Excerpt from Mr. August
Book #8 of the Heroes of Rogue Valley: Calendar Guys Series
What with responding to email queries, evaluating the items people wanted to sell, and running Second Hand Rose six days a week, Becca Chambers barely had time to eat lunch, let alone view personal email during the day. But thanks to the brutal July heat, business had slowed considerably.
Also, the subject line of a personal email snagged her attention like a three-hundred-dollar dresser offered for fifty.
Charlie and Scarlett's Wedding—important reminder!
How could Becca resist that? It wasn't every day her best friend and her brother married each other. She was thrilled for them. And also a little envious, which was odd, considering she didn't want to get married. Not anymore. She'd made her peace with being single and enjoyed living life on her own terms. Although she could do without the intense pangs of loneliness that occasionally struck. She felt one now.
Never mind, it would pass. Marissa, one of the bridesmaids and the self-appointed point person of the group, had sent the email. Becca read it.
Seven weeks and counting until the big day! Bridal shower in one month! As bridesmaids and groomsmen, we have decisions to make. See you at Lucky Joe's tonight at 7:00.
The meeting date had been set weeks ago, and was on Becca's calendar. She looked forward to planning the bridal shower and talking about the dresses Scarlett had picked out for her and the two other women in the wedding.
She'd intended to leave work mid-afternoon, then head home and eat leftovers for dinner. But having sent Petal, her assistant, home for the day, Becca no longer had that option. Good thing the shop closed early on weekdays during summer.
She scanned the list of recipients. Six people including herself and the best man, all of whom she knew. Not uncommon in Guff's Lake.
Charlie had chosen Nate Horton as his best man. They'd been friends since high school and ran a business together—Charlie full time, and Nate when he wasn't doing his thing at the Guff's Lake Fire Department.
Becca hadn't seen Nate in ages, but who could forget how amazing he looked in a tux on prom night? She'd had a secret crush on him forever. Meanwhile, he'd had a number of girlfriends and two wives.
The mere thought of all those breakups, all that upheaval, made her cringe. She preferred, no insisted on, calm and balance in her life.
Back to dinner. She had to eat something before the meeting. Why not at Lucky Joe's? Problem solved.
The bell over the door tinkled and a young couple wandered in. Greeting them with a welcoming smile, Becca went to work.
*As a rule, Nate Horton preferred physical activity to sitting on his ass. After doing exactly that for hours while he and Charlie fine-tuned the details for the privately owned Bombardier Learjet their new client wanted them to upgrade to top-of-the-line, Nate itched to get outside and do something physical.
Courtesy of the setting sun and mild breeze that lowered the blistering temperature a good fifteen degrees, this was a perfect evening for a bike ride in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, followed by a cold beer and a hearty meal. Nothing better.
Instead, here he was, ambling toward the entrance to Lucky Joe's for a pre-wedding meeting. Not his idea of fun.
Who wanted to sit around several more hours, hashing over details of a wedding that wasn't for another seven weeks? Hell, he'd already ordered his tux and marked the rehearsal dinner and the date and time of the wedding on his calendar. He'd also thought up several ideas for the bachelor party. What else was there to do?
On the upside, he'd see Becca. It'd been a while. He'd had a thing for her since Charlie introduced them way back when, but she'd never given him the time of day. Probably for the best, as she was a class act, and he was a regular guy who happened to suck at romance.
He checked his watch. Forty-five minutes until the meeting—time enough to grab dinner.
The live music Lucky Joe's offered Friday and Saturday nights always drew a decent weekend crowd, but on a Thursday night, the club was quiet. Nate had his pick of tables.
He was about to sit down when he spotted Becca near the bar. She was eating alone, bent over a manila folder and scribbling with a pen, her dark brown hair pulled into a loose ponytail and her cute nose wrinkled in concentration.
As always, so far out of his league… Like a tomcat drawn to a shiny, irresistible treasure, he made a beeline for her. "Hey," he said, hesitating a beat before bending down to kiss her cheek.
