Authors: Beth Albright
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
“You know, I’d tell you if I could,” Dallas said. “But listen to me. I need proof to blow this story wide open. Something tells me the three of us can do it. Blake, you know how to dig through certain records, Vivi you can help us keep an eye on Harry through Lewis and please, if anything crazy happens at the radio station, let us know.”
“Am I hearing this plan right?” Vivi folded her arms and huffed with a slight eye roll.
“What do you mean?” Dallas seemed insulted.
“The three of us are fixin’ to become sleuths—together—to clear Harry Heart, your soon-to-be-ex husband; Dallas’ ex-lover; and my ass of a brother-in-law?”
Dallas and I looked at each other and exchanged wry smiles and nodded together. It really was unbelievable.
“Looks like you’ve summed it all up.” I said shaking my head in disbelief after hearing the plan put into real words.
“Okay,” Vivi agreed, “as long I got it straight, I’m in.”
The three of us each picked up our cups of now cooled hot chocolate and toasted.
“To Harry,” I said. “May we get his ass back to Washington!”
Later that evening the house was quiet—for a change. I had put a fire in the huge stone fireplace, lit candles on the mantle. I had left the pine greenery in place on the mantle; tiny white lights gleaming from beneath the long scented needles and pinecones.
Dinner was warming in the oven. The amber lights of Sonny’s old craftsman home were aglow with the warmth and respite of a cold winter’s night. I sat cuddled on the leather couch, in my fuzziest pink socks with a cream colored soft throw over me, my laptop open to dig a little more into the life of Harry’s sexy little intern when Sonny walked through the door.
“Hey beautiful,” he said grinning. He leaned down and kissed my lips, his so cold from the frigid night outside. His icy cheek brushed mine with his end-of-the-day whiskers. He was the sexiest man I had ever known. He stirred me like no one else. He could be standing clear across the room and my eyes catch his, his one eyebrow would raise and God, it was all I could do not to jump in right there in public. It had always been that way between us: Hot. Always.
“Hey handsome, how was your day? Anymore leads on that poor dead guy?”
“Well, we know who he is —or was. Why he was out at the newly discovered hen house so to speak has me stumped. I mean we know why he was there but there’s no pattern there. He was a first-timer. And the number in his pocket was from a girl who recently became uhm… an employee there.” He stopped and looked at my laptop. “What are you up to?”
I filled him in but wanted to keep quiet for now about me, Vivi and Dallas pulling a “Charlie’s Angels” stunt with Harry. He might wonder why we all decided to be involved.
“Just working on a case for somebody,” I blew it off.
“Smells good babe, what’s cookin’?” he headed off to the kitchen, removing his gloves and scarf as he went.
“Yum, looks delicious,” he said from the kitchen. “Hey there’s three cups here in the sink, one covered in lots of red lipstick. Who was here today?”
Oh, Lord, I thought, why didn’t I stick those cups in the dishwasher? I
why. I was intensely focused on the little hussy. And when I’m focused, God, help us all.
Just then I heard my cell. Literally saved by the bell. “Just a minute baby, I can’t hear you,” I yelled toward the kitchen.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hey Blake, this is Dallas.”
“Oh, hey, any news?” I asked anxiously.
“Yeah, at least I think so. You know you said you thought the intern was related to someone here in Tuscaloosa?”
“Yeah?” I answered with heightened interest.
“I think I may have a lead here. Seems like she had a job in town before she got that internship. I am trying to tie it down and see where she might have worked—you know—how long she had worked there and all that. There may be some information that could be a lead.”
“Wow, that’s awesome. What can I do from here?”
“Just keep looking into her work life. I think it may be our best hope.”
“Will do and keep me posted. This is great.”
“I will. And Uhm…Blake, I need a little advice. Maybe a favor.”
I sat still. I had no idea Dallas, even though we had recently become friends after years of being in the arch nemesis category, would ever admit she needed me for anything. I mean she asked me to help her with the broken set at the Christmas play last month but a favor? I was interested for sure.
“No problem,” I said. “What’s going on?”
