Authors: Darlene Gardner
Tags: #Return To Indigo Springs
“This is a view of you I don’t often see.” Stanley leaned back in his chair. He was a big-boned man in his late sixties with a head of dark brown hair that didn’t match his graying whiskers.
“We don’t eat out together much,” Dan pointed out. They wouldn’t be having lunch now if Stanley hadn’t pushed. Although he seldom acted like it, Stanley was Dan’s boss. Today he wouldn’t accept the excuse that Dan was too busy to break for lunch.
Stanley’s laugh was a pleasant, low rumble. “I meant I don’t usually see you sitting down. You work too hard.”
“So do you,” Dan countered. “What choice do we have? We’re booked solid every day.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Stanley gestured to the menu on the table. “Go ahead and decide what to order first. I recommend the fettuccine Alfredo.” He put his fingers to his lips and kissed the tips. “Divine.”
“I’ll have that, too.” Dan ignored the menu. He was far more interested in what Stanley had to say than the food.
A skinny waitress with dishwater-blond hair who appeared to be about seventeen approached their table carrying a tray containing four glasses of water. The glasses knocked against each other with each step she took, some of the water sloshing over the brims.
Her eyes cast frantically about, probably for somewhere to set down her burden. Finding no empty surfaces, she slipped one hand under the tray. Dan half rose and took two of the glasses before she could attempt the balancing act.
“Thank you.” Her tremulous smile revealed a mouthful of braces. “I’ll be back in a minute to take your order.”
“We’re ready now, sweetheart,” Stanley said. “Two fettuccine Alfredos. Extra garlic bread. A root beer for me. How ’bout you, Dan?”
The young waitress glanced down at the order pad sticking out of the pocket of her half apron. The two remaining water glasses bobbled. The pad remained where it was.
“Okay,” she said without much conviction, then left.
Dan followed her slow retreat, rooting for her to get where she was going without incident. His gaze slid past the waitress and alighted on a woman with her back to him. Even if a hat had covered her short, curly dark hair, he’d have recognized Jill Jacobi. She had an innate grace and certain way of holding her head that telegraphed she was giving you her full attention.
It seemed she was focused on the man across the table from her. He was about Dan’s age, with a familiar face Dan couldn’t place.
“See someone you know?” Stanley asked, then laughed. “Of course you do. Half the people in this restaurant bring their pets to us.”
“Actually,” Dan said slowly, “I see someone I probably should know.”
“The blond guy in the white dress shirt and blue tie. Glasses. About my age.”
Stanley took a look at the table Dan indicated. “That’s Chad Armstrong. He’s a pharmacist at the drugstore downtown.”
Dan hadn’t filled a prescription since he’d moved to town, but could picture the man quietly going about his work on the raised counter at the back of the store.
“What else can you tell me about him?” Dan asked.
“You know Sierra Whitmore? The doctor? He dated her for years before she started going with that newspaper reporter. Ben Nash, I think his name was. Moved with him to Pittsburgh, she did.”
He’d heard something about the reporter coming to town to solve a decades-old mystery, but he was far more interested in Armstrong. So the pharmacist was single. Were he and Jill on a lunch date? Wasn’t Jill supposed to have too much going on in her life to date anyone?
“Why do you ask?” Stanley asked.
Stanley gave him a dubious look.
“I know the woman with him,” Dan conceded.
“You mean Jill? The gal who bartends at the Blue Haven?”
“She was at the Pollocks’ the other night when they had me over for a barbecue.” Dan shifted in his seat. “She’s nice.”
“That she is,” Stanley agreed.
“So what is it you wanted to discuss?” Dan changed the subject before the other vet could say more. “How business is too good?”
“Exactly.” Stanley stabbed the air with his finger. “We’re too busy. I had to tell a farmer last week we couldn’t take on his animals. There isn’t enough time in the day.”
Jill was directly in Dan’s line of vision. She angled her head and laughed at something the pharmacist said. Was the guy really
funny? He forced himself to concentrate on the conversation at his table.
“Are you thinking of hiring another vet?” Dan asked.
The present practice had long been a two-man operation, with Dan replacing a vet who had retired a year ago. Stanley and Dan had met at a professional conference, a connection that led to the job offer at a time Dan was badly in need of a scenery change.
“Can’t,” Stanley said. “Don’t have the office space for it and don’t want to find a bigger place. I’m thinking of retooling.”
