Willow Hawkins opened and closed her mouth a few times, not certain she had understood the woman correctly. “Jerry is going to live here?” She gestured to the three-story Victorian home in front of her. Would a son want to live right next door to his mother? Not any man she knew.
“You and Jerry,” Patricia clarified. “Won’t it be wonderful? We’ve already spoken to the bank and gotten preapproved for the loan. Wait until you see inside! There are a few things that need fixing, of course, in a house this old, but I’m sure Jerry can do a lot of the work himself.” She must have seen the doubt in Willow’s expression, because she added, “This is every girl’s dream home.”
Not hers. Not a Victorian monster with gingerbread trim. No, she liked sleek and modern, and if she was going to buy a house, she was going to pick it out herself, damn it.
“Just close your eyes,” Mrs. DiNorio urged.
Willow did what she was told out of instinct more than any desire to humor the woman’s delusions.
“Now, imagine yourself ten years down the road, your husband and children playing in the yard. Can’t you see it?”
Ten years down the road. She did want a husband, and children, but the nameless, faceless man she imagined giving piggy‐ back rides to a little blond boy or pushing a little blonde girl wasn’t slender, pale Jerry. No, he was tall, and dark-haired, strong but gentle. Familiar somehow.
Willow felt herself shaking her head, and opened her eyes. She couldn’t be certain if the woman was serious—after all, she’d only met her a few hours ago, when Willow and Jerry had arrived early for Thanksgiving. This could all be a big joke, right? Mrs. DiNorio had never even spoken to Willow until today. How could she presume to know her taste?
And for heaven’s sake, though they worked together, Willow had only been on a few dates with Jerry, including one to her friend Judith’s wedding. She admitted to being charmed by him, and maybe a little swept away by wedding fever after seeing how happy Judith was. But no way was she ready to buy a house with Jerry. She shouldn’t even have come home with him for Thanks‐ giving, she realized now. Her best friend, Cam, had warned her visiting Jerry’s family could be misconstrued. But she’d had no other options, with her mother in Vermont with her new boyfriend, and Cam’s family off to Minnesota to celebrate with his very pregnant sister. Cam had stayed behind, but hadn’t told her why. Nor had he suggested they do Thanksgiving on their own. At loose ends, she’d accepted Jerry’s invitation and now his mother wanted to buy her a house. Was Jerry that hard up for dates?
She took a step back from Mrs. DiNorio’s too-cheerful face, toward the DiNorio home. Jerry would talk some sense into his mother, no doubt. “You know, I think Jerry mentioned meeting up with some of his friends before dinner,” she said. “I should get ready.”
“Don’t you want to see the inside of the house? I have the key.” Mrs. DiNorio dangled it in front of her.
Willow took another backward step. “No, that’s okay.”
Mrs. DiNorio lowered her hand to her side, her smile dimming only a little. “I understand. You want to see it with Jerry for the first time. I can understand that completely.”
That wasn’t it at all, but Willow didn’t argue as long as it would aid her escape. “I’ll just—” She pointed at the DiNorio home to telegraph her intention, then pivoted and willed herself not to run away. She would get Jerry to talk to his mother, to make him see what they had wasn’t serious. It wasn’t...anything but a mistake.
“JERRY, you might want to talk to your mom,” she said as they drove in his sedan to the bar where they’d meet up with his friends. She wasn’t wild about heading to a bar at four in the afternoon, but most of his friends had plans tonight, and this was the only time they could meet. “I don’t think she has the right idea about us.”
“What idea would that be?”
“Well, she tried to put us in the same room and we haven’t slept together,” she reminded him.
He lifted a shoulder. “She’s just trying to show she’s modern.”
Willow found her anything but, though her concerns were interrupted when Jerry swung the car into a parking lot and greeted two men getting out of another vehicle.
Soon Willow found herself in the center of a sports bar, surrounded by the glories of Jerry’s high school football career and his former teammates, all of whom were watching her like a pack of hungry wolves. She could almost see the gleam of saliva on their teeth. And Jerry—Jerry had his arm draped over her shoulder, his hand dangling over her right boob so that, at any moment, she expected he’d give it a honk, just to show his possession. Her back hurt from leaning away from the curl of his fingers. Every word out of his mouth was accompanied by his warm yeasty breath against her cheek, and the words them‐ selves... Man, she had really screwed up, thinking she knew him.
