When Mia and Luke reached Thayer’s, Rose and Morgan were already standing at the cash register, talking to Andrea Moore, the young woman who had taken over Rose’s position.
“I’m glad Emory isn’t here,” Mia heard Morgan say to Rose. Emory Thayer owned the jewelry store and had been Rose’s boss when she worked there.
“Emory’s in less and less,” Andrea told them. “He’s really slowing down. I think he’ll give up the store soon. Everyone will have to drive to Billings for rings.”
“Someone will buy the store and keep it running, don’t you think?” Rose said. “Every town needs a jewelry store.”
“Maybe you should buy it,” Mia said.
Rose just laughed. “I don’t have the time or money. What I need is a gallery.”
“Look around you!” Andrea waved a hand at the plain gray, mirror-lined walls. “There’s plenty of space.”
“A jewelry store and art gallery? That would be pretty weird,” Rose said.
Mia didn’t blame Rose for not being interested. Emory had been a strange boss at best—and he was also the father of the man she’d dated for years. When she broke up with him, things got ugly between her and Emory and she’d ended up quitting abruptly.
“Andrea, do you mind if I help Mia and Luke pick out a ring?” Rose asked.
“Not at all.” Andrea handed over her keys to Rose instantly and Mia had the feeling this wasn’t the first time Rose had acted the part of sales clerk since she’d left the position. She led the way to the engagement ring display cases.
“Do you know your budget, Luke?”
Mia’s heart squeezed again. They were buying a ring. She was marrying Luke.
But when Luke named a number, Mia’s jaw dropped open. Where had he gotten that kind of money?
“That will give you plenty of options,” Rose said, the surprise in her voice matching Mia’s. She bent over the cases. “How about this one?” She pointed out a simple, delicate ring. Mia felt a rush of gratitude for her friend. The ring was beautiful and she’d love to own such a thing, but she instinctively knew it wouldn’t break the bank.
“Ooh, that’s pretty,” Morgan said. Her thick, dark waves swung over her shoulders as she bent to look at it more closely. Mia was happy the older woman agreed with her opinion. Morgan was so competent and self-assured; if she liked the ring, it had to be a good pick.
Focusing on the ring again, Mia decided that if she’d scanned the cases for an hour she couldn’t have chosen a better one herself. She slid a look at Rose, wondering if what people said was really true—that she got a feeling from the engagement ring about a couple’s chances for happiness. Had Rose seen something promising in them? Is that how she’d been drawn to the right ring? When she raised a questioning eyebrow, Rose nodded at her almost imperceptibly.
Mia’s heart soared. Maybe this was going to work out. Maybe she would get to have everything she wanted, after all.
Luke’s voice sliced through her thoughts. “That one’s too plain. I want my princess to have a real ring. How about that one?”
Mia bit her lip in consternation when he pointed to a fancy setting with multiple rows of diamonds and sapphires. She wanted to laugh out loud at the thought of how that ring would look on her hand, let alone the cost of it. She’d need a whole new wardrobe to match it, for one thing. And a cane to lean on to hold it up, for another.
Rose frowned. “I think Mia might prefer—”
“That one.” Luke tapped the glass again, his tone brooking no disagreement. Rose raised an eyebrow, but pulled out the glittering ring and slid it onto Mia’s finger. It was far too big. Mia had to hold it in place. Luke nodded. “That looks perfect to me. What do you think, Mia?”
Mia shook her head. It was a spectacular ring, but it didn’t fit her at all. In fact, it made her feel like a fake. Like a cheap plastic rain slicker trying to pass itself off as a mink coat. “I don’t think so.”
“I think so. Don’t be modest, Mia. It’s beautiful, just like you.”
Mia softened at Luke’s words, but Rose still looked worried. Mia knew why; it wasn’t the right ring, no matter how beautiful it was.
“I like the other one,” she said softly.
Luke took her hand in his and tugged it until she looked up at him. “You’re just saying that because you’re worried about the price. I can afford the ring, Mia. I want you to have it. I won’t let people like your mother and Linette Wilcox make you small. You deserve the best and I’m going to give it to you. We’ll take this one.” He smoothed his thumb over the showy ring on her finger, and Mia didn’t know how to answer him. She knew that buying her this expensive ring was Luke’s way of showing everyone else just how much he cared for her. He wanted them to value her too, which she appreciated in the circumstances. If only he could see it was bound to backfire—people would only talk about how unworthy she was to wear it. But she couldn’t say that to him. Not now—in front of Rose and Morgan. Both women watched her expectantly.
She finally nodded. “This one,” she echoed.
“Are you sure?” Rose said.
“There are lots of rings to look at,” Morgan said.
“No, I’m sure,” Mia said, with a glance at Luke. He took her hand and squeezed it briefly, and she knew he was pleased she’d agreed with him. But should she have? How could she be angry with a man who wanted to give her diamonds? How could she feel disappointed when the ring was so spectacular?
But she did feel disappointed. It wasn’t the ring she wanted, and that didn’t seem to matter to Luke as much as what everyone else thought of him.
Unfortunately, she knew it was her own bad choices that put him in a position to feel insecure.
She stood back as Luke made the arrangements to purchase the ring. Since it needed to be sized, she slid it back off her finger gratefully and handed it over the counter to Rose. Rose held the ring a moment as if concentrating on it. When she passed it to Andrea, Mia couldn’t read her expression. A thread of fear tightened in Mia’s gut. Did that mean something bad?
As Andrea rang up the sale, Rose leaned in closer. “I’ve got news, too. Cab and I set a date for our wedding. May tenth. I’m so excited!”
“You and Mia should go wedding dress shopping together,” Morgan said brightly and Mia knew she was trying to lighten the atmosphere. “Bring me along. I love that kind of thing.”