Full House [Full Circle Sequel]
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by Anna Dynowski
Description: Officer Matt Paladini presents a cool, calm, and in control face to the small community he's sworn to serve and protect. But when Petra Lojek, the new teacher, fires into town, he tries valiantly to dodge the bullets of love she shoots at him. The trouble is, she's and excellent marks woman and Matt finds himself anything but cool, calm and in control.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2008 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: March 2008
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [389 KB]
Reading time: 238-334 min.
Detective Constable Matthew Paladini looked into her eyes--an extraordinary shade hovering somewhere between gray and green--and fringed with long lashes.
Beautiful eyes. The kind of eyes, he thought, that looked up at him from an ad in his daughter's many thirteen-going-on-thirty-cosmetics-and-fashion-oriented magazines. Not at all from a real woman.
The quick and helpless flutter around his heart surprised him, and clearing his throat, he asked, "Ma'am, do you know how fast you were traveling?"
The attractive eyes blinked rapidly behind the round, silver-framed glasses. Glasses, he noted, which did little to detract from this woman's good looks, but in an odd way, enhanced her makeup-less face. As did the gray streaking her brown hair.
"Um ... no, Sir." She pushed her eyeglasses up higher on the bridge of her nose. "Um ... seventy ... seventy-five?" The corners of those eyes crinkled.
"No, Ma'am." His stomach gave a little bounce. What was the matter with him? First his heart and now his stomach?
He stood where he was, elbow pressed against his weapon and tapping his fingers on the side of his leg, knowing, inspite of his appearance, he was anything but cool, calm, and in control. And all because of this stranger. And her eyes.
What happened to the command presence he was taught from day one at the Police Academy and which he had no problem practicing these last nineteen years?
Shot to smithereens.
He almost grimaced but pulled the brim of his hat down lower on his forehead instead.
He could still hear Commissioner Chapman's imposing voice. Hold your head high. Keep your back straight. Feet wide. You must look people in the eye. Speak to them in a strong voice. And walk with a purposeful stride. Command presence is the first step, an important step, in keeping an officer--you--alive.
Imagine at forty-four, widowed, and the father of a twelve-year-old, he should need to remind himself to display command presence with a civilian. He shook his head.
Legs wide, with one foot back, Matt assumed the quarter to quarter stance, with his left shoulder facing her left shoulder, arms out, hands free, and leaned slightly toward the open window. "I would not have pulled you over, Ma'am, if you were doing seventy-five in a sixty-five kilometer zone."
Look people in the eye.
He let out a whistle of a breath when he trained his gaze on hers and realized, too late, it was a mistake. He had seen the quick flare of interest in her eyes before a shutter dropped down on them, effectively barring him from further scrutiny, but not before sending shock waves of awareness through the pit of his stomach. Dizzy, dazed, and desperate, he felt the impact all the way to the bottom of his feet, and for what seemed like a small eternity, it paralyzed his senses.
"How ... how fast was I going, Officer?" she asked, with a slanted look at his face.
The air suddenly stopped moving around them, every sound was hushed, as an unwelcome tension settled over him and his mind turned to mush. Although weaving under some strange spell she cast, he made an effort, a frantic effort, to reclaim his composure. He had to. He could not allow himself to be distracted. Not now. Not ever.
Relief flooded through him as he felt the adrenalin pump through his veins, much like it did when he responded to a domestic violence or an armed robbery he'd been dispatched to. He approached with caution, always focused on what could hurt or kill him. Always alert about who was lying in wait. And what firearm they could be brandishing. Eyes couldn't pull a trigger, but hands could. And did. All the time.
Matt made his second mistake.
He took his eyes off her face and settled them on her hands, still clasping the steering wheel. It was only for a second. But long enough for him to ascertain a ringless left hand.
He noted a sense of satisfaction zing through him, as well, and became perplexed.
Now, why should he care if she was married or not? It was none of his business. He wasn't interested in engaging in any relationship with any woman. Relationships and him--a cop--didn't mix. It was like oil and water. Like fire and ice.
More like life and death, as he learned. The hard way.
A dark cloud of melancholy swirled around him. Deep from its filthy bowels, bolts of grief and shame, vying with one another, shot indiscriminately at him, prodding for points of entry. Irritation boiled to the surface and shaking them off with controlled vehemence, he returned his attention to the woman.
Speak in a strong voice.
"Ma'am, you were doing eighty-five kilometers an hour."
