“Tell her,” Mallory insisted.
“I changed my life,” Amy intoned.
Mallory rolled her eyes and gave Amy a shove.
“Fine,” Amy said. “I changed things up, opened myself to new experiences. Like…camping.”
Mallory sighed. “Killing me.”
“And love.” Amy gave Mallory a little shove back. “See, I can say it. I found someone to love me. Me,” she repeated, clearly still boggled by that fact.
Grace understood the sentiment. She’d had boyfriends—some had lasted a night; some that had lasted much longer. She’d even fallen in love and gotten her heart broken. She’d learned a lot—such as how to keep her heart out of the equation.
“The truth is,” Amy said, “I came to Lucky Harbor searching for myself. Even though deep down, I was afraid that whatever I found wouldn’t be enough. But actually, my real self kicks ass.”
“Yeah, it does,” Mallory said softly, smiling at her.
Grace stared at the two of them. “You’re a pair of saps.”
“Look, forget us,” Mallory said. “We’re not the point. The point is that you’re not living up to what you said you’d do. You’re not having fun.”
“I don’t know,” Amy said slowly, studying Grace. “Posing in the nude, walking McSexy’s dog…Sounds like fun to me.”
“I didn’t pose nude,” Grace said. “Sheesh!”
“Well maybe you should,” Mallory told her. “And maybe you should have fun with the sexy doctor while you’re at it. He’s just about perfect.”
Grace understood the logic, convoluted as it was. But there was a flaw, a fatal one. Having grown up trying to live up to being damn near perfect, she refused to date it.
The diner door opened, and a man strode in wearing paramedic gear with FLIGHT CARE in white across his chest.
Mallory took one look at the man she was going to marry and grinned dopily. She brushed her hands off and headed straight for him, meeting him in the middle of the nearly empty diner. In her scrubs and sneakers, she seemed tiny compared to the tall, leanly muscled flight medic as she leaned into him. Tiny and cute.
Ty must have thought so, too, because he bent and kissed her with lots of heat, easily boosting her into his arms, the muscles in his shoulders and back rippling as Mallory wrapped herself around him like a pretzel.
“Aw,” Grace said in spite of herself.
“Get a room,” Amy said.
Behind Ty’s back, Mallory flipped Amy the bird and kept kissing her fiancé. They were holding on to each other, and even from the length of the diner, Grace could see how much Ty loved Mallory. It was in every touch, every look. She sighed and pulled out her phone, which was ringing. “Crap,” she said, looking at the caller ID.
“Bill collector?” Amy asked.
“Worse. It’s my mother.”
“The rocket scientist?”
The one and only. Grace sucked in a breath and looked down at what she was wearing before she got a hold of herself and remembered that her mother couldn’t actually see her. “Mom,” she said into the phone. “Hi, what’s wrong?”
“What, a mother can’t call her only daughter?”
Grace smiled at the imperious tone and could picture her mother in her lab, working in Dior and a white doctor’s coat to protect the elegance and sophistication that she couldn’t quite hide behind all the degrees and doctorates.
Grace didn’t have elegance and sophistication emanating from her every pore because of one simple truth—she hadn’t been born into it. She’d done her damnedest to absorb what she could and fake what she couldn’t. “It’s not the first weekend of the month,” Grace said.
“True, but I just finished up that three-week seminar on the design for NASA’s new deep-space exploration system, and I realized I missed our monthly check-in. How are you doing, darling?”
This wasn’t a “tell me about the weather” sort of question. This was a request for a full, detailed report, and guilt flooded Grace. She quickly scanned through her options. She could tell her mom what she’d been up to—which was that she’d been using her fancy college education not at all—or continue to slightly mislead in order to keep her happy.
Mallory disconnected her lips from Ty and led him back to the Chocoholics’ table. He took a cupcake, kissed Mallory, and left.
“And how’s Seattle?” Grace’s mom asked. “How’s your new banking job? You the CEO yet?”
Grace grimaced. “Actually, I’ve sort of moved on to something else.”
Grace looked down at Amy’s shoe box full of receipts. “Something more accounting based.” Vague, and hopefully impressive. But there was no denying it truly was a total and complete lie, which meant she was going to hell, doubly so for telling the lie to her own mother.
