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Megan Mackenzie ploppeddown in the booth at Mac’s Riverside Diner, raked her fingers through her blond curls, and grinned at Samantha Hayes. “Please tell me you ordered me some coffee.”
“I did. Norma’s brewing a fresh pot as we speak, just for you, Madam Mayor.” When Sam returned the smile, Megan was struck for the hundredth time in five months at how quickly they had become good friends. “I also ordered us both a slice of lemon meringue pie because I followed Paula in here and it looks amazing.”
“You are my queen.” Megan bowed her head and waved a hand in front her face in a mock gesture of servitude.
“These occasional afternoon girl-talk breaks are exactly what I need.” Sam blew a breath that ruffled her auburn bangs. “I adore Harry, but good Lord, his file system—and I’m using the term loosely here—is a disaster. I had to get out of there today before I just put a match to the whole place.”
“That bad, eh?” Megan nodded thanks to Norma as the server placed steaming mugs of coffee and slices of pie in front of them. She had to agree with Sam about the afternoon breaks. They’d begun meeting at the Riverside a couple of days a week not long after Sam had moved down from Chicago right after Christmas. It was a perfect opportunity for them to get to know each other and cement the friendship that started when Megan’s good friend Conor Flaherty had fallen in love with Samantha Hayes.
Megan had realized Sam and Conor belonged together the first time she’d seen them in the same room. They couldn’t keep their eyes off each other, and Meg had been delighted that after much sorrow, Conor was finally starting to live again, thanks to Samantha. Now Sam was fast becoming a fixture in River’s Edge, having taken over Harry Evans’s law practice when Harry decided to run for circuit court judge.
“Worse!” Sam took a sip of coffee. “And, bless his heart, he’s got the old dining room that has always been his conference room filled with campaign stuff, so I have nowhere to sort things out. Every time I suggest tossing even a single piece of paper, Alice nearly has heart failure.” She leaned in. “I’ve been sneaking boxes up to my apartment after she leaves at night and going through them.”
“How long are you required to keep files?” Megan closed her eyes in ecstasy at the first lemony bite of pie.
Paula Meadows made the best pies in town, everyone agreed, which was why Meg’s dad, Mac, bought them to serve at the Riverside rather than making his own. A gourmet chef, her dad could whip up amazing desserts at the drop of a hat, but he’d chosen to focus his efforts on cooking meals. He still baked his own baguettes, but he bought his desserts and pastries from Paula’s Bread and Butter Bakery. It was a fine arrangement for both of them and something Megan was grateful for every time she paid Paula’s monthly invoice.
“Five years after termination of representation according to the state of Indiana and there’s the rub.” Sam licked a bit of meringue off her upper lip. “Most of his clients have been his clients since… forever!”
“Man, that makes it hard to discard paperwork.”
“I’m trying to convince Alice that we can scan most files and save them electronically—perfectly legal and acceptable. She’s balking, but seriously, how many bankers’ boxes can one office maintain? I swear there are files in there from when Harry started the practice in 1970. I love her. She’s got a mind like a steel trap and she can recall any case he’s ever had in scary detail, which makes her invaluable to me. But she and I are going to have to come to terms with who is the attorney and who is the secre—whoops, I mean, office manager.”
Megan had an idea. “Is the basement in that old place dry?”
“I dunno. I’ve never been down there.” Sam eyed her curiously. “Why?”
“If it’s a dry basement, why not hire a couple of kids from the high school to build you some storage down there? You could set up those steel office shelving racks that libraries and museums use and put all the boxes down there in some kind of order. We did that with the records in city hall two years ago and every summer, I hire some students to scan stuff. It’s working out great. I know you can’t let kids scan legal documents, but once you’re organized downstairs, you can slowly introduce Alice to scanning. I doubt you’d have to scan every single document in the place. I’ll bet you can take his current client list and just do theirs for now. Get them into the computer so you can work with their files and cases, then figure out the rest after Harry wins the election and that office becomes yours for keeps.”
Megan hoped she wasn’t jinxing either Harry’s chances at becoming circuit court judge or Sam’s at taking over his practice for good by saying that. Probably not—Harry had already won the primary and his opponent on the other side was the current judge—a woman who had been on the bench way too long, in Meg’s humble opinion. Since no one was running against Megan for mayor of River’s Edge this year, she was helping stump for Harry, knocking on doors, passing out literature, and making sure everyone in town had a ride to their polling place come November. She knew, without any conceit at all, that having the mayor behind him was a boost to Harry’s campaign.
“That’s a good idea. I’ll check out the basement when I get back today.” Sam scraped the last of her pie from the plate and popped it in her mouth with a satisfied sigh. “Enough of my whining. Life is fabulous, Conor is amazing, Ali’s adorable, and the wedding plans are coming along great. That’s me. I’m dying to hear about your date Sunday. How’d it go?”
Megan leaned one elbow on the table and rested her chin on her palm. “Where to begin?” She rolled her eyes, then chuckled at Sam’s disappointed expression.
