“Are you really slack-jawed over a mailman?” a gentle voice behind her said.
Startled, Amy whipped her body around, causing vertigo. Amy looked at the gentle speaker, clothed in a luxurious robe and glitter-covered mules. Holy Mother of Whomever, it was the Widow Braghorn!
“OMG,” Amy shouted, “you are the ‘Charlene Brooks’ that had booked a room for six weeks.” Amy’s eyes involuntarily scrutinized Ms. Braghorn’s body and face. “You didn’t have plastic surgery, did you?”
“The name’s Charlene Braghorn. And, yes, I did have restorative surgery, my dear. My husband, Big Brag, was wealthy and I devoted all of my pretty years to being his wife. Now that I’m widowed, I feel certain he’d want me to regain my youthful good looks. Judge Blackstone and I are in a long-term relationship—”
Amy shrieked, “Judge Blackstone? My wedding judge? The one with a stately office on the square in Lodenburg?”
“Yes, dear, that lovely man. I do adore him, but he has an alcohol problem. Has had for years. His sister, Fran, made it her project to enroll him in alcohol rehab when she retired. As a former school administrator, she was quite tenacious and as thorough as you can imagine.”
“Imagine?” Amy echoed, her mind not tracking this tale clearly.
Ignoring the extraneous interjection, Charlene plowed on. “Yes, Fran was detailed-oriented, Is dotted and Ts crossed. She did extensive research throughout the state. And then, when she married Pastor Paul, she had more impetus to complete the task. She had the Lord on her side, so Judge Blackstone was enrolled in Phil Lactose’s place.”
“Phil Lactose?” Holy Lions Club. “He owns the long-term drunk tank, er, alcohol rehab facility near here. Is that how you found the Lady Bug Inn?”
“Yes, of course. But I won’t divulge where I had my work done. Pretend it never happened, my dear. When Judge emerges from his alcohol-fueled state, he won’t recall that I was wrinkle-sagged. He’ll see me with love in his eyes, worthy of marriage.” Charlene paused with a reflective look on her face, batting her eyelashes and nothing else, to avoid creasing her new brow lift. “I miss having a man in my gigantic mansion. It’s gotten so awful that I even missed Big Brag’s black moods.”
Amy removed her hand from her mouth, embarrassed that she’d barged this woman’s privacy. This type of female was a favored core business, one’s could/would refer many more surgery recoverees. She at least owed her a cup of tea. And sympathy. Amy had all the time in the world to schmooze.
Amy scooted Charlene to the kitchen, thinking about this woman’s presence in her plastic surgery recovery spa. Charlene had been the shy-and-sly guest by the pool, removed and aloof, keeping her head down in an iPad. Now she sat, sprightly on the edge of her chair. She leaned back and crossed and uncrossed her legs as punctuation as she spoke.
They gab-fested for the rest of the afternoon. They made plans to go into town to seek mani-pedis, now that Charlene’s scars were healed enough for her to go public.
Amy finally had a happy-go-lucky female companion—one who’d buttoned her scruples and not asked after the Breeden Dairy Farm. Nor the reason that Amy had disappeared from the community for five years. Amy felt safe to hide in plain sight, to not have to explain the source of her largesse.
Before she toodled to her room, to rest and freshen up for the evening meal, Charlene complimented Amy on the in-room Keurigs. “That cabana boy wasn’t quite reliable and he flirted a lot. You ought to fire him.” She brought her hands to her red lips and cocked a hip, then winked and Marilyn Monroe wiggled down the hall.
Wow! The Lady Bug Inn had been given a seal of approval, but not Amy’s wastral brother, Andy, who’d apparently provided more services than cleaning the pool.
More advice came forth during their mani-pedi appointment. Charlene’s mouth was following Amy like Mary’s little lamb. Amy should stock romance novels and add an in-house manicurist, seating the recipients within proximity of the paperback book shelves and near a cocktail bar.
Still pushy, once she had Amy’s ear, Charlene suggested that Amy needed a beau, rather than salesman and come-hither-with-thee-cash men—or an unwieldy wanker of a brother in her life. Wasn’t a lusty young woman like Amy getting horny? Charlene smarm-inquired.
Amy turned her face from the conversation, hoping that she made it ahead of her blush. She almost yielded to a panic attack, something that would wreck her confident millionaire façade. The truth was, she’d turned away many suitors, since she’d become an immediate millionaire via lottery. Men apparently lusted after cash.
When she sought advice, Charlene said she’d laughed off such slathered-thick, conniving come-ons. She’d endured the same, constant treatment as the widow of Big Braghorn. But memories faded, she assured Amy. Especially if one never, never, never fed the fish. Not a nibble, not a kibble, not a bit.
The Widow was renowned for smug behavior in their former mutual home town. Amy hadn’t seen the woman in six years but was planted among Amy’s clientele.Talk about six degrees of separation—Amy needed more. She needed the privacy of a confessional booth. She didn’t want to appear equivocal or wish-washy, a boomerang in love.
She didn’t want to appear anything except rich and aloof.