Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 56

I could only imagine what he’d heard, but there was no need getting into it. “I’m not goin’ to Little Rock this weekend so I’m gonna come pick up Muffy after breakfast.”

A muffling sound filled my ear. Mike must have covered the mouthpiece to relay my information to Violet.

“Um…Vi—I mean, Ashley was lookin’ forward to spending the day with Muffy.” I heard the irritation in his voice. Violet must have been coaching him on what to say.

My mouth pursed as I tried to figure out what to do. There was little doubt that it would disappoint Ashley, but I could smell a Violet power play a mile away. “Well…”

“Oh, to hell with it!” Mike growled. “This has gone on long enough. You and Violet need to work this out because I’m tired of being the middle of it!”

My mouth gaped, and I must have looked as shocked as I felt judging from Joe’s worried expression.

“You come over tonight for dinner and sort this out with her.”

Violet shouted protests in the background.

“That’s not a good idea, Mike.” I glanced at Joe. “Joe’s here this weekend and with–”

“Perfect. Bring him too. He’s part of this mess.”

“I don’t know…”

Joe stood in front of me. “What’s goin’ on?”

I whispered, “Mike wants us to come over for dinner tonight to sort this all out.”

A murderous gleam filled his eyes. “I think that’s a great idea.”

“But… I don’t—”

Joe grabbed the phone out of my hand.

Oh, crappy doodles.

“Mike? Joe here. What time should we come over?” He used his Detective Simmons, no-nonsense-tolerated voice. There was a long pause. “We’ll be there at six. And we will be bringing our dog home.” He slammed the receiver onto the phone on the wall, then stood in front of it for several seconds. “We’re going over at six.”

“So I heard.”

Joe turned around to look at me, his anger fading a bit. “It’s time to get this all out in the open.”

I twisted the bottom of my shirt. “I suppose.”

“Violet needs to accept the fact that I’m not going anywhere. The only person who can run me off is you. Do you want to run me off?” Insecurity flickered across his face before determination replaced it.

I wrapped my arms around his waist and rose on my toes to kiss him. “No, Joe. I most definitely don’t want to run you off.”

He held me tight, his breath whooshing out in relief. “You might have to choose. Violet may force you to choose her or me.”

I buried my head into his chest. “You’re a better cuddler.”

He laughed and rubbed my back.

I looked up at him. “You called Muffy ‘our dog.’”

He cringed in embarrassment. “Yeah, sorry about that. It’s just that I’ve known her as long as you have and I love takin’ care of her when I’m here. And I miss her.”

I kissed him again and smiled. “I like us sharing something so important. It makes us more permanent.”

His smile lit up his face. “I like the sound of that.”

We spent the rest of the day finishing the bedroom and for the first time, I let my mind cross my self-imposed line. I let myself consider a future with Joe. But I worried about our confrontation with Violet later. Joe said he wasn’t going anywhere, but he’d never been on the full receiving end of Violet’s wrath. It wasn’t fair that Joe had to endure her meddling. I couldn’t help wondering if I was worth the aggravation.

Chapter Seventeen

“Joe, we don’t have to do this.”

We stood on Violet’s front porch and Joe held my hand so tightly my palm began to sweat. He wore the new dress shirt and jeans we’d bought him earlier. Since he’d left Little Rock in such a hurry, he hadn’t gone home to pack anything.

“Yes, we do. We’re sortin’ this out.” He gritted his teeth, mumbling his words.

The front door opened and Mike filled the opening, an apologetic look on his face. He held two beer bottles and handed one to Joe. “You’re gonna need it.”

Joe took it and stepped through the door, dragging me behind him.

Mike mouthed “I’m sorry” as we passed.

I was walking into World War III. “Got another one of those?”

Mike grinned. “Comin’ right up.” He disappeared into the kitchen.

Violet sat on the deck and watched the kids play with Muffy in the yard. Her sunglasses hid her eyes, but she lifted a glass of wine to her mouth.

Joe stopped outside the door. “Violet, we need to talk.”

Muffy saw us and ran over, jumping on my legs and begging me to pet her.

Violet lowered her glasses, eyeing Joe up and down before she pushed them back up and turned her gaze to the kids. “I don’t know about manners where you’re from, Joe Whatever-your-name-happens-to-be-this-week, but here in Henryetta we don’t tolerate rudeness.”

I gasped. I hadn’t seen Violet act that catty since high school. What in the world had gotten into her?

Mike walked out with my beer and I took a big gulp, nearly choking on the fizz.

Violet turned her judgment on me. “Beer, Rose? Really?

“There is nothing wrong with beer, Violet.” Since I still held Joe’s hand, I put the hand holding my beer on my hip, hoping to look indignant. Not an easy task while trying not to tip the bottle. The contents sloshed out as Muffy jumped up my leg. I’m sure it lost some of the effect, but I didn’t want to let go of Joe’s hand. It was important I showed her that we were a couple, whether she liked it or not.

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