― 1 ―
“GREAT,” ROSEMARY BRUTON said to no one, when she checked the airport’s app on her phone and read the notice that her friend Jenny Carleton’s plane had encountered bouts of heavy rain. Overhead, the flight number rolled across the display, with the dreaded word: Delayed.
She brushed her shoulder-length chestnut hair with her fingers and tucked it behind her, as she glanced warily around the airport at the travelers moving past. She caught sight of herself in a silvered metal panel, and she looked away. Her friends told her she was as attractive as the day she graduated high school, but she saw the lines around her eyes and her mouth that revealed her age.
With her fortieth reunion celebration gearing up, there was one particular person she didn’t want to see walking through that gate. Her stomach was in knots. At least Jenny was staying with her, and they’d have the chance to catch up on the past year.
She worked her phone into her tailored handbag, with its bronze metal trim and contrasting stitching. Her hand brushed her pocket Bible, and she was reminded of her decision for Christ a little over a year before. She knew her past transgressions were forgiven, but she wasn’t sure she could forgive this person she dreaded seeing, not here standing in the middle of Pflugerville’s Austin Executive Airport. She considered heading home for something to eat to avoid any possibility of an awkward meeting. Her phone would send her flight updates if the plane made it in before the airport closed.
An exterior door opened as a couple exited, letting the brittle sound of rain inside, and she shivered, recalling the bright days filled with sunshine only the week before. The pelting rain gave the October air a newfound chill. She glanced out the rain-spattered glass to the gloom just beyond, where two planes taxied across the runway. Last week, the temperatures around Pflugerville and her hometown of Round Rock had hovered in the eighties.
Today’s gloomy weather was forecast to blow out by morning, and she was ready for it to be gone.
With optimism, she noted a fresh set of passengers arriving, some in bright, flowered summer wear, possibly from a holiday on the Mexican coast. Two men were in business attire, and one little girl wore a party dress. Rose caught sight of a woman who seemed familiar, and she thought she might be arriving for the reunion. Pflugerville was one of the easiest airports to access from Round Rock, and it was likely many attendees would arrive here. She was arm-in-arm with a tall man and in an involved conversation, so she didn’t call to her.
After about ten minutes, Rosemary headed toward the lone service counter to ask if her friend’s plane might arrive at all that evening. She wasn’t sure what her next step should be. She’d tried to reach Jenny on her cell phone, but she hadn’t expected to get through if she was onboard. She’d left a message, but it hadn’t helped her darkening mood. Other people around her appeared equally irritated and aggravated.
From behind her, a loud voice abruptly bellowed out, “Rose Petal, is that you?”
She was hardly surprised to be recognized. After having her son Gill, Jr. at twenty-four, she’d maintained her trim figure, and her hair was the same color, if dyed. Rose Petal was a name she hadn’t heard in decades. She’d been Rosemary Penndel, and many of her friends had teased her by dropping the Mary and changing her last name ever so slightly.
Rose Petal had stuck.
Her eyes skipped across the strangers around her until the source of the words caught her eye. She let out a sharp breath when her eyes fixed on his broad shoulders and thick head of hair. There was no mistaking who had spoken those words.
Thornton Jebulon Wilder!
How she wished Jenny’s plane had arrived on time! Then she’d be gone, and she wouldn’t be standing here facing this disaster from her past, one she knew only too well. His dark, penetrating eyes had always been able to see right into her soul. They were the sort of eyes that made others feel as if he was boring a hole through them and didn’t care who knew it.
He was the last person she wanted to see.
Rosemary closed her eyes for a moment, breathed a quick prayer, and then opened them again, hoping beyond hope the moment would magically go away and this man would disappear. Yet, his voice was real, and so was his dominating presence.
What was worse, bigger than life itself, the man known in her high school days as Thorn, bore down on her, with his eyes locked on her.
“W-why yes, it’s me, Thornton. Nice to see you,” Rose stuttered, the reality of the moment jerking her roughly back to the present. Indeed, he’d been a thorn in her side, and seeing this man wasn’t nice at all. A flush of anxiety wrapped warm fingers of dread around her heart. She forced her arm outward and anxiously presented a clammy hand to shake.