"Oh." It came out in three long syllables. Reaching for her purse, she dug out her wallet and handed him her driver's license, proof of insurance, and vehicle permit.
"Are you going to arrest Mommy?"
For the first time since he pulled the vehicle over for speeding, he became conscious of the parties--juveniles--in the backseat, tugging against the restraint of their seatbelts in an attempt to get a closer look.
He muttered an unintelligible sound beneath his breath. What if there had been a dirtbag with a firearm just like--
"Are you? Are you going to take Mommy to jail?" The young girl's voice repeated the question.
This was his day for mistakes. No doubt about it. So he might as well just continue making them, he reasoned with forced resignation. A cop always stood back. He never allowed anyone to cross into his safety zone. If he got right up into somebody's face, he would have a problem in being responsive to his surroundings. That would limit his reaction time. That could cost him his life.
Matt leaned further into the open window.
Two sets of brown eyes stared back at him from the backseat. The girl, who'd asked the question, looked to be about seven. The boy, definitely her brother, was about ten.
"'Cause, y'know, Mr. Policeman, if you take Mommy to jail, we'll have no one to take care of us." It was the girl again. "Daddy is dead. Babcia and Dziadek don't like us. And we don't know anybody here. We're from Toronto, y'know," she finished, proudly.
"Bab..." He arched a brow in the woman's direction.
"Their grandparents," she replied, her expression tight and full of pain.
She nodded, her eyes fixed on some point past his shoulder.
He leveled his gaze back on the girl. "No, I will not be--"
"Good." It was the boy now. "'Cause Mom's the new teacher at Paradiso Village School, y'know." He was puffed out like a toad.
"The new teach--"
"Mommy's real nice."
"Mom's the best."
"She's so not good at cooking, though." The girl scrunched up her nose.
"But she makes the bestest P-B-and-J's," her brother interjected.
"P-B-and-J's?" Matt knew his forehead wrinkled into a frown.
He began to wonder why he hadn't used his patrol time today to shake doors. He could have cruised the streets of ... Paradiso, for instance, and stopped to chat with the business owners. Like Nick at Fusilli's Restaurant. Or Joshua at the church. To see if everything was Code Four with them, and if not, to discuss any concerns they had. Make a positive connection with the community.
Why did he have to decide, since he was all caught up with his paperwork, to run radar, today of all days? And why did he have to set up on County Road 15?
"Peanut butter and jam sandwiches." The woman--mother--grinned up at him.
"Right." He took a breath. "I'll ... be right back."
Walk with a purposeful stride.
As fast as his purposeful stride would allow him and without compromising his air of confidence, Matt reached his parked cruiser and almost slumped into the front seat. Rubbing the back of his hand across his brow beaded with perspiration, he took in a few gulps of desperately-needed air, then reached for the radio.
"This is Adam Sixteen."
"Adam Sixteen, go ahead."
"Request to clear a license plate."
"Alpha. Victor. Ida. Charles. Zero. Zero. Seven."
Matt heard squeals of laughter rolling out of the backseat of the teacher's white Mazda3 and his own lips curved up. Reluctantly.
"Sixteen, go ahead."
"I'm showing no wants or warrants on your party, Lojek, Petra, date of birth two fourteen of sixty-eight."
He'd already figured on her being squeaky clean. He reached up to remove the standardized wide-brimmed hat, ran a hand through his hair, and settled the hat back further on his head, all the while paying attention to the occupants of the white Mazda3. Well, one occupant in particular. What else could she be? A widowed mother of two and a teacher couldn't be anything else but clean, could she?
He narrowed his eyes.
What was she doing?
The mother--Petra--had unbuckled her seatbelt, twisted in the seat, and bending over into the back, it appeared she was ... what was she doing?
Matt leaned forward, watching and a groan escaped him.
Petra Lojek held her children's hands and was ... praying.
"Great," he mumbled, tapping her documents against his left hand. "Just great." He tugged at the knot in his tie, uttering another moan. Not only was she a thirty-seven-year-old widowed mother who was going to be invading his space if she was going to be teaching and presumably living in Paradiso, but if she was going to be spouting off her beliefs at him...
Well, he didn't do God. He felt his jaw tighten. Not anymore. Not since ... He lowered his eyelids, willing the painful memories to recede, but stubbornly and without remorse, they crowded his mind until...
He made a sound somewhere deep in his throat. It was the sound of a man whose heart was ripped from his chest. Again.
