THE RAINBOW CEDAR
"Order me a margarita," Jay said. "I'm at the light." She paused and smiled. "And before you say it, yes, I'm the idiot who suggested we come at five o'clock ."
She flipped her phone closed and tossed it on the seat beside her, her fingers drumming impatiently on the steering wheel as she waited for the light to turn green. Five o'clock traffic had the downtown area moving at a snail's pace, but she could see the flashing light of her favorite women's bar. Although bar was a stretch of the imagination. It was really just a greasy hamburger joint that served the best margaritas in downtown Austin .
Her gaze slipped from the red light to the street, trying to spy a parking spot within a reasonable distance when she spied something much more attractive. Tall and lean—army-green shorts hiding what appeared to be fantastic thighs, and a ball cap pulled low with a short ponytail of brown hair peeking out the back—the woman bent over and slipped her feet into brown leather sandals. Nice feet. Nice ass.
A honk behind her signaled the light had turned and Jay pulled forward, glancing to the side for one last look. But her jaw dropped open as the woman pulled her T-shirt off, her bronzed torso glistening in nothing but a bright red sports bra.
"Oh, my God," she murmured, her eyes glued to the woman who now held a crisp white tank top in her hands. She's beautiful.
But her thoughts—and her movement—were halted as her tiny, gas-saving hybrid plowed into the back of a gas-guzzling truck.
Drew jerked her head around, staring in disbelief as the tiny car rammed the back of her brand new truck before bouncing off.
"Son of a bitch," she muttered. My truck. The truck was barely a month old. She tossed the clean white tank on the sidewalk without thinking and rushed to the car.
"Are you okay?"
But she took a step back at the wide, frightened eyes that stared back at her. Wide blue eyes. In fact, the prettiest pair of blue eyes she'd ever seen. God, she's cute. And she just hit my truck.
With eyes wide, Jay gripped the steering wheel, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest as she tried to clear her head. "Oh, my God," she gasped.
"Are you okay?"
The urgent voice at her window brought her around and she stared dumbly at the woman who looked inside. Oh, my God. She shook her head slowly, hoping to be swallowed up by the pavement, or at least hoping the giant truck she'd just run into would continue eating her tiny car, but no such luck.
"Are you hurt?"
Jay shook her head again, then embarrassed herself even further as her gaze locked on the red sports bra.
"I think your door is stuck," the woman said as she pulled on it. Then she stopped and gave a lopsided grin. "Or maybe you could just unlock it? That'd probably help."
Jay could feel her face turning yet another shade of red as she hit the electric locks. The woman pulled the door open and gallantly offered her hand. Jay stared at it for a long moment before placing her own inside.
"I hear these little cars get great gas mileage," the woman said as she helped Jay out. "I don't think they fair too well in crashes though." She led Jay to the sidewalk, then went to survey the damage. "But not too bad." She dropped to her knees and looked underneath the car.
Jay's eyes were glued to her backside.
"No fluids. But I'm not sure I'd chance driving her. The front end is beat to hell."
Jay nodded, her eyes never leaving the woman as she stood again.
The woman came closer, her head tilted to the side. "Do you speak? Or are you in shock?" she asked gently.
"Oh, God," Jay murmured. She stared into her eyes, an odd color of green. Hunter green, she noted. "Can you please put a shirt on?" she asked as she pulled her glance from the red sports bra.
"Oh, of course. I'm sorry. I dropped it over there in all the excitement." She hurried the few feet along the sidewalk to retrieve it. "So, you wanted this parking space pretty bad, huh?"
It was only then that Jay realized her car was parked along the curb, next to a fire hydrant, well out of the line of traffic.
"I'm an idiot." She took a deep breath. "And I need to call the police." She moved to her car, looking for the phone she'd tossed on the seat earlier. It had fallen to the floor from the impact.
"It doesn't look like there's any damage to the truck. Maybe a little ding. I wouldn't bother with the police."
"Well, I'm sure the owner of the truck would like that option," Jay said as she bent to retrieve the phone. "Besides, I think it's required."
"Drew Montgomery. Nice to meet you."
Jay squinted in the sun. "Huh?"
"I own the truck."
Jay bent her head back and stared into the sky, silently cursing herself. "Of course it's your truck. Why wouldn't it be your truck?" Damn my luck today.
Jay shook her head. She refused to tell the woman the reason she'd smashed into the back of her. And in all fairness, since it was the woman's fault for practically undressing right there on the street, if she had any sense of decency at all, she'd offer to pay the damages.
