Staying For Good Page 3

A knock on the door caught her attention.

“Hey, Zoe . . . Felix said you needed to eat.”

September was a twenty-two-year-old production assistant whose name and bubbly personality had landed her the job.

“Anything other than chocolate.”

“Salad . . . sandwich?”

“Yes, and sure.”

September smiled and left the doorway.

Zoe kicked off her high heels, which she’d never cook in when in her own kitchen, and removed her purse from the tiny locker. She fished her cell phone from the bottom and checked her messages. Her real estate agent was supposed to have called, or at the very least texted that morning with a new list of potential properties in the Dallas area.

It was time for Zoe to put down some roots. She’d traveled most of the past eight years after taking second place on the first season of Warring Chef. Her spot, even if one slot away from number one, had launched her career and turned her into a celebrity. She took regular guest spots on Chef Monroe’s weekly syndication, which had her flying to New York several times a year. She also hosted holiday specials, like the one she was filming now, for a popular food network, which wouldn’t air until Christmas, some eight months away. Her day job, if she could call it that, was taking the head chef position in the posh section of West Dallas, called Trinity Groves, two weekends a month. Everything else she did to earn money cooking was on location, at a charity event . . . or some kind of red carpet ordeal where she was just as big a draw as the Hollywood elite sitting at the dining tables.

Zoe glared at her blank screen: no messages and no missed calls.

It had been a big decision to consider buying property, and she was anxious to jump on it and move out of her two-bedroom apartment.

It was the right thing to do. “Darn it!”

Zoe flopped on the small chair and rested her head against the wall. The hairdresser would simply have to deal with it.

Her eyes fluttered closed right as her phone, sitting beside her, rang.

The screen lit up with the image of her mother. It wasn’t often Sheryl called, which gave Zoe’s heart a jump in her chest.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Hi, honey . . . I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” Her mom always sounded as if she were on the edge of a breakthrough announcement. Considering their family dynamics, she often was.

“I’m on a break. Is everything okay?”

There it was, Sheryl’s anxious sigh followed by a telltale groan. “It’s Zanya.”

Zoe’s baby sister was now a mother with a three-month-old. Without hearing the details, Zoe could tell by her mother’s tone that this wasn’t a call about disaster striking. “I assume Blaze is okay.”

“Your nephew is fine . . . it’s Zanya. I think she’s pregnant again.”

Zoe was sure her jaw dropped enough to invite a flock of birds to nest inside. Of all the things her mother could have said, Zanya being knocked up before her vagina had healed from pushing nine pounds of Blaze out wasn’t expected.

“What?”

“I found a pregnancy test in the bathroom.”

Zoe sat forward, head in her hand. That lack-of-food headache was quickly shifting into something that would need more than protein to fix. “Was it used?”

“No. She can’t do this a second time. I knew when she started seeing that ass again things would go downhill.”

That ass was Blaze’s father, Mylo Barkov. “You can’t expect him to sit out on his son’s life.”

“Fine. He doesn’t have to sit out, but he doesn’t have to stick it in her again!” Zoe found a smile on her lips at her mother’s crass and pointed statement, despite the severity of the situation. “Can you talk to her? She won’t listen to me.”

“You might be jumping to the wrong conclusions.”

“Pregnancy tests don’t just land in your cart at the market, Zoe.”

Zoe rubbed the bridge of her nose. “No, they don’t.” And thank God she’d never had a scare like the one her sister was going through. Zanya was barely able to drink legally in a bar and was a single mother who’d dropped out of school and had no real employable skills outside of retail and service work. Which in a small town the size of River Bend meant she’d be living in her mom’s mobile home for years to come. Seemed her sister was living the life Zoe feared and ran from. Too bad she hadn’t been able to take her baby sister with her when she’d left all those years ago.

“I have to be back on set in twenty minutes. Is she there? Or should I call back tonight?”

“She’s gone. But please call as soon as you can. If she isn’t knocked up again, she needs to have someone slap her into closing her legs.”

“Mom!”

“I mean it, Zoe. I love you kids, but I don’t need to raise another lot. I’m willing to help, but Blaze is a full-time job by himself. I can’t have another one around here. I’m getting too old for this crap.”

Late forties wasn’t old. Many hard years of life, however, gave Sheryl the appearance of a woman ten years older.

September slipped into the room with a bag in her hand.

Zoe raised her index finger in the air and finished the conversation.

“I’ll call her, Mom. Try not to stress about this. It’s probably a false alarm.”

“Damn well better be.”

“I’ve gotta go.”

“Call her,” was her mom’s final demand.

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