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Mike looked around at the milling Roadhouse crowd. Denim jackets and cowboy boots, short skirts and long legs, plenty of lip gloss and teased hair, glimpses of cleavage, earrings dangling against bare skin, pretty girls flipping their hair, laughing, teasing, sexy, cute …
And not Donna.
He drained his club soda. “Mañana,” he said to the other Catfish, who stared after him with expressions of shock and betrayal. He never left the party early. Too bad. The Roadhouse without Donna was like a game without a hit. A dinner without steak. A shower without water.
It just wasn’t worth the bother.
He strode out of the Roadhouse into the still-warm night. Up above, stars bedazzled the blue-velvet sky. The Wade kid had it right. Play well, get out of town. That was the plan. Definitely, for sure, forget Donna.
Unless, of course, she was standing right in front of him.
He blinked, but she didn’t disappear. On his way to the stadium for batting practice, he’d stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and a cruller. Now his coffee steamed, forgotten, in his left hand while he drank in the sight of Donna MacIntyre. She stood next to a miniscule red Kia in the drive-through, a little brown bag in one hand and a Big Gulp of coffee in the other.
She looked … different.
“You are Donna, right? Donna MacIntyre?”
She rolled her eyes with a Lord-help-us expression that confirmed her identity. “Solo. How’ve you been?”
“Great. What are you wearing?” It looked horrible, whatever it was. Boxy, boring blue, below the knee. Its only benefit was that it showed off her calves. Unfortunately, they were covered in beige panty hose. “Did you just come from Salvation Army band practice?”
“That’s an extremely inappropriate comment.”
Yeah, it was, but he was rattled. “Sorry. I’m a little traumatized. Are you on a Mormon mission or something? What did you do to your hair?”
The state of her hair made him want to cry. All the curls had been flat-ironed out of it; he knew the process because his sisters used it on their curly black mops. The color hadn’t changed, thank the saints, but she wore a headband that hid most of the glorious red. A headband! And her hair was short too. She’d chopped it to shoulder-length. All that wild, beautiful hair, sitting on a salon floor somewhere.
“Wait, let me guess. You’re on your way to an encyclopedia convention.”
Looking extremely annoyed, she brushed past him. He caught the scent of fresh woodlands. At least that hadn’t changed. As she peered into the Kia, he followed her gaze and saw a sleeping kid strapped into a car seat in the back. The window was halfway open, giving the child plenty of air. He had red hair and his mouth lolled open.
“Is that the Shark?”
For the first time, she looked kindly at him. “You remember about the Shark?”
“Of course. You’re a nanny for a Shark. Hard to forget that. Or the rest of it.” He raised one eyebrow suggestively, but she ignored his double entendre. His suspicion grew that something was wrong in Donna’s world. In the old days, she never let a chance to flirt pass her by.
“I’m not a nanny anymore,” she told him, circling around to the driver’s side. “I’m a receptionist at a dentist’s office. You should come by sometime. We’re famous for our root canals.”
Cradling her coffee and paper bag against her chest, she put her key into the lock on the driver’s side door. Damn. She was about to drive away, and he didn’t know when he’d see her again.
“You know, I could use a good teeth cleaning. They look kind of green up on the Jumbotron. Where’s your office?”
“Oh. Where? It’s, um, at the corner of Twelfth and Forget I Said Anything.”
“Ouch. Now there’s the Donna I remember.”
She fumbled with the lock. “Well, forget her.”
“I tried that. It wasn’t any fun.”
She glanced up at him, her eyes narrowed, and a zing shot between them. For the first time since he’d gotten back to Kilby, Mike felt completely happy with life. He bounded around the car and lifted her coffee out of her way. “There, is that easier?”
“You don’t have to help me. I’m fine. Don’t you have some balls to play with?”
“Ouch again. I think our Donna’s back in business.” He squinted at her. “Are you wearing a football pin? Now you’re just breaking my heart.”
“Welcome to Texas,” she said, all sassy. “Where football is king, and baseball is the nerdy neighbor boy your mom makes you play with.”
“Them’s fighting words, Donna MacIntyre. You can’t just say something like that and not give me a chance to prove how superior baseball is in every possible way.”
She turned the key in the lock and swung open the door. He stepped back to avoid getting a crotch full of South Korean automotive metal. In the car seat, the child’s legs twitched, and a low wail began.
“Gotta go,” said Donna, suddenly in a big hurry. “Nice running into you and all. Have a good season.”
“Mama!!!” the boy cried. Mike could see it was a boy now. A boy with bright red hair the exact color of Donna’s.
“Shhh, sweetie. It’s okay. I’m here, and I got you some milk.” She stuck a straw in the cup and handed it to him.
Abruptly, the crying stopped. Donna shot Mike a complicated look—he detected regret, warning, pleading, and probably a few more layers—then closed the door.
He watched her drive away, speculation running rampant. So Donna had a kid. She’d never mentioned any such person. Neither had Caleb or Sadie. Not that it was his business.
Except … well, he kind of wanted to make it his business. How many dental offices could there be in Kilby, Texas?
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