“Dismissing the depressing thought that she might not appeal to Ford in her condition, she said to Darcy, “Tell him I’ll be there in a minute.”

When she exited her office sixty seconds later, she found her husband talking with Darcy, and they were both laughing at something he’d said. He looked so handsome and relaxed, and it hit her in that moment that she was falling hopelessly in love with him all over again.

His gaze settled warmly on her from across the counter, taking in the thigh-length, multi-colored shirt she’d worn over stretchy, deep purple leggings. His perusal was lazy and thorough, causing Grace’s cheeks to flush. There was no hiding her growing, taut belly, or the fact that she was, without a doubt, pregnant. When his eyes again met hers, his gaze glowed with a male pride and satisfaction that made a slow, simmering heat unfurl in the pit of her belly.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, his low, rich voice rumbling across her sensitive nerve endings.

“I’m starved,” she admitted, shocked at the husky quality of her own voice.

A grin quirked his mouth, but before he could add to that, Darcy leaned close to Grace and murmured, “I’m telling you, Grace, take those two hours!”

Oh, how she was tempted to give into her desire for Ford and spend the next two hours in his arms experiencing the pleasure she knew he could give her, but she didn’t feel comfortable instigating something that intimate or relationship-altering.

“Would you like us to bring you back something from Marie’s?” Ford offered to Darcy.

“I’d love a ham and cheese on white,” she said, completely charmed by Ford’s polite inquiry. “And some of Marie’s potato salad would be great.”

He grinned at her. “You got it.”

Grace and Ford stepped outside, and he automatically slipped his hand into hers as they headed down the sidewalk toward the strip of rundown and cosmetically neglected shops at the far side of Whitaker Towne Square. Most people had grown used to seeing the two of them together, but Ford’s romantic gesture earned them a few reprehensible looks from those extremists who’d branded her a hussy behind her back, but nobody said anything to them personally. She suspected that they wouldn’t dare—for all of Ford’s faults, she’d come to learn that he was fiercely protective of what was his , and that included her and the baby she carried.

They passed the After Hours bar, and like every other time they’d walked by the disreputable establishment on their way to Marie’s, Ford’s entire body tensed, but he said nothing. He didn’t need to. His disgust and loathing of the place that had consumed his mother’s life was evident in the enmity that sparked in his gaze.

By the time they entered Marie’s, Ford had a smile in place for the elderly woman who had treated him with kindness and consideration since he’d returned. The place was empty, except for a young teenage couple who were sharing a banana split at a table in the back. Ford led her to a booth near the window overlooking the town, and sat across from her.

Marie ambled over with a pen and pad in hand and a smile creasing her plump, friendly face. “What can I get for my favorite newlyweds?”

Blushing at Marie’s greeting, Grace requested her usual chicken salad on rye with a side of fresh fruit and lemonade, and also gave Marie Darcy’s order. Ford opted for a cheeseburger, fries, and a soda.

Marie handed the lunch order over to her husband, Frank, who was working behind the counter, and returned a few minutes later with their drinks. Knowing the older woman was concerned about the fate of her cafe since the original owner of the property had died and his son, Hank, had decided to sell the property and shop structures, Grace ventured to ask, “Have you heard anything from the new property owner yet?”

“Nope,” Marie said with a frustrated sigh. “Last time I talked to Hank, he said the sale hadn’t been finalized yet, and he wasn’t releasing any information about the new owner until the transaction was negotiated and settled.” A troubled frown etched her brows. “Hank mentioned the possibility of the new owner tearing down the original structure to build a theater and new, more modern shops.”

“Oh, Marie, no.” Grace pressed a hand to her chest in dismay. Marie and Frank depended on the cafe for their livelihood, as did the rest of the elderly business owners who’d operated their shops on this strip for more years than Grace had been alive. She didn’t want to think about what would happen to them without the financial supplement of their businesses.

“Hard to imagine,” Marie said, a combination of umbrage and resignation lacing her voice. “But us business folks don’t seem to have much say in the matter, do we?”

“Your order is up, Marie,” Frank called, garnering the older woman’s attention.”

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