Authors: A. P. Jensen
“Grandma Pat’s always been a hard person,” Bethany said with a shrug.
“Any other family?” Demi asked, bewildered by Bethany’s background when she had such a serene disposition. Not only did Bethany put her job in New York in jeopardy, she was probably dealing with hospital bills and working crazy hours to take care of the store.
“No, it’s just my grandma and mom.”
Bethany’s face was composed. Not an ounce of emotion colored her voice. Demi liked Bethany. She deserved better than the hand she’d been dealt. Demi was about to say something when Regan came in with a large coffee cup. Brooks came in behind her with a computer box and brand new iPad.
“Look, modern technology!” Regan said gesturing grandly at Brooks’ load.
Demi clapped her hands together, relieved. Brooks set the boxes in the office and gave Regan a thorough kiss before he left.
“Help me, will you?” Regan asked Demi.
“What’s this?” Bethany asked.
“A computer for inputting records, checking email, etc and an iPad for credit card transactions,” Regan said proudly. “Don’t worry, I already know the password for WiFi.”
Bethany’s cheeks flushed. “I can’t afford that stuff.”
Regan waved a dismissive hand. “I got it for now. You can pay me back later.”
“I never asked you to buy a computer,” Bethany snapped.
Demi’s brows went up and Regan put her hands on hips.
“You only deal with cash,” Regan said impatiently. “Who’s gonna pay five thousand in cash?”
“None of my dresses are worth that much,” Bethany said through clenched teeth.
dress?” Regan jabbed a hand at the gown Bethany spent all her time on.
“It’s not for sale!”
“What are you going to do with it once you’re finished tinkering with it?” Regan demanded.
“You’re going to throw it away?” Demi asked, aghast.
“Of course not. I just put it away in storage.”
Regan held up a hand. “You’re telling me that you have more dresses like this?”
“They’re not all the same—”
“Have them delivered,” Regan clipped.
“We’re going to take pictures and put them online once I get your website completed.”
“You’re not listening to me!” Bethany said, advancing and getting in Regan’s face. The serene creature Demi watched with such admiration was gone. “I hired you to look into the store, not make a fool of me by putting my dresses online!”
“Embarrass you?” Regan exploded and prodded Bethany in the chest. “I’m trying to help you!”
Demi pushed between them, unsure who looked more enraged. “Calm down, both of you!”
“I can’t afford all of this!” Bethany said and Demi saw worry etched written all over her face.
“Why did you hire me?” Regan challenged.
“Because you helped people with their businesses! But—”
“If I leave here without making you a profit, you won’t have to pay for my services at all,” Regan said.
Bethany stared at her for a long minute and then stomped out of the office. A minute later, the sewing machine revved up.
Demi stared at Regan. “Wow.”
Regan was clearly still pissed and didn’t say anything as she began to set up the iPad. Demi was left to set up the computer, which she did without much trouble. She winced from time to time at the vehemence that Bethany sewed with on the machine. Under Regan’s direction, Demi began to copy the store records into a computer program. It didn’t take her long to notice a disturbing pattern.
“There’s something wrong,” Demi said.
Regan paused. “What?”
“I don’t understand where all the money is going. I mean, you can clearly see the store’s profit and then it disappears into thin air. I don’t get it.”
Regan leaned back to check on Bethany in the work room before she said, “Someone who has access to the store account is making huge withdrawals. Thousands at a crack. Thousands the store can’t afford. Whoever’s taking out the money, the grandmother or mother never reported.”
“It can’t be Bethany.”
“No.” Regan’s eyes narrowed. “Bethany’s father is an alcoholic. He went to prison and got out a couple of years ago.”
No wonder Bethany didn’t mention having anymore family members. Demi had a bad feeling about this. Did Bethany sense that something shady was going on? Is that why she hired Regan in the first place? “You think Bethany’s dad has access to the accounts?”
“Somebody does and it’s bad. The store is barely clearing the rent. I can tell you now, the store’s in serious debt.”