As he continued staring, she felt herself grow more apprehensive. Clearly, he was seeing a Rosemary from forty years ago, and it wasn’t a look she appreciated. Judging from this brief encounter, Thorn hadn’t changed one bit in the past four decades, not in the way he carried himself or his behavior.
After a lengthy pause, he reached his hand as if to shake hers, but just as they touched, he pulled her up close. His warm breath and the faint smell of his cologne took Rose by surprise, and she found his lips on hers before she could push him away. It was all the emotions from high school once again rushing over her in a torrent. As she rose to her tiptoes to meet him, it was as if she had no control of her own.
After the kiss, he gently set her feet back on the terminal floor. Unsettled, her knees weakened with the intensity of the moment, she had trouble getting her balance for the first few seconds. Without thinking, she grabbed his arm. Then, aware of how that small intimacy might seem to others, she placed her hand on his chest and pushed him roughly away. She wouldn’t allow her sudden display of emotions to get in the way of keeping her distance from this man.
“Good to see you too, Rose Petal. I can see you’re still as sweet as I remember. What was it you said to me the last time we saw each other?” Thorn’s deep laugh resonated.
“What do you mean?” Rosemary tried to recall the events of a day she’d worked desperately hard to forget over the past forty years.
“I believe you said come hail or high water, you’d never kiss me again. Well, darlin’, there’s fixin’ to be a flood. You better build you an ark, ’cause you’re coming on high water and about to drown!”
With that, Thorn gave a crooked grin, turned heel on his cowboy boots, and strode off, leaving a very bewildered Rosemary standing alone in the airport terminal, as several rows of lights dimmed, and the announcement rang out that the airport was closing in thirty minutes.
― 2 ―
“I WAS HOPING I’d get here first to tell you Thorn was coming to the reunion.”
Jenny Carleton, a make-up artist with numerous Hollywood films on her resume, patted her face, which was flushed from her scramble to exit the airplane after a full night of delays. Outside the airport windows, the morning sun dusted the Hill Country with autumn’s glory. The words tumbled from Jenny’s mouth, but there was anticipation on her face as she glanced at Rosemary to gauge her reaction.
“That would have been nice.” Rose gave a shallow smile, one that barely broke the fire-engine perfection of her lips.
“Since we haven’t been talking much, I really didn’t want to call and give you such upsetting news over the phone. I thought you might think I was doing it out of spite. He made two reservations on the very first invitation we sent out almost ten months ago, the Save the Date flyer. He paid for his weekend activities then, too.” Jenny pursed her lips to cover a smile. Rose unexpectedly meeting Thorn at the airport the night before was a boon she couldn’t have anticipated.
They worked toward the baggage pickup section, and it seemed as if every delayed flight had arrived at once. The two women were jostled repeatedly, and it was as if there wasn’t a square foot of airport terminal to spare. Part of it was exhaustion. Both women were tired from the chase of resolving yesterday’s bad weather issues.
“Two reservations . . . mmm . . . That’s more than one, Jenny. Does that mean he’s bringing someone with him? Uh . . . he definitely appeared to be alone last night.” Rosemary’s words stumbled out, as she made a few remarks of her own. “He made such a spectacle of us. I was so embarrassed I almost died right there on the spot.”
“Embarrassed?” Jenny reached into her pocketbook and pulled out a mirror, holding it to one eye. She groaned at her smeared mascara.
“You heard me. Maybe more than embarrassed. Humiliated, even.” Rosemary began to recount the events of the prior evening to her friend. Her voice was calmer as she reached her hand to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. The small motion, unthinking and careless, showed her continued tension, as she recalled the unexpected meeting and the emotions that had stirred up potent feelings from the past.
“You poor thing.” Jenny’s eyes caught what Rose’s hands were doing. She wished she could have been a fly on the wall to see the encounter. She smiled to herself and quickly stifled it, putting a serious look on her face. She placed her hand on Rose’s arm in what she was sure would come across as sincere empathy. “I wish I’d been here to run interference for the two of you. I hate that you had to face him alone. Just to be clear, he definitely made reservations for two for the banquet.”
