“Maybe he needed proof of that before the wedding,” Gracie said softly.
“Things will get better,” their mother said. “If you two are meant to be together, you’ll find your way back to each other.”
“I hope so.” Tears filled Vivian’s eyes. “It’s just I miss him so much. Plus, I feel really horrible about everything that’s already paid for. I’m supposed to pick up the wedding dress on Friday. What on earth should I do with it?”
“Keep it,” Alexis said cheerfully. “I told you—he’ll come around.”
“I don’t think so. And even if he does, I don’t think we’d have the same wedding.” Vivian stared at her cake. “He was really angry about how much everything was costing. He said he was going to call you and talk about repaying you for the deposits.”
“He already did,” her mother said.
“You’re kidding. What did you say?”
“That I would handle it, but I appreciated the offer.”
Gracie found herself regretting that the wedding was off. Tom sounded like a great guy and someone who would treat her sister well.
“Keep the dress,” Gracie said. “If you don’t get back together, you can sell it on e-Bay.”
Vivian nodded. “I can. You’re right. I just have to….” She squared her shoulders. “Mom, have you canceled everything already? I mean, I can make some phone calls and stuff.”
“It’s all done, but thanks for asking.”
Vivian shook her head. “No. I need to do something. It’s not right that you had all the work and all the expense. I know I said I’d work to help pay for my wedding dress, but I wasn’t very responsible about it. I really want to commit to working in the store. We’ll come up with a schedule, okay? I’ll promise at least fifteen hours a week until I’ve paid you back.”
“Honey, you don’t have to do that.”
Vivian gave a shaky smile. “I think you’d better let me. It might be the only way I’ll ever grow up.”
“Good point,” her mother said.
Alexis rolled her eyes, but Gracie felt a tugging sensation around her heart. Maybe there was hope for Vivian after all. If she matured, she would certainly have a shot at winning back Tom.
Vivian turned to Gracie. “Maybe you could give me some pointers on getting over the only guy I’ve ever loved. How did you recover from Riley?”
Gracie opened her mouth, then closed it. A month ago, she would have said time and distance. Today, she wasn’t sure she was over Riley, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to be. He was everything she’d ever dreamed of finding in a man with a few bonuses thrown in for good measure.
She blinked. “I’m the wrong person to ask,” she said slowly. “I’m not over him. In fact, I’m in love with him.” She looked at her mother. “Sorry, Mom. I know this isn’t what you wanted.”
“Ha. I’m done caring about those vultures I’ve called friends. If you love him, then I want you two to be happy. Are you?”
“I don’t know. Right now I’m in shock.”
“It’s all because of me,” Alexis said smugly. “I’m the reason they got back together.”
“Is it a good thing?” Vivian asked. “Do you want to be in love with him again? Does he love you?”
“I don’t know,” Gracie said, feeling both shocked and more than a little bubbly. “I think he cares some, but…I don’t know.”
“You’re going to tell him, aren’t you?” her mother asked.
“Sure. Of course. After the election.”
The other three Landon women spoke at once.
“I have to wait,” Gracie said. “He’s behind in the polls. I can’t distract him from the election.”
Although if she did and he lost, he couldn’t close the bank and the loans wouldn’t be called.
No! She refused to work like that, dealing behind his back. It was wrong.
“I’m so confused,” she admitted. “I will tell him, but not just yet.”
Vivian eyed her. “What size are you? Want to buy a beautiful but never worn wedding gown?”
Gracie gave a strangled laugh. “Let me get back to you on that one.”
“COME,” RILEY CALLED without looking up from his computer screen. Diane’s distinctive knock meant he always knew when it was her.
“We have been approached by the historical society ticket committee,” she said after she’d stepped into his office.
“They have a whole committee to sell tickets?”
“It’s really only two people, but they like to sound bigger than that.”
He pushed the save button and turned to face his secretary. “Fair enough. How many do they want me to buy?”
Diane pressed her lips together. “Obviously as many as you would like, but I informed them you were not interested in supporting local civic charities and that it was unlikely—”
“I’ll take fifty.”
He had the pleasure of watching Diane’s mouth drop open.
“Fifty tickets,” he said, speaking slowly, as if not sure of her cognitive abilities. “Buy them and pass them out to the staff. I want one, as well. Leave the extras on a table for those interested to take them for family members.”
Her mouth closed and her eyes narrowed. “Why do you care about the historical society?”
“But you’re buying tickets. They’re ten dollars each.” He leaned back in his chair and grinned. Ruffling Diane’s prickly tweed-covered feathers was turning out to be a lot of fun. “Maybe your attempts to guilt me into doing things I don’t want to do have worked,” he said.
“I doubt that.”
“Then maybe I want to preserve our historical past.”
“Not even for money.”
