Once You're Mine

By: Barbara Freethy

One


Tori Hayden had had the prickly feeling at the back of her neck since she'd returned to San Francisco three weeks earlier after a decade of being away from the city where she'd grown up. Since she'd taken a reporting job at the Bay Area Examiner, a digital and print newspaper known for in-depth stories on local and state issues, she'd felt as if someone was watching her every time she left her apartment or the office, but she couldn't imagine why.

Her current assignment reporting on the homeless population and the efforts being made to help the thousands of people sleeping under freeway overpasses and in front of buildings had taken her into some dicey areas, and she'd rattled a few city officials with her probing questions, but why would anyone be following her? It didn't make sense.

She flung a quick look over her shoulder, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. She'd just left a meeting at City Hall, and the neighborhood wasn't the best, but it was three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon and there were plenty of people around. Shaking her head at her always overactive imagination, she saw a coffee house up ahead and decided a shot of caffeine would probably help clear her tired brain.

She was almost to the door when her phone buzzed. Pulling it out of her bag, she saw her brother's number and smiled. Despite the four-year age difference between them, she'd always been close to her big brother, Scott. Even when they'd been living thousands of miles apart from each other, they'd kept in touch. Now, with his wedding rapidly approaching, he seemed to find her to be his best resource for help and sanity.

She sat down at an outside table and answered the phone. "What has Mom done now?"

"She rearranged the seating chart and Monica's mother is going nuts, which means Monica is upset—"

"Which means you have to make her feel better," she finished.

"Exactly," Scott replied, tension in his voice. "I keep telling myself it's three more days, and then we're off to the honeymoon. But right now Saturday feels a million years from now. I thought we were past all the problems, but our mother and Monica's mother might be two of the most stubborn people on the face of the earth."

"I don't know Monica's mom, but I've had a lot of experience with ours."

"You need to talk to her, Tori."

"Me? She's not going to listen to me. If anyone can get through to her, it's you. Or maybe ask Ray to intervene. He seems able to calm her down."

"Ray is spending a lot of time golfing these days," Scott returned. "Our stepfather knows the best way to deal with her is to leave the house."

She'd noticed Ray's absences since she'd moved back to town and wondered if her mom and stepfather were as happy as they'd once been. But that was a discussion for another day. "Fine, I will call her and see if I can find out what the problem is."

"The problem is that she wants to have her own table at the reception, and Monica's mother thinks the parents should sit together. I told Mom she needs to suck it up and do what Monica's mom wants because they're paying, and she got offended."

"I can't imagine why that would upset her," she said dryly.

"Well, it's the truth. Sorry, but I'm out of patience, and I do actually have a job to do besides all this wedding planning."

She knew her brother's work as an environmental lawyer was very important to him and also kept him quite busy. "I understand. I'll talk to her. But maybe if the parents aren't getting along, it would be better to have them sit separately."

"Monica and her mom say it's traditional for the parents to be together, and they don't like bucking tradition. So you have to find a way to convince Mom that she can sit with them for the hour it takes to have dinner."

"I'll give it my best shot. In return, I would appreciate it if you didn't stick me at the lonely singles table."

"I have no idea where you're sitting, and at this point I don't really care."

"Thanks for nothing."

"So how are things with you?" Scott asked, sounding more relaxed now that she'd agreed to help him. "Is San Francisco starting to feel like home again?"

"Not really, but I'm living in a part of the city I never spent much time in when we were growing up. Childhood memories for me are all from the neighborhoods around the Great Highway and Ocean Beach, and the cute restaurants in the Avenues. Now I'm in Hayes Valley, which is charming but crowded, and it feels very urban. However, I am extremely happy to have found a one-bedroom apartment that doesn't completely blow my budget. It's small, but I love not having roommates. Plus, I can walk to work."