“I see. Well, the tour went as well as can be expected. I did hear about a terrible accident involving a man on his cell phone—”

“I went to school with Carl Pitts. The guy’s a complete dipshit. If anyone was gonna fall in a vat, it would be him, with or without the phone to distract him,” she said flatly.

I couldn’t help laughing, “You’re very funny, you should be a comedian.”

“I should look into that you know, for after you destroy our entire way of life, Company Man.”

“Wow, even when you’re bitchy, you’re charming,” I said.

“Is that like telling me I’m cute when I’m mad?” she asked.

“No. It wasn’t meant to be condescending. Look, I get that you’re probably angry—”

“There’s no ‘probably’ about it. I’m angry that you’re here to tell us all that the factory isn’t good enough to meet your almighty corporate standard. So you can exploit the labor of the desperate and disenfranchised overseas.”

“Hmm, so I take it you’re not going to the welcome potluck tonight then?” I said.

“You’re actually going?” she asked, looking surprised.

“Yes,” I said. “It would be rude not to go.”

“But not rude to close the plant?”

“That’s business,” I said uncomfortably. “And the people in this town are being gracious to me. While I can’t be bribed, I’m not a complete asshole. I like this place. I like the goat’s milk soap and the manager who wants to take his wife on a cruise. And it’s inconvenient for me to start liking people here,” I said. I may have sighed.

“If only you had a heart?” she teased.

“I have one. I just don’t use it during working hours,” I told her. “Would you like a ride to the potluck? Now that I have my rental keys back, I could give you a lift.”

She shook her head, “I have to run to my parents’ house first. Thank you anyway.”

“You’re welcome. I’ve honestly never been in a town where everyone was so polite.”

“It’s a southern thing. You’re gonna like us whether you like it or not,” she said.



I’d been to dozens of potlucks at the Elks lodge. So it didn’t make sense to go home and change after work and let my hair down and try to tame it. It was curly. Not the adorable Julia-Roberts-in-Pretty-Woman kind. More the Disney Princess Merida type. So it spent a lot of time in a messy bun or a very determined French braid. I had to comb it and use my overpriced spritz hair product to tame it into something more like a beachy wave and less like electric shock.

I changed into cute jeans and a top to replace my wrinkle-free and stain-resistant workwear. I got an eyelash curler and mascara involved and realized I got more dressed up for this potluck dinner than I had for my own birthday a few weeks before. Admittedly, a sheet cake at my mom’s house and then margaritas at Cecil’s weren’t a formal evening, but I was going noticeably out of my way to look nice.

It pissed me off that I wanted to get dressed up for this guy, this stuck-up city boy Company Man sent here to ruin all our lives. He was my archenemy. I should wear shit-kicking steel toe boots and carry a pitchfork to the dinner. But instead, I was getting pretty enough my own mama would be asking me why I was so cleaned up.

I soothed myself by remembering the part of Wonder Woman where she wears the kick-ass blue ball gown with a sword on her back. Pretty can be tough, I told myself. It’s a kind of armor. It’s the way I was brought up—be pretty and sweet and polite, don’t disagree, just coax. I had never been good at that crap. I was good with kids, with silly rhymes and songs and loving them all and helping them understand they were still loved even when they had to go to time-out. And nobody was going to take that from me.

At my parents’ house, I picked up the potato casserole I was contributing to the dinner.

“Thanks for heating it up for me,” I said, “you all ready?”

“We’re gonna head up there in a few minutes. You look mighty pretty tonight, Maggie,” my mother said suspiciously.

“Just felt like dressing up a little. My wrinkle-free khakis and my cartoon t-shirts are fine for work, but sometimes a girl could use a break from the Buzz and Woody shirts,” I made an excuse.

“Are you sure this has nothing to do with that horrible man from Hadley? Because he looks just like that actor you used to have posters of when you were in school.”

“What actor?” I said, as if I didn’t know.

“The one from Hunger Games, the dark-headed one.”

“Liam Hemsworth. And no, this guy does not look like Liam Hemsworth,” I said a little too vehemently.

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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