Page 7

She laughs. “Yes. We survived the morning rush, and in about an hour we’ll be filled to capacity with the early lunch crowd.”

“Huh … the one in L.A. is always packed.”

“Milwaukee isn’t L.A.”

I nod. “You can say that again.”

“Can I get you a drink? Some breakfast?”

“I’m good. Well … maybe a cup of coffee?”

“You got it.” She gets my coffee as I climb onto a barstool.

“I have coconut sugar, almond or coconut creamer, cinnamon …”

“Black is great.” I take a cautious sip.

“Well, since you’re the only customer at the moment, I’ll get Jake and we’ll get your travel dilemma fixed.”

“Jake? Wait … why do you need him—”

Mr. Tatted Muscle Man saunters through the door from the kitchen, looking all showered and sexy. Not sexy. Gah! Why did I think that?

“Just get out of the shower?” Bethanne flicks at a drop of water hanging from one of the tips of his messy, blond hair.

I stare at his T-shirt—speechless.

He glances down as if he doesn’t know what it says. “It’s new, Paige. Do you like it?”

My gaze snaps to his. “Avery.”

Bethanne giggles. “Jake owns every obnoxious T-shirt ever made.”

He rubs his hand over his chest like he’s caressing the words.

Eat Pussy Not Meat

“Your boss lets you wear that?”

“Jake’s the boss.” Bethanne sets a glass of water next to my coffee.

He smirks.

“I know. It was mentioned yesterday.” I narrow my eyes. “Hence the mason jars being a precious heirloom from your grandmother.”

His smirk blooms into a full-on grin.

I rub my lips together. Dang, I forgot to gloss them. Retrieving my gloss from my handbag, I bring up my phone’s camera to use as a mirror.

“Taking a picture of my shirt?” Jake asks.

I roll my eyes, holding up my phone. “Not a chance. I just need to gloss my lips. I only had a half hour to throw myself together this morning.”

“I took a shower and dressed in under ten minutes.”

“Good for you.” I pucker my lips, giving them one last inspection before capping the gloss and tossing it back in my bag.

Bethanne clears her throat. “You two are so fun together. I love your flirty banter.”

I stop the coffee mug an inch from my lips. Jake sets the blender on its base, brow drawn tightly as he shoots Bethanne a WTF look.

“So …” She slaps her hands on the counter and drums her fingers a few times. “Jake, Avery and her dog need a ride to L.A. Her car died, and it can’t be brought back to life. Can you think of some way she could get to L.A.?”

I don’t know where this is going, but I have an uneasy feeling slithering across my skin.

He returns his attention to the blender, filling it with fruit, greens, and protein powder. “Buy a new car.”

“She can’t afford one.”

I feel like I’m on trial, and Bethanne is my lawyer.

He purses his lips to the side and hums. “Looks like she better get a job and save up for one.”

“She probably has one. In L.A.”

That’s not an accurate statement, but I keep that to myself.

“Well, sorry. I’m a chef, not a fixer.” He dismisses Bethanne by starting the blender.

She plants her hands on her hips, waiting for him to finish blending. I cup my coffee mug with both my good hand and my gimpy one, attempting to hide behind the steam.

“Jake Matthews…” she pipes up the second he shuts off the blender “…you know exactly what I’m suggesting.”

Oh god. I cringe. He has an extra car and she’s suggesting he loan it to me. Then what? He flies out to L.A. to drive it home. Well … that might work. If he owns this cafe, then he must own the one out there. Surely he visits that location. But that doesn’t solve the issue of my dad not wanting me to drive home alone.

“I’m not simply driving out to L.A. I’m taking a trip. Taking my time. Enjoying my time alone to recharge just like I do every summer. It’s kind of a personal trip I take by myself.”

Oh no. No. No. No. She’s not suggesting I go with him.

“Two years ago you took Mo.”

“That was different.” He pours the drink into one of those heirloom mason jars and rinses out the blender.

I don’t know if I should join in on this conversation, insist that I don’t need help, or just stay out of it because I do need help. So I do what I do best when I’m nervous—primp.