“When are you gonna tell her?”
“I’m not saying anything until I know all the facts. These withdrawals go back nearly ten years so far. For all we know, it could be from the very start. We have to dig deeper.”
“She’s taking on a lot,” Demi said quietly.
“I know. Bethany always kept to herself. Her family isn’t very popular in this town and she made something out of herself in spite of that. I respect her for it.”
“Johnny’s here!” Bethany called.
Demi leapt to her feet before she could stop herself.
Regan blinked and then gave Demi a lascivious grin. “Did the dirty, did you? Ma told me she spruced up his place. I nearly went into a coma listening to the placement of the candles and vases. Was it the pasta that did it?”
“We are so not doing this right now,” Demi said loftily and walked out of the office.
Johnny stood by the front counter and smiled when he saw her. She felt giddy, young and happy. He was hot and hers. She leapt into Johnny’s arms and kissed him. Hard. His growl of approval rocked her world and if Regan wasn’t coming with them to lunch, she would have told him to take her home for a quickie.
“Uh huh,” Regan said.
Johnny turned with Demi in his arms. Demi didn’t feel an ounce of shame as Regan gave them an arch look.
“If you two keep on like that I’m gonna have to make a call to Brooks and it’s going to make him very happy,” Regan drawled.
Demi laughed and pushed on Johnny’s chest. She liked that he hesitated before he put her down. He tossed an arm over her shoulders and pulled her in close against him and Demi heard excited chatter. She noticed a group of women in the sitting area and stiffened when she saw that two of them had their phones out.
“Ignore it, baby,” Johnny said and called out, “What do you want to eat, Bethany?”
“Oh, no, I’m good,” Bethany said.
“What do you want to eat?” Johnny repeated so pointedly that Bethany answered, “BLT?”
“Good choice. We’ll be back,” Johnny said and led Demi and Regan down the street. “How’s my girls?”
“Good,” Demi said.
Regan rolled her eyes. “Johnny, you’re goofy.”
“Better than being in a funk.”
Regan sobered and gave him a side hug. “That’s true.”
They walked across the street to the diner and this time Demi didn’t mind when Johnny crowded her. Regan exchanged a strange smile with Johnny before she motioned to a server. They ordered and Regan launched into a detailed account of her horrific morning which included vomit, dog shit and a dead cat. By the time their food arrived, Demi wasn’t so hungry anymore.
“Regan, move over, will ya?”
Gwen and Trey scooted into the booth and hollered their order to the server who nodded.
“What are you guys, the lunch stalkers?” Regan grouched.
Gwen ignored her and said, “We’re gonna be out of town for a few months so my family is going to Misty Lake this weekend. We have three cabins across from The Martin Resort. Want in? Our family is only taking two of the cabins.”
Regan brightened. “That sounds fun.”
Gwen tipped her nose in the air. “I thought we were the lunch stalkers.”
“You are, but as long as you’re offering something, I don’t mind letting you sit with us.”
“I don’t think—” Johnny began at the same time that Demi said, “That sounds great!”
Johnny squeezed her thigh and gave her a long look. It was clear that his plans for the weekend had nothing to do with hanging with a bunch of people at the lake.
She pat him on the cheek and whispered, “You’ll survive,” before she turned to Gwen, “We call a room.”
Gwen looked between them and her eyes widened. “You
Trey looked from his wife to Demi and Johnny. “What?”
“Never mind,” Gwen said and snatched one of Regan’s fries.
“Hey!” Regan squawked.
Gwen pointed the half eaten fry in her face. “You want to come to Misty Lake? I get two more fries.”
“But you ordered fries, they’re just not here yet!” Regan said hotly.
“Doesn’t matter. I’m happy, I’m hungry, I’m taking your fries.”
Demi snickered into her cup as Gwen and Regan faced off. The people in this town could be the nicest people she’d ever met, but they had attitudes as big as any New Yorkers.
“We aren’t going,” Johnny growled.
“We are,” Demi gasped as she rode him.
