Vivian nodded. “I feel your pain. Despite the fact that we should really be talking about me and my wedding, I have enough compassion to know what you’re going through. I’m sorry you never fit in.”
Gracie narrowed her gaze. “What are you talking about?”
“In high school. I know you were unpopular and a misfit. You’ve never had any friends. No one liked you and now you’re back here, reliving your youthful crush on Riley.”
Gracie stood. “Okay, that’s it. I’m tired of being used and insulted.”
Vivian rose. “I’m trying to help.”
“I don’t think so, but if this is your idea of help, I don’t want it or need it. You don’t know anything about my life. How dare you make judgments? For your information, I did fine in high school. I got good grades, I had friends, I was a cheerleader and gosh, I was elected to the Homecoming court. Oh, my boyfriend even expected me to sleep with him after prom. Sounds pretty traditional to me, but then I didn’t grow up here. I don’t know what your expectations are.”
Alexis sighed. “Vivian, you’re not helping. Sit down and shut up.”
“What do you mean I’m not helping? I’m trying to make her understand.”
“What do you want me to understand?” Gracie asked. “What exactly is your point?”
Vivian’s eyes filled with tears. “This is all about you and Riley. What about me? What about my wedding?”
“Is the wedding back on this week? Wow. Color me surprised.”
Vivian glared at her. “So you’re not just pathetic, you’re also a bitch.”
Gracie looked at the two women. “Fine. You guys win. Think what you want. If your opinion of me is that I’m a bitch obsessed with the man from my youth, I can live with that.”
She turned to leave.
Alexis jumped to her feet. “Gracie, don’t. We have to work this out. We’re family.”
Were they? She thought about her aunt and uncle. She’d barely known them when she’d moved in with them, but they’d loved her and cared about her. They’d always been supportive and loving. When they’d been killed in that car accident, she thought she would never recover.
“Don’t bother,” Vivian said as she wiped her face. “She’s just mad because I didn’t ask her to be in the wedding. And I’m glad, Gracie. You hear me? I’m really, really glad.”
Gracie walked to the door, then glanced back. “Me, too,” she said softly and left.
GRACIE CLIMBED into her car and pulled out her cell. The little message envelope flashed, but she couldn’t think of a single person she wanted to talk to right now. She shoved the phone back in her purse and considered her next destination. She didn’t really want to go back to the rental. Too many memories.
She started the car, then made a U-turn and headed across town. As she pulled into the parking lot of the bed-and-breakfast, she noted Pam’s car.
Still, the potential to get lost in her baking seemed more enticing than her worry that she would run into the other woman, so she parked and went inside.
Twenty minutes later she had a preheated oven, plenty of batter in large bowls and the measurable lifting of her spirits. She’d just started to pour when Pam walked in.
The slender blonde looked stunning, as usual. She smiled as she leaned against the counter and set down several fabric samples.
“Can I lick the bowls when you’re done?” she asked with a grin.
“Raw eggs. I doubt you want to risk it.”
“Hmm, good point. Still, I love the way your cakes smell. If I could find a way to bottle the scent, I could make a fortune. Instead I’m knee-deep in fabric samples.” She held up two dark prints covered with flowers. “What do you think?”
“They’re both really nice.”
Pam laughed. “Let me guess. Decorating isn’t your thing.”
“I enjoy it. I think the B&B is going to be a lot of fun.” She sighed. “I would be happier if there really had been an alien landing like we all thought in high school.”
Gracie finished pouring and carried the pans to the oven. “I can’t see extraterrestrials flying all the way to earth only to land in Los Lobos. Don’t you think they’d want somewhere with better shopping and more restaurant choices?”
“Good point. Although I can think of a few people I’d like taken away by aliens.”
“Oh, me, too,” Gracie said as she straightened. “We could start a list.”
“Can I go first?” Pam grinned.
Gracie carried the bowls over to the sink. “Do you have a grand opening date yet?”
“I’m thinking the Fourth of July weekend. Plenty of tourists looking for a place to stay. I’ve put out the word and I’m already getting reservations. Of course that puts the pressure on for me to finish, but hey, I can manage. Sleep is highly overrated.”
Gracie nodded as she ran water in the bowls. This all felt so weird. She was standing here having a perfectly normal conversation with Pam Whitefield, whom she had always hated. But Pam seemed to be completely nice while Gracie’s own sisters were acting mean enough to be candidates for demonic possession. What was going on?
“Are you getting a lot of flak about the picture in the paper?” Pam asked. “I confess I saw it this morning.”
“Not a surprise,” Gracie told her. “It was on the front page. Hard to miss.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a real drag for you. But Riley looked good. He always did have an impressive body.”
“He was helping my neighbor. Her dog fell in the pool.”
“So that explains the scratches.”
“Exactly. Little Muffin wasn’t as grateful as she could have been.” She finished with the bowls, wiped her hands, then turned back to Pam. “Then some guy takes the picture and suddenly Riley’s in the middle of a scandal. Poor guy.”
