Ruby was so excited about the shopping trip
that Joe had to send her back to bed three
times on Friday night. She was almost jumping
out of her skin Saturday morning as he made
pancakes for her and Ben.
“Can I wear a tiara in the parade, like my Barbie
doll? ” Ruby asked.
“Sure. If that’s what you want and we can find
one. Remember, though, that you and Hannah
need to complement each other in some way.”
They’d gone over the guidelines for the parade
when they filled out their entrance form the
previous night, but Ruby was caught up in the
prospect of shopping to remember the rules.
“There’s no way Hannah ‘s going to wear a
tiara, ” Ben said.
Ruby shot him a dirty look. “How would you
know? She’s my friend, not yours. You hardly
Ben sq££zed a maple syrup onto his pancakes.
“I don’t need to know her. She rides a
motorbike. There’s no way you’re going to get
her to wear some silly tiara.”
Even though Joe privately agree with his son,
he had the good sense not to say so aloud.
“I think we should wait until we see what we
can find at the mall before we start worrying
about stuff like that,” he said diplomatically.
“I’m going to wait out front for Hannah, ” Ruby
said, her chair legs scraping across the floor as
she pushed her chair back.
It was still only a quarter to ten, but he figured
there was no harm letting her wait outside.
Kicking her heels for a few minutes might even
calm her down a little.
He should have known better. He’d just finished
rinsing the fry pan when Ruby b@nged her way
back into the house.
“Daddy, we’re ready to go now. Hurry up,
He turned to find Ruby had dragged Hannah
into the house behind her. His gaze ran over
Hannah’s damp hair, pulled back into a
“Ruby, I hope you didn’t hassle Hannah to
come early, ” he said.
Ruby closed her eyes for a long blink before
shaking her head, a sure sign. “No. Hannah was
already up and dressed, weren’t you, Hannah? ”
Hannah smiled. “Barely. But its okay, I’m ready
to go now.”
Her gaze flicked around the kitchen, and he
was immediately aware that the room needed
to be painted.
“I guess we should go, then,” he said.
There was a moment of awkwardness as they
sorted out the seating arrangements in the car.
Ruby automatically moved to one of the rear
doors when they exited the house but Hannah
“No, sweetie, you should sit up front with your
dad. ” she said.
“I don’t mind, ” Ruby said. She slipped into the
back of the car and buckled her seat belt.
Joe met Hannah’s eyes over the roof of the car
for a brief second before she opened the front
passengers door. He was acutely aware of her
sitting beside him as he started the SUV and
backed into the street. He could see her long,
jeans clad legs out of the corner of his eyes, her
hands resting on her thighs.
It was until they had entered the first clothing
store that he realized how tense Hannah was.
She was frowning as Ruby circled the racks
pulling out frilly dress. Hannah ‘s eyebrows rose
when she saw how short the skirt was on one of
the dresses and she flinched.
“Um. Is this the sort of thing you were thinking
of? ” Hannah asked.
“Yep, ” Ruby said. She started walking towards
the change rooms. “We have to hurry because
we’ve only got three hours. ”
Hannah closed her eyes for a second and he
heard her say something under her breath.
Then she followed Ruby to the change rooms.
“I’ll wait out front, ” he said.
“No, Daddy, you have to stay with us. We need
a boy’s opinion, ” Ruby said bossily.
“I don’t know how much help I’ll be, Rubes. This
isn’t my area of expertise. ”
Hannah gave him a dark look.
He gave in partly because Ruby was watching
him with big, expectant eyes and partly
because he was curious to see what Hannah
looked like in a miniskirt.
Spectacular. That was how she looked. Her legs
were long with well defined muscles. Her waist
was small. Her b0s0ms… Well, he’d already
done his fair share of staring at them. She filled
out the minidress like a supermodel.
“I don’t think this one is a gore, ” Hannah said.
She slipped back into the change room and
whisked the curtain closed.
Ruby sighed. “All right then. But remember,
we’ve only got three hours. Now get changed
and we’ll go to Myer’s. They have lots of nice
Ruby started gathering dresses at the speed of
light when they hit the big department stores.
Hannah accepted the hangers and disappeared
into the change room with Ruby’s selections, he
caught his daughter’s elbow before she could
follow Hannah inside.
“Rubes, wait a minute. I don’t think Hannah ‘s
very comfortable in the dresses you’re choosing
for her ”
“But she looks so good in them. She looks like a
“Yeah, but you’ve got to remember she’s used
to wearing jeans and T shirts most of the time.
Ruby nodded. “Okay. If you think it will make
her more comfortable.”
A martial light in her eyes, Ruby disappeared
into the change rooms. A few seconds later, she
reappeared with a pile of dresses in her arms.
Hannah trailed after her, looking both confused
“You don’t want me to try them on anymore? ”
“I’ve decided that maybe you should pick
something. So I know what you like, maybe we
should look at the trousers, ” Ruby said.
