“No, the sorry suckers decided to keep it,” Dotty said. “That box of tools that Tucker wants is next, so we’ll stay until they sell it. Then I’m ready to go home. My part-time help wants to leave before quittin’ time. Anyone want another sandwich? I’m takin’ a couple back with me for Flossie and Lucy’s afternoon snack.”
“I’m good,” Tucker said.
“Maybe we will get on home after Tucker bids on his screwdrivers.” Jolene smiled. “In our world a screwdriver is a whole different thing than in his, right, Dotty?”
“You got it, kid! And a planer isn’t a funny-lookin’ tool—it’s talkin’ about someone who doesn’t dress to the nines, right? As in, ‘she sure dresses plainer than her cousin,’” Dotty teased. “What’s your top bid, Tucker?”
“I haven’t decided.” His hand brushed against Jolene’s as he reached across the table to gather up everyone’s trash and take it over to a big black can. She felt another rush of sparks, but the way she figured, it was like when she’d gotten a silly notion that she’d like to dye a blue streak in her hair a couple of years ago. She had, and she’d hated it. It took a while to grow out, but it taught her a lesson: never do anything on impulse again. So what if there were sparks—she was a woman and he was a very sexy man. If there weren’t vibes, then she should be worried, right? Besides, she’d vowed that she’d never start a relationship with anyone who got drunk—even on weekends—and she intended to stand by that promise.
Dotty nudged her again, this time with a shoulder. “I’d give a pretty penny to know where your mind is, chère. I’ve got a feelin’ it’s not on a box of doilies.”
“Nope, it’s on how pretty that magnolia scarf is going to be with a dark-green mat and a pretty frame,” she said.
“Come on, chère. Tell the truth,” Dotty prodded.
“I’m attracted to Tucker. We were talkin’ about things, heavy things, this morning, and I thought he might kiss me, but he didn’t,” Jolene admitted.
“Were you disappointed?”
“A little, but it’s for the best.” Jolene sighed.
Eight bucks!” Tucker couldn’t expect Jolene to be as excited as he was to have just bought a two-hundred-dollar antique for only eight dollars, but he couldn’t contain his excitement, either. He’d almost grabbed her and kissed her when he won the bid on the box of worthless tools that contained his planer.
She nodded toward the back seat at her box of doilies. “Big spenders today, aren’t we?”
Tucker’s grin widened with every word. “This same auctioneer is doing another one on Saturday, starting at noon, and Buster is going to be there with his food wagon again. Want to go?”
“Oh, honey, I’ve got the fever now.” Jolene nodded. “Where is it?”
“Right in Linden. The sale bill is in the back seat. It lists a couple of washstands like we’re lookin’ for,” he told her.
“We’ll have to tell Aunt Sugar about our finds when she calls.” Jolene reached for the green paper. “They’ve got a tiny picture of the washstands, and in the column that lists other things, they’ve got tools, crystal, and lots of miscellaneous. Wonder if they’ll have doilies?”
“You’ve got enough in that box to outfit the whole house,” he said.
“But for five bucks a box, I can hang them on the walls, use them in baskets where we’ll put out cute little soaps and lotions in the bathrooms, and all kinds of other places. They’d even be beautiful sewn on the tops of pillows. They bring such an old flavor to a house,” Jolene said.
He stole a sidelong glance at her as he parked the truck in the front yard of the inn. Several strands of hair had escaped her ponytail, and there was a tiny smudge of barbecue sauce on her jaw. But she still looked adorable in her ragged and faded work jeans and sweatshirt. What would it be like to really kiss her? To hold her in his arms and . . .
“No!” he muttered.
“No, what? You don’t want me to use doilies in the house?” Jolene asked.
“No. I don’t need any more tools. I didn’t even need the planer. I wanted it because my shop teacher in high school had one like it, and I loved using it.” It was lame, but at least it was the truth, and he didn’t have to explain what he’d been thinking.
Good for you. Melanie’s voice popped into his head. Not for the lie covered with the truth, but for actually taking a step forward.
“I’m not stepping anywhere, back or forward,” he muttered to himself as he carried his box of tools inside the house.
Jolene had gone in ahead of him and was now sitting on the living room floor, dividing the doilies from the scarves. If they had a stain, they went in one pile. If not, then she stacked them on the coffee table.
