Monday morning, Rod is out of the office all day, helping Amos with a deposition. The day is quiet and boring without him. What would I do if he quit his job? I can’t remember how I got through my days before he worked here.
When Val walks through my door, she asks, “Well? Where is it?”
I smile and dig into my purse for Finn’s ring. Handing it to her, she eagerly snatches the box, and upon opening it, she shrieks, “Ooh, babe! It’s so neat! It kind of looks like a tire! Did you do that on purpose?”
I laugh and rest my chin on my clenched hand. “Yes. Rod found it. He has a good eye for jewelry and clothes.”
“Well, that is true. That boy has fabulous taste. It’s horribly dull around here without him.”
I sigh and toy with the velvet box. “I know.”
“That kiss! It blew our minds!” She checks her watch. “Oh, shoot. I have a meeting. Let’s do lunch, and you can tell me all about it? Invite Morgan if she’s free.”
I nod and pick up my phone as Val hurries into her office for her notes.
“Where’s Dick Rod?” Morgan stands from tying her shoe in the locker room at the gym.
I toss my green and black gym bag next to her on the metal bench. “I don’t know. Maybe he worked late with Amos.”
“Maybe he went home with Amos.”
“Oh, shut up!” I laugh. “Rod’s not gay.”
She rolls her eyes as she puts her foot on the floor. “I know he’s not. He’d probably pout and cry like a little girl if he heard that.”
“Are you and Finn free Saturday night for dinner?”
Opening my red locker, I think about that. “Um, I’m not sure. I’ll ask him. He might have to work late.”
“On a Saturday?”
I kick off my heels. “Yeah. He’s been working late on weekends.”
“Oh. How was dinner last night?”
I turn my back to her to take off my purple blouse and to hurriedly put on my white T-shirt. “Good.” Finn would say it was a disappointment. I gather my hair into a ponytail since I left it down from Rod’s hair observation at the field.
Morgan demands, “Hadley Beckett, did you fuck Finn Wilder?”
I snap my head up and quickly step around the locker bank for eavesdroppers. “Shit, Morgan!” I irritably whisper.
She laughs. “I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time you fucked him. So, were you easy last night?”
I glare at her, and she laughs again. “He asked me to go home with him, but I said no.” I take off my gray pants and put on my black shorts.
She straddles the bench, and I sit down next to her to change into my sneakers. “Was he mad?”
I contemplate that as I push my foot into my shoe. “Not mad, really. Frustrated, maybe. He doesn’t understand why I need time away from him. Sometimes he’s a tropical storm, and I’m a palm tree whooshed around in his wake. He engulfs me, and I can’t think straight. I’ll make a last-ditch effort when I give him the ring, but I want to be sure I can handle a bad fallout.”
“Maybe you should hold off moving in with him until after you propose. I mean, if he says no to your ring, do you stay or move out again? Wait until you get your answer before moving.”
I nod. “That’s a good point. I don’t think he’ll like waiting for an unknown reason, though.”
“Jesus, Hadley. That’s all he ever does to you. Waiting for the unknown or never. My wedding is only weeks away. He can’t complain too much.”
I scoff, “Yes, he can, but I agree with you. I’ll wait.”
As we walk to the locker room door, Morgan asks, “Where’d you go for dinner?”
“He got takeout and asked me to meet him at Chimborazo. We ate at the overlook and even slow danced.”
“Really? I thought Wilder doesn’t dance?”
I grin. “He asked me to. It was so romantic.”
We walk out to the main area and see Rod leaning against the wall. His clothes fit him this time. When he sees us, he impatiently pushes off the wall, and I notice his TLC shirt.
Practically stomping to us, he frowns. “What takes you damn hags so long? I already did three circuits on the weight machine while waiting.” Months ago, I would’ve doubted that. But after my recent run-ins with his strength, I don’t doubt Rod lift weights.
Morgan sneers, “We care about our appearance, unlike some assholes.”
He scowls. “No amount of time in the bathroom will fix your ugly.”