Jenny tried to sound consoling while she thought of the rugged good looks Thorn had once exhibited. At the same time, she wondered if he’d changed much. Every girl in their high school had wanted to be noticed by the “Wild Thorn.” His athletic build had dominated all the other boys on the football field, and Jenny couldn’t imagine him any other way.
“Were you able to recognize him? Has he changed a whole lot?” Jenny felt certain that Rose hadn’t revealed everything from the accidental meeting the previous day.
ROSEMARY BREATHED IN deeply as they put Jenny’s luggage in her car. She was glad she had something to keep her hands occupied.
“Actually, it’s been so long since I’ve seen him. He was, I guess, well, if I had to say, he looked even taller and broader than I remembered. He seemed as fit as ever.” She paused, closing her eyes. The thoughts running through her head were more than just a memory. This was a reconnection she didn’t want to make.
She opened her eyes when Jenny cleared her throat. She shrugged, fighting to keep her voice calm, and whispered, “His hair was definitely different. It was showing silver all around the edges. I saw that up close when he picked me up.”
“And? What does that mean?” Jenny smirked.
“He still has those same rough features so many women find attractive, if that’s what you’re asking.” Rose reached for a final valet bag she recognized, understanding the importance of the make-up inside. She carefully worked it in, and she pushed the button on her key fob. She stepped back as the whine of the trunk’s motor pulled it gently closed.
“You used to like those features too, if I remember correctly.” Jenny laughed her friend’s direction.
Rose jerked her eyes to her friend, her irritation sudden and strong. A few choice words came to her mind, and for a moment, she wished this reunion weren’t taking place at all. She didn’t need these jabs. Perhaps meeting Jenny hadn’t been such a good idea.
Then, biting her lip and looking away, she took a deep breath, and she sensed her new-found faith in God reminding her of the pastor’s sermon the previous week. Control of her tongue was vital to her Christian witness. Anyway, what Jenny said was true. That was what pained her. She knew every word was true. That didn’t mean she wanted to be reminded of it.
“That was a long time ago, and a lot of muddy water’s gone under that bridge. More than I care to remember. Let’s not bring all that up. I want to enjoy this reunion despite Thorn.”
JENNY KNEW WHEN to stop. Rose’s agitated sigh sent her a very clear message. As kids, they’d tormented each other unmercifully. However, since high school, Rose hadn’t been able to take being pushed. She would just balk and do nothing at all, distancing herself from the situation, even cutting off her friends. Jenny had long ago learned that when Rose became too irritated, only a sincere apology—as well as the offer of a facial or makeover—would get through her shell.
That was what had happened last year when Jenny had asked Rose an innocent question about several events from their high school years. Rose had found the questions nosy, and she had cut Jenny off, refusing to answer her entreaties for reconciliation. Jenny had waited for her to calm down, hoping for a response, but after a year, with the reunion looming, Jenny had been forced to break the ice without Rose’s help.
“I’m with you all the way, Rose,” Jenny began, hoping to smooth her friend’s currently ruffled feathers. Before she could continue, and without any apparent provocation, Rose began venting.
“I don’t even want to go to the reunion, now that I know the ‘Wild Thorn’ will be there.” She glanced at Jenny, her eyes red with emotion. “But if I don’t go, I’ll miss seeing all the old friends I do care about. I feel like he’s trying to cause trouble for me. You know that if I go, I’ll have to deal with him. But if I don’t, I’ll feel like he ran me off just like he did after high school.” Rose reached for a tissue to blow her nose.
“Of course, you’re going to the reunion. Don’t let Thorn scare you away.” Jenny was very determined, and while she intended to be supportive, she intended to convince Rose to attend this reunion, no matter what.
She would side with Rose, because their friendship needed repairing, even skipping some of the reunion’s scheduled events, if necessary, but that wasn’t her plan, and it was entirely too early to give up now, even though she was certain Rose would weaken and try to back out later. That just meant Jenny had to put more effort into it.
Besides, she was interested in how Thorn had turned out after all these years. If he was anything like Rose had described him from their brief encounter at the airport, he couldn’t have changed much.
“Oh, I won’t,” Rose assured her. “I just wish Gill was here with me. He was always so supportive.” She drooped in her seat, her emptiness at the loss of her husband draining her for a moment. “I really miss him at times like this.”
