Don't Hex with Texas
“Well, um, it’s good to see you,” I said.
He opened his mouth, but then saw Beth heading back our way, closed it, then after a pause said, “It’s kind of hot here, isn’t it? I mean, for April.”
“It’s just April in Texas,” I said with a casual shrug. Actually, we were in the middle of a bad heat wave and it was unseasonably hot, but this was a game we Texans couldn’t help but play with Yankees who complained about the heat, even if we were suffering almost as badly.
“Katie, I need your help with something,” Beth said as she reached us. The apologetic look on her face appeared to be genuine.
“Excuse me for a second,” I said to Owen and turned to follow Beth, but she stopped and frowned.
“You’ll need your hands free.” She took the baby from me and handed her to Owen. “Here, would you mind holding her for a second? Thanks.”
I should have intervened on Owen’s behalf, but Beth dragged me away too quickly. I didn’t think he had much experience with babies or small children. He was an only child, and all of his friends that I knew of were childless. Sticking him with a baby was cruel and unusual punishment, but Beth was such a natural with kids that she didn’t realize not everyone else was.
“What did you need?” I asked Beth before she had a chance to ask me about the incredibly handsome guy who’d come to see me.
“A customer’s going to be coming by to pick something up, and it’s on that top shelf.”
I knew right away what Beth needed. Her one flaw, as far as I could tell, was that she was deathly afraid of heights. She didn’t even like climbing up on a stepladder. “Okay, I’ll get it. Tell me what you need.”
“I’ll hold the ladder steady,” she hurried to offer. “I need that cedar bird feeder up there.”
“You mean the one left over from the fall? The one we didn’t manage to sell? What does someone need a bird feeder for at this time of year?”
“I don’t ask. I just sell. And I guess there might be people who feed birds year-round so they can look at them.”
I was halfway up the ladder when she asked, “So, who’s the guy?”
I wasn’t sure what to tell her. Explaining Owen’s presence was a nowin proposition. If I said he was here on business, they’d want to know what business could possibly bring him here, and then they’d ask about the business. If I said he was my boyfriend, he’d have the whole family ganging up on him, and it would be incredibly awkward for both of us, considering that I was the one who’d broken up with him and it didn’t appear that he’d come to beg me to go back with him. The truth was, of course, out of the question.
“He’s someone I know from New York. I haven’t yet had a chance to ask him what he’s doing here, since someone had to drag me away to climb a ladder for her.”
When I got back down with the bird feeder, she had the good grace to be blushing prettily. As a fair-skinned redhead, she could almost out-blush Owen in the rare instances when she was embarrassed about something. “Sorry about that. And no, it was not a ploy. I really do need this. Mr. Ward is coming by to pick this up, and you know what he’s like. If it’s not waiting on the front counter when he gets here, the whole town will hear about how lousy our service is. I wouldn’t put it past him to run stoplights and speed to try to get here before we can have it ready for him, so I didn’t dare wait.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I just hope Owen survives your daughter.”
Much to my surprise, Lucy was snuggled up against Owen’s shoulder, looking utterly blissful. I could hardly blame her. Even at nine months old, she had good taste in men. Owen didn’t look quite as comfortable as she did, but he wasn’t as panic-stricken as I’d feared.
“Sorry about that,” Beth said to Owen as I put the bird feeder on the counter. “Minor business emergency. And now I’ll relieve you of my daughter.” She reached for Lucy, who whimpered and clung desperately to Owen’s shirt. “Oh, come on, you’re not abandoning me already, are you?” she asked the baby. “Come back to Mama. You can play with…um?” She gave me a pointed look.
“Beth, this is Owen Palmer, a friend from New York. Owen, this is my sister-in-law, Beth. And your new biggest fan is Lucy.”
“Nice to meet you, Owen,” Beth beamed. “Lucy, you can play with Mr. Owen later, okay? Right now, I’m sure he and Auntie Katie would like to talk.”