He sprang out the cruiser, slamming the door.
Two years ago, he had compartmentalized his pain, banishing his loss into a remote part of his heart--and threw away the key. He didn't feel calm and in control but he was a police officer with a job to do. So he acted as though he was. His uniform was always clean and pressed, his weapon belt and shoes always shone. And he appeared professional. At all times.
Even on the home front. After all, he had a twelve-year-old daughter to raise, all by himself. To love and guide her. To provide her with a stable, healthy home life.
No one, not even his father, guessed at how deep the pain ran.
Now, as he strode to the vehicle, he maintained that air of command that kept him going, kept him alive.
"...and Heavenly Father, we lift up this policeman to You, today. We know his job can be dangerous so we ask for Your holy angels to encamp about him, keeping him safe from all evil, harm, injury, and accident. Bless him and his family, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen."
Her words floated out to him as he neared her side of the vehicle. He goggled at her. She prayed for him? A stranger? For his well-being? Inside, he was pale and confused, but his hands stayed steady as he handed back her documents. "Ma'am."
"Are you going to write Mom a ticket?" Matt watched the boy settle back into the seat and draw the seatbelt around him, his sister following suit. "No." He clapped his gaze on Petra. "Ma'am, I won't give you a citation. This time," he added. "For your own safety and that of your children and the community, please respect the speed limit."
"Yes, Sir and thank you, Sir."
"Why aren't you going to give Mommy a ticket? Didn't she do something bad?" the girl asked, her expression puzzled.
He moved to the open window of the rear door and peered in. "Your mom did break the speed limit but as she has a clean record, I thought a warning would do just fine, honey."
"But," the boy cut in, "don't you have a quota or something?"
A groan emerged from the driver's seat and Matt's lips twitched. "No, son, we don't have quotas for ticket writing. As long as we have free time, we can set up a speed trap and write however many we want to."
Another groan from up front.
This time, Matt couldn't suppress the smile. "Most police officers would rather issue warnings rather than tickets. It's up to us."
"That sounds so nice." The girl pulled at the seatbelt strap to adjust it more comfortably around her neck.
"Sounds boring," her brother said, disappointment lacing his words.
"Never boring, son." Matt scanned his surroundings. "Traffic stops can be quite dangerous." Like today. "You just never know who you're stopping." Like Petra Lojek. "Or what sort of weapon they could use against you." His eyes were inexplicably drawn to hers.
"Wow." There was a touch of wonder in the boy's voice.
"Wow," mimicked his sister.
"Can I come out with you sometime when you go out on patrol?" Elliot's eyes practically begged for an affirmative answer.
"Me, too," the girl chimed in, not wanting to be left out of any excitement.
Before Matt had a chance to reply, Petra gave a little laugh. She took a breath, fluffed a hand through her chin-length hair, and said, "Oh, I don't think so, guys. Riding around in a police car is no place for kids."
She raised her voice over the din of their complaints. "Besides..." She waited for silence. "I'm sure the chances of us seeing this"--she flicked an embarrassed glance at Matt--"police officer again is unlikely."
"Oh, you just never know," he drawled, noting with satisfaction her cheeks blossoming with color.
"Yes, well, uh, we gotta go. We, um, I have to gas up still and, um, check the map for directions." The color in her face intensified.
He placed his hand on the window frame, his face at eye level with hers. "The gas station is across the street over there." He nodded with his head. "Stay on this road and it'll lead you straight into Paradiso."
"Th-thank you, Officer."
"My pleasure, Ma'am." He stood up and pounded the roof of her car. "Stay out of trouble," he ordered with a wink.
Back in his cruiser, he tossed off his hat onto the seat and settled back to watch Petra pump gas into her car while her children--he smiled--raced into the convenience store, no doubt to purchase candy.
Stay out of trouble.
The woman was trouble with a capital T.
He lost his smile.
That woman meant trouble for him. He could feel it in his bones. Already he had acted like an adolescent staring at her with a gapped-mouth expression. He shook his head.
She finished filling the gas tank and was screwing the cap back into place when her children charged out of the store with their bags of goodies.
His smile reappeared, remembering Christa, at their age, with the same exuberance for anything that tasted good, but in high quantities, was ultimately bad for her. Barbecued chips. Shortbread cookies. Chocolates. Pizzellas. Though lately, she seemed to have outgrown her cravings for such treats.
