***Lizzie, The Diner***
Lizzie stared at her phone. ‘I’m fine’ was no answer. She had called Abby Jean half a dozen times and messaged her even more. And two words was the only response she had gotten. Then Sybil May stopped by for a to-go order, and all the woman could talk about was Jack and her friend kissing by the road. In broad daylight.
She knew that Jack had not come back to the casino by the time she left. Mercy wore that shit-faced smile all night over the way Jack had acted. But she knew. Knew how deeply Abby Jean cared for the man. This wasn’t just some childhood crush or fantasy the way Mercy thought. Lizzie knew her friend felt some deep connection to the man.
Deep connection? Yeah, it was way easier for her to focus on Abby Jean’s troubles than her own. She had sworn all night that she was going to let it drop. She had done everything she reasonably could for that ‘reconciliation’ that Bradley Williams spoke of. Hell, the Baptist preacher’s hellfire and brimstone were more accessible than that.
But waking up at four-thirty, after tossing and turning, thinking about those eyes, his touch. Lizzie was tired. And worried about Abby Jean. That was all it was. Indeed not some mystical connection to a man whose career she had destroyed. No, it was easier to focus on Abby’s troubles.
Troubles? If what Sybil May said was true, then she might well be the last remaining vestal virgin of Sebida county. What a title. Her days as that crazzy cat lady had begun this morning with that litter of four tiny kittens. She had given Mama an extra-large portion of dry food and even a bit of leftover chicken that she had been planning to make into a sandwich for her lunch. And in exchange, the stray cat had let her near her babies. Three girls and a boy.
The bell over the door rang, “Take a seat. I’ll be with you in a mom…” The words froze on her lips as Lizzie turned to face the older woman that had barged into Adam Holloway’s yesterday while they talked. Lizzie breathed deeply, plastered that smile firmly in place, and began again. “Have a seat. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
The woman looked around the almost empty diner. She could tell this was not the type of place the woman was accustomed to eating at. But she was doing her best to be polite and not show that. Lizzie supposed she was not the only one to master ‘that’ smile. The woman’s heels tap-tapped on the old tile floor as she seated herself at the booth in the corner.
Lizzie sneaked into the kitchen, supposedly to get the coffee pot, but she needed a moment. Just a minute to get herself together. She had no idea who the woman was. Or what she wanted. But something about the proprietary way she had just sailed into the man’s office did not sit well with Lizzie. A lover? The woman was a bit older, probably a decade or more. But wasn’t that the rage now?
Who knows, maybe at some point, once Garth got his life together, she could go through a boy-toy phase, too? Before she was too old for such things. At least, it would be nice to think she would not die the last vestal virgin of Sebida. Hell, even the real ones were allowed to retire and marry if they wanted.
She grabbed the pot, smiled at Connor, her cook, and headed back to the dining area. Maybe it was just a coincidence? Perhaps the woman was merely passing through town and just had to experience a small-town diner once in her life? When pigs flew…
The woman smiled as she poured the hot liquid into the plain white cup, “Sorry, it’s not worth it in Sebida to invest in one of those fancy coffee makers. Most people around here just want it strong, hot, and black.” Lizzie blushed; she was making a fool of herself. Perhaps the woman did not even recognize her? After all, she had fled quickly once this woman showed up.
“It’s fine. I didn’t come here for the coffee or even your delicious food.” The woman was laying it on a bit thick with the compliment and even faker smile. She must want something. But if she were worried about finding her in her lover’s office, Lizzie was happy to reassure her. There was nothing between her and Adam Holloway. Absolutely nothing. If she kept saying that, then maybe those dreams would go away.
“I actually came to speak with you, dear.” So, she had been right.
Lizzie opened her mouth to tell the woman the truth, “Look, I don’t know what you think you saw yesterday, but I promise you it wasn’t what you think…”
“I’m sorry to hear that. My stepson could use someone like you in his life. In fact, that’s why I’m here. Would you have a seat? Just a few minutes of your time. Don’t you owe Adam that at least?”
Her step-son? This woman was not the man’s lover but his stepmother? And just how much had he told her about her visit yesterday? But wasn’t she right? Didn’t she owe it to Adam Holloway to hear whatever it was she had to say? Not that the woman was making much sense, ‘use someone like her in his life?’
But Lizzie slid into the seat across from the woman. The woman held out her perfectly manicured hand across the table, “I’m Renata Esparza-Cruz. I married Adam’s father after his mother died.”
“Yes, dear, I know exactly who you are. And why you came to see Adam yesterday? I know we should engage in all sorts of necessities, but frankly, now that my work for the governor is over here, I want to get back to Austin,” the woman’s nose actually tilted up.
Even though Lizzie knew the only thing she smelled was pancakes and bacon. Maybe she was one of those vegans? They didn’t get many of those in Sebida. “Then why did you come? Your stepson made it clear that…” What did she say? How could she put it? “Adam does not blame me for what happened.”
“Neither do I, dear. But I do find your desire to make things right commendable. Did you mean it?”
“Of course, I tried to get the editor to write another story retracting my editorial…” Lizzie turned the cup over on the saucer in front of her and poured herself coffee. More as a distraction than because she wanted or needed another caffeine hit.
“But let me guess, he said that was old news?”
Lizzie nodded as she brought the cup to her lips, and the woman continued, “It doesn’t have to be, though. Would you like to help my stepson get his old job back?”
Lizzie frowned, “But the governor appointed another District Attorney…”
The woman nodded her equally perfectly coiffured head, “Yes, but let’s just say, the ongoing Kerr investigation is casting some doubts onto that man’s suitability.”
Lizzie was not surprised. The diner’s bottom line was considerably improved this month, without the ‘good’ sheriff’s gratuity, as Kerr had called it. She wasn’t sure what decision she would have made, but since Chris had already ‘budgeted’ those bribes into running costs, it had been simpler for her to continue than to risk their livelihood. Did this woman know that?
So far, at least, the ‘victims’ of Kerr’s schemes had not been held accountable or even questioned. But there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t be. Of course, she knew just about every other business in this county paid the additional ‘service charge’ too. So, if things came out, she would not be alone in the hot seat.
“I still don’t see what I can do. I’ll try to resubmit the editorial if things change…”
“Yes, but would you be willing to do more to help Adam?”
“I don’t know what more I could possibly do.” Lizzie took another sip of the hot liquid.
“Marry my stepson.” And Lizzie spewed it across the table on the woman’s unwrinkled cream-colored, designer suit.