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Miranda glanced at her watch. The more time that went by, the more nervous she became. Maybe he wouldn’t see her. What then? Her anxiety increased. She could deal with him snubbing her, but she had to return the ring to its owner. And if he didn’t come out in the next two minutes, she’d go back there and get him. She tapped the toe of her boot on the hardwood floor as she waited. A few seconds later, she heard the door open and the footsteps of someone wearing heels clicking over the floor. Holly. So Ian wasn’t going to see her after all. Despite her disappointment, it was probably for the best. It would have been awkward seeing him and trying to appear nonchalant. As long as Holly came back with the information she needed to find the ring’s owner, she’d be happy.
Except that when Holly rounded the side of a huge armoire, Miranda could see that she wasn’t alone. Ian—handsome as ever—was with her. The way he smiled down at Holly as they walked, his head bent to catch her words, sent a wave of jealousy flowing through Miranda. Stop it. He’s not your boyfriend. She sucked in a deep breath, then slowly let it out, hoping it would still the rapid beating of her heart.
“Miranda.” The way he said her name sent her heart pounding even faster. He stood before her, tall and muscular, with shoulders as wide as a football player’s. His dark blond hair was tousled, just as she remembered, and his deep brown eyes were questioning.
“H-hello, Ian.” She could kick herself for the tremble in her voice. He scanned her from head to toe. It was impossible for her to tell what he was thinking, for his stone-faced expression gave nothing away.
“Holly tells me you’d like to know where I got the music box your mother bought from me.” He shifted his gaze to the box in her hands.
So that was how it was going to be. No small talk. Just business. Well, that was fine with her. The faster she could get out of there, the better. She gathered her nerve and looked straight into his gorgeous eyes. “Yes, that’s right. I’d like the name and address of the woman who sold you the box,” she replied in an equally businesslike manner. Two could play this game.
“I’m sorry, Miranda. I can’t help you.”
“What?” She glanced at Holly, hoping the woman might come to her assistance, but Holly avoided Miranda’s eyes. “Why not?”
“I don’t give out customer’s private information,” he said as if she were a stranger.
Miranda swallowed the bitterness brewing inside her. “I see. Maybe this will make you change your mind.” She set the music box down on Ian’s large oak desk and then popped open the drawer in the back of the box. When she took out the diamond ring, Holly let out a gasp, but it was Ian’s reaction she was interested in. His jaw was clamped shut, and a vein pulsed at the side of his neck as he studied the twinkling engagement ring in her hand. She knew she’d triggered his memory. They’d looked at rings together quite a few times, and it was no secret that Ian had been planning on purchasing one, but then her job offer had changed everything.
“Where did you get that?” His naturally baritone voice was pitched a good octave higher than usual.
“I found it inside the music box. Whoever sold it to you must have forgotten it was in there.” Miranda twisted the ring between her fingers, making the diamond sparkle and twinkle in the light.
“It was part of an estate sale.”
Her chest tightened. So the ring’s owner had died.
“Most items are still in boxes,” Ian went on to explain. “I’d just unpacked the music box when your mom came into the shop and spotted it on my desk, which is why I didn’t notice the drawer in the back of it. I usually inspect every item very carefully before it’s put on sale.”
“Even though the poor woman’s passed on, there must be someone in her family I could give it to?”
“Oh, she’s not dead. She’s in a nursing home,” Holly piped in.
Relief flooded her. “I’m so happy to hear that.”
Ian shot Holly a dirty look and held out his hand, palm up. “Give it to me, Miranda, and I’ll see that it’s returned,” he said flatly.
She could give Ian the ring and be done with the whole matter, and that was probably what she should do, but Miranda was a hopeless romantic. Always had been. She wanted to be the one who gave the woman her ring so she could see the look on her face when it was returned. She closed her fingers around the diamond and popped it back into the drawer. “No, I’m not going to do that.”
Holly stared at Miranda with eyes as big as saucers.
“Why not?” Ian asked icily.
“I’m the one who found the ring, so I’m the one who’s going to return it. Just give me the woman’s name and what nursing home she’s in, and I’ll be on my way.”
He gave her a black layered look. “I already told you I don’t give out personal information.”
Holly tugged on his sleeve. “Ian, I think in this instance—”
“Sweetheart,” he draped his arm across Holly’s shoulders, “I can’t make an exception. Besides, you don’t know Miranda.”
What! He was making her sound like someone who couldn’t be trusted. Like a criminal… Her blood began to boil. “I can’t believe you’re acting this way. Regardless of your bitterness toward me, I thought you’d be decent enough to put your own feelings aside. Instead, you’re acting like a jerk. Try thinking of the woman who lost her ring and how desperate she must be to get it back, rather than yourself.”
He glared at her. “Jerk? You come into my shop and then call me names?”
“Why don’t you just give me the information I need—”
“I don’t owe you anything,” he interrupted, taking a step closer to her.
Holly put her hands out between them. “Stop it. You’re acting ridiculous. Why don’t you both return the ring?”
“What!” Miranda and Ian shouted in unison.
“You heard me. Put your feelings aside for one day and return the ring together.” She sounded very much like a mother talking to two stubborn children.” Without waiting for either of them to respond, she said, “You two are going to Summerville.”
“That’s at least forty-five minutes away.” Ian groaned. Holly lifted a brow at him. “Fine. But I can’t go today. I have too much work to do.”
“Tomorrow, then.” Holly turned to Miranda. “Does that work for you?”
“I guess.” She chewed her bottom lip. “I can be here by four.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind closing up the shop alone tomorrow, darling?” Ian draped his arm across Holly’s shoulders, then kissed her cheek.
If Miranda had had any doubts about them being a couple before, she had none now. Without waiting to hear Holly’s response, she turned and walked quickly toward the front door. Her hands were trembling and her knees felt like jelly. Ian had moved on, but she hadn’t. No matter how much she might have been in denial before, her reaction to seeing him with Holly was proof she still had feelings for him. Strong ones. But she wasn’t about to let him know that. No, those feelings had to be kept to herself. After they returned the ring tomorrow, she planned never to see him again; then she would start working on ways to forget him.
Excerpt of Forever My Valentine:.