“Really?” When Sam folded her arms across her chest and scowled, Meg couldn’t help laughing out loud.
“Honestly, Sam, you’re more into in this whole internet dating thing than I am, and I’m the one doing it.”
“I just keep hoping the right guy will come along. You deserve a wonderful man… someone like Conor.”
Meg just shook her head. “There’s only one Conor and he’s pretty well sewn up.”
“That he is.” Sam sighed dreamily. “Okay, what happened?”
As much as she loved Sam for her concern, Megan wasn’t all that worried about finding a man. She enjoyed being single, even at the ripe old age of thirty-seven. She liked the freedom that came from having no one to answer to except Mamie Eisenhower, her big yellow cat. If she wanted nothing more than cheese and crackers for supper, Mamie didn’t insist she cook a full meal. When she took a notion to ride her bike along the river on a Saturday afternoon, Mamie happily stayed home and slept in the sun. If she had to work late or had meetings to attend every night one week or events where she had to make a mayoral appearance, Mamie never complained one bit.
Mamie didn’t mind Meg’s trips to Paris each spring and fall to visit her mother, as long as someone came in every day to feed her and clean out her litter box. Mamie never groused about Meg’s shoe addiction, her love of sappy romantic comedies, or her penchant for riding her red bicycle everywhere right up until late November turned to bitter winter. And okay, sometimes she got lonely and restless, but all in all, life was good. At least that was what she kept telling herself.
From the expectant look on Sam’s face, she wasn’t going to let this go, so Meg sat back. “Well, right off, he was gorgeous and he knew it. Plus, he was kind of a jerk about the fact that I wouldn’t meet him at the gambling boat in Vevay.”
“Eww.” Sam’s nose wrinkled in disgust.
“I know, right?” Meg agreed with a brisk nod that brought several blond curls into her eyes. She brushed them away. “Not that I don’t like a trip to the boat, but I didn’t want to go gambling on a first date. So we met at Conor’s tasting room in town. I figured we could taste some wine, have a cheese and fruit tray, and I’d be someplace where people know me so if he got handsy, I’d have backup. Char opened the deck this weekend, it was a beautiful day, and she and Chris were pouring, so there was my protection.”
“Makes perfect sense. What else went wrong?”
“Everything. He made fun of Big Red, he—”
Sam held up one hand. “Wait. He made fun of your bike? The beautiful bike Sean bought you for Christmas last year?”
“Yes, three speeds, coaster brakes, and a painted basket on the front apparently are not as cool as his vintage Mustang, which he could notquit talking about. He actually opened the hood to show me the engine.”
“Oh, dear Lord.”
“Yes. Then he dissed every one of Conor’s wines, telling me that it was a shame that ‘Hoosiers have such a tragically immature palate.’” Meg air-quoted the end of the sentence. “However, that didn’t stop him from drinking nearly an entire bottle of pinot all by himself while we sat out on the deck.”
“Okay, I hated him for the Big Red thing, but now I really despise him!” Sam slapped her palm on the Formica surface of the table.
Meg held up one finger. “It gets worse.”
“He kept staring at me with this… this weirdlook on his face. Finally, I asked him if I had something on my cheek or in my teeth. I did dig into that summer sausage that Char puts on the cheese plates. Man, that stuff is good!”
“What did he say?” Sam’s tone was cautious.
“He got this disappointed look and said, ‘You looked smaller in your picture’.”
“What?”Sam practically levitated from her seat.
“He said he usually doesn’t date anyone bigger than a size six, although sometimes he’ll go out with an eight if she’s tall and can pull it off.” Meg snorted a laugh, but Sam didn’t even crack a smile. As a matter of fact, Meg could almost see steam rising from her friend’s ears.
“Are you kidding me?”
Megan sighed. “Oh, how I wish I was.”
“What did you say? Please tell me you told him to go straight to hell.”
Meg grinned. “Actually, I stood up and said, ‘Then you are right out of luck with my size fourteen butt, aren’t you, big boy?’ and I shook my booty at him and marched into the winery.”
The incident wasn’t one bit painful, which surprised Meg. Although her curves were no problem for her, it did sometimes bother her that other people found them less than attractive. She’d been curvy nearly all her life—something she inherited from her dad’s side of the family where all the women were sturdy Scottish stock. Her mother was a svelte Parisienne, who, even at fifty-nine, still complained about her own flat boyish figure and coveted Meg’s rounded hips and full breasts.
“Dang, I wish I’d been there. I’d have let the air out of those Mustang tires!” Indignation laced Sam’s tone. “Please tell me he left.”
“He did, but not before he stopped me as I was getting on my bike to ask me if he could call me again.”
“Oh, honey.” Sam shook her head, her expression waffling between disgust and sadness. “I’m so sorry.”
Meg waved her concern aside. “Pfft. Don’t be. I’m not. He was a douchebag. I knew it before he ever mentioned my ass.”
“Your ass is gorgeous, so screw him,” Sam declared as Norma stopped by with the check.
