Chapter 1

 

     Tanner closed his office door and opened a browser. He hoped that searching How to break off an engagement would result in some sort of helpful advice.

     Tomorrow night, he would meet Angela for dinner and deliver the news in a diplomatic way. He tried to think of a nice way to say it, but there wasn’t one. Tanner didn’t love her, and marrying her wouldn’t change that.

     Watching his sister, Nellie, and her fiancé, Coop, Tanner realized the vast difference between a match made for business and a relationship grounded in love.

     His search yielded no great ideas, so he shut off his computer and left the office. When he spotted the diner on his way home, he pulled in.

     A slice of pie was what he needed to help him think.

     Just inside the door, he spotted the Please Seat Yourself sign, so he wandered toward the booth in the back corner. He noticed the cute blonde in jeans and a white t‑shirt emblazoned with the diner’s logo taking orders at another table.

     While he waited for her to make her way over, he picked up a menu tucked next to the napkin holder and flipped to the desserts.

     She approached a minute later. “Evening. Can I get you someth—” Her eyes expanded to the size of saucers, and her ordering pad hit the floor. When she bent down to pick it up, her head connected with the edge of the table.

     “You okay?”

     “Sorry, yeah.” She rubbed the top of her head. “What can I get you?”

     “Sure you’re all right?”

     “Uh-huh.” She tapped her pen on the paper. “I’m good.”

     “I’ll have a cup of coffee and a slice of pecan pie.”

     “It’ll be right out.” She hurried off to the kitchen.

     Tanner leaned back and crossed his arms, enjoying the quiet.

     When the waitress returned carrying the pie and coffee, he made a point to read her nametag. “Thanks, Olivia.”

     She wrinkled her brow. “How . . .”

     “Your nametag.”

     “Oh. Ha! Thought for a second you . . . were . . . maybe psychic or something.” She laid the check on the table. “No hurry. Just let me know if you need anything else.”

     After gobbling up the pie and sipping the coffee, Tanner caught her attention. “Do I pay here or at the register?”

     “I’ll check you out in front. I mean, I’ll ring you up.”

     He dropped a tip on the table and made his way to the register.

***

     Tanner glanced up as his office door opened. Only one person didn’t bother knocking when the door was closed.

     “Hello, Grandfather.”

     “Your relationship with Angela is proving beneficial. Lance called this morning to say he was on board for the project. It’s only a trial partnership, but it’s a great start.”

     “I’m sure it has nothing to do with the engagement.” The words sounded false even as Tanner said them, but he hoped it was true, given what he was about to do.

     “It has everything to do with it.” Grandfather laughed and dropped into one of the wingback chairs. “I set it up nicely for you, didn’t I? With my hint, I mean.”

     “Saying that you spotted a ring in my pocket and expected a big announcement soon wasn’t really a hint. I’d have preferred that you not said anything.”

     “But it got me what I want.” He pushed up out of the chair and left the office.

     Tanner struggled between his dislike of his grandfather and an allegiance to the family business. Grandmother, who died long before Tanner was born, had willed the company to his mom or her children once Grandfather passed away.

     Mom didn’t want anything to do with the business, and Nellie chose her fiancé over the corner office. That left Tanner to fill the role, and he wanted to make it work. For him, it was more about continuing the family business than inheriting loads of money and occupying the corner office.

***

     At five, Tanner glanced at the clock, he’d been so busy, he hadn’t called his fiancée to arrange dinner. Breaking up would have to wait until another night. Tired, he headed home. He still wasn’t sure what he wanted to say, anyway.

     When he got to the house, he noticed Coop’s truck in the driveway next door. While Tanner would’ve enjoyed the company, he felt like the third wheel showing up at his sister’s house when Coop was there.

     They never acted as if it was a bother. And it wasn’t as if they never got time together. They worked together all day long. Even so, Tanner trudged into his own house and changed clothes before deciding on dinner.

     He’d barely made it into the kitchen when someone knocked at the door. Very few were on the list to get through at the gate, so Tanner swung the door open without peeking through the window. It was probably Coop or Nellie.

     “Hello, Tanner baby.” Angela flashed a grin and held up two grocery bags. “I was thinking about how wonderful you were and decided to make you dinner.”

     “Oh.” Tanner hadn’t expected his fiancée, and it took him a minute to realize he was still blocking the door. “Sorry. Come on in.”

     “I’ll have to kiss you after I put these down.”

     “Let me get those.” He reached for the bags.

     She handed them over then gave him a peck, without actually touching his lips. “Such a gentleman.”

