Not one to leave things unsaid, Kasey summoned him near her downtown office for lunch two days after her silent treatment was over. Bart knew their meeting had very little to do with eating and he was right. The minute he bent to place a kiss on her cheek, Kasey leaned away and pinned him with a glare.

“Sit first,” she said, keeping her arms folded across her chest.

He arched a brow and pulled back the chair. “Did you wait long? Traffic on 610’s a—“

“Never mind the traffic, Bart. This isn’t about you being late this time.” Her black eyes skimmed his face, her perfectly-rouged lips pursed in consternation.

This time?” he echoed, leaning back in his seat. And though he knew the reason for her summoning him, Bart acted nonchalant. “Then this is about your parents’ anniversary dinner?”

Kasey narrowed her eyes. “What else?”

Bart refrained from rolling his eyes. “I made a mistake. Guess you don’t make those often.”

“Don’t use sarcasm with me, Bart,” she pouted, eyes shimmering. The girl could cry on cue. “You know I hate it.”

He sighed. “Y’know, I’m having a hard time figuring out what you don’t hate about me.”

“Bart…” Her smooth brow creased in confusion. “Shouldn’t I be the one angry about your behavior? You humiliated me!”

“I didn’t purposely forget your mother’s name.”

“You called her Patty, after I told you a gazillion times already!”

“Gazillion?” Bart echoed, incredulous. “An honest mistake. Anyone could mix up Patty and Petrice.”

She looked at him as if he’d grown two heads. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Just…” He could feel the weight of stares around them. Arguing with Kasey was futile; she would either screeched or burst into tears until he gave in. He was not in the mood for her manipulation today. “Never mind.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you.” Her eyes moved over him in disbelief. ”You’re usually attentive and charming. But after what you pulled at my parents’ dinner, I can’t say I know you anymore.”

Bart fought a scoff and remained quiet while Kasey described just how far from charming he was that night.

Then once she’d laid out his transgressions for all to hear, Kasey arched a brow. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“There’s nothing much to say.” No, what Bart had to say would undoubtedly make her cry; her sensitive nature unable to take his sarcastic remarks. She was too young and too spoiled for too long, and he’d wasted more than enough time indulging her.

She frowned. “Excuse me?”

“This isn’t working, Kasey. Let’s break up.”

He could hear someone calling his name but ignored it, tired of hearing what a mean jerk he was. Obviously Kasey hadn’t expected his response and expected him to beg for another chance. The old Bart would’ve, to his everlasting regret, quick to admit his faults and accept blame even if it wasn’t his to claim.

Kasey was an only child, he’d told himself after her never-ending tantrums, and her indulgent parents let her get away with any and everything. She’d nudged him into buying his new black car and expensive but unnecessary suits, saying it was to match his budding career as a renown real-estate agent. And because he truly enjoyed the finer luxuries of life, Bart thought nothing wrong of Kasey’s preference in clothes, food and relationships. That she sought him among much-younger men at that entrepreneurial social a year ago flattered him.

But after a long year of dating the only daughter of a conglomerate member, Bart was beyond worn out.

No doubt she’d call him later to demand an apology, thinking this was yet another argument. They’d broken up several times in the one year of dating, mostly her call. This time, he wouldn’t be calling her.

Then he felt a hand slap him upside his head and spun around, ready to give her—the words died in his throat at the sight of Geraldine in a pantsuit.

Bart didn’t need to look down, knowing it fitted her curves perfectly. He frowned, rubbing the back of his head. “What was that for?”

“You were deep in thought.” Geraldine smirked, eyes moving over his face. “Rethinking your decision in there? Good show, by the way.”

He eyed her pointed expression. “You were there?”

She shrugged. “I was meeting a client.”

His eyes then traveled, affirming what he already knew. Motherhood looked really good on her.

“Eyes up here, Bartimeus.”

Bart sighed, looking at her askance. “I thought we discussed you not calling me that.”

“Well, it sure is better than Barty.” She snickered at his expense. “Guess you should’ve picked the tulips, huh?”

Grimacing, Bart rubbed the back of his head and turned. “You have no idea.”

“Try me.” She fell in step with him, heels clicking.

He paused in step and glanced down at her petite shoes before looking back at her. “And since when do you get all dressed up?” He didn’t add that he preferred her coveralls and those annoying boots that were clearly too big for her. He couldn’t say those things because even though she was now a widow, she’d been someone else’s wife.

She smiled, unbothered. “Well, since I got my degree in interior design, gotta dress the part. Can’t be wearing work boots and overalls to meet clients.”

