“We’ll be there.” Tucker opened the truck door and ran to his own vehicle. He was soaking wet when he got there and shivering from his ears to his toes. Whether it was from closure or the weather, he had no idea.

Jolene hoped that by the middle of March the new website would be up and running. That would be a perfect time to start taking reservations and to join the ads for the tour of homes. She had made several phone calls to wedding photographers, florists, and bakeries. As soon as she’d compiled all her materials, she and Tucker would discuss how to price wedding packages. The way she saw it, they could range from simply renting the place for a few hours to a full-fledged turnkey wedding where all the bride had to bring was her dress. As she closed her laptop, the doorbell rang. She and Sassy both rushed to answer it.

“Why’d you ring . . . oh, you had your hands full.” She swung the door open so Tucker could come inside.

Sassy rose up on her hind feet when Tucker carried in pizza and then hurried off toward the kitchen, where she jumped up on the countertop.

“She loves pizza. Meat lover’s with extra cheese and marinara sauce,” Tucker explained as he took the first piece out of the box and cut it into bite-size pieces for her.

“I can see that. She almost beat me to the door when the bell rang.” Jolene got out paper plates and napkins.

“Like Pavlov’s dog . . . or cat? Anyway, the doorbell means pizza to her.” He chuckled.

“She never does that when it’s the ladies.”

“She can smell pizza a mile away.” Tucker stacked three pieces on a plate.

That’s when she noticed that his wedding ring was gone. That was a huge thing. She was glad that she had a mouthful of food, because her first idea was to ask why he’d taken it off. With the ring gone and the difference she could feel in him, she wondered if he’d found a final piece of closure that day. She tried not to stare at his hands, but it was impossible to keep her eyes away from the pale indentation on his ring finger.

She shouldn’t ask about that, even though she was itching to know the details of why now, where it was, and what had made him take it off. The silence was getting uncomfortable, so she started talking about the first thing that came to mind—the website she’d been working on just before he came home.

“This is going to be a fantastic website. I sent pictures of the first three bedrooms for the webmaster to get into the site. We’ll have tabs of each room with pictures and prices and the whole nine yards. We should talk about prices. I charged that little couple who stayed here Aunt Sugar’s old rates, but we can’t operate on those twenty-year-old fees and keep things running.” She got a second slice and bit into it.

“Look online or call around to see what everyone else is charging. Then we’ll make a decision,” he said.

She felt a lot like she had that morning when she’d looked at the calendar. It reminded her of that eerie feeling out in West Texas when a tornado was blowing through the flat countryside, only this wasn’t fear of getting blown away. Tucker had taken off his ring, and that was really big. She couldn’t wait for the opportunity to tell Dotty. Maybe she’d even call Aunt Sugar that evening and talk to her about it.

She grabbed a third piece of pizza and started toward the table with her plate, stumbled over her own feet, and barely got control, but not before she got marinara sauce all over her hand.

Tucker was instantly on his feet to help her. “Hey, I like that sauce too much to waste it.” He picked up her hand and licked it clean.

Jolene’s breath came out in short gasps. Sparks danced around the room. Electricity flowed like a live current between his mouth and her palm. The chemistry was hot enough to curl her toes. She should do something, but she was frozen on the spot until he took the plate from her other hand and set it on the table. Keeping her hand in his, he led her to the sink and pumped a little liquid soap into her palm. Then he turned on the water and rubbed her hand with his.

Her eyes went to his mouth and then their gazes locked. Her breath came in short bursts like she’d jogged a mile. When he leaned forward and his eyes fluttered shut, leaving his dark lashes to float on his angular cheekbones, she tiptoed and met his kiss halfway.

It started sweet, but then it deepened into more, and by the time he pulled away, she was panting. All the voices in her head were screaming that she shouldn’t have let it happen, and she knew they were right.

“That might not have been such a good idea,” she whispered.

He brushed another kiss across her lips. “What if it was meant to be and we ignored it? What if this is what fate has in mind for us? What’s that old sayin’ about not fighting city hall?”

“That’s a pretty big basket of what-ifs to think about. We need to cool off for a few minutes.” She fanned herself with her hands.

“Maybe we should take a cold shower together.” He brushed another scorching kiss across her lips.

“I don’t think so,” she laughed.