"Well, listen, I was about to go over to Rhonda's. Why don't you let me buy you a drink, something to calm your nerves? We can exchange insurance stuff there if you'd like."
"What a coincidence. I was heading to Rhonda's myself."
"One suggestion though. You might want to try to move your car. Kinda close to the fire hydrant there."
Jay looked up and down the street, not seeing another parking spot within the block. "It'll be fine."
Drew shrugged, then led the way over to the bar. Cool air conditioning hit them immediately and Jay unconsciously pulled at her blouse, fanning herself. She found Audrey at their usual table and waved.
"Oh, you're meeting someone," Drew said. "I'm sorry. I should have known."
"Just Audrey, my best friend. I was in need of a therapy session."
"Oh, I see."
Jay laughed. "Nothing that serious." She stopped at the table. "Audrey Knor, meet Drew Montgomery."
Jay saw Audrey's eyebrows shoot to the ceiling. Finally, she reached her hand out, shaking Drew's.
"Nice to meet you."
Before Drew could reply, Rhonda came over with a frozen mug, nodding in both their directions.
"Jay, here's your 'rita," she said, placing it on the table beside Audrey. "Drew? Want a beer?"
"Hi, Rhonda. Yes, please." She frowned. "Jay? Is that your name?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I haven't even introduced myself. Jessica Burns—Jay—everyone just calls me Jay." She pulled out a chair, motioning to another. "Join us."
Drew nodded, glancing at Audrey. "Is that okay with you?"
Audrey looked from one to the other, then frowned. "Wait a minute. Who are you?"
Jay laughed. "I'm sorry, Audrey. Drew owns the truck I just hit."
"You hit a truck? With that little tin can you drive? Did it survive?"
"Very funny. That . . . that tin can gets sixty miles to the gallon, thank you very much."
"It's going to need a lot of work," Drew supplied. "I was already parked, so I wasn't moving. My truck is fine though. Maybe just a tiny ding in the bumper."
"That's because it's a freakin' tank and gets, what, five miles to the gallon?"
Drew grinned. "Twelve. And it's a diesel."
Audrey leaned forward. "Don't get her started. Everyone's got to have a cause, Jay's is fuel economy."
"Well, it's my work truck. It's my office." At their blank stares, she pulled out a business card from her shorts pocket. " Montgomery Landscaping." She leaned back as Rhonda placed a frosty mug in front of her. "Thanks, Rhonda."
"I've seen your trucks around," Jay said. "You do new subdivisions, right?"
"Yes, mostly. How do you know?"
"I used to work for Wilkes and Bonner Designs."
"Yeah, I've got a contract with Hunt Builders. I think Wilkes and Bonner do too."
"Yes." Jay smiled. "And they're pigs."
Drew laughed. "I see. And you used to work for them?"
"I started my own design company. I got tired of doing all the work and getting little credit."
"Or money," Audrey added.
Jay shrugged. "Anyway, Wilkes and Bonner have the majority of the market. They're huge. I've got my cards all over town and can't get a builder to give me the time of day."
"Well, I also have contracts with some smaller independent builders. If you've got some business cards, I'll be happy to recommend you. Not everyone can afford Wilkes and Bonner."
"You would recommend me?" Jay leaned forward, again wondering if those eyes could possibly be that color of green. "You don't know anything about my work. You've not seen my portfolio. I might suck."
Drew raised an eyebrow. "Do you suck?"
"No. I think I'm quite good."
"Okay then. Give me your cards."
Jay opened her purse and pulled out her leather business card holder. She handed over five or six cards, then took one back. "I nearly forgot I hit your truck," she said as she turned the card over, writing quickly. "The number on the front is my cell. This is my home number and address. But you can usually reach me on my cell. I insist on paying to get your bumper repaired."
"It's just a little ding."
"Nonetheless, your truck looks fairly new. Now I've put a dent in it." She handed over the card. "Please. I feel like an idiot for hitting your truck to begin with."
"Yeah. And how did that happen again?"
Jay felt her face flush with embarrassment and quickly looked at Audrey for an escape, but her eyebrows were furrowed as well.
"Really," Audrey said. "I mean, she's parked already and you smash into the back of her? How did that happen?"
Jay scowled at her friend then looked back to Drew with a slight smile. "It's rather embarrassing. And I'd just as soon not share it."
