Why Not Tonight
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He swore silently. There had been a time when the whole man-woman thing had been ridiculously easy. Sadly that time was not now.
“I probably should have told you I was leaving,” she told him.
“I know why you didn’t.”
“Do you?” She bit her lower lip. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Me? Why would I be upset? I thought you were upset.”
“No. Well, maybe. A little.” She stared at her desk, then back at him. “I guess I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.”
“You are. I mean, I like tea. It was a timing thing. I meant that.”
Dear God—what on earth were they talking about? He looked toward the open door, then back at Natalie. They were both at work and this was not the moment, but he wanted her to know that he hadn’t been rejecting her.
She smiled at him. “I think I understand what you’re saying. Did you get your phone?”
It took him a second to realize she meant his cell phone. “I have it with me and promise I will keep it close always. Did you call your insurance company?”
She laughed. “Yes, and at first they didn’t believe me. But I got lucky. A tow truck driver found my car and is pretty sure he can drag it out of what I was afraid was its final resting place. Once he does, I can send pictures to my agent and get the paperwork started for them to total my car.” She did a little shimmy in her seat. “Then it’s new-car time for me! Well, new-to-me, but still!”
“Uh-huh. Are you still determined to buy a red car?”
“Duh. Yes. Red is my color.”
“I’m going with you. You can’t buy a car based solely on color. It needs to be reliable and safe, without too many miles and no accidents.”
She waved her hand. “I’m not worried. I’m going to find a beautiful red car that is perfect. You’ll see.”
“Yes, I will because I will be right there. I want you to promise not to go car shopping without me.”
“I’m perfectly capable of finding the right car.”
“Not with color as your only criteria.”
She mumbled something under her breath. He had a feeling it would sound very much like “Mr. Bossy Pants,” but he didn’t care. Natalie’s desire for a red car was the same as wearing a T-shirt with the slogan Hey, Rip Me Off! He wasn’t going to let that happen.
“Fine,” she grumbled. “You can go with me. But I won’t like it.”
“That’s my girl. Mature and open to the possibilities.”
“I don’t care what you say. I want a red car. And nothing is going to stop me from getting one. Not even you.”
“There’s an unexpected stubborn side to you, isn’t there?”
“I am one with the feminine universe.”
“And just a little bit crazy.”
She flashed him a smile that nearly brought him to his knees.
“You have no idea, Ronan.”
Maybe not, but he would very much like to find out.
* * *
NATALIE CAREFULLY CARRIED the plastic-wrapped tray of cupcakes. She’d been sucked in by a Facebook ad promising an easy way to make little flowers out of icing. When the tip had arrived, she’d had to try it out and had discovered that it worked really well. Lucky for her, the biweekly girlfriend lunch was the next day, so she’d packed up the cupcakes to bring with her. The alternative of eating them all herself was not a happy one. Not with the way her hips and thighs loved to pack on the pounds.
For the girlfriend lunches, hostess duties rotated. Whoever offered the location also provided the entrée. Everyone else brought another dish. Sometimes they ended up with three desserts and no salad, which was fine with Natalie—as long as the mix-up never went the other way, she was happy.
With the monsoon over, the California desert heat had returned. It was barely noon and already in the upper nineties. By four, it would be at least a hundred and five.
She crossed the street and made her way to her friend Silver’s new place. The storefront with a loft-style apartment above was owned by Violet Lund, now the duchess of Somerbrooke. Silver had been looking for a new place about the time Violet had been falling madly in love and considering moving to England. A long-term lease between the friends had solved two problems.
Violet had used the street-level business space for her button shop. She’d also done alterations and some custom work on wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses. Last fall she’d made an adorable dress for a sassy beagle name Sophie, who had been in Ronan’s brother Del’s wedding. Now Silver used the retail space for her own business.
Natalie opened the glass door and walked into the bright space. Silver had done away with Violet’s displays of buttons and photographs of designer clothing featuring antique buttons. Her business—AlcoHaul—served local weddings. She owned a trailer that had been converted into a bar. As much of the town catered to theme weddings, Silver had decided to go all in. AlcoHaul could be transformed into a medieval tavern, a Wild West saloon or something from an alien landscape.
Her showroom displayed large pictures of the different themes. There were small vignettes set up, illustrating the idea with many kinds of glasses, bottles of liquor and custom drink menus. For today’s lunch, Silver had pulled a couple of small tables together to form one longer one. The place settings were a mix of plastic plates, glasses and flatware from various weddings she’d worked on.
“It’s me,” Natalie called as she set her cupcakes alongside a huge covered casserole dish. She couldn’t see what was under the foil, but even without visual clues, the smell was enough to make her mouth water.
Cheese, bacon and maybe a hint of jalapeño, she thought as her stomach rumbled.
“Hi.” Silver walked in from the back room and smiled. “Tell me you didn’t bring salad.”
“I didn’t bring salad.”
“Good. I’m in a sugar, carb, fat kind of mood.”
The two women hugged. Natalie had the brief thought that anyone looking through the front window would think of them as the most mismatched friends ever. Silver was tall and slim with just enough muscle definition to let the world know that, yes, she did work out. Her platinum-blond hair hung to the middle of her back. She wore tight-fitting black jeans and an equally snug black tank top. An open-work dark blue sweater slipped off one shoulder.
Silver was...exotic. Natalie shook her head. No, that wasn’t right. Silver was the sexy bad girl you knew was the most fun ever. The closest Natalie ever got to out of the ordinary was to be called “bohemian.” She was too short, too curvy and just too bubbly to ever be considered bad.
“How are things?” Silver asked, pouring a very purple drink into two ice-filled tumblers.
“Good. Busy. I’m working on a new art piece. I’m in a dragon mode right now and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”
“Does it have to be assigned a value? It’s art—can’t it just be?”
“Good point, Mom,” Natalie teased. She took a sip of the drink. There was a fruit base and club soda for sure, along with something else she couldn’t identify.