Dam stopped trying to figure out the significance of the way Jill was leaning forward and concentrated on Stanley. “What do you mean retooling?”
“Bob Verducci gave me a call the other day,” Stanley said. Verducci had a practice a few miles outside town that also treated both large and small animals. “Fewer people are bringing their pets to him, so he’s switching to large animals only.”
“Will that have any effect on us?”
“Sure will. You know how the hours build up when you’re driving to ranches and stables. If we go small, we can cut way down on the length of our work days.”
Dan frowned, although Stanley’s reasoning made perfect sense. “I enjoy working with large animals.”
“We won’t drop that part of our practice entirely,” Stanley said. “Bob will handle the bulk of calls for farm animals and horses, but he’ll occasionally need backup.”
“Why don’t we split the work fifty-fifty?”
The young waitress appeared at their table, wisps of hair escaping her ponytail. She set one plate of bruschetta and another of mozzarella sticks on the table. “Your appetizers.”
“They look great,” Dan said, then added gently, “except we didn’t order appetizers.”
Her face blanching, she immediately scooped up the plates. “I’m so sorry. I guess you can tell it’s my first day.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Dan rushed to reassure her. “You’ll get the hang of it in no time.”
“You really think so?” Her voice sounded small.
“I do,” Dan said. “You already have the tableside manner down.”
The waitress was smiling when she left them.
Stanley pointed his index finger at Dan and declared, “That’s why a fifty-fifty split won’t work.”
“That charm of yours. Why do you think Verducci has been losing business? People want you to take care of their pets. You enjoy that kind of work, too, don’t you?”
“I do,” Dan confirmed.
“Then there’s no problem,” Stanley said. “You can take the occasional call when Verducci needs help. The rest of the time, you won’t have to work so late.”
“I don’t mind working late.” Just last week Dan had been up half the night helping a cow through a difficult birth.
“All you’ve done since you got here is work,” Stanley said. “Look at it this way. It’ll free up your time so you can ask out Jill over there.”
“What makes you think I want to do that?”
Stanley’s laugh rumbled forth. “Besides the way you’re staring at her?”
“She’s pretty,” Dan said lamely.
“So go for it,” Stanley said. “Stop working so hard and have some fun.”
The young waitress made another pass by their table, presenting Dan with a calzone and setting an individual pepperoni pizza in front of Stanley.
“Wrong again, sweetheart,” Stanley said. “We both ordered fettuccine Alfredo.”
Her lower lip quivered and she appeared to fight tears as she picked up the plates. “These must belong to that couple over there. Forgive me. Please.”
“Don’t give it another thought,” Dan said, but she was already moving away.
Nothing but linoleum floor stretched between the waitress and the table where Jill dined with the pharmacist. There was absolutely no reason the girl should stumble, but she did. The calzone, the pizza and the plates went momentarily airborne, then clattered to the floor.
Dan leaped up from his chair, reaching the scene of the calamity in seconds. Jill was already there, her hand supporting the young girl’s elbow. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” the waitress wailed, “but the food’s ruined!”
“Don’t you worry about that.” Jill patted her arm soothingly. Today she was dressed in another eye-catching outfit: pink, turquoise and white madras shorts that skimmed her knees, a lacy turquoise camisole blouse and dangling earrings. “Everyone makes mistakes when they start out waitressing. If they say they don’t, they’re lying.”
“Really,” Jill said.
Dan bent, retrieved the tray, an overturned plate and the calzone. Jill crouched beside him, picking up the other plate and the pizza, which had miraculously landed tomato-sauce side up.
“If it isn’t my matchmaker’s choice.” Jill’s smile was impish, the light reaching eyes he now realized were green.
“But not yours,” he said.
“Ditto.” She kept smiling at him, appearing genuinely glad to run into him. If he’d learned one thing about her in their short acquaintance, though, it was that she was unfailingly friendly. “Where did you come from?”
He gestured behind them. “I’m having lunch with my boss. I would have waved, but your back was to me.”
“Likely story.” She winked at him. “Oops. Shouldn’t have done that. Don’t worry. I stand by what I said the other night. You’re safe from my attentions.”
Yet she obviously welcomed the pharmacist’s interest.
“Thanks so much for helping me pick this up,” the waitress said to them both, taking the tray from Dan. “You two are the best.”