Jenny nodded that she understood. Rose’s husband had died from a stroke only three years before. However, despite Rose’s wish for her husband at her side, Jenny knew how Rose had been dominated by him. Gill had been an extremely possessive man. It had taken every effort for her to become as independent as she was now.
The unspoken truth was that if Gill were still alive, Rose might not be allowed to attend the reunion. He had maintained a tight rein over her, and he was always looking for an excuse to be jealous. Jenny had realized that after the first time she met him. He hadn’t been comfortable with the two women talking about their high school years. He hadn’t wanted his wife mentioning anything about her life from before their marriage. Jenny was certain he’d felt threatened by any man from Rose’s past, but especially Thornton Wilder.
Rose and Jenny arrived about ten minutes later at Rose’s picturesque Austin stone home just outside of town, hers since shortly after Gill died. The rugged terrain made the homes in the area blend into the environment, and being outside town, deer roamed the yard most days. Her old house had too many memories tied to it, and she’d let it go as quickly as possible.
Jenny put her things in the main guest room, glad to see that it had a private bath. She loved the antique furniture, and especially the elegant brass bed that accompanied this room. The bed and furnishings had belonged to Rose’s great-grandmother, Doris. Being here made her feel like she was at a very stylish bed and breakfast.
“Do your son and his wife stay here when they visit?” Jenny walked into the family room to find Rose drinking a glass of water. On the table were her vitamins and supplements. She stepped to her friend and picked up her vitamin bottle to see just what she was taking now. She looked at her with raised eyebrows and laughed. “Silver vitamins? Honey, you need the titanium bottle.”
Rose chuckled and grabbed the bottle from her, moving it and all the rest to the back of the table. “And you keep your hands off my supplements. To answer your question about my son and his wife, sometimes they stay with me, and other times they insist on a hotel. I think it’s more for their privacy than mine. I have plenty of room for them and the two grandbabies, well, they’re not grandbabies, any longer. However, even when I insist otherwise, Junior and Evelyn always feel like they’re intruding in my life.”
Jenny plopped into a comfortable chair. “Do you prefer for them to stay here?” She smiled at the softness of the cushions, running one hand down the arm.
“I ENJOY HAVING them near me. It was Gill who wanted his privacy. He was always so possessive, even when it came to his own son. He was jealous of anyone taking my time away from him.” Rose smiled, remembering the times her children and grandchildren had spent with her both before and after Gill’s death. Before he had died, they’d been a breath of fresh air. Afterwards, she’d welcomed the company.
“Then you should always insist on them staying with you. This is such a wonderful place that I wouldn’t stay anywhere else, if I were invited.” Jenny crossed her legs and bounced one foot in the air contentedly.
Rose sighed, picking up one of her vitamin bottles to peruse the label absently. “It should be that easy, Jenny. Looking back, I realize Gill could be an extremely selfish man at times. But I didn’t have many men to judge him by, since my father was in the military and always gone. I liked the fact that Gill was around and wanted me near him. It wasn’t until later in our marriage that I realized how controlling he was.” Rose paused, then continued with a brighter tone. “The kids all stayed with me the last time they were down, so perhaps they’ll be here more in the future. Gill knows I want him here, but old insecurities and habits are hard to break.”
“I’m glad you’ve made them feel welcome. With any luck, this will be where they come from now on.” Jenny glanced at her watch, frowning.
“What, Jenny?” Rose saw the look at the watch. “Surely you can’t have an appointment for a facial so soon after arriving in town.” She winked, teasing her friend. It really was good to have her staying in her home with her.
Jenny smiled at Rose, and she held out one arm, patting the inside crook of her elbow. “I’ve been on the plane since early this morning and haven’t eaten. I must keep my insulin levels in mind, because my sugar level could drop at any time. Diabetes. Type two. At least I don’t have to stick my arm. But I do have to maintain it by regular food intake. My waist line doesn’t like it, but my taste buds sure do.” She stood, reaching for her purse. “Are you hungry? How about us grabbing a bite for breakfast? It’ll be my treat.”
“Breakfast, huh? Is that how you do it?” Rose looked at her friend for a minute, amazed that this friend of hers could eat a regular breakfast and still manage to hang on to her beautiful looks four decades out of high school, diabetes or not. Maybe there was a trick she could pick up there.
