Billy’s eyes met and held his. Something moved between the two men, connected them. It was respect.
The sheriff was good people. Solid. Sully could see him and Sorrow making something work. Which meant she needed to do something, and fast, before she had a situation on her hands. “Now she just needs to deal with that boyfriend of hers.” He wished there were a way to broach it with her, have a talk like he was having with Billy, but if he brought up her love life, she’d probably look at him like he’d grown horns.
An evil smile curled onto the sheriff’s face. “I could always arrest him for something. That’d take him out of the picture.”
He barked out a laugh. “No need to resort to that. I’ve had my eye on that girl. I’ve seen how she is with you. If I know Sorrow, that boy will be getting his walking papers any day now.”
When Sorrow returned, she plopped next to the sheriff in the booth. “Let there be light,” she pronounced.
Talk about lightbulbs—Billy’s eyes were a thousand watts when he looked at her. “All good?” he asked.
“All good.” She leaned against him with a sigh. “But boy, am I beat.”
Sully watched the exchange in silence. He was sure they were blissfully unaware how obvious the fireworks were that crackled between them. He’d said Sorrow could handle Damien, and he hoped he was right. She was, in her way, a bit of an innocent with men, unaware of her effect on them.
Damien, though, he was a pro. Not manipulative, but a smooth talker, that was for sure. Sully had tried to like him, wanted to trust and respect him, but as far as he could tell, the guy earned his money mostly by wearing those fancy clothes and talking on his cell. Born into the richest family in Sierra Falls, he’d had a lucky birth, though with the way women treated him, you’d have thought he was in line to be king of England.
The front door opened, bringing in a gust of crisp winter air. Speak of the devil.
Sorrow sat bolt upright. “Damien, hi,” she said, her voice overly bright.
Damien stiffened. “Hey, Bailey. Sheriff.” He gave a curt nod toward the back of the room. “Sully, congrats. I hear you got a new freezer.”
A crazy grin was pasted on Sorrow’s face. “What a surprise to see you. I thought you had to work.”
He took in the whole scene. “I like to keep you on your toes,” he said carefully. “I wanted to check out the new setup.” He shot a pointed look at Billy. “See if you need anything.”
Looked like things might come to a head sooner rather than later. Sully suppressed a smile—this was more fun than he’d had in some time. These kids, figuring out their lives. Youth really was wasted on the young.
She stood, looking brittle enough to snap in two. Damien wrapped an arm around her and leaned down, taking a kiss that struck Sully as longer and firmer than necessary.
Damien strode straight back into the kitchen, leading the way. And of course he did—Damien was the sort of guy who never second-guessed himself.
Sully couldn’t help but follow, and he felt Billy at his back. The word guarded came to mind.
Damien gave the freezer a once-over. It was a professional model, with great stainless steel panels. “She’s a beauty.”
“A friend of mine is in the restaurant business,” Billy said evenly.
Sully frowned. “Nobody better tamper with this one.” He met the sheriff’s eye, and they exchanged a meaningful look.
“I’m going to talk to Bear about installing a security system,” Billy said.
“Good luck with that.” Damien opened the door to take a look. “This whole thing must’ve cost him a fortune already.”
Sorrow was nodding away like a bobblehead doll. “Billy’s friend got it for me at cost.”
Sorrow and Billy were so focused on staring inside that freezer that Sully was the only one to notice the smirk on Damien’s face. He wasn’t sure if the kid was getting ready to laugh or punch the sheriff.
“Well, Sheriff, nice work.” Damien shut the door. “It sure is a big one. Sort of reminds me of those Transformer movies. Like it might spring to life.”
“Yeah, right?” Sorrow tried to sound playful, but there was tension in her voice.
Damien put his hands in his pockets. “So I guess you don’t need me.”
“No—” Sorrow stopped herself with a dispirited laugh. “I mean, of course we need you, but this is all taken care of.”
Sully noted it was “we need you” instead of “I need you.”
He backed away slowly. Seemed like a good time to run out and do an errand. Maybe make a quick stop by the house. Marlene’s grandkid wanted to see his Vietnam medals.
Folks said all was fair in love and war, but at the moment, war sure seemed the easier of the two.
