Authors: Debby Mayne
Can't Fool Me Twice
Belles in the City
Copyright ©Debby Mayne 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, with the exception of brief quotations in printed reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters in this story are the product of the author's imagination and are completely fictitious.
"Sunny, would you mind bringing me a few things next time you come to visit?" Miss Lucille paused for a second. "But if it's too hard, I understand."
"I'll be happy to bring something. Whatcha need?" Sunny had already gotten lists from Miss Lucille since she'd been in the rehab center, so she was ready with pen and paper nearby. It could take a while.
"Just a couple of the books from my study." She mentioned the titles, and Sunny jotted them down.
"Is that all?"
"Um … no. Why don't you bring me some of that yellow speckled yarn I have in the sewing room, and I think I'd like a different crochet hook."
"Which size hook?" The very thought of Miss Lucille crocheting made her smile. The woman wasn't good with needlework, but that didn't stop her from trying. In fact, she was always willing to try just about anything.
"The biggest one you can find. The little ones slow me down too much, and I can't stand to be on one project too long."
"What are you making?"
"A scarf," Miss Lucille replied. "A very short one that doesn't take forever."
Sunny stifled a laugh as she jotted down the rest of the list. "I'll leave here in about an hour if that's okay. I have to finish up the scheduling for the diner."
"That's fine. I have physical therapy in a few minutes anyway. See you soon." Miss Lucille hung up before Sunny had a chance to say goodbye.
She went through the house and gathered all the items Miss Lucille said she wanted, and she stuffed them into one of the totes the older woman had hanging on a hook in her closet. Then she went into the kitchen, sat at the table, and finished up the schedule of Bubba's Home Cookin', a diner she'd been managing for several months now. Ever since she arrived in New York City, Sunny was swamped, or as Mama used to say,
busier than a moth in a wool mitten
This house was huge, a fact that had impressed her the first time she visited. But now her steps echoed as she walked around on the hardwood floors. And it was lonely. Miss Lucille still had another month of rehab before she returned home, so at least Sunny had that to look forward to.
When Bethann had invited her to visit her great-aunt Lucille, Sunny was over-the-moon about having a friend in the city—someone who was as southern as she was and always made her feel at ease. Then when Miss Lucille asked her to move in, she couldn't have been happier if she'd won the lottery.
After growing up in a rundown mobile home with a single mother on the edge of Charleston, South Carolina, she would have been thrilled with a doublewide in a nice park with amenities. But this … well, this was how she always thought the rich people lived, and she never dreamed she'd be in this situation. Miss Lucille was definitely rich. Sunny was simply a manager of a small diner who just happened to be in the right place at the right time when she met Miss Lucille's great-niece. Here she was livin' in high cotton, and she knew she had the Lord to thank for that.
The song on her cell phone jolted her. "Hey, girl," Bethann said. "What are you doing tonight?"
"It'll be an early night for me," Sunny replied. "I'm working the breakfast shift in the mornin'."
"Judd told me to call you and see if you and Dante wanted to join us for dinner. I can tell him we have to eat early on account of—"
"No." Sunny cleared her throat. "I … um, well …"
"Come on, Sunny. It'll be fun." Bethann paused. "Don't tell me you're mad at Dante again."
"I'm not exactly mad. I'm just not sure if it's a good idea for me to keep seeing him."
your boss, so you can call this a business dinner. Come on. It'll be fun."
Sunny did miss hanging out with her friend, and truth be told, she still tingled when she was around Dante. The problem was that she still couldn't get his penchant for secrecy out of her head.
"Okay, but only on one condition. We can't stay out late."
"You got it." Bethann giggled. "We'll have a blast, just like old times. I'll call you back with the details."
"I'm going to see Miss Lucille this afternoon."
"I know," Bethann said. "She called me and said she's so bored she's ready to jump out of her own skin."
"I'm bringing her a couple of books and some yarn."
"Don't tell me she's going to try to knit another sweater."
Sunny chuckled at the memory of a very long sweater with three sleeves and a neck opening that wouldn't fit over anyone's head. "No, this time she's sticking with crocheting a simple scarf."
"Should be interesting, but at least it'll keep her busy and out of trouble."
"Busy, maybe. But out of trouble?" Sunny asked. "Like that'll ever happen with Miss Lucille."
"Okay, we'll settle for busy. I need to run and let Judd know you're on for tonight. We were thinking about inviting Cissy, Charlene, and their guys, but since you have to be in early, we'll just keep it a cozy foursome."
"Thanks." After Sunny hung up, she grabbed a lightweight jacket, the tote, and went out to get a cab.
It was a beautiful late September afternoon, and she loved the crispness in the air. It reminded her of some happier times back in South Carolina—before her old high school boyfriend died in a car wreck.
Mama didn't like him much, but boy howdy did he make her all giddy inside. Mama used to say, "If his lips are movin' he's lyin'."
But did she listen? No sirree. Sunny had tossed Mama's advice to the curb and fell flat out in love with the boy.
Immediately before the funeral, she'd spotted Sonia, one of her old friends who'd backed away from the other mourners, standing off to herself, sobbing. Sunny went to comfort her. "I don't know what I'm gonna do without Chase. We had so many plans for the future." Okay, so the plans only extended into the following week, but that was as much of a future as he'd ever given her.
Sonia looked up and slowly shook her head. "I loved Chase, and he loved me. He's been wantin' to break things off with you for a while, but he was too sweet." She sniffled as Sunny's eyes widened. "He said he didn't have the heart to tell you, and now he never will. The accident happened right after he dropped me off. I'd just given him the ultimatum that it was time to break it off with you so he and I could finally be together. He promised me he would … eventually."
