“Again?” Gracie asked, then winced when she realized that sounded kind of unfeeling.
“You don’t get it,” Vivian told her through her tears. “Before, all those fights, it was me. I kept telling him the wedding was off and walking out. I j-just wanted some attention from him. He seemed to be so quiet and serious lately. But after last night, when I walked out again, he came by to s-see me this morning. He said it was over. For real. That I w-wasn’t ready to be married to him or anyone.”
She covered her face with her hands and continued to sob. Gracie moved close and patted her shoulder. She knew she should probably be hugging her sister, but that didn’t feel right. They weren’t that close anymore.
Vivian reached in her jeans pocket and pulled out a tissue. “He said I’m too immature, that he loves me, but he’s not going to see me anymore until I grow up.”
“I’m sorry,” Gracie said softly.
Vivian shook her head. “I don’t know what to do. He won’t talk to me. He really means it. He said every time I called off the wedding I really hurt him, but that I didn’t seem to care. He said I only thought about myself in all this. That I was wrong to make Mom take out a loan to pay for our wedding. He said I was a spoiled brat and that I should be ashamed of myself.”
The tears started anew. Gracie hovered next to her, not sure what she should say.
“Have you talked to Mom?” she asked in desperation.
“N-no.” Vivian sniffed and wiped her face. “She’s going to be really mad about all this. She’s told her friends everything about the wedding, and how great it’s going to be. If she has to go back and say it’s off, she’ll just die.”
Gracie had a strong feeling her mother would be far more upset about the money that couldn’t be refunded. “I’m sure her friends will understand.”
Vivian looked at her. “Are you kidding? They’ll gloat about it. That’s how they are. Their daughters’ weddings didn’t get canceled. Mom is going to kill me.”
“I know this all seems really horrible right now,” Gracie said as she rubbed her sister’s back. “It hurts and there doesn’t seem to be a solution, but it will get better. Now you have some time to figure out what you really want. Is Tom the guy you want to spend your life with?”
“Of course he is. That’s why I wanted to marry him. I only said I was canceling the wedding to get him to pay attention to me.”
“Why didn’t you just ask for his attention?”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Like anyone ever does that. Have you ever even had a boyfriend?”
“Lots. And I learned a long time ago that playing games was never smart. Vivian, did you listen to what Tom said to you? He wants you to be honest with him.”
“No guy wants that.” She straightened and squared her shoulders. “Okay, I can fix this. I’ll just show up at his place wearing nothing. He’ll have to let me in then. Once I’ve got him in bed, I can convince him of everything. Okay. Yeah. That’s a good plan. It will be fine.” She gave Gracie a watery smile. “I gotta go get ready. Thanks for listening. I’ll let you know when Tom agrees to the wedding again.”
She waved, then hurried out of the house. Gracie closed the door behind her and leaned against the frame. She felt as if she’d just had a close encounter with an alien from a different planet. Did Vivian really think she could seduce her fiancé back into marriage? Gracie had only met Tom a couple of times but from what she’d seen, he seemed like a rational, sensible sort of man. His points about her sister were all valid. She hoped he was strong enough to force Vivian to grow up a little, but who knew. Of course if he was weak enough to be done in by a naked woman in his hallway, then he deserved what he would get.
“Not my problem,” she said as she turned back toward her bedroom. She caught sight of the clock in the hallway and shrieked. It was nearly six-thirty and fabulous took way more than thirty minutes.
RILEY PAUSED outside of Bill’s Mexican Grill and squeezed Gracie’s hand. “If you keep breathing that fast, you’re going to hyperventilate. We don’t have to do this. We can leave now and I’ll call Mac from the car and tell him we’re having take-out at my place.”
Gracie shook her head. Her normally straight blond hair moved in a cascade of curls that had him itching to touch. Makeup emphasized her wide eyes and full mouth. She was gorgeous.
The clothes were just as good. A short skirt emphasized her long, tanned legs. A kind of sweater thing hugged breasts he knew to be soft, erotic and luscious. She was a poster girl for sexual desire and he wanted to subscribe to get the autographed set.
“I can do this,” she said, her voice low and determined.
He’d been so busy thinking about how much he wanted her, it took him a second to catch up. “Dinner?”
“Uh-huh. I’ll be fine. I’m completely okay with this. I have nerves of steel. I’m invincible.” She glanced at him. “Do I look okay?”
He grinned, then lightly kissed her cheek. “You’re beautiful. I’ve been impressed for a long time, but now I’m in awe.”
“Wow. Awe works.” She leaned close. “Whatever happens, promise you won’t leave my side?”
“My word of honor. Ready?”
She nodded and pushed open the door to the restaurant.
Inside the combination of voices and mariachi music from the bar assaulted them. He knew the restaurant would be quieter in the back, where Mac had booked their table. Riley gave his name to the hostess standing in front.
“The rest of your party is here,” the teenager said with a smile. “If you’ll follow me.”
