Love story, p.6

Love Story, page 6

 

Love Story
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  I take a deep breath and try to settle down. And even as I order myself not to, I reach out for my cell, which I’ve purposely put facedown on the table so as not to look at incoming messages.

  Or rather, the messages that aren’t coming.

  I’m trying really hard not to be worried about Oscar’s silence. My boyfriend has a new restaurant—I, of all people, know the time that takes, the energy, the focus, the long hours.

  Still, it hasn’t escaped my notice that the only times I’ve heard from him in the past couple weeks is when he’s responding to me. There’s no proactive communication, it’s all reactive. I say I miss him, I get a miss u 2 babe. I say I love him, I get a love u 2 babe.

  Is it so much to ask that I be the one that gets to say 2 sometimes? That he tells me he misses me, unprompted?

  I huff out a breath and flip the phone back down again, feeling a stab of irritation, not at Oscar, but at Reece.

  Oscar’s busy schedule hadn’t bothered me until Reece walked back into my life, and though I can’t figure out how the two could possibly be connected, it feels good to have someone to blame.

  I pick up the menu, contemplating the crab cake appetizer when I feel the entire atmosphere change. It’s like the room gets hotter and colder, and my body goes on high alert.

  I know before I look toward the door what I’ll see.

  Reece’s icy blue gaze locks on me, and I hear his silent groan echoed in my own head. Of all the restaurants…

  Seriously though. Of all the restaurants, he picks this one?

  Even as I think the uncharitable thought, I realize it’s not all that surprising. I’m betting Reece picked this place for the same reason I did—a better-than-usual wine list.

  Surprised? I know. Reece has beer guy written all over him, a dude’s dude through and through. And I’m betting he’ll finish the night with Jack Daniel’s.

  But, like me, Reece grew up in wine country. Like me, the grapes and the wine world are a part of him. We’re always watching, seeing what restaurants are serving, what customers are buying, what our competitors are up to.

  I’m betting his phone’s search history looks a lot like mine: best wine list in Wilmington.

  For one heat-filled moment I’m afraid—and hopeful—that he’ll walk this way. That he’ll join me, and we’ll pick up where we left off earlier with our fight, or our remembering or…whatever.

  His gaze drags away from me, and he gives the hostess a quick smile before sauntering to the bar and taking a seat there, back to me.

  Okay then.

  I glance back down at my menu, trying not to feel stung. Trying also not to feel so aware of the fact that the cute blond hostess had been giving him some trashy come-hither, and he hadn’t exactly looked disinterested.

  I don’t care. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care. I have a boyfriend, and Reece Sullivan is fully in my past.

  “Miss, can I get some food started for you?”

  I look up at the server as he sets my second glass of wine in front of me. He’s super skinny, a bored-looking twentysomething for whom I’m betting this is a forgettable summer job.

  “I’ll start with the crab cakes,” I say with a pleasant smile. “Still deciding on my entrée.”

  “No problem,” he says, scribbling my order on his notebook.

  Really? How hard is it to remember “crab cake” from here to the computer?

  I push the petty thought aside. It’s one of the curses of being in the hospitality industry. It’s darn hard to go out to eat without analyzing everything.

  Okay fine, judging everything.

  Still, I picked wisely. The restaurant’s actual by-the-glass wine list is even better than the one listed on the website, and the restaurant’s got a good vibe, a perfect combination of upscale and approachable, and…

  The vibe is ruined when Reece drops into the chair across from me.

  He looks irritated, as though he’s found himself at my table against his will, and I totally get how he’s feeling. It’s the same reason I didn’t back out of the road trip. We may hate each other, but we’re a part of each other. Moth to the flame, or whatever.

  Except I really want to be the flame in this situation—wouldn’t mind watching him turn to ash at my very touch.

  His eyes are on my wineglass. “Italian pinot grigio?”

  “California chard,” I say, pleased to be able to inform him that he doesn’t know me as well as his smug expression suggests he thinks he does.

