The guys had unloaded and were dripping sweat by the time they were done. The heat had slammed into the town hard and fast. The drained the cold drinks the ladies stopped to get. Miss Betty was fussing around with her list and the guys were getting ready to leave. Claire had thanked everyone and told them to stop by anytime.
“Bikers and beans…damn it.” Hunter grinned.
Claire burst out laughing and it caught everyone’s attention. Stella had wandered over to see what was so funny.
“Do you want me to drop it off?”
“Drop what off?” Stella slid next to Claire. “Do you need help?”
“I got lunch for the guys, as a thank you…barbecue. Ribs, sausage…mac n cheese, beans.”
“Oh that sounds so good! Are we coming over again?” Stella winked at Max.
“I think I’ve taken up enough of everyone’s time and I’m sure there are much better things yall have to do.”
“Nope. We have the rest of the day off.” Hunter rocked back on his heels. “Plus…I left my salsa there.”
Max raised his eyebrows at Stella.
“Would you rather come for dinner?” She glanced at him and then Stella.
“Yes.” Hunter spoke, not giving anyone a chance to say anything.
“You didn’t let anyone else answer.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll come, even if they don’t.”
“Dinner would be great! What can I bring?” Stella interrupted the two.
“Brownies?” Claire smiled.
“Done! Dinner will give me time to pick everything up.”
“Okay…so I guess Dinner at my house. Five?”
“Works for me.”
Betty watched the two curiously. “What can I bring Claire?”
“Your sweet self.”
The older lady laughed. “How about some potato salad?”
“Yes ma’am, that would go right well with barbecue.”
“Well then…Stella, why don’t you come with me and I can drop you at your car.”
“Yes Miss Betty. Claire…text me if you need anything.”
“Thank you!” She waved at the ladies and watched as Max chased Stella, grabbing her butt. The guys were getting back on their bikes and the truck was idling as the two prospects were ready to take off.
“We will handle drinks.” Hunter felt like they needed to contribute.
“I still have a ton of beer in the garage from my fake housewarming party. Just needs to be iced down. Got a couple of handles of whiskey and rum.”
“We have tubs at the clubhouse that we can put ice in.” Hunter had no idea what had gotten into him but he knew he wanted to go to her house earlier than five.
“That would be great. I don’t have anything like that. Do you want me to come get them?”
“No. I’ll bring them in a little while and pick up the ice.”
“Great...a real party at my new place!”
“So that first day, burgers…not a party?”
“No…it was just lunch.”
“So what constitutes this as a party?” He couldn’t help but smile at her.
“I know you now. Well…sort of.”
“I get it. Let me go home and shower…I’ll come back in a bit.”
“Okay…I’m going to close up and I’ll see you later.”
He found it interesting she didn’t ask what time he was coming over. He waved the bikes and truck off and watched the guys roll out. Bolt stuck behind, waiting for him.
“Let me get your number and I will let you know what I’m on my way, see if you need anything.”
They exchanged numbers and both left going their separate ways.
After a much needed nap and shower. Claire decided to do her hair and make-up. She picked out a lightweight maxi dress and felt like a person for the first time in a long time. She was glad to have met some nice people and she knew Stella would become a great friend. She had just finished putting the ribs to slow cook, back in the oven when her phone pinged with a message from Hunter.
It wasn’t thirty minutes later a bike and a truck pulled up. A couple of young guys got out, pulling out several metal tubs, tables, chairs and some torches. The ice and what looked to be several cases of soda and water followed.
Hunter was directing the guys when she came outside. “If I ever have another party, I’m calling you for party rentals supplies.”
He laughed. “What makes you think you won’t have another party?”
“Beans and bikers…we shall see.” She burst out laughing and he followed.
“Oh god…can we just hide the beans?”
“Nope.” She grinned at him as they started loading drinks in the ice buckets. The guys had set up tables and chairs and soon the driveway and little backyard were taken up.
“A couple of the ladies might come by. Some of the guys have been talking about your furniture. There is some curiosity.”
“The more the merrier. Should we get more food? Do you want to see if I have enough?”
He waved the guys off and told them he would see them later. “Let’s go see.” He followed her inside. He took his time and really looked at her. Her hair was styled and her make-up wasn’t heavy. Her hazel eyes were clear and had a sparkle to them. The dark circles under her eyes were less pronounced. He liked her dress and the way it moved. She showed him the food and he thought there was more than enough.
“Did you have lunch?”
“Yeah…a sandwich.” He wrinkled his nose. “It’s easy to feed all of us. I can’t wait for ribs. Did you eat?”
“No…but I took a nap. This heat is gross, the misters should be nice.” She poured salsa in a bowl and handed it to him while she fussed around the kitchen.
The fell into an easy conversation. She was animated as she talked about the shop. A dark sedan pulled up in front of the house and she didn’t recognize it. A loud knock at the door sounded and she jumped at how hard the door rattled. She moved around the small island but Hunter was quicker. He didn’t like how aggressive the banging on the door was.
“Can I help you?” He filled the doorway and towered over the person standing there.
“Miss Claire Stewart please.”
Claire moved around Hunter and offered a smile.
“I’m Claire…may I help you?”
“Yes ma’am. Here you go. You’re being served.” The person thrust an envelope at her and left.
“What the hell…” she tore the envelope open and pulled out several pieces of paper and walked away from an agitated Hunter.
His eyes followed her as she paced, reading the paperwork. She inhaled sharply as she got to the second piece of paper. He watched as her shoulders sagged and her arm dropped, clutching the paper in her hand. The air felt thick and heavy, she looked at him and back down at the papers.
“I need a minute.” She barely had the energy to move down the hallway. Toby sent a cease and desist for using her business name, Stewart’s Stuff. Everything she worked for over the last five years was being torn from her. She knew this was retaliation for not giving his mom the crib bedding. She was deflated. Her keeping the business name insinuated he continued to endorse the business.
Hunter was pacing in the living room. He knew something was wrong, nothing ever good came from getting served. He was struggling with not barging into her bedroom. The timer went off on the oven and she appeared in the hallway.
“I’m sorry. Just a bump in the world of business. Ribs smell good, they should be ready for the grill.”
He kept quiet and followed her outside. It was getting close to the time his guys would start showing up. He turned the misters on welcomed the coolness.