Audrey laughed. "Oh, now you've got to tell us."
Drew took a large swallow of her beer, her smile lighting her face as she nodded. "Please tell. I'm assuming you were distracted," she said, her eyes dancing with amusement.
Jay laughed. "Okay, fine. Yes, distracted. When a beautiful woman such as yourself," she said, pointing at Drew. "When you undress on the sidewalk in broad daylight, there will probably be consequences."
"I wasn't undressing. I was changing shirts."
"In a red sports bra." Jay turned to Audrey. "A nun would have run into the back of her truck."
"Well, a nun, sure. You know what they say about nuns."
Drew laughed. "I'm sorry. If I'd known the sight of me in near undress would cause such havoc, I'd have stayed in my dirty, smelly shirt."
"Don't like sandals?" Drew asked, holding up one leg to show off the offending shoe.
"She's got a foot fetish," Audrey replied and got a swift kick under the table from Jay. "What's that for?"
"Don't like feet?" Drew asked.
"No, no. For some women, it's the breast. Others it's the ass. Jay, she looks at feet."
"Oh, I see."
"Audrey, shut up," Jay hissed. "And I don't have a foot fetish. It's just, you can tell a lot about a person by their feet. And can we please stop talking about this?"
Drew laughed again and Jay stared at her, loving her laugh, loving her eyes. My God, she's got incredible eyes. She tore her gaze away, looking someplace safer, looking at Audrey instead.
"I need to get going anyway," Drew said. "I just stopped by to cool off." She shoved her empty mug away, then leaned her elbows on the table. "I've enjoyed meeting you. Both of you," she added with a quick glance Audrey's way. "In fact, maybe we could get together sometime." She met Jay's eyes, holding them. "Dinner?"
"Dinner? Oh, well . . . maybe, sure. Dinner would be—"
Audrey coughed loudly and kicked her ankle under the table.
Jay jerked her head around, staring. Audrey raised both eyebrows. Jay sighed and rolled her eyes. Katherine.
"On second thought, maybe I should pass."
Drew leaned back. "Oh. Okay. It's just I thought . . . well, never mind."
She stood to leave but Jay stopped her with a light touch on her arm. "It's just . . . I'm kinda in a relationship. I mean, I am in a relationship. Dinner probably wouldn't be a great idea."
"I see. Of course. My apologies." She stood to her full height, taking a step away from the table. "Well, it was still nice to meet you." She leaned closer, smiling. "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather my truck get smashed by."
Jay and Audrey stared at her backside as she walked away, both sighing loudly as the door shut behind her.
"Wow. Dreamy, steamy and creamy all rolled into one."
Jay nodded. "That's crass, but I'll have to agree with you."
"I would hope you'd agree with me. You almost accepted a dinner date with her." Audrey playfully slapped her arm. "Forgot about Katherine, did you?"
Jay laughed. "Yeah, for a minute, yeah." She shrugged. "I haven't actually seen her awake since last Saturday. And that was only for about an hour."
"How does she function? I mean, what's she getting? Like four hours sleep a night?"
"If that. She's completely obsessed with it. If she doesn't make partner, I'm not certain she will survive. But of course she will make partner. That or die trying."
"Have you talked to her? Has it gotten any better?"
Jay shook her head. "No, not better. She was at the office well over a hundred hours last week. It's crazy."
"What's crazy is that you still live together."
Jay sipped from her margarita, glancing at the empty beer mug that Drew Montgomery had been drinking from. She sighed, shoving her drink away from her.
"It occurred to me how dysfunctional that office is," she said. "No one is married. No one has kids." She shrugged. "Well, except for the older Mills. Other than that, no kids. Isn't that strange?"
"Mills and Mills and Garrett. That's the firm."
"Why did I think it was Bateman and something?"
"Bateman was years ago. She's been with this firm for three years."
"So why does Katherine think she'll make partner?"
"She's brought in tons of clients, tons of money. That's all it takes. Of course, once she makes partner, she'll be working as much if not more, just to prove herself. Old man Mills, well, he thinks women should still be secretaries." She shook her head again. "So, with the encouragement of the younger Mills, Katherine is out to prove him wrong. And I get exhausted just thinking about the hours she puts in."
Audrey grabbed her arm and squeezed. "But Jay, you never see each other. It's been what? Six months?"
"More like eight."
"Damn. How long can you go?"
"I don't know. I mean, we've got nearly eight years together. We have a house, a life. I can't just throw that away, Audrey. She's trying to make good. She's trying to make a name for herself. I have to respect that."
