Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(71) by Susan Mallery
“Are you enjoying the craft fair?” Dani asked Mrs. Ford.
“Very much. Walker is quite patient with me.”
“Really?” Dani eyed her brother. “Lucky you. Ryan only recently moved to Seattle. This is his first time here.”
Mrs. Ford turned to Dani’s date. “What do you think of our city?”
“I like it,” Ryan said.
Dani released his hand and stepped close to Walker. “This is new. I don’t remember you volunteering with seniors before,” she said in a low voice.
“She wanted to come see Elissa’s booth.”
“Uh-huh. You’d better be careful or we’ll all think you’re turning into a nice guy.”
“Anything but that,” he muttered. “So how’s the new guy?”
“Good. I’d thought I needed time to get over my divorce, but maybe not.”
Walker looked at his sister. “It’s serious?”
She smiled, then blushed. “Maybe. I don’t know. I really like him and he’s a good guy. I know this is fast and I want to stay detached, it’s just…I can’t seem to.”
He wanted to tell her to be careful, but who was he to give advice about personal relationships?
“I’m glad you’re happy.”
“Really? You’re not going to warn me or anything?”
She grinned and leaned against him. “Did I ever mention you’re my favorite brother?”
She and Ryan said goodbye, then strolled off. Mrs. Ford watched them go.
“Now where were we?” she asked as they once again started for Elissa’s booth. “I believe we were discussing your inability to commit. Do you have any thoughts on why that is?”
BUSINESS CONTINUED to be good, Elissa thought happily Sunday afternoon as she made change, then bent down to collect more inventory. She was still selling at a brisk pace and this was only day two. Tonight she would go over her receipts and figure out if she could actually increase her profit estimate. The thought of how much easier life would be with a bit of a financial buffer in the bank nearly made her giddy.
She straightened and put a dozen or so boxes on her table, then froze as she heard a familiar and incredibly unwelcome, “Hey, babe.”
Despite the near ninety-degree temperature, her entire body went cold. She felt her breath catch in her throat and a shriek building up inside as she fought against the need to scream against the unfairness of it all.
She turned slowly, hoping she was wrong, then nearly collapsed in disappointment when she saw the tall, painfully thin, shaggy-haired man standing in front of her booth.
“Neil,” she said, wondering if this was going to be a never-ending nightmare. “This is an unpleasant surprise.”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” Elissa asked, keeping her voice calm. Neil was like an injured wild animal—dangerous when cornered and sensitive to any sign of fear.
“I came to see my girl,” he said with an easy smile. “A buddy I know got a bunch of gigs here and in Portland. His bass player couldn’t make it, so I said I’d fill in. I knew it was a chance to catch up with you.” He moved closer and his smile turned more predatory. “You’re looking good, Elissa. It’s been a long time.”
Over two years, she thought bitterly. He’d come into town, threatened her, then left when she’d cleaned out her meager savings account.
“I went by where you work and some guy there told me I could find you here.” He frowned. “Do you really wear that uniform? I don’t know about the chicken, Elissa. Still, the place was busy and the tips must be good.”
Oh, Frank, she thought desperately. Don’t try to be so helpful.
“Did you tell him you were my brother?” she asked.
“Cousin. What with us not looking anything alike.” He picked up a pair of earrings. “Nice little setup you’ve got here. I didn’t know you were so talented, but then you’ve always been good at keeping things from me.”
She snatched back the earrings. “The only reason you don’t know that I could do things like this is because that would have required us having a conversation about something other than you. Something you never saw the value in.”
He smiled. “You’re still a fireball, Elissa. I like that.”
She couldn’t believe she’d ever thought herself in love with him. Mitch had been bad enough—foolish, self-centered and unfaithful, but compared to Neil, he’d been a candidate for boyfriend of the year.
Neil moved closer to the table and reached across it. She stepped out of reach.
“I’ve missed you, baby,” he said. “We had something good together.”
“We had shit,” she said flatly. “The only reason you kept me around was because I could hold a job, which meant money coming in. You needed that money to stay stoned.”
“You always did take care of me,” he reminded her. “Still do. That’s why I’m here, Elissa. For my little something. But now that I’ve seen how well you’re doing, I’m thinking it should be more than a little.”
Why now? she thought desperately. Why today? The only thing that kept her from getting lost in panic was the knowledge that Zoe was safely away.
It was as if he could read her mind. He looked around, then back at her. “So where’s the kid?”
She wanted to scream at him that he had no right to any contact with her daughter. He didn’t care about Zoe. She would bet her entire day’s sales that he couldn’t remember if she was a boy or a girl.
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