“I’m looking forward to it,” Bethany murmured, hopping up on one of the stools surrounding the marble island. “How was your day?”
Rosie rolled a shoulder and went to preheat the oven, setting it at 395—an important component of her mother’s crescent rolls. Don’t pressure the dough to grow up too fast, Rosie. “It was good. I even managed to sell a bottle of Le Squirt Bon Bon. As a joke, obviously, but it still counts in the eyes of the commission gods. What about yours?”
“Fine.” Brow furrowed, Bethany plucked at the arm of her blouse. “Making things pretty as usual. You know the drill.”
“Still wanting to ditch your swatch samples and swing that sledgehammer?”
“Like a motherfucker.” Bethany gave her a tight smile. “I’d rather talk about you, though. How are you doing?”
Again, she thought of Dominic and how panicked he’d looked when she started to pack. “I don’t feel great. I probably won’t for a long time, but . . . leaving was the right thing to do, Bethany. We’re married and we don’t even speak to each other.”
Bethany shook her head slowly. “You used to, though, right? In high school, the two of you always had your heads together, whispering about something.”
“We used to talk constantly, yeah. Where we would travel when we made some money. We’d talk about our dream home on the water. All the parties we would host in our big backyard.” Swallowing hard, Rosie took a bowl out of the cabinet and cracked an egg inside, beating it with a dollop of milk, preparing to make the egg wash to brush over the medialunas. “When he came back from overseas, I don’t think I noticed right away how quiet he’d become. I had my mother. We were always in the kitchen together and . . . he’d been gone so long, his silence didn’t register—I was just so happy to have him home safe. And then she was gone and it was so quiet. All the time.”
“I’m so sorry.” Bethany slipped off her stool and went to the wine fridge beneath the counter, selecting a bottle of white and twisting off the cap. “God, it’s been almost four years since your parents passed, Ro. That’s a long time to be drowning in silence.”
“Well, I’m definitely not drowning now,” Rosie said in a rush, hoping to ease the pressure in her chest. And that was the truth. Ever since she, Bethany, and Georgie had formed the Just Us League, not only was she surrounded with supportive women and a shitload of town gossip, but her dreams of opening a restaurant had been rekindled. Transformed from the pipe dream she’d set aside to reality. They’d signed her up for one of those crowdsourcing websites and people had donated. Invested in her dream. Or at least given her a push to get started.
Rosie wasn’t sure how her mother would feel about benefiting from the kindness of strangers. Or if she would even see it that way, as opposed to charity. Growing up biracial in the predominantly white town of Port Jefferson, Rosie never had any friends who looked like her. Her father, Maurice, was African American, and her mother, Cecilia, was from Argentina, so they didn’t resemble her friends’ parents, either. Even unspoken, there always seemed to be a dividing line between them and everyone else. People were friendly, but not so friendly that they might accidentally invite real friendship. She’d witnessed the disappointment that treatment bred in her parents, whether or not they ever said it out loud.
Rosie had been aware of the Castles and many of the Just Us League members for a long time, but only enough to say hello on Main Street or if they happened to pass through her section at the mall. That dividing line between her and everyone else had remained for a while after her parents had passed, and it had taken some courage to step over it. Accepting the kindness of her friends only sat right with her now because she knew—and had experienced—how the Castles and the women of the club went out of their way for everyone. Rosie herself went out of her way, right alongside them, and it dulled any possibilities of taking a handout. She would do the same for them. Especially if someone needed a place to stay.
“Thanks again for letting me crash here until I figure out my next move.”
“Stay as long as you want,” Bethany said, pouring two glasses of wine and handing one to Rosie. “I’m having my lawyer draw up a nondisclosure agreement about my snoring, however. You don’t mind signing, do you?”
Rosie laughed. “I can keep your secret if you don’t tell anyone I groan about my tired feet like a ninety-year-old.”
“Deal.” Bethany’s smiling mouth met the rim of her wineglass for a sip. “Speaking of next moves, where are we at on opening your restaurant? Which I’m going to eat at five nights a week. Maybe six. Any more thoughts on that?”