"So you see each other maybe once a week? And you live in the same house?"
"I know. It's crazy. But I keep thinking about how it used to be. We used to have fun. We used to . . . well, we used to be together."
"And now she's a silent partner?"
"Yeah. Although she's going to kill me about this wreck. I'm on her insurance."
"She'll only kill you if she knows why you hit the truck."
Jay grinned, thinking of an excuse. "How about a bee flew in my window? He was buzzing around my head. I lost control."
"Good. Except it's June. Ninety-five degrees out. Why was your window open?"
Jay frowned. "Good point. Okay, how about I swerved to miss a cute little squirrel that had run out in front of me?"
"That's a good one too. But five o'clock traffic, downtown. Don't know how many little squirrels are out and about."
"Damn." Then Jay grinned wickedly. "Okay, some asshole nearly hit me! I swerved to avoid him and bam, I hit her truck."
Audrey laughed. "Excellent! That'll fly."
Jay's smile faded as she picked up her nearly empty mug again. "And if I happen to see her on Thursday, I'll tell her that tale."
"So Thursday is still the day for your dinner date?"
"That's how it started. Now it's evolved into her trying to get home before I'm in bed."
Audrey shook her head, then tucked her red hair behind her ears. It was a gesture Jay had learned to recognize in the ten years they'd known each other. Audrey was about to make a profound statement.
"Jay, you have got to talk to her."
"I have talked to her, Audrey."
"No. I mean really talk to her. Because this is going to end badly if you don't."
Jay sighed and brushed at her short strands of hair on her forehead. "I talked to her, Audrey." She nodded. "And it was bad, you're right. She accused me of being selfish."
"I like the prestige—and the money—of her position, but I'm not willing to sacrifice for it. I want the cake and to eat it too, apparently."
"What the hell? You could care less about the prestige." She raised her hand to Rhonda. "Bring us another, Rhonda." She looked back at Jay. "That pisses me off. It was her idea to buy that big-ass house. I remember your arguments over that. And your agreement was if she wanted it, she was going to pay for it."
"And that's how it still stands?"
"Yes. I mean, we split the bills. But the house payment, yeah, that's all hers." She leaned forward. "Have I told you how much our electric bills were last summer?"
"Yeah. About the same as my monthly rent." They both reached for the frosty mugs at the same time as Rhonda brought over another margarita for them. "Thanks."
"Anyway, we got into a huge fight, accomplished nothing other than having make-up sex, which let me tell you, ain't all it's cracked up to be."
"So now what?"
Jay shrugged. "Nothing. I just needed a therapy session to talk about it, and this," she said, picking up her glass. "Because as you know, I no longer have a social life. You're it, I'm afraid."
"Thanks a lot."
Drew passed the narrow driveway to her house and drove to the back of the property, parking her truck under the carport she'd had built last year. It held three trucks, but everyone knew Drew got the shaded slot at the end. She smiled. One of the perks of being the boss.
Three of her four trucks were back, and she glanced at the numbers, noting Jimmy and his crew was still out. She opened her phone, speed dialing his number as she walked to the back of her truck, her hand moving unconsciously along the smooth bumper, pausing to touch the tiny ding with her index finger.
Damn, she was cute.
"Hey, Jimmy, it's me. Just checking on you. It's after six."
"We're finishing up, Drew. The blueprint was off. We damn near dug up their septic system trying to get that tree in the ground."
Drew nodded. It was a common occurrence with older homes. Some of the blueprints were simply hand-drawn maps marking the septic system and field lines, and sprinkler systems. They had dug up their share of pipe over the years.
"But I trust you didn't dig it up."
"Of course not. We moved the tree back about ten feet."
"Need me to call the owner?"
"No. He was here. It's all cool."
"Okay, great. Well, I'm heading up to the house. See you tomorrow."
Drew stepped back and turned a slow circle, her glance going to the trucks and equipment she'd amassed in the last eight years. Her grandparents had left her the house and property, but the business she'd started on her own. Her grandfather had still been alive when she'd started out. For that she was grateful. He'd been so proud.
