Worth the Risk (Pine Valley Book 1)(4)

By: Heather B. Moore

“Oooh, I wonder if the salmon is good here,” Paige continued, reading through the menu aloud. One of her habits, reading the menu to him. Jeff might have found it charming on their first date, but not now.

He and Paige had been dating off and on for a couple of months. Jeff’s schedule had been so busy lately that he really didn’t have time to date anyone. And Paige was proving to be a time-sap. Which shouldn’t be how he felt if he was really interested in her. Which he was, mostly, but he was surprised that she had even stuck with him this long. It seemed every date they’d had lately had ended in an argument—about how much time he was spending with her, ironically.

No matter how many times he explained to Paige how much work it took to start up his own real estate business, she didn’t seem to understand, or care. She certainly enjoyed the fancy restaurants he could afford, though, and she seemed to ogle over his car more than him. Okay, so buying an exotic car had been a splurge, and he knew it. His one justification was it would keep most of its value if he ever decided to sell. Another justification was that he’d worked his tail off six days a week, and on the seventh day, he wanted to do something fun. Unmarried, and unattached, he’d invested in a Lamborghini, which he couldn’t exactly drive in the winter in Pine Valley.

When he’d picked up Paige in his Land Rover tonight, she’d actually pouted.

“I just don’t look as good climbing out of a Land Rover as I do your Lamborghini.”

Jeff had laughed, but inside he’d been irritated. Paige was full of comments like that. She didn’t see his wealth as a product of late nights and tons of work; she saw it as something that should benefit her.

Jeff knew he was in a foul mood. He wasn’t looking forward to facing his cousin in court. The lawsuit had dragged on for months, so he should be glad it had finally gotten this far. But when he’d picked up Paige, and she’d made her barbed comments, it hadn’t helped. Jeff hadn’t been prepared for another complication—that of seeing Alicia Waters at the restaurant.

And she’d looked stunning.

Not the girl next door he’d grown up with, although her hazel eyes were the same, and her pert nose was the same. Okay, her dark hair was the same, but it was sleek and smooth, and longer than it had been in high school. And her figure… well, that had changed the most. She wasn’t skinny anymore, but curvy. She still had that birthmark on her wrist that she used to say was an angel kiss. She also wore no ring.

But why should he notice, or even care? She still hated him. He’d seen it in her eyes, even after all these years. How long had it been? Nine? Ten?

Jeff readily admitted that he’d been a jerk in high school. He hadn’t thought much with his brain after he turned fifteen, and as a consequence, he’d lost his best friend over some random girl he’d had a crush on for about two weeks. He’d been an idiot at prom, but come Monday morning at school, the gossip had already spread, and there was no way to save face. He was in too deep, and Alicia was intent on avoiding him—as was her right. Their senior year came to an end, and Alicia moved to another city to live with her dad and go to college. He’d seen her pictures with groups of friends on social media, but he never saw any picture that looked like she was in a serious relationship with a guy.

One night he’d even written an email with a long apology, not even sure that her email address was still active, but then he never sent it. He decided that too much time had passed. They’d both moved on, and he thought he could get over the guilt; but apparently it had never truly left.

“Can you shut that thing off?” Paige’s voice penetrated his stormy thoughts.

Jeff glanced up. Paige was a beautiful woman, but he’d learned her beauty only went skin deep. “Are you ready to order?” he asked, trying to deflect irritation.

She scoffed. “What does it look like?” Her menu was on the table and her arms folded.

Jeff set down his phone and picked up the menu. He made a pretense of scanning the menu, even though he was no longer hungry. “I think I’ll have the braised chicken. What are you having?” It was practically torture to keep his tone light and calm.