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After That Night
By Ann Evans
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJenna Rawlins really disliked Atlanta's Regent Street Grill. The restaurant, situated in the upscale suburb of Buckhead, was too sleek, too cold and too uncomfortable. The waiters thought they were doing you a favor by taking your order. And the prices!
Jenna swallowed as her eyes drifted down a dessert menu as thick as a Russian novel. Where did they get the nerve to charge so much?
Of course, she had to admit that Vic was right about one thing. This place was the latest trendy eatery in the city for that important business lunch. Already two of the magazine's advertising clients had stopped by their table to say hello and buss everyone on the cheek. But honestly, with the small portions they served, what good did it do you to make contacts in the restaurant if you were too weak from hunger to remember their names?
She must have been scowling, because Victoria Estabrook, seated beside her, snatched the menu out of her hand and closed it with a snap.
"Stop that!" Vic commanded. "I don't want to hear about how the company can't afford this right now. This is a celebration, and we're all having dessert."
They were celebrating the anniversary of Fairy Tale Weddings, the specialty magazine she, Victoria and their friend Lauren Hoffman had founded three years ago. As a CPA and the person who kept the books for the magazine, Jenna knew perfectly well whether the company budget could stand the cost of an expensive lunch for its three partners. It could. Just not too many of them. Vic, however, had been in a contrary mood all through lunch, so it was probably pointless to argue.
"I didn't say a word," Jenna said.
"You didn't have to. We can see it on your face. It's always given you away." Victoria looked at Lauren, seated across the table. "Am I right?"
Lauren offered an agreeable shrug and sent Jenna an apologetic glance. "She's got you there, kiddo. How do you think we could always tell when things weren't going well with Jack?"
Jenna didn't want to talk about her ex-husband. More than five minutes, and she'd have a headache for certain. "Be nice, you two," she warned. "I'm still trying to get over last night's argument with Dad."
Victoria tossed down her soiled napkin. "I'll tell you how to get over it. Tell him that if he wants to continue to have you and his grandsons in his life, there are some opinions he needs to keep to himself. And anything involving Jackass Rawlins, no matter how true, is one of them."
Lauren and Jenna exchanged knowing smiles. This was the kind of advice they could expect from Vic, who'd been born assertive and who resented anyone trying to tell her how to live. But Jenna wasn't like that. She might be a fully grown woman of twenty-eight, but she couldn't imagine talking to her father that way in a million years. He'd probably have a coronary right on the spot.
Still, it would have been nice to find a better way to handle the "men" in her life. Taking care of two rambunctious young sons, living back home with Dad since her divorce, having two protective older brothers offering more advice than Dear Abby ...
The truth was, it could make you nuts. She knew they only wanted the best for her. She knew they all loved her. But ... Was she the world's worse mother/sister/daughter to sometimes wish she could just pack her bags, hop in the car and never look back? Probably.
Instead of commenting, she watched as Victoria motioned for their waiter, Dexter, who'd taken their lunch orders once a week for the past six months. He waltzed around several tables to get back to them.
"Tell us what's good today, Dexter," Victoria demanded.
"The mousse is very refreshing," he suggested brightly. "And easy on the diet if you're watching your calories this week."
"Six dollars for pudding," Jenna couldn't resist muttering. "Ridiculous."
Victoria shot her an evil look before smiling back up at Dexter. "We'll all have the Chocolate Sin cake," she told him. And probably because she felt pricked a little by that "watching your calories" remark, she added, "Make sure they put extra whipped cream on top of mine, darling."
"Of course," he said smoothly. He knew who to count on for a big tip.
Once Dexter left, Lauren leaned across the table. "What's bothering you, Vic?"
"What makes you think anything's bothering me?"
"Because besides dessert, you had a fried appetizer, a buttered roll, a salad without the dressing on the side and a dinner-size portion of the lamb. You only overeat when you're worried or angry about something. So what is it?"
Victoria tossed back the last of her chardonnay, then poured herself another glass from the bottle they'd ordered. "It's Cara," she said morosely. "She wants to quit school and traipse off to Europe with that moron she's dating. She's not listening to me at all. I swear, if I could convince her to come home, I'd lock her in the attic and toss the key off the top of Stone Mountain."
Jenna laughed. "And I thought I was the only one being tortured by overprotective older siblings. Poor Cara."
"You know I'm not like that. But after Mom and Dad died, I worked hard to get her future settled. I won't let her toss away law school just because this guy gives her multiple orgasms."
Lauren's brows arched. "Multiple? Wow. Sounds like someone I'd like to meet."
"Well, he's not. He's crude and ill-mannered and unemployed. Last week he almost talked her into having a nipple pierced."
"Ouch!" Lauren said with a grimace.
"I'm not a prude, but honestly, he's ..." Victoria made a low, annoyed sound and raked her fingers through her long hair. "Forget him. I refuse to let him spoil our celebration. Now where were we?"
Again Jenna exchanged a glance with Lauren. She was concerned for Vic, but they both knew her well. Vic wouldn't elaborate further if she didn't want to. There would be another time, another place to tackle the problem of free-spirited baby sister Cara who just wouldn't listen to reason.
Lauren said calmly, "You were telling us about the one who bit the dust."
Victoria turned her attention back to the file folder she'd set on the table in front of her. She opened it, and Jenna saw that it contained the guts of an article the magazine had run the year before - a fluff piece listing the Ten Most Eligible Bachelors in the South. Lauren had taken the pictures. Victoria had written and edited the text.
Jenna vaguely remembered that it had been well received. No reader really expected it to help them catch one of these paragons of manhood. But there wasn't an unmarried woman in the world who wasn't at least curious to know what kind of high-end matrimonial material was out there.
That was the heart of Fairy Tale Weddings' appeal - dreams and fantasies. Besides the latest trends in catering and wedding attire, it specialized in the fantastic. Honeymoon locations that no one else had found and spoiled yet. Weddings that could be performed in mountaintop yurts or underwater on a sunken ship. And though the publication was a pretty small fish in the publishing pond, FTW, as they referred to it, had seemed to find its niche at last.
"So which one is getting married?" Jenna asked, leaning over to get a better look.
Truthfully, she wasn't all that curious. She might be an equal partner in the magazine, but most of the time she was strictly back office: paying the bills, budgeting and because she was so savvy with a computer, helping with the layout of each bimonthly issue. Occasionally she helped out in other areas, but the content of FTW was generally left up to Vic.
Excerpted from After That Night by Ann Evans Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.