With a scowl and a glare into my rearview mirror, I shifted my car into park and hit the button to kill the engine. I’d just barely managed to fit my sensible little compact car into this tiny space, and I wasn’t entirely sure that the giant gas-guzzler SUV behind me wouldn’t ding me on its way out.
I’d had to park nearly a block away from Celeste’s shop because all of the spaces in front of Between the Sheets were already filled. I’d have said that was good news for my friend’s business, but I had a feeling it was just a typical Saturday morning on the main street of Burton. The town tended to bustle on weekends.
And yeah, I was in a little bit of a pissy mood. I wasn’t exactly sure why. Today was the third day in a rare five-days-off break, and considering how much sleep I was getting—a hell of a lot more than normal—I should have been floating through life, sprinkling freaking fairy dust from my hands. But instead, I was growling, grunting, and grumping.
Did I realize deep down inside that this state of mind had something to do with one Wesley Crane and my last awkward encounter with him? Maybe. Was I going to admit that to myself or to anyone else? I was not.
That day last week, I’d given myself a stern lecture all the way from Savannah to my house. I had been prepared to see him again—or so I had told myself. When Linc had greeted me at the front door, I had been cool and relaxed, pretending that I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d oohed and ahhed over the changes and the finished walls and floors. I had laughed at Linc’s quips and had generally been a delight.
But the moment I’d caught sight of Wesley at the top of the steps—I’d been about halfway up at that point—the gig had been up. I’d nearly tumbled down backward, and I’d no longer had control of my breath, my heart—or my words.
That had been abundantly clear when I’d sniped at him. I’d been so flustered and embarrassed that I’d used a casual text from Coral as an excuse to run away.
I had two choices now, as I saw it: I could pull up my big-girl panties and start acting like a grown-ass woman, pretending that I’d never met Wesley before, treating him like a stranger. Which he basically was, come to think of it. I hadn’t seen him since we were teenagers, and that meant everything that had happened to him since was a mystery to me.
Or I could sell the house and never have to see Wesley again.
With a smothered sigh at my own ridiculousness, I yanked open the door to Celeste’s shop and stomped inside. My friend was standing at the counter, and she glanced up with a frown at the sound of the bell over the door ringing.
“Oh. Sabrina.” She blinked, tilting her head. “I didn’t expect you so soon.”
“You said you needed me here ASAP,” I reminded her. “Your text said it was an event-planning emergency.”
“Well, I might have been a little dramatic when I said that,” she conceded. “It’s not so much an emergency as it is that I needed your input on a few decisions.”
I threw up my hands. “And you couldn’t have just called me? We could have video chatted. Saved me time and a tank of gas.”
“No, because I wanted to see you.” She grinned. “You know, sometimes it’s just nice to spend a few hours with your bestie.”
“Uh-huh. But we have a date this weekend to help Coral find a dress for her big premiere shindig, remember? You’re both coming into the city to stay with me and shop?”
“Well, sure, but maybe I wanted to talk with just you. I thought we could discuss Coral’s date situation. Have you talked to the hematologist yet? Is he interested in being Coral’s escort that night?”
Damn. I’d been so preoccupied with my own life that I’d neglected to reach out to the guy as I’d promised.
“Um, I’ve laid the groundwork,” I answered, using mental reservations to justify the fib. I planned to take care of it, and I’d do it the minute I went back to work.
“Okay, well—” Whatever Celeste had been about to say was lost as the bell over the door rang again, admitting a pretty woman with long dark hair in large sunglasses.
“Jenna, wow, great to see you. What a surprise.” Celeste rounded the end of the counter and crossed the store to greet the newcomer.
“Um.” She took off her glasses. “I just stopped to pick up the thing I ordered.”
“Yeah, of course.” Celeste nodded vigorously. “The peignoir you wanted for the romantic weekend Linc’s planning for you.”
“Right. That’s it.” Jenna’s smile seemed a little . . . relieved? But before I could I mull over that fact, I realized that I recognized her name.
“Wait a second. Your name is Jenna? And your husband is Linc Turner?”
“Guilty and guilty.” She offered me her hand. “You wouldn’t happen to be Dr. Hudson, would you?”
“Also guilty. But please, call me Sabrina.” I shook her hand. “Linc speaks of you often. I’m so glad to meet you.”
“He’s said nice things about you, too. And he’s kind of got a crush on your house.” Jenna rolled her eyes. “Which isn’t as unusual as you’d hope it would be. Also, I’ve heard Celeste talk about her best friends and all of the great work you’re doing for the benefit this Christmas.”