  He merely nods. “Been drinking some of those myself. Research.”

  I’m interested, although I tell myself it’s because I’m interested in his new job at the winery, not because I’m interested in him.

  “Abbott does chard?”

  His eyes flick up for a second, a little surprised that I know and remember the name of his new employer.

  Reece nods once. “It’s their bread and butter.”

  I lean back and look pointedly at his glass of red. “Interesting. You’ve always been a Bordeaux-blend guy.”

  “I can work with anything.”

  His quiet confidence gives me an unexpected thrill, and a grudging stab of admiration, because I know it’s true. Back when we were…together, Reece had been as passionate about the grapes as I had been about the sexiness of the finished product.

  He’d turned that passion into a serious skill. I’d die before admitting it, but I’d followed him in the past few years. He’d gotten a dozen write-ups as a new up-and-coming winemaker, even giving a handful of interviews to some of the big-hitting wine magazines about why Virginia was earning its rep as the next big thing in wine.

  I watch as he picks up his glass, giving it a quick swirl and sniff before taking a sip.

  Oh mama.

  My stomach gives a little flip, because damn if he doesn’t take an otherwise stuffy, wine-snob habit and make it sexy as hell. There’s nothing fussy about the way his long fingers wrap around the glass, the way he savors the wine as though he owns it.

  “Good?” I ask, my voice a little husky.

  He looks back to me. “It’s all right.”

  Reece hesitates just the briefest of seconds before extending the glass to me. His glower tells me it’s not a peace offering so much as a reluctant acknowledgment that we’re in each other’s elements right now. We may hate each other, but we both love wine.

  Wordlessly I slide my own glass across the table to him as I take the red from his hand, ignoring the strange sense of familiarity as our fingers brush.

  The wine is bold, a little leathery in the best way possible.

  I swirl and sniff, then take a small sip, then another. “Cab. Also California.”

  He’s watching me. A quick nod is the confirmation that I’m right. No praise, but then I don’t need it.

  He takes a sip of my wine, and then we wordlessly switch back, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to be sharing wine. Once, it would have been. Once, I’d imagined all my nights would be just like this one, sitting across from him, coaxing his broody self into conversation, as we analyze and enjoy wine.

  Of course, I hadn’t anticipated it happening like this—with the two of us alternating between wanting to kill each other and not speaking at all.

  The quiet tension is interrupted by the arrival of my crab cake. “Brought an extra setting,” the server said, placing a small plate and napkin roll-up in front of Reece.

  Reece is already pushing his chair back. “No thanks. I’ll grab something at the bar.”

  “Wait,” I say, before I can think better of it.

  Reece stills as the server moves away, not giving a shit about our little drama.

  “You can stay,” I say. “If you want.”

  His gaze flickers darkly. “Not interested.”

  “We can talk about wine,” I say, a little desperately. “We don’t have to get…personal.”

  We don’t have to fight.

  I see him waver, and I lean
forward, suddenly desperate not to eat dinner all by myself. “Or we can not talk at all. Your choice.” Just don’t leave.

  He settled back in his chair, looking annoyed with himself, even as he reaches for the napkin. “I’ll stay. But no talking. Too many witnesses for when I feel the unavoidable urge to strangle you.”

  I resist smiling in victory as we quietly dive into the crab cakes.

  My phone buzzes and, out of habit, I turn it over, exhaling when I see that it’s Oscar. Finally.

  thinking of u. can’t wait to see my baby.

  There it is. This is what I’ve wanted—to know that he’s thinking of me. That he even remembers he has a girlfriend.

  But as I sneak a glance across the table at Reece’s brooding expression, I’m struck by the uncomfortable realization that I’m not nearly as excited about Oscar’s text as I should be.

  Chapter 13

  Reece

  The next day, we don’t even make it as far as the gas station in Wilmington before we start bickering over the radio.

  “Okay that’s it,” I snap. “New rule. Whoever’s driving controls the radio.”

