Hustled To The Altar

By: Dani Collins

“I didn’t mean to avoid you this long. It’s just you weren’t around to talk to.”

“I don’t get to the Mediterranean as often as I’d like.”

Okay, so she had hidden in Europe with his grandmother. She resisted the urge to apologize. She had been home for weeks and he hadn’t made an effort to see her—not that she’d noticed.

“We expected you back sooner. Where’ve you been all week?” she asked.

“Driving. Enjoying my freedom.”

“Mmm. I saw the Spitfire outside.” That’s how he’d been located. Even though he’d promised to come home this week to take over from her with his gran, no one had seen or heard from him until his housekeeper had spotted his car on her way to work.

Renny wanted to lecture him for neglecting Mona over the last few months but didn’t have the heart. She knew, from what he’d told Mona over the phone, what kind of pressure he’d been under and how conflicted he’d felt about selling his company. She still didn’t understand why he’d done it.

He paused in re-chalking the tip of his cue stick. “You look good, Renny.”

Despite the bright coral color, her dress was more understated than the clothes she had been wearing while they were dating. The “M” of the bodice wasn’t as close fitting as she usually liked and, despite the perky row of frills around the hem, the dress lacked the sassiness of the tassels and short skirts she used to prefer. Still, she was a sucker for a compliment, so she smiled.

“Thanks. I bought this in Deception Springs last weekend. Your gran thought we deserved a break from planning the wedding.”

“The wedding. Why would that have slipped my mind?” He bent to nudge the cue ball. It clicked against another and drifted toward her.

“I don’t know. Because you don’t believe in it?” she offered. “It’s not like Santa Claus, you know. It’s an institution that exists.”

“One of many I’ve always feared winding up in.” He moved close and gave her a stare that asked if she wanted to make something of it.

It was the reason for their breakup: her desire for a secure future and his refusal to commit to one. She stood her ground and lifted her brows, silently asking him if he really wanted to go there.

He settled his hand on her hip, exerting light pressure.

She felt each of his splayed fingers, felt his heat, felt an internal detonation of electric tingles beneath his caress. She refused to give ground but blushed because his touch affected her.

Amusement softened his expression. “I’d like to take this shot.”

“Oh.” She knew that. Pivoting, she slipped out of his sight line and walked to the opposite side of the table, then turned to face him. Speaking to his back would have made for an easier confession, but it wasn’t her style. She waited until he’d taken his shot and straightened before saying, “It’s Deception I came here to talk about, actually. I’m sorry, Con. I messed up.”

“Is Gran all right?” His hand tightened perceptibly on the cue stick.

“Fine. A little upset,” she conceded. “See, there was this guy there. I warned her he didn’t look right, but he got to her when I wasn’t with her and I would have told you sooner, but she just told me half an hour ago—”

He rolled his wrist, urging her to get to the point.

Renny took a deep breath and blurted out, “She bought five thousand dollars’ worth of fake health insurance.”

After a few heartbeats of silence, he said, “Fake. How do you know?”

“I called the number on the card he gave her. It’s a florist in Detroit. Nice, huh? His victims can order a pick-me-up bouquet after they realize they’ve given their money to a criminal.”

“And Gran’s upset? Her heart—”

“Is fine. She’s okay, really. I’m more upset than she is.” Renny folded her arms and hunched her shoulders. Mona didn’t blame her, but Renny blamed herself.

Renny had tried to cover the loss, but Mona wouldn’t take money from anyone, not even when Con tried to pay for things like medical bills. She had flat-out refused Renny’s offer. Mona took pride in her independence and Renny admired her for it, but Renny also knew that because of that independence, the theft of five thousand dollars had had a significant impact on the old woman’s finances. Granted, Con would never let his Gran’s quality of life suffer, but it would be a blow to Mona’s self-esteem if she had to take Con’s money.

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