“Do what, Sweetie?” Jenny dangled her purse, missing the point altogether. “Ready?”
Rose laughed, standing to gather her things. Jenny was a guest. Of course, she would go. “Breakfast, it is. I completely forgot about your blood sugar. Where do you want to eat? The Big Griddle serves a great breakfast, if that’s what you’re thinking, or there’s a buffet in the hotel downtown.”
Rose grabbed her purse and moved toward the door, her fingers working the house alarm. She held the door for Jenny as they headed out to the car, their conversation already on which restaurant they would choose.
― 3 ―
THORN IDLED HIS truck into the parking space and peered at the cars in the lot. The first thing he’d done upon taking possession of his rental was put Rose’s address in the navigation system. Her address on the destination bar called to him, and he forced himself to look away. He killed the engine and let his eyes rest on the car next to him. At the airport last night, there’d been one just like it parked next to him. Rose’s? He thought it looked like one she’d drive.
He wondered if he’d see her inside.
The reputation of the establishment was the best in town, and if she were eating breakfast in Round Rock, this is where she’d be. Taking a deep breath, he unlatched his door, climbed down, and headed inside.
The hostess offered him a choice of a secluded table or a booth that was more open. He asked her to give him a moment, letting his eyes roam the seated clientele. He smiled to himself when he saw Rose, the source of his night of insomnia. Next to her sat Jenny Carleton. Things were falling into place quicker than he’d anticipated.
THE WOMEN HAD chosen a booth with large, sweeping views of the dining room. A waitress was just leaving the table.
Rose had ordered orange juice and black coffee, while Jenny requested coffee with French vanilla flavored creamer, along with a large glass of milk. Asking for a minute to select from the menu, they were engrossed in the choices when a deep voice interrupted them.
Rose’s head immediately shot up to see Thorn’s football-player frame looming over them. Her heart began to pound, and irritation—or something she could later claim as irritation—surged through her.
Thorn was intruding on her space once again.
“Mornin’.” Thorn’s eyes were bloodshot as if he’d been up all night, but at least he was clean-shaven and faintly smelled of soap and cologne. Without asking her permission, he announced, “Move over, Rose Petal.”
Rose was taken aback. How dare he! Even as she raged inside, she felt his kiss from the airport as the unwelcome emotions swept back over her. It was happening again; she felt herself enveloped by this man who had loved and left her.
Her hand involuntarily squeezed the menu, crushing one corner. She quickly put it aside. In disbelief, she found herself scooting down to allow Thorn to sit.
She cringed inside, furious at the control he still exerted over her. All he had to do was walk back into her life, and she caved. She should be strong around this man, and that was something she hadn’t done well so far.
Thorn filled the booth with his considerable six-foot-four height and broad shoulders. Then he leaned his elbows on the table and looked at Jenny.
“Well, hello, I-Dream-of-Jeanie.”
“NICE TO SEE you, too,” Jenny shot back, finishing with, “Thorn Bird!” She was surprised by his bold actions, just waltzing up and making himself at home with the two of them. And to think, she’d even looked forward to seeing him again.
Now she wasn’t so sure.
She wondered if he’d even considered that they might not want his company. It was clear he still had his daring good looks, and it didn’t seem like he’d changed all that much in the last forty years. There were a few laugh lines crinkling around his eyes and mouth, and his skin was deeply tanned. That probably meant he still worked outside as he’d done as a teenager. She did notice one discrepancy in Rose’s description of him. His hair that was “silver at the edges” was rich and sleek, burnished with a metallic sheen, and showing only traces of a well-remembered auburn sprinkled through it.
Before Thorn had time to remark about Jenny’s less-than-enthusiastic greeting, the waitress returned with the women’s drinks. In his rumbling voice, Thorn ordered black coffee as well and told the waitress to return in a minute for his breakfast selection.
ROSE FUMED, BARELY breathing. She’d moved down and let Thorn sit, and now she wished she’d just gotten up and left the restaurant. Having him here after all these years was more than she could endure.
She looked around to devise a plan to make her exit. Perhaps she could ask Jenny to go the restroom with her, and they could just not come back.
