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Chapter 12, Luke

I saw Gracie sitting down at a table with Ariana, throwing her head back, mouth open wide in laughter. It was a delightful contrast to the snakelike manipulations of Sylvia, who had tried to pretend that she had returned to Briarville out of a longing to be with me again.

She certainly didn’t read or listen to the news, so I wasn’t sure how she had found out about the sale of my company, but whatever the means by which she had acquired the information, I wasn’t having any of her false pretense.

I had sent her packing and was ready to cut loose a little, and by the sounds of Gracie’s laughter, it appeared she had had a head start.

I walked over to the table, and, as I approached, Gracie’s demeanor did an about-face. Her delightful laughter stormed into a frown and a pout. Crisscrossed arms marked a line beneath her voluptuous breasts. God help me if it didn’t make me want to smile, although I knew that would be exactly the wrong response to her apparent upset.

Most likely, she had seen me talking to Sylvia and had assumed the worst. Next thing I knew, Gracie was grabbing Ariana by the hand and dragging her onto the dance floor.

Gracie’s caramel-colored curls flung about her head as she rotated her body to the music. Ariana struck ironic Vogue poses with a stern face.

I decided to give her space and try to approach her later. For now, a single malt was definitely in order.

* * *

“Couple of fingers of Johnny Walker Red on ice with a twist of lemon, please.” I sucked the drink down faster than I should have and ordered another. Luckily, there was a designated haybale ride for those guests who wanted to drink at the wedding.

I sipped the second scotch more slowly as I watched the girls twirl and pose on the dancefloor. Gracie had been dancing with Ariana for a good long while and flounced back to her table to gather her breath. I watched as she sat and sipped her fancy cocktail through a straw, which walloped me over the head with a single thought—good suction—and what I wanted to put between her lips instead of that straw.

I tried not to stare but was finding that task impossible. The scotch warmed my belly, and the rest of my blood followed suit with the sight of Gracie sucking at her drink.

With a little liquid courage, I was able to head over to her table and face that frown, even if we were in front of practically the entire town. There was much attention focused on this new woman in my life and the old one who had made a surprise showing. This was just the kind of thing that made a small town smile, a little bit of drama to talk about. Tongues would be wagging for weeks.

Luckily, I didn’t care.

I sat next to Gracie. “Hey.”

“What do you want?” she sniped.

“You looked so happy out there on the dancefloor. What’s got you upset all of a sudden?”

“You know good and well what’s chapped my ass,” she stated. “I saw you making out with that blonde behind the barn.”

Making out? I wasn’t making out with her.” Oh God, I could see her back set and her chin raise just like my sister did when she was mad.

I remembered my recent lesson on how to properly interact with someone without overreacting when dealing with a situation that was out of my control.

Bless you, Nelly, you were well worth the $100.

Engaging those active listening skills.

“I can see how you might think that I was making out with her, but truth be told, she came at me with a bunch of nonsense about wanting to be my girlfriend again. I let her know that I was with you. And even if I wasn’t with you, I wouldn’t be interested in Sylvia. She wasn’t having any of it and I had to get right up in her face to convince her, so I do see how you might think there was something else going on. I’m so sorry, Gracie. There is only one girl on my mind right now. In fact, I can’t get her out of my mind.”

Gracie put the straw between her lips again and took a long sip.

“Listen, I wanted to dance with you, but I’m wondering if you might be willing to take a hayride back to town, have dinner with me, and then come home with me.”

“Well, I’ve had my fill of dancing, and I wasn’t otherwise occupied. I guess I could go with you—if you promise that you’re not still interested in that girl. I don’t want to be in the way of that. All I know is once a cheater, always a cheater, and I’m not willing to put up with that. So, don’t even try to bring me into some cruddy drama with your ex. I’m not interested.”

“Gracie, I wouldn’t do that. You mean too much to me. Look, we’ve only known each other a couple of weeks, and already I feel like I’m crazy about you. Will you please just come home with me? Let me show you how I feel.”

Her cheeks turned a little bit pink over that last remark. This girl had no idea of all the ways that she was adorable to me. I had never experienced anything like this. It was just the right fit, even better than my favorite pair of old 501s.

