Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 24

Two mornings after their coq au vin date, Grace woke to the Fall sun warming her childhood room through the window. The feeling of fresh, morning sheets and the warmth of the bed surrounded her.

She laid there and reminisced about what had to have been one of the best weekends of her life. Three dates. Not counting an amazing, lounge-y, and incredibly sexy breakfast in bed. Then, a night with the best mom a girl could ask for, and ended with a sweet goodnight message from Luke. If he intended to have her falling asleep thinking about him, he had succeeded.

Thoughts of their night together replayed in her mind. She went over every detail, every fragment. All of them made her grin. Even the heartfelt way he’d asked about her dad. He made her laugh. Her mom always said laughter is what gets two people through the bad times, makes the normal times great, and the best times magical. Of course, she was right. And because of it, she felt herself falling fast. She’d be lying if she said her mind didn’t drift in his direction more often than not.

Grace rolled to her phone that was charging on the nightstand where she’d left it, and where it had sat throughout high school and college. She’d had a giant brick of a phone that her parents made her wait until 11th grade to get. Grace remembered how cool she felt, and even more so when her parents let her upgrade to a flip phone as a graduation present. Grace shook her head now as she looked at the latest model that she, and what seemed like the rest of the world, needed to survive. When she saw Luke had beat her to a morning wake-up message, her heart skipped a beat.

“Because my mind seems to slip to you first thing in the morning, I thought I’d be the first to say good morning and happy vacation Monday. Also, waking up next to you is better than waking up not next to you. Now imagining you in bed. Must get up to take a cold shower.” Grace read the text aloud and laughed. She found she was always smiling and laughing when it came to Luke. Grace couldn’t believe she’d finally found a man that gave her a feeling of constant joy. She prayed he never wanted to stop.

“Good morning, to you, too,” she tapped out on the screen. “Was just thinking it would be nice to have you in bed with me. Was also thinking,” she spoke as her fingers flew, “I wonder if Luke likes pizza?”

The light knock on her door reminded her where she was. Grace let the hint of nostalgia at the sound rush over her.

“Hi, Mom. Come in.”

Lydia Thomas was a beautiful woman. Her once-blonde hair, which had been the same golden shade that Grace’s was now, had slowly become white. Her frame was long and lean, leaving no doubt Grace was her mother’s daughter. Eyes green and steady. Though, Grace thought, more playful in her later years. It seemed the worry had left them. They had found a bright and carefree glint that had been missing.

Grace wondered when that had happened? When had her mom transitioned from widowed mother to a beaming, and quite attractive, woman again? It flooded her with relief and added to her already good day.

“What is this smiling face for?” Lydia asked as she sat on the side of the bed.

“You’re a knockout, Mom.”

Lydia laughed and ignored her faint blush.

“I assumed it was due to the new handsome gentleman you’ve been swooning after.” Lydia appreciated the attention but didn’t care for it. So, she’d shifted the conversation.

“Swooning? And yes, that might be part of it.” Grace sighed happily.

“It’s swooning because this Luke of yours is making you giddy and it seems you may be on the verge of emotional involvement.” Lydia’s eyebrows raised, her emerald eyes gleamed knowingly.

“Emotional involvement,” Grace repeated her mom’s words. “Dating sounds cuter.”

“Dating it is. Have any plans this morning?”

“I thought I’d share a cup of coffee with you. Maybe we could convince Aimeé to mix us up a latte and a good breakfast at the Bistro. Something Fall-y. Would you want to come?”

“It sounds wonderful, but I think I might walk to the club and circle the gym a couple times. Then pretend I’m somewhere tropical while sitting in the sauna.”

“Now that – the sauna part,” Grace said to be clear, “sounds wonderful.”

“You could join me,” Lydia offered.

“Not that wonderful.”

The two laughed, and Lydia swept a hand across Grace’s cheek as she had since she was young.

“My girl. You make my world go ’round.”

“Love you, Mom.”

“Love you, too, sweetie. See you downstairs.

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