Dan sat on the tailgate of his truck, parked in the alley behind Charlene’s Diner, eating banana bread and watching his new employees haul out the kitchen demolition. In addition to bringing back Jason, Brent had hired two kids fresh off a Folsom job. Dan could already tell they wouldn’t last, but while they still pretended to work, he slacked off and savored the sweet, wholesome goodness his love, Vivian, had baked for him.
Brent hitched his ass onto the tailgate beside Dan and stuffed his hand into his own goodie bag from Vivian. Around a mouthful of banana bread, he grumbled, “Aria won’t let me find out if we’re having a boy or a girl. She wants to be surprised.”
“Stace was the same way.”
“I want a boy,” Brent said. “Girls look like too much stress. I mean, look at you. You’re already getting pudgy and going bald, and Emily’s only a few weeks old. What’re you going to look like when she starts to date?”
“That’s never going to happen. I’ve already decided she’s going to be a nun.”
“If I have a boy, she could date my son. He’d treat her right.”
Dan laughed at the asinine suggestion.
Brent took offense. “What would be so horrible about my boy dating your girl?”
“Emily’s not dating a Rogan,” Dan stated firmly.
“And why not?” Brent huffed. “I’ll have you know the Rogans are excellent stock. We’re strong, healthy men, with rugged, good looks.”
“We work hard, and we love our mothers.”
“We are exceptionally romantic and naturally talented lovers.”
“You’re making it worse.”
“As a matter of fact, every country song ever written was inspired by a Rogan.”
“You’re full of shit,” Dan laughed.
“I speak the truth. You’re just jealous.”
“You wish it were true.” Dan finished the last bite of his banana bread and said, “I tell you what; if you have a girl, Emily and your daughter can be the best of friends. But if you have a boy, we agree that the two of them never meet. At least not until Emily joins the sisterhood.”
“And why the hell not?”
“Because of the whole ‘talented lover’ thing. Emily’s not allowed to have one of those. At least, not until after I’m dead.”
“That’s fair,” Brent agreed. He reached into his bag, came up emptyhanded. “I think Vivian shorted us today.”
“Yeah…” Dan mused, shifting uncomfortably in guilt. He’d stolen one of Brent’s pieces while the guy was distracted pouring coffee. He hadn’t intended to. It was just Vivi’s banana bread was so warm, so cinnamony, so fresh-baked, melt-in-your-mouth delicious he couldn’t control himself.
“I bet one of Folsom’s guys stole it,” Brent decided, glaring at their new employees.
“Yeah,” Dan repeated around a guilty cough.
Brent turned toward Dan, his expression serious. For a panicked second, Dan feared he had been caught. He tensed, a breath away from confessing, when Brent said, “Jimmy’s gone. Just up and disappeared.”
“What?” Dan asked, stunned. “When?”
Brent just shrugged. “Mike says he hasn’t seen him since Tuesday.”
“He’s probably at Marissa’s.”
“Well, he’s got to be somewhere.” Dan hoped for the obvious, “Did you call Ky?”
“If he was there, we’d know… Wouldn’t we?”
Dan shrugged. “Not necessarily.”
“I guess.” Forlorn, Brent peered into his goodie bag, one more time, as though hoping for a miracle. None were to be had. He wadded the empty sack into a tight ball. “Let’s get Charlene’s stupid kitchen started.”
Dan slid off the tailgate, as graceful as a blob of lead. He was having a hard time finding motivation lately. He figured it was just the long winter, or too much of Stacy’s good cooking over the holidays. Stress, maybe. Or lack of sex.
Oh, how he missed sex.
He had to be getting close to the end of Stacy’s post-baby hiatus, but every frustrated night seemed to stretch longer than the last. The more he thought about it, the more he wished he’d stolen two pieces of Brent’s banana bread. He needed another hit of Vivian’s sweet, scrumptious, homemade lovin’ to bury his pain.
* * *
Jimmy slowly awoke to the robust aroma of fresh brewed coffee and pan-fried bacon, but it was the subtle undertone of ocean air that sat him upright. His head protested the sudden movement with throbs of pressure in time with the erratic beats of his heart.
“Fuck,” he cursed his head. His heart. The previous thirty-six hours.
Somehow, he’d put his own drunk ass on an airplane.
The stewardess had been blonde. Enamored by him. Or indifferent.
Either way, she’d kept his glass full.
He didn’t remember landing. Leaving the airport. Traveling across town.
He did remember knocking on her door, falling into her arms. Crying.
His eyes still hurt, he’d cried so much.
He pushed himself out of bed, stood on unsteady legs, fully dressed. Except his boots.
He’d lost those somewhere.
He found her on the lanai, her legs curled under her, reading. A gentle breeze tussled her hair. She tucked a stray lock behind her ear, felt his presence. She lifted her eyes to his.
And he shattered again.