  She glares at me behind her aviator shades, tapping her fingers on that stupid journal that she started scribbling in the second we got into the car. The way her pen moves furiously across the notebook gives me no doubts about what she’s writing: how she plans to kill me and bury the body.

  “Your stupid plan would totally be fair,” she says cheerfully, “if you were ever going to let me drive.”

  I grind my teeth, debating my options. On the one hand, I really hate country music. I’m not even sure she likes it that much, she’s just tolerating it to torture me.

  On the other hand, I’m already having serious doubts about my ability to survive this trip. Being so close to her all the damn time without being able to touch her is making me crazy.

  Driving at least will keep my hands occupied, but my ears will pay the price.

  “We’ll take turns on the music,” I finally snarl. “Switch stations every half hour.”

  “Great, I’ll go first,” she says sweetly, reaching over and cranking up some hideous song about a front porch.

  I fill up Horny with gas (no amount of my tinkering could improve the car’s crappy gas mileage), while Lucy goes into the store to get goodies. Her word.

  She comes out just as I’m going back around to the driver’s side, and I stop and stare, just for a second. She’s wearing tiny denim shorts again, this time they’re white, and a body-hugging pink T-shirt that has more than one truck driver salivating as she makes her way back to me and the car.

  I finally tear my eyes away from her legs long enough to register that she’s raided half the store. “I was thinking of stopping at McDonald’s for breakfast,” I say irritably.

  She merely smiles and comes around to my side of the car, motioning to the backseat so I can open the back door for her. “Sounds great.”

  “My point was you didn’t need to clean their shelves.”

  “Yeah, I got your point, Grumpy,” she says, shoving the two bulging paper bags into a sliver of space behind my seat.

  Just before she slams the door, she slaps something against my chest, and I glance down, emotions simmering as I register the familiar yellow bag. Peanut M&M’s. My favorite, because they’d been my mom’s favorite.

  I resist the urge to hurl the bag at her ponytail as she goes around to the passenger side. I feel like a child for thinking it, but: It’s not fair.

  It’s not fair that this girl knows me so well, that she can wiggle beneath my defenses with something as simple as a candy purchase.

  The thing is, I suspect she didn’t even do it to torture me. I think she just knew that I’d want the damn candy later. Anticipating me, as she always has.

  I drop the M&M bag into the console between us, and neither of us says a word as I pull out of the gas station and head toward the freeway.

  We’re headed to Savannah today. God knows why, although I don’t think there’s a why for any of her stops.

  Other than Miami that is.

  The why for that stopover is all too clear. Lucy’s got a boyfriend. Another guy has run his hands up the back of those slim calves, another guy has eased between her thighs after getting her good and wet, another guy has seen those perfect breasts, tasted them….

  “Your turn.”

  I glance over. “What?”

  She points at the console. “It’s been a half hour. Your turn to pick the music.”

  Thank God.

  Except I’m not in the mood for music, and instead I reach out and punch the power button, leaving us in silence.

  A mistake.

  Now there’s nothing but the sound of Horny’s struggling air conditioner and my dirty thoughts on repeat in my head.

  I’m about to turn the radio back on. Rock. Rap. Country. Anything to block out the memories of how right her small body felt beneath mine, or how hungry her mouth had always been for mine, as though she were made just for me.

  The suffocating silence is interrupted by the buzz of a cellphone. I tense, bracing for the stab of jealousy that her boyfriend’s contacting her again, but I realize it’s my own phone.

  I go to pick up the phone from the cup holder where I’ve set it next to the M&M’s, but Lucy’s faster.

  “Uh-uh,” she says in a singsong, scolding voice. “You weren’t listening to my mom’s lecture. No phone while driving.”

  Then before I can rip it away from her, she’s swiped her thumb across the screen, answering the incoming call.

  “Reece Sullivan’s phone.”

  “Lucy—”

  She holds up a finger. “Where is he? He’s in the restroom. It might be a while, if you know what I mean.”

