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Authors: Susan Behon

One Last Call (3 page)

BOOK: One Last Call
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Josh cleared his throat. “So, congratulations on your business. I’ve been to your bar a time or two since I’ve been back.” There was a short pause. “Uh, great potato skins.”

Sarah remained quiet.

“Have you seen me there?” He sounded hopeful, or possibly suspicious.

She wasn’t admitting anything. Each time she even suspected he was at the bar, she retreated to her office to attend to pressing business matters. If that meant shuffling through invoices and rearranging paper clips on her desk, so be it.

“Sarah?” When she didn’t acknowledge him, Josh threw out, “Sunshine?”

That southern drawl reached out to her in the darkness. It pressed against her heart until she thought the weight of it was going to make her lose her breath. This evening had been too much for her. After so many years, facing Josh again hurt more than Sarah thought possible.

Anything he had to say was pointless. Nothing would ever make up for the way he’d dumped her and disappeared.

“I’m…”

“If you’re about to apologize, you can just forget it.”

* * * *

Josh didn’t think it would be that easy, but he’d hoped like hell it wouldn’t be this hard. He’d have to table the apology for now if he was going to get Sarah to listen to anything. It hadn’t escaped his notice that she couldn’t be any farther away from him if she tried.

At this rate, he was surprised Sarah hadn’t hung her head out the window to avoid breathing the same air as him. Josh could imagine her sunny blonde ponytail flapping in the breeze while she pretended he didn’t exist. She chose to remain angled away from him. He didn’t know why she was staring out the window as if the passing scenery were fascinating. It wasn’t fascinating. There was nothing to see because there was absolutely nothing but pitch darkness all around them.

The past was practically a living thing sitting between them.

His senior year of high school, Josh went from living in Tennessee to staying with his dad in Madison Falls. At seventeen, he’d been a bitter kid with a chip on his shoulder. His mom, Jolene, had gotten remarried, and her new husband had made it clear that Josh wasn’t welcome there anymore. His new stepdad didn’t need an almost-grown kid throwing a monkey wrench in his plans. Stanley wanted a new life with his new wife. Jolene hadn’t disagreed with the guy.

His mom had liked to shop, and Kenny’s child support payments were about to end. Josh had been getting closer to eighteen, and Jolene needed a backup plan. The combination of what she made on tips and the income from Josh’s part-time job wasn’t going to cover her credit card bills. Marrying Stanley, the oncologist, was her golden ticket. It had been crystal clear to Josh that with his mother, it all came down to money. Not having to work anymore was more important than having a relationship with her son.

It didn’t matter that his dad, Kenny, had taken him in readily enough. Getting rejected from the only home he’d ever known hurt, and as a teenager, Josh couldn’t stop being angry all the time. Added to that, he still resented his dad for moving to Madison Falls after the divorce. He’d never even offered to take Josh with him.

At twelve years old, when he’d needed a dad, he’d gotten stuck being the man of the house. Kenny had tried to explain his reasons for leaving, and Josh wouldn’t listen. After all the years without him, it seemed too little, too late. Living together full time was also a major adjustment. Every time Kenny tried to compromise, Josh fought with him anyway.

As a peace offering, his dad had given him an old ’65 Mustang to fix up. Josh grudgingly accepted it as his due. Dumb punk kid that he was, he’d never shown any gratitude. Without that car, he never would have been able to date Sarah and give her rides home from school.

He’d eventually talked her into the backseat of that car. Josh had played the part of the bad boy while Sarah Brandon had been the quintessential sweetheart. Thinking back on all his posturing and cockiness, Josh didn’t know what she’d seen in him. She’d been like a ray of sunlight in his dreary world, soothing him with her sweet kisses and shy flirting.

Sarah loved him and showed it every way she knew how. How had he’d shown her his appreciation for her loving gift? Josh had deserted her and left town. She’d always been too good for him.

Being on this side of the leaving, he understood now what his dad had been trying to tell him. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be any other choice. Still, with choices came consequences and he had a lot of atoning to do. Josh wanted to attempt another apology. Knowing that was futile, he went with small talk instead.

“So, about the insurance thing, why were you against it?”

She ignored him and continued to watch the black-on-black passing scenery.

