Authors: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women
Ted stepped in front of the woman and disconnected her hand from Meg’s arm. “Best for you to get back to work, Meg. I’ll be sure to let Birdie know how diligent you are.”
Meg gritted her teeth, but Ted wasn’t quite done. “The next time you talk to Lucy, be sure to tell her how much I miss her?” With a flick of his finger, he tugged open the loose knot on the front of the woman’s robe, pulled her against him, and kissed her hard.
Moments later, the door slammed in Meg’s face.
Meg hated hypocrisy, and knowing everybody in town regarded Ted as a model of decency when he was banging a married woman made her crazy. She’d bet anything the affair had been going on while he and Lucy were engaged.
She pulled up to the church that evening and began the laborious process of dragging all her possessions back inside—her suitcase, towels, food, the bed linens she’d borrowed from the inn and intended to return as soon as she could. She refused to spend another second thinking about Ted Beaudine. Better to concentrate on the positive. Thanks to the golfers, she had money for gas, Tampax, and some groceries. Not a huge accomplishment, but enough so she could postpone making any humiliating phone calls to her friends.
But her relief was short-lived. On Sunday, the very next evening, as she was about to leave work, she discovered that one of the golfers—and it didn’t take any great detective skills to figure out which one—had complained to Birdie about a maid trolling for tips. Birdie called Meg to her office and, with a great deal of satisfaction, fired her on the spot.
The library rebuilding committee sat in Birdie’s living room enjoying a pitcher of her famous pineapple mojitos. “Haley’s mad at me again.” Their hostess leaned back into the streamlined midcentury armchair she’d just had reupholstered in vanilla linen, a fabric that wouldn’t have lasted a day at Emma’s house. “Because I fired Meg Koranda, of all things. She says Meg won’t be able to find another job. I pay my maids more than a fair wage, and Miss Hollywood shouldn’t have been deliberately soliciting tips.”
The women exchanged glances. They all knew Birdie had paid Meg three dollars less an hour than she was paying everybody else, something that had never sat quite right with Emma, even though Ted had come up with the idea.
Zoey toyed with a glittery pink pasta shell that had dropped off the pin she’d stuck to the collar of her sleeveless white blouse. “Haley’s always had a soft heart. I’ll bet Meg took advantage of it.”
“A soft head is more like it,” Birdie said. “I know y’all have noticed the way she’s been dressing lately, and I appreciate that none of you have mentioned it. She thinks lettin’ her boobs hang out will make Kyle Bascom notice her.”
“I had him when I taught sixth grade,” Zoey said. “And let me just say that Haley is way too smart for that boy.”
“Try telling her that.” Birdie drummed her fingers on the chair arm.
Kayla put down her lip gloss and picked up her mojito. “Haley’s right about one thing. Nobody in this town is going to hire Meg Koranda, not if they want to look Ted Beaudine in the face.”
Emma had never liked bullying, and the town’s vindictiveness toward Meg was starting to make her uncomfortable. At the same time, she couldn’t forgive Meg for the part she’d played in hurting one of her favorite people.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Ted lately.” Shelby hooked one side of her blond bob behind her ear and gazed down at her new peep-toe ballerinas.
“Haven’t we all.” Kayla frowned and touched her pavé diamond star necklace.
“Way too much.” Zoey started to chew on her bottom lip.
Ted’s newly single status had once again raised their hopes. Emma wished they’d both accept the fact that he would never commit to either of them. Kayla was too high maintenance, and Zoey inspired his admiration but not his love.
It was time to draw the conversation back to the subject they’d been avoiding, how they were going to raise the rest of the money to repair the library. The town’s normal sources of big money, which included Emma and husband Kenny, still hadn’t recovered from the hits their portfolios had taken in the last economic downturn, and they’d already been tapped out by half a dozen other vital local charities in need of rescue. “Anyone have any new fund-raising idea?” Emma asked.
