Sorrow glared at her. “You let me worry about the lodge.”
The girls were starting to snipe again, and it just made Marlene tired. She’d endured enough sniping for the day. She caught a glimpse of Sully through the pass-through. What would he do if she just up and joined him? She could lean against the counter and sip her tea.
She tore her eyes away. The last thing she needed was a fry cook for a love interest. Best to stick to her previous plan: pouring heart and soul into the historical society. Which meant planning the best festival the area had ever seen.
“Maybe we should advertise this year,” Marlene interjected. “What do you girls think?” She purposely included both Bailey sisters.
“I have all kinds of ideas about how we could handle it,” Laura said. “I’ll do a press release, of course. Maybe align ourselves with some celebrity figure.”
The ladies cooed at that. Laura was a handful—not like Edith at all—and when she was in charge, she was something else again. She’d always been ambitious that way, must’ve gotten it from Bear. Even back in her high school days, Laura was the kid who’d sneak out after curfew and still make honor roll. It was clear why she was so successful as a career woman.
“How do you know all this?” Pearl asked, her voice awed.
“Edith, you must be so proud,” Pearl added.
Edith smiled and reached across the table to pat her daughter’s hand.
The gesture gave Marlene the tiniest of pangs. She loved her boys, but had always wondered what it would’ve been like to have a daughter. Her sourpuss daughter-in-law definitely didn’t count.
“I’d be thrilled to take over publicity,” Laura said, positively beaming. “We could do some online promotions.”
“With what money?” Sorrow’s voice was flat, and it gave Marlene pause. The girl looked like steam was about to pour from her ears.
Laura waved off the question. “We won’t need much. We’ll use Twitter. Make a Facebook fan page. Guerilla marketing stuff.”
“Gorillas?” Mama took that moment to tune in, sounding alarmed.
Pearl snuck a skeptical look at Ruby. “I don’t think we have a permit for those.”
“I don’t think the fairgrounds will allow wild animals,” Ruby agreed.
Marlene choked back a laugh and almost spat out her tea. “She meant guerilla, like in warfare.”
Pearl gave her head a prim shake. “I think Buck Larsen is enough of a theme.”
“Yes, dear.” Ruby gave Laura a soothing look. “We don’t need to include things about wars, too.”
Marlene rolled her eyes. This wasn’t exactly going as planned.
Sorrow scooted her stool back with a loud scrape. “You know, you ladies have at it. My fearless sister seems to have this under control.” She sidled up to the bar, calling into the kitchen, “Sully, I’d love you forever if you made me one of your cookie sundaes.”
He peeked out from the pass-through, a smile warming his face. “You got it, kid.”
Marlene thought back. The last time she had a sundae she’d been a kid herself. It made her think, Sully was so great with the Bailey kids, it was too bad he didn’t have children of his own.
Her heart stuttered. Maybe he did. The man might have two dozen kids out there somewhere—how was she to know?
She suddenly lost all interest in the conversation happening at the table and strained to catch every word of Sully and Sorrow’s exchange. She studied his profile as he scooped the ice cream—the man had a strong, clean-shaven jaw.
He peeked out again. “You still like whipped cream?”
Sorrow made a face. “Duh. It’s not really a sundae if there’s no whipped cream. And please, will you do that thing with the chocolate sauce?”
Marlene held her breath, waiting to hear his response. But none came. All the man did was smile a knowing smile. Take off that apron, put him in a collared shirt, and he’d be downright dashing.
The women’s conversation became a meaningless drone around her. That was it. She had to find an excuse to join them.
He was sliding Sorrow’s treat toward her when Marlene came up to the bar.
“You make desserts, too?” She’d made her voice breezy and self-possessed, but it cracked to see that Sully’s special chocolate thing was to squirt a big, cursive S with chocolate sauce along the top. She sucked in a breath, murmuring, “Adorable.”
Sorrow grinned. “S for Sorrow.” She plucked the cherry from the top of his creation and popped it into her mouth. “Sully’s cookie sundaes are to die for.”
