Home > California Girls(6)

California Girls(6)
Author: Susan Mallery

Kevin was nearly a foot taller than her, but as she spoke, he seemed to shrink.

“Okay.” He drew the word out into three syllables. “So there’s a problem with the order and I need to get it confirmed.”

“Exactly.” Ali smiled. “You need to talk to Ray.”

Kevin went from confused to scared. “Do I have to?”

Ali sighed. “Yes. He’s your boss.” She hesitated, then gave in to the inevitable. Somehow she was always the one shepherding the new guys through their journey with the company. “He has a dog. Coco Chanel. There’s a picture on his desk. Do not, under any circumstances, make fun of the picture. Simply notice it and tell him she’s the cutest dog ever. Then ask him to help you confirm what the customer wants.”

Kevin’s expression of confusion returned as he considered her advice. Ali knew once he saw the picture of a five-pound Chihuahua dressed as a pirate all would be revealed.

“Thanks, Ali.” Kevin started to walk away, then he spun back to her. “Didn’t Ray already know there was a problem when he told me to go find the fog lights?”

“Probably. He wanted to see if you could figure it out on your own.”

“Oh.” Kevin’s skinny shoulders slumped again. “But I couldn’t.”

“Not today, but with time. When in doubt, look up the car and confirm you have the right part.”

“Good advice. Thanks.”

Ah, to be that young again, Ali thought with a smile, then she picked up her inventory sheets before glancing at the clock on the wall. Not that she didn’t love her job, but she had so much to get done this weekend. The wedding was only seven weeks away and her to-do list had quadrupled in the past few days. Tonight she wanted to check for RSVPs, pack another cupboard in her kitchen, then narrow the centerpiece options down to two. She’d already chosen the flowers and now had to pick the style of the centerpiece itself. The florist wanted a final answer by Monday morning and Ali was determined to settle on her favorite by then. If only her favorite didn’t keep changing.

She left work right on time, a big win on a Friday, then headed for her local grocery store. She was on a strict low-carb diet—again—so bought salad and a rotisserie chicken. Despite the loving whispers from the tortilla chips and the macaroni salad, she kept to her list, paid in the self-checkout and reveled in a bit of self-congratulation. She’d accepted she wasn’t going to be skinny for her wedding, but now that she’d had her final fitting, she couldn’t put on any weight. Not that it was ever the plan, but there were days when the only thing standing between her and madness was a cookie.

She drove to her apartment and parked. She was halfway up the stairs to her place when she saw someone standing by her front door. A tall, male someone with dark hair.

She recognized the set of his broad shoulders and narrowness of his waist. When he turned, she saw the familiar three-day beard on his strong jaw. One thing she and Glen had in common was that neither of them was the most attractive sibling in the family. She had to contend with both Finola and Zennie being prettier than her while Glen had to deal with his younger brother, Daniel.

Although Daniel wasn’t conventionally handsome, there was something about him. Something dark and just a little bit dangerous. A woman knew, just by looking at him, that she was taking a risk—while the sex would be amazing, there was at least a fifty-fifty chance he would steal her car afterward.

Metaphorically, of course. Because Daniel wasn’t a thief—far from it. He was a successful businessman who owned a motocross track. He was, ironically, a really good customer of hers—all those bikes he rented needed maintenance and therefore parts, which was where she came in. In theory that connection should have made them friends, and they were. Kind of. There was just something about the way he looked at her. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but in the back of her mind she was fairly sure he found her lacking. Or just plain uninteresting. None of which explained why he was standing at her apartment door.

He watched her approach. For a second his whole body stiffened. As if he didn’t want to talk to her. As if he wanted to be anywhere but waiting for her. She stumbled to a stop, not sure what to do or say. She instantly felt defensive and resentful—both of which were a huge overreaction considering the man hadn’t even spoken. Jeez. Daniel was Glen’s brother. After the wedding, he would be her brother-in-law. She really had to figure out how to get along with him.