She wove her way through dozens of tables. Gracie gripped his hand hard enough to snap bone.
“People are staring,” she whispered. “I can feel it. Oh, God, this was a really, really bad idea. It’s because we’re together. How could we do this?”
He pulled his hand free and wrapped an arm around her waist. “You’re fine. If anyone is staring it’s because you look like a goddess. Every guy in the place wants you.”
That made her laugh. “Oh, please. On what planet?”
“I’m serious. If I’d known how great you were going to turn out, I might have paid attention to you all those years ago.”
She snorted. “I was fourteen. I could have been a goddess and you still would have ignored me.”
“The age difference seemed bigger back then,” he admitted. “Plus the whole go-to-prison thing. You were jailbait.”
“I’m not anymore.”
He squeezed her closer. “Is that an invitation?” he asked in a low whisper.
He was about to say that dinner no longer interested him when he saw Mac and Jill sitting at a table in the corner. The other couple rose and waved them over.
“Hi,” Jill said brightly, as she settled back in her chair. “We saw this corner table was open and thought we should grab it while we could. It’s much less conspicuous.”
Gracie winced. “Because people are going to talk, right? That’s what you’re saying. I knew it. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Mac looked wary. “For real, or is this drama?”
Gracie placed a hand on her stomach. “I don’t know.”
“It’s drama,” Riley said and pulled out a chair. “A few chips and salsa will make you feel better.”
Gracie brightened. “I do like chips. They’re not dangerous.”
“Like bread?” he asked.
“Exactly.” She beamed at him. “You remembered.”
She sank into her seat. He and Mac exchanged a look that said “women—what can we do?” then they sat down as well.
“How’s it going?” Mac asked Riley.
“Okay. Poll numbers are down since the debate. Not a surprise. Zeke, my campaign manager, is coming up with some strategies.”
“I never liked the mayor,” Jill said with a sniff. “He’s so smarmy.” She shivered. “I want you to kick his butt. In the election,” she added when Mac raised his eyebrows. “Not literally, although I wouldn’t mind that either.”
“And here I thought you were sworn to uphold the law,” her husband said as he put his arm around her.
“No, honey. That’s you.”
They smiled at each other. Riley studied their easy exchange. When he’d first heard his old friend had taken the job as sheriff and remarried, he’d actually felt sorry for the guy. Who would want a life like that? But now, watching them together, he saw they had a connection. He wasn’t sure he believed in love, but if it existed, then Mac and Jill shared it.
“There’s something different,” Gracie said, leaning toward her friend. “What is it?”
Jill shrugged. “I can’t imagine.”
“No, there’s something. You’re…different.” Gracie tilted her head. “It’s not your hair. No highlights. Show me your teeth. Did you get them whitened?”
Jill laughed. “No.”
Riley narrowed his gaze. Gracie was right. Something had changed. Jill looked radiant.
Suddenly Gracie shrieked loud enough for nearby diners to turn in their direction.
“Are you?” she demanded as she clutched her friend’s hand. “You are. I can tell.”
Jill blushed, then nodded. “I just found out this morning. I never thought it would happen so fast. We just started trying, but yeah. I’m pregnant.”
“That is so great!”
Gracie flew out of her seat and rounded the table. Jill stood and they hugged. Riley leaned over to Mac and offered his hand.
“Congratulations,” he said.
“Thanks. We’re both happy.” Mac looked sheepish. “It’s a little fast. I thought we’d have a couple of months, but I guess we got it right the first time.”
Gracie and Jill returned to their seats. “Are you in shock?” Gracie asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Jill said. “I haven’t even bought any baby books.”
Riley watched the women. Was Gracie pregnant as well? They still had a few days until they would know. What would he think if she was? From his perspective, he doubted he would consider the idea “getting it right the first time.”
“Well, well, isn’t this something.”
Riley turned and saw two older women standing by their table. He started to rise, but the one with sausage curls put a surprisingly firm hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t get up. Not that I don’t appreciate the manners.”
Mac shifted uncomfortably. “Riley, I don’t think you’ve met Wilma. She runs the sheriff’s office.”
“Hi.” The shorter of the two women stared at him. “This is my friend, Eunice Baxter.”
“My neighbor,” Gracie whispered. “Hi, Ms. Baxter.”
“Hello, Gracie. My, my, don’t you young people look so nice out together?” Eunice squeezed his shoulder. “I’m glad to see you’ve come to your senses, Riley. Gracie always did know how to love a man. When I think about all she did to get your attention, it does my heart good to see you with her now.”
He wasn’t sure what to say. “Um, yes, ma’am.”
Eunice giggled. “Such fine manners. I liked your mama so much. I’m sorry she’s not alive to see this. You’ve done her proud.”
“We should go,” Wilma said. “Have a nice dinner.”
The old ladies left. Gracie rubbed her temples.
“I warned you,” she said. “I said this was really, really bad, that people would see and talk about us.”