“Is it because your ex-husband, Dick, is the only agent in town?”

That garnered a glance in his direction. “Richard. And yes, that’s exactly why.” Sarah didn’t elaborate.

“You know, you could go online for insurance. Don’t you ever see those commercials on TV? They play ’em all the time.”

Sarah mumbled something unintelligible and glanced away from him.

Josh was running out of time. Even with him driving slower than normal, they’d be in town soon. He had to get her to talk to him somehow, so he decided to do a little digging. “If you don’t mind my askin’, what caused the split? I always figured you for a two-point-five-kids, white-picket-fence kind of girl.”

“Yes, I do mind you asking!” Sarah closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let out a sigh of resignation. “Fine. Everyone knows everything about everyone here anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard the gossip.”

He’d heard it several times with a few different versions. Darlene Donaldson, his landlady, dished the dirt on Sarah with a disgusting amount of glee and an uncomfortable amount of winking. The only reason he hadn’t told the biddy to shut the hell up was because he wanted to hear more about Sarah. Even a convoluted version of the truth was still news to him.

He waited to see whether Sarah would explain her side of things.

She absently twisted the strap on her purse. “In this case, the rumors are true. My marriage ended on our anniversary.”

“What happened?”

Sarah nodded absently and continued. “Richard said he had to work late so I stopped by his office to surprise him with a picnic lunch.”

“And?”

“And, I surprised him all right.” Sarah laughed. It was more in irony than humor.

“What happened?”
Please don’t let Darlene be right.

“Let’s just say that he already had a dinner date.” She made a moue of disgust. “His secretary was on the menu that afternoon.” Sarah angled herself on the seat so she could face him more fully. “Ya know, there’s not enough eye bleach in the world to erase the image of Richard banging Brandi Belmont. I mean, there he was, pants around his ankles, tail end of his dress shirt flapping over his pasty-white ass…” She swallowed and made a face. “They were doing it right there on the reception desk. How freaking cliché can you get? All she had on were hot pink stilettos, and those were aiming straight for the ceiling.”

Day-um.
So it was true that the asshole had cheated on her.

“What did you do?”

“I dropped the basket. Then I threw a container of potato salad at his ass.”

“What did he do?”

“I don’t know. I ran outside and threw up in one of the potted geraniums on the sidewalk. After that, I went home and packed.”

“You’re better off without him.”

“Yes and no. Did the town grapevine tell you that I have to pay the cheating butthead spousal support?”

“Really?” That was one detail that hadn’t made the rounds.

“Really.” Sarah rubbed a hand over her eyes “You honestly didn’t know?”

Richard Alan was an absolute piece of shit. “I had no idea. I didn’t know a man could get alimony.”

“Yeah, well, he’s not much of a man. Apparently, since I made more money than him, and he was used to a certain lifestyle, I got stuck with it. It was alimony and our house or half my bar.” A quick glance showed her staring out the window again. “At least I kept my business. Richard will never get his hands on that.”

“How long do you have to pay him?”

“Two full years or until he remarries. The second anniversary of our divorce is going to be a major celebration. Come September, I’m free and clear.”

Josh wanted to kick her ex-husband’s pasty-white ass. Sure, it made him a hypocrite since he’d hurt her too, but he’d never cheated on her.

The rest of the drive to the garage was quiet. Sarah clammed up after she discussed her divorce. He didn’t ask about her present dating situation. He had a source who kept him updated, and Lucy had no problem dropping hints that her daughter was single.

Sarah’s mom was willing to let bygones be bygones, but she wasn’t the one Josh loved and left. Lucy probably had no idea how serious their relationship had been. If she’d known that Josh had deflowered her baby girl, the woman would’ve had his nuts in a vise. The fact that he’d been a virgin too wasn’t much of a defense.

At the time, her dad called him out for being the horny teenager he was. Hal Brandon had threatened other, even more creative and painful ways to torture Josh if he laid a finger on his daughter. That little talk had scared the living hell out of him. It still hadn’t stopped him from touching her.

Josh had more hormones than will power. He got near Sarah, and one sweet kiss led to two, two kisses led to more, and after that, threats of bodily harm failed to register in his lust-addled brain. She’d always been irresistible.

