught a glimpse of her in town? Yes. Seen her as in spent time with her? No.” He held in a smile. “Worried?”


“Not at all. I’m fourteen years over my crush. You can see anyone you’d like. Doesn’t bother me at all.” She made an X on her chest. “Scout’s honor.”



He doubted she had any active interest in his personal life, but last night in the car, they’d both been interested in him kissing her.


“Zeke sleeping with Pam won’t be good for anyone,” Riley said. “Especially not Zeke.”


“So we’re on stakeout detail again?” she asked cheerfully.


“Yes, but this time we’ll follow Pam.”


“At least it won’t be raining.”


“Easier for us to follow her and easier for her to spot us.”


“Life is a trade-off. Six-thirty again?” she asked.


“As we have no idea of her plans, it’s as good a time as any.”


“I’ll be ready.” She stood. “I’ll even bring my camera.”


He winced. “Not a good idea.”


“We need proof.”


“Can’t you get something small and digital?”


“I’m not into technology.”


She picked up the knife and cleaned it with a napkin she’d dug out of her purse. After putting the knife away and dropping the napkin in the trash, she headed for the door.


“See you then.”


With a wave of her fingers, she was gone, leaving Riley with the sense of having been visited by a larger-than-life force.


There was another knock, this one soft and respectful. He guessed it would have been full of rage if she’d known how to transmit that emotion as well.


“Yes, Diane?”


His secretary stepped into his office. “Your one o’clock meeting is ready, sir.”


He pushed the cake box toward her. “This is delicious. You should try some.”


She raised her chin slightly. “No, thank you.”


“Gracie made it for me. Gracie likes me.”


Diane’s expression flashed with the anger that had been missing from her knock. “That’s because she doesn’t know you, sir.”


“THERE ARE too many details,” Gracie’s mother said as she spread out the stack of folders onto the coffee table. “Vivian, honey, we’re going to have to decide about a few things. We have to finalize the menu by the end of the week.”


Gracie sat in a corner of the sofa. She picked up the folder marked “Guest list” and flipped through the pages of names. “Where are you having it?”


“The country club,” Vivian said with a grin. “I’m having a big outdoor wedding with lots of flowers and guests and dancing.”


Gracie did a quick calculation, multiplying the number of guests by a per-head-cost for a meal, then swallowed hard. “Gee, things must be really great at the hardware store,” she murmured more to herself than anyone else.


But her mother heard her and shot her a look. Gracie didn’t know if it meant they weren’t supposed to talk about such things or if her mother appreciated her concern.


“What time is the wedding?” Gracie asked.


“Four,” Alexis said as she walked into the family room carrying a tray filled with drinks and cookies. She set it down on the ottoman and passed out cans of diet soda.


Gracie took hers, then popped it open. “I worked on a wedding once where instead of a sit-down meal, they had tons of appetizers. Not only were waiters circulating with trays, but there were various stations with fun things like melted chocolate for dipping and a mini sandwich bar. The savings for the bride’s family were enormous.”


Her mother picked up a folder marked menus and opened it. “Aren’t appetizers pretty expensive?”


“They can be, but they’re still cheaper than a meal. Plus, people are circulating more, so there’s a lot of opportunities for conversation, which the guests really like. They’re not stuck with the same six people at the table all night. On the savings side, you don’t have to have such fancy table settings or decorations. At a cocktail party, no one expects the chairs to be covered. You can even serve a signature drink that matches the wedding colors, plus beer and wine.”




Vivian narrowed her blue eyes. “Thanks for making my wedding into an experience on the same level as going to the outlet mall, Gracie. You know, another way we could save money is have everyone pack a lunch. Wouldn’t that be too, too stunning for words?”

Gracie stiffened. “I’m sorry. I was trying to help.”


“Yeah, well, don’t. The wedding is in less than five weeks and I’m not changing anything. I want a big sit-down dinner. I want a band and I want lots of dancing. The signature drink idea is a good one, though. I’ll talk to Tom about that.”


Alexis smiled sympathetically at Gracie. “It wouldn’t hurt to save a little money,” she told Vivian.


“Why should I? You and Zeke eloped. Oh, and Gracie’s never getting married, so why shouldn’t all the money be spent on me?”


Alexis shrugged. “Always the baby of the family. You’re spoiled.”


“Whatever.” Vivian grabbed a cookie. “Look, I’m paying for my own wedding dress. Isn’t that enough?”


“It’s fine,” her mother said. “I appreciate you helping out. Let’s talk about the dresses. Yours is ready, isn’t it?”