She didn't seem to mind. Her soft brown eyes almost lit up—a first in his experience. In the past, she'd never looked twice at him.
"Hi, Nate. It's been awhile."
Beautiful and she smelled good. After all these years, he still carried a torch for her. Big waste of time, but there it was.
"Like you, I came early to eat before the meeting," he said. "Mind if I join you? If I'm not interrupting."
"This?" She gestured at a computer printout. "I'm reviewing my inventory and figuring out what I need to stock before fall. I'd much rather catch up. Please, sit down."
Nate took the chair across from her. "Charlie says 'Hi.' I reminded him you'd be here tonight."
"He has other things on his mind."
Becca's brother was wrapped up in Scarlett, and Nate and Becca shared a knowing smile before he signaled the idle waiter lingering nearby.
After he ordered, he really looked at Becca for the first time. When she wasn't smiling or caught up in work, fatigue etched her face. "How have you been?" he asked.
"Busy, although this time of year is slow. The business keeps growing."
"Cool. Same with Charlie's and my private plane business."
Becca's napkin sat on her lap, but she seemed to be finished with her meal. He eyed the untouched cheese potatoes on her plate. "You're not eating those?"
"I need to take off a few pounds before the wedding so I can fit into my dress."
He let his gaze rove over her face and as far down her body as the table allowed. Creamy shoulders, sleeveless blouse cut in a vee that almost reached her generous breasts… "You look good to me."
She shifted in her seat and dropped her gaze. He'd made her uncomfortable, the last thing he wanted. He nodded at her plate. "So do those potatoes."
Nate did. "Man, I'm hungry. Charlie and I spent most of the day working on a new interior for a client who wants the best money can buy."
"I can't imagine what that's like, but it sounds fun."
"It can be. People with that kind of money tend to be finicky and difficult to please. Considering what we charge, the headaches are worth the time and effort. Our challenge with this particular job is to finish it before the wedding."
"Does the client want that, too?" Becca asked.
"He wouldn't mind. It's more Charlie's decision, so that he can focus on getting married."
"I'll cross my fingers. I want this wedding to go off without a hitch, and if you don't finish… You know how distracted Charlie gets when he's working."
"I'm the same way. Don't worry, we'll meet Charlie's deadline. What kind of inventory do you need for the fall?"
"Everything. Furniture, school clothes, dishes, winter coats—"
"For college kids renting apartments," Nate guessed.
"That, too. When the weather is hot like now, people don't shop much. They come back in September."
"I haven't been in Second Hand Rose for years. I could use a lamp, if you have any."
"We have a nice selection of floor and table lamps, and quite a few lava lamps."
"No kidding. I haven't seen one of those since I was a kid."
"They're popular again."
When Becca talked about her shop, her whole face lit up—a real treat.
"Are you seeing anyone right now?" Nate asked. Why had he even bothered? She'd never shown a spark of interest in him.
She shook her head. "By choice."
"Charlie didn't tell you about my last breakup?"
"He said it caught you by surprise."
"More like stunned. Craig had invited me to a nice restaurant to mark the third anniversary of our first date, and I was sure he was going to propose. Instead he broke up with me."
"That about sums it up."
"I'm pretty battle scarred myself and also single." Two years divorced for the second time, Nate was ready to climb back in the saddle and try again. This time for good. If only he could figure out what women wanted.
Becca would know.
Now, there was an idea…
He was about to propose it when his food arrived. For a while, he focused on filling his belly. When he glanced up from his plate, he caught Becca silently laughing.
"What?" he said.
"I see you're still a bottomless pit."
"Hey, Charlie and I worked through lunch." He pushed his plate aside. "I could use your help."
"My help?" She frowned.
Before he could explain, Bryan and Travis, Charlie's groomsmen, called out to him. Seconds later, the two bridesmaids arrived. Three men, three women.
They pushed two tables together, ordered drinks, and got down to business.