“So we’re having pancakes for the picnic?”
“No. I’m picking up the food. Then there’s no question it’ll be good.” He checked his watch. He’d put in an order at Delaney’s Delectables for the dessert. The rest of it was coming from Howler’s. Plus, he had to get wine, clean the cooler out, find a good blanket for them to sit on, make sure he had the corkscrew packed, get the camp chairs out…what was he forgetting? “I should probably get moving. Lots to do to hold up my end of the deal. I’ll be back at six sharp to walk you to our spot.”
“You’re sure it’ll be okay to leave everything?”
He nodded. “Merrow and the rest of his deputies will be on patrol, but I’ll get someone to keep an eye on it.”
“Okay. Remember, feed Jasper before you leave the house to get our spot.”
“It’s at the top of my list.” Amazing how her crazy orange cat had grown on him. He actually enjoyed the company in the house. And Jasper was highly entertaining. When he wasn’t expressing himself with his teeth.
The front door rattled, and Ramona peered in through the glass. She mouthed, “Open up.”
Willa made a noise. “I think the only reason she’s on time is the chance to see you.” She gestured toward the entrance. “Will you let her in?”
“Sure.” He unlocked the door and pulled it open, the soft sounds of the town getting the day underway greeting him. “Morning.”
The brownie grinned. “Good morning, Nick. Happy Fourth of July. You’re a veteran, right?”
Her lids lowered coyly over her large dark eyes. “Pretty sure I’m supposed to hug a veteran today.”
“There will be plenty of veterans for you to hug at the fireworks later, Ramona.” Willa eyed her sternly. “Right now, there’s a new shipment of earrings waiting to be carded. Also, the watch band order came in and needs to be added to stock.”
Ramona rolled her eyes and whispered, “Slave driver,” under her breath.
Nick laughed as the girl stomped toward the back of the store.
Willa shook her head as she walked toward him. “You look like a cat who just got into the cream.”
“I can’t help that I’m universally appealing.”
Willa snorted. “Getting a little full of yourself with all this attention, aren’t you?”
He snagged her hand and drew her in. “Maybe spending time with such a beautiful woman is inflating my ego. You think we should stop seeing each other?”
She screwed her face into a fierce, challenging expression. “Why? Is that what you want?”
“No. Never.” The light of truth blinked on in his brain. He didn’t ever want to stop seeing her.
“Good answer. And I see a deputy outside. You’re free to go and prepare for our picnic.” She smiled and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “See you at six?”
“On the nose.”
“By which you mean two minutes early.”
He laughed. “You’re really starting to know me.” He gave her a wave and headed out to start his day full of errands and prep.
By four o’clock he had the food picked up—chocolate-covered strawberries and salted chocolate truffles from Delaney’s Delectables and cold steak sandwiches with pasta salad and chips from Howler’s—and the cooler stocked with everything they’d need. He had another bag packed with a blanket, bug spray, a Guns and Ammo magazine he’d been meaning to catch up on, and glow sticks, just because. He’d also pulled out two camp chairs and a beach umbrella from the shed. He wasn’t sure they’d use them, but he was trying to anticipate Willa’s every need.
He fed Jasper a whole can of food, which was more than Willa had said to give him, but Nick knew it was going to be a late night. Then, just to be on the safe side, Nick filled up the dry food bowl until it was mounded and overflowing. He shook his head as Jasper went to town. “If you get fat, your mother is not going to be happy with me. We might have to start letting you out in the backyard to run around.”
He gave Jasper a little scratch on the head, then gathered up the picnic stuff, put his sunglasses on and headed to the fairgrounds behind the firehouse where the evening’s festivities would take place. It was about a twenty-minute walk from the house, but with the crowd, it might take them an hour to get back. From what he’d heard, the Red, White and Boo Festival was one of the year’s most popular events in Nocturne Falls.
That seemed true judging by the crowd already gathered to grab a good spot to watch the fireworks. At one end of the fairgrounds, the staging area for the fireworks was roped off for a good fifty feet. At the other end, where the bandstand was, people had already set up blankets and sun umbrellas to enjoy the bluegrass group currently providing entertainment.
Kids were making good use of the giant inflatable slide and bounce house that had been erected for the occasion. The festival mascot, a character dressed like the ghost of Uncle Sam, wandered through the throng shaking hands and posing for pictures.
Several food trucks were set up by the regular concession stand, but a few hawkers walked through the growing crowd. They sold cotton candy, peanuts, beer, sparklers, bottles of Nocturne Falls water, and American flags. Nick imagined the number of hawkers would grow as the evening progressed and the crowd increased.
He picked a spot halfway between the bandstand and the staging area and set up the blanket, the two camp chairs, and the small beach umbrella he’d thrown in for good measure. He was glad he had now. The sun was hot, and the shade was welcome.