I lift my shirt, flashing the small bottle of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength hidden beneath, like a drug dealer on a corner. Citing her health, Jenny’s mother cut Nana off from the bourbon years ago—or at least tried to. But Nana’s a sneaky, crafty old bird.
Like a vulture.
She stares at the bottle, licking her thin lips the way a man who’s sighted an oasis among miles of desert would do. It might seem unbecoming to bribe an old woman with liquor. Tasteless to pump her for information. But this isn’t about manners, or respect, or doing the right thing.
This is about fucking winning.
Plus . . . I would’ve brought Nana the revered Cask Strength anyhow. I’ve been sneaking her bottles of top-shelf brands for years. And she still hates me.
“Tell me about Jimmy Dean.”
She tilts back with confusion. “The sausage? We got some in the freezer.”
I roll my eyes. “No, the guy Jenny thinks she’s marrying—James Dean.”
And it’s like I’ve spoken the magic words. Years fade from Nana’s countenance as her scowl falls away and a dreamy smile takes its place. The first one I’ve seen in decades.
“You mean JD? Mmm-hmm, he’s a fine specimen of a man. If I were forty years younger, I’d make a play for him myself. Handsome, polite . . . he’s a good boy.” Then the familiar glower is back in place. “Not like you—Satan.”
I just chuckle. “What’s good ole JD do for a livin’?”
“He teaches at the high school. Chemistry or such . . . He’s a smart man. And talented—only been there this past year and he’s already assistant football coach. When that Dallas Henry gets booted from the head coachin’ position, I imagine JD’ll take his place.”
Mmm . . . old Sausage Link is coaching football at the same school where he used to be the jock-strap collector. There’s irony for you.
Nana eyes my hand as it rubs the bottle of bourbon, like a genie might spring out of it.
“What else?” I push.
She sighs, mulling it over. “His daddy passed on a few months ago. JD sold their farm and is havin’ a great big house built, brand new, in that fancy development out on 529. That’s where he’s takin’ Jenny to live . . . and Presley.”
My boot hits the porch with an angry thud. Over my dead fucking body.
Nana reads me well. “Don’t you take that tone with me, boy. You got no one to blame but yerself.” She folds her arms and straightens with a haughty sniff. “You’re not a bad daddy, I’ll give ya that much. But . . . Jenny needs a man . . . a man who’s here.”
“I am here,” I tell her softly.
“Humph. And from what I hear told, you’re not alone. Brought a pretty little city girl with ya. A La-tina.”
Jenny’s mother’s voice hollers from inside the house, proving once again that a small town is a lot like the Mafia—ears everywhere.
“Momma! Be nice.”
Nana gives as good as she gets. “Don’t you tell me how to be!” Then she offers me a pearl of wisdom. “One good thing about dyin’—you don’t need to be nice to no one.”
Oh yeah—Nana’s dying. For as long as I can remember. She’s just taking her time actually getting to the dead part.
“I did bring someone,” I confess. “A friend—Sofia. You two will get on real well—she doesn’t suffer fools any more than you do.”
I tap the bottle of Maker’s Mark with my finger. “Now tell me somethin’ . . . uncommon about JD. Somethin’ the whole town’s not privy to.”
She looks at me thirstily. And admits, “Well . . . he don’t drink much. Can’t hold his liquor. But I don’t think that’s a bad quality in a man—nobody likes a drunk.”
“Anything else?” I nudge.
She strains her memory for a moment. “Oh—he’s allergic to peppers. His face blows up like an overfed tick if he tastes just one.”
And that’s even more interesting.
Satisfied, I hold the bottle of bourbon out to Nana, keeping my hand low, out of the view of the window behind us just in case Jenny’s momma is looking. She snatches it from me like a spoiled child takes candy, slipping it under the blanket across her lap.
Jenny steps outside, dressed in cutoff denim shorts and a simple white T-shirt, as toned and fresh faced as she was at eighteen. I may be pissed at her, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s sexy as hell, and sweet, and . . . I’ve missed her.