She forced a big smile. “Hey you. This is a surprise. I’m going to be picking out floral centerpieces later. Want to offer your opinion? You can represent all the men attending, and if any of them complain, I can say it’s all your fault.”

She waited for him to say something. Anything. Instead he simply stared at her. The defensiveness returned, accompanied by a big dose of insecurity. Why did he have to be a jerk?

“Ali, I need to talk to you.”

There was something in the way he spoke—an urgency that got her heart beating faster. It suddenly occurred to her that this wasn’t a social call at all. Something was really, really wrong.

“Is it Glen? Is he hurt? Was there a car accident?” Glen was away on a job. “Did his plane go down?”

“Nothing like that. Glen’s fine. Can we go inside?”

Ali managed to open her front door. She shoved the groceries into the refrigerator, dropped her purse onto the counter, then turned to find Daniel standing in the middle of her small living room as if he had no idea what to do next. She ignored the rapid beating of her heart and the way her legs were shaking. Whatever it was, if Glen was fine, she would handle it. There might be screaming or crying or both, but she would get through it.

“Tell me,” she whispered. “Just tell me.”

He motioned to the sofa. “Sit down.”

“I’d prefer to stand.”

He took her hand and led her to the sofa. When she was seated, he sat down next to her and stared into her eyes.

His irises were dark brown with flecks of gold. She’d never noticed that before, but then she’d never been this close to him. Emotions flashed across his face. She would swear she saw real pain, which didn’t make sense.

“Daniel, I have no idea what you’re going to say but in about thirty seconds, I’m going to start shrieking, so just blurt it out. Is Glen really okay?”

“Yes. It’s not—” He turned away and swore under his breath. “Ali, Glen isn’t...” He looked at her. “Glen is breaking off the engagement. He’s too much of an asshole to do it himself, so he told me to tell you. When I refused, he threatened to simply pretend everything was fine for the next few weeks, then not show up on your wedding day. I don’t know if I believe him or not but I couldn’t take the chance. I’m sorry. I wish you could know how sorry I am.”

No. No! The words bounced around in her brain, repeating themselves, breaking apart, then reforming. What? No. Glen wasn’t breaking off their engagement. He couldn’t be.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m sorry.”

She sprang to her feet and glared at him. “Why are you doing this? Do you think it’s funny? I won’t believe you. I can’t.”

She felt a tightness in her chest and suddenly found it impossible to breathe.

She hurried to the door, started to open it, then collapsed against it, tears burning in her eyes. No, she thought frantically. He couldn’t leave her. They were about to get married. He loved her. She’d just mailed the invitations two days ago!

Only even as the pain gushed through her and she felt her heart cracking into tiny pieces that would never be whole, a faint voice whispered that she wasn’t completely surprised. That somewhere deep inside she’d known something was wrong.

Before she could argue with that horribly cruel voice, strong arms captured her, spun her around and held her close. Daniel cupped the back of her head in one of his hands and pressed her cheek to his chest.

“Ali, I wish I could make this better. I keep saying I’m sorry, but I don’t know what else to tell you. If it helps at all, I hit him. He’s got a bloody nose and a black eye and he’s the stupidest guy alive. One day he’ll regret giving you up and he’ll have to live with that for the rest of his life.”

She heard the words, but they didn’t mean anything. Nothing meant anything. She was going to crumble into dust and blow away. Before she could gather any strength, she simply plopped down on her butt on the floor.

Glen had ended things. No—he’d made sure the humiliation and horror was worse than just dumping her to her face. He’d sent his brother to do it. Only this wasn’t a breakup. This was their wedding.

Daniel crouched next to her. She brushed the tears from her face. “Why? Did he say why? We’re getting married. I have a dress and his ring and we’re supposed to go on our honeymoon. How could he—” She had to swallow to keep talking. “He was supposed to love me. He said he loved me. He saw me.”

The shaking started up again, claiming her body and making it impossible to talk. Daniel got up and disappeared from view. She half expected to hear the front door open then close, only instead of that, he returned with her phone in his hand.

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