Rosie slapped a hand over her mouth.
After pouring a round of shots, Bethany picked up a pen and scratched some notes on a nearby legal pad. “We’re going to have to meet twice this week. No way we can cover cock talk and get important things done—”
“Bethany?” Georgie said.
“Lose the agenda.”
Her older sister primly set aside the work pad. “Might I suggest, Rosie, that instead of hiding newspapers under the mattress, tomorrow you leave a dead rat in their place?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of my vibrator. It’s capable of more affection than Dominic lately.” Rosie split a look between them. “Tequila makes me overshare.”
“We’re here to overshare. It’s encouraged,” Georgie murmured, sympathy for Rosie’s obvious relationship troubles swimming in her stomach. “Did you find a commercial space for the restaurant yet?”
“There’s one,” Rosie whispered. “There’s one I like. But I’m not ready to . . .” She shook her head. “I’m not ready yet. I’m good with my newspapers for now.”
The front door of Bethany’s house blew open, Kristin breezing in with a basket full of muffins. “Hello, ladies,” she twanged in her Georgia accent. “I heard y’all were having a meeting tonight and I came by to join the club.”
Bethany narrowed her eyes at their sister-in-law, who was making herself busy at the kitchen bar, putting muffins on plates. “How did you know about the club?”
“Stephen found out from your mama.”
“Shit,” Bethany muttered. “Why do we tell that woman anything? She’s like a colander and yet we continue to pour in information.”
“So this is about thumbing our nose at men, right?” Kristin trilled excitedly, sliding onto a stool at the island in one graceful motion while balancing three plates of muffins. “If so, count me in. I’m leaving your brother. He’s really done it this time.”
Georgie bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing. “What did Stephen do?”
Kristin huffed. “I made him lunch to bring to work this morning. Pecan chicken, fresh-baked rolls, and a cucumber salad. Do you know he left it in the fridge?” She set down the plates with a clatter, balled up her fists, and perched them on her knees. “I would have forgiven him, only he came home from work tonight and didn’t say anything about it. Nothing about how he suffered without my chicken or how terrible his fast-food replacement lunch was. Not a darn thing. So I waited until he got in the shower and I left. I won’t be underappreciated.”
“Kristin,” Rosie started. “Maybe he just had that tired work brain. He probably would have opened the fridge sooner or later and remembered he forgot to take your chicken.”
“Also,” Bethany chimed in with mock sincerity, “we’re literally talking about chicken here, so—”
“Pecan chicken,” Georgie cut in smoothly, patting Kristin’s arm and trying not to show how ridiculous she found the complaint. “One of his favorites, right, Kristin?”
“I don’t know.” She looked up at the ceiling. “I just don’t know anymore.”
Across the circle, Bethany mouthed a silent countdown. Three, two . . .
Outside the house, a vehicle screeched to a halt, followed by a door slamming and angry boot steps storming up the walkway. The door to Bethany’s house opened without preamble and in stormed their brother in flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt, his hair still wet from the shower. “Get in the truck, Kristin.”
His wife stood her ground—or sat it, rather—refusing to turn and look at him. “You’ve done it this time,” she called dramatically. “Enjoy your life of deep-fried potatoes and fake meat.”
Stephen pointed at Bethany. “This is your fault. Putting ideas into her head.”
“You’re the one that forgot her pecan chicken!” Bethany burst out. “That shit is important.”
“Oh, now she thinks so,” Georgie drawled, reaching for the tequila.
“You’re one to talk, Georgie. This”—he waved an angry hand around—“girls’ club has taken away your common sense.”
Georgie ignored the twinge of pain in her chest, keeping her features schooled as she filled the glasses. “I’m guessing you saw the pictures.”
“Don’t remind me. I saw them coming and I still want to blind myself.”
Hope replaced the discomfort in her chest, floating up like a dozen balloons. “You saw them coming? How?”
“Travis told me you were seeing each other a couple of days ago.” He continued on as if he hadn’t made his sister capable of floating up to the moon. “It was only a matter of time before everyone took an interest. You’re not exactly a likely pair. For good reason.”
Bethany muscled up to her side, shooting a glare in Stephen’s direction. “Don’t take that line of thought any further. She’s heard enough for tonight.”
A flicker of nerves—maybe even sympathy—passed across her brother’s face. “He’s going to chew you up and spit you out, Georgie.”
“That’s my problem, Stephen. Not yours,” Georgie returned, her voice vibrating. And damn, it felt good to not only stand up to her brother, but to have him reevaluate her with a look. That’s right. I’m not just your dopey little sister.
“Fine,” Stephen finally grumbled. “I’ve got my own problems to deal with right now.”
Kristin shot to her feet. “Oh, I’m a problem now?”
“No. No, honey, I . . .” Stephen shoved a hand through his wet hair. “Can we talk about this at home?”
His wife crossed her arms and waited.
Their brother shifted in his boots. “I missed your chicken like hell, Kristin. I was going to tell you all about how leaving it behind ruined my day, but then I got to looking at the calendar. You know, the one that says when you’re . . .” He cleared his throat loudly. “It says when you’re, you know, ovulating. So I was trying to get the day cleaned off as fast as I could, so we could . . . uh. I wanted to—”
“I think we’re good here,” Georgie said, raising her hand. “I’m pretty clear on what happened and don’t need any more details. Who’s with me?”
Everyone’s hand went up besides Kristin’s and Stephen’s.
“You may take me home now, Stephen Castle,” Kristin said, lifting her chin. “Girls, you can keep the muffins.”
She’d barely finished her sentence before Stephen scooped up his wife and left the way he’d come, kicking the door shut and leaving the room awash in silence. Georgie’s pulse was still pounding a thousand miles an hour in her ears, though. Travis hadn’t told Stephen anything about their plan. Her brother couldn’t lie for shit, so that much was obvious. He’d kept their secret. He’d respected her feelings without her having to ask. It made Georgie all the more determined to rock her end of the bargain. To validate Travis’s hopes the way he was doing for her. To be on his team. In order to do that, she needed to know more about him. The things she’d missed through the lens of youth.
“You guys were in Travis’s grade, so you remember what happened with his parents. I was younger, so the details are a little blurry.” She laughed without humor as something occurred to her. “Actually, it might be the one thing we haven’t spoken about.”
Bethany winced. “It was a pretty nasty divorce. I remember overhearing Mom and Dad talking about it.”
“There was a custody battle. Neither parent was happy with the decision, so they kind of used him to piss each other off.” Bethany frowned. “Ugh, this is making me feel bad for being mean to him. Subject change soon, okay?”
“I was so wrapped up in Dominic back then, everything else is a blur,” Rosie said. “But I do remember him always needing a ride to school. He’d show up on foot some days, on the bus others. Sometimes your mother brought him. Rarely his own parents.”
“He got passed around a lot,” Bethany added. “There was no real . . . stability.”
“Passed around,” Georgie echoed quietly, her pulse slowing along with time, thudding in a morose pattern. “That’s awful.”
You’ve always been my wife’s hall pass. Those remembered words from the night before brought back a whole host of memories. Travis pictured with another woman every day of the week in the newspapers, during those early days of his career. Until he simply wasn’t anymore. Around the same time, he’d started getting passed between teams faster than he could probably decorate his locker.
I’m no one’s entertainment anymore.
Had Travis ever had a stable relationship in his life? Did he know what one looked like?
Had anyone ever made him feel worthy of a lasting one?
She’d always held to the truth that Travis was her soul mate. That was before she knew him, though. Those beliefs were founded on a childhood crush. What she’d begun feeling for Travis since he returned home? That wasn’t in the same league. That had depth and . . . fears attached.