I held Gracie’s hand as we stood in line for the hayride. At times like this, I loved my town. All the men were wearing cowboy boots, their best pressed jeans, Rodeo belt buckles, and pearl button snap shirts; seventy-five percent of them wore cowboy hats.

We rode the hay wagon down the main street past the colorfully painted Victorian homes. Chet, the driver of the hay wagon, did us a favor and delivered us to my front door, about a half a mile off the main street.

“Thank you kindly, Chet. It’s so nice of you to go out of your way. ’Preciate it.”

“Happy to do it. Better than having people drive after drinking.”

I opened the front door with Gracie’s hand in mind, pulled her in behind me, and locked up. There were things I wanted to do to her that I had been thinking of all day. Finally, I had Gracie all to myself.

Or so I thought.

I heard a scream from the back bathroom where Gracie had gone to freshen up.

I ran toward her as fast as I could, my heart pounding in every part of my body. My thoughts raced.

Please let her be safe. Don’t let anything have happened to her.

I ran back to the master bathroom to find Gracie with her hands over her mouth and Sylvia standing as naked as a jaybird on the thick bathmat. She was dripping wet. I could see, oddly enough, that there was a swollen bump to her belly.

I knew the way that she starved herself on a regular basis in order to remain thin. Tiny though the bump might have been, it could only mean one thing.

“What the hell are you doing here, Sylvia?”

“You mean you didn’t tell her?”

“Tell her what? What are you talking about?”

“Oh, Luke, you’re not going to be able to keep it a secret for much longer.”

“You need to get yourself dressed and get out of my house. Now.”

“Have it your way, but sooner rather than later, it’s going to be clear to everybody in this town that I’m carrying your child.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “You and I haven’t been together for a year and a half. How on earth could I have gotten you pregnant?”

“Oh, Luke, don’t be silly. You know that you came to see me in LA. It was during that time that we conceived. Don’t try to hide it.”

“Woman. Put your clothes on, stat.” I tossed the voluminous dress towards her. I should have known something was up when I saw her wearing a baggy dress to the wedding. Sylvia never passed up an opportunity to showcase her figure in a skimpy cocktail dress. This one was completely not her style.

I heard the front door slam shut. I ran towards the front of the house and opened the door to see that Chet must have been stopped for a break. He had picked Gracie up again and was trotting the horses toward town, far enough away now that he didn’t hear me crying out to Gracie, “Gracie, stop! Come back!”

The hay wagon continued to trot on out of sight.

* * *

“Isn’t this a little overkill?” I asked?

Charlie turned the sirens on full force as soon as he pulled out of my driveway. He had been kind enough to come pick me up after I had told him that I’d already had a couple of scotches and didn’t want to drive like that.

“Why do you think I became a small town cop if not to be able to turn the sirens on full blast and haul ass down country lanes?”

“Is it really necessary to have these things going when you pull up to that wedding? This is going to be enough of a scene as it is.”

Charlie did me a favor and flicked off the sirens as he neared the end of my lane, slowing down as he approached the main street.

“Well, I hate to tell you, but you hooked up with the wrong woman if you don’t like drama. Sylvia is a hot mess. I could have told you that if you’d asked me, but at the time, I think you were blinded by that hot bod of hers. She’ll try to drag you into drama left, right, and center. It’s her modus operandi.”

“Look, she’s trying to say that her baby is mine, but she’s been gone nearly two years. Unless that child was immaculately conceived, it’s gotta be some other guy’s. Sylvia doesn’t need my money to take care of herself and the baby; she inherited plenty of money from her parents. She’s just here to make my life miserable.”

“Well, listen, worst case scenario is you get a paternity test to prove it. She’s only here to make your new woman jealous and stir up a ruckus. You’ve got a nice girl in Gracie, and Sylvia’s managed to run her off. Making her think that you’re someone’s baby daddy.”

“Listen, I appreciate the ride. I really do. Wish me luck and keep out of trouble, Charlie.”

“Good luck. I wish y’all the best.”

I walked into the reception, which was still in full force, a little louder now that the drinks had been flowing for a while.

Gracie was standing at the bar with Ariana doing straight shots of something. And in that moment, I knew it was likely going to be one hell of a rough night.


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