His brows lifted. “So you did it then?”

Her expression turned shy. “Took your advice for once…”

His lips twitched, liking that she hadn’t outgrown the freckles gracing her cheeks. “Congrats.”

She shrugged. “It’s more stable especially now that I’m…”

“A mother,” he finished, waiting until she looked up at him. “I’m sorry about your… husband.”

Sadness flitted in her eyes but she didn’t look away. “Thank you.”

He had the sudden urge to hug her and quickly shoved the thought aside, taking a step back. “Uh, I better get back to work.”

Geraldine smiled. “Have a good day, Bart.”

He jerked a nod. “See you later.” He turned before she could ask what he meant by that, not knowing the answer to that himself. He quickly put distance between them and headed toward the garage.

“C’mon Glenda, not now…” he turned the ignition key and the engine didn’t bother starting this time. Bart swallowed a curse and propped his head on the steering wheel.

A tap on his window lifted his head and Bart groaned at Geraldine’s shadowed face. He hesitated, watching her gesture for him to roll down the window.

“No, it’s fine,” he said aloud, waving her away. “Go away,” he pleaded under his breath.

She rolled her eyes and tapped the window again.

Pushing out a breath of exasperation, Bart rolled down the window. “What?”

Geraldine smirked. “You praying, Barty?”

He squinted at her. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Not in a rush.” Her smile turned toothy. “But I thought you were since you ran off.”

“I did not run off.”

“Sure looked like it from where I was standing.” She put a hand to her hip. “Need a ride to work?”

“No. I’m good.”

“Bart, don’t be ridiculous. Your pretty car’s not going anywhere for now so I’ll drop you off.”

He frowned, hesitating. The longer he stayed in her company, the stranger his thoughts became.

Geraldine arched a brow. “Or you can ask your ex-girlfriend. Your choice.”

Moments later, Bart shifted in the passenger’s seat of Geraldine’s sedan and tried to keep his eyes facing the traffic in front of them instead of his pretty driver or the pink car-seat behind.

“One thing I didn’t miss about Houston,” she said, breaking the silence in the car. “Traffic here is like nowhere else.”

He snorted. “Don’t tell me it’s worse than in your home country?”

Geraldine was quiet long enough for Bart to glance over. She wore a bemused smile on her face.

He arched a brow. “What?”

“Made you look.” Her lips curved upwards when he scoffed. “Was wondering why you weren’t looking at me this whole time. Did I grow antlers on my forehead?”

“More like traded them for horns, you minx,” Bart said begrudgingly although his lips twitched.

She laughed, unrepentant.

Bart found himself fully smiling, liking the delightful sound.

“That’s more like it.” She shifted, the leather of her seat squeaking under her. “I thought you’d make this more awkward than it needs to be.”

His smile waned. “Well, I’m a little ticked off that I was the last person to know you were back.”

“Just a little, huh?” She sighed. “Well, to be honest, I didn’t think you’d care that I returned.”

Bart frowned her way. “That’s what Darah said too. Why is that?”

Eyes back on the road, Geraldine shrugged. “Our last conversation didn’t end so well.”

Grimacing, he shifted his gaze as the conversation she spoke of came to mind. “I was rude.”

“No, you were annoyed. That I liked Abe.” Their eyes met and Geraldine smiled gently. “You never did know how to express yourself very well.”

Bart stared. She knew about his feelings all this time? He didn’t know whether to rejoice or be angry. He pursed his lips. “What do you want to say, Geraldine?”

She tilted her head, not the least bit intimidated by the hardness in his tone. “First, I want to say that I’m sorry for leaving things the way I did.”

He blinked, taken aback. The old Geraldine would’ve never apologized.

“And to make a request…”

Bart frowned, suspicious. There was a look in her eyes that reminded him of Darah, who only yielded when she wanted something from him. No wonder his sister was firmly in Geraldine’s corner; stubborn and crafty females. But curiosity trumped suspicion, because Bart had to know what this self-assured, stubborn and independent woman wanted from him. “Shoot.”

She eyed him warily. “What, no hesitation?”

He folded his arms over his chest. “You’re doing me a favor. I’ll return it.”

She wrinkled her freckled nose. “Bart… It’s not that simple.”

“Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Her expression turned wary, as though rethinking her intentions.

“Geraldine, speak.” His curiosity heightened; what could make her look this unsure?

“Okay.” She exhaled a breath and steadied her gaze on him. “Let’s get married.”

Wide-eyed and feeling like the wind was knocked out of him, Bart gawked at Geraldine.

<<Chapter 2 || Chapter 4>>