Almost Like Being in Love (28 page)

BOOK: Almost Like Being in Love
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“I think Miriam knows how to keep a secret.”

“Right. You say this about the girl who couldn't hide the fact that she was crushing on her boss.”

“That's old news, Kade. Miriam does good work.”

“I know she does. If there's one thing your father taught me, it's how the people at the front desk make the first impression for your business.”

The mention of her father provided an additional barrier between them.

“My father does know business.”

“That he does. I've never regretted working for him.”

“You . . . haven't?”

“No. Russell Hollister taught me a lot about being a Realtor—things I still use today. The importance of focusing on future success, not past failures.”

“A key Hollister principle.” Caron stood, picking up her cup, and backed toward the door. “And I need to focus on making phone calls to furniture stores. Maybe doing a little shopping.”

“You got my e-mail with the budget, right? Do you have notes on how much you've spent?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Good. Anything else I can do for you?”

“No, not at the moment.”

Caron escaped to her office, closing the door behind her. She buried her face in her hands, willing her heartbeat to slow down.

Why was her heart tripping her up, her emotions tugging her toward Kade? Was it just because her life was so unsettled? Because Alex was so far away?

She was in transition, caught between what she'd planned for the future and all the unclear choices. It was as if she'd been sitting in an old canoe tied to a dock. Everything was safe. Familiar. And then someone had cut the canoe loose from its moorings and sent her floating down the river. But she had no paddles to use to guide her course. No control. Her only hope was to hang on and pray until she was anchored somewhere safe again.

•  •  •

She ought to resign as one of Margo's bridesmaids.

“I'm sorry I missed the last get-together to work on our bridesmaid jewelry.” Caron had thought the idea of being
around to help with Margo's wedding would be fun, but it was becoming just one more thing to do.

“I understand.” Margo's hug was almost an afterthought as she pulled her toward the table covered with wedding invitations and envelopes and a package of stamps. “You can make it up to me by helping address the invitations now. And there's always the trial makeup session.”

“The what?”

“A friend of mine is a makeup artist and she's offered to do my makeup on my wedding day. We're going to meet and do a trial run. Come with me?”

“If I can, sure. But life's only going to get busier the closer we get to the Peak Tour of Homes.”

“I understand. I know you came out here to work, and I'm just glad you're here. But Kade Webster must be some sort of slave driver. You're living with me, but I barely even see you—”

“It's not Kade, it's me. I've got to make sure I pull off staging this house. I'm either on the phone talking to someone at a furniture store, or I'm driving back and forth to different furniture stores, or I'm looking at websites—” Caron settled into one of the white ladder-back chairs encircling the table.

“Surely you've got it figured out by now. The tour is only a couple of weeks away.”

“I think so. I just want to impress Eddie Kingston . . . and Kade. I don't want him to regret asking me to do this.”

“You're a natural decorator, Caron. Even back in college, we had the coolest room in the entire dorm.”

“Decorating a dorm room or my own house—that's just having fun. Staging Eddie Kingston's house for the tour where judges are flown in from out of state—that's business. I didn't feel this much pressure the few times I helped stage homes for my dad.”

“Just pretend this is your own home, Caron. I know you can
do this. Relax. Try to have fun with it. This sounds like a dream project for you.”

“This house is a little different, especially since it's being modified for a handicapped person. Maybe a Wounded Warrior.” Caron couldn't hold back her smile. “But I have to admit, even though I keep telling myself that I can't let Kade or Eddie Kingston down, I am enjoying myself. I love staging this house. As a matter of fact . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“What? As a matter of fact what?”

“Okay, don't say anything . . . a part of me likes staging a house more than I like being a Realtor. And—”

“And?”

“And . . . I don't know. Sometimes the idea of switching career fields crosses my mind. But I can't even think about that until I finish this job.”

“Then don't. For now, relax. And believe me when I tell you that you can do this because you are good at it. That's why Kade called you.” Margo set a pile of envelopes in front of her, along with the stamps “So your goal is a beautiful house, right?”

“Yes. But with someone like Mitch in mind, I'm thinking practical but not sterile. Practical with personality.”

“If anyone can pull it off, you can, Caron.” Even as Margo encouraged her, she opened her laptop and pulled up an Excel spreadsheet of her guest list. “Okay. How about you forget about work for a little while and help me with these invitations?”

“Anyone else joining us tonight?”

“No, it's just you and me. I figure the two of us can handle this. You've got stamps and return-address-label duty.” Margo settled into the chair beside Caron. “Tell me what's going on, besides working for Kade. How are you and Alex?”

Alex.

Caron opened the roll of stamps and began affixing them in the upper right-hand corner of each of the envelopes. After adding the return address labels, she stacked the envelopes into piles of ten. Margo worked alongside her.

After a few moments, Margo's voice broke the silence. “So, no comment on Alex?”

“We're fine.”

“Well, that's not exactly a rousing endorsement of your relationship.”

“Things have been a little off between us the past few weeks.”

“Explain what you mean by ‘off.' ”

“Alex didn't like the idea of the destination wedding in Telluride. At all. And he didn't understand why I quit working for my dad. Honestly, it felt as if he was taking my dad's side instead of supporting me.”

“And I can only imagine how he felt about you coming out here to work for Kade Webster.”

“That didn't go over well.” Caron affixed another address label to an envelope. “And I already told you about how Alex proposed on the way to the airport.”