Fishing out my makeup bag, I powder my nose, even out my eyeliner, apply more mascara, and pluck a few eyebrows.

They continue to bicker like a married couple and like I’m not right here, half listening to them, half trying to remember the date of my hair appointment.

“Look … does she appear to be a camper?”

When the chattering ceases, I glance up. What were they saying? Bethanne looks constipated like I’m doing something wrong and she’s disappointed in me. Jake has a smug look like I just proved some point for him.

I think back. Does she appear to be a camper?

“Oh…” I shrug “…I’ve camped before. It’s only for what … two, three nights?”

He rests his palms on the counter in front of me. I untie my hair and work it back into a neater bun.

“As long as I want. That’s how long my trip is. No rushing. No schedule. I’ll get there when I get there.”

Shit. I glance at my thumbnail. It’s chipped and rough along the edge, so I look for a file. I know there’s one in my bag, but I can’t find it. After removing most of the contents onto the counter, I find it.

“Hello?”

Filing the rough edge, I look up.

“Did you hear me?” Jake frowns, glaring at the file in my hand.

“Uh … yeah.” I keep filing. “You like to take your time driving to L.A. That’s fine. My job is … flexible.” I bite my lips together so he doesn’t see my I-don’t-have-a-job expression.

Jake chuckles, shaking his head. It’s a wicked chuckle. Why is he giving me a wicked chuckle? What did I miss?

“Jake …” Bethanne says his name like a plea. “Just help her out. You might enjoy the company.” She shoots me a look, a cue of sorts.

Okay, I guess I’m up.

“Yes.” I give him a toothy grin. “I’ll be excellent company.”

He shifts his attention to the dumped-out contents of my purse on the counter. Bethanne takes a step back so he can’t see her. She holds up her hands in a prayer gesture and mouths, “Say please.”

That feels like begging. I’m not good at begging. I’m more of a briber or manipulator.

He sighs. “I don’t think it’s a good idea—”

“Please!” I said that. Whoa! Where did that come from? My need to get home is more desperate than I thought.

Jake inspects me with nervous apprehension wrinkling his face.

I slowly bring my hands to my chest in prayer position, mirroring Bethanne. “Pretty please.” Gah! Another chipped nail. I hold out one hand, inspecting the jagged edge. I’m never going back to that nail salon.

“Two weeks chip-free my ass,” I mumble.

“Avery is Tommy’s daughter … Deedy’s friend.” Bethanne says between clenched teeth.

“Fuck …” he mumbles, rolling his eyes. “Okay, Princess, I’ll take you to L.A., but your crown won’t make it there in one piece.”

My brows jump up as my breath catches on a gasp. Princess? I will myself to bite my tongue and play nice with my driver, but my poor tongue will be swollen by the time I get back to the Deedy’s house.

“Tiara.”

“What?” He squints at me.

I put everything back in my purse, avoiding his scrutinizing gaze. “You implied I’m a princess…” I shrug, keeping my head bowed “…which is cool. What woman wouldn’t want to be a princess? But then you insinuated I have a crown, which would be incorrect because only kings and queens wear crowns. Princesses wear tiaras.”

His hands ball into fists, still propped up on the counter.

I risk a glance up, my lips quivering into a nervous smile. “So either you think I’m actually a queen or you must mean my tiara will not make it to L.A. in one piece. Which…” I rub my lips together to hide my nerves “…is not going to be an issue since I left my tiara at home. I usually only take it on girl getaways.”

Bethanne snorts a laugh, buckling over and resting her head on Jake’s back. “Oh my gosh …” Her body shakes with laughter.

He’s going to strangle me. I swallow hard, feeling grateful for the first time that my dad has Deedy to keep him company when I’m dead.

In an unexpected twist, a tiny grin forms along his mouth. “We leave in two days.”

“Two days?” I shoot a teary-eyed Bethanne a questioning look. “You said next week.”

Jake clears his throat. “It’s two days now. After forty-eight hours, my common sense will catch up to what I’ve agreed to do and you’ll be out of luck again.”

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