“I was saying to Jenna the other day that Coral and I are dying to get a look at the house, but that you won’t let us until it’s finished.” Celeste pretended to pout.
“You saw it in the before stage when I’d just bought it, and then you’ll get to see the massive transformation,” I told her and then turned back to Jenna. “What Linc’s doing there—it really is beyond my wildest hopes. Every time I get to take a look, I’m completely blown away.”
“He’s got mad skills, my man,” Jenna waggled her eyebrows. “And his team is incredibly talented, too. Have you met them all?”
“Uh . . . most of them,” I hedged, not loving where this was going.
“We had everyone out to our house for a barbecue last weekend, and I got to know some of the newer people.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “One of the guys in particular . . . he was telling me—” Jenna closed her eyes and shook her head. “Fuck it, Celeste. I’m crap at this kind of thing.”
I glanced from my friend to Jenna Turner. “What?”
Celeste groaned. “It’s not you, Jenna. This was all stupid. Men and their lame ideas.” Wrinkling her nose, she leaned back against the display case behind her. “Linc put Jenna up to this, and she recruited me to help.”
“What are you talking about?” I was bewildered.
“Wesley Crane.” Jenna wrung her hands. “Linc wanted to figure out a way to make sure you knew what really happened with Wesley all those years ago. And he thought maybe if I just kind of casually brought it up in front of you, maybe you’d listen.”
My cheeks went hot. “This was Wesley’s idea?”
“No, not at all.” Jenna shook her head. “This was totally my husband’s brainstorm. He has a huge heart and good intentions, but he doesn’t always stop and think.”
“If Wesley wants me to know something, he can just tell me himself,” I sniffed. “I don’t know why it even matters.”
“But you won’t stick around long enough to let him give you his version,” Celeste reminded me. “And Sabrina, seriously, you need to hear this.”
I rounded on her. “You already know?”
Guilt etched in her eyes, she nodded. “Jenna told me.”
For a long moment, I was silent, curiosity battling with stubbornness in my head. Finally, I shrugged.
“Okay. Tell me what you know. It’s not going to make any difference,” I hastened to add. “There’s no excuse for what Wesley Crane did to me back then.” Lifting my chin, I clenched my jaw. “Absolutely none.”
“Oh, my God,” I murmured, my arms tingling as I rubbed my hands over them. “That’s . . . it’s really true? You’re sure this wasn’t just Wesley spinning a pathetic story to get sympathy?”
“It’s true,” Jenna assured me. “Linc believed him, but he figured you’d have questions, so he did the research. There were a couple of police reports from years ago, when Wesley’s mom was still angry enough to report the abuse. Then there’s the death notice for Wesley’s father. It was right when he said it happened. It’s all legit, Sabrina. He didn’t know he would be leaving town that night. But he couldn’t risk his father finding them.”
From the vantage point of adulthood and new information, I remembered a few incidents now with new clarity. Wesley’s father had rarely been part of our lives, and when he had shown up, things had been tense. I recalled that when Wesley had vanished, my own dad had been thoughtful and sober, gently advising me to give my friend the benefit of the doubt. I wondered what Daddy would say now if I told him what I’d learned.
“I feel horrible for what I said to him,” I confessed to Celeste and Jenna. “He was trying to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t see beyond my own hurt.”
“The good news is that you still have a chance to make up for that,” Celeste reminded me. “Wesley is here. Just a few miles away, putting in hours on your house. You could go out there and tell him . . . well, talk to him.”
“Does it even matter?” I wondered out loud. “We were kids. We were friends, but barely more than that. Life tore us apart . . . and maybe we should just forgive each other and move along.”
The other two women sighed in unison. “Sabrina, I don’t know you, but I’d have to wonder why you were so angry—and shaken—by seeing Wesley again if it really means so little to you.” Jenna patted my arm.
“You told us once that he was your first love,” put in Celeste. “You owe it to sixteen-year-old year to at least see if there’s something there.”
“But how do I do it?” I gnawed my bottom lip.
“I think you just drive over to the house, and you walk up to Wesley . . . and you ask him to tell you everything. You tell him you’re ready to listen.”
The idea of doing that made me break out in cold sweat. What if Wesley blew me off? What if he was angry about how snarky and mean I’d been? What if he told me that I’d never mattered enough to miss? What if he thought that I’d been making a big deal out of something that did mean that much?
But at the same time, beneath the terror and uncertainty beat a small yet persistent thrum of hope.
“All right,” I said at last. “I’ll do it. I’ll go see him. I’ll talk with Wesley.”
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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