“Sweetheart, could we get a couple more beers over here?” Jerry leaned past her to ask the blonde bartender. He didn’t say it in the charming way some men did, with a sexy purr. No, his words had a layer of condescension that Willow hoped the bartender didn’t pick up on.
“Then you could bring yourself over,” one of his friends, Steve, added with a leer. All the men laughed as though it was the most original statement ever.
Willow met the blonde’s eyes and mouthed, “Sorry.” The bartender just rolled her eyes as if she was used to it.
The phone in Willow’s pocket buzzed, giving her an excuse to pull away from the group. She ducked from under Jerry’s arm, drawing the phone out. She glanced at the unfamiliar number, then remembered that Mr. LeFleur, her boss at the ad company where she and Jerry worked, had awarded her the campaign for a hotel chain hoping to revitalize its image. He’d warned her that the hotel’s new CEO was a workaholic, but so was Willow, so she hadn’t minded. Success on this project meant a good influx of cash into their small agency, putting it in the black for the first time since the recession started, which might mean a promotion for her. She hadn’t expected a call until the weekend was over, however.
She strode quickly toward the door, answering only when she could hear herself think over the clacking billiards, men shouting at the basketball game on TV and the pervasive country music underlying it all.
“Willow Hawkins,” she said, one hand on the door. “Willow, this is Gwyn Liedka, from Nightengale Hotels.”
No apology for calling the night before a holiday, but Willow let it go.
“I just wanted to touch base with you on the design you sent over. I’m very pleased with it, but—”
Willow didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. A hand gripped her shoulder and turned her around. She looked into Jerry’s frowning face.
“A client,” she mouthed, but maybe he couldn’t see her in the darkened parking lot. She held out a hand for him to wait, then covered her ear to better hear the tail end of Gwyn’s sentence.
“...image we want to project. More upbeat and modern, you know?”
“I do know,” Willow said, though she had no idea.
Jerry held out a hand. For a moment, Willow stared at it until he made a “give me” motion with his fingers. She raised her gaze to his, unable to believe he could really mean what she thought. He wanted her phone? Oh, hell no. She lifted her eyebrows in a challenge. He wouldn’t really ask for it.
He didn’t. He just plucked it out of her hand. Willow stared as he snapped it closed and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
“Come on, Willow,” he cajoled. “We’re here to have fun.”
Her nostrils flared. She couldn’t remember ever being so angry, so humiliated. The rage rolling through her stole her breath, and her eyes burned from what she suspected might be tears. Jerry of all people should know how important clients were to their agency. She wanted to rip his pocket off and shove it in his mouth.
“Please give me my phone,” she said through her teeth.
He inclined his head in a condescending manner. Screw his pocket. She wanted to rip off his face. “Do you promise not to use it again tonight?”
“Jerry, that was my new client.” A horrid thought occurred to her. Was Jerry jealous that Mr. LeFleur had assigned her to this account? Willow had been with the company longer, and Gwyn Liedka had indicated she wanted to work with a woman.
“She can wait.” Though he was smiling, there was an edge in his voice.
That put her back up. She stepped toward him, her hand extended in an imitation of his earlier gesture. “Jerry. Give me my phone.”
His jaw set stubbornly and for a moment she thought he’d refuse. She’d seen that expression before, regularly, on the face of her mother’s controlling second husband, Tucker. Her stomach churned. She couldn’t put herself in the same situation that had made both her mother and her so miserable. She would fight to make sure it never happened.
Finally he drew the phone out of his pocket and offered it with a stiff grin. “No more business this weekend, all right?”
Ignoring him, hating herself for being such a fool, for taking her eyes off her goal and giving into emotions sparked by Judith’s wedding, she turned and strode back into the bar.
“Cam, I need you to come get me.” Willow pressed a hand to one ear and her cell phone to the other. She’d pled a headache to get Jerry to bring her back to his parents’, and he’d been so solicitous, she’d been afraid she’d have to sneak out the window in order to use her phone. Instead, she’d slipped out the front door while his mother was preparing dinner.
On the other end of the phone, Cameron Trask grunted, signaling that he’d just woken up. He must be working nights again. “Where are you?”
“Triple Creek, Wisconsin. Jerry’s parents’ house.”