The youngest of four sisters, all the others being ten years or older than herself, she'd been the only one still living at home when her father had first taken ill. That summer, they shipped her off to Austin to stay with her grandparents, which was fine with her. Nothing but lazy days that seemed to last forever as they alternated between the lake—only a ten minute drive away—and the spring fed pool her grandfather had built back in the sixties. After that summer, it became the norm. Each year when school ended, they took her to Austin , and each year, she stayed until the weekend before the new school year began. And when it came time for college, there wasn't much indecision for Drew. She wanted to be in Austin with her grandparents. She just didn't know what she wanted to be. So, taking her grandfather's advice, she put off college a year and went to work with him in the tiny plant nursery he'd opened just to keep him busy, her grandmother used to say. But it was there Drew found her calling. So off to college just down the road in San Marcos , she majored in horticulture, a degree her parents and siblings thought she was crazy for getting. How could she possibly make a living with that kind of degree?
She smiled as she turned away from the shop area, as she liked to call it, and headed down the path to the house. It was her grandparent's house, yes, but she'd had it remodeled and redesigned twice now. It hardly resembled the house she remembered. The garden and pool, however, remained nearly as her grandfather had kept it, with only few modern upgrades. She went there now, closing the wooden gate behind her, locking away the world—and the summer heat—as she walked into the shade, her sandals moving quietly across the flat stones her grandfather had laid by hand nearly fifty years ago. It was one of the things she loved about the pool and garden. No modern-day concrete. Just stones and mortar, a mixture of limestone, hauled down from the Hill Country west of town and flagstone, smooth flat rock that lined the pool area and provided pathways through the garden. The pool itself, shaped in a curvy S-pattern, was well-shaded now. When she was a kid, the trees were young, the shrubs barely two feet tall, and flowers had dominated. Today, the pool and garden were kept cool and shaded by the native live oaks her grandfather had planted. Tucked around the trees were flowering mountain laurels and red buds, the showy flowers lasting for weeks during the cool, wet days of April.
The covered sitting area—her addition to the garden—provided all the modern conveniences of an outdoor kitchen, with electricity and running water. She flipped on the ceiling fan, then pulled off her white tank top and tossed it on the wicker loveseat before opening the small refrigerator. She moved the miniature bottles of orange juice aside and selected one of the many varieties of wine coolers she kept there. Standing to her full height, she opened the bottle and took a large swallow, enjoying the refreshing taste of the cool liquid.
Without thought, she slipped off her sandals, then pulled the red bra over her head, tossing it beside her shirt. Her shorts soon followed and she walked confidently to the edge of the pool, her skin shivering in anticipation of the cool spring water. Taking a deep breath, she dove smoothly into the pool, her lithe body gliding just under the surface, taking the curves of the pool with familiar ease. It was a routine she kept to most days, except in the very coldest months of winter. But even then, on occasion, she'd take a quick dip. The water temperature held fairly steady at sixty-six degrees, winter and summer both.
She followed the curves, surfacing only once to take a breath before continuing on to the opposite end, the shallow side closest to the house. There she stopped and stood, seeking out the patch of sunlight as she shook her hair, reminding herself she needed a cut. Then she turned and slipped under the water again, retracing her route to the deep end of the pool. She made five laps, finally stopping and pulling herself out of the pool. She stood there naked, catching her breath, letting the light breeze dry her as she again twisted her hair behind her back, wringing out the water, much like she'd been doing since she was a kid.
In the distance, she heard a truck, knowing Jimmy had made it back. They never came to the house—it was off limits. It was her space and hers alone. The property was only five acres, but it was five acres of prime real estate now. The city had sprawled, growing around her, but she didn't care. The land was her grandfather's and she'd promised him in the beginning she wouldn't sell and let it become gobbled up by some developer who wanted to put up condos or something equally as obnoxious.
She took a clean towel from the cabinet, drying herself, listening as she heard Jimmy's car start and pull away. She was alone again. She sighed. But not for long. She'd agreed to a dinner date. A friend of a friend of a friend. It had sounded like a good idea last week. But today . . . not so much. She was tired. It had been a long, hot day. Then she smiled, remembering the cute blond who'd rammed her truck. Jay.
"God, those eyes."
"No, it didn't damage her truck." Jay rolled her eyes. "And no, she's not going to sue me."
"You never know about people, Jay. They're money-hungry."
Jay walked into the kitchen, eyeing the bottle of wine on the counter. She tucked the phone against her shoulder as she fished for the corkscrew. "I really don't think it's going to be an issue, Katherine. Like I said, it was just a little ding."
"I've seen whiplash proved with less."
Jay poured the wine, watching the burgundy liquid fill the glass. "She wasn't in the truck at the time."