“Well, then you should definitely mark this on the calendar—today’s the day we kissed for the first time.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

Jolene dreamed about Tucker again that night. In this one, they were sitting on the porch swing together on a lovely spring evening. She realized that they’d both gotten old when she saw his gray hair, but it wasn’t until he told her that he loved the fifty years they’d had together that she realized they must be close to ninety. She moved closer, shifted so that she was sitting in his lap, and put her arms around him.

She awoke with her arms wrapped around a pillow. When she realized it wasn’t him, she slung it across the room. She threw on a pair of jeans and a shirt and headed toward the kitchen. A dirty plate on the floor testified that Sassy had eaten cold pizza for breakfast. Jolene poured a cup of coffee and opened the oven to find the last slice of pizza on a plate.

She’d planned on eating it, but Sassy jumped up on the cabinet and sent up something between a meow and a howl, so Jolene cut it up in small pieces. She could hear Tucker doing something upstairs, so she headed in that direction.

“Good mornin’.” Tucker motioned her into the empty bedroom. “I couldn’t sleep, so I carried all the lumber up the stairs to put up the bathroom walls. I tried to be quiet.”

She sat down on the floor and stared at him.

“What? Do I have a milk mustache? I had cookies and milk.” He wiped at his upper lip.

“No, I had a dream about you last night. You were pretty handsome at ninety years old,” she said.

He stared back at her. “I can’t imagine you at that age, but I’ll bet you are still beautiful then, too. So what were we doin’ in this dream? Were we sharing another hot kiss?” he teased.

“No, but we might have if I hadn’t woke up when I did,” she answered.

“Do you believe in dreams? Are we still going to be together at ninety?”

“I’d like that.”

He moved closer to her, tucked his fist under her chin, and tilted it up. Then his mouth covered hers in another kiss that had them both panting when it ended. She moved so that she was sitting in his lap like she’d done in the dream, wrapped her arms around his neck, and brought his mouth to hers for another passionate kiss.

His hands slipped under her shirt to touch her bare skin. Rough hands on her back, his lips moving from hers to that soft sensual place below her ear—the whole world disappeared and they were the only two people left in that moment.

But it ended abruptly with her blushing scarlet when he stood quickly and pulled her up with him. “I heard the door open. Someone is here.”

“Hey, anybody home?” A voice floated up the stairs.

“Sounds like Dotty is dropping in again,” Tucker said. “We’ve got to start locking that door.”

The voice carried up the stairs from the foyer. “Jolene, where are you?”

“That’s not Dotty. That’s . . .” Jolene ran to the top of the steps and went down in a rush. It really was her aunt and not just her imagination.

“There you are.” Sugar opened her arms, and Jolene met her hug.

“Is it really you? How long can you stay? Are you just passing through?”

Please think my cheeks are scarlet from running down the stairs to greet you and that I’m asking so many questions because I’m happy to see you.

“We came home for good,” Sugar said.

Uncle Jasper walked up behind her aunt. “We missed you. Now that you are here permanently, we want to be close.”

Jolene wrapped them both up in a three-way hug. “We’ve got rooms finished. One of us can move upstairs and give your old bedroom back to you. And—”

“Thank you, honey,” Jasper said, “but we don’t want to live at the Magnolia. If we did, we wouldn’t have given it away to begin with.”

Sugar took her by the hand and led her toward the kitchen. “We’re probably going to buy the house next to Flossie’s. We parked at a campground down by Marshall last night, but if things look good, we’ll park by Flossie’s tonight. I wanted to get here so badly that I didn’t even make breakfast. So I’m going to cook. Would you call the girls and tell them to come join you? That way I can surprise them all at the same time.”

“I’m so glad you’ve come back. We’ve missed you so much, but really, y’all can live here and not have to buy a house,” Jolene said.

“She’s right,” Tucker said from halfway down the stairs. “There’s plenty of room right here.”

Jasper extended a hand. “I’m Jasper and this is Sugar. You have to be Tucker.”

“Yes, sir, and I’m right pleased to meet y’all.” Tucker shook with him and nodded at Sugar. “I’ve heard so much about y’all that I feel like I already know you both.”

“Same here,” Sugar said. “You two don’t need to worry—we don’t want to live here. We’re both getting too old for stairs and takin’ care of guests. This is your place now. I’m excited about having a home I don’t share with people!”