Resisting Her Rival

By: Sonya Weiss

“Apparently, I stole a building from Abby.”

“Why would you do that? I thought you liked her.” Eric slid some coins into the drink machine and chose a soda.

“I do, and technically, I didn’t steal the building. She just thinks I did.”

Eric popped the top on his soda and took a drink before replying. “I noticed Abby hasn’t been too happy with you lately.”

Friend or not, there was no way Nick was going to tell Eric about the night he’d shared with Abby. He’d never been one for locker room talk.

“Right now, I’d say I was probably the last guy on earth she ever wants to see again.”

“I know how that feels.” Eric winced. “Sorry, man.”

Nick started to shrug and then stopped. What the hell was he doing? He didn’t need advice after all. He needed to get his ass in gear. He wanted the building. He wanted Abby. He wanted his reputation repaired so his business would grow. He would make it all work out.

He clapped Eric on the shoulder. “Tell Keith I’ll see him later.” Nick jumped into his Dodge Ram and drove toward the center of town. After his stint in the Marines and the action he’d seen, the quiet peacefulness of the town provided a balm for his soul.

He drove by the bookstore, the post office, and the barbershop, where some men were gathered on a bench outside.

The usual Saturday shoppers milled about, making the fruit and vegetable market crowded as usual. When he was a kid, a couple of the booth owners used to slip him and his brothers a piece of fruit every so often. Best tasting apples in the world to him back then.

Nick waited at a crosswalk to let several people pass, recognizing and nodding to half of them. He wasn’t surprised by the throng. Most people he knew took a day or two off to enjoy doing something other than working.

Not Abby.

If he knew her, she’d probably dropped her accusation at his feet and headed right to the diner, never even breaking a sweat. She was the hardest working woman he’d ever known. He knew how important the diner was to her, how important it had always been, and it irritated him that she could think he’d deliberately try to undermine her.

Granted, he was guilty of not listening to her, but that was it as far as he was concerned. Being boneheaded with a woman wasn’t a crime. Hell, if it were, the police in every city and town would be overworked arresting countless men.

By the time he got to the diner, the lunch crowd was in full swing, the parking lot packed with regulars as well as tourists who stopped in on their way to Hilton Head Island or Myrtle Beach.

Since there were no empty slots, he parked his truck in the alley beside Abby’s car and walked around to the front entrance. He went in, and the bells on the door announced his arrival.

The scent of freshly brewed coffee and apple cobbler greeted him. His gaze swept the room, and he spotted Chad and Amelia sitting side by side in one of the rear booths. By the friendly smile and wave Amelia gave him, Nick bet that she didn’t know about his one-night stand with her sister. He wanted to keep it that way. Amelia was known for some pretty harebrained ideas, and there was no telling what she might cook up if she knew.

He eased a path through the crowd to take a stool at the counter. He turned over a coffee cup and waited until the waitress greeted him. Waving off the menu she offered, he waited until after she poured the coffee and said, “Tell Abby that she can come out and talk to me or I’m coming back there.”

The waitress gave him a wide-eyed look and then disappeared through the kitchen. She was back a few minutes later, her eyes curious. “Abby said now isn’t a good time.”

Like she can dismiss me that easily. She can’t say I didn’t warn her.

Nick walked around the counter and pushed open the swinging doors, skirting around the busy kitchen staff to reach Abby’s office. He knocked hard once and then opened the door.

He was gripped again by her beauty.

She was at the desk, her head propped up on one hand as she looked over a stack of invoices. Tension was obvious in the way she held her body. She glanced up when the door swung in, and her friendly smile faded. “What do you want?”

Nick stepped in, leaving the door open. “You’re asking me that after you just accused me of lying and cheating you?”

Looking at the two-sided wall clock mounted on brackets above the desk, Abby said, “Just accused you? That was over two hours ago.”

“Let’s not waste time arguing over things that don’t matter.” Nick noticed the shadows beneath her eyes, and his gut twisted. Had they always been there? How had he not seen them before?

He knew about those kinds of shadows. He’d seen similar ones beneath his mother’s eyes years ago. He could still remember her crying late at night, the checkbook in one hand, the list of bills in the other. She’d worked two jobs trying to keep that rat-infested roof over their heads. Once he and his brothers were old enough to get jobs and help out financially, the places they’d lived and the food they’d eaten had changed for the better.

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