He watched Petra emerge from the store, having paid for the gas, and get into her car. He watched her glance into the backseat and say something to her children. He watched her check the mirrors, then drive off, with the windows down and the wind streaming through her hair.
"Yeah, she's trouble," Matt said softly, turning the key in the ignition. "Big trouble." * * * *
He was right, Petra mused. Staying on County Road 15 took them straight to Main Street and Paradiso.
Thoughts of the Ontario Provincial Police Officer--and his wink--sent her pulse skittering and she had to take in several quiet gulps of air and a quick glance in the rearview mirror before her nerves settled down again. But it wasn't just the memory of his wink that rushed her brain, now. His eyes, too, at times glittering with amusement, at others, dulled with some kind of pain, sorrow, and sadness that made her wonder about the man who looked so professional in his uniform, shoulders squared and head held erect.
She let out a long sigh, and ordering her attention back onto her surroundings, she drove slowly into town. Before them lay Paradiso, its Victorian-style houses framed by English gardens and tall, mature trees, now bathed in the light of the declining sun. Main Street was flanked by quaint, old buildings. Their bricks and ornate moldings gave them character and a special kind of ambiance. The kind that Toronto was slowly losing with its newer developments, as she could well testify.
Her parents' mansion--what else could it be called at ten thousand square feet and the entire third floor reserved as servants quarters--was chilling and inhospitable in all its steel and glass. Her own house--hers and Ted's--had been only slightly smaller made of an ugly and cold gray stone and, in fact, even more impressively staffed. A tremor ricocheted through her body and she clutched the steering wheel.
Relax. That part of your life is over and a new chapter is beginning. One you have full control over. One you can live as you wish.
With a pleased smile calming her taut facial muscles, she curiously watched the town around them as she eased her car down Main Street.
Unlike Toronto's bustling night life, with cafes and pubs opened till midnight and bars and dance clubs till three or four in the morning, this little town--village really, judging by the WELCOME TO PARADISO POPULATION 200 sign--was all peaceful and silent. She pulled up to the curb and shifted the gear to Park.
A great place to start afresh. To provide Elliot and Emma with a stable and healthy home environment, filled with love, hope, joy, and affirmation. She gave a contented sigh. Yes, a great place.
"Mom?" Elliot leaned forward, frowning. "Why'd you stop?"
"'Cause we're here," she replied softly, looking out the window with bemused interest.
"We are?" The incredulity in his voice was only surpassed by the disbelief in his eyes. "You're kidding? Right, Mom?" His seatbelt unbuckled with a snap. "I mean ... There's not much here." He, too, looked around. With anxiety. "This is like..." Words failed him.
Petra turned around to face her ten-year-old son and rested her arm along the back of the seat. This was going to be quite a change for him, she thought, chewing down on her bottom lip. A difficult one, if the troubled expression on his face was a sign. Always the extrovert, Elliot had a ton of friends and so involved with sports events and parties, he needed a social secretary to keep tab of his commitments. So unlike his sister.
She glanced at the seven-year-old, a solitary soul who preferred to spend her time reading or doing crafts, with just the odd girlfriend for an occasional sleepover.
Swinging her gaze back on her son, she said, "Honey, we talked about this move. That it was going to be to a small town--"
"A small town, not a ghost town," he practically wailed.
Her mother's heart cracked a little with sudden worry. "Honey." She flashed him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Paradiso does have a school. Remember? That means kids your age. So you'll still be able to play ice hockey and baseball with a whole bunch of new friends." She reached over to ruffle his hair. "I promise."
She hoped she wouldn't live to regret her rash promise. It never occurred to her, during her interview with Tony Pennachetti, the principal, to inquire at the number of students and their ages. She just assumed...
"Mommy?" Emma freed herself from her seatbelt and sat on the edge of the seat. "Where are we going to live?"
"I dunno yet."
Two voices on the stretched-out word had her earlier worry come slamming back. She gave a quick shudder and tried to offset it with a quick laugh. "Now, look guys." Petra unhooked her own seatbelt and turned more fully to meet their combined grievances. "For tonight, I'm gonna find us a motel. Then tomorrow, we'll start looking for an apartment." They still appeared unconvinced. "We won't be turfed out on the streets. I promise."
A second promise in as many minutes. She stifled a groan. And like with the first one, she was doubtful of pulling it off. Well, maybe she couldn't but she knew Who could.