“A lateral move, at least?”
A beep sounded in Grace’s ear, her call-waiting. Saved by the beep. “Hold on, Mom.” She clicked over. “Hello?”
Nothing. Damn phone. She’d dropped it one too many times. She slapped the phone against her thigh and clicked again. “Hello?”
“Grace. You available for tomorrow?”
Josh and his deep voice, the one that continuously did something quite pornographic to every womanly part in Grace’s entire body. Was she available? Unfortunately, yes. “Hang on a sec.” She clicked back to her mom and decided that since she was going to hell, she might as well make her well-meaning mom happy before she did. “I’ve made a lateral move from my usual banking specialist schtick. Nothing quite as exciting as being a rocket scientist or a biologist, but I am working for a doctor.”
“Sounds fascinating,” Josh said wryly. “Do I know this doctor?”
Grace froze. Crap. “Just a minute,” she managed. She smacked herself in the forehead with her phone; then, ignoring both Amy and Mallory gaping at her, she clicked over again. “Mom?”
“Yes, of course, dear. Who else?”
Who else indeed. Grace swiped her damp forehead.
Mallory and Amy, both clearly fascinated by the Grace Show, were hanging on her every word.
Grace twisted in the booth, turning her back on them.
“So tell me about your job,” her mom said.
“I’m…working for a doctor,” she said again.
“Using your CPA to handle his finances? Or research on that dissertation you never finished?”
She was saved from having to answer when her phone beeped again. “Hold on.” She clicked over. “Josh, I can’t talk right now.”
Good Lord. She really needed a new phone. She smacked it again for good measure and clicked back to her mom. “Sorry, Mom. Yes, I’m going to be putting my CPA to use.” She looked at Amy’s box. “Sort of. I’m trying some new things out. And some…research. But listen, I’ve really got to—”
“Trying new things,” Josh said. “I like the sound of that.”
“Oh for God’s sake— I have to go.” She clicked again and drew in a deep breath. “Mom?”
“Yes. Darling, you sound quite frazzled. You’re working hard?”
“Very,” Grace managed, rubbing the spot between her eyes.
“What? Hello? Grace, I can’t hear you—”
Grace swore and hit the phone again. “Mom? Sorry, bad reception. But yes, I’m working hard, very hard. Hey, I’m a Brooks, right? That’s what we do.”
“This conversation just gets more and more interesting,” Josh said.
“Oh my God! I thought I told you I had to go!” Grace disconnected him and fanned herself. “Damn, is it hot in here?”
Mallory and Amy were wide-eyed. Mallory opened her mouth to speak, but Grace pointed at her, then grimaced as she spoke into the phone. “Mother?”
“Yes. Grace, what are—”
“Going into a tunnel, Mom. We’re going to lose reception—” Grace disconnected, closed her eyes, and took her medicine like a big girl. “I suppose you’re still there,” she said into the phone.
“Yep,” Josh said. “So the dog walking. Overqualified much?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m going into a tunnel,” she said desperately.
“There are no tunnels in Lucky Harbor, Grace.”
“Then I’m throwing myself under a bus.”
“You can run,” he said, clearly vastly amused, “but you can’t hide.”
And that’s where he was wrong. She’d been hiding all her life, right in plain sight. Pretending to be a Brooks, when the truth was, she wasn’t pedigreed. She was mutt. She disconnected, tossed her phone to the booth seat, and thunked her head onto the table.
“Wow,” Amy said approvingly. “When you embarrass yourself, you go all the way, don’t you?”
“I’m going to go to hell for that.”
“Nah,” Amy said, pushing the tray of cupcakes closer to Grace. “I don’t think people go to hell for making an unbelievable ass of themselves. My grandma used to say you go to hell for abusing yourself.”
Grace thought about how she’d abused herself in the shower just that very morning and sighed.
If not for chocolate, there would be no need for control-top hose. An entire garment industry would be devastated.
Thanks to a crazy ER shift, Josh didn’t get home until 3:00 a.m. He crawled into bed and immediately crashed, dreaming about a certain beautiful, willowy banking-specialist-slash-model-slash-dog-walker in a wet sundress that clung to her curves and made his heart pound.
And thanks to his own stupidity, he could also dream about kissing said beautiful, willowy blonde.