Undeniable Demands(10)

By: Andrea Laurence

 “Whole wheat, fat-free turkey, no mayo, no flavor,” Ken  grumbled.

 “Don’t worry about feeding me, Mama. I was going to run into  Cornwall to meet a couple of the guys at the Wet Hen and grab a few things from  the store. I’ll get something to eat at the diner when I’m done.”

 “All right. But I’m going to the store first thing in the  morning, and I’ll get stocked up on everything I need to feed a household of  boys for the holiday!”

 Wade smiled. His mother looked absolutely giddy at the idea of  slaving over a stove for five hungry men. He recalled times from his youth when  he and the other boys were hitting growth spurts all at once. They couldn’t get  enough food into their stomachs. Hopefully now they would be easier to take care  of.

 “Why don’t you just give me a list and I’ll pick it up while  I’m out.”

 “We don’t need your money,” Ken called from the rocking chair  by the fire, though he didn’t turn to face them.

 Molly frowned at her husband, and Wade could see she was torn.  They did need the money, but Ken was being stubborn. “That would be very nice of  you, Wade. I’ll write up a few things.” She returned to the counter and made out  a short list. “This should get us through a few days. I’ll go into town for a  fresh turkey on Monday morning.”

 “Okay,” he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek. “I’ll be back  soon. Maybe I’ll bring home one of those coconut cream pies from Daisy’s.”

 “That would be lovely. Drive safely in the snow.”

 Wade stepped through the jingling door and headed out into the  newly darkened night in search of pie, a dozen eggs, a sack of potatoes and some  information on Victoria Sullivan.

 * * *

 When Tori got into her truck, she had every intention of  going to Daisy’s to get something to eat. Maybe swing by the store for some  quick and easy-to-prepare food to get her through the holidays when the diner  was closed. And yet before she could help herself, her truck pulled into the  parking lot of the Wet Hen, the local bar.

 “Let’s face it,” she lamented to her dashboard. “I need a  drink.”

 Just one. Just enough to take the edge off the nerves Wade had  agitated. And if it helped suppress the attraction that was buzzing through her  veins, all the better.

 Tori slid from the cab of her truck, slammed the heavy door  behind her and slipped through the door of the Wet Hen. The sign outside claimed  the bar had been in business since 1897. Truthfully, it looked as if it had. A  renovation wouldn’t hurt, but she supposed that was part of its charm. The bar  was dark, with old, worn wood on the walls, the floors and the tables. The  photos on the walls of various local heroes and the sports memorabilia from the  high school seemed to be there more to camouflage cracks in the plaster than  anything else. The amber lights did little to illuminate the place, but she  supposed a bright light would not only ruin the atmosphere but force the local  fire department to condemn it.

 The place was pretty quiet for six on a Friday. She imagined  business would pick up later unless people were tied up in last-minute holiday  activities. She made her way to the empty bar and pulled up a stool. It was from  her perch that she heard the laughter of a group of men in the back corner. When  she turned, Tori quickly amended her plans. She needed two drinks. Especially  with that cocky bastard watching her from the back of the bar.

 What was Wade doing here? It was a small town, but wasn’t there  somewhere else he should be? At home with his all-important family, perhaps? But  no, he was throwing back a couple with an odd assortment of old and young men  from around town. She recognized her lawyer, Randy Miller, and the old bald  sheriff from one of the local television advertisements about the dangers of  holiday drinking and driving. There were a couple others there she didn’t  recognize.

 And at the moment, every one of them was looking at her.

 Had Wade been talking to them about her? The arrogant curl of  his smile and the laughter in the eyes of the other men left no doubt. The  irritation pressed up Tori’s spine until she was sitting bolt upright in her  seat.

 She wanted to leave. Not just the bar, but the town. Maybe even  the state. In an hour she could have the trailer hooked up and ready to go. Part  of the beauty of being nomadic was that you could leave whenever things got  uncomfortable. That’s what her parents had always done. Hung around somewhere  until it got boring or awkward and then moved on to someplace else. Tori had  always had trouble imagining living in one community her entire life. There was  no place to go when things blew up in your face.

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