Worth the Risk (Pine Valley Book 1)(2)

By: Heather B. Moore

The husband grinned, and the wife did a little clap. They really were a sweet couple.

“Thank you, miss,” the husband said. “Can we give you a tip?”

“Oh, no,” Alicia said with a small laugh, appreciating being called ‘miss’ instead of ‘ma’am’. At the age of twenty-eight, she was well used to the ‘ma’am’ title. “I’m happy to help, and I hope you have a wonderful anniversary.”

Her cell phone buzzed in her pocket, and without looking she knew it was her mom texting again with additional requests.

“Have a seat,” she said, waving them toward a long, elegant couch. “I’ll let you know when your table is ready.” The couple thanked her profusely. But in truth, Alicia was happy to help. She loved the thrill of maneuvering things around and making customers happy. A smile went a long way in her world. She came to work, and people were grateful for her help. She went home, and she could do nothing right.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Alicia began to say as the next couple walked forward. Her traditional welcome statement stuck in her throat when she saw who had been waiting.

Jeff Finch.

The guy she’d made a huge fool of herself over in high school. The guy who’d burned her in the worst way possible. The guy who’d once been the center of her world. She hadn’t seen him face-to-face in more than ten years.

Of all the men to come tonight, when she was working on Valentine’s no less, what were the chances?

He was taller than she remembered, but his eyes were the same icy blue. His gaze seemed to bore right into her, and her heart felt like it stopped for a half-second. When it started beating again, it drummed twice as fast. Jeff’s hair was also shorter than in high school, and the untamed black curls were mostly disciplined by some type of gel. She didn’t remember his shoulders being as broad, but Jeff was a man now, and that probably explained a few things.

She half expected him to say “hi” to her—after all, they’d been neighbors and friends their entire childhood before their fall-out.

But all he said was, “We have a reservation.”

The woman standing next to him, who was incidentally holding his hand, looked like she was one of those stock photo models who’d been photoshopped and over-filtered. Perfect makeup, perfect features, perfect hair. The woman’s blonde wavy hair was opposite of Alicia’s stick-straight brunette hair. And even though Alicia’s hostess dress was classy V-neck black, the blonde woman’s silver dress seemed to put everyone and everything to shame.

Alicia tore her gaze from the woman and looked back at Jeff. There was no acknowledgment in his eyes, no amusement, and no friendliness.

He didn’t recognize her.

Numbness took over Alicia’s brain. He had to recognize her; he was just choosing not to. She’d thought she’d put the past behind her, but the hurt was back, and the sharp pain of embarrassment and rejection knotted her stomach. Alicia forced herself to look down at the registrar; she could play his game. “Name, please?”

“Finch,” he said. “Jeff Finch. Reservation for two.”

The woman said something, but the sound of her voice was merely a blend of sounds compared to the sharp daggers of Jeff’s voice.

Alicia blinked, her eyes stinging. Table fifteen. There was the name of Jeff Finch right next to it. How did she not see it before now?

Feeling robotic, she grabbed two menus. “This way, please.” She turned before she could look into Jeff’s eyes again and walked to table fifteen.

She imagined him watching her walk, and she suddenly felt self-conscious in her fitted dress and high heels. But when she stopped at the table and turned, Jeff wasn’t looking at her at all. He was checking his phone, his jaw set tightly.

She handed over the menus and told them that their waitress would be with them shortly. Somehow she managed to speak proper English and not stutter. As she walked back to the hostess stand, she wondered why she’d have such a hard time with Jeff Finch, after so long. She should have expected to run into him at some point and was surprised it hadn’t been sooner. The thing with small towns is that everyone might move away after high school for a few years, but they usually managed to return.