She heard rustling through the phone. Him getting out of bed, maybe. She hoped he was alone. “What happened?” he asked, his voice more alert, tinged with concern.
“I just—I can’t stay. I’ll explain when you get here. Please?”
She held her breath, waiting for his answer. Yes, she was asking him to drive three hours in the snow the day before Thanksgiving. She was out of options. Triple Creek didn’t have an airport or bus station. The town boasted only two cabs, and neither would drive her back to Illinois, or even to the next town to rent a car. Though she and Cam texted at least once a day and talked on the phone at least once a week, she hadn’t seen him in weeks. Both of them were too wrapped up in their jobs. But he had been her best friend since third grade. He would do this for her.
“Triple Creek?” he asked.
She heard the familiar squeak of his computer chair, the tapping of his fingers on the keys of his computer. “It’s just over the border,” she told him.
“I see it on the map. It’s a speck.”
“Which is why you’re my only choice. I can’t get out of here any other way. And believe me when I say I need to get out of here.”
“It’s about two hundred miles, Will. I won’t be there in the next five minutes.”
“I know.” She bounced on her toes and hugged herself, both against the cold and the uncertainty that he would let her stay here with her mistake. She scrambled for something, anything, to convince him. “Look, I’ll pay for gas, food, everything. Anything. You have to get me out of here.” She glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one had come out of the house. “He’s more like Tucker than I thought.” She closed her eyes, waiting for Cam’s I- told-you-so.
Instead of gloating, he sighed. “I’ll call when I leave Illinois.”
Relief sent a wave of warmth through her. Trust Cam to come to her rescue. “Thank you, Cam. I owe you.”
“Don’t forget it,” he said, but his tone was light.
Willow hung up and squared her shoulders as she faced the door leading back into Jerry’s parents’ house. She didn’t want to do this, but running off without a word was immature. After all, she’d have to face Jerry again on Monday.
Jerry opened the door, startling her, slapping his hands over his chest as if he’d been the one standing on the porch instead of her.
“What are you doing out here? It’s got to be thirty degrees out.” He reached out and she fought every instinct to flinch when he caught her arm and drew her inside. “Come on, Mom wants to get to know you better.”
She couldn’t bear the thought of letting them think for another minute that she was going through with this relation‐ ship. She took a deep breath as he propelled her forward, and hoped Cam would hurry.
Cam stood in the middle of his apartment, hands on his hips as he tried to figure out what to do. He had planned to leave tonight on the train to Seattle. He hadn’t told Willow he’d sold his car and now took public transportation, because sometimes he sensed she was impatient with his attempt to reduce his carbon footprint. So how was he supposed to ride to her rescue?
Then there was Libby. The poor girl had warmed his bed all day, and he couldn’t leave her here. But how could he take her with him? She watched him now with those big brown eyes, head tilted to one side as if she sympathized with his dilemma.
But Willow was in trouble. She never asked for help—for his help anyway—and while he’d finally taken steps to get on with his life, to get her out of his system once and for all, he couldn’t leave her in the lurch. He’d tried to make the separation gradual, cutting down on their face-to-face meetings by claiming work, reducing the number of their phone calls, limiting their interactions to IM. That way he wouldn’t see her face, hear her voice, and lose his resolve to take charge of his life. But now she needed him.
He’d loved her since high school, though she’d never seen him as more than her best friend.
An idea popped into his head, so clearly the answer he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it before. Okay, he probably hadn’t thought of it before because Brian would kill him. But Brian was out of town, already on his way to Melanie’s for Thanksgiving. He wouldn’t know. A six-hour round trip, maybe. Nothing would happen to Brian’s precious classic car. Then Cam could catch the train tomorrow. He’d be cutting his schedule a bit close, but this was Willow.
Feeling lighter, he straightened his shoulders and considered Libby, still sitting among the rumpled bedclothes. She would be a more difficult issue. Because the eight-month-old puppy, half pug and half Chihuahua, was spoiled and used to getting her way, she’d stayed with him while the rest of the family traveled to Minnesota. His plan was to ditch her with the neighbors tomorrow night, but they weren’t home now. He hoped they’d be back by the time he returned with Brian’s Chevelle.
“Okay, Lib, need to go out?” he asked, drawing out the words as he’d heard his parents do, grinning when she cocked her head comically and then leapt off the bed and headed for the door.
