No Turning Back - By HelenKay Dimon
“They’re here in town. All three of them. Well, definitely two but I’m betting the third is skulking around here somewhere.” Leah Baron slid into the booth and ignored the way her jeans squeaked against the fake green leather. A plate complete with chicken salad sandwich and a side of chips hit the table with a clank a second later.
“Your usual,” the waitress said as she dropped it and ran.
Leah admired the perfect timing. “Guess it’s obvious I don’t deal well with change.”
“Got to love Rosie’s Diner.” Mallory Able tapped her lavender-painted nails on the table as her silver bracelets jangled. “Except for my meal, which sucks.”
“It’s a salad.”
“Which is why I used the word sucks.”
Leah pushed her plate away so she could lean her elbows on the table. She could barely sit still in her seat. “Gossip is zipping through town. Everyone will know everything about these guys from their vital statistics to their credit scores by midnight.”
“Your lunch looks better than mine.” Mallory frowned at her small side salad. Glancing back and forth between their plates, she reached over and stole a chip. Then a second.
Leah beat back the urge to race through her news and gobble up every minute of Mallory’s short weekday break from her gift shop. This moment called for some best friend honesty recon. “You don’t need to diet, you know.”
“I should lose ten . . .” Mallory closed one eye, as if she were mentally counting. “Make that fifteen . . . pounds.”
“Stop. You’ve already lost more than twenty and look amazing.” Not that Leah could convince Mallory or make her see her real figure when she looked in the mirror. The voice in her friend’s head pummeled her body, and Leah couldn’t force the negativity out with a long list of compliments, though she kept trying.
Getting Mallory to peel off a layer or two of clothing proved equally impossible. Even now she wore a black skirt with matching tights under it and a long-sleeve bulky sweater over. She’d dressed for fall even though the calendar said the beginning of summer.
“I wish I could get you to see what I see. You’re stunning.” The high cheekbones and straight long hair. Leah envied the look as well as her friend’s ability to wear bangs and send out a sexy vibe while doing it. Then there was the curvy figure that more than once had Leah crossing her arms over her chest in breast envy.
“Have you really not noticed men staring at you?” Leah said, hoping to break through the defenses, if only a crack.
Mallory pointed her fork in the direction of the men in the corner booth near the door. “You mean the dude in his eighties?”
Leah gave up for now and tucked a leg underneath her as she waved a hello to the cook when he peeked his head out of the kitchen to scan the tables. “Thanks for ordering for me, by the way.”
“Wasn’t tough to pick your meal since you eat the same thing for lunch every day. Rosie’s should name the lunch special after you.” Mallory slipped another chip off the towering pile but dropped it before taking a bite. “You were late and I can only be away from the shop for so long, so I didn’t wait to order. You get what I picked. Lucky I know you so well.” Leah winced. She’d gotten sidetracked and been running behind all day. It was as if her internal clock got jammed. “Sorry about that.”
“No big deal.” Mallory stabbed at a piece of defenseless lettuce. “Carry on.”
Leah inhaled, putting friendship responsibility aside and trying to calm the mix of anxiety and excitement pinging around inside her. No one could stop today’s emotional free fall but seeing Mallory did ground Leah. They’d been friends since college, opposite on the outside—artsy and free-spirited versus practical and focused, grunge versus girly—but bone-deep loyal on the inside.
When Leah had moved back home to Sweetwater after graduation, Mallory followed. Five years later Mallory made a living selling handcrafted goods and highlighting local artists in her shop and on her online store.
Despite being from there, Leah still searched for her place in the community. Hell, she’d settle for a few minutes of peace. Her stomach rarely stopped jumping and most nights she slept only a few hours then spent the dawn walking.
“You were saying something about the town being invaded by three of something?” Mallory asked.
“Basically, we’re talking about the biggest news in my life .