His only plan had been to ask her out to dinner. Now, he decided as he studied the windows on the second level, he’d have to take a little time and work out a strategy.
Zoe McCourt was about to go under siege.
ZOE had other things on her mind. She was running late, but that was nothing new. There always seemed to be another flood of things to do or remember or fix right before she walked out the door.
“You give those cookies to Chuck’s mother. She’ll divvy them up.” Zoe turned the car into the driveway two blocks from her own house, then sent her son a stern look. “I mean it, Simon. I don’t have time to take them in myself. If I go to the door she’ll keep me there for twenty minutes, and I’m already late.”
“Okay, okay. I coulda walked.”
“Yeah, but then I wouldn’t’ve been able to do this.” She grabbed him, dug her fingers into his ribs to make him squeal.
“Simon!” she said in the same exasperated tone.
He was laughing as he got out and dragged his duffel from the backseat.
“You mind Chuck’s mother, and don’t keep everybody up all night. You’ve got Malory’s number?”
“Yes, I’ve got Malory’s number. And I know how to dial nine-one-one, and to run out of the house if I set it on fire when I play with matches.”
“Smart guy. Come over here and give me a kiss.”
He made a show of dragging his feet, keeping his head dipped to hide his grin as he approached her car window. “Make it quick. Somebody might see us.”
“Just tell them I wasn’t kissing you. I was yelling at you.” She gave him a kiss, resisted hugging him. “See you tomorrow. Have a good time, baby.”
“You, too, baby.” He snickered, then raced for the house.
With a mother’s skill, she backed out of the drive while watching her boy until he was safely inside.
Then she headed off to Malory’s, and her first grown-up sleepover.
MALORY knew what was going on. Nobody wanted her to be alone, and her new friends were worried about her. Zoe had been so enthusiastic about the brainstorm of an all-girl sleepover that Malory hadn’t been able to refuse.
The very fact that she’d wanted to refuse, had wanted to burrow into her cave alone, forced her to admit she needed a change.
She’d never been a loner, nor had she been much of a brooder in the past. When she was troubled, she went out, saw people. Bought things, gave a party.
Zoe’s request for an all-nighter gave Malory the push to do all of that. She bought food and pretty new candles with citrusy scents. And fragrant soaps and fussy new guest towels, then some good wine.
She cleaned the apartment she’d been neglecting, sp
illed spicy potpourri into bowls. And groomed herself in the meticulous way that women groomed for other women.
By the time Dana arrived, she had cheese and fruit and fancy crackers set out, the candles lit and music set on low.
“Wow, pretty elegant around here. I should’ve dressed up some.”
“You look great.” Determined to be cheerful, Malory leaned in to kiss Dana’s cheek. “I appreciate you guys doing this.”
“Hanging out with me, giving me a boost. I’ve been feeling down the last couple of days.”
“None of us figured on the energy drain this deal would be.” She passed Malory a grocery bag, then set down her overnight case. “I bought extra supplies. Wine, Cheez-Its, chocolate truffles, and popcorn. You know, the four basic food groups.” Dana flipped through the movie selection next to the entertainment center. “Did you rent every chick flick ever made?”