“And why are your sleeves rolled up? You can’t go to the gun show with water pistols. You wouldn’t know what a barbell looked like, dumbbell.”
Rod flexes his arm. “Uh-huh! See! I have muscles!” I’m impressed. Either Rod hides them well, or I’m that distracted.
Morgan blows out a taunting laugh between her lips. “Elbow macaroni curls more than that, Nimrod.”
Taking a step forward, he crosses his arms and glowers at her. “Oh, yeah? Well, scissors stay closed more than your legs do, obviously!”
Morgan jerks her head back with a mix of confusion and amusement. “What the hell?”
“I don’t know! Shut up, Morticia!” Rod pouts and gives me a side-glance as I cover my mouth with my hands.
“Watch it, Beckett.”
Morgan bumps my arm. “Yeah, Hadley, or he’ll hit you with a Rodism that will leave you curled into a ball and hugging your teddy bear on a shrink’s couch.”
I wave between them. “Hold hands or something. Hug it out.”
Rod frowns at me. “And you can sit and spin.”
I roll my eyes as I check the wall clock, and Morgan pulls on Rod’s arm. “I want to ask you something, and you have to promise to have an open mind.”
He yanks his arm out of her grasp. “No, I will not claim your child as my own! It’ll have horns and hooves, and I’m not black!”
She scowls. “Neither is Ivan, airhead. I’m serious, Ass Rod—Greg.” She anxiously tucks hair behind her ears and scans the gym for witnesses. “Would you want to DJ my wedding?”
Rod gapes at Morgan. “Are you fucking serious? You’re yanking my dick, aren’t you?”
We both cringe, and Morgan shrieks, “Don’t put that mental picture in my head! God!”
He grabs Morgan by the shoulders and shakes her like a dirty carpet. “Yes! I’d love to! No fucking way! Thanks, Mortgage!”
She smacks his chest. “Stop! You’ll give my child shaken baby syndrome!”
“And I’ve had bad morning sickness.”
He steps further back. “Gross!”
I examine her face. She warily pats her stomach. “It’s called morning sickness, but it happens at any time.”
Rod slowly walks back to us. “Anything you don’t want me to play at your bloodletting?”
She counts off on her fingers. “Heavy rap. Strictly country. Polka. The Chicken Dance. I hate that song. No Manilow, either. Ugh. Everything else is cool. Make it a good mix. I’ll give you a list of the songs for the bridal dances.”
“Does this mean I don’t have to get you a gift?”
“Yes, Rod. As long as you don’t expect me to pay you.”
“Deal. Just feed me, and I’m good.”
She smiles. “Deal.”
He narrows his eyes and clarifies, “Not dog food.” Morgan teasingly snaps her fingers, and I laugh.
“Well, I’m off to Evil Shane.” I heavily sigh, hoping for someone’s pity.
Morgan says, “Remind him he has a tux fitting this week.” No pity there.
I wrinkle my nose. “I’ll have to talk to him. Thanks a lot.”
Ignoring my complaint, she goes on. “You need to find your dress. I’ll go with you to some places if you want me to. We’ll have dinner after.”
My mind firmly fixed on the dreaded Shane, I vaguely reply, “Okay.”
I walk to the hallway with the smaller workout rooms. Pushing open the door to Shane’s lair, the devil himself stands in the middle of the room, perusing his clipboard.
“Ms. Beckett,” Shane acknowledges without looking up from his chart. He addresses me like the lady of the haunted manor, and with the clipboard, he reminds me of Finn at practice yesterday, which disturbs me.
Though not as big as Ivan’s, Shane’s well-defined biceps are on display in a dark blue tank top. Rod would cry. Without looking up, he asks, “Did you have a good weekend?”
“I did. How was yours?”
His blue eyes glance at me from underneath his shaggy light brown hair falling over his forehead. “It was fine.”
“Did you do anything fun?” Why in the hell do I care?
