“A parrot.” Another squawk, louder and more insistent. “Fergie. She was a wedding present from Lucas.”

“Oh.” Fran’s raised brows indicated her clear interest, but she appeared reluctant to ask any further questions.


Cia’s fault, no doubt, as she had no idea how to break the awkward tension. The divorce loomed on the horizon. She was sleeping with this woman’s son. The mechanics of a relationship with a mother figure escaped her. The odds of successfully navigating this surprise visit were about the same as winning the lottery without buying a ticket.

Squawk.

“Fergie probably wants to meet you.” Cia shook her head. “I mean, she’s a little temperamental and likes people around. If you’re not opposed to it, we can sit in the kitchen. She’ll quiet down if we do.”

“That’s fine.” Fran followed Cia into the kitchen and immediately crossed to Fergie’s cage. “Oh, she’s precious. Does she talk?”

“When she feels like it. Say hello to her. Sometimes that works.”

Cia poured two glasses of iced tea.

Fran and Fergie exchanged hellos several times, and Fergie went off on a tangent, first singing the national anthem and then squawking, “Play ball!” to the older woman’s delight. Fran laughed and praised the bird for a good five minutes. Cia wasn’t about to interrupt.

Finally, Fran joined Cia at the breakfast table and sipped her tea. “The last few weeks have been difficult, and I wanted to thank you for the shoulder. It meant a lot to me that you stayed with us the afternoon Andy’s father died and then all through the funeral and...” She took a deep breath. “Well, you know, you were there. So thanks.”

“Oh, um, you’re welcome.” Cia’s tongue felt too big for her mouth, swollen by the sincerity of Fran’s tremulous smile. “I know how it feels to lose a parent. I was glad to do what I could.”

“You’re very good for Lucas—did you know that? Andy says you’re all he talks about at work. My boys are everything to me, and I’m grateful Lucas has found someone who makes him happy.” The older woman reached out and clasped Cia’s hand. “We got off on the wrong foot when I pushed too soon for a relationship with you, but I’m hopeful we can start over now.”

Cia shut her eyes for a blink. What was she supposed to do? She wasn’t just sleeping with Lucas; they were married. And it wasn’t over yet. Abuelo could still get suspicious if Fran happened to mention Cia’s aloof brush-offs. Dallas was a small town in all the worst ways.

“Fran, you aren’t to blame. It’s me.” Might as well lay it all out there. “I just don’t know how to be around a mother-in-law. Or a mother, for that matter.”

Okay, she hadn’t meant to lay it all out there. Tears stabbed at her eyelids, and Fran’s expression softened.

“There aren’t any rules, honey. Let’s just sit here, drink tea and talk. That’s all I want.”

Yeah, she could pretend all day long this was about keeping the heat off and guarding against her grandfather’s suspicions. It wasn’t. Fran was offering something she couldn’t refuse—friendship.

Cia nodded and cleared her throat. “That sounds nice. What would you like to talk about?”

“Tell me about the shelter. I’ve been looking for a volunteer opportunity. Can I help?”

And for the second time in less than a week, Cia’s heart splattered into a big, mushy mess. A man she could get over in time. A mother? Not so much. And now it was too late to back away.

With her nerves screaming in protest, Cia told Fran every detail about the shelter and how she’d picked up where her mother left off. Silently, she bargained with herself, insisting the cause could use a good champion like Fran Wheeler and evaluating the possibility of still working with her after the divorce.

But she knew Fran wouldn’t speak to her again after Lucas divorced her. That was better anyway. A clean break from both mother and son would be easier.

Way back in the far corner of Cia’s mind, a worm of suspicion gained some teeth. What if Lucas had put his mother up to coming by in some weird, twisted ploy to get her to reconsider the divorce?

No, he wouldn’t do that. She pushed the doubt away.

Lucas was honest about everything, and he hadn’t mentioned staying married again anyway, thank goodness. For a second after he’d casually thrown out long-term, her pulse had shuddered to a halt and her suddenly active imagination had come up with all sorts of reasons why it could work. All pure fiction.

His suggestion had been nothing but an off-the-cuff idea, which he hadn’t been serious about in the first place. Exactly why she was ignoring all the feelings Lucas had churned up when they’d stood outside the old hotel—she’d be gutted if she gave him the slightest opening.

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