He chuckled. If he were sticking around, he would want to give her a raise. “Gracie is baking the cake. Everyone who attends will try it and word will get out that she’s amazing.”
The words were obviously loaded but he couldn’t say with what. “Care to expand on that?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’ll go call the committee?”
“Which half?” One corner of her mouth turned up in an almost smile. Then she excused herself and left his office.
Riley stared at the closed door. He liked Diane. At first she’d simply been efficient, but now she was someone he respected and enjoyed working with. He would miss her when he left. Not that it mattered.
He returned his attention to his computer, but after a few minutes, he shut it down and grabbed his suit jacket. Suddenly the bank president’s office had gotten too small.
He told Diane he was leaving and headed toward the parking lot in the rear. As he approached the double glass door, he saw a woman hurrying toward it. She had a small child by each hand and something about her was familiar.
He held open the door and smiled. “Afternoon.”
“Oh, Mr. Whitefield. How nice to see you.” She nodded. “I’m Becca Jackson. I have the loan for the day-care center in my home.”
“Oh, right. How are you?”
“Great. Busy and tired, but business is wonderful and I love what I do. Thank you again for approving my loan. You’re a lifesaver.”
She stepped into the bank and he moved toward his car. As he walked, he wondered how difficult it would be for her to obtain other financing after the bank closed. She shouldn’t have much of a problem. Of course the new bank would want to go over her profit and loss statements, and as a starting business, she wouldn’t have much in the way of profit.
Not his problem, he told himself and got in his car.
As he drove through town, he found himself noticing different businesses that had loans with the bank. Some would be just fine, but others would never be able to find other funding. Then there were the houses. How many had their loans with him? Ten thousand? Twenty?
He reminded himself he didn’t care. These people were nothing to him. He had a plan, and it wasn’t about staying in Los Lobos. He wanted to destroy everything his uncle had ever cared about. Maybe then he would be able to sleep at night.
He turned into a residential neighborhood and pulled up to the sidewalk. Small, one-story homes lined the street. The lawns were well kept, the trees nearly touched over the center of the street. Families lived here. Babies were born and grew up. Fathers mowed the lawns on Saturday morning.
He’d wanted that once. Years ago, after his dad had walked out, Riley had dreamed about a simple life filled with everyday activities. He’d wanted a house instead of a single wide. Two parents instead of just one. He’d wanted his mom happy, not crying when she thought he was asleep because she couldn’t stretch the money far enough to buy him school supplies or get them cable. Sometimes she’d only made dinner for him, while she went hungry.
He’d hated that more than anything. And his uncle, who could have fixed it all, had simply turned his back on his only sister. The old bastard had even let her die.
Riley wouldn’t forget that—not ever.
He parked the car and turned off the engine. After slipping into his jacket, he walked up to the closest house and knocked on the front door. A woman in her early forties answered.
“Good afternoon,” he said cheerfully. “My name is Riley Whitefield and I’m running for mayor.”
The woman glared at him. “I guess you are. I recognize your picture. If you’re here about the election, you can forget it. I would have voted for you before. I don’t like that weasel Yardley, but compared to you, he’s a saint.”
“Excuse me?” Riley had no idea how he could have offended someone he’d never met. “What changed your mind?”
“Gracie Landon. I don’t actually know her, but I’ve heard all the stories. She was crazy about you. Loved you with her whole heart and you never appreciated it. You still don’t.”
No. This was not happening.
“I can assure you Gracie and I never…” Never what? Slept together? “She’s not pregnant and if she were, I would marry her right away.”
“Oh, sure. That’s romantic. You’ll take her on if your careless behavior screws up her life. Wow. Talk about noble.” She shook her head. “You don’t get it, do you? Gracie is a legend. She loved with a fearlessness we all admire. But you never understood what a gift she offered. You only saw her as a pain in the ass. Well, you’re wrong. Her love is a precious gift and if you’re too stupid to see that, you’re too stupid to be mayor.”
“HOW DID IT GO?” Zeke asked later that evening when they met at Riley’s house to finalize their campaign plans.
Riley was already on his second Scotch. He figured he might as well go for a third later. The situation would be a hell of a lot easier to deal with drunk. Not that three drinks would even get him close, but it was a start.
“Define interesting,” Zeke said. “Interesting good?”
Riley closed his eyes as he relived the afternoon he’d spent going door-to-door in Los Lobos.
“I visited about thirty houses where someone was home. I’d say about eight-five percent of them basically told me they wouldn’t vote for me until hell froze over.”
Zeke swore. “It’s the Gracie thing, isn’t it?”
Riley nodded. Who knew that something from his past would jump up and bite him so firmly in the ass? “It was those damn newspaper articles,” he said grimly. “People who had never heard of Gracie or me feel as if they lived a part of our lives with us. They feel involved. Right now they’re taking her side and assuming I’m the bastard in all this.”