“Good morning Rawston, heart of the American Midwest! We’ve got seven a.m. straight up on your Saturday, May 3rd, and you are listening to Mike and Julie on 101.5 K-RAW. Keep it right here for traffic and weather on the tens as head meteorologist Ron Donovan’s got some breaking news about a thunder boomer headed our way, right after this!”
“Mmph.” Twenty-seven-year-old Abigail Durham, the salon’s owner/operator jerked awake and blinked around the break room. Ah, man. She’d been dozing. And the day hadn’t even begun. What on earth had possessed her to stay out so late last night? Isuzu’s massive purse crashed on her workstation table and moments later, Abigail could sense her standing at the door, frowning as Abigail sat up and peeled a granola bar wrapper off her cheek.
“You look terrible.”
Abigail yawned up at Isuzu-fresh-as-a-lotus-flower-Nakamura. She might be tiny in stature, but the dainty Japanese national was as tough as the acrylic she used for her customer’s French-tip nails. Isuzu rummaged through the cupboards. “I make more coffee. You stay out too late at Kaylee Bachelorette party, last night?”
“Golly, mom. Why do you ask?” A person would never guess that Zuzu was three years younger than Abigail, the way she acted like such a granny at only twenty-five.
Isuzu dropped the metal coffee pot into the sink and turned the water on, full blast. “You wear two different shoes.”
“Oh?” She frowned at her feet. “Oh. Don’t worry. I’m not actually here yet. I just came down to check my appointment calendar. I don’t have anyone till 8:30.”
The smell of the coffee beans Isuzu ground began to tease Abigail awake. “So? How was party?”
“Kaylee hated it . . . so, it was fun.” Dancing and party shenanigans had never been the virginal bride’s bag. Probably would have left before the whole thing started, but Kaylee wasn’t one to hurt anybody’s feelings. Had Kaylee been an animal, she’d have been a dainty, coal black poodle, all soft curly hair, soulful brown eyes and perfect manners.
“Too bad you miss Friday service at church last night. They dedicate big, fat baby to Jesus. Baby cry and smack pastor in nose. Blood everywhere. Very exciting.”
“Ah. Yeah. Well. Next time.” As if. Abigail ducked her head and crossed her eyes. Church on Friday night? Isuzu needed to get a life. Sunday morning was enough for any normal person and even then, only if one couldn’t come up with a good excuse for sleeping in.
The door jangled again and Isuzu glanced up. “I do prom nails for my niece, Brooke, this morning. She invited to prom dance with nice boy tonight. Fresh coffee in two minutes, okay?” Isuzu pointed at the hissing machine and then rushed to greet her niece, leaving Abigail to mull memories of last night while she waited for her java to perk.
Kaylee’s bridesmaids had gone all out. A piñata filled with party favors and gifts, line-dancing lessons, and some dude named Bob Ray Lathrop—part-time personal trainer—had dressed as a cop, arrested Kaylee, for “breaking hearts everywhere,” and then proceeded to do a dance that had everyone howling. They’d all taken a turn on the dance floor with Bob Ray, and he’d passed out business cards and coupons for one free personal training session down at his gym, The Pump.
But, to Abigail’s way of thinking, the best part of the night had arrived too late. “Whoooie! Get a load of the Marlboro man!” one of Kaylee’s bridesmaids had shouted over the blaring country music, just as Abigail staggered off the dance floor and flopped into a chair to rest up. Craning to see, Abigail had snapped to attention. Oh, my. Yes, indeedy. Cute, cute, cute. Real cute. He wore his plaid shirt untucked, and his Levi’s and cowboy boots gave the impression that he’d just climbed off the rodeo bull. In her professional opinion, he could use a good haircut, but it was hard to tell as he’d covered most of the offense with a backwards ball cap. She ignored the niggling voice of caution that cried, Anybody that good-looking has to be a womanizing jerk. Don’t you have enough scar tissue on your heart from meeting guys like him in places like this? Feeling rebellious, Abigail had pointed her fingers, like twin revolvers at cowboy-man and pulled the trigger, then blown at her fingertips.
“Abigail! He saw you!” the bridesmaid had shrieked and ducked her head in a fit of laughter.
