“I don’t mean to rush you,” Cab assured her, “but if you spend any of your new money on jewelry, things like that, consider storing them in the vault at the bank, not at home. Major crimes can happen even in small towns like this one.”
“Good advice,” Bella said. “It’s weird being a billionaire all of a sudden.”
“Yeah, just think—last month you were only a mere millionaire,” Hannah put in.
“Well, a week before that I was broke,” Bella countered. “Funny how your life can change in an instant.”
“I wish my life would change in an instant,” Hannah muttered, then bit her lip as if aware of how catty that sounded. Cab knew she didn’t begrudge Bella any of her current good fortune. Hannah had gotten Bella her place on the reality television show, Can You Beat a Billionaire, and when Bella won the show, she got a substantial raise out of the outcome. As far as he could tell Hannah didn’t want more money.
She wanted more excitement.
Cab sighed. He knew from his line of work that excitement was rarely a blessing. He hoped when she got what she wanted it wouldn’t prove a disappointment.
Had that been what attracted Grady’s victims to him? A desire for something new, something better than the lives they had? He’d managed to charm each of them into getting into his truck and staying there while he drove them to isolated places where he could live out his sick, murderous fantasies.
“Keep me posted if anything happens, okay?” he said to Bella, biting back the words he wanted to say to Hannah: Be grateful your life is as boring as it is. “I still think you and Evan should be the ones renting Carl’s house, not me. I’m drowning in all that space.”
She shrugged. “You might be right, but we don’t want to rent. We want to build a place from scratch, but both of us are so busy we’re having a hard time finding the perfect property.”
“I’m sure something will come up. See you, ladies.”
“That’s a lot of wood,” Mia Start said, carefully punching the numbers from Rose’s invoice into the till. Around them Dundy’s hardware store bustled with customers which gave Rose hope her purchase was going unnoticed. At twenty-one, Mia was several years younger than her, but still older than the ridiculous couple from the shop this morning. At least she had a job. Although it remained to be seen if the girl would keep it. Mia seemed awfully distracted. She’d finished scanning all of Rose’s purchases, but hadn’t bothered to state the total. Instead, she stood gazing off into the distance—at what, Rose had no idea. In fact she wasn’t sure if Mia saw anything at all. Her focus seemed internal. As Rose opened her mouth to prompt her, Mia dropped a hand to her flat, trim belly in a classic gesture she recognized at once.
Oh, no. Not this young, single woman. How on earth would Mia deal with a pregnancy?
“Mia?” Rose said gently.
Mia started. “Sorry. I…” She blushed and turned to the register. “That’s $87.98.”
Mia was practically a child herself. What happened to waiting patiently until you were married and financially stable? Rose caught herself mid-judgment with a twist of her lips. Who was she to judge? Sure, she’d waited patiently to get married and have children, and where had that gotten her?
“What are you building?” Mia said, suddenly brisk. With her waist-length hair pulled into a ponytail on the top of her head, she looked all of fourteen. Rose figured her baby bump would take everyone by surprise when it grew large enough for the rest of the town to notice it.
“Nothing much,” Rose said, unwilling to share her plans with anyone, let alone a girl she barely knew. A girl in trouble.
Mia’s shoulders slumped a little as she turned back to the till, and Rose felt a twinge of shame. She’d gotten so jaded lately. Always assuming the worst of people. Not trusting any of them.
Well, could you blame her? She saw people daily at their best and at their worst. Half her customers came in to buy jewelry to commemorate the most important days of their lives. The other half came in to hock those same pieces of jewelry when their lives fell apart. Everyone made such elaborate plans and as far as she could tell, they hardly ever panned out.
“It’s just a little project I’ve been meaning to do for a long time,” she explained.
“Huh.” Mia perked up a little bit. “I’ve been thinking about some projects.”
Rose just bet she had. She bit her lip to hold back the obvious questions. “Anything in particular?”
Mia smiled a secretive smile. “Still figuring it out.”
Rose nodded, willing to let the girl keep her secret for now. After all, she had secrets of her own. She opened her purse and paid the bill with cash.
“You can pick up the boards around back.” Mia handed her the invoice. “Want me to help you load the rest of this stuff in your truck?”
“Oh, I don’t think you should lift anything,” Rose said quickly and then winced. Whoops.
Mia’s gaze flicked to hers and a blush darkened her cheeks. “What do you mean?”
“I mean… uh… nothing. It’s just, I noticed…” She broke off and waved a hand at Mia’s belly.
“Shit. How did you know? Is it obvious? I just found out!” Mia hunched over the cash register as if to hide her stomach.
“It’s not obvious—you just gave yourself away,” Rose said apologetically, lowering her voice to match Mia’s tone. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.” Mia’s eyes moistened. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. When people realize, I’m going to be in deep trouble.”
“How far are you along?”
“Barely a month. I took a test the minute I was late.”
Rose thought fast. This wasn’t the place for confessions, not if Mia wanted to keep her secret for any length of time. “Do you want to meet me later? We could grab dinner and talk.” She wasn’t sure why she was offering; she barely knew Mia, after all. Still, she had a feeling the girl needed to talk to someone. Maybe it didn’t matter that she didn’t have much advice to give.
“That would be great,” Mia said. “I get off in half an hour. Meet me at the Burger Shack?”
Rose would have preferred DelMonaco’s, but Mia couldn’t afford that and she really couldn’t afford it, either. “Sure. See you there.”