Second Chances (Woodburn Book 1)(4)

By: Rhea Madison

Maybe he’d have the chili-cheese fries after all. He needed to console himself.

“Rhys.” Her name always left his mouth in a breathy sort of whisper. He’d heard the kids these days calling such moments “cringe-worthy.” And Devon cringed every single time when he watched the walls of Rhys’ expression slam closed. He tried to recover. “How are you tonight, Ms. Cameron?”

“When are you going to stop with this love-sick puppy routine?” she asked. “It’s been nine years!”

“And I’ve been in love with you for at least twenty, so-”

Rhys rolled her eyes and tapped her order pad with her pen. “What’ll you have, Devon?”

Another day, another blown opportunity.

“Chili-cheese fries and a chocolate malt.”

“Your heartbreak order,” Rhys said with sympathy. “Oh, honey.” She patted his hand and walked away, and Devon stared morosely down at his phone. He contemplated calling John again, but if the man was going to try to make any time with the damsel in distress - unlikely - he’d need all his powers of concentration. John was a looker, for sure. Half the women in Woodburn had the hots for him, but he lived his life like a damn Benedictine monk. He kept himself to a regimented schedule of working - seven AM to six PM - Monday through Friday. Fishing from eight AM to noon on Saturday’s, and Sunday’s were for relaxing around the house. Dates and copulation were not factored into the schedule. The man deserved a little time to let loose, have some fun.

Now Devon was curious about this rain-drenched mystery lady. It had been so long since John Bramlett had admitted that a woman was “hot” that she had to be something spectacular. John hadn’t had eyes for any girl but Leslie for more than a decade. It was sweet, really, the way the man had been devoted to her, and Leslie had been just as in love as John had been. But Leslie was gone, and whether he wanted to admit it or not, John Bramlett was a lonely man. Oh, he was happy enough. Who wouldn’t be? He got to come and go as he pleased, go fishing whenever he wanted, and there was no one there to bitch if he left his drawers on the bathroom floor - not that John ever would. The man was virtually flawless, at least in the eyes of every single woman in Woodburn, North Carolina. Devon knew better, but those weren’t his secrets to tell.

Rhys dropped off his food with another look of pity and a pat to the hand, then disappeared through the kitchen door. Devon watched the sway of her hips until the door swung shut behind her, concealing her from his view. He took a bite of the chili on top of his fries and wondered if Rhys had really given Jack Carney the idea for the secret ingredient while they’d been dating.

Devon was as close to pouting as he ever was when the bell above the door chimed. Every head in the building swiveled to see the beautiful newcomer enter. This had to be John’s damsel. She wore cheap clothes from the local Walmart, but carried herself with the regal air of someone who was accustomed to having money and wearing expensive things. Her jet-black hair was wet and slicked back into a knot at the nape of her neck, but Devon was sure it looked as though she’d been crying, or at least very recently upset. Her head hung low, and she refused eye contact. Glancing up only once to see that the sign was turned to “Please Seat Yourself,” the woman slunk into one of the booths near the door and grabbed a napkin from the dispenser to begin drying her eyes.

“What do you think her story is?” Rhys asked from her place at his shoulder. The fact that he hadn’t noticed Rhys attested to the unusualness of the woman sitting in the corner booth.

“I don’t know. If she’s who I think she is, her car broke down outside of town. John probably dropped her off.”

“Poor thing looks like a half-drowned kitten.”

Devon nodded with Rhys’ assessment, then watched as she went to take the woman’s order. Outside the diner, the flashing emergency lights of John’s tow truck announced his departure from town. The mystery lady watched disinterestedly as they passed. He wondered if he should go speak to her but thought better of it. John would be pissed if Devon made it sound like he was blabbing the woman’s personal business all over town. Instead, he paid his bill, and cast a last, longing glance at Rhys Cameron, then braced himself for stepping out into the wind and rain.

HE SHOULD NOT HAVE left Ellen Hastings at the diner alone. John cursed at himself. It wouldn’t have taken much more time to see that she was properly fed and housed in one of the inns or motels in town before returning to retrieve her car. Now she was alone in a strange town with the likes of Devon Tatum on the prowl - because Devon was always on the prowl - and he was miles away, kneeling in the mud and pouring rain trying to hook the winch to the undercarriage of her car.