Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 22

I stood, smiling at Violet and Mike. “Thank you for dinner, but I need to get home. The air conditioning is still out in the courthouse and it’s bound to be a long, tiring day tomorrow.”

Austin stood. “I’ll walk you out.”

Violet’s mouth contorted from happy to sour and back again. How much had she had to drink?

I gave Austin a tight smile. “That’s really not necessary.”

“I insist.”

I grabbed my purse and couldn’t help pulling my cell phone out to see if I’d missed any calls. Austin paused to talk to Mike and I hurried outside hoping to lose him, but he stuck close to my heels.

“Rose, wait up.”

I stood next to my car door and looked up at him. He really was a handsome man, but I felt no attraction to him. My heart belonged to Joe.

“It’s funny that I don’t remember you from back when we were all in high school.”

“Well,” I stalled. “You were several years ahead of me and I was pretty forgettable.”

His voice lowered. “I find that hard to believe.”

I sucked in my breath. “Look, Austin, you’re really a nice guy…”

He tilted his head with a grin. “Ahh…not the you’re a nice guy line. Just give me a chance. Go out with me Friday night.”

My mouth twisted into a half smile. “What Violet didn’t tell you is that I already have boyfriend. For some reason she doesn’t approve of him, thus her settin’ this up. I’m sorry.”

He sighed. “Now it all makes sense. No wonder Mike acted so weird.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No,” he shook his head and took my phone from my hand. “You didn’t do anything wrong and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad Violet introduced us.” He punched a few buttons on my phone, watched if for several seconds, and handed it back. “If things don’t work out with that boyfriend of yours, give me a call. I’m only sorry I wasn’t more observant years ago or I might not have lost out on my chance.”

I blushed, thankful my color was hidden by the dark. “Well, good night, Austin.”

“Goodnight, Rose Gardner. I shall wait for your call.”

As I drove away, I hoped Austin didn’t share my gift of foresight.

Chapter Seven

I took Muffy outside, staring at Austin Kent’s number on my cell phone. I wasn’t interested in the man, so why didn’t I delete his number? There was no doubt about it. I was hedging my bets, as Daddy used to say, but that was ridiculous. Even if Joe dumped me, I wouldn’t call him. I pulled up the screen to erase his number when it rang. After I jumped and nearly dropped the phone, I saw Joe’s name and fumbled to answer.

Don’t sound needy. Don’t sound needy.

Herding Muffy inside, I gushed, “Joe, where have you been? I’ve been worried sick! You haven’t answered your phone for two days.”

Yeah, just like that.

Joe laughed. “Slow down. First things first.” His voice sounded warm and husky. “I’ve missed you like crazy.”

I pouted, even as my body flushed at the sound of his voice. “I could tell by the way you called me.”

“I couldn’t help it, darlin’. I promise. I would have called if I could, but I was working into the middle of the night last night, then I misplaced my phone most of today. I only found it a short while ago.”

“So you weren’t taking a shower with Hilary this afternoon?” I asked, half ashamed of asking, but half dreading the answer.

“What? No! How can you ask me that?”

“Why don’t you ask Hilary.”

A full three seconds of silence passed. “I’m gonna kill her. What did she say?”

Relieved, I sank into my new fluffy sofa. “I don’t want to talk about Hilary.”

“Rose. Listen to me. I wasn’t with her—well I was, because we work together—but not how you’re thinkin’. And just so you don’t find this out later and think I was lyin’ to you, I did take a shower this afternoon at the gym after I worked out. You have to believe me.”

I felt like an idiot for worrying. Neely Kate was right. “Of course I do.”

“But you had doubts?”

“It’s hard not to when she answers your phone in a sexy voice and tells me you’re takin’ a shower and I can hear the water in the background.”

He groaned. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t find my phone all afternoon. She must have taken it while I was in the bathroom. At work. We weren’t alone, Rose. I promise.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. Trust me. I’ll deal with Hilary tomorrow. Are we good or do we need to talk about this more?”

“I’m good.”

“I miss you.”

My heart ached at the longing in his words and my voice hitched, “I miss you too.”

“I’m not sure I can wait until Friday to see you.”

Butterflies took flight in my stomach. “You can’t come down here, Joe. You’ll get in trouble.”

“Come see me, Rose. Please. Take a couple of days off. Or quit. You hate that job.”

I knew without a doubt I would have done it. I would have said goodbye to the DMV forever if that’s what it would take to go to Little Rock. But my job wasn’t what stopped me. “Oh, Joe.” I didn’t hide my tears. “I’d quit right now if I could, but if I came to see you tomorrow, I’d get arrested.”

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