Bedded Then Wed(9)

By: Heidi Betts


Disappointed that he could walk away without a backward glance after what they’d shared but also that their sleeping together might have ruined a perfectly good, lifelong friendship.

And now here he stood, staring at her from beneath the rim of his black Stetson. He didn’t seem particularly pleased to see her, but then Mitch hadn’t looked happy since Suzanne had left. A thin layer of stubble shadowed his square jaw, and lines bracketed his flat mouth.

“Hey, yourself. Is this what you were after?” He reached up with one hand and plucked a bag of bread flour from the top shelf with ease, holding it out to her.

She took it, cradling the five-pound weight to her chest while she swallowed and tried to think of something witty to say to break the tension and attempt to return them to the easy camaraderie they’d shared before sex had muddied the waters.

“You headed somewhere after this?” he asked without preliminaries.

“Just home to put groceries away,” she answered.

“Got time for a cup of coffee? Maybe a bite to eat?”

She glanced over her shoulder into the basket of her cart. Nothing cold. Nothing that would go bad if she didn’t go straight home.

Her stomach gave a little lurch at the possibilities of what he might want to talk about, but she nodded. “I guess that would be all right.”

“Good. Need anything else?”

She checked her list one last time, then shook her head. “No, I’m ready.”

They moved down the aisle together, Emma pushing the cart as Mitch followed a step behind. The heels of his boots clicked rhythmically on the hard, tiled floor, matching the nervous beat of her heart.

He stayed with her while she went through the checkout line, then helped to carry the bags to her car.

“Where are we going?” she asked, standing in the open driver’s side door.

“Rosie’s Café.” He tipped his hat down a fraction to shield his eyes from the midday sun. “I’ll meet you over there.”

Ten minutes later, they were seated across from one another in a red vinyl booth near the back of the café. Located in the center of town, Rosie’s was Gabriel’s Crossing’s most popular restaurant. A greasy spoon where folks came for home cooking and the latest gossip.

The lunch crowd had cleared out already, and dinner customers wouldn’t begin to trickle in for a few more hours. When the waitress came, they asked for pie and coffee, then sat in uncomfortable silence while the young woman went to fill their order.

Emma folded and refolded her napkin until the paper edges began to flake and fall away. Finally, she took a deep breath, laid her palms flat on the Formica tabletop, and faced Mitch head-on.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” she blurted out, deciding it was better to simply come to the point than sit here imagining worst case scenarios. Like tearing off a Band-Aid in one quick swipe rather than toying and tugging and prolonging the agony.

“Us.”

As much as she’d braced herself for his answer, she hadn’t expected that.

She waited until the waitress set slices of pie and steaming cups of black coffee in front of them before responding, using the much-needed time to calm her erratic pulse and get her scattered thoughts in order. He took a sip of black coffee while she stirred a sugar packet and dollop of cream into hers.

Once they were alone, she took a deep breath and kept her tone low so no one would overhear. “What about us?”

“I think there should be one.”

She knit her eyebrows. Mitch had never been the easiest man to talk to, but at the moment he was giving new meaning to the word confusing. “One what?”

“Us. I think there should be an us.”

Picking up his fork, he dug into his slice of blueberry pie as though they were talking about the weather instead of…them.

Before she could reply, he swallowed and went on. “You know what happened between us, Emma. It shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t have happened the way it did, and for that I’m sorry.”

The flush of embarrassment she’d felt at his mention of the night they’d made love flared into sudden anger and more than a little hurt.

How dare he apologize to her for what she considered one of the most special nights of her life? If he was sorry, if he regretted what they’d done, then he should have kept it to himself instead of cornering her like this.

“That’s what you brought me here to tell me?” she demanded, her knuckles turning white as she clutched the edge of the table. “You’re sorry we slept together? I hate to break it to you, Mitch, but you’re not the first man I’ve had sex with. You didn’t seduce me, you didn’t take my virginity, you didn’t do anything that requires an apology. I’m a big girl. I can make my own decisions and sleep with whomever I want. I don’t need your permission or your approval.”

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