“It’s in, and I have my first fitting next week.” She turned to Gracie. “It’s so beautiful. Strapless, with lace and a drop waist. The bridesmaid dresses are a similar style, but really simple and elegant. They’re black, edged with white. I can’t wait for you to see them.”


Vivian seemed to have forgotten her explosion from fourteen seconds before, but Gracie hadn’t. The sharp words still stung. Maybe the problem was she didn’t know her role here. Despite all her experience with weddings, she was the odd sister out. If her presence was simply a courtesy, then she should remember to keep her mouth shut.


Still, she wanted to protest that it was unfair of Vivian to assume Gracie wouldn’t get married. She was only twenty-eight and the last time she checked, that didn’t mean love was out of her life forever. Sure there wasn’t anyone special right now, but that could change.


“Alexis’s dress has a matching little shrug that’s so cute.”


Vivian’s previous outburst had been a painful twinge. This revelation was a full-on stab.


Gracie took a swallow of her soda. “It’s important to have the maid of honor stand out a little.”


“Exactly.” Vivian beamed.


Alexis said something about flowers, their mom pulled out yet another folder and Gracie did her best to act normal.


It wasn’t that she minded Vivian asking Alexis to stand up with her. They’d grown up together, they were close. It was that when Vivian had first told her about the wedding, she’d made it clear she was going to ask her friends to be in her wedding, and not her sisters. Apparently she’d only meant not Gracie.


Gracie understood intellectually that while she might technically be a member of this family, she wasn’t in any other way. She’d been gone for the past fourteen years. Things had happened, people had changed. She’d changed. This wasn’t her world. Oh, but it still hurt to be excluded.


“You seem to have everything under control,” she said when they’d finalized the flowers for the bouquets and the tables. “I’m going to head out. I have some baking to do.”


“When are you going to make me some sketches for my wedding cake?” Vivian asked. “I want it huge. I mean really, really big and spectacular. Every inch decorated.”


Which described a cake that would not only go for several thousand dollars, but would take weeks to finish. Not that Vivian would care about that.


“I’ll put something together in the next couple of days,” Gracie promised. She rose.


“I’ll walk you out,” Alexis said and followed her to the front door.


“Well?” she asked when they were alone. “Are you going to find out what’s going on with Zeke and Pam Whitefield?”


“Yes. Riley and I are going to follow her tonight and see what happens.”


“Don’t lose her like you lost Zeke,” Alexis said.


“Thanks for the tip. I wouldn’t have thought of it on my own.”


She left the house and walked to her car. She felt uncomfortable, as if she had a bad taste in her mouth. The house where she’d lived for so long looked exactly as she remembered, but everything else was different, and those changes made her sad.


RILEY PULLED into Gracie’s driveway and found her waiting just outside the front door. The storm had moved on, leaving the sky clear, which would be both a help and a hindrance to their evening plans. It was already twilight, but there were plenty of stars and a good-sized moon to provide light.


Gracie waved when she saw him and walked toward the car. He watched her, noting something was different. Something he couldn’t figure out.


Not her clothes. She’d dressed casually, in dark pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt. Her blond hair had been fastened back in one of those fancy braids women seemed to love. She even had her damn camera with her.


“What’s up?” he asked when she opened the door and slid onto the passenger seat.


“Hi,” she said with a smile that seemed more forced than genuine.


He left the car in park. “I was asking a question, not offering an urban greeting.”


“What? Oh. You mean what’s up with me?” She shrugged. “Nothing. I’m fine.”


Fine had been the bright, cheerful, glowing woman who had delivered the cake to his office earlier that day. This was not fine.


“Are you sure?” he probed, then could have kicked himself. Did he really want to know what could be up in Gracie’s life?


“I don’t want to talk about it.” She let the smile fade. “Can you be okay with that?”


“Absolutely.”


He backed out of her driveway.


“We’ll swing by Pam’s house and see if she’s there. If she is, we’ll wait and see if she goes out.” He glanced at her. “Sound like a plan?”


“It’s great. When I saw Alexis, she reminded me not to lose Pam this time. Good advice, huh?”


There was something in her voice. Something sharp, but also broken. He gripped the steering wheel and told himself to think about sports.


Fifteen minutes later, he slowed as they turned onto Pam’s street. Her house was on the far corner—a modest single-story structure with a big garden and bay windows.


“She’s here,” he said, pointing to the lights on in the house and the car—a white Lexus GS300—in the driveway.


“Do you know why she’s here?” Gracie asked, speaking for the first time since they’d left her house.


Tags: Susan Mallery Los Lobos Romance
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