Jenny opens her mouth, but before she can get a word out, I answer. “We wouldn’t miss it. I’ll bring my special sauce. You always loved my sauce, remember Jenny? Couldn’t get enough of it.”
She gives me an evil look.
“Momma.” Presley skips up, taking my hand. “Can I go back to Granny and Granddad Shaw’s with Daddy and Miss Sofia?”
Jenny smiles softly. “Of course you can. But don’t get your dress dirty.”
With a sigh, Jenny regards me. “We’ll see you later, then.”
“Count on it.”
• • •
Back at the parents’, I’m in the kitchen, trying to make the most of my time—mixing in Worcestershire, vinegar, and brown sugar—though molasses would be better. Barbecue sauce is important to a southern man—it’s a pride thing. Mine has a legendary reputation and I don’t want to disappoint the fans.
Outside the window, Presley leads Sofia around to where the herding dogs are penned, chattering away. “That’s Bo, that one’s Rose—oh, and this is Lucky. He got stepped on by a horse when he was a pup. Squashed half his little head—see the dent?”
I glance up and catch Sofia stroking her hands over the dog’s tan coat, then puckering those ruby lips and peppering the dog with kisses.
Lucky certainly is that.
“Granddad thought we should put him down, but Daddy said to give him a chance—he looked like a tough one. And he pulled through.”
Fifteen minutes later I have pots bubbling on the stove like a chemistry experiment. Sofia strolls in while Presley is on the swings. She watches as I mix all the ingredients into a rectangular tin. “I thought you said you couldn’t cook.”
I gesture to the pots and pans. “This? This isn’t cooking. This is grillin’. Totally different.”
She smiles. And steps closer. “Charming the panties off of jurors, saving injured puppies, and now—grillin’. Is there anything you can’t do well?”
I smirk, looking down into those eyes. And I’m possessed with the sudden urge to kiss her. Thoroughly.
But I shake it off—kissing in the kitchen isn’t what Sofia and I do. Instead, I confirm her inquiry about my limitless talents. “Not one.”
“Why don’t you ever grill in DC?”
“I don’t know—no time, I guess. And I forgot how much fun it is.” I stir the tin a few more times, then scoop some up with the spoon. Sofia stares at my mouth as I blow on it.
Her soft pink tongue ventures out first, hesitantly sampling, followed by her lips that wrap around the head of the spoon. When she moans, Christ, it goes straight to my dick—gets me thinking of other moans and other heads.
“Mmm . . . I would happily lick that sauce off anything you put it on.”
Dangerous words. I grip the counter to stop myself from laying her back on it.
Maybe kissing in the kitchen is something we should start doing.
“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” I tell her. “There’s crushed hot peppers in it. Might burn the skin.”
Grinning like a she-devil, she hands me back the spoon. “Guess I’ll stick to chocolate sauce, then.” She turns and walks out, hips swinging.
Hmm . . . a little burn could might absolutely be worth it.
By the time we get to the Monroes’, half the town is already there. After church everybody always lands at someone’s home, bringing food and settling in for an afternoon of barbecue, drinking, and conversation. Throughout the yard, there are clusters of people talking and laughing, groups of kids running and shouting. Presley joins a herd as soon as we enter the yard. Nana eyes the whole affair from her spot on the porch like a watchful, gun-toting gargoyle. Typical Sunday.
I pass my tray of sauce to June, who brings it to her husband, stationed at the meat-laden grill, surrounded by fragrant smoke so thick he could be Alice Cooper in concert. Ruby—Jenny’s sister—brings me a beer and a hug. Like her parents’ home, the years go by, but Ruby stays the same. Same flaming red hair, same wild laugh, same piece-of-shit scraggily bearded boyfriend—just with a different name. This one’s Duke or Dick, doesn’t really matter—none of them stick around long, and that’s really for the best.
I introduce her to Sofia and can tell right away Ruby doesn’t like her—for the simple fact that she’s here with me. Even though the whole town seems to be gung-fucking-ho about the wedding, Ruby obviously thinks there’s a chance Jenn could change her mind. So she’s not going to get friendly with a woman whom she views as her sister’s potential competition.