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Tempt Me Tonight
Halfway between Cincinnati and Indianapolis, south of I-74, set God's country. Trish supposed many thousands of rural or dramatic landscapes had been referred to using those same words, but she hadn't known that when, at the age of seven, she'd sat perched on her Grandpa Henderson's knee and he'd told her she was looking out at God's country in all its splendor. All she'd seen was a wide cornfield, a line of trees, and the horizon, feeling—even then—the vague urge to somehow look beyond it all, to whatever was on the other side of the picture. And she never came home to Eden, Indiana without remembering the love of the place she'd seen in her grandfather's eyes on a day when she'd really been much more focused on the fact that she'd scuffed her new black patent leathers coming out of church. A girl had to be concerned about her shoes, after all.
She wondered now if Grandpa Henderson, God rest his soul, would see the irony or humor in the fact that she was driving toward a bar on the outskirts of God's country—the Last Chance Tavern. Last chance for a beer before entering God's country, she supposed. Or before leaving it.
"Here—turn here," Debbie said next to her.
Trish's stomach churned lightly as she angled her Lexus into the wide gravel parking lot dotted with cars and a few pickups. She really didn't want to be here. "And we're coming here, again, why?"
Debbie shoved a lock of thin brown hair from her face. "Kenny wants to see you, and it's pool night."
Trish nodded dryly, resisting the urge to point out that Kenny had the entire next week to seeher. "Well, we wouldn't want Kenny to miss pool night."
Debbie blinked, looking miffed. "Kenny works hard and looks forward to Friday nights when Mom keeps the kids."
"Sorry." Trish sighed, feeling at once guilty and justified. She didn't want to be here because she simply didn't fit here anymore. She knew it to the marrow of her bones—but despite the fact that she regularly dealt with hardened criminals from all walks of life without flinching, she felt an absurd dread faced with strolling into the Last Chance. She scrunched up her nose. "I guess I just would have enjoyed . . . dinner or something—more than this."
"You can come over and watch the boys hurl mashed potatoes at each other one night next week if you want. But Friday night is pool night."
Trish parked beneath a security light mounted on a large pole, choosing a spot a few car widths from a large pickup sporting mudflaps embellished with chrome silhouettes of naked women. She tried not to let Debbie see her grimace, but those mudflaps always gave her the creeps. It was as if they said women were just nameless, faceless sex objects. Bleck. Then she flinched slightly. Please don't let that be Kenny's truck.
As she got out, pushing the button on her keychain to lock the doors, Debbie made a face over the roof of the car. "This is home, Trish—not Indianapolis."
Trish raised her eyebrows. "No one steals things from cars here?"
Looking as smug as Trish felt, Debbie shook her head. "No—they don't."
Which was when it hit Trish—they probably didn't. Even now. Not in Eden. There might be bars and chrome women on mudflaps, but she supposed that, in a sense, it really was still God's country. "Oh. Guess I forgot that for a minute." But she still left the car locked.
Over the years, home had become an entirely relative term in her life—this was where her parents lived, and where Debbie lived, but it wasn't her home anymore. She'd been back countless times over the years—every Thanksgiving and Christmas, sometimes for a Sunday dinner with relatives—yet this was different. This was the first time she'd actually come to stay for awhile. A week or so. This was the first time she hadn't just whizzed in and out of town for a day, or maybe an overnight stay that included a quick visit with Debbie and Kenny. This was the first time she'd be here long enough that she'd have to see people. People she hadn't seen in forever. People she'd never expected to see again. Double bleck.
"Rowdy Lancaster owns this place now," Debbie pointed out as they trod through the gravel toward the front door of the flat, one-story building painted a dull shade of brown. Through cloudy windows glowed mini-Christmas lights strung around neon beer signs, and a muted Garth Brooks song echoed through the walls.
She remembered Rowdy as a good-natured boy with red hair who'd raised 4-H award-winning calves in high school. So maybe saying hello to him wouldn't be awful. "I always liked Rowdy," she offered, trying to cheer herself up. Then, three steps from a heavy-looking steel door sporting the stenciled words Last Chance, she posed the question she'd been trying to be too mature to ask. "Who else will be here?"
Debbie began rambling off a list of names that conjured vague images from high school, explaining that a couple of them worked at the plant with Kenny, and concluding with, "That's pretty much our Friday night crowd."
And Trish's stomach hollowed. At the strange realization that . . . life had gone on here. All the same people were still here—only grown up now, living their lives. Debbie and Kenny had a "Friday night crowd" made up of people Trish barely knew, only remembered dimly from her past. How had that happened? How had she ended up knowing so little about her best friend's life?
It wasn't as if she'd thought life in Eden had come to a grinding halt at her departure, but she supposed she'd been so caught up in her own existence all this time that she'd somehow forgotten everything else. And walking into the Last Chance was going to give her a taste of something she hadn't thought about in a very long while—the life she'd once planned to lead here. Bleck to the tenth power.Tempt Me Tonight. Copyright © by Toni Blake. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.