makeup. Wear your usual scent, too. He's used to it, it'll say something to him."
"Anna, it doesn't matter what I wear if he doesn't want to be there."
"Of course it matters." As a woman who had a long-term love affair with clothes, she was very nearly shocked at the suggestion. "Men don't think they notice what a woman wears—unless it's next to nothing. But they do, subconsciously. And it helps click the mood or the image."
Lips pursed, she added fresh basil to the sauce and got out a skillet for sautéing onions and garlic. "I'm going to try to get him over there close to sunset. You should light some candles, put on music. The Quinns like their music."
"What would I say to him?"
"I can only take you so far here, Grace," Anna said dryly. "And I'm betting you'll figure it out when the time comes."
She was far from convinced of that. While new scents began to romance the air, Grace worried her lip. "It feels like I'd be tricking him."
"And your point would be?"
Grace chuckled. And gave up. "I have a pink dress. I bought it for Steve's wedding a couple years ago."
Anna glanced over her shoulder. "How does it look on you?"
"Well…" Grace's lips curved slowly. "Steve's best man hit on me before they cut the cake."
"Sounds like a deal."
"I still don't—" Grace stopped as her mother's ear caught the tinkling music from the living room. "That's the end of Aubrey's show. I have to finish up in there."
She rose quickly, panicked at the thought of Ethan coming home before she was gone. Surely everything she felt must show on her face. "Anna, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I just don't think it's going to work. Ethan knows his own mind."
"Then it won't hurt him to come around to your house and see you in a pink dress, will it?"
Grace blew out a breath. "Does Cam ever win an argument with you?"
"On the rare occasion, but never when I'm at my best."
Grace edged toward the door, knowing that Aubrey's sit-and-behave time was nearly up. "I'm glad you came home early today."
Anna tapped her wooden spoon on the lip of her pot. "Me, too."
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the following day as sunset approached, Grace wasn't certain she was glad at all. Her nerves were stretched so tight she could feel them straining and bubbling under her skin. Her stomach continually jumped in quick little rabbit hops. And her head was beginning to throb in a sharp, insistent rhythm.
It would be just perfect, she thought in disgust, if Anna managed to get Ethan over, and she simply pitched forward, ill and babbling, at his feet.
That would be seductive.
She should never have agreed to this foolishness, she told herself as she paced through her little house yet again. Anna had thought so quickly, made up her mind so fast and put everything in motion so smoothly, that she'd been swept along before she could calculate the pitfalls.
What in the world would she say to him if he came? Which he probably wouldn't, she thought, caught between relief and despair. He probably wouldn't even come and then she'd have sent her baby away for the night for nothing.
It was too quiet. There was nothing but the early-evening breeze rustling through the trees for company. If Aubrey had been there—where she belonged—they'd have been reading her bedtime story now. She would have been all scrubbed and powdered and curled up under Grace's arm in the rocker. Snuggly and sleepy.
When she heard her own sigh, Grace pressed her lips tightly together and marched to the small stereo system on the yellow pine shelves in the living room. She selected CDs from her collection—an indulgence that she refused to feel guilty over—and let the house fill with the weeping and romantic notes of Mozart.
She walked to the window to watch the sun drop lower in the sky. The light was going soft, slipping away shade by shade. In the ornamental plum that graced the Cutters' front yard a lone whippoorwill began to sing to the twilight. She wished she could laugh at herself, silly Grace Monroe standing by the window in her pink dress waiting for a star to wish on.
But she lowered her forehead to the glass, closed her eyes, and reminded herself that she was too old for wishes.
anna thought she would have done very well in the espionage game. She had kept her plans locked tight behind closed lips—no matter how desperately she'd wanted to spill out everything to Cam.
She had to remind herself that he was, after all, a man. And he was Ethan's brother, which was another strike against him. This was a woman thing. She thought she was very subtle about keeping her eye on Ethan as well. He wasn't going to escape somewhere directly after dinner, as was his habit, nor would he have a clue that his sister-in-law was keeping him on a short rein.
The ice cream idea had been a brainstorm. She'd picked up a gallon on the way home and now had all three of her men, as she liked to think of them, settled on the back porch downing bowls of Rocky Road.
