Worth the Risk (Pine Valley Book 1)(3)

By: Heather B. Moore

She should have guessed that Jeff Finch would eventually show up at Alpine Lodge during one of her shifts. He was probably making a lot of money as a realtor in Pine Valley. At least it seemed like it when she’d Googled him from time to time. It wasn’t something she was proud of, but during her low moments, she’d Google high school friends to see what was going on in their lives.

Jeff Finch was a realtor in Pine Valley, and with the value of real estate and property sky rocketing the past couple of years, Alicia wouldn’t doubt that the suit Jeff wore tonight was quite expensive. The woman at his side was certainly high maintenance.

Gwen showed up. “The table is ready.”

“Great, I owe you one,” Alicia said.

Gwen smiled. “No problem.”

See, everyone is nice to me here, Alicia thought. This was normal. Home was not normal.

Alicia led the older couple to their table and in the process discovered that it was their thirty-eighth anniversary. Once she saw them settled, she couldn’t help but glance over at table fifteen.

Her heart about stopped when her gaze connected with Jeff Finch’s. He looked away immediately, before she could decide if he was actually watching her, or if it had all been an awkward coincidence. Regardless, heat spread from her neck to her face. She turned and walked briskly to the hostess stand.

Why was she reacting like this? It had been ten years, for heaven’s sake. Alicia couldn’t technically count Jeff as an ex-boyfriend just because she’d had a huge crush on him their senior year. They’d gone to prom together, and Alicia had obviously read way too much into the invitation. She’d hoped it meant that Jeff liked her as much as she liked him. But all night, he’d had his attention on the new girl in school named Shannon, who was only a junior.

Halfway through the night, Alicia had found them kissing in the hallway when she’d thought he’d taken a bathroom break. She’d been shocked, to say the least.

She hadn’t said a word but had called another friend who hadn’t gone to prom to come and get her. Jeff could figure out what happened to her on his own. Once at home, she watched out of her window to see him get dropped off after one in the morning by a car she didn’t recognize.

By the time school started the next Monday, everyone knew that Jeff and Shannon had hooked up at prom, and they were now an item. Alicia had never talked to Jeff again. Since she knew everything about his schedule and habits and hangouts, it was easy to avoid running into him.

Until now… ten years later.

Alicia exhaled and stared at the list of reservations without reading a word. Why couldn’t she forget Jeff and that terrible night? Now, knowing he was somewhere in the restaurant, at table fifteen to be exact, she couldn’t seem to slow her drumming pulse no matter how many times she exhaled. Jeff had once been her best friend as well. He wasn’t just a random teenage crush. She had allowed herself to hope for so much more.

Alicia blinked back the burning in her eyes as the restaurant doors opened. She greeted the next couple, found their reservation, and led them to their table. This time, she refused to look in the direction of table fifteen.

Jeff didn’t need another complication in his life, but from the moment he walked into the Alpine Lodge, he’d been thrown for a loop. If he’d known Alicia Waters worked as the hostess here, he would have made reservations somewhere else. But by the time he’d recognized her as the hostess, it was too late to back out and change his dinner plans with Paige.

Alicia had seated them, with only a quick glance in his direction, then had proceeded to ignore him. Like usual. Two emails chimed on his phone as he sat at the table. He glanced at his phone. Both were from his lawyer, so Jeff pulled them up quickly to scan them. His cousin and former business partner, Kyle, had embezzled money from their real estate company. The lawsuit would be making its first court appearance in a couple of days, and if tonight hadn’t been Valentine’s, there was no way Jeff would have been out to dinner.

“Is something wrong?” Paige asked.

“Just an email about court on Friday,” Jeff said without looking up. He continued to read through his lawyer’s email. Good. There was nothing new he needed to know. His lawyer had just sent over copies of both written depositions from Jeff and his former business partner, Kyle.