“I’m really nervous about this adoption. Sara Grace is really counting on it all and I’ll just die if I can’t give her a home.” She suddenly became emotional. I could hear her voice quake as she spoke.
“Sure, let me figure out what we can do. I know people on the board and so does Meridee. Maybe we can come up with something. What is the delay?”
“Well, they didn’t come out and say it but since they are delaying, I think they don’t like that I’m single. Cal and I are engaged but my relationship to Sara Grace is just between her and me. I don’t want Cal to feel like he
to marry me now, you know?”
“No, but that is what you would want, right?”
“Well, I do, secretly, but it needs to be his idea. I mean we are engaged and all but I don’t want him to feel rushed because of the adoption. We haven’t even set a date yet.” Dallas’ voice was trembling. I knew she loved the little girl so much. Sara Grace lost her mother last year and her father had been absent her whole life. No one had come forward for her so she wound up in the system.
“Anything else, I mean about Sara Grace? Is there nobody else in the picture?”
She paused. I could hear her breathing and felt the worst was coming.
“I know her mother and father are both gone. And I don’t think there’s anyone else close to her or that even lives here in town.”
“But if there is a blood relative, that person may be trying to get her as well, or the agency could be having trouble locating them to get them to sign some documents. Let me check into it and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Oh, Blake, that’s wonderful.”
“No biggie,” I assured her.
“No, Blake, it is. I mean…she has become my whole world. I--I love her. She needs me and I need her.” Her voice quaked again. There was really so much more to Dallas than I ever gave her credit for.
“It’ll be okay,” I said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
I hung up and heaved myself off the couch and went to find Sonny in the kitchen. I now had an answer for those cups in the sink.
“Sorry, honey. What were you saying?” I asked as I entered the kitchen.
“Who was that?” he asked licking the icing off a cupcake.
“That was Dallas. She just had a question.”
“Oh, is that who was here earlier with all that lipstick?” He motioned to the stained cup in the sink.
“Yeah, she stopped by. Vivi was over too.” The detective in him could sometimes be irritating.
“Whatch’all cookin’ up these days?” He joked winking at me.
He walked over to the drawers and got out some red checked mitten potholders. He put them on and opened the oven door and pulled out my lasagna. I knew he loved it so I made it and threw it in before I started researching again. Sonny was great like that. He would come in and see what needed to be done and just jump in and do it. I knew he was gonna make a wonderful daddy. His mood was light and he just seemed happy—joyful, from someplace deep inside. I stopped and reminded myself to be in this moment, watching him dart around the kitchen, dishtowel slung over his shoulder, setting the table over near the bay window. The light was dim and the moonlight streamed in through the back windows, first dancing through the pine trees that covered the backyard, the cool blue shadows then splashing across the walls of the old farm styled kitchen.
Sonny grabbed little silver candleholders and opened another drawer to pick out two white taper candles and the lighter. Before I knew it, our kitchen looked like a little Italian Bistro. All we needed was the melody of a violin and an accordion.
“May I seat you my princess?” God I loved this man. They broke the mold when they made him. I took my seat and he filled my champagne glass with water, keeping our little sweetheart safe. Drinking and eating healthy for the baby was my first concern. I had been perfect; even gave up my diet coke for the entire term. But as soon as baby was here, a good margarita was in order.
“Thank you baby. You are quite the host.” I winked at him. I knew times like these would be rare soon.
“You are quite welcome, gorgeous. I’m just so glad I get to come home to you. All my dreams have already come true. He’s the icing on the cake.” Sonny’s eyes were glistening as he referred to our baby growing inside me. “I could never want for anything else.”
I smiled at him and lifted my glass in a toast.
“To us, and our new little family,” he offered.
I couldn’t speak. A lump formed in my throat as I grinned, tears in my eyes. I clanked his glass as the candlelight flickered, Sonny’s deep brown eyes sparkling as he looked at me. Both of us knew. Our new little bundle would change things. In a good way of course but things would be different nonetheless. And Sonny and I had just gotten started. We had been waiting since we were barely fourteen years old to finally make love and be together. It all finally had happened this summer and before we knew it, our baby was on the way, as my marriage to Harry was dissolving right in front of me. Harry was out of control, his campaign occupying his every moment, except the one afternoon when I caught him putting his clothes back on—I caught him just as he was putting his pants back on after an afternoon delight with judge Jane Shamblin. Yep, I said judge.
