The Last Boyfriend(12)

By: Nora Roberts

Sulking, Avery stabbed at pasta. “I’m not going to be left out of this!”

“Avery, it’ll take days. Weeks, really.”

“I want to play now.” Then she blew out a breath. “Okay, not now because my feet are already killing me. But tomorrow. Maybe.” She stuffed in more pasta. “Look at you. You look so happy.”

“I’m happier every day. Yoda threw up in Murphy’s bed this morning.”

“That’s reason to celebrate, all right.”

“Definitely not, but Murphy came running for Beckett. It was wonderful.”

“Yeah, I’d be happy not to be on dog-puke detail.”

“It’s a factor.” Clare’s eyes danced. “But what really makes me happy is how the boys love Beckett, how they trust him. How he’s part of us now. I’m getting married, Avery. I’m so lucky to love and marry two incredible men in one lifetime.”

“I think you got my share. You should really give me Beck.”

“Nope, I’m keeping him.” Her sunny ponytail danced when she shook her head. “Pick one of the others.”

“Maybe I should get both of them. I could use two sets of hands tonight. And I still have Christmas shopping. Why do I always think I’ll have more time?”

“Because you always manage to find a way to make the time. Have you said anything to the Montgomerys about the space across the street?”

“Not yet. Still mulling. You didn’t tell Beckett?”

“I said I wouldn’t. But it’s hard. I’m getting used to telling him everything.”

“Love, love, sappy love.” Avery sighed, wiggled her tired toes. “At times like this it seems like a crazy idea anyway. But . . .”

“You could do it, and do it right.”

“You’re just saying that because I could.” Avery laughed, and some of the fatigue fell away from her face. “And you love me. I’ve got to get back to work. Are you going over to the inn?”

“Laurie and Charlene have the store covered. I thought I’d give them an hour or so. Then I have to pick up the boys.”

“Send me more pictures.”

“I will.” Clare rose, pulled a wool cap over her sleek blond hair, shrugged a coat over her willowy frame. “Get some sleep, sweetie.”

“Won’t be a problem. The minute we’re closed I’m going upstairs and falling flat on my face for eight straight. See you tomorrow. I’ve got it,” Avery said when Clare reached for the dishes. “I’m heading back to the kitchen anyway.”

She waved Clare off, rolled her aching shoulders, then went back to work.

By seven she was in the zone, sliding pizzas into the oven and out again, boxing them for delivery, passing them to waitstaff for table service.

Her place buzzed with activity—and that was a good thing, she reminded herself. She dished up pasta, plated burgers and fries, glanced at the boy who sat at the counter playing the Megatouch as if it comprised his world.

She hustled back to the closed kitchen for more supplies just as Owen walked in.

He took one look around, frowned when he didn’t see her behind the counter.

“Where’s Avery?” he asked a waitress.

“She’s around. The high school chorus decided to come in for pizza after practice. We’re slammed. She must be in the back.”

“Okay.” He didn’t think about it, just went over to the cash register, grabbed one of the order pads, and headed for the back dining room.

When he came out, she stood at the counter, cheeks flushed from the heat, ladling sauce on dough. “Orders from the back,” he told her, slapping the slips in place. “I’ll get the drinks.”

She spread mozzarella, added toppings, watched him.

You could count on Owen, she thought, through the paper thin to the brick thick, you could count on him.

For the next three hours she did whatever came next. Baked spaghetti, Warrior’s pizza, eggplant parm, calzone, gyro. By ten it was like being in a trance, cashing out, cleaning counters, shutting down the ovens.

“Get a beer,” she told Owen. “You earned it.”

“Why don’t you sit down?”