Yet, it was as if Thorn could read her mind.
“This is quite a surprise running into you twice in less than twenty-four hours, when I haven’t seen you in almost forty years. I certainly wasn’t prepared for this rendezvous.” He nodded at both Jenny and Rose. Then, with a quick motion, he reached and tapped Rose’s nose with the tip of one finger.
She felt a current go through her like a lightning bolt. It was a motion she remembered well, and she’d enjoyed it as a teen. Now, however, he needed to keep his hands off. He simply looked at her and winked, making her even more uncomfortable. She was determined to run at the slightest provocation—or open space at the table. Oh, if she wasn’t trapped between the wall and this man!
Rose took a deep breath when the waitress returned to take their order, placing a cup of black coffee in front of Thorn. It gave her a distraction from what he’d done. With abandon, she pointed to the French toast on the menu, unable to force herself to say what she wanted. Her brain was crazy with the man next to her, remembering old sentiments and wanting him gone at the same time. In her heart, she didn’t care if she had French toast, or if the waitress brought her nothing at all. With Thorn next to her, she didn’t think she could keep anything down.
“I THINK MY friend wants the French toast.” Jenny took Rose’s menu and handed it to the waitress. She brightly ordered the Garden Omelet Breakfast, winking at Rose. Anyone could see that the poor woman was uncomfortable, and it had all started with Thorn’s sudden presence at their table. She covered her giggle with her hand, hoping Rose didn’t notice.
THORN ORDERED THE Simple Breakfast, which included two eggs, bacon, toast and hash browns. He hadn’t slept the previous night, and the pounding in his temples had only gotten worse with the rising of the sun. He needed fuel, and he needed it quickly. He even found it hard to respond with good humor when the waitress flirted shamelessly with him. After she stepped away, he raised the coffee to his lips, closing his eyes and drawing in the aroma. It was what he needed to perk up his morning.
“WELL, I CAN definitely tell you haven’t changed that much.” Jenny laughed, chiding Thorn, thinking how many girls had liked him in high school and hadn’t minded letting him know. He’d garnered quite a reputation for being the man to chase.
“Hey, I had nothing to do with what happened all those years ago.” Thorn grinned, finally brightening with a sip of his coffee. He pushed a package of sugar around the table with his finger. “Women are just cinnamon mocha to me. They show up, and the aroma draws me in. I can’t help it if I still have that animal magnetism so many women crave.” He rolled his eyes as he said it, letting Jenny know he was teasing. Taking another sip from his cup, he turned his eyes to Rose, “You weren’t jealous there for a moment, were you?”
ROSE’S EYES FLASHED. This was too much!
“Jealous? Should I be? Is there a reason for me to be jealous of that woman?” Her words snapped at Thorn like a rattlesnake.
Thorn smiled even broader.
“Still the same Rose Petal, never letting anyone know how she feels until it’s too late.” Despite his smile, his voice had a bitter edge to it. He drummed his fingers on the table, and the bantering fell quiet.
Now, what was that supposed to mean? Rose thought to herself. She could feel Thorn watching her intently, but she sat in stony silence. She wouldn’t try to engage him in polite conversation. She wanted breakfast to be over and Thorn to be gone.
JENNY, HOWEVER, WAS of a different persuasion. She had begun enjoying Thorn’s company, even if she knew Rose was piqued. She laughed brightly, reaching to tap the man’s arm, as she chatted about her life over the last forty years. Her words paused from time to time for the appropriate oohs and aahs from Thorn when describing various parts of her relationships with her family.
Then, Jenny changed directions, asking about some of the wild antics Thorn was accused of pulling in high school. Hanging his head at some, and smiling gleefully at others, he admitted to most of them. Jenny even questioned Rose about an incident or two, but her friend was less than forthcoming. At each prompt, she simply gave a little cough and tried to keep the conversation centered on Jenny. It was obvious she didn’t want her past mentioned, especially not with Thorn sitting at her side.
THEN, THANKFULLY, THEIR food arrived, and for a time, Rose could relax. There was no additional discussion about Rose’s past or Thorn’s rapscallion behavior.
