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"So, what do you think?" Patricia DiNorio folded her arms on the split-rail fence and turned her hopeful expression to Willow.
Willow Hawkins opened and closed her mouth a few times, not certain she had understood the woman correctly. "Jerry is going to live here?" She gestured to the three-story Victorian home in front of her. Would a son want to live right next door to his mother? Not any man she knew.
"You and Jerry," Patricia clarified. "Won't it be wonderful? We've already spoken to the bank and gotten preapproved for the loan. Wait until you see inside! There are a few things that need fixing, of course, in a house this old, but I'm sure Jerry can do a lot of the work himself." She must have seen the doubt in Willow's expression, because she added, "This is every girl's dream home."
Not hers. Not a Victorian monster with gingerbread trim. No, she liked sleek and modern, and if she was going to buy a house, she was going to pick it out herself, damn it.
"Just close your eyes," Mrs. DiNorio urged.
Willow did what she was told out of instinct more than any desire to humor the woman's delusions.
"Now, imagine yourself ten years down the road, your husband and children playing in the yard. Can't you see it?"
Ten years down the road. She did want a husband, and children, but the nameless, faceless man she imagined giving piggyback rides to a little blond boy or pushing a little blonde girl wasn't slender, pale Jerry. No, he was tall, and dark-haired, strong but gentle. Familiar somehow.
Willow felt herself shaking her head, and opened her eyes. She couldn't be certain if the woman was seriousafter all, she'd only met her a few hours ago, when Willow and Jerry had arrived early for Thanksgiving. This could all be a big joke, right? Mrs. DiNorio had never even spoken to Willow until today. How could she presume to know her taste?
And for heaven's sake, though they worked together, Willow had only been on a few dates with Jerry, including one to her friend Judith's wedding. She admitted to being charmed by him, and maybe a little swept away by wedding fever after seeing how happy Judith was. But no way was she ready to buy a house with Jerry. She shouldn't even have come home with him for Thanksgiving, she realized now. Her best friend, Cam, had warned her visiting Jerry's family could be misconstrued. But she'd had no other options, with her mother in Vermont with her new boyfriend, and Cam's family off to Minnesota to celebrate with his very pregnant sister. Cam had stayed behind, but hadn't told her why. Nor had he suggested they do Thanksgiving on their own. At loose ends, she'd accepted Jerry's invitation and now his mother wanted to buy her a house. Was Jerry that hard up for dates?
She took a step back from Mrs. DiNorio's too-cheerful face, toward the DiNorio home. Jerry would talk some sense into his mother, no doubt. "You know, I think Jerry mentioned meeting up with some of his friends before dinner," she said. "I should get ready."
"Don't you want to see the inside of the house? I have the key." Mrs. DiNorio dangled it in front of her.