Suddenly Engaged (A Lake Haven Novel Book 3)(12)

By: Julia London

She dropped everything onto the worn sofa and leaned over, glancing out the window.

Her neighbor had gone inside.

Kyra sighed. She reached for the TV remote and tapped down the volume as the Wheel of Fortune spun. “Hello!” she called out and started for the kitchen with the spilled bag of pasta.

Fern Miller stuck her head in the doorway between the living area and kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “You’re late,” she said.

“I know, and I’m really sorry,” Kyra said. “I had a really late table.”

Mrs. Miller waddled back to the kitchen sink. She was a sizable woman who was partial to khaki capris and big, roomy tops in lots of bright colors and patterns. She wore her hair in a halo of silver curls around her face and once bragged she washed and set it only once a week. “Now, Carrie, you know I don’t mind babysitting, but my husband likes his supper ready when he gets home. He’s going to have a fit.” She put the dishtowel down.

Kyra had long since given up getting Mrs. Miller to say her name correctly. “I won’t be late again, I promise,” she said and hoped like hell she could actually keep her word this time.

Mrs. Miller looked her up and down, as if she were gauging her sincerity. “Well,” she said. “Just don’t make a habit of it.” She picked up her black, utilitarian purse from the tiny kitchen table and slung it over her shoulder.

“By the way, I just met my neighbor,” Kyra said. “He said Ruby was over there today?”

“Yep,” Mrs. Miller said. “I guess she got into his yard.”

Kyra really wanted to ask where Mrs. Miller had been when Ruby had gone over to the man’s yard. But Kyra was also afraid of upsetting this apple cart. She needed child care she could afford, and in a town where most people employed au pairs, Mrs. Miller had been the only one to answer her ad on Craigslist. No one else was going to watch Ruby for thirty bucks a day, and that’s all Kyra could swing right now. She figured she just had to keep a lid on the situation until the fall. Ruby would be starting first grade, and she’d be in an after-school program and everything would be okay. Get to the fall, get to the fall . . . that’s what she kept telling herself.

“What was she doing over there?” she asked.

“Who knows why that girl does anything?” Mrs. Miller said with a shrug.

Kyra tucked her hair behind her ear. “Were you, ah . . . outside with her?”

“That girl is in and out all day.” She said it accusingly, as if Ruby were at fault for being six.

“Where is she now?” Kyra asked.

“In her room,” Mrs. Miller said. “Now, I fed her,” she said, gesturing with her chin at the kitchen table and the deflated juice pouch, the empty paper plate, and the half-empty tube of saltine crackers. There had probably been cheese, too, which Ruby loved. Wouldn’t Megan lose her mind if she saw this?

“You should get some groceries,” Mrs. Miller said.

“Yeah . . . I’m going tomorrow since it’s my day off,” Kyra said guiltily. But come on, like she’d had time in the last few days to drive to Black Springs to the only grocery of any size in the area.

“She needs a bath,” Mrs. Miller said, wrinkling her nose. “She got into mud or something. I hosed her down in the yard, but she kind of stinks.”

Hosed her down in the yard? Would it have been too much trouble to put her in a bath? Kyra bit back her irritation. “I’ll take care of it.”

Mrs. Miller started for the door; Kyra followed her, reaching for her purse on the couch. She pulled out two crumpled bills—a twenty and a ten. “Thank you,” she said, handing Mrs. Miller the money.

Mrs. Miller looked disapprovingly at the crunched bills, took them from Kyra, and made a show of straightening them out against her knee. Not only had Kyra run out of time to grocery shop, she’d run out of time to iron the bills. If Mrs. Miller wanted cash every day—and she did, having said, “What Ed don’t know won’t hurt him”—she was going to have to take some crumpled tips from time to time.

“See you Wednesday?” Kyra asked hopefully.

“I’ll be here at seven a.m.,” Mrs. Miller said as she walked out the door.

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