Bad News Cowboy
game of one-upmanship they found themselves in, because she would be damned if she walked away with him still seeing her as a kid. With him making her feel like a kid.
    â€œMaybe not.” His voice was rough now, sort of like she’d fantasized it might be when she’d imagined him propositioning her.
    She opened her mouth to say something else, something sassy and sensual and undoubtedly perfect. Undoubtedly perfect before she was interrupted and unable to say it.
    â€œHi, Kate. Hello, Jack.”
    Kate turned and saw her sister-in-law, Liss, standing there, her head tilted to the side, arms crossed over her rounded belly.
    â€œLiss,” Jack said, nodding his head. “I have to run. See both of you later.”
    He beat a hasty retreat, leaving her standing there alone with Liss.
    â€œI thought I’d stop by and see if you had time for lunch. I’m in town grocery shopping and things. Generally killing time.”
    Kate cleared her throat, feeling unaccountably guilty and as if she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Her hand had been nowhere near Jack’s cookie jar. She had no cookies. So that was ridiculous. Still, her face was all hot. “Sorry, I can’t take a break yet. No one’s here to relieve me for another hour.”
    Liss wrinkled her nose. “Okay. I’d love to wait for you, but I can’t. I need fried fish with more malt vinegar than one person should reasonably consume. And I need it now.”
    â€œYeah, go eat. I’m fine.”
    Liss did not leave. Instead she stood there, rocking back on her heels, bunching her lips up and pulling them to the side before taking a deep breath. “Kate, I love Jack like a brother. You know that.”
    Deeply uncomfortable anticipation gathered at the base of Kate’s skull and crawled upward, making her scalp prickle. “Yes. I know that.”
    â€œHe’s bad news, Kate. I mean, as far as women are concerned. Nobody’s going to reform him. Not even you.”
    Kate inhaled, preparing to say something. To protest. But instead she ended up choking. She covered her mouth, trying to minimize the coughing fit that followed. When she straightened, tears were running down her cheeks and her throat felt raw. Liss had made no move to help her; rather, she was just standing there looking at her. “Why exactly did you think I needed that warning?” she asked, her voice sounding thin and reedy now, certainly not convincing.
    â€œI see the way you look at him.”
    â€œCan you look at someone a certain way? I just thought I was looking at him like I look at any normal human.” Lies.
    â€œIf you don’t need the warning, feel free to ignore me. But if there’s any chance you might need it, take it.”
    Kate was just completely done being treated like everyone’s little sister. “Thank you,” she said, her voice tight. “I will keep that in mind just in case. Though I’m not sure if you noticed, but I’m not sixteen anymore. Or twelve.”
    Liss was not cowed. “I did notice. And I bet I’m not the only one. Which is what concerns me. Older, more experienced women than you have suffered a bad case of the Jacks.”
    â€œI’ve known him my entire life. I think it’s safe to say I’m immune.” Lies. Lies. Lies.
    â€œForget I said anything. Unless you need to remember that I said this,” Liss said, looking extremely skeptical.
    â€œOkay. Should I ever feel like I’m in danger from Jack, I will remember this.”
    â€œGreat.” Liss continued gazing at her for longer than was strictly necessary. “Okay. I’m going to go eat.”
    â€œGreat. Enjoy your vinegar.”
    â€œI will. In fact, I have to go quickly so that I don’t die.”
    â€œDon’t die. Feed my little niece or nephew.”
    Liss smiled, the weirdness from a moment ago dissipating. “Oh, I definitely will. No

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