“Uh-oh,” she’d said and laughed. Right about that time, the bride, killjoy-Kaylee, began making noises about heading home. Seemed the bachelorette had family arriving from Seattle over the weekend and wanted some beauty rest. Plus, her fiancé had called her twice, which Abigail had razzed her about, teasing that he was probably worried about Kaylee’s virtue.
“Marlboro,” as the girls had nicknamed the newcomer, stood just inside the door, arms folded—making it obvious he spent time in the gym—and surveyed the joint for a few minutes. Then, much to the bridal party’s delight, he strode across the room and asked Abigail to dance. It had been like something out of a movie.
“My hero!” she’d shouted for the benefit of the girls. They’d all catcalled and whistled as she’d skipped out to the dance floor after him. Abigail’s hands had felt feminine in his work-roughened ones, but his touch had been gentle and polite and his smile genuine. He was all beautiful teeth and twinkling eyes and five o’clock shadow. He’d taken enough time to slap on a little aftershave that morning. Armani. It wasn’t cheap. Abigail knew this because she carried it at the salon. Mm-mm. Such deep, blue eyes. And eyelashes? Long enough to sweep her off her feet.
As she reminisced, Abigail found a mug and poured herself a cup of coffee.
“Come here often?” he’d asked in a deliciously rich baritone.
She’d leaned back in his arms and grinned at the dopey line. “Nope. You?”
“To be honest, the only reason I’m here now is because I just finished some work I was doing on a charity project and I’m starving. If I come here at all, it’s usually with a group of work buddies for burgers and to catch the game scores.”
“Sounds fun.” Charity thing. Yeah. Sure. Whatever. It was true, however, that Low Places offered burgers as big as your head and a trough of fries for a song.
“Your boyfriend mind me asking you to dance?”
She’d laughed. “No boyfriend. No husband.” He’d seemed inordinately pleased,
which pleased her. Inordinately. “You?” she ventured.
“None of the above.” He was probably feeding her a load of baloney, but she was a sucker for a pretty face.
“Ah. What about a girlfriend or wife?”
“Nope. I’m relatively new to the Midwest. Haven’t lived here a full year yet.”
“Welcome to Rawston,” Abigail murmured and smiled into his shirt. Oh, yes. He was a great dance partner. Nice and tall, which made her 5’ 6” plus heels feel perfect.
Just as things were getting interesting, Kaylee appeared at her shoulder and announced that the clock had struck midnight and she was leaving the ball. And, since Kaylee had driven most of them, it was time to bid Prince Marlboro adieu. Abigail’s friends were all laughing as they’d pulled her off the dance floor.
“Goodbye,” Abigail had mouthed and thrust out her lower lip in disappointment.
“Next Friday?” he’d answered, seeming just as disappointed.
What the hey? Maybe this time, it would be different. Maybe he was that rare combination of good-looking, unmarried good guy. Eeh. Probably not. But she’d nodded anyway, grinned, given him a thumb’s up and that had been that. Abigail couldn’t wait for Friday. She opened the fridge for some creamer and suddenly remembered.
“Oh, no,” she muttered and stared at the refrigerator door. “I forgot to ask his name!”
“Nothing. Hey, Zuzu? I’m gonna go home and shower.” She headed to Isuzu’s nail station. “I’ll be back in by 8:15 for my first appointment. Aunt Selma is scheduled for 8:30. Oh, and if she gets here before I do, put her in the chair and give her a magazine.”
“Okay. Look at this polish Brooke pick. Nails going to be perfect for tonight.” Isuzu held up a bottle of sparkly color and waved it at Abigail.
“Hey, Brookie-cookie. How you gonna dance without any ice under your feet?” The Olympic hopeful and her figure-skating twin brother were the local celebs. “Excited?”
Brooke snorted and laughed. “Uh, yeah? To finally dance with a normal boy, and one who won’t be tossing me into the air and then not catching me? Totally.”
“What’s his name?”
“Nick Gleason.” Her face flared crimson, and Abigail had to wonder if there was more to the story than that. “He’s my best friend.”
“That’s cool. Friendship is more important in a relationship than the mushy stuff, trust me.” Abigail sighed. “Not that I’d know. I haven’t had a date with a friend in . . . ever. But hope springs eternal.”