Any more thoughts about it? She’d thought about opening her own place nonstop for almost a decade. Along with their plans to own a big, beautiful house and eventually have children, she and Dominic had talked about her dream of cooking for the public. Something her mother had always wanted to do—a desire she’d never had the chance to fulfill, thanks to money being tight while Rosie was growing up.
God, she and Dominic had entertained big dreams.
A forever home to grow old in, a family, lucrative careers.
Her biggest dream had always been Dominic, though. Sure, they’d settled on a smaller house that needed a lot of repairs and didn’t have enough room to expand their family. Sure, the money for her restaurant was taking a lot longer to save. So long that they’d stopped talking about it altogether, the way they’d stopped discussing everything else under the sun. But if she’d had their love, she couldn’t help but think it would have been enough.
Something sharp moved in Rosie’s chest and she took a sip of wine. “I’m almost there.” She took a deep breath. “Just waiting for the dust to settle and then . . . leap.”
Bethany laid a hand on her shoulder. “You’re not leaping alone.” She pressed her lips together, like she was holding in a secret. “You know . . . Georgie called me today. She’s had not one, not two, but three of her birthday party clients ask if you’re open to catering their parties. Word is getting around, woman.” She drank deeply of her wine and sighed. “I’m basically housing a future celebrity chef.”
Rosie let out a long breath and allowed herself to feel the stirring of satisfaction. If she combined the Just Us League donations and the money her parents had left her, her dream of owning a restaurant was beginning to come into focus. Unfortunately, that dream was still difficult to fathom without her husband in the frame.
Give it time.
Not too much time, though. She’d waited long enough.
She clinked her glass with Bethany’s and steeled her spine. “I’m going to start working on menu ideas.”
Dominic watched through the driver’s-side window of his truck as women piled into Bethany Castle’s house. They came in all ages, carrying bottles of prosecco and wine. One of them even had a bottle of tequila tucked under her arm. Just what the hell went on at these Just Us League meetings? Ever since Rosie and the Castle sisters had formed this unholy union, the men in town had been wary as hell—and Dominic was no exception. It couldn’t be a coincidence that mere months after the club was formed, his wife decided to leave him. Today’s club agenda: throw darts at a poster of his face.
He scrubbed a hand over his shaved head and cursed.
What the hell was he doing here? He wasn’t even sure speaking with Rosie alone would earn him another chance. For damn sure, he was taking a risk approaching her in a roomful of women who might have encouraged her to ditch their marriage.
He supposed he could wait. Come back tonight, after the meeting ended.
Dominic brushed his fingers against the keys where they still dangled in the ignition. Before he could bring the truck to life, though, he threw one more glance at the house. And there she was.
Rosie. In the kitchen window, smiling at whoever stood beside her just out of view.
It was impossible to swallow the lump that formed in his throat.
Fuck. His hand grabbed the keys and squeezed until his palm burned. She was so beautiful. Enough to make his pulse clamor in his ears. This was why he was here, sitting outside a meeting where—rumor had it—a man could get his balls chopped off for intruding. He’d come because it was Saturday and he hadn’t laid eyes on his wife since Tuesday night. He hadn’t gone that long without being near her since returning from overseas.
A memory of her waiting for him at the airport caught Dominic off guard. A war had been waging inside him that afternoon, between anticipation, love, yearning to hold Rosie again. He’d been battling against the mental weight he’d brought home, as surely as his standard-issue camo duffel bag. So many men had lost their lives, men he’d befriended. Their plans for the future were still circulating in his head when he’d spotted Rosie waiting at the bottom of the escalator.
Dominic had grown up with one vision for his future. Marry Rosie. Work hard. Give her everything she’d ever dreamed of.
When he’d seen her waiting for him, so insanely gorgeous in a loose summer dress, her dark curly hair in twin braids gathered in a crown on top of her head, he’d thought, Oh God, she deserves more than I could ever give her. How could I ever make this woman happy? I’m just a soldier. The only trade I know is construction. How do I do this?