“Yes—where he didn't look at you and he didn't have a ring.”

“That was pretty much it.” Caron shifted in the chair, unraveling the roll of stamps. “But there's always proposal number two, right?”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Do you really think you're going to marry Alex Madison?”

Caron re-rolled the stamps. “What kind of question is that, Margo?”

“A question I expect you to answer.”

“Just because he didn't handle the first proposal all that well—”

“You're being gracious, giving the guy a practice run. But that's not why I asked the question. There are other things . . .” Her friend trailed off. “Never mind.”

“Oh, no. You can't say something like that and then say ‘never mind.' ” Caron waited until Margo looked at her. “What are you thinking?”

“I'm all for the marry-your-best-friend adage. Sometimes. And then sometimes I think you fall in love with someone and you get married and then you become best friends.”

“Your point?”

“You and Alex . . . you're just friends. Always have been—and I think you always will be.”

“Alex and I haven't always been friends. I couldn't stand him during high school.”

“Back then you were still family friends.” Margo hooked her arm over the back of the chair. “Your parents were friends. And there was that whole we-betrothed-you-guys-at-birth stuff. What a crazy expectation to have put on you.”

“I never bought into that.”

“Well, you certainly pushed back against it for a lot of years. But then, I think you caved.”

“I . . . caved?” Caron dropped the roll of stamps so that it unwound again.

“You started dating Alex awfully fast after you broke up with Kade—”

“So?”

“Well, he is the parentally approved choice, isn't he?”

“Margo, I am not dating Alex just because my parents like him. We get along—”

“Like friends, Caron.”

Caron pushed her hands against the table, causing several stacks of envelopes to topple. “We
are
friends—”

“Let me finish. You act like friends—and nothing more.” Margo plunged ahead, overriding Caron's protest, her blue eyes sparking. “Oh sure, you hold hands. You even kiss. Yay! But for the most part, your relationship with Alex is so . . . so casual. And if it's casual now, what's it going to be like five years from now?”

“We're comfortable with one another. Is that so bad?”

“I like my jeans to be comfortable. Or my old, reliable shoes that I run around town in when I'm doing errands all day. But I don't think being in love with someone should be described as ‘comfortable.' ”

“Well, when you compare my relationship with Alex to a pair of old shoes or worn-out jeans—”

“Answer one question for me, and then I'll drop this whole subject.”

Caron straightened a stack of white envelopes. “Ask away.”

“When you were dating Kade, would you describe that relationship as comfortable?”

What was Margo doing bringing up Kade?

“Kade is not Alex. You cannot compare the two men.”

“Exactly!” Margo leaned forward. “So?”

“So what?”

“Answer the question.”

Her relationship with Kade—comfortable? The man intrigued her. At times he infuriated her. He almost dared her to be more than she imagined for herself. And then there were his kisses . . . times when the passion was both enticing and almost frightening. When she was thankful he never asked more of her than she was willing to give because maybe she would have said yes.

“I wish I had a mirror so you could see your face right now.” Margo's voice sounded triumphant.

“I don't need to answer the question because it is irrelevant.”
Caron looked away. “I am no longer dating Kade Webster. I am not getting engaged to Kade Webster.”

“So you're willing to settle for comfortable.”

“I am not settling!” Caron stomped her foot, her knee jarring the table and causing several stacks of envelopes to fall over again.

“Then forget I said anything. If Alex is your choice, I'm happy for you.”

“Don't say that. You think marrying Alex is the wrong choice.”

“I don't know why you broke up with Kade. You refused to talk about it. And yes, I still have my opinion about things, but I won't say anything else. I just don't want you to spend the rest of your life wondering ‘what if.' Alex is some safe, approved, passion-free zone. Don't you want more than that for your marriage?” Margo grasped Caron's hand. “When I see you talk about Kade—even now—your entire face lights up with emotion.”

“I thought we were addressing invitations, Margo. Not discussing my love life.”

“I'm done. But I will say just one more thing—” Margo picked up her pen again. “When you were with Kade . . . when he was around, you shimmered like one of those Fourth of July sparklers. I miss that.”

TWENTY-EIGHT

T
he slightest chill clung to the mountain air, even as the clouds overhead rolled back to reveal a slate-blue sky. Energy pulsed through the area, strongest where the participants for the next heat of the Aspen Mass Mudder assembled in the waiting area. The constant rumble of voices, threaded through with laughter and the blare of music through loudspeakers, was an unrelenting wave of vocal thunder—rising, receding, and rising again.

People wove in and out of the vendors' tents dotting the base of the mountain—sports drinks, energy bars, athletic wear. Men and women who'd already finished the obstacle course—some still covered in mud, some wet from hosing down in the rinse-off area—relaxed in small groups, hugging and high-fiving, recounting their experiences with elaborate hand motions.

“Are you glad you came?”

Lacey's question tugged Caron's attention away from the starting line, where Kade and Mitch, along with the four other members of the team, waited for the start of their race. All six men wore identical orange T-shirts emblazoned with the words
MUD DEVILS
and a stylized cartoon of a mud tornado on the front. Mitch wore pants with extra padding to protect his stumps from being torn up on the course.

“Are you kidding? This is fantastic!” Caron held up her cell phone. “I'm taking photos, too, but they're going to be pitiful, compared to yours.”

BOOK: Almost Like Being in Love
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