Pam’s kind expression didn’t change, although Gracie thought she might have seen a little sharpening around the eyes. Or was that just her looking for trouble?
“So you’re not…” Pam shrugged delicately.
Not sure if she was being set up or no, Gracie sighed. “I swear, there was a pool, a trapped Yorkie and a frantic neighbor.” Yes, there had also been sex, but she wasn’t about to spill that.
“Just as well,” Pam said. “Riley looked great, but he never really grasped the whole ‘pleasing a woman’ thing.”
Gracie had to bite her tongue to keep from defending him. “Bummer,” she said instead.
Pam tilted her head. “It would be kind of sweet if you two got together after all this time.”
That made Gracie choke. “You’ve got to be kidding. Aside from the fact that you’re about the last person who should want that, I can’t imagine any universe in which it would be considered normal.”
Pam looked away. “Sometimes you can’t fight fate.”
GRACIE RETURNED to her rental late that afternoon feeling as if she’d run a marathon, or at least a half one. She was weary to the bone, slightly beat-up and more than a little out of sorts.
She couldn’t make sense of her world, which was unlike her. In the past few years, she’d prided herself on living smack in the middle of normal. Coming back to Los Lobos had changed all that. Okay—coming back to Los Lobos and getting involved with Riley had changed all that.
While she didn’t mind the Riley part of her life, the rest of it wasn’t so easy to deal with. She didn’t like fighting with her family. She’d had the fantasy of a warm and loving reunion in mind, but the reality was about as far from that as it was possible to get. She hated the lectures, the assumptions, the judging, the rejection. Worse, without them, she was truly alone.
Gracie tried to tell herself that she’d been alone since the death of her aunt and uncle. The only difference was now she knew it whereas before she’d hoped she had more. Only the news didn’t make her feel any better.
Fighting a headache, she pulled into the driveway of her rental only to see a familiar car parked next to her spot. The gleaming Mercedes made her heart beat a little faster, but that was nothing compared with the rapid tap dance it took up when Riley stepped out and nodded at her.
Man, oh man, did he look good. She liked the way the sunlight caught the earring he wore. How many bank presidents claimed that slightly sexy, slightly dangerous look? She liked that he was strong and determined and someone she could count on. She liked how he made her feel inside. Okay, she liked how he made her feel on the outside, too. She wanted—
Gracie stopped her car and turned off the engine. In the second it took her to drop her keys into her purse and open the door to step out, she reminded herself that not only was she in town for a few weeks, but that she couldn’t seriously think about getting involved with Riley.
No, no, no, no, no. Not him. Remember? Anyone but him. He was her past, her scary obsession. He was a man going in one direction and she…she was going somewhere else.
“Hi,” she said as she got out and slammed her door shut.
“Have you been waiting long?”
He shrugged. “About fifteen minutes. I was about to call your cell.”
“I was at Pam’s. Baking. So what’s up?”
“We have to talk.”
She couldn’t help smiling. “Riley, that’s the girl’s line. I thought guys took an oath to never say it.”
“This time it’s true. We have to talk about last night. We didn’t use a condom. If you’re not on the Pill, we have to discuss what could happen.”
RILEY WATCHED closely as Gracie reacted to his statement. Her eyes widened slightly, her mouth twisted and her shoulders slumped. Obviously this was not the topic she’d hoped they would discuss. But did that mean she was guilty of setting him up in more ways than one?
He couldn’t decide, and he hadn’t been able to come to a decision all day. He wanted to say he knew Gracie, but did he? She was funny and smart and led with her heart and her chin, but he’d been used by women before. Was she any different or was she just better at it?
“Come on in,” she said, and led the way into the house.
He followed her into the kitchen where she put down her purse and turned toward him. She folded her arms over her chest.
“It was just one time,” she said, sounding more defensive than angry. “The odds of anything happening are really, really slim.”
What he didn’t understand was how it had happened at all. Ever since he’d been a kid and thought he’d gotten Pam pregnant, he’d been obsessively careful. But last night….
“I agree it’s unlikely,” he said. “But I want to know.”
She nodded and walked to the large calendar on the wall. Stickers of cakes had been placed on various dates with the names and locations next to them in black felt pen. She counted out the days twice, then sighed.
“My period is due in twelve days.”
Riley figured he knew as much or as little about the inner workings of the female reproductive system as the next guy. He prided himself on being good in bed, but the baby-making stuff was more of a mystery. Information reluctantly learned in high school sex-ed drifted through his brain. If he remembered correctly, midcycle was the most dangerous time. Well, shit.
“How long after that can you find out if you’re pregnant?” he asked.
She winced. “I don’t know. A couple of days. I’ve never used a pregnancy test myself, but I’ve heard they’re fast and you don’t need to be very late.”
She turned to face him. Her eyes were wide and troubled. “Don’t you think it’s a tiny bit premature to be having this conversation? Can’t we just wait and see what happens?”