Here are the scenes I had to delete from Shelby and Jake’s book to keep the page count manageable.
AT THE BALL:
Jake watched her. He couldn’t help himself. Some Barratt or another was constantly grabbing her, dragging her out to dance. Then the guy would go back to the table, and grab one of the other women. Including Daniel’s date. Daniel didn’t seem to mind that much.
Even Mike’s wife took a turn around the dance floor with a Barratt or two.
Mike just shrugged, after he joined Jake and Dom and Daniel. “She’s mine. And she knows it. Isn’t she gorgeous?”
She looked at Mike once and held out a beckoning hand. Like a siren luring the man to his doom.
Mike trotted over to her immediately, a slobbery look on his face. Just like that, they lost Mike Evers to the dark side forever. Pitiful.
“So who are they?” His teammate Dominic Acardi asked, after one pulled Madison to the dance floor. Again. “I didn’t even know Madison would be here.”
“Those are all Barratt cousins or second cousins, I think,” Izzie said, smirking at Jake and his friends. “They are all very nice men, too. I’ve danced with just about all of them at one time or another, and dated two of them. I didn’t realize Shelby and Zoey were friends with Madison, Haldyn, and Charlotte, though. They look like they are having a great time.”
Allen had his hand on her shoulder, rubbing lightly. Jake wanted to smack him. Maybe the two were married, but he didn’t like some guy pawing at his niece like that. Allen had his hands on her all the time. No wonder Izzie was pregnant. The guy was a real dog. “She and Zoey have been friends for years. And I believe the others are from the children’s choir.”
Allen nodded. He looked for his sister. Jake resisted following his gaze. “She’s a very talented pianist. She considered going pro when she was in her late teens, early twenties.” A look of pain went through the man’s gray eyes. “She certainly could have. But she didn’t. She used to compose as well. I don’t believe she does any longer.”
Jake sensed another story there, too. He wanted to know all the woman’s secrets.
He watched Shelby for a while longer. She was laughing. Another man, this one a good two or three inches taller than Jake, convinced her to dance with him again.
They looked beautiful together. Perfect.
This was Shelby’s world. Glitz and glamour and wealthy men fawning all over her. Wanting to hold her, touch her, make her smile.
Shelby’s world. Not his. Jake would never forget that.
None of the other women held a candle to her. Intriguing, maddening, and gorgeous as they were.
None were Shelby.
She was happy now. Relaxed. Her choice of friends was surprising. He would have thought she had nothing in common with women like Chuckie and Madison and Zoey Daviess.
The woman was a bundle of contradictions.
Dom grunted something.
He was beyond pissed, apparently.
No wonder. Everyone knew he had it bad for Madison. He just hadn’t been brave enough to tell her that. The two of them squabbled constantly. To hide the attraction?
Hell, Jake could understand that.
He was living it, after all…
“That blonde behemoth has a brain the size of a walnut,” Powell said, as she looked at Shelby.
“His name is Gunnar Erickson. He’s part of Major Crimes. I’ve only spoken to him once or twice. What did he say?” Shelby asked.
“He said that he was going to take a page out of Houghton’s book and just carry me away. I could totally kick my cousin’s ass for that.”
Houghton had scooped Mel up and carried her away. Now every Barratt in the state teased about doing the same.
Except for Powell.
Zoey snickered, grabbing soda out of Shelby’s refrigerator. “Did he mean it, though? He’s not bad looking, after all. He’s actually a nice guy I’ve worked with before. Of all the guys in Major Crimes, he’s probably the least irritating. Even if he does talk a lot.”
“That’s beside the point.”
Gunnar Erickson was a gorgeous man. Nothing bad looking about him. He was as gorgeous as Daniel or Jake, he was just blonde and blue-eyed instead.
“He reminds me of Thor or a Viking,” Shelby said. “All hard muscles and perfectly chiseled. Yum, yum.”
Powell’s cheeks just got even darker. Her blue eyes almost glowed from emotion. Irritation. “He was just trying to distract me from whatever was going on with you and Detective MacNamara. I knew what he was up to. And I’m not going to fall for it. He has to be a total playboy, the way he looks and talks. And flirts. And that’s the last thing I’m interested in.”
“Not really,” Charlotte said, coming into the kitchen with Madison in time to hear her words. “They’re gone, by the way. And Gunnar? He’s not a playboy, he just flirts. Part of his defenses. He’s really good at flirting, but everybody knows the truth.”
“It’s really sad, actually.” Madison said. “Poor man. I can’t imagine it.”
“What?” Powell asked. Shelby handed her a soda. She would make a list. Her friends liked junk food. They said they rarely indulged. Well, they could indulge in her place. She’d keep it stocked.