“We’re fucking all weekend. We’re not leaving this house.”
She leaned down and kissed him as she speeded up her thrusts. His hands tightened on her thighs.
She stopped moving and opened her mouth to make a point. Before she could, he tipped to the side, lifted her thigh high and thrust. She dug her nails into his shoulders and screamed. Mid-orgasm, Johnny turned her on her back and pumped into her for all he was worth. Johnny came with a loud groan and rested his head against her heaving chest.
Johnny chuckled. “You tried to blackmail me with sex.”
She thumped his shoulder. “It was worth a try.”
“Nothing can persuade me to spend a weekend with a bunch of people instead of here in bed where we belong.”
“But I like Gwen and I bet it’s gonna be loads of fun.”
“There’ll be other times,” he said, brushing his beard against her nipples.
She grasped his face and forced him to look at her. “I want to go.”
He groaned. “Shit. See what happens when they butt into my business?”
“I’ll make it up to you next weekend,” she said fervently and brushed kisses over his face.
He closed his eyes, enjoying the moment. He sank his hand in her hair and gripped. “I need this.”
“You have it,” she murmured.
“But you need time?”
She realized they weren’t talking about the trip to Misty Lake. “Yes.”
“You’ll be pregnant before I get you to the altar,” he muttered.
“Johnny, I think we both need a hot minute okay?”
“I don’t need a minute. Just say the word and we’re there.”
She ran her hands through his beard and knew he liked it because he closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. “What were your other weddings like?”
He tensed, but didn’t open his eyes. “First and third were in front of a judge. Second was in Vegas.”
“You’ve been married three times and never had a wedding?”
Johnny shrugged. “I wanted it quick and quiet.”
“You must be paying a lot of alimony.”
“Prenup, all three. They were fun girls that wanted to be with a rock star. I let them ride until I got tired and moved on.”
Her hand paused. He examined her face and shook his head.
“Don’t even go there, Demi. You’re different.” When she said nothing, he growled, “Baby, we laid it out last night. You know they have nothing to do with you.”
“I think we should just let this stretch for a while,” she said quietly. “Everything’s happening really fast.”
“I won’t get tired of you,” he said firmly. “I won’t let you go. I never had a wedding because I didn’t want to smile for pictures or have her family there. I knew it wouldn’t last. I like to belong to someone, but in the end, it never felt right. They were on birth control and I still used condoms. With you, Demi, everything’s different. There’s no comparison. We may get hitched fast, but we’re going to have a reception and all of White Mist is gonna be invited. This is going to be my first and last wedding.”
She gave him a soft kiss. “Give me time.”
He looked pissed, but he gave her a jerky nod and settled on top of her again. She ran her hands over him until he drifted into sleep. She stayed up for a long time before she relaxed against him.
Misty Lake was a fifteen minute drive out of White Mist. Demi’s heart lifted as she took in the lush green mountains. She could only imagine what they looked like covered in snow. Demi was loving spring and seeing everything in bloom. When Demi caught her first glimpse of Misty Lake, she clapped her hands together. The lake was huge and a brilliant blue that glittered in the sun.
“Oh my God!”
They parked and Demi looked up at the backside of the ‘cabins’ which were two stories tall. Regan, Brooks and Chase got out of their SUV and led them between the houses to the lake and Demi fell in love. The cabins had decks that went around three sides of the house. Beyond the lake were majestic rocky mountains. During winter, this view would be breathtaking.
In the distance, a massive building was being constructed—the new Martin Hotel. It was far enough away from the cabins that she couldn’t see any distinct details, just a vague outline of the structure. Daniel was no dummy. The quiet, the lake and the mountains were picturesque. Creating a halfway point between White Mist and a ski resort town wasn’t a waste of money. It was gold. From what Demi could see, the resort wasn’t large. Daniel would keep it small, exclusive and promote it as a retreat with quick access to a hot ski spot and a small, quaint town. Savvy. With the mountains on the opposite side of the lake, land was limited and Daniel picked a prime spot.