Leah, flipping off the camera.
In spite of himself, Jack laughed. But he wasn’t laughing a half an hour later when he went to the bar for another pitcher for his table.
Danica was there, and he gestured for another drink for her, but she shook her head, her pretty blond hair flying.
“Hell no, I’m not having a drink with you,” she snapped with surprising venom.
Huh. Not nearly as friendly as she’d been in the stands earlier at the game. Which meant… “You heard,” he said flatly.
Her eyes were daggers. “That you’re nearly engaged? Yeah, I heard, and B-T-dub? You’re an asshole for humiliating me like this. Consider date number three off the table.” She stood up. “Your loss, by the way, because I give great date number three.” She started to walk away, but he caught her, a little surprised by her venom since things had been so casual between them. Still, he wanted to explain so there were no hurt feelings.
“It’s not what you think, Danica,” he started. “I—”
She tossed her drink in his face.
It was a fruity white wine.
Jack hated fruity white wine. He was still wiping it from his eyes when Danica snatched her purse and sashayed her very fine body right out of the bar.
Jack turned to the table where Luke and Ben were watching with great amusement. Ben offered him a silent toast with his beer.
Luke just grinned. “Man,” he said to Jack, “she just went all cage-fighter on your ass.”
At that, Ben actually let out a rare laugh.
And happy as Jack was to hear it, he could only shake his head.
That night, unable to sleep, Leah was in her grandma’s kitchen working on her cream puff recipe, determined to figure out a way to produce them faster. She had the ingredients spread out before her when her grandma appeared in the doorway looking pleasantly round and comfortable in a big, fluffy robe that nearly swallowed her up.
“Oh,” Elsie said, sounding surprised to find Leah up. “My goodness, honey. You’re not still obsessing over making perfect cream puffs?”
“Just a little. I need to figure out how to make a larger batch and have them look as good as those from a smaller one. I can’t seem to do it.”
“But you’re not on TV now. It’s what’s on the inside, not the outside, that matters.”
“Are we still talking about cream puffs?”
Elsie smiled. “It’s a lovely night. Why aren’t you out?”
Leah laughed. “It’s Lucky Harbor. Where would I go?”
“I don’t know…the arcade, the Ferris wheel. Have a bonfire on the beach. Live a little!”
“I’m not sixteen, so the arcade is out,” Leah said wryly. “And bonfires are illegal. It’s high fire season right now.”
“It’s a sad state of affairs when a woman your age can’t find fun.”
“Baking is fun.”
From the depths of Elsie’s purse on the table came the sound of her cell phone ringing. “I’ll get it,” Elsie said, and dove on it like a woman four decades younger, snatching the phone before Leah could get a look at the caller ID screen.
“Hola,” Elsie sang sweetly, and then let out a big smile. “Why yes,” she said, sounding very happy. “Yes, it’s me.” She glanced at Leah and lowered her voice. “Call me back in five? Great.” She hung up with a sort of dreamy smile and then looked at Leah again. “You really should turn in, honey. It’s late.”
“I’m not tired yet.”
“Oh, okay. Well, then I’m going to turn in.”
“Who was that?” Leah asked.
“On the phone. Who was that?”
Elsie shook her head and pointed to her hearing aid. “Damn thing needs to be looked at, it’s not working right.” She turned away. “Night.”
When she was gone, Leah just stared at the empty doorway for a long beat. Her grandma was keeping secrets.
But then again, so was Leah. She understood the need for privacy, more than most. And until she’d left Lucky Harbor, she’d never had any privacy at all, unless she’d been here, with Elsie. Difficult as it was, Leah would give her grandma the same consideration.
The night was quiet, and she moved about the house, cleaning up from dinner, straightening out some of her grandma’s bills, switching money around to rob Peter and pay Paul, and checking email.
She had one from Rafe, offering her a “job opportunity that you can’t possibly turn down for when you’re done playing house in Mayberry.” He went on to outline what they wanted from her, which was to have her host her own reality show, following a group of fledgling pastry chefs in their final semester of school.
Anxiety knotted in Leah’s chest. Hadn’t she needed exactly this, a reason to leave town soon, for when her grandma was all better?
She hit REPLY and typed up her requirements. She wanted producing credit, and she wanted out of Lucky Harbor before the finale of Sweet Wars aired.
