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Mad Enough To Marry
By Christie Ridgway
Staring straight at it, Logan Chase strolled along Strawberry Bay's crowded main street, barricaded for the annual May Fair. He sighed. Over the past several months, the small California town had suffered through a series of earthquakes followed by a string of armed robberies. Why should it be any surprise that scandal was next?
Strawberry Bay, California, was, in general, a prosperous town and its citizens were always eager to support the multitude of organizations represented at the traditional community event. They lined up at the various booths, cash ready to buy the hot dogs the elementary school PTA was selling, the cinnamon rolls handmade by the Methodist Church's women's group, and the cold cans of soda the kids from the high school's Key Club were hawking.
By all appearances, this year's May Fair was going to break previous fundraising records for the causes on hand, with the sole exception of the cause whose booth was situated at the far end of the street. But Logan knew it was making its own place in infamy. His gaze lingered on the booth, deserted except for the woman sitting alone inside it, even as he told himself it wasn't any of his business that she was probably already the talk of the town.
An elbow nudged his ribs. "Hey! Long time no see."
Forcing his gaze away from the mud-in-the-making, Logan looked into the freckled face of the woman who cut his hair. "How you doing, SueEllen?"
She wasn't any older than he was, as a matter of fact they'd sat beside each other in senior French at Strawberry Bay High School eleven years ago, but the frown she gave him was motherly. "I'm fine, but you really could use a trim."
Logan ignored the suggestion. He didn't feel like explaining why he was no longer slave to a standing monthly haircut. "How are Chris and the kids?" he asked instead.
"The twins are looking forward to summer already," Sue Ellen replied. "And my stepdaughter - you know, Chris's Amber? - she's all excited about the high school's senior prom." Sue Ellen's gaze slid down the street and she nodded at that last booth, still devoid of customers. "If there's going to be a senior prom."
Logan shifted uncomfortably, but didn't let himself follow Sue Ellen's gaze. "Of course there's going to be a senior prom. No matter what."
The hairdresser lifted a doubtful eyebrow, still looking at the booth that customarily raised all the necessary funds to lavishly decorate the high-school auditorium for the senior class's prom. Then she looked back at Logan, her expression speculative. "Maybe you could buy the first -"
"No way," he said hastily.
"C'mon." Her voice was coaxing. "We need to get some customers down there or everyone will be -"
"Talking about the fact that the money jar is empty, I know," Logan finished for her. "But why are you looking at me? Chris's daughter's the one who's hoping for a prom this year. Tell him to go over there and get the ball rolling."
Sue Ellen glanced around as if wary of being overheard, then leaned forward and whispered, "He's afraid of her."
Though unsurprised, Logan rolled his eyes. Three fourths of the male population of Strawberry Bay was afraid of the woman volunteering in the senior prom booth, while the other quarter was afraid of what their wives or girlfriends would say if they approached her. "She's not that bad," he lied.
"It's a kissing booth, Logan!" Sue Ellen exclaimed. "I know she has a younger sister who's a high-school senior, but someone should have realized that that woman in that particular kind of booth might prove the end of a long-standing custom."
Logan winced. Strawberry Bay, like any small town, was long on tradition and long on talk. Gossip would go on for decades that Elena O'Brien's year in the senior prom kissing booth was the first year in twenty that the enterprise flopped.
Still, he was not going over there. Knowing Elena, she was more than likely thrilled by her solitude.
Before he could change his mind, he bid goodbye to Sue Ellen and ducked between the massive angled panels set up for the art show. He didn't want to think about Elena and her predicament any longer. Out of sight, out of mind, he told himself.
Yet even from here he could feel her disturbing presence. A few months before, thanks to his brother's romance with Elena's best friend, Elena had vaulted back into his life. Though he hadn't seen her since his last days in high school, she'd instantly gone about disturbing his peace of mind, just as before.
Worse now, because the grown-up Elena was a puzzle, one minute an icy fortress, the next a hornet, buzzing loudly and ready to sting. The last time they'd been face-to-face was a couple of weekends ago, when she was maid of honor and he was best man at Griffin and Annie's wedding. He'd done his best to ignore her and the sexual vibration she started humming inside him too, because in recent weeks simplicity had become Logan's new watchword.
And nothing about Elena had ever been simple.
Pushing her out of his thoughts once more, Logan hurried around the corner of the first aisle, barrelling into Si Thomas, one of the men who used to work for him at Chase Electronics. They bounced apart and Logan saw that the other man's glasses were dangling over one ear, the wire stem bent.
"Lord, I'm sorry, Si. What can I do?"
The other man pulled his glasses off to inspect the damage. "No big deal. I'll just -" He stopped, then squinted up at Logan. "As a matter of fact, there is something you can do."
Si smiled. "My wife is on the high school's senior prom committee. She just begged me to find someone willing to ..."
Logan didn't listen to the rest of the request. Hands over his ears, he desperately backed away, then dashed down the next aisle to lose himself amongst the other browsers. When Si didn't follow - thank God - Logan slowed his steps and glanced idly at the displayed artwork.
Excerpted from Mad Enough To Marry by Christie Ridgway
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.