“Yup, there are cookies all along the bottom. He bakes them himself.” Sorrow shoveled in a huge bite and sighed with pleasure. She covered a hand in front of her mouth to say, “I make a mean Crème Brûlée, and it still couldn’t compete with Sully’s chocolate chip peanut butter cookie sundae.”
“Hell, woman. I’ll make you one.” Sully leaned against the bar. He had biceps like no sixty-something man should have.
“I couldn’t,” she said, considering both the ice cream and the strong arms.
He narrowed his eyes on her. “You can’t eat ice cream?”
He refused that answer. “If it’s your figure you’re worried about, you can throw those concerns right out the door.” There was something assessing in his eyes. The way he’d spoken with such intensity about her figure heated her blood. “I say you need some ice cream.”
Sully grabbed a spoon, and Marlene’s mouth went dry. This man was a far cry from her husband, who’d never given two hoots what she needed or wanted.
“Try this,” he said, as he assembled a spoonful of ice cream, cookie, and whipped cream in careful proportions. “The secret is mixing the dough in with the ice cream.”
“Be sure to break off enough cookie from along the bottom,” Sorrow told him.
She reached for the spoon, dumbfounded. Her husband had never tried to feed her ice cream. Her husband had thought she needed to watch her waistline.
But Sully didn’t hand her the spoon. Instead, he reached it toward her mouth. “Have a taste.” His voice was like gravel.
Her heart kicked to life in her chest. The last time a man fed her something, she must’ve been in her twenties. She hesitated, then opened her mouth. Risking eye contact, she saw Sully’s eyes were riveted on her.
And then she tasted the ice cream. Shutting her eyes in bliss, she sighed a purring, contented sound. When she opened her eyes, she couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across her face. “You’ve got a way with food, Tom.”
There was a moment’s lull in the tavern as the women read the letters and Bear stopped talking to sip his beer. Sully’s voice filled the silence. “I want a day off.” There was something intense in his voice, something driven.
Bear put down his glass and gave him a blank look. “What’s that?”
“I said I need a day off, Bear.”
What did Sully do on his time off? Did he date women he met on the Internet? Take them out for drinks? Would he ever ask her out for drinks?
“I’m taking a night off.” And then Tom Sullivan met her eyes, and it was as though he’d read her mind. “A man needs to live his life.”
“Oh, God…what now?” Sorrow was trying on one of the old dresses she’d found in the attic when a loud thud reverberated through the house. As she raced for the stairs, the heavy fabric swirled between her legs—how had pioneer women managed?—but she galloped down, doing her best not to trip, half expecting to find the walls caved in.
She darted from room to room, stopping short at the door to the den. Her sister. Of course.
“What the…?” Her eyes goggled, catching sight of a giant black workout contraption. A couple of men in blue-shirted uniforms were rearranging the furniture to make room. “What on earth is that?”
Laura smirked and pointed at her dress. “The question is, what on earth is that?”
She shrugged, embarrassed, tugging the low neckline up and the tight bodice out. “I asked you first.”
“It’s an elliptical trainer.” Laura gave her an aggravatingly innocent smile. “You’re looking pretty saucy, baby sister. Is that one of Sorrow Crabtree’s dresses?” Then her eyes lit. “Hey, I know. We should have people dress up. You know, for the festival.”
As if Laura cared about the festival, really. Getting dolled up in costume would probably be just another way for her trim sister to get attention. “You just want to dress up for the festival.” She turned her glare at Laura’s contraption. “What’s that doing here?” Just the sight of it made her chest tighten. Moving the furniture had revealed more than she cared to see—the brown carpet was five shades darker where the couch had been, and the baseboards were caked with dust. Just more things for her to deal with.
“Put it in your room.”
“Of course it won’t, because it’s ginormous. Careful!” Sorrow dashed between her dad’s recliner and the wall. The moving men were hauling the huge leather chair out of the way and getting too close to the television in the process. If they damaged either, she’d be the one to pay the price. She swung on her sister. “Laura, this cannot go in here.”