“Hang in there.” Jill got to her feet and Dan followed suit. “Once you get over the opening-day jitters, you’ll make a fabulous waitress.”
The girl beamed at her. Dan found himself smiling at Jill, too, and curiously reluctant to part from her once the waitress headed back to the kitchen.
“One more thing before I go.” Jill’s eyes opened so wide that white was visible all around the green irises. “Beware the matchmaker. We’ve got some breathing room because she’s leaving for Hawaii soon, but she’s not convinced we aren’t perfect for each other. She might try another ambush.”
She grinned and turned back to her table before Dan could say anything. That was probably a good thing, because he should keep the response that came to mind to himself until he figured out what to do about it.
Because if Penelope made another stab at setting him up with Jill, he’d be all for it.
He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. Was he stalling for time? Could Penelope have been right? Was Chad screwing up his courage to tell her he was interested, that he viewed their lunch as a first date?
She breathed in sharply as she belatedly realized Dan could have sized up the lunch that way. It explained his comment about being her matchmaker’s choice but not hers.
She’d informed Dan after the barbecue that it wasn’t the right time for her to get involved with anyone. Yet less than a week later she was on what could appear to be a date.
She didn’t owe Dan an explanation, yet suddenly she had an overwhelming desire to rush to his table and clarify that she and Chad were just friends.
“Mountain bikes,” Chad said.
His answer didn’t compute. “Come again?”
“I want to talk about mountain bikes.”
“Do you ride?” She hit the trails three of four times a week, but had never bumped into him.
“My friend does.” His voice softened, hinting at his feelings for the
“We went to pharmacy school together. I ran into her at a reunion last weekend and she told me about the ride she’s helping to organize across the Poconos.”
“I heard about that.” Jill no longer belonged to any bike organizations, as she had when she’d managed the shop in Atlanta, but she still checked Web sites for news. “Aren’t they calling it the Poconos Challenge?”
“Yes.” Chad nodded. “Towns are invited to turn in proposals to host stops along the way. You could make that happen for Indigo Springs.”
“Me?” Jill gestured to herself. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You ride and you enjoyed working on the spring festival. You’re a logical choice to help put together a bid.”
She couldn’t dispute either of those facts. Neither could she explain why having her old life intersect with her new one would be risky. She hadn’t managed to elude the private eye on her tail up to this point by luck alone. She was smart enough not to fall into her old habits.
“It seems to me this is something the mayor’s office should act on,” Jill remarked.
“Definitely,” Chad said. “I just thought you’d put yourself in an advantageous position if you proposed the idea.”
“An advantageous position for what?”
She started. “What makes you think I want to run for the council?”
“When we worked on the festival, you were the one who went to the mayor with ideas about how to improve downtown parking and attract more tourists,” he said. “You’d be a natural.”
She couldn’t refute him. The idea of community politics held surprising appeal. She’d discovered during her civic volunteer work that she had a knack for seeing the big picture, a quality that would serve a council member well.
“Well?” Chad asked. The word was a temptation.
If she spearheaded an effort to bring the bike race to Indigo Springs in conjunction with the community work she’d already done, she’d be in a great position to run for council.
She let herself envision it for a moment. Her name on the ballot. The opportunity to do some good for the fine people of Indigo Springs. The questions the local newspaper would ask in order to print her bio in a special election section.
Who was she kidding? She could no more run for community politics than compete in a Miss Universe pageant.
“Thanks for thinking of me.” She was surprised it was hard to smile. “But I’m not going to run for office. You can let the mayor’s office know about the bike race yourself.”
“Okay. If that’s what you want,” he said, then grew quiet at the arrival of the rookie waitress and the second coming of their order.
A few moments later Chad reached for a piece of his individually sized pizza, biting into a slice as though nothing notable had happened.
It had, though.
Jill had gotten another reminder that she’d surrendered her chance to lead a normal life by going on the run with her brother.
She felt a prickly sensation on the back of her neck and turned, her gaze locking with Dan’s.
A thrill traveled through her, which was starting to be par for the course. She’d experienced it when they talked over the broken plates and had felt it more strongly during their kiss.
The sensation provided enough incentive for her to break the connection. The reasons she couldn’t get involved with Dan hadn’t changed, providing ample cause for her to keep her mouth shut about why she was lunching with Chad.
Dan would eventually discover she and the pharmacist weren’t an item. She’d be smart to use the time until he did to devise a way to stop the thrill.