Sarah sat up straighter when the tow truck lumbered into the garage’s parking lot. She looked mildly panicked. “I thought you would drop me off first.”

Josh could have easily taken Sarah home first, but he was trying to buy himself more time with her. He hadn’t been able to get this close to her in over a decade. Even if she still hated him, he was savoring the experience. “I need to unload your car before there’s any more stress on the frame. I’ll check it out and let you know what I find first thing in the mornin’.”

“Isn’t it a hassle to drive back across town to take me home from here?”

“It’s on the way to my place anyway, so it’s not a problem.”

“Don’t you live in the apartment above the garage?” Sarah flicked her gaze to the darkened windows above the steel door rolling open to reveal an empty service bay.

“Nah, Dad still lives there, and I need my own space.” He attempted a smile to soften his next piece of information. “I live above Sophie’s cookie shop now.”

Chapter 3

“NO,
you don’t.” That couldn’t possibly be right. She was going to have a serious sister-to-sister chat with Sophie for not telling her Josh had moved in above the bakery. Sarah thought the apartment was still empty since Tracy King moved out and married Ben Carrington. She’d had no idea anyone new had rented it.

Sophie’s landlady, Darlene, surely would have had something to say about Josh. The old lady flirted with Sarah’s brother-in-law, Reed, and his brother, Keith on more than one occasion. From what she’d heard from Tracy, Ben hadn’t come out of an encounter with Darlene unscathed either. A prime specimen like Josh would have earned a little ogling from the silver-haired cougar.

“It’s all about location, darlin’.”

No kidding
. While she’d been avoiding him, he’d been hanging out with her family. Lucy and Sophie had both failed to mention that little tidbit to her. It made her wonder what else they were hiding.

“Why did you choose to live above my sister’s bakery? Why didn’t you go to the Madison Falls Condos?”

“Like I said, location. Now I wake up to the scent of cookies and cakes bakin’ instead of the stench of motor oil.” He tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel. “Sophie didn’t tell you?”

“No. Guess not.” Sarah kept her tone flat and carefully neutral. She switched that over to brusque and business-like to hide her dismay. “Okay, let’s get this over with. I want to get the smell of beer out of my hair before I go to bed.”

“Your hair doesn’t smell like beer. It smells like coconuts.”

“You sniffed my hair?” She’d sniffed him too, so she supposed turnabout was fair play. Sarah didn’t want to play fair. As far as she was concerned, Josh could keep his nose and the rest of his body to himself.

“I couldn’t resist. Besides, your ponytail was in my face when you wrapped yourself around me in the ditch.” His grin was unrepentant and all too alluring. “Trust me on this, sunshine, takin’ a whiff of your hair was mild compared to what I really wanted to do with you.”

There went those not-good ideas again. The damned man was double-dipped in sexy, and he knew it. Sarah wasn’t falling for it a second time. She was older and wiser. It was time she reminded them both of that.

“Stop calling me…”

“Sunshine. Yeah, I s’pose I can’t help that either, darlin’.”

His voice was deeper now. Josh knew she was a sucker for it. He used to whisper southern-touched sweet nothings until she was hot and bothered and panting for more. Lord, that sensual drawl poured over her like warm honey. Those panties she’d been pondering earlier were about to melt right off her body.

So much for being wiser.

“Wait here and I’ll set you up in the office. You don’t want to walk barefoot in the garage.”

Sarah held up a hand to ward him off. “You’re not picking me up again. I can walk, even if I have to do it on my tiptoes.”

Josh parked, got out, and headed straight for her. Sarah contemplated scrambling out on the driver’s side, but he was too quick for her. He popped open the door and scooped her up in no time. At this point, she swore he was doing it just to show off.

Despite Sarah’s protests, Josh didn’t break stride. He continued through the side door, managing to flip on the overhead fluorescents while hauling her like a keg of beer. Upon reaching the small office, he set her down in a visitor’s chair that Kenny must have felt attached to. It’d been old twelve years ago, and its faded red upholstery had seen better days. The seat cushion had a tear down the seam that showcased the yellowing foam stuffed inside.

BOOK: One Last Call
8.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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