“A leopard can’t change its spots, Twyla,” Ginny says around a mouthful of food. “Preston is still creepy with a capital C. You need to be careful around him.”
Man, some things just don’t change. When I introduced Ginny to Preston, those were her same words. Preston is creepy with a capital C. You need to be careful around him. After all these years, you’d think she’d get over it.
“Don’t you think it’s time you grew up, Ginny? All this animosity between you two needs to end.”
A flash of temper lights her pale blue eyes as she looks off in the distance. “Maybe you should tell him it’s time to grow up.”
“What?” I follow Ginny’s line of sight and glance over my shoulder.
Preston, wearing a black button-down shirt and dark-gray dress pants, ambles toward our table like a sexy god. A lusty feeling of warmth passes over me, and I avert my eyes.
He’s your best friend, nothing more.
Taking my napkin off my lap, I ball it up and drop it beside my plate. If I don’t stop him, the restaurant will get a floor show of epic proportion—not the good kind.
Ginny grabs my wrist, stopping me from getting out of my seat. “Let me do it. Please.”
“No. I’ve got this.” I push away from the table and rush to my feet, but I’m too late to stop him.
“Ladies.” Preston greets us with a pleasant smile. “How’s the gumbo tonight, Ginny?”
She opens her mouth to speak, but I hold up my palm. Slowly, I move my head side to side. I will not witness a nuclear meltdown in the middle of a restaurant. “Prest, can we speak outside, please?”
“No problem.” He steps to the side and lets me lead.
Outside, Preston leans against one of the building poles. The sparse lighting casts a somewhat eerie shadow around him. Despite the people passing between us, Preston’s attention is firmly anchored on me.
A ball of worry and foreboding twists in my stomach like a fist burying itself beneath my ribcage. The last thing I want is to upset Preston. We’ve known each other since we were in Mrs. Walsh’s second-grade class. He’s always had my back, and I his. I’m sure his showing up here is just a ploy to get to Ginny. The way they hate on each other, I have to wonder if there might be some attraction between them. Yeah, right. Anything between them would make Katrina look like a slight rain event.
I push aside my nerves. He has to know what he did was unacceptable. “Preston, didn’t I ask you not to come here?”
His lips quirk up in his familiar lopsided grin. “You did, but I don’t like you walking home alone. Anything could happen to you.”
Like I said, we look out for each other. I slide my arms around his waist and hug him tight. “Thanks, but I’ll be okay. I’m a big girl, and I’ve been doing this for quite some time without you.”
Preston hugs me back. “But I’m here now. You don’t have to do it alone.”
As much as I appreciate his concern, it’s not needed. I step out of his embrace and glance up. “Prest, I know the cops in the neighborhood. The ones on foot patrol look out for me. I’m totally safe.”
Something foreign flickers in his eyes, making them darker. “No one is ever completely safe. You never know who might watch you, waiting to take advantage of you.”
A shiver of ice sneaks down my spine. The idea of someone watching me is plain creepy. I rub my arms and try not to think about it. “I’ll have Ginny drop me off. Better?”
“In a perfect world… I won’t rest tonight, not knowing if you’re safe.” Preston steps closer, places his hands on my shoulders, and looks into my eyes. “I promise to be good and sit at the bar. When you’re ready to go, I’ll walk you home.”
“I won’t take no for an answer,” he says firmly. “That’s my deal, or you leave right now.”
I fold my arms over my chest and jut out my hip. “Oh, you gonna get all caveman on me?”
“If that’s what it takes.” Preston doesn’t crack a smile.
“Fine.” I’ve never won an argument with this man. It’s not worth trying to now. “Say nothing to Ginny. I’m going to have a hard enough time explaining this.” I wave my fingers between us.
Preston drops his hands. One, however, conveniently rests on my lower back as he escorts me inside the restaurant. The intimate gesture unnerves me.
Just a bit.
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