“Gunnar is all alone, Powell,” Charlotte said, grabbing the lone orange can. “His wife was killed five years ago. Drunk driver out on drug charges. She was seven months pregnant; he lost them both. Rumor has it he hasn’t dated anyone seriously since. He doesn’t have much family either. He’s good friends with the chief. It’s why he moved to Finley Creek to begin with. They were really close; they said he was there with them at the funerals of the chief’s family when they were killed.”
Shelby winced. The guy had always seemed like a big jokester to her. “That’s so…so…so sad.”
It deflated Powell’s anger. “Still, it was obvious the man wasn’t serious. And that’s horrible, what happened to his wife. I can’t imagine losing the one I loved like that.”
Charlotte nodded. “You should be aware, Powell. Rumor also had it that Gunnar lit into the attorney who had gotten the man out on drug charges after. Some say he still blames her, and all attorneys, for his wife’s death. The driver was a lawyer, too.”
“Well, he knows what I am. Another reason why I know he wasn’t serious. Let’s talk about anything other than the men who were hanging around Shelby’s driveway.”
“Do we have to?” Charlotte asked. She sent a wicked look at Shelby. “I want to know if Jake has kissed Shelby yet—other than when he was devouring her in the foyer when I walked in. It was like he was gobbling her right up. And melting the tile floor.”
“Charlotte, be good. Shelby probably has a no-kiss-and-tell policy, unlike someone else I know. Someone who has kissed half of Major Crimes now. Or is it all of them? No?” Madison thumped Charlotte on the back of the head.
“I have not kissed Sean or Gunnar, and of course I have not kissed Detective Charlie Fields. That will never happen; even a peck on the cheek for him, that old poophead father of mine. But all the others, yes. I have kissed them. Well, except for Daniel McKellen. Also something that will never happen, I might add. Ick. Even the thought makes me want to drink an entire bottle of mouthwash. Drink it—not rinse. Anyone kissing Daniel McKellen has to have cooties by now. I need to ask Haldyn if she’s been tested for cooties lately.”
Charlotte sneered. It surprised Shelby. The man in question was very nice—and very attractive. “Y-y-you don’t like Daniel?”
Charlotte shook her head. “Not for a minute. I don’t trust him at all. He’s too smooth. Polished and practiced. Something about him raises the hair on the back of my neck.”
Madison snickered. “The problem with Daniel is that Daniel doesn’t get all stupid when Charlotte smiles at him, like the rest of the goon squad does. And never has. He seems to be totally immune to her. Daniel doesn’t follow her prescribed script. He does seem to have a thing for Haldyn. Maybe. She’s never fully said. For a while there, I was afraid Char would get all of Major Crimes all riled up and there’d be fist fights over her.”
“They can be rather primitive. That doesn’t mean it’s my doing…” Charlotte shrugged, then gave a wicked grin. “But it’s fun to watch. And…dating the guys in Major Crimes really yanks Pops’s chain, so why wouldn’t I?”
From what Shelby could tell, Charlotte really enjoyed tormenting her biological father—who worked with Jake in Major Crimes—whenever she could.
Madison turned to Charlotte. “You kissed Dom? When?”
“I didn’t kissed Dom—he kissed me. There was a mistletoe involved.”
“Really? Imagine that. The man is such a dog.”
Shelby wasn’t going to touch that with a 10-foot pole. Madison had a lot to say about the son of the man her mother had married.
And most of it wasn’t good.
“D-d-does anyone fully get along with the men in Major Crimes?” she asked.
Charlotte and Madison looked at each other.
“No,” Madison said, shaking her head. “Someone is always arguing with somebody else.”
“It’s because the men in Major Crimes are so primitive. They are walking cavemen, you know. I really want to study their DNA. See what percentage is total Neanderthal. Can you imagine comparing their DNA to the DNA of the sophisticated, sexy, intelligent, civilized Barratts of Barrett County?” Charlotte covered her heart with her hands and made a thump-thump motion, grinning wickedly at Powell. “It would be an interesting case study. Can you help us out? All we need are a few samples. But we have to get them by kissing. No boring swabs allowed.”
Powell shook her head. “Ick, Char. Oh, my brothers and cousins are cavemen, too. They just dress in slightly better furs and ride bigger mammoths than your pals at the TSP. Have Bailey grab you a sample from Clay. You’ll see. Just as caveman as the rest of them.”
Shelby laughed as her friends kept talking about Jake’s team. Not all of it was good. They hadn’t been friends before. Not until Shelby had gotten Powell involved in turning the children’s choir into a nonprofit.
She looked around, the only ones missing today were Daryn and Haldyn, who were working. Daryn was covering shifts for her sister-in-law A.J. after the birth of her baby.