Grasping her children's hands, she bowed her head and closed her eyes. "Father in Heaven, we know You hold our future in Your hands. We know You led us here, to Paradiso. We know things don't just happen, by accident. We know everything with You is planned, that it's no surprise. We choose to believe You will look after all our needs. We choose to believe You have gone before us and prepared for us a place in which to live. We thank You for these and all things, in Christ Jesus' name. Amen."
"Okay, now." She released the two sets of hands and beamed at her children. "Let's go into that restaurant over there"--she jerked a thumb at it--"and ask for directions to a motel."
Petra's own stomach chose that opportune moment to growl an agreement. "Okay. Let's go into that restaurant over there and get something to eat first," she amended with a wan smile.
With a "Yippee" and a "Yahooey," both Elliot and Emma shot out of the car, their earlier worries obviously forgotten.
This building differed from the others on Main Street. Instead of a red-bricked facade, the restaurant sported white stucco. White tables and chairs dotted the sidewalk, an irrefutable invitation to patrons to sit and enjoy the summer breeze. The effect created was unmistakably chic simplicity.
As they approached, the two elderly gentlemen sharing a table smiled in their direction. The slender of the two, with the map of Italy all over his face, rose, extending his hand in greeting. "Tourists! Welcome to our town. Benvenuti. Paradiso is piccolo in size"--he made a sign with his hands indicating small--"but grande in the heart." He pumped her hand. "I am Giuseppe Fusilli. And this..." He waived a hand to his companion "This is my friend, Carmen Paladini."
When Petra turned to the other man, her smile faltered. There was something oddly familiar about this man. She was sure she had never met him before, and yet ... She couldn't quite place her finger on what it was that stirred a memory of some sort. But along with the misty memory came also an acute sense of nervousness.
"Benvenuti. Welcome," Carmen echoed, shaking her hand. "And how long will you be vacationing with us?"
"Oh." Petra laughed. "We're not here on holiday. I'm Petra Lojek, the new teacher at the school here." She intercepted a significant glance exchanged between the two men and frowned. Draping a protective arm around her children's shoulders, she continued, her voice steady, unlike her heart, "And these are my children, Elliot and Emma."
"I am pleased to meet you both." Carmen pulled each child into a warm embrace and kept them in the circle of his arms, beaming down at them.
And that they seemed content to remain there, in the arms of a stranger, staggered Petra. Normally, Elliot and Emma had to warm up to people they didn't know before trusting them like this. Wonders never cease, she thought, shaking her head in amazement. They certainly didn't look this comfortable in her parents' presence. No kidding. She never felt comfortable in her parents' presence. And just stopped short of grimacing.
"Are there any kids our age?" Elliot asked the question burning in his heart, his gaze resting searchingly on his newfound friend.
"Of course. Giuseppe has a granddaughter, twelve-years-old. And so do I."
Carmen's lips twitched as he tried to hold back a grin at Elliot's sour cheer. "How old are you?"
"Well, you are in luck, young man. I also have a grandson your age. Alistair."
Elliot grinned with pleasure. "Swee-e-et."
"How about me?" Emma piped in, craning her neck as she gazed up at Carmen. "I'm seven."
"This is your lucky day, signorina. I just happen to have a granddaughter your age. Morgan is her name. How about that?"
"Cool," he repeated, laughing. He fixed Petra with a steady stare. "I also have a son, a policeman, about your age." There seemed to be a quick flash of humor in his eyes. "That is, if you need, um, a ... special friend, too."
"Seeing that we're new in town and have no family here, we three are going to be needing a lot of friends." She hoped she had dulled the matchmaker's intention with her deliberately misunderstood reply. But then she spied that look crossing again between the men and she smothered a groan. "What we need right now is food. We're starving."
"Well, you have come to the right place. Welcome to Fusilli's," Giuseppe enthused. "My son will have plenty of food for you and your little ones. Come in. Come in."
"You have a son, too?" She lifted a questioning brow.
Giuseppe laughed. "Relax, cara. Mine is married and has two children." With a gentle hand to her elbow, he steered her through one of the two arched mahogany doors. "I also have a married daughter with two children. You will meet them."
Propelled inside, it took Petra a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimly-lit interior. When they did, all she could think was, Wow. Tiffany lamps hung from mahogany beams overhead. Votive candles flickered on the white linen-covered tables. Italian landscapes adorned the walls. And soft Italian ballads flowed out from discreetly-placed speakers.