"Well, that's a plus. Look, I'm just swamped, Jay. I'm going to let you handle this. You've got the number to our insurance. If there's even a hint of a problem, let me know."
"Of course." Jay paused. "I . . . well, I also got a ticket."
"For what? I thought you didn't even call the police."
Jay chewed her lower lip. "Apparently I was too close to a fire hydrant or something." She rolled her eyes again as she sipped the wine.
"Great," Katherine said dryly. "What's that going to cost you?"
"It wasn't that much," she lied. "I was just concerned about that affecting your insurance as well. Maybe I should just get my own policy."
"It's much cheaper to go through mine. We've been over this before, Jay. Besides they're probably going to total your car. Perhaps you should just use your van for the time being. As old as it is, the insurance is minimal." She sighed. "Now I've really got to run."
"When will you be home?"
"Oh, Jay, I can't even begin to say. What time is it, anyway?"
Jay looked at the clock on the wall. "Nearly nine."
"Already? Well, I've got at least a couple more hours. Did you get dinner?"
Jay nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's just . . . well, I feel like I haven't seen you in a week."
"I know. Please be patient, Jay. I promise, I'll try to make it a short day tomorrow."
Jay nodded again. It was a statement she'd heard daily for months now. So she gave her standard answer, the same one she'd been using for the past three months.
"That'd be nice, Katherine. Maybe we could have dinner together."
"Sure, Jay. Let's plan on it. I'll try not to wake you when I get home."
Jay closed her phone and slid it along the counter, picking up her wine instead. She smiled humorlessly. "Sure, I'll plan on it, Kath. Just like always."
And just like always, she took the bottle of wine with her as she went into her office, closing the door behind her. She always felt better in here. It was her space and it reflected her personality. The house—totally Katherine's. But this room, this space, was hers.
Here was where she kept little trinkets and mementoes she'd collected over the years. Here was where she kept her only family picture—that of her grandmother—neatly framed and displayed on the bookshelf. In here was her CD collection, the handful of DVDs she liked to watch over and over, the trashy romance books that Katherine thought she was childish to hang on to, and her most prized possession: a mini Cowboys football helmet autographed by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.
She looked affectionately at it, silently counting how many months until football season, her lone sports passion. There was a time, at the beginning, when Katherine would surprise her with tickets to at least one game each season. But the last couple of years, she'd been too busy to even remember Jay's birthday, much less football season.
"Wedded bliss," she murmured, then laughed at her attempt at being sarcastic. It no longer worked.
Jiggling the wireless mouse, she watched the screen saver disappear, replaced with the spreadsheet she'd been working on. She only had two projects going right now, both of which were nearly finished. The spreadsheet was her listing of builders and the contacts she'd made in the last six months or so. The only contractor she had a working relationship with was McGuire and Sons, but they specialized in remodeling, not new homes. He'd pushed some business her way but she'd found most people—by the time they hired someone to remodel—already had a new design and color scheme in mind. They weren't really interested in her ideas at that stage.
At the bottom of page was the new name she'd added. Drew Montgomery Landscaping. The woman she'd run into yesterday. The woman with the incredible eyes. The woman who said she'd be happy to recommend Jay to some of her builder friends.
Refilling her wineglass, Jay glanced at the business card placed prominently on her desk, a reminder to call after she talked to the insurance company. Of course, a little ding, it might be better to just pay for out of pocket rather than file an insurance claim. Katherine would most likely prefer that, but of course it was her own checkbook that would suffer. A checkbook that could stand to have a few more clients.
She glanced at the clock on her computer, now after nine.
Was it too late?
"Wonder if she lives alone?"
She picked up her phone, flipping it over and over in her hand. Probably lived alone, seeing as she'd asked Jay out. She smiled, pausing to sip from her wine. When was the last time she'd been hit on? Well, it happened occasionally at Rhonda's. But never by someone who looked like Drew Montgomery.
"Oh, hell," she said as she flipped open her phone. She should call her. At least let her know she hadn't forgotten about her truck. After she dialed, she casually tossed the business card back on her desk, leaning back in her chair as she waited. On the fourth ring, just as she expected voice mail to pick up, she heard her voice.
Jay cleared her throat. "Hi. It's Jay . . . Jessica Burns. The one who hit your truck." She smiled when she heard the quiet laugh on the other end.
"Did you think I would forget you, Jessica Burns? Never."
Jay laughed. "I'm sure there's a dent to remind you. And please call me Jay."