All in the past--now Sonny and I were so excited about the baby coming. It was a boy. His boy. And it was all we could think about. Until Harry flew in today.
Sonny and I finished dinner and slipped into the living room with some warm cider. The fire was still ablaze and inviting us in for the cozy evening ahead. I was more than ready to be held and cuddled by my man.
“Come sit with me, babe. I need to love on my girl,” Sonny said patting the seat of the couch near the heavy soft pile of blankets. Just as he plopped down we heard a muffled “Hail To The Chief” coming from inside the couch.
“What in holy hell is that? He yelped.”
“I have no earthly idea!” I bent over and started digging next to Sonny down into the seat cracks. The song played again. There was no mistaking it, Hail To The Chief.
“Here it is,” I announced, pulling out some strange cell phone.
“Who the hell does that belong to?” Sonny asked looking at the number causing the phone to ring.
“This must be Harry’s phone. He was sitting right here when he dropped by this morning.
“He always was an ambitious son-of-a-gun.” Sonny laughed, “Hail To The Chief.” He sure had plans to take this career of his a tad beyond the senate seat he’s trying to hang onto.” Sonny studied the now silent phone.
“Good God almighty!”
“The number. I recognize this number calling Harry.”
“Who is it?”
Sonny was quiet. Like he wasn’t sure he should say. Like it could be that awful. Then he just hung his head. “I’m sure there must be an explanation.”
“What Sonny! What? Who is calling Harry?”
“The phone call is coming from that trailer park brothel.”
There was certainly no sleeping after that. I tossed and turned all night wondering where Harry was and what the hell he was up to. And most importantly, was I a total fool for giving him the benefit of the doubt? When I woke up I knew I had to get to Vivi. She’d at least know the answer to the question. And she’d say, “He’s an ass. Always has been. Always will be.” Maybe it was just what I needed to hear so we could all drop this case and get back to our own lives.
Vivi met me for lunch at the City Café in Northport just over the river from downtown Tuscaloosa. We both loved that place. In college I think we ate there three days a week at least. Nowhere else can you get a meat and three for so cheap. It’s unreal! And of course, my very favorite southern dish served in heaping helpings-- fried green tomatoes.
The age-old rusty sign on the covered sidewalk invited us inside the warm, sprawling but cramped interior. It was a weird layout. And you had to keep looking for a table. It wasn’t a first-come-first-serve type place as much as it was a first-come- first-spot establishment. If you spotted a table, you’d better get to it. People stood in line every single day for this place that served just plain ol’ good country cookin’. All of us crowded up near the front screened door that slammed when you walked inside. The little hole in the wall spread out sideways to the left, into other rooms, all jammed with tables and Formica-topped booths and the friendliest waitresses you ever met. It just felt good to be in out of the winter chill and be served comfort food with a smile.
“Let’s grab that table, quick,” Vivi pushed. But my pregnant ass could not maneuver through the hoards of townsfolk. “Well, we lost that one,” Vivi huffed at me. “Look, I’ll go ahead of you and grab the next one I see. You do your best to get through to me.”
I felt like we were in a huddle and I needed to clap. Okay, she had a plan. The fresh cornbread and soft buttermilk biscuits were calling her name.
“Okay,” she announced. “Here I go.”
It was like she was heading in to the deep forest with her bow arched like a huntress.
“I got one,” she yelled. “Come on.”
And suddenly I was trapped between a lady with a walker and the fat man from the circus. There was no slipping through. It was gonna have to be like a football play, straight up the middle. Only one problem, I needed blocking. Vivi saw I was in trouble and like the offensive line, she showed up to block.
“ ‘Scuse me, pregnant lady, comin’ through. ‘Scuse me y’all, pregnant lady.”
Great, thank you BFF for life. I am now the most embarrassed pregnant lady. Ever.