“Thank you,” Blake said with a smile of gratitude. The cast and crew had turned the entire cafe into a madhouse, the atmosphere lively with table talk and laughter.
“It’s their first break for the day. They’ve been filming outside since four in the morning,” Elizabeth explained, seeing the curious look on her friend’s face.
Blake took another look around her, but it was as she had guessed, and not a single local was present. “I still can’t get over at how amazingly immune everyone seems to be to celebrities,” she couldn’t help remarking.
“We had a bad experience with a celebrity a few years back,” Elizabeth lied, “and I’m afraid the memory’s stuck.”
“Oh. Now I get it.”
Elizabeth quickly changed the subject after that, asking, “Are you looking for Thornton?” Honestly, if it were up to her, she’d long have told Blake the truth about herself and the rest of the town. But since it wasn’t, she could only follow protocol and feed her friend with all the standard lines provided by Hartland Initiative.
“You know where he is?” Blake asked eagerly.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do, but before that…” Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “I need you to answer one question first.”
“The guy who came here last night,” Elizabeth said promptly. “Who is he?”
“A childhood friend,” Blake answered just as quickly. “Now, your turn. Where’s he?”
“At the library, where all the others are.” Elizabeth gazed at her friend thoughtfully. Childhood friend?
“I bet he knew I’d come here and look for him.” Blake was thinking out loud.
“He didn’t leave a message, if that’s what you’re going to ask,” Elizabeth said. “So, that childhood friend of yours…”
“Yeah?” Blake was starting to feel depressed. Thornton was avoiding her. Right?
“Is he from Laramie, too?” Elizabeth couldn’t help asking.
“Not quite. He moved to Denver about two years ago.” Distracted as she was, Blake missed seeing the way Elizabeth’s eyes widened.
Guys who were only “childhood friends” wouldn’t have flown all the way out to a middle-of-nowhere town like Hartland just to catch up, Elizabeth thought pensively. Could that mean…
A movie crew member came to interrupt them, ordering another bucket, and Elizabeth quickly took care of this before rushing back to her friend. “So…” She tried her hardest to sound casual.
“Mm?” Blake was still mentally chewing nails over the possibility that Thornton was avoiding her. Did it mean he wished he could take all those words back from last night? That none of them was the truth?
“Does he like you?”
“Who?” Blake asked, distracted.
“Well, of course he likes me—” Sheep! Blake stopped speaking as soon as she realized how her words could easily cause confusion. She had answered that way because she had been thinking Curt as her half-brother would have no choice: he had to like her. But since Curt had strongly discouraged her from claiming any filial relationship to him—
Blake saw the look on Elizabeth’s face and said immediately, “It’s not what you’re thinking.”
“Oh. Of course.” The distraught look on the other woman’s face made Elizabeth think twice about saying anything else. Privately, however, Elizabeth relished the idea of Thornton finally having some competition. She would make sure he knew this, too. It might just be the kick the man needed to finally make a move and stop playing hot and cold with Blake’s feelings.
Dear Constituents of Hartland, Wyoming:
As a thank you for everyone’s sincere cooperation, you are all cordially invited to join us in a residents-only breakfast party at the dining hall of the Hartland Public Library. Breakfast will be served from six to ten in the morning only.
Please direct any inquiries you may have to my secretary.
Oliver Winterbourne II
Mayor of Hartland, Wyoming
The library’s dining hall was close to full when Thornton strode past its door at just a few minutes past six. His brothers were there as well, occupying one of the window-side tables, and both men grinned the moment they saw Thornton striding towards them.
“How’s the hangover?” Aidan asked.
“Boring question,” Ethan chided as Thornton took a seat. “What you mean to ask is how’s Blake—” His tone turned sly. “—and have you succeeded in reminding her who she belongs to?”
Thornton blanched, and seeing this, even Aidan couldn’t help grinning while their baby brother simply lost it, throwing his head back with a laugh.
“I know you took a video,” Thornton said grimly. “Get rid of it.”
Thornton could feel himself stiffening as his gaze followed where Ethan was pointing. It was Anah, the young librarian who had a crush on his youngest brother. She was standing on her toes, reaching up to the ceiling-mounted TV so she could plug a memory stick into one of its USB slots.
A moment later, the screen lit up—
The entire hall went silent as a visibly-inebriated Thornton started roaring at a stunned-looking Blake.
Fuck, fuck, fuck!
The moment Thornton’s gaze snapped to his, Ethan already had his hands up in surrender and a half-apologetic grin on his lips. “I know you want to kill me,” he said right away, “and yes, this is one of my pranks, but it’s also more than that.”