"Okay. And I'm really glad you called. I talked to a builder today. Gave him your card. Seems he's pissed off at Wilkes and Bonner."
Jay sat up straight. "Pissed off? You gave him my card?"
"I don't know all the details, but they outsourced some of their work, but still charged him as if they did it all. Something like that."
"They used to do that all the time," she said.
"Well, it's R and K Builders. I talked to Randy Kline. He's a good guy." She laughed. "I told him you did killer stuff. I'm assuming your portfolio will back me up?"
"Yes, of course. I really appreciate that, Drew. Especially since you've never seen any of my work."
"No problem. I hate to see the little guy get squeezed. I know how it feels."
"You still consider yourself a little guy?"
"Well, we've grown. Certainly nothing like Apollo Lawns with their fifty or sixty crews. But we're the largest organic landscaping company in the area."
Jay relaxed, leaning back in her chair and refilling her wineglass for the third time. "I had no idea you were organic. How did that start?"
"My grandfather. He had a little nursery out in South Austin , back when South Austin was still outside the city."
"Oh, my God. Montgomery Nursery? I go there all the time."
"Yeah. That was his. They kept the name."
"He died seven years ago. But it was the only organic nursery at the time. Bobby Vickers owns it now. He'd worked for my grandfather for years. It was only natural I sell to him. I was too busy with my business to hang on to it."
"Small world," she said quietly.
"That it is. I'm surprised we haven't run into each other before."
"Really. Especially when I worked for Wilkes and Bonner. I was around new construction all the time."
Jay moved from her computer chair to the comfortable recliner tucked into a corner of the office, carefully setting her wineglass on the low table beside it. She was surprised at how at ease she was talking to Drew as their conversation drifted to more personal things, like college and family. But more surprising was how fast the time flew by as they chatted away like old friends.
"Oh, my God, it's after ten," she said later. "I had no intention of taking up this much of your time."
Drew laughed. "And ten is my bedtime on a work night. I don't make exceptions for just anyone, you know."
"And to think I really just called to see about your truck."
"The ding is hardly worth repairing, Jay. I can probably just take it somewhere and have them pop it out of the bumper. Don't go to the trouble of claiming it on your insurance."
Jay paused. "Katherine is afraid you're going to sue."
"Sue? For what? And Katherine is your . . . partner?"
"Yes. She's also an attorney so she's paranoid that way."
"I see. Well, you can tell her I'm not going to sue. It's just a little ding, Jay."
"And I still feel terrible about hitting it. Please promise me you'll let me know the cost when you get it fixed."
"If that'll make you feel better, sure."
"Good. Now I've taken up enough of your time." She stood, stretching out her back. "Go to bed."
Drew closed her phone, unconsciously plugging it in to charge. Normally, she hated talking on the phone. Hated it. State your business, ask your questions, hang up. But tonight the conversation flowed easily. There were no awkward moments, no lulls.
Why are the most interesting women always taken?
"Because they're interesting," she said, stating the obvious.
But she suspected Jay was someone she could become friends with, despite her being in a relationship. They had much in common, and even though their paths hadn't crossed before—professionally—she anticipated them crossing frequently now. Especially if Jay was involved in the interior design of a home when Drew was busy working on the outside.
She finally moved, shoving her thoughts away. It was late and she had a busy day tomorrow.
"You know it's already ninety-five out."
Jay nodded at their waiter, nearly ripping the iced tea from his hand and taking a large drink. "God, that's good." She looked at Audrey over the rim of the glass. "Only an insane person would wear pantyhose."
Audrey rolled her eyes. "Not again."
"I'm just saying, skirt and hose? That's archaic."
"Dress code, Jay."
"Which is another archaic concept. Good grief, it's summer." She put the glass down. "In Texas ."
"I know where we live."
"They shouldn't even sell hose during the summer."
"As we've discussed for the last several summers . . . brokerage firm, dress code, very important clients. Or have you forgotten where I work?"
"It's insane. That's all I'm saying."
"Why must we have this conversation every summer? Why?"
Jay shook her head. "Because it's insane, and you're making me hot."
Audrey grinned. "Oh, baby. It's been awhile since someone's told me I make them hot."
Jay laughed. "Speaking of hot, I talked to Drew Montgomery the other night."
"Drew? The woman you hit?"
"Yes. We talked for over an hour."
Audrey stared at her. "Now who's insane?"