"Ah, Nick." When the tall man standing at a table turned his head, Giuseppe crooked a finger to him.
After excusing himself from the patrons, the man named Nick strolled toward them, his expression friendly but questioning.
"Nick, this is Petra Lojek and her children, Elliot and Emma."
"Pleased to meet you, Petra." Nick shook her hand. "And welcome to Paradiso," he said to Elliot and Emma. "How long will you be staying?" he asked Petra. "Because our Festa is coming up soon and I know the kids would just love all the rides and games and things. Trust me, if I say it's good, it's good." The two whoops of excitement brought a smile to his lips.
"Petra is our new teacher," Giuseppe explained before she could open her mouth.
"That's great. You guys are going to love it here."
"They would really love food just about now," Carmen cut in. "I have it on good authority that they are starving." He winked at her.
"Of course." Now it was Nick who wrapped his hand around her elbow, and drawing her further into the restaurant, led her to a table near to the one he had been standing at. "How's this?"
"Lovely." As Petra sat down in the chair Nick pulled out, Elliot and Emma slid into theirs, Emma to her left and Elliot to her right.
With an "I'll be right back with the menus," Nick sauntered off to the front of the restaurant.
Petra took the opportunity to look around the restaurant where silver and crystal glinted on the white linen on every table. Sounds were muted. The subtle hum of conversation was punctuated by laughter. Waiters and waitresses moved smoothly and silently, among the tables and dinner guests. Charming. Absolutely charming.
True to his word, Nick returned within seconds with the menus. "May I suggest the gnocchi?" He pressed his thumb and forefinger to his lips and made a loud kissing sound. "They are to die for." He slanted a crooked grin at his dad. "Of course, Mamma made them."
Closing her menu, Petra said, "With that kind of recommendation, yes."
"Can we have pizza?" Elliot asked Nick.
"Sure you can. What toppings would you like on it?"
Elliot and Emma concurred on extra cheese, bacon, and pineapple, and with the order placed, Nick disappeared into the kitchen, followed by his father.
"Won't you join us, Carmen?" Petra indicated a vacant seat. "We'd love your company, wouldn't we, kids?"
"Well..." He looked uncertain but their boisterous agreement convinced him to pull out the chair next to Emma and sit down.
"Nonno." A girl of about twelve, with chocolate-brown eyes raced toward Carmen, her brown hair bouncing off her back, and threw herself into his outstretched arms.
"My little nipotina." He kissed the top of her head. Lifting his eyes, he said, "Petra, Elliot, Emma, this is my granddaughter, Christa." And to Petra, he added with a twinkle in his eyes, "My policeman son's daughter." Turning back to Christa, he said, "Carina mia, these are our new friends. And this"--he motioned to the other girl to come forward--"this is Sarah, Nick's daughter. Ragazze," he addressed both girls, "Mrs. Lojek is the new teacher at school."
"Won't you join us for pizza?" Petra invited.
Sarah thanked her and took the chair next to Elliot, leaving the vacant one to the right of Carmen free for Christa. Petra noticed the girl hang back, darting a glance toward the front of the restaurant. Where the door was.
"Come, Christa." Carmen patted the chair.
With a slight nod and lips held in a firm line, she sat down, on the edge of the seat.
"Brava." He patted the back of his granddaughter's head. "So." He swung his gaze on Sarah. "What have you two been up to?"
The conversation flowed and the food arrived. Everyone, including Carmen, dug into the pizza and the garlic breadsticks Nick had added on the house. Everyone, except Christa. Her gaze flitted back and forth from the front of the restaurant to the door leading to the restroom.
Petra, twisting her watchband around her finger, felt a sense of dread start in the pit of her stomach. "Christa?" When the girl met her gaze, she said, "Won't you have something?" and she pointed to the table.
"I'm ... not very hungry. Thanks." She smiled apologetically. "I guess I'm still full from lunch."
"Carina mia, that was hours ago," her grandfather said. "Come. Have a breadstick, at least." He handed her one.
Reluctantly, she took it.
After Christa ate the second breadstick and a piece of pizza and participated in a lively debate with the other kids, Petra relaxed. You're getting silly in your old age.
But when moments later, Christa excused herself, heading for the washroom, the nerves in Petra's stomach resurrected and began a fierce tap dance. After wiping her mouth with the napkin, she laid it on the table, next to her plate, and was just about to push off her chair.
"Keeping out of trouble, Ma'am?"