She laid the small black folder on the table. “I’m supposed to tell you two when your hour is up. It’s up and it’s your turn to pay, Meg, although why either of you pay here is beyond me.” She turned away, then glanced over her shoulder and winked. “Oh, and by the way, I agree completely. As asses go, yours is quite respectable. And I’m not just saying that because you’re the boss’s daughter and the mayor. Unquestionably, you’ve got a cute tush on you.”
Meg grinned. “For that, she gets a 75 percent tip.” She took up the folder and shoved several bills into it.
“Why doyou pay here? You own the place.” Sam’s perfect brows furrowed. “I’ve wondered that, but I keep forgetting to ask you.”
Meg raised one finger in admonition, before giving her a smile. “Dadowns the place. But as his bookkeeper, it’s just cleaner if everyone pays. You know what they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Sam chuckled. “Or a free piece of pie? Makes sense—next time is on me.”
Meg nodded, then sighed. “Sam, I think I’m off the dating sites for a while. Eight truly bad dates in as many weeks? I need a break, sister.”
“Okay.” Sam gathered up her lightweight jacket as Meg rose and shrugged into hers. “I’ll stop pushing.”
Sam’s cell phone sang Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and her eyes lit up. “Ah, speaking of fabulous dates—it’s Conor.”
Meg gave her no-kidding look. “As if I couldn’t tell. Ed Sheeran? Seriously? Jeez, you really are sappy in love, aren’t you?”
Sam nodded, her lips curved in a shamelessly happy grin. “One second.” She held up a hand. “Hey, babe, what’s up?” Her expression sobered as she listened intently. “Oh, dear God,” she moaned into the phone and Megan’s curiosity exploded.
“What?” Megan whispered, fear clutching in her belly. Something bad had happened. Was it Ali? Had the child gotten hurt at preschool?
Sam shook her head slightly, her face grim. “Yes, yes, go… now. Char and I can handle things here. I’ll get Ali from school and stay with her at the house. Leave her car seat in the winery for me and put a sign on the door that you’re closed for the rest of today. Char will know who to call to help out while you’re gone. It’ll be fine. Do you want me to call the firm and see if I can get some more details?”
Meg’s heart dropped to her socks and then rose in her throat. Oh, no! Sean!Something had happened to Sean in Chicago. Something awful from the horrified look on Sam’s face and the fear that shook her voice.
“Well, if you talked to Charlie Smith, then you’ve got as much information as I could ever get.” Tears welled in Sam’s brown eyes. “You’re meeting Bren and Aidan at O’Hare? Okay. Drive safe, love. If he’s in surgery, you’ve got plenty of time to get there.” She listened for a moment. “I know, I know. But please be careful—you won’t be any use to Sean if you’re in a wreck. Call me as soon as you know anything.” She listened again. “I love you, too.” She tapped the screen and turned to Megan, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Meg was afraid to ask, but she did anyway. “What happened?”
“Sean’s been shot.” Sam crumpled back into the booth, sobbing.
Megan gasped as bile rose in her throat. She couldn’t even comprehend Sam’s words. Sean was shot? The invincible Sean Flaherty? Her buddy? Her best friend? His handsome face flashed into her mind—the lock of dark hair that invariably fell across his brow, the blue, blue eyes that sparkled sapphire with wit or turned dark navy with emotion, that killer smile, those amazing Flaherty dimples… impossible!
“What?” She sat down across from Sam. “Shot?”She could hardly catch her breath. “When? Where?”
Sam grabbed a napkin from the dispenser on the table and swiped at her eyes. “I–I don’t know much. Charlie Smith at the firm said it happened right outside the courthouse in Evanston early this afternoon. Some crazy woman. The wife of his current client. They took him to Northwestern; he’s in surgery right now.” She took a shaky breath. “Conor’s driving up to meet Aidan and Brendan at the airport, then they’re heading to the hospital.” She covered her mouth with both hands as if that could stop her lips from trembling, then shuddered. “Dear God, Meg.”
Megan closed her eyes, trying desperately to banish the dreadful pictures in her head—Sean on a gurney, pale and bleeding—and replace them with ones from the last time she’d seen him—grinning and pouring sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve.
They’d hugged each other at midnight because neither of them had had a date, and Sean had pressed his warm lips to her forehead. “You’re the best, Megs,” he’d murmured and held her close to his brawny chest for a long moment. She felt the even beat of his heart under the navy sweater he wore—the one she’d knitted for him for Christmas that made his eyes look deep blue.
“I’m going up there.” Megan stood and gazed at Sam. “I haveto, Sam. He’s my oldest and dearest friend. Maybe there’s nothing I can do, but I can spell the guys at visitation and maybe, I dunno, give blood or something. I just know I can’t stay here. I’ll go crazy. I haveto see him.”
Sam stared at her silently, then sighed. “Come on. Let’s trade cars. I don’t trust your old beater to make it to Indianapolis, and you sure as heck can’t ride Big Red all the way to Chicago.”
End of Excerpt