     He couldn’t remember a real kiss since the engagement. She reserved real kisses for when they were in public. In private, she blew air kisses and patted his cheek. All the more reason to follow through with the break‑up.

     She turned on the oven, and while it preheated, she chopped vegetables. “Go have a beer or whatever you like to do, this will take a few minutes.”

     Tanner grabbed a pale ale and wandered out to the living room. He flopped onto the sofa and turned on the television, hoping the noise would be loud enough to drown out his thoughts. Did she know he was about to end the engagement? She’d never shown up unannounced before.

     Five minutes turned into ten, and Tanner had his speech prepared. Once they finished dinner, he’d speak his mind. Was it rude to wait until after she cooked? He couldn’t interrupt her now. She was holding a knife.

     If he told her before they ate, she might not stay for food, and then he’d feel bad since she cooked. There was no good alternative. Lost in thought, he jumped when she dropped into his lap.

     She cradled his face. “I’m so lucky to have you.”

     Softly she pressed her lips to his, and Tanner’s heart sank. What if all his assumptions were wrong? What if this was normal? People always talked about cold feet. Was that what he was feeling?

     Relaxing, he returned the kiss, but as he tangled his fingers in her hair, she pulled away.

     “Dinner is probably ready.” She patted his cheek and hopped up. “Go wash your hands.”

     Tanner sighed as he walked into the kitchen, more confused than before she’d arrived. While they ate, she talked about the weekend getaway she’d planned with her best friend, the new car she was eyeing, and the new dress she’d bought for Nellie’s wedding.

     He let her talk, ready to be done with dinner. More soul‑searching was required before he broke her heart. But he still wasn’t sure ending it would be more than a bump in the road for her.

     She checked her phone. “Oh. I hate to eat and run, but you don’t mind, do you?” Halfway out of the kitchen, she stopped. “Tanner? Aren’t you going to see me to the door?”

     “Sorry.” He left his unfinished plate and followed her out. “Goodnight.”

     She didn’t even bother with air kisses. “Night.”

     He bolted the door, tossed the rest of his dinner in the trash, and grabbed his car keys. Pie sounded good.

     His phone rang as he backed out of the garage.

     “Hey.” Tanner hit the button to answer. “What’s up, Coop?”

     “Nellie made some sort of cobbler or something. You should come over.”

     “Thanks for the offer, but I’m headed out.”

     “You have a Friday night date?” Coop laughed.

     Tanner thought of the waitress, and a pang of guilt stabbed at him. “No. Just headed to get a slice of pie.”

     “Nellie made dessert. It’s good. I tasted it before I called—just in case.”

     “Maybe another night.”

     “What about next Friday?”

     “Maybe.”

     “Or do you have pie every Friday?”

     “I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” Tanner ended the call.

     It only took a few minutes to get to the diner, and as he walked up, he glanced inside, happy to see the blonde working. It wasn’t as if he was going to ask for her number, but she was good company.

     He slid into the same booth and smiled as the waitress walked up to the table. “Hi, Olivia.”

     “Two nights in a row?” Her lips curled into a grin, and it lit up her whole face. “Same as before?”

     “Tonight, I’ll try a slice of apple.”

     “Coffee?”

     “Yep.” He tucked the menu back in its place.

     She started to walk away but stopped. “My friends call me Livvy.” Without waiting for a response, she hurried off to turn in the order.

     Tanner pondered the name. Somewhere in his brain’s archives, a little bell rang, but he couldn’t figure out why.

     “Here ya go.” Livvy slid the apple pie onto the table and filled a mug with coffee. “Can I get you anything else?”

     “I think this is good. Thanks.” Tanner found that he appreciated the friendly face more than he anticipated.

     The only downfall of the quiet was that it gave him time to think. Ruminate might be a better word.

     Was it normal for engaged people not to discuss a wedding date? His fiancée seemed so excited about the ring and proposal but hadn’t even asked about when. She talked more about her getaway with her friend than any plans for a ceremony. And the fact that he didn’t mind only heaped reasons on the break‑it‑off pile. But the idea of hurting her soured his stomach. He liked her and hoped that in time it would grow into more.

     He finished his pie much too quickly.

     “Need another?” Livvy picked up his empty plate.

     He wanted more but knew he shouldn’t. “Need? Definitely not. Tempting though.”

     Smiling, she laid down the check. “Anytime you’re ready.”

     Tanner lingered, finishing his coffee.

     “Need a refill?”

     Coffee so late would keep his brain spinning long after he’d want to sleep. “Yes, please.”

     She hurried back with the pot. “Oh! Thank you for that tip last night. It was . . . I wasn’t expecting it. Thanks.”

     Friday night pie became a regular part of his schedule.


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