“Yeah, I think I stuck a hundred of them suckers on there. Why?”

“Holy shit! I made a hundred bucks last night?” Chloe exclaimed, looking around for her purse.

“Sweet!” Brandon said. “How come I didn’t get a suck me off shirt?”

Chloe sighed as Ian laughed without correcting him, or answering his question.

Breakfast was completed with a lot of laughter, good natured ribbing, and lots of Nanny-isms that had us rolling until Daisy decided we’d (she’d) had enough and left with Nanny in tow, clutching her clothes to her chest. She’d kept Ian’s t-shirt and hadn’t bothered asking if he wanted it back.

It wasn’t long after they left that everyone else started giving their goodbyes and leaving for their respective homes and spouses, until just Ian and I were left.

We collapsed in a heap on the couch and traded more stories from the night before, especially the one where Jenna tripped and landed face first in a ten foot snowbank in the parking lot of the strip club. It had snowed a good amount two nights before the party, so thank God they’d stacked the piles high or Jenna might not have had such a soft landing. Not that she was feeling much at that time…

During a lull in the conversation, Ian asked me if his mom had called me.

I so badly wanted to tell him yes, that she had called and apologized, but I couldn’t lie to him. “No, baby. She hasn’t called.”

He sighed. “She’s so stubborn. I just thought that maybe with…oh, well.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, laying my lips against his chest in a gentle kiss.

“Anyway, are you ready for school tomorrow?” he asked, changing the subject.

I nodded and the conversation turned back to more mundane matters, but both of us skirted the dark thoughts that circled in the back of our minds. I had a feeling we both knew it wasn’t over…not by a long shot.

The sad thing about it is, neither one of us knew just how right we’d end up being.

Chapter 22

I glanced around the room to make sure none of the kids needed help getting their coats on, smiling at a few of them that bounded over to hug me and tell me goodbye.

“Miss Jensen, do you hafta take Gerry?” a little voice called, a small hand tugging on my pocket to get my attention.

I sighed and looked down at Adam. “Yes, honey. I’m sorry, but Gerry has to go home with me. I can’t leave him here all by himself all weekend, can I?”

“Yes!” the little boy hollered, looking at me with that ‘duh’ expression that kids are so good at utilizing.

I sighed, but thankfully the bell rang, signaling it was time to go to the buses.

When the last kid was gone, I packed up my bag, put Gerry in his ‘weekend home’, and made sure I’d left the lesson notes for the substitute coming in to cover for me tomorrow. With everything set, I loaded up the car and set off for home, my excitement building more and more for the weekend festivities.

I made it home before Ian and decided to make a batch of homemade potato soup for dinner. It was almost done by the time Ian walked in the door.

“Hey, baby,” he said as he walked by me. He paused long enough to kiss me hello before he went to clean up.

The poor man works himself to death, even in the winter when the construction business usually slows down. Ian, though, generally maps out his projects so that the majority of the building is done in the summer and fall months, so that all the finishing and indoor work can be done during the winter, therefore keeping him busy year-round.

It’s been even more hectic for him since Jackson had been recommending Ian to all of his clients, and vice versa. It was a pretty beneficial partnership for them both; Jackson would design the buildings or whatever they wanted, and Ian would make it happen. Win-win for everyone, right?

The week since the bachelorette/bachelor parties had been uneventful, which we were thankful for. Victoria went to her pretrial and, last we heard, she and her attorney were trying to work out a deal with the prosecutor, but her trial wasn’t until the second week of January.

I’d still managed to keep my own upcoming nuptials a secret, which had been unbelievably difficult, especially because my parents knew. So far, my mom hadn’t blabbed, but since my wedding was next weekend, I was getting more nervous that she’d slip up.

Turns out, it was my own mouth I had to worry about.

Early Friday afternoon, the girls and I had all met up to get manicures and pedicures in preparation for the wedding the next day. Once we were done at the salon, we were all due to meet at the church for the rehearsal, and then the rehearsal dinner.

I was halfway through my pedicure, enjoying the calf and foot massage portion of it, when Emma asked what I was doing next weekend.

Without thinking, I answered, “Getting married, why?”

“I wanted to see if you wanted to keep your niece for…wait, what?”

I glanced over at her. “What, what? You know I’d love to keep her, but I can’t because…”

It hadn’t registered in my head exactly what I had said just yet. Not until I noticed that Emma, Allie, Chloe, and Sarah, Chloe’s mom were all gawking at me wide-eyed as my words trailed off.

Oh. Shit.

“You’re getting married?” Emma repeated, cocking her head sideways. “Did I hear you correctly, Leah?”

I winced. “Uh…no?” I tried to backpedal, but...it didn’t work.

Chloe’s eyes narrowed on me. “Are you and Ian trying to freakin’ elope?”

I fidgeted, noticing that the whole salon was now staring at me, but none more raptly than the woman who was giving me my pedicure. Or, had been, rather, because she was gazing up at me, her hands frozen in place around my foot, waiting to see what I’d say next, I suppose.

I blew out a breath and closed my eyes for a second. Without opening them, I rushed to answer. “No, we’re not trying to elope, we are eloping.” My eyes popped open at the gasps that filled the air around me.

“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t mention it to anyone. We just decided that neither one of us really wanted to have a big wedding, and there’s the cutest little chapel down in Tennessee that’s perfect around Christmas time, especially when it’s been snowing, so…we’re getting married next weekend.”

Emma looked hurt. “But what about your family? Mom and Dad? They’re going to be heartbroken.”

Yikes. And just like that, I had to throw my own parents under the bus. “They’re coming.”

“What? They know? Are you kidding me, Leah Nicole Jensen?” she screeched, sitting forward. The tech doing her pedicure scrambled to the side, getting out of her way.

“You guys can come,” I threw out softly, hoping to diffuse the situation. Jesus, Ian was going to kill me.

Allie snorted. “You can bet your sweet ass that we’ll be there, girlie!” She laughed dryly. “Can’t believe you thought you’d get away with doing that without everyone. Well, guess I know what I’ll be doing Sunday.”

Emma sat back and let the poor tech get back to her job. She crossed her arms over her chest and grinned smugly. “I can’t wait to tell Jenna and Calland,” she sang. “You’re in for it.”

I groaned, and not from the massage that had resumed.

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