Shelby clicked her index finger against her front tooth. “I might.”
Birdie groaned. “No more bake sales. Last time, four people got food poisoning from Mollie Dodge’s coconut custard pie.”
“The quilt raffle was a dreadful embarrassment,” Emma couldn’t help but add, even though she didn’t like contributing to the general negativity.
“Who wants a dead squirrel staring back at them every time they go into their bedroom?” Kayla said.
“It was a kitten, not a dead squirrel,” Zoey declared.
“It sure looked like a dead squirrel to me,” Kayla retorted.
“Not a bake sale and not a quilt raffle.” Shelby had a faraway look in her eyes. “Something else. Something . . . bigger. More interesting.”
They all regarded her inquisitively, but Shelby shook her head. “I need to think about it first.”
No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get any more out of her.
Nobody would hire Meg. Not even at the ten-unit motel on the edge of town. “You got any idea how many permits it takes to keep this place open?” the ruddy-faced manager told her. “I ain’t doin’ nothin’ to piss off Ted Beaudine, not as long as he’s mayor. Hell, even if he wasn’t mayor . . .”
So Meg drove from one business to the next, her car guzzling gas like a construction worker gulping water on a summer afternoon. Three days passed, then four. By the fifth day, as she gazed across the desk at the newly hired assistant manager of Windmill Creek Country Club, her desperation had developed a bitter center. As soon as this interview fell through, she’d have to swallow her final shard of pride and call Georgie.
The assistant manager was an officious preppy type, thin, with glasses and a neatly trimmed beard he tugged on as he explained that, despite the club’s lowly status, being only semiprivate and not nearly as prestigious as his former place of employment, Windmill Creek was still the home of Dallas Beaudine and Kenny Traveler, two of the biggest legends in professional golf. As if she didn’t know.
Windmill Creek was also the home club of Ted Beaudine and his cronies, and she’d never have wasted gas coming here if she hadn’t seen the item in the
announcing that the club’s newly hired assistant manager had last worked at a golf club in Waco, which made him a stranger in town. On the chance that he didn’t yet know she was the Voldemort of Wynette, she’d immediately picked up the phone and, to her shock, snagged this afternoon’s interview.
“The job’s eight to five,” he said, “with Mondays off.”
She’d gotten so used to rejection that she’d let her mind wander. She had no idea what job he was talking about, or if he’d actually offered it to her. “That’s—that’s perfect,” she said. “Eight to five is perfect.”
“The pay’s not much, but if you do your job right, the tips should be good, especially on weekends.”
“I’ll take it!”
He eyed her fictionalized résumé, then took in the outfit she’d pulled together from her desperately limited wardrobe—a gauzy petal skirt, white tank, studded black belt, gladiator sandals, and her Sung dynasty earrings. “Are you sure?” he said doubtfully. “Driving a drink cart isn’t much of a job.”
She bit back the urge to tell him she wasn’t much of an employee. “It’s perfect for me.” Desperation made it alarmingly easy to set aside her beliefs about golf courses destroying the environment.
As he led her outside to the snack shop to meet her supervisor, she could barely comprehend that she finally had a job. “Exclusive courses don’t have drink carts,” he sniffed. “But the members here can’t seem to wait for the turn to grab their next beer.”
Meg had grown up around horses, and she had no idea what “the turn” was. She didn’t care. She had a job.
When she got home later that afternoon, she parked behind an old storage shed she’d discovered in the undergrowth beyond the stone fence that surrounded the graveyard. It had long ago lost its roof, and vines, prickly pear, and dried grasses grew around its collapsing walls. She blew her curls off her sweaty forehead as she hauled her suitcase out of the trunk. At least she’d been able to hide her small stash of groceries behind some abandoned kitchen appliances, but even so, the constant packing and unpacking were wearing on her. As she lugged her possessions through the graveyard, she dreamed of air-conditioning and a place to stay where she wouldn’t have to erase her presence every morning.