Joe hung back for a moment, smiling at his
daughter’s handling of the situation. Just before
they disappeared amongst the clothing racks,
Hannah glanced over her shoulder. For a
second their gazes met and held. Then the
moment was gone and he’d lost sight of her
behind a display of coats.
Hands shoved into the back pockets of his
jeans, he started after them.
“What about these? You’d look great in these, ”
Hannah surveyed the embroidery glittering
jeans the girl was holding up. They were the
kind of jeans Mariah Carey might wear, dripping
with bling and s*x appeal.
Dear God. Was this morning never going to
end? She felt as though she’d been ushered
into her own version of hell.
“Wow. They’re great, ” Hannah said.
She’d hesitated just a moment too long. Ruby ‘s
bottom lip pouted. “You don’t like them. ” it
wasn’t a question.
“But you do, sweetie, and I ‘m happy to wear
them if you love them, ” Hannah said.
“No, you have to be comfortable. Come on, lets
look around some more.” Ruby said.
They found a navy linen trouser in the corner.
Hannah pulled them from the rack and
considered them briefly before putting them
back. They were way too plain for. Ruby ‘s
Ruby stepped forward and took it off the rack.
“Lets try it on, ” she said
Even Hannah was surprised by how good she
looked and felt in the beautifully tailored pants.
They made her butt look high and firm. She
stepped out of the changing room feeling good,
a s£nsat!on that only intensified when she saw
the look on Joe ‘s face. His gaze went straight to
her legs, lingered around her hips and thighs,
then finally made it to her face.
“Okay?” She asked, smoothing a hand down
“Ah, yeah. You could say that.”
He could have just been polite, but she didn’t
think so. There was something in his eyes as he
looked at her, something dark and intense. ….
At last the trousers was given a thumbs up by
all parties. They stepped into the children ‘s
department Ruby spotted a cute sailor dress in
navy and white, complete with matching hat.
Another hour was spent looking for a shirt to
complete Hannah ‘s outfit, then matching shoes
for both her and Ruby. They were ready to pay.
“This shopping business is exhausting, ” she
Joe aside as they were waiting to be served.
“Tell me about it . And she’s not even a
teenager yet. ”
His tone was wry but the expression on his face
was indulgent. Hannah felt an old sq££ze in
her chest as she looked at him.
They settled the cashier and left for home.
The day of the parade
“Hannah, you need to sit still or I’ll never get
this done. ”
Joe hid a smile at the frustrated note in Robyn’s
voice. She ‘d volunteered to help both Hannah
and Ruby with their hair for the fashion parade,
but he figured she ‘d planned on working on a
serene, calm model and not the nervous,
fidgety one in the chair.
“You’ve been at it for hours. Surely its done
now? You didn’t spend this long on Ruby’s hair,
” Hannah said.
“That’s because I didn’t move around so much,
” Ruby said.
In the week since there shopping expedition,
Ruby had disappeared before dinner most
nights. Each time he ‘d had to collect her from
“All right. That’s your hair done, Robyn
Hannah stood shaking her head as though she
could shake off the last few minutes.
Can we go now?
“How about we start loading up the car? Joe
An hour later they arrived, Hannah and Ruby
dashed to the ladies room for make up.
Ben shuffled restlessly at Joe ‘s side. “How long
is this going to take? Do we have to stay for the
whole thing? ” Joe took pity on him and gave
him some money to buy a drink and something
to eat from the refreshments table at the rear of
the school gym. When he turned back to the
runway, he noticed Robyn was twisting and
turning the bracelet on her wrist, her gaze
darting back and forth between the clock on
the wall and the door to the ladies room.
“They’re running late, aren’t they? She sounded
“I ‘m no expert, but am guessing with that
many women and only a limited number of
mirrors there’s a pileup.”
Robyn didn’t so much as crack a smile at his
“I hope everything goes okay. Hannah needs
something to boost her confidence, she took
such a blow when the wedding was called off. .
Joe couldn ‘t hide his surprise. “Hannah was
Robyn bit her lip, obviously debating whether
she should say more or not.
“Its okay. I don’t want to pry, ” even though he
did. Big time.
“Oh, its not like its a state secret or anything.
Everyone knows. I guess that’s part of the
problem. Lucas swept her off her feet,
romanced her till she was so dizzy she didn’t
know which way was up. She was so happy ….
and then Kelley came and everything went bad
Joe wanted to ask who Kelly was, but he was
afraid to interrupt Robyn ‘s train of thought.
Hannah’s mother shook her head as she
“I should have seen it coming. I mean, Lucas
and Kelly had so much more in common. They
both worked in the IT industry, they shared so
many opinions and dreams and ambitions. If
only they had handled things better, told
Hannah how they felt sooner rather than
leaving it so late. . . Robyn was tearing up.