WILLOW SAT in the Triple Creek Diner on Main Street, her hands folded around a cup of coffee, her luggage on the floor beside the booth and her ears ringing with accusations hurled by Jerry’s mother. She’d led him on, she’d made promises, she’d broken his heart, she was a selfish girl, only thinking of her career instead of the security Jerry could offer her.
Doubts spun through her head. She agreed with the last assessment. She was selfish. But the other accusations—she didn’t think so. She was very careful with men and their expectations. She hadn’t slept with Jerry, though his mother had seemed to think that was the case. But Willow had agreed to go home with him for the holiday. There was her mistake, and Cam had warned her. Cam, who should be here any minute now.
Any minute. She had to get out of this place.
The rumble of a big engine drew her attention. She recognized the yellow classic Chevy with the black stripes along the hood, but she didn’t recognize the driver, not really. Cam’s shaggy chestnut hair had been trimmed to a more stylish length, though it still covered the tops of the ears he thought were too big. His face was leaner and his shoulders looked broader under the coat he wore. She sucked in a sharp breath. The nameless faceless husband from her fantasy earlier—it was Cam.
She immediately shut the feeling down. Cam was her rock. He was off-limits. She’d never had success in relationships—witness Jerry—and she couldn’t risk losing Cam. He was her family. So she’d made a conscious decision never to set her sights on Cam and was good with the choice.
Most of the time.
He met her gaze through the plate-glass window and she scrambled to drop a bill on the table. She grabbed her luggage and purse and practically bowled over an older couple coming in the door in her urgency to leave.
Cam smiled and stepped forward to take her suitcase. Tender‐ ness lit his brown eyes. When he touched her arm, a horrible sound came from the car, shrill and insistent. She pivoted to look at the sharp teeth of a small, fawn-colored dog.
She turned to Cameron and lifted her eyebrows. “A dog?”
“Mom and Dad’s baby, Libby. They didn’t want to take her to Mel’s, and they didn’t want to kennel her, so they left her with me.”
“Why didn’t you go to Mel’s?” she asked, following him as he loaded her suitcase in the backseat. “And why are you driving Brian’s car?”
“Get in,” he said, nodding across the top of the car. “I’ll explain on the way.”
That was easier said than done, because when Willow touched the handle of the passenger door, the dog charged, barking ferociously through the glass. Not until Cam sat in the driver’s seat, making soothing noises, did the dog back away. The animal rested its front paws on Cam’s jean-clad leg, casting threatening glances at Willow as she slid in. The dog’s growls rumbled across the seat, replaced only by the growl of the engine as he turned the ignition.
Willow felt as if the whole town watched as Cam drove down Main Street and out of town. She felt a twinge of guilt for Jerry. How would it look to his friends and neighbors that she left with another man? In her desperation, she hadn’t considered that. His mom was right. She was selfish, though she preferred to think of it as self-preservation.
“What happened?” Cam asked, as she’d known he would.
“He wasn’t who I thought he was.”
Cam slowed. “Did he hurt you?” His voice deepened with threat.
“No! No, nothing like that. He’d be short a hand if he had. He just, well, you were right. I shouldn’t have come. It led him to believe we were more serious, and I couldn’t let him think we had a future. His mom took me to the house next door and said she’d buy it for us as a wedding gift. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine me living in a place like this?”
“What about your job?”
“Exactly! Apparently, I am supposed to stay home and raise four kids—a nice even number—while Jerry commutes and takes care of me.” Willow knew some women, like her mother, saw that as security, but for her, security was being able to take care of herself. After all, she’d seen her mother abandoned more than once.
“Sounds like Jerry doesn’t know you very well, either.”
She ignored the last word. “The thing is, he does. But he let his mother override his good sense with her ideas of how things should be. She was even telling me how to decorate the house she was going to buy me. I’m sure she’d tell me how to raise my kids too, and how to make love to my husband. I had to get out of there, Cam. Thank you so much for coming for me.” She reached to touch his arm, but a warning growl from the dog stopped her. “Sorry, doggie.”
“Her name’s Libby. I wanted to leave her with a neighbor when I came to get you but no one was home. She wasn’t too bad on the ride up.”
“Hi, Libby,” Willow ventured, but the dog only growled louder.
“She’ll get used to you.”