Thorn dug into his Simple Breakfast, and Jenny had no trouble attacking her omelets. The same wasn’t true for Rose, who did no more than nibble her French toast. It was too much of a struggle to eat with Thorn sitting so close.
Finally, Rose dropped her toast onto her plate and sighed, certain that Thorn was gradually moving her direction. By this time, she felt he was practically in her lap.
“DOES THE FRENCH toast taste bad?” Thorn pointed at Rose’s plate. He noticed she’d only eaten one of the four slices.
She turned her eyes to him, pushing the plate his direction. “I’m really not much of an eater in the morning. Coffee and juice usually are enough for me until lunch.”
“Oh, they are, are they? So that’s how you’ve kept your trim waist.” He grinned, then he reached his fork across her plate and cut off a piece of the toast for himself. He dipped it in her syrup and bit off one end, chewing it slowly and thoughtfully.
“Hmm, not bad,” he said and extended his arm for another bite.
JENNY WATCHED IN astonishment. This was just like in high school. Thorn had always sat with Rose and eaten off her tray. Well, and everyone else’s, too, but that was beside the point. He was still doing it, and from the look on Rose’s face, she didn’t like it one bit. She just wanted this ordeal to be over.
Jenny fought a smile. It was too cute for words.
“How’d you sleep last night, Rose Petal?” After the third bite of French toast, Thorn looked at Rose with a wink. Then he chuckled. “Did you rest well?”
“I . . . I slept fine, except for worrying about Jenny’s flight being delayed until this morning,” she replied.
“Well, I thought maybe that little good night kiss you gave me might have kept you awake,” Thorn shot back at her, and he turned so only Jenny could see his face. A grin appeared, and it was clear the jab had been intentional.
“THORNTON JEBULON WILDER, I in no way initiated that kiss!” Rose raised her voice at him, as her skin turned hot with anger. He wasn’t going to blame that incident on her. “I had nothing to do with that, and you know it. I didn’t even notice you in the terminal. You recognized me first.”
Thorn chuckled. “Well, I guess there was that chance I might have been mistaken, I admit. I wasn’t sure it was you, you looked so trim. I’d have expected your long ponytail and bobby socks, you know. Now your hair hangs barely below your neck and your legs look—”
HE DIDN’T GET a chance to finish before he was interrupted by a warm-sounding hello from a former classmate and friend, Roxanne. The warmth covered an ulterior motive, though. She’d seen Thorn from across the room and had waited to be sure it was him. She’d carried a crush on him in high school, along with every other available female. Even so, he’d always been with Rose Petal.
“Hey, Jenny and Thorn. When did you arrive?” Thorn’s massive bulk had blocked Rose from view, and now Roxanne was surprised to see a third person at the table, and even more stunned to find that it was Rosemary.
Too bad things never worked out for them after high school, she thought to herself. They should have each other.
“HEY, BEAUTIFUL!” Thorn stood up to give Roxanne a big hug, and then he pointed across the table, telling her to sit down by Jenny. With a chuckle, he returned to his spot by Rose, gruffly apologizing for the lack of space. It didn’t stop him from sliding right up against her, though. All Rose could do was sit there and pretend it didn’t affect her, but she could feel her pulse race. She wanted to think it was anger, but it felt too much like emotions she’d expunged decades before, back when she and Thorn were together.
She didn’t like this at all. She vowed to find a way to exit as soon as she saw a chance.
“How are you doing, Rose?” Roxanne stretched her arm across the table and offered it to her. “I didn’t see you there next to your old beau.” A wink to Thorn accompanied her words.
“I ARRIVED LAST night, and Jenny just got here this morning.” Thorn pretended to take no notice of Rose’s reaction to him. However, he could read her like a book. She wasn’t hiding anything from him.
“When Jack and I spoke to Rosemary at church last Sunday, she didn’t tell me you were coming to the reunion,” Roxanne continued. “Did you, Rose?”
“She didn’t know, because I wanted to surprise her,” Thorn said smoothly. “She and I have a lot of catching up to do.” With that comment he reached over and patted Rose’s hand, smiling.
ROSE KNEW IT wasn’t a real smile. Thorn was up to something. She just didn’t know what. Her gut instinct told her one thing for certain:
She was going to find out, whether she wanted to or not.
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