“You know. Hacking into someone’s Facebook to post embarrassing information about them, scaring small children at a park, robbing little old ladies in a parking lot…”
He raises his head, and his brown eyebrows yank together. “Why would those be fun, Ms. Beckett?”
“Please call me Hadley. Ms. Beckett is creepy.” Shane lowers the clipboard and holds it over his crotch—not that I’m looking—and drums his fingers. He contritely smiles, making me instantly suspicious. Shane Parker does not smile. Even if it’s a forced one, his smile is surprisingly nice, which stuns me.
“Sorry, Hadley. I heard you’re on a softball team?”
I gingerly nod and twist my ring. “Boring news travels fast.”
“It does.” Pulling the clipboard to his hip, he steps back, cocking his head as he assesses me. “You’ve lost weight.”
Is he sniffing paint? “Isn’t that the point to all of this exercising?”
He shakes his head, still studying my body, which makes me hide behind my arms. “No. Yes. I mean, we’re building muscle more than losing fat. You’ve lost at least three pounds since Friday.” Well, that tank top is too tight on you, Mr. Parker. Okay. It’s not.
“Oh, my sweet corn. How can you tell it’s that exact amount?”
He smirks, which makes his eyes crinkle. “That’s my job.”
I flinch. “It’s weird.”
“Are you eating?”
I scornfully reply, “Yes. I just ate a bunch of fattening food last night, so you’re wrong.”
“Are you under stress?”
“Is it your boyfriend?”
I tighten my arms. “I thought you wouldn’t talk about him anymore?”
Shane puts his free hand on his hip, and with a straight face, answers, “I’m asking out of concern. I promise.”
I roll my eyes. “No. It’s not Finn.” I’m not confessing my personal life to a wicked warlock.
He flips his brown hair out of his eyes with a flick of his head. “Have you started a new medication?”
Narrowing his eyes, he regards me as a puzzle once more. “Hmm. Did you find a dress for the wedding yet?”
He taps on his bottom lip. “When you do, hold off with alterations until the last minute, in case you lose more.”
“I’m not in a weight loss spiral. It’s three pounds. That’s a good thing. Can we drop the questioning?”
He bestows me with another haughty half-smile. “Like I said, it’s my job to know your body. In fact, I’m quite skilled. More than you think.” What the fuck?
He doesn’t seem to notice my psychotic collapse and continues. “So, is your boyfriend accompanying you to the wedding?”
Gathering my wits, I shrug. “I don’t know yet. If not, I have a backup date.”
Shane frowns. “Oh. If that falls through, I’ll escort you.”
Now I’m confused. “What? You can’t stand me.”
He lightly chuckles and shakes his head. Genuine amusement fills his eyes, I think. “I don’t hate you. I think you’re funny.”
I narrow my eyes, my mouth gaping at him. “That’s a new one.”
He nods. “You are. Do you make your boyfriend laugh, too?”
“Well, just keep me in mind. I’ll save some dances for you.”
I don’t hide my shock. “Why?”
He shrugs. “We have to dance together as the bridal party, don’t we?” That won’t be awkward.
“Yes. Oh. I’m supposed to remind you of a tux fitting this week.” He probably could squeeze that in next to his hour of stabbing puppies.
He lifts his clipboard, and flipping the page, jots down a reminder, I assume. He nods and looks at me. “Got it. Ivan mentioned a bonfire on the beach after the rehearsal. That sounds fun.” I didn’t think fun was anywhere in Shane’s vocab.
Feeling weird, talking to Shane Parker so civilly, I restlessly tug at my ponytail. “Yeah. Sounds cool.”
“I’ll save you a seat.”
“Okay, but I’ll probably sit on Finn’s lap,” I quip, but then regret that, fearing I sound like a codependent nympho.
Shane smirks again. “I can’t blame him.” I resemble a dumbfounded large-mouth bass.
He tosses his clipboard down onto a mat and barks, “Three sets of lunges, Ms. Beckett! Go!”
I sigh. “Happy damn Monday to me.”