"It was so easy." Jay leaned back, relaxing. "She put me in touch with a builder. Gave him my card. So I met him this morning. He liked my portfolio, and just like that, I got a job." She smiled as Shelly, Rhonda's lunchtime help, brought their burgers and fries. "Thanks, Shell."
"Shelly? My mayo?"
"Sorry, Audrey. I'll bring it right out."
"She's knows I like mayo," Audrey complained after Shelly was out of earshot. "She knows I dip my fries in mayo. Why doesn't she just bring it out the first time? Why must I always ask for it?"
"That's kinda crazy too," Jay said as she shoved two fries into her mouth. "And fattening."
"I have always been this size, do not start with me." She paused. "Skinny bitch," she muttered under her breath.
Jay laughed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't pick on you. You're my only friend."
"Yeah. Try to remember that."
Jay acknowledged the subtle wink Shelly gave her when she returned with the mayo. What started out innocently—forgetting the mayo—had turned into a game for Shelly. One she apparently enjoyed much more than Audrey did.
"I'll try not to forget your tip this time, Shell," Audrey mumbled as she chewed her first fry laden with creamy mayonnaise. "Now, what about this job?"
Jay wiped her mouth with her napkin. "They make the best burgers. God. I could eat here everyday."
"You practically do. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were hoping to run into Drew again."
Jay scoffed. "But you do know better."
"So, about the job."
"Oh, yeah. It's with R and K Builders. They're a small company. I think they probably only have two or three houses going at once. They're not spec houses. They design them to be custom, so they're really nice. And probably since they are such a small company, Wilkes and Bonner didn't want to waste their talent on them, so they outsourced. Mr. Kline found out and got pissed off," she said, remembering Drew's words. Randy Kline, when they'd met, said no such thing.
"So what'd you get? Just one house?"
Jay grinned. "That's the great part. I think he intended to give me one house, just to try me out. But he loved my portfolio. In fact, he said my style was just what he was looking for." She knew she was beaming, but she couldn't help it. "I got three."
"Oh, wow, Jay, that's fabulous. I'm so proud."
Jay reached across the table and squeezed Audrey's hand. "Thanks. I feel like maybe—finally—my big break is here."
"So why don't we go out and celebrate tonight?" Audrey bit into her burger, chewing quickly. "Or is Katherine making herself available, since it is Friday and all?"
"I haven't even told Katherine yet." Jay stood. "I'm going to get us some more tea." At the counter, she winked at Shelly as she grabbed a half-full pitcher of tea and brought it back to their table. "Besides, Friday nights are no different than any other night for her."
Audrey shook her head, but Jay wasn't in the mood to listen to how bad Katherine was. She didn't need Audrey to tell her.
"So, what'd you have in mind?"
"See a movie?" Audrey suggested.
Jay thought for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm too wired to sit still that long."
"Good grief, no. You and me?" Jay glanced at the blackboard behind the tiny stage, noting one of her favorite singers was playing tonight. She hadn't been out to listen to Tammy George since last summer. "How about margaritas?"
"That means here."
Audrey whipped her head around, her eyes wide as she read the board. "Wow. Cool." She nodded. "Okay, but it'll be crowded."
Jay knew it would, but it would be fun. A night out. And she knew Katherine wouldn't mind. She suspected it was a load off Katherine's mind knowing Jay had a pal like Audrey. Audrey was forever single, but forever looking. She went on her share of blind dates, but— as Jay had told her once—she was looking for a diamond among a box full of rocks. Therefore, one blind date rarely led to two, which was why Audrey had as much free time on her hands as Jay did.
"Crowded is fine," Jay said as she picked up her burger again. "Besides, maybe you'll get lucky."
Audrey snorted. "I've been here when it's crowded. They come out of the woods. And frankly, most of the women who come out of the woods scare me." She dipped a fry into her mayo cup, then pointed it at Jay. "But might you be hoping it's crowded enough for a Drew Montgomery sighting?"
"Oh, don't be silly," Jay said, dismayed to feel her face flushing with embarrassment. The thought had crossed her mind, she admitted.
"Right. And I'll just pretend I didn't see you blush."
"Oh, all right," she conceded. "Would it be so bad if she were here? I need to thank her anyway. My new job and all."
"You could just call her. Because as much as I hate what Katherine is doing to you, I think this Drew person is going to be trouble." "Trouble? How so?"
Audrey raised her eyebrows. "Dreamy, steamy and creamy."