Thankfully, Wendy took the hint—this time—and went back to work.
It was easy to decide to focus on work, but while her hands separated the receipts into neat little stacks, Tara’s mind wasn’t as easily distracted. Where was he going? What was he doing here? She’d noticed on her walk back from the street fair that his truck didn’t have a logo that told her where he was based. That wasn’t unusual. Lots of the truckers who came in were independents. But none of them came in more than a day at a time.
Truckers didn’t stay in one place for long, always on the way to or from someplace else. He’d been here the last couple days and spent time at the street fair. Why was he sticking around?
“You’re thinking about him,” Wendy said softly from the doorway.
Besides being startled, Tara was irritated with her employee. “Cut it out. And stop pushing me at him. I’m. Not. Interested.”
Not sure who she was trying to convince more, she booted up the computer and stared at the spreadsheet. That would surely keep her busy for the next hour or more. She had to do something.
The loud crash in the alley sent both of them rushing to the back door.
“Ricky’s back,” Wendy said unnecessarily. The staff had christened the pesky raccoon, and the name had stuck.
“In the middle of the day?” She and Wendy stepped into the alley. Raccoons were nocturnal animals. “Not likely.”
“Meoooooww!” A big gray tomcat, its fur matted, dirty and soaking wet, sat on the top of the brand-new, tipped-over trash can, pawing on the—thankfully—still-latched lid.
This was not happening again. What was with all these animals?
Tara rubbed her forehead. At this rate, she was never going to get the bills paid.
* * *
MORGAN LEFT THE diner before he ended up staying there all day. He couldn’t. It would be a mistake.
He walked slowly through the rain, across the worn flagstones of Tara’s patio. Even though he knew the stones had been there since well before Tara had bought this place, he thought of them as hers.
Today they were washed clean by the raindrops, but a year ago? An article in this morning’s paper had commemorated the wildfire that had raged through this valley last year.
He remembered hearing about the damage and the efforts that had gone into helping the people who’d lost so much. Some of his crew had trucked in loads of relief supplies. He’d been too distracted with his own loss to be any good to anyone.
Had these stones been blackened with smoke and ash? Had they escaped damage simply because they were stone that couldn’t burn?
Looking up at the rooflines of the buildings along the street, he realized they were old, as well, so perhaps the fire hadn’t touched this area.
A year. So much had changed in that year. The fire. Tara buying this place. Sylvie stealing Brooke away. The knot in his chest that never seemed to go away grew just a little bit tighter.
Time had dulled the pain, but nothing would erase it, not until he found Brooke.
She’d had another birthday since he’d last seen her. Surely last year’s gift, the purple dragon, was worn out by now. He’d bought her another gift, which was nestled in the lower cabinet in his truck. He carried it everywhere, just in case he found her.
So close. He was so close. He could feel it. The jerk at the street fair yesterday had led Morgan on a merry chase through town. Twice he’d thought the guy was going to stop and lead him to Sylvie or Brooke. Instead, it had been nothing more than a wild-goose chase.
Cold rain slipped down the back of his collar, reminding him that he didn’t have time to slide down this rabbit hole. Morgan glanced at his watch. He had a phone conference with Jack in an hour. He might be on the road, but he needed to do what he could to help the business, if nothing else to make sure he still had a livelihood to return to once he found Brooke. He needed to get to the truck, get online and work.
As he hustled across the parking lot, Morgan thought about his brother doing the majority of the office work. Morgan tried to step up and do his own work when he could, but his mind was elsewhere.
In this weather, there wouldn’t be many people out anyway. Even Sylvie was smart enough to get in out of the rain. He glanced down the street toward the park. At least, he hoped so. The idea of Brooke out in this made him shiver.