She stared at the email for a long time before hitting SEND. Soon as she did, her phone beeped an incoming text from Aubrey.
Holy smokes, Batgirl. Tonight’s bar incident is spreading faster than Lucille can work her phone. You do realize that you so owe Jack now, right? Like big owe. I expect details.
Leah blinked at her phone and then texted back. WTH happened to Jack at the bar? She stared at her phone, impatient for a reply that didn’t come. Giving up on waiting, she searched for Aubrey’s contact info and hit CALL. “What happened to Jack?” she asked when Aubrey answered.
Aubrey chuckled and then there came a low, male voice in the background, murmuring something she couldn’t quite catch.
“Who’s that?” Leah asked.
“I’m just leaving the bar and apparently I need an escort,” she said with careful disdain, sounding tipsy. “Even though it’s just Lucky Harbor.”
The low murmur came again, and Aubrey laughed, a little coldly. “I’m fine,” she said, presumably to her escort. “Look, I have a stun gun, and I know how to use it. Fair warning, buddy.”
“Aubrey, who is that with you?” Leah asked. “And you’re not driving, right?”
“Nope. I’m going to call for a ride—”
“I’m driving you,” the mystery male voice said, speaking low but perfectly clear, and Leah recognized it with relief.
She relaxed, knowing Ben would take care of Aubrey whether she liked it or not. “What happened?”
“I had a real shit day,” Aubrey said. “Do you have any idea the hoops you have to jump through to start up a business? The paperwork, the permits, the fees…I needed a drink bad. Okay, two. I needed two drinks, and I might have forgotten to eat dinner. And now Mr. Tall, Dark, and Mercenary here says I’m going to let him make sure I get home okay or else.” She lowered her voice. “And I gotta be honest, that ‘or else’ is sort of making me curious—”
“I mean Jack,” Leah said. “What happened to Jack?”
“Oh. Right. Well— Hey! You keep your hands to yourself, Mr. Mercenary, jeez!”
“You nearly broke your ankle,” Leah heard Ben grate out. “Stop walking and talking at the same time.”
“Fine,” Aubrey said, and then came back to Leah. “Danica tossed her drink in Jack’s face.”
Leah gasped. “What? Why?”
“Apparently they were supposed to have date number three tonight, and according to Danica—who yelled this at Jack, by the way—everyone knows what happens on date number three. She said she wouldn’t go on a date number three with a guy who was nearly, almost, maybe engaged. And that’s when she threw the drink in his face.”
“Oh my God. No.”
“Oh yes,” Aubrey said, sounding greatly amused. There was also a male snort, as if Ben too found this very funny.
Leah did not. “Who told Danica that we were…nearly, almost engaged?”
“I don’t know.” There was a sort of murmured conversation, during which Leah assumed Aubrey was conferring with Ben. Then Aubrey was back. “Mr. Mercenary says maybe you should check the mirror.”
“I didn’t do it!” Leah said. “I didn’t tell anyone.” Except Dee, which she still felt like shit about. And Ali. And her grandma… Oh good God. “Okay, so maybe it was me, but I never said engaged! I said we were dating.”
“Yes, but this is Lucky Harbor,” Aubrey pointed out. “It’s like playing telephone. I once thought I was dating the town clerk, and it turned out he didn’t consider it ‘dating’ at all.”
“That was not your fault,” Leah said.
“But this might be your fault,” Aubrey said.
Yeah. “This is bad. Very, very bad.”
“No kidding, because now you’ve gotten Jack cut off of sex from every female within gossip distance,” Aubrey said.
Leah thunked her forehead to the wall.
“Leah?” Grandma Elsie’s voice came from the bedroom down the hall. “Is someone at the door, dear?”
“No, it’s just me. Sorry to disturb you.” She took a deep breath. “This isn’t happening,” she whispered. “Was he mad?”
“I think he was more shocked. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t get rejected a lot.”
“No,” Leah agreed. Jack was usually the one doing the rejecting.
“So now you owe him.”
Leah quivered at the thought but brushed that aside. “I’m not going to sleep with Jack. I was just trying to do him a damn favor.”
“Oh, I doubt there will be sleeping involved,” Aubrey said. “Danica was quite clear. She said she gives great date three. My guess is that it’s at least oral. Maybe even the biggee.”