He reached into his back pocket for the
handkerchief he always carried.
“Thanks.” Robyn dabbed her cheeks.
Before he and Robyn could talk any
further,music blasted out of the speakers and
the lights dimmed.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Promqueen
Primary wants to thank you all for your time
and for your generous donations tonight. We’ve
got lots of excited models backstage, so I ‘m
going to dive straight into things. We hope you
enjoy our parade as much as we enjoyed
putting this night together for you.”
She turned toward the stage, then consulted a
sheet of paper in her hands.
“Our first models are Melinda and Liana. Lets
give them a big welcome. ”
The crowd dutifully clapped as the first mother
and daughter stepped onto the stage. Joe was
too busy thinking about what he ‘d just learned
to pay attention as they walked to the top of
the runway to pose and turn and pose some
more while the MC described their outfits.
He could only imagine how humiliated Hannah
must have felt to be rejected by her lover in
favour of her younger friend. And from what
Robyn had intimidated, the rejection had come
late in the day. He stared blindly at the stage as
he wondered how late? Had Hannah bought her
dress? Chosen the menu for the reception?
Booked the honeymoon?
What kind of an asshole would do that to a
woman he ‘d prepared to marry? What man
could claim to have ever loved her, only to hurt
her so badly? As for Hannah ‘s friend …….
“Our next models are Hannah and Ruby. Don’t
they look great? ”
Joe lifted up his camera, yet could do nothing
but stare. Something warm expanded in him as
he stared at the woman holding his little girl ‘s
hand. She looked amazing. With her hair piled
on top of her head and her eyes done in
makeup, Hannah ‘s beauty was undeniable. The
navy trousers clung to her long legs as she and
Ruby began walking, the fine fabric of her
sleeveless white blouse betraying the sway of
Realizing he had yet to take a single shot, Joe
lifted the camera and hit the shutter button.
Hannah and Ruby got to the end of the runway
and performed a little crossover he ‘d seen
them practicing the past week. Ruby stuck her
left hip out and propped her left hand on it,
then Hannah followed suit. Then, unexpectedly,
they saluted one another with their right hands.
Joe was surprised into laughter, as was the rest
of the audience. Then she and Ruby strutted
their way back up the runaway, Ruby clearly
having the time of her life. One last wave, and
they disappeared behind the curtains.
The next mother and daughter stepped onto
the stage. Joe consulted his program. There
were twenty entries in all, and they weren’t
even a quarter of the way through. He checked
his watch, then made a decision. He leaned
“I ‘m going to go backstage and check on
Ruby. If Ben comes back would you mind
keeping an eye on him?”
He flashed her a grateful smile and angling his
way through the audience towards the back of
the hall. Ruby leaped out of her seat when she
saw him and practically bounced into his arms.
“Did you see, did you see? ”
“I did. You were wonderful, the stars of the
One of the organizers stepped into the area.
“Ruby, we need you to come line up with the
other students now ”
“Oh, okay. She turned to Joe, daddy take lots of
She ran off, curls bouncing. When he turned to
talk to Hannah, her chair was empty. He
frowned. Then he caught sight of her
disappearing through a side door.
He followed her, finding himself in a dimly lit
“Hey. Wait up. Where are you going? ” he asked
when he reached her side.
“Outside. It’s too hot in there. ”
She fanned her shirt and something sweet and
spicy hit him. With her high heels they were
eye to eye and his gaze was drawn to her
mouth. She was wearing gloss and her lip
looked very full and soft.
“Did you want something? ”
“I just wanted to say thanks. You did a great job
out there. Ruby loved every minute of it ”
She shrugged. “Honestly, it was no big deal.
And it was fun ”
He felt her warm body so close to him.
“Hannah, ” he said, but words failed him as he
caught another waft of her perfume. Hot desire
exploded in his belly and thighs and chest. He
crowded her against the wall, his body pressing
against her, hip to hip, chest to chest, as his
arms wrapped around her. He seized her lips
with hunger. Her hands grabbed his shoulders
as her tongue met his, stroking and challenging
and tasting him. Her hips pressed forward and
he could feel her breadth coming in fast pants.
He was so hard it hurt. He wanted anything,
anywhere, as long as he could satisfy the need
building in his body.
The door to the hall opened. Two women
approached, talking and laughing. Joe jerked
his hand from inside Hannah ‘s skirt. They
moved apart and she angled her body towards
the wall as she fumbled with her shirt buttons.
Joe pasted on a polite smile and nodded as the
women passed, aware he and Hannah probably
looked as guilty as hell.
Before he could say anything, Hannah walked
away, heading for the exit. He knew it was
going to be a long time before he was able to
forget the feel of her b0s0m in his hand and the
sound of her breadth in his ear and the feel of
her long, strong body against his.
The door swung shut, throwing him in darkness
. After a long moment, he turned and walked
the other way.
Ruby was so excited about the shopping trip