  I grab for the phone, but she switches it to the other ear, batting my hand away. “Shannon you say?”

  Fuu-uuuck.

  Shannon’s a hot but clingy girl I was seeing a few months ago.

  One that I might have “forgot” to tell I was moving.

  “Of course I’ll pass on the message! He definitely misses you too, hun. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yup, I’ll for sure tell him. Got to run, though, he’s hollering for more toilet paper.”

  With that, Lucy ends the call and drops my phone back into the cup holder with a clatter.

  I glance over. “Pleased with yourself?”

  She bares all of her teeth in a mocking smile. “Shannon misses you. Says she’s in town next weekend.”

  I grunt in response.

  “You didn’t tell her that you were moving?”

  I lift a shoulder.

  Lucy is studying me. “Did you tell Abby?”

  I can’t help it. I flinch. Abby Mancuso. My high school girlfriend and the one responsible for my and Lucy’s implosion.

  Actually, that’s not fair. Abby was the catalyst. The responsibility for that ill-fated moment rests solely with me and Lucy.

  “No,” I snap. It’s as much info as she’ll get from me on that subject.

  Lucy turns her head and looks out the window. And though I order myself to shut the hell up, I keep talking.

  “I haven’t spoken with Abby in months.”

  Maybe years? I can’t remember.

  Lucy snorts. “Yeah. I’ve heard that before.”

  I adjust my grip on the steering wheel to keep from punching the dash in frustration.

  “Does your boyfriend know you’re dodging his messages?” I snap.

  She whips her head around. “What?”

  “Oliver,” I say, deliberately missing his name. “He was texting you last night. Does he know you’re with me?”

  “Yes. He knows my parents shackled me to the guy who’s like a second brother.”

  Her words are meant to be a jab, and she lands the hit. I can’t stop the wince.

  Lucy and I may have been as close as siblings once, but she’s never been like a sibling to me, and I haven’t been one to her either.

 
How’d you meet him?” I ask.

  She pushes her glasses farther up her nose and stares straight ahead now. “Don’t act like you care.”

  Evasion is unlike Lucy. She’s a face-things-head-on kind of girl; it never really occurs to her to play word games. “You’re having second thoughts.”

  “I’m not.”

  “About him, or about surprising him?” I ask.

  She doesn’t answer, and I’m pissed to know how much I wish she’d have said it was the first one.

  “We met at a restaurant,” she says, deciding to answer my original question after all. “It was my first internship, and he was a sous-chef. That’s like the assistant—”

  “I know what a sous-chef is,” I snap. “Sometimes I even manage to pluck the hay out of my teeth.”

  “You know, I thought Horny was pulling to the left because the tire was low on air, but now I see that the chip on your shoulder is what’s pulling the car that way.”

  “Who made the first move?” I ask, continuing our destructive pattern of picking and choosing what we respond to.

  “I did,” she says. “He was hot and smart.”

  “And connected.”

  Her head snaps around. “Meaning?”

  I spare her a quick glance as I change lanes to pass a slow truck. “Meaning, it can’t hurt to have a guy in the biz, right? An up-and-comer with connections?”

  She blinks and I can feel that she’s stung, but I don’t apologize. “You’re so right,” she purrs, recovering quickly. “In fact, I tried to seduce the owner, but he was gay, so I’m stuck on the slow track of sleeping my way to the top.”

  “That’s not what I meant,” I mutter.

  “Then what?” she snaps, tearing open the peanut M&M’s. Belatedly I realize we never did stop for breakfast.

  “I just meant that you’ve always been driven. Known what you wanted.” I hold out my palm, and she dumps some of the colored candies into my hand before fishing one out and popping it in her mouth as she continues to glare at me.

  “I’m not going to apologize for going to college, Reece.”

  I don’t want you to. But how about you apologize for leaving without saying goodbye. Without giving me a chance to explain anything.

 
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