Timing and execution, she told herself, and rubbed her hands together before she stepped out on the porch. "It's going to be a warm night. It's hard to believe it's nearly July already."
She wandered to the porch rail to lean over and scan her flower beds. Coming right along, she thought with a sense of righteous satisfaction. "I thought we could have a backyard picnic on the Fourth."
"They have fireworks on the waterfront," Ethan put in. "Every year, half hour after sunset. You can see them from right here on the porch."
"Really? That would be perfect. Wouldn't it be fun, Seth? You could have your friends over and we'd cook burgers and dogs."
"That'd be cool." He was already down to scraping his bowl and calculating how to finesse seconds.
"Have to dig out the horseshoes," Cam decided. "Do we still have them, Ethan?"
"Yeah, they're around."
"And music." Anna shifted just enough to rub her husband's knee. "The three of you could play. You don't play together nearly often enough to suit me. I'll have to make a list. You'll have to tell me who we should invite—and the food. Food." She thought she feigned flustered irritation very well as she pushed away from the porch rail. "How could I have forgotten? I promised Grace to trade her my recipe for tortellini for hers for fried chicken."
She dashed inside to retrieve the index card that she'd neatly written the recipe on—something she'd never done before in her life—then dashed back out again. All apologetic smiles.
"Ethan, would you run this over to her?"
He stared at the little white card. If he hadn't been sitting down, his hands would have jumped into his pockets. "What?"
"I promised I'd get her this today and it completely slipped my mind. I'd run it over myself, but I still have a report to finish. I'm just dying to try out that fried chicken," she went on quickly, pushing the recipe card into his hand, then all but dragging him to his feet.
"It's kind of late."
"Oh, it's not even nine o'clock." Don't give him time to think, she warned herself. Don't give him a chance to pick out the flaws. She pulled him into the house, used smiles and fluttering lashes to move him along. "I really appreciate it. I'm so scatterbrained these days. I feel like I'm chasing my own tail half the time. Tell her I'm sorry I didn't get it to her sooner and to be sure to let me know how it turns out once she tries it. Thanks so much, Ethan," she added, rising up to give him a quick, affectionate peck on the cheek. "I love having brothers."
"Well…" He was baffled, closing in on miserable, but the way she said that, the way she smiled when she did, left him helpless. "I'll be right back."
I don't think so, Anna thought with a wisely controlled chuckle as she cheerily waved him off. The second his truck was out of sight, she dusted her palms together. Mission accomplished.
"Just what the hell was that?" Cam demanded, making her jolt with surprise.
"I don't know what you mean." She would have sailed past him and into the house, but he stepped out, blocked her path.
"Oh, yeah, you know what I mean." Intrigued, he angled his head. She was trying to look innocent, he decided, but couldn't pull it off. Too much pure glee in her eyes. "Exchanging recipes, Anna?"
"So what?" She lifted a shoulder. "I'm a very good cook."
"No argument there, but you're not the recipe-emergency type, and if you'd been so hell-bent on giving one to Grace, you'd have picked up the phone. Which is something you didn't give Ethan a chance to point out, since you were so busy batting your lashes at him and cooing like some empty-headed twit."
"Which you're not," he continued, slowly backing her up until she was trapped against the porch rail. "At all. Shrewd, savvy, sharp." He laid his hands on either side of her hips to cage her. "That's what you are."
It was, she supposed, a fine compliment. "Thank you, Cameron. Now I really should get to that report."
"Uh-uh. Why'd you con Ethan into going over to Grace's?"
She shook back her hair, aimed a bland look dead into his eyes. "I'd think a shrewd, savvy, sharp guy like you ought to be able to figure that out."
His brows drew together. "You're trying to get something going between them."
"Something is going between them, but your brother is slower than a lame turtle."
"He's slower than a lame turtle with bifocals, but that's Ethan. Don't you think they should muddle through this on their own?"
"All they need is five minutes alone, and that's all I did—work it out so they'd have a few minutes alone. Besides"—she slipped her arms up and around his neck—"we deliriously happy women want everyone else to be deliriously happy, too."
He cocked a brow. "Do you think I'm going to fall for that?"
She smiled, then leaned over to nip his bottom lip. "Yeah."
"You're right," he murmured and let her convince him.