It was nearly July, and the church felt hotter than ever. Dust motes flew as she turned on the overhead fans. They did nothing more than stir the air, but she couldn’t risk opening the windows, just as she tried to avoid turning the lights on after dark. It left her with nothing to do other than go to bed around the same time she used to head out for the evening.
She peeled down to her tank and underpants, slipped into her flip-flops, and let herself out the back door. As she wove through the graveyard, she glanced at the names on the tombstones. dietzel. meusebach. ernst. The hardships she faced were nothing compared with what those good Germans must have endured when they left the familiar behind to make a home in this hostile country.
A thicket of trees lay beyond the graveyard. On the other side, a wide creek fed by the Pedernales River formed a secluded swimming hole she’d discovered not long after she’d moved into the church. The clear water was deep at the center, and she’d started coming here every afternoon to cool off. As she dove in, she wrestled with the unhappy knowledge that Ted Beaudine’s fan club would try to get her fired as soon as they spotted her. She had to make sure she didn’t give them a reason beyond basic hatred. What did it say about her life that her highest aspiration was not to screw up driving a drink cart?
That night the choir loft was especially hot, and she tossed on the lumpy futon. She had to be at the country club early, and she tried to will herself to fall asleep, but just as she finally drifted off, a noise jarred her awake. It took a few seconds to identify the sound of the doors below opening.
She shot up in bed as the lights came on. Her travel alarm read midnight, and her heart pounded. She’d been prepared for Ted to show up at the church during the day while she was gone, but she’d never expected a nighttime visit. She tried to remember if she’d left anything out in the main room. She eased off the bed and sneaked a peek over the choir loft railing.
A man who was not Ted Beaudine stood in the middle of the old sanctuary. Although they were about the same height, his hair was darker, almost blue-black, and he was a few pounds heavier. It was Kenny Traveler, golf legend and Ted Beaudine’s best man. She’d met him and his British wife, Emma, at the rehearsal dinner.
Her heart kicked up another notch as she heard the crunch of a second set of tires. She lifted her head a little higher but couldn’t see any signs of abandoned clothes or shoes. “Somebody left the door unlocked,” Kenny said a few moments later as the person entered.
“Lucy must have forgotten to close up the last time she was here,” an unpleasantly familiar male voice replied. Barely a month had passed since his aborted wedding ceremony, but he uttered Lucy’s name impersonally.
She inched up her head again. Ted had wandered into the center of the sanctuary and stood before the place where the altar had once been. He wore jeans and a T-shirt instead of a robe and sandals, but she still half expected him to raise his arms and start addressing the Almighty.
Kenny was in his early forties, tall, well built, as exceptionally good-looking in his way as Ted. Wynette definitely had more than its fair share of male stunners. Kenny took one of the beers Ted handed him and carried it over to the far side of the room, where he sat against the wall between the second and third windows. “What does it say about this town that we have to sneak away to have a private conversation?” he said as he popped the top.
“It says more about your nosy wife than about the town.” Ted sat next to him with his own beer.
“Lady Emma does like to know what’s going on.” The way Kenny caressed his wife’s name spoke volumes about his feelings for her. “She’s been on my ass ever since the wedding to spend more
time with you. Thinks you need the solace of male friends and all that bullshit.”
“That’s Lady Emma for you.” Ted sipped his beer. “Did you ask her what she meant by quality time?”
“Afraid to hear her answer.”
“No question she’s real big on book clubs these days.”
“You should never have appointed her the town’s cultural director. You know how seriously she takes things like that.”
“You need to get her pregnant again. She doesn’t have as much energy when she’s pregnant.”
“Three kids is enough. Especially our kids.” Once again, his pride shone through his words.
The men drank in silence for a while. Meg allowed herself a flicker of hope. As long as they didn’t wander into the back where her clothes were scattered, this could still turn out all right for her.
“You think he’ll buy the land this time?” Kenny said.