Willow shifted in her seat and adjusted the vents. “Why aren’t you at Mel’s?”
“I didn’t have time. Work.”
She didn’t press, her mind still preoccupied with the past day’s events. “Thank you again,” she murmured, resting her cheek against the headrest and smiling.
He glanced over and smiled back, dimple flashing. “Anytime.”
Whoa. He’d always had that dimple, but the sight of it never made her belly flutter before. She must be more grateful than she thought. She shoved that flutter way down, suppressing it. Clearly she couldn’t be trusted with her own emotions. “I like your hair like that,” she said, to rein in her wandering thoughts. “Why did you cut it?”
She sighed in frustration at his lack of elaboration. “I hate that you don’t love your job.” He’d been employed as an IT for a Fortune 500 company for five years and was still at the bottom rung, working the crappy hours. He was entirely too brilliant to put up with that.
“Not all of us are as lucky as you.”
“True.” She was lucky. She adored her job as an ad designer, loved playing with colors and designs and fonts. She got along well with the people she worked with and even had happy dreams about her job. That Cam understood that fact when Jerry didn’t warmed her. “When do you have to be back?”
“Because we’re already halfway to Melanie’s.” And she could use some normal family interaction after dealing with Jerry’s overzealous family.
Not that she really knew what a normal family was, but she’d grown up in the middle of Cam’s family since she was eight years old, the only child of a working mom. The loud group—three brothers and a sister, generous mother and soft-spoken father— had absorbed her when they realized how often she was alone. Her mother worked two different jobs just to keep their modest house.
“You want to go to my sister’s for Thanksgiving.”
“I think you do.”
He pressed his lips together, considering. “I don’t know.” Which meant he wanted her to make the decision. She had no problem with that. She sat back in her seat with a toss of her head. “Okay, then yes, I want to go to your sister’s. If you don’t have to be back at work too soon.”
Cam mentally pulled up train schedules. He’d have to travel to St. Paul after dinner to catch the train to Seattle, but he could make it if he left early enough. He’d considered the route when he’d learned his interview would be the Monday after Thanksgiving, but discarded the idea since he didn’t have a car. He would have to find a way from his sister’s house to St. Paul, which meant leaving her house early in the evening, disrupting everyone’s holiday. Simpler to leave from home.
“Maybe just you and I can have Thanksgiving dinner,” he suggested, though now that she mentioned the idea of his family...well, he wanted to see his sister about to pop with her first child.
Willow scoffed. “Which of us will cook?”
“They have restaurants open now.”
She shook her head sadly. “Not the same.”
Ah, damn, he never could resist that wistful tone. “Where’s your mom this month?”
“Vermont, I think, or Connecticut.”
“New guy? Have you met him?”
“She’s stopped introducing them to me until she gets a ring on her finger.”
Cam liked Brenda Hawkins-Bryant-Whatever-she-would-call-herself-next, but he’d spent too many years watching her disappoint her daughter as she searched for a man to take care of her. He couldn’t blame her, really. She’d worked two jobs for the first ten years he’d known her, never getting ahead unless she had a man in her life. But her behavior explained Willow’s violent reaction to Jerry’s idiotic suggestions. “You think that will happen this time?”
“Who knows? I’m sure he’ll see through her before long.” She shifted in the seat and Libby growled. “So? Melanie’s?”
“They aren’t expecting us.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You think they’d turn us away?”
“It’s three hours home, five hours to Melanie’s. Even if we make good time, we won’t get there until midnight.”
Her shoulders slumped. “All right. Home, then.”
He drove farther down the road, then turned into a gas station. Libby pushed to her feet in excitement as Cam slowed, and he nudged her aside, glancing over his shoulder as he guided the car through the lot, pulling back onto the road in the opposite direction, toward his sister’s house. Willow said nothing, just leaned forward and reached for his iPod, a smile curving her lips as she plugged it into an adaptor hooked up to the radio.
“Hey,” he warned.
“What have you got on here?” She ignored him and scrolled through his albums.
“Springsteen, U2, Tom Petty? What century do you live in? Oh, my God. Really? Anita Baker? You have Anita Baker on your iPod.”
A flush crept up his throat. “It was our class song.” That she didn’t remember surprised him. Or maybe not. She wasn’t exactly the sentimental type.
