“Carnival,” Will corrected. “It’s an annual thing.”
Last year he’d skipped the carnival. Mac had been dating Dan, the owner of the hardware store, and Will hadn’t been keen on the idea of seeing them. When they were teenagers, he and Mac had always gone to the carnival together. They used to ride the Ferris wheel for hours, talking about everything and anything while they shared a bag of cotton candy. Nothing had changed after they’d gotten older. They still rode that Ferris wheel and munched on that cotton candy every year when the carnival came to town. Last year was the first time he’d missed it.
And this year, well, this year he’d be the one with the date. A part of him got perverse satisfaction from knowing Mackenzie would finally feel that same bitter jealousy he’d experienced when she’d decided to go to the carnival with another man.
“So you’re taking my girlfriend to a carnival in your no-horse town?” Carson rolled his eyes. “Sounds like, uh, fun.”
“We’re going to make Mac jealous,” Holly reminded him. “The carnival is their thing.”
“We’ll only be gone for two nights,” Will told his friend. “I promise to have her back Sunday morning.”
Carson narrowed his eyes. “And where exactly will the two of you sleep?”
Will shrugged. “Only one place to stay in town, old Harriet Jones’ B&B.”
He glanced at his feet. “One.” Before Carson could start yelling again, he quickly added, “I’ll sleep on the floor. Fully clothed.”
“I’ll sleep naked,” Holly piped up.
Carson shot her a glare. “If you do, I’ll smash every piece of china in this place.”
“Fine.” She smiled impishly. “I’ll wear that black lace teddy you bought me for my birthday.”
Will let out a sigh. “That was way too much information.” He glanced at Carson. “So are you cool with this, man?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Holly smiled broadly. “No.”
The carnival workers were setting up when Mackenzie strode out of Paula’s general store on Friday afternoon. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the carnival this year. It had always been her and Will’s thing, except for the previous year, when he’d been out of the country…though a part of her still suspected he’d been happy to miss the event. She’d been dating Dan then, and she’d gotten the feeling Will wasn’t comfortable around her ex-boyfriend.
Oh, who was she kidding? Of course he wasn’t comfortable. What man would want to spend time with the boyfriend of the woman he loved?
Love. For fifteen years she’d tried not to think about that word, but after what had happened between her and Will last week, the staggering, unbelievable sex, she couldn’t bury her head in the sand any longer. Will loved her. She’d seen it in his eyes that night, heard it in his voice, felt it in his kiss.
And instead of welcoming that love into her life, she’d slammed a door on it.
Swallowing, she pushed the disturbing thoughts from her head and walked toward her car, which was parked at the curb in front of the general store. The sound of the carnival coming to life made her heart ache, the screech of metal as the Ferris wheel cars were tightened into place, the mechanical rings of the game booths, the melody of the carousel as it whirled around on its test runs.
She wouldn’t be attending the carnival this year, she decided as she unlocked the driver door of the old Chevy and sank into the seat. Not when she still hadn’t spoken to Will, not when she didn’t know if he would be there.
When she’d called him this morning, she’d gotten beeped over to voice mail. She left a message asking him to call her. He hadn’t. Called an hour later, left another message. Called a third time. A fourth. And still he hadn’t answered.
And each time she’d heard his voice on the message, her panic had escalated. What if he’d left the country? What if she was too late?
By the time afternoon rolled around, she’d been ready to rip her own hair out. So she’d gotten in her car, driven into town to fill up the tank, and was now about to make the drive to Coronado. Screw his voice mail. She needed to see him. In person. She had to make sure he was okay
Gripping the steering wheel with icy fingers, she inhaled a calming breath. Tried to reassure herself that Will was simply avoiding her calls. He hadn’t left town. He wasn’t sitting on a chopper right now, and he was not dead.
The mere word—dead—sent panic soaring inside her body and brought tears to her eyes. No, she refused to think about the vision, or its frightening implication. Will was fine. Of course he—
A loud honk drew her out of her anxiety, and when she turned her head in the direction of the intrusive noise, her anxiousness transformed into a pure jolt of relief.
An olive-green Jeep pulled into the parking space in front of hers.
Before she could stop herself, she was out of her car and bounding toward the Jeep on shaky legs. Unease, relief and excitement pounded in her veins.
She reached the driver’s door just as Will was getting out.
The sight of him caused her belly to do a funny little flip. God, he looked good. So unbelievably good in his faded jeans and close-fitting black T-shirt. But clothes didn’t make the man, and she knew from recent personal experience that Will didn’t need a stitch of clothing to look good. In fact, the man was a female’s wet dream when he was naked. Her cheeks burned at the memory.