The impact of those words slammed Sunny between the eyes, and all the times he'd grown silent for no apparent reason or acted weird when they saw certain people flooded her mind. She still mourned, but she wasn't sure what she grieved for most—his death or the fact that he'd been a two-timin' pig. And then she felt guilty for thinking such a thought.
Sadness still crept over her once in a while, but the intensity of the pain had faded, leaving her with hazy, bittersweet memories and a lack of trust.
Sure, she always knew Chase had an occasional wandering eye, but he promised that he was looking and not touching … at least he did in the first few months they dated. "I'll always want to be with you," he said. "Why would I ever stray when I have the best girl in town right here?"
And she'd believed him.
"Are you sure she knows I'll be there?" Dante asked.
"Positive." Judd paused. "Bethann said she told her." He left out what Bethann had said about Sunny's reaction. "But she's opening the diner in the morning, so she has to make it an early night. I figured you'd understand since it's your diner she's opening."
"Yes, of course." Dante turned his desk chair around to look out the window behind him as he rubbed the back of his neck.
He'd fallen in love with Sunny, and in the beginning, he thought she felt the same way toward him. But when he proposed, she acted as though he'd dropped a bomb, and she scurried as far from him as she could go. Sure, she still ran the diner he owned, but she kept her personal distance. She even asked him not to call her unless it was about something work related.
"Well? Are you going to join us?"
"Yes," Dante said. "Of course." He had mixed feelings about seeing Sunny. On the one hand, he loved being around her, but on the other hand, he couldn't help but remember he had to remain hands-off, or she'd skitter away again.
"Remember that some things take time," Judd said. "I'm sure she'll eventually come around … that is, if it's the Lord's will."
"Why don't you pick Sunny up at Lucille's house?" Judd said. "Bethann thought that might be a good idea."
"I'm not sure she'll like that."
"She might not want you to know, but she'll like it just fine."
They made arrangements on where and when to meet. After Dante hung up, he remained in the same position, staring out his office window, until his desk phone buzzed. It was his brother Anthony reminding him of a meeting.
He spent the remainder of the afternoon in the conference room with Anthony, working up some food and supply orders for his restaurant through the family connections. Although he was the sole proprietor of Bubba's Home Cookin' Diner, he took advantage of the massive order discounts through the family restaurant business.
Every few minutes, he glanced at the wall clock. Time seemed to crawl.
"Hey, man, why don't you get outta here?" Anthony said. "You're obviously only here physically. Must be a hot date."
Dante shook his head. "I'm just going out with friends."
"Friends?" Anthony tilted his head forward. "As in a bunch of guys?"
"No." Dante rolled his eyes. "Not that it's any of your business, I'm having dinner with Judd, his wife Bethann, and—"
"And Sunny, right?" Anthony gave him a knowing look. "I figured as much. Maybe she'll melt a little if you pour on some of the Romero charm."
Dante laughed. "Sunny Tatum is immune to the so-called Romero charm."
"Then just be yourself," Anthony said. "And grovel."
"I've already tried that." He shrugged. "Didn't seem to faze her."
"At least try to have a good time." Anthony gestured toward the door. "Why don't you leave early since you're not doing much good around here?"
Dante straightened up the desk in the office he shared with his dad and brothers. They pooled their resources and leased an office together, since they all owned restaurants. He'd grown up in this business, with his dad and grandfather teaching him everything about the kitchen, the dining room, and customer service. But after he had enough money saved to branch out on his own, the only thing his family offered was their support and an opportunity to rent space in the office.
As he walked outside, he considered taking a cab, but it was too pretty outdoors to ride. So he chose to walk the couple of miles to his apartment. Along the way, he stopped off at a women's accessories store and selected a scarf he thought Sunny might like. It was turquoise, a color that looked good on her. And then he went into a florist where he selected the biggest, most colorful bouquet they had. It might be overkill, but he didn't want to leave anything on the table. If there was any chance of Sunny coming around, he wanted a shot at it.
Once he got to his apartment, he placed his cell phone on the counter and stared at it. He really needed to call Sunny, but the very thought of her rejecting him again made his stomach churn.
Then it rang. He glanced down at it and felt his pulse quicken. It was Sunny.
As soon as he answered, she spoke. "I didn't hear from you, so I wanted to make sure I understood what was going on tonight," she said softly.
He licked his lips and smiled. "I was just getting ready to call you. We're supposed to meet Judd and Bethann at seven, so I thought I'd pick you up at six-thirty." He felt like a teenager talking to his first crush.
"Are you sure you don't mind?" she said. "I mean, I can take a cab and meet y'all there."
"No." His word came out louder than he intended, so he forced himself to take a breath and speak more softly. "I would like to pick you up and go together."
Like a date,
The way it should be if I hadn't been such a clod for being so secretive.
"Okay, six-thirty is fine. I'll be ready."
After he clicked the OFF button, he realized his mouth was dry, and his hands were shaking. He'd met dozens of women through the years, but this was the first time he'd ever felt this way.
Hearing Dante's voice made Sunny's heart hammer. After she hung up, she looked at her reflection in the mirror beside her bed. Her face was flushed, and her eyes appeared lit up. He'd had that affect on her ever since she'd first seen him … before she realized he was her boss.
She'd gotten the job as manager of Bubba's Diner without an official interview. She'd naturally assumed that since the place specialized in southern cuisine and carried the name "Bubba," it was owned by a southern guy.
When she'd learned the fact that an Italian restaurateur who was born and raised in New York City was her boss, and he'd been in the diner many times without identifying himself, she felt betrayed. But he was still charming, so she let him into her heart, until right after Bethann and Judd's wedding, when he proposed. Her thoughts instantly flew back to what Chase had done.