“That doesn’t make it good.” She gave an exaggerated shudder.
He took the iPod from her and placed it back in the adaptor. “Rules of the road: driver picks the music.”
She held up her hands in surrender. “Just not Springsteen. I’m begging you.”
He swirled his thumb over the controller and clicked. Tom Petty rolled out of the speakers, and he set both hands on the wheel again.
“I’m surprised Brian lent you his car. Something wrong with yours?”
“I sold it.”
He considered what to tell her. She knew he made a conscious effort to be green, but this might be a step too far for her. Would he ever stop thinking of her every time he made a decision? “I can get anywhere I need to be with public transportation, and even one car off the road makes a difference.”
She shook her head. “I can’t imagine being without a car.”
“You live life at a faster pace than I do,” he pointed out.
“True.” She rubbed her hand back and forth over the dashboard. “So it must be killing you to drive this gas guzzler.”
A grin curved his lips. “I don’t know. It’s got some power.” He tapped the gas and the car ate up the road on the way to Highway 90.
Cam didn’t work up the nerve to ask the question that had plagued him for a week until they drove into the next town. “Still surprises me that you decided to go home with Jerry for Thanksgiving. You’re always so careful about things like that.”
“You didn’t go to Judith’s wedding,” she said, like an accusation.
He blinked. “Yeah. I had to work.”
“But you didn’t see it. It was gorgeous, and so romantic. Jerry took me, and was so attentive, so when he asked, I said yes.”
“So it’s Judith’s fault.”
“No, of course not. But I kind of got swept away.”
“You’re not the swept-away type.”
“Now I remember why.” She rubbed her hands up and down her thighs. “I’m not made for impulsive.”
“Because you’re a control freak.”
“Maybe.” Her lips quirked.
“No maybe about it.”He pulled into a gas station and parked at the pump. “You want anything?” He gestured to the attached convenience store.
“You don’t want real food?”
He glanced at his watch. He didn’t want to take the time to stop at a restaurant. As it was, they’d get to Mel’s place around midnight. He’d call when they crossed the border into Minnesota to let his family know they were on their way. Once he got there, he’d have to contact Amtrak to change his ticket. “Are you hungry?”
“Not as hungry as I’ll be by the time we get to Mel’s. I’ll buy.”
He looked at Libby. “What will we do with her?”
She frowned. “Let me think.”
“Right.” He swung out of the car to pump gas. “Take her to the area there to do her business.” He pointed to a patch of snow-covered grass. “Her leash is in the glove box.”
When Cam closed the door behind him, Libby put her paws on the door and whimpered through the window, then turned and snarled at Willow.
Willow popped open the glove box and drew out the slender pink leash, then considered the growling dog. “Look, honey, we’re going to have to learn to get along.” She did not want to be useless to Cam, not when he’d come for her. She held up the leash for the dog to see. “Don’t you want to go for a walk?”
If a dog could look indecisive, Libby did. She tilted her head at the leash, then snapped when Willow moved cautiously in an attempt to attach it to her collar.
Cam opened the door and stuck his head in. “Hey, you doing okay?”
“Peachy.” She reached to click the leash onto the collar while the dog was distracted by Cam, but Libby turned her head to snap. Willow snatched her fingers back.
“Here.” He held his hand out for the leash and attached it easily. Libby jumped out of the car and then turned to gaze at him adoringly.
Willow watched as he led the little dog to the snow-covered area, kicked some snow aside and waited for her to squat. He used the available plastic baggies to dispose of the mess.
Patience, that was Cam. She wished she could be more like him. To be honest, she didn’t have the patience to learn. Though this trip had been her idea, she was already antsy. She wanted to be there now.
He returned to the car and caught her gaze through the wind‐ shield. His sudden grin took her breath away. Okay, she was going to have to do better about controlling these little moments of attraction if they were going to spend the next couple of days together. Her emotions were too jumbled to be trusted right now.
He helped himself to the hand sanitizer by the pump. When he opened the door, Libby hopped in. She glared at Willow before turning her back and waiting for Cam to get in. Once Cam got the car started, Libby positioned her front paws on Cam’s thigh, her head between them, tail thumping.
“Sorry,” Willow said.
“She’ll get used to you. Maybe if you give her a t-r-e-a-t, she might warm up. They’re in the glove box too.” He handed her the leash to put back.