The inn’s phone rang, and he reached for it at the same time Jolene did. His hand closed around hers, but he quickly moved it away and told himself that the abrupt noise had startled him—that’s what created the electricity between them.
“Magnolia Inn,” Jolene said. She listened for a few minutes and then said, “I’m sorry, but we’re closed for remodeling.”
She put her hand over the receiver and whispered, “A lady wants to book a room, but we just can’t, can we?”
He shook his head. “Don’t see how.”
More listening as she alternately shook her head and nodded. “Ma’am, the upstairs hallway has furniture stacked in it. The bathroom that the workers use is the only available one, and that bedroom hasn’t been cleaned in weeks.”
She laid the receiver on her chest. “It’s an elderly lady who says that she and her husband spent their honeymoon here forty years ago. They want to come back and spend tomorrow night.”
“Fine, tell her to come right on. I’ll clear a path for them. Anyone who’s been married that long deserves a little consideration,” Tucker said. “But make them understand that we are in a major remodeling job.”
She removed her hand. “Yes, ma’am, if you don’t mind the mess, I think we can manage to have that room ready for you by four tomorrow afternoon. Great! We’ll see you then.”
Jolene grabbed her head with both hands. “She wants the last room on the right side of the hallway. At least it’s not torn up, but we’ll have to move furniture around to get to it. I’ve got to get things dusted and clean cloths put on the dining room tables, and that room has to get a thorough cleaning. I’m going to put the doilies in the washer and use them, and I need to go to town tomorrow morning for some roses. I can get them at Walmart. Aunt Sugar has pretty vases somewhere, and maybe a few cookies . . .” She sucked in a lungful of air as if she was about to go on.
“Whoa, pardner.” Tucker held up a hand. “You told her we were remodeling and she wanted to book a night anyway. Run the vacuum, chase away the dust bunnies, and make one of your fabulous breakfasts for them.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “Their room should be nice, and the bathroom should be spotless. It’s their fortieth anniversary, for cryin’ out loud.”
“Yes, ma’am, but roses and cookies?”
“That was something Aunt Sugar always did. A flower in a vase on the dresser and half a dozen cookies under a little dome. The guests loved that personal touch.”
Tucker patted her on the shoulder. “How about one of those pretty silk magnolia things in a vase? I was going to make a beer run this evening anyway. I can go to Walmart and get one of those magnolia flowers and a dozen cookies. If I get there before the bakery folks leave, I might even get a cupcake with one of those ‘Happy Anniversary’ stick things on it.”
“That would help so much. It’ll give me plenty of time to plan breakfast and get things as straight as possible.” Her mind was running in circles so badly that she didn’t even realize he was touching her.
“Since the dining room is a total mess, we could put a small table in the corner of their room and offer them ‘breakfast in bed.’” He pointed. “That little table right there with a lamp on it would be perfect.”
“I love it. We can set it in the corner of their room and carry the food up to them on a fancy tray.” She could visualize it with a breakfast tray set on it. “Now shoo! Go to work. I’ll get busy making the living room presentable and then go on up to that bedroom. Good Lord, can you even imagine forty years of marriage and wanting to go back to an old bed-and-breakfast to celebrate? Me, I’d want a second honeymoon on a cruise ship or maybe in Hawaii. Wherever the first one wasn’t!”
He disappeared up the stairs with his new box of tools, and she grabbed the basket of cleaning aids that her aunt always took to each room. Jolene had helped her aunt clean the rooms when she stayed there, but she didn’t remember this one in particular. It was even shabbier than the one across and down the hall where she and Tucker had started renovations.
The only sound she could hear as she started dusting was the gritty noise of sandpaper on the wall as Tucker did his work. Then he started humming, and before long he was singing along with whatever song was coming through the earbuds of his MP3 player.
Jolene rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and noticed cobwebs in every corner. My life is like this room. Needs some remodeling, and there’s still old stuff in the corners that needs to be taken care of. Will I ever be able to trust my heart?
Aunt Sugar had taught her to start at the top and work her way down, so she wrapped a rag round a broom and took care of the cobwebs first. That’s what she needed to do with her life—start at the top and get all those pesky things out of the hidden corners. Judging Tucker by her mother wasn’t right, for one thing. They’d both had horrible experiences that they tried to forget by drinking. It looked like Tucker was trying to overcome his problem, so that was a plus.