Billy’s friend had moved heaven and earth to deliver the freezer so soon, and Sorrow contemplated the big, whirring beast as she cleaned the kitchen, scouring away grease and the dust that’d exploded from beneath the old one when the appliance guys had done their thing.
Cleaning was usually such a good, mindless activity, and yet she couldn’t stop fretting about what the heck she was supposed to do with her love life. The timing kept being off, and there hadn’t been a good moment to have her talk with Damien. He’d probably be fine with a breakup—he was the sort of guy who had two dozen women waiting in the wings. Maybe he was even thinking of breaking up with her.
She had to admit, though, he’d looked ready to throttle Billy this morning. She was sure his jealousy had nothing to do with her—Damien just didn’t like to lose. However she looked at it, there was no question—she needed to end their fling the next time she saw him, no matter what.
Because she couldn’t get Billy out of her mind. She was surrounded by people she loved, people she knew who loved her, and yet it was only when she was with Billy that she felt like she wasn’t in it alone.
She’d thought she was into Damien, until Billy had come into her life. The two men posed such a stark contrast. Damien seemed like such a…guy sometimes, a dude who told jokes over the pool table, made public moves on his girl, and drove his car too fast. But the sheriff was all man—thoughtful, kind, strong, experienced—and all man was exactly what Sorrow needed. What she wanted.
Laura had ribbed her about Damien putting a ring on it, but as she got to know Billy, Sorrow realized how Damien wasn’t the sort of man she’d want for a husband at all. She was young even to be thinking the word marriage—some might say too young—but she’d borne such responsibility for so long, sometimes she felt far more ancient than her twenty-three years.
It was old enough to know Damien wasn’t the one. The man she’d spend her life with would be someone who stood tall, stood for what was right. Stood up for her. A man like Billy Preston.
Her fling with Damien had been fun, but now she saw how that was all it’d been—good, physical fun. Granted, Damien was a great person—he’d done so much for her and her family, and she didn’t doubt he cared for her. But her stolen conversations in the kitchen with Billy, the quiet way she felt him ready to catch her if she fell, how he always wanted to know about her day before anything else…she saw how love could grow there. And love was what she wanted.
The problem was him. He’d said he wasn’t competing with Damien. “Good thing I’m not competing with him” to be exact. If Billy wasn’t even trying, that meant he wasn’t interested, right?
It’s not that she expected Billy to make a move. He was a gentleman after all. A good guy. And a good guy never moved in on another man’s woman.
Which meant it was up to her to make a move. Only she didn’t have any inkling what his feelings toward her might be. She knew he liked her, and she definitely knew she was feeling something. But was she in it alone?
Maybe he still felt too much grief over the loss of his wife. A part of him would surely grieve her for the rest of his life. Would he ever see his way through it? And, if he did, would there be a place left in his heart with room enough for someone to find a home there? Could that someone be her?
Billy was older, though. Might he want someone more experienced?
Dealing with her dad’s stroke at such a young age had certainly made her feel older than her years. She’d had plenty of emotional experience. And she had the real-life experience of running the lodge almost single-handedly. Yet she didn’t feel worldly. While Billy, with his life in the city, and his fancy restaurants, and his lawyer wife…he’d lived a lifetime before he’d even arrived in Sierra Falls. And it’d been a lifetime that seemed pretty worldly to her.
Either way, it was definitely past time to break it off with Damien, and only then could she figure out this thing with Billy. If he wasn’t interested, that was something she needed to find out pretty quick, because she was spending way too much time daydreaming about the man.
She managed to get Damien alone when he swung by for lunch. By the look in his eyes, she could see he knew what was coming. It made her nervous. Damien was smooth, he was quick on his feet. He’d try to trip her up. She needed to focus. End it quickly, kindly, with no debate. Like pulling off a Band-Aid.
“It’s that sheriff,” Damien told her. “You’re breaking up with me because you’ve got a thing for Billy Preston.”
“Sorrow Bailey, I’ve known you my whole life. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. I see what’s going on. I get it.”
“I…you do?” Relief plumed through her. Damien understood. Maybe he’d make it easy on her.
Her relief was short-lived. He wasn’t going to make this easy at all. She’d just have to toughen up. “Well, you have to buy it.”