“I’m sorry I wasn’t here. What happened?” Alex asked, his voice trembling with emotion.
She slipped her hand from his and looked away, her gaze shimmering with unshed tears. When the words came, they were jerked from the depths of her soul. “Car crash. Drunk driver. Six months after you left.”
His mind reeled with so many more questions. “You said before that you went to live at --”
“Emma’s,” shot out of her mouth before she took a shaky breath and controlled her emotions. “I had no one else and she took me in. The same way she took in Tashya and Jason years later. We were all fostered at the DCA.”
Which explained her belief that there was no way that any of the DCA women were part of the drug ring.
Vera came over a second later with their orders. Large platters held their burgers, a mound of french fries and a few onion rings, but he had little appetite after what Miriam had shared with him. Still, he hadn’t eaten since that morning and the smells wafting from the food made his stomach growl in anticipation.
“Please eat,” Miriam said and picked up her burger, clearly wanting to end their earlier discussion.
The silence as they ate was broken only by an occasional comment about the quality of the food or the inn where Alex was staying. It was just a few blocks from the police station.
“I know the innkeeper well. She bought the place a few years ago and totally renovated it,” Miriam said.
Which explained why the innkeeper hadn’t been hostile when he’d checked in.
“She did a beautiful job,” he said as he finished his burger and the last of the onion rings. The mound of fries was too much for him to handle. Miriam also, as she pushed away her plate that still held a quarter of her burger and fries.
Vera came over at that moment. “Box anything? Dessert?” she said curtly.
Alex raised his hands as if in surrender. “Not for me, thanks.”
Vera arched a brow and glanced at Miriam, a warmer smile on her face. “What about you, sweetie?”
“A doggie bag for me and the check,” she said, but Vera waved her hand in dismissal.
“Millard Jr. says it’s on the house and welcome home, Alex,” she said, but the warmth had fled from her earlier smile.
“Tell him thanks,” Alex said to Vera’s retreating back.
“Ignore her,” Miriam said as she rose from the booth.
Alex took out his wallet, peeled off a few bills as a tip and followed Miriam out of the restaurant and to the stationhouse. Lily sat by Miriam’s desk, head resting on her paws, but she sat up excitedly at the sight of Miriam, her tail wagging and a pittie smile on her face.
Miriam walked over and opened the doggie bag for Lily. The pit bull inhaled the small piece of burger and handful of fries in a few bites, and Miriam clipped a leash on her for the walk home.
There was an early spring chill, but the night sky was clear, the air crisp.
At the curb, Miriam said, “I’ll walk you to the inn.”
“No need. I think I can find my way.” It wasn’t all that hard to navigate the Jasper streets.
“A lady always walks a gentleman home,” she teased, an inviting smile on her lips.
Even with the earlier upset, he was enjoying being with her. In so many ways, it was like old times, but it wasn’t. They weren’t starry-eyed teenagers anymore.
But is it possible the magic is still there? he wondered as they strolled along the streets of Jasper, pausing to let Lily relieve herself against a lamppost.
At the inn, he paused by the door and faced Miriam. Her cheeks and nose were pink from the growing cold, making her look so much younger.
He cupped her cheek and stroked a thumb across the chill there, but what started as a friendly caress became more. He shifted his hand and swept his thumb across her lips, remembering their softness. Their warmth.
As his gaze met hers, he realized she was remembering also.
He shifted closer and bent until his lips were barely an inch from hers. Until her warm breath spilled against his lips.
“Alex?” she said on a husky breath.
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