She opened the glove box and saw Libby perk up. Willow drew a treat from the brown paper bag.
“Libby? Do you want a treat?”
The dog scrambled around on the seat, quivering as she looked from the treat to Willow’s face. Obviously she wanted the treat, but wouldn’t accept it from Willow.
“Wow. She really doesn’t like me.”
“Put it on the seat beside you. She’ll warm up.”
“You sound confident about that. Did she take a while to get used to you?”
He didn’t answer right away.
“She didn’t, did she?”
“I’ve known her since my parents first got her, Will. Not the same.”
Willow placed the treat on the seat by her thigh. The little dog whimpered and lay on the seat between them, black nose twitch‐ ing, longing in her eyes, body shaking with the desire to get to the treat. Willow had mercy and pushed the treat across the seat. The puppy snapped it up and promptly returned to Cam’s lap.
He shook his head. “You have no patience.” He nodded at a restaurant with a to-go entrance. “Will that work? Drive and eat?”
“Easier for me than you.”
“I can manage. Better than leaving Libby in a cold car.”
“Okay. I’ll go place the order.”
He parked and shut off the ignition. “See if they’ll give it to us in something besides Styrofoam.”
She frowned. “You know they won’t.”
He shrugged. “It’s worth a try. I’m going to run in and use the restroom.” He glanced at the dog on the floorboard, gnawing on her treat. “She should be okay that long, right?”
Willow’s stomach rumbled loudly. “I suppose.” She hopped out.
Cam hurried up the sidewalk and opened the door for her, so she ducked under his arm. She’d forgotten how tall he was. Definitely not his coat making him look so broad. Her nerves did a little feminine trill as she passed him.
Once again she shoved the awareness down and took his request. He disappeared into the restaurant while she stepped forward to place their order.
Twenty minutes later, she walked out, the scent of the warm sandwiches wafting from the paper bag, to see Cam leaning into the backseat.
“Cam? What’s going on?”
He straightened, banging his head on the door frame and swearing, his hand on the back of his head.
“Will, I’m sorry. I was only inside a few minutes.”
She was close enough now to see colorful bits of fabric across the backseat. A moment passed before she recognized the fabric as her underwear.
What used to be her underwear.
She dropped the bag of food on the hood of the car and charged forward. “What happened?”
“She got into your bag. I don’t know how. Your jeans are okay. Your sweaters and...other stuff...are not in such good shape.”
“She ate my clothes?”
“I don’t think she ate anything. Just chewed.”
“And that’s better?” She closed her eyes and prayed for patience before glaring at him over the door. “It’s the night before Thanksgiving. Where am I going to get clothes?”
A big-box discount store, that was where. Cam and Willow sat in Brian’s car and ate their dinner, growing colder by the minute as Willow assessed the damage. Her shoes had been gnawed too, of course. And she was going to have to replace them at the only store open this late the night before Thanksgiving. The parking lot was filled with last-minute Thanksgiving shoppers. Willow set aside her chicken sandwich and took a deep breath. The worst thing, she’d realized back at the restaurant, was that she’d brought the wrong credit card. Instead of her debit card, she’d slipped her almost-maxed-out-thanks-to-Judith’s-wedding-and- her-new-couch credit card into her wallet. She hadn’t noticed until she bought dinner and had to hold her breath while the transaction went through.
Okay, it wasn’t that bad. She had a few hundred dollars available. But she certainly hadn’t intended to replace her wardrobe.
“I hope they haven’t put their spring stuff out already,” she muttered.
“I’ll stay with Libby.”
Willow cast a glare at the dog. “Why? What damage can she do now?”
“Will,” he chided. “Don’t take too long.”
She looked around at the sea of cars in the parking lot. “Yeah, I’ll do my best.”
Half an hour later, she walked out of the store with purchases she wasn’t too disappointed in—new pj’s, two sweaters, a thermal shirt, two pair of shoes and new underwear and bras, for way less than she spent at her usual stores. Flashing lights drew her attention as she approached Brian’s Chevelle, and she stopped short to see two cops beside the car, one pressing Cam down over the hood, his hands behind his back, while Libby barked frantically.
“You have the right to remain silent,” one of them said, sounding breathless.
Cam lifted his head and met her gaze, then dropped his head to the hood as the officer snapped the cuffs on.
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