Zoey, Madison, Charlotte, Powell, Haldyn and Daryn—she had friends. Real friends, that she thought she could depend on, and trust now…she would never forget that…
The evening was better than the afternoon. She got the information she needed from her private investigator, then let her friends convince her that a trip to Mamaw’s Place followed by drooling over Hunter Louis Clark for two hours would be totally worth it. And it was. The actor was absolutely gorgeous.
And looked nothing like the bane of her existence except for the rich black hair.
Shelby tried not to think about Jake.
He’d wanted something. She was sure of it.
“You know, this place is awesome. I’d hate to see it go out of business if it doesn’t sell,” Charlotte said, quietly, while they were eating dinner—once again at the diner, since it was near the theater. “It reminds me of home.”
There was a sadness in her eyes. Shelby leaned closer. “You ok?”
“Yeah. Just…I was in that movie with Hunter Louis Clark that he filmed in Masterson. I played a fairy. I almost died epically in one of the final scenes. One of my best acting moments, I might add. Seeing him made me miss home, where my cousins are. This place…my grandmother runs a diner up there. Well, she did. Now she mostly just meddles in everyone else’s business while flirting around with a man ten years her junior. He’s seventy-three. I grew up waiting tables there. My cousins manage it now. I would be working a few nights a week there and at the inn—we own that, too—if I was home. I have seven cousins. We all grew up together, living at the inn, one big mess of Talley girls. I miss it so much sometimes. Down here…I have family here, but we definitely aren’t close. I don’t think we ever will be. But…there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity to do my job up there. And I love what I do, too. I’d have to live clear across the state from my family to work forensics up there, probably. Or give up forensics all together. I don’t want to do that.”
Powell leaned forward. “My brother has a thing for one of those cousins of hers, too. Brandt. She’s all he talks about. He’s buying property up there to be close to her.”
Charlotte perked up, green eyes widening. “Seriously? Which one? Marin? I can so see that. She’d be the type to captivate a beautiful Barratt man. She captivates every guy she meets. She works hard at it.”
“Nope. The youngest one that starts with an ‘M’.”
“Meyra? No way. No way. That’s awesome.” Charlotte’s pleasure faded right before their eyes. “But…she’s never leaving Masterson County, Powell. She never has. I’m not sure she ever could. I mean never. Masterson County—and the diner—is her home. She’s found where she belongs.”
There was a look in the other woman’s eyes that said Charlotte hadn’t yet. Well, Shelby understood that. She hadn’t even left her shell enough to begin the journey. Let alone find the finish line.
To know where she belonged.
She looked around the diner. Then at her attorney. Who was also a property attorney and realtor and knew just about everything house and building related possible. “Well, h-h-how much would it cost to buy a place like this?”
Powell’s brow arched. She had a hefty portfolio of her own that she managed. Powell helped Shelby with her own. Shelby suspected it would continue to grow over her lifetime. “Let me think…”
If Shelby went by Jake’s standards, the five of them shouldn’t have become friends at all. Powell and Shelby were of the wealthiest one percent. To some people that would seriously matter.
To some horribly judgmental people, anyway.
To her, it didn’t. These people were her friends because they understood her. Cared about and accepted her just as she was. That was priceless.
If all they ever did together was come to this little diner and spend a few hours talking, it was worth it to her.
They were the first friends she’d had since that horrible night five years ago. Zoey and Daryn had been before—Charlotte and Madison and Powell were the first after.
They were the first risk she had taken since a woman she’d thought was her friend years ago had led her into what had amounted to a trap, just because she was jealous of something Shelby had said or done years ago.
Something Shelby still had no idea of. And never would. She hadn’t spoken to that woman since that night.
She trusted these women. And that mattered. “Let’s do it. I think we should. We can hire someone to run it. Keep the original staff, even, if they want. Why not? I have the money. It’s just sitting there, molding. Logan told me in his will to use it to have some actual fun. I want a diner of my own. Where I can spend time with my friends, the people who matter to me.”
Powell just blinked her blue eyes. Nothing ruffled Powell Barratt. “While I’m not sure random whim purchases were what he had in mind, at least a diner is better than a yacht or a racehorse or something. Ok, we can work out the details this week. I own a restaurant; I’ll get you a copy of my profit and loss and we can discuss it. See if it’s what you really want to do.”
“I’m going to do this.” Resolve filled her. Yes. She was going to do this.
This was the first impulsive thing she’d done with Logan’s money. Something just for her. No charity funds created, no paying people’s medical bills because they couldn’t come up with the money. No donating to various causes suggested by Mel.
She did all of that, and would probably do that forever. But something special just for herself? She hadn’t done that yet at all.
No. Now she was going to buy something for her.
Even if she didn’t do anything more than step inside occasionally and pretend to just be a regular person again, it would be hers.
She rather did miss doing that.
She hadn’t felt normal in five years, after all…