Chapter Twenty

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Poppy took in the apartment without blinking, but it required most of her self-control to keep her eyes from popping out of her head.

She'd seen money before, of course. Todd had it. Asprey had it. It was one of those things that rich people could never completely separate themselves from, like a lifetime of luxury seeped into their pores and became a part of their DNA.

It seemed like it would be nice to live that way—to never question whether or not they belonged somewhere. Upscale boutique? Watch them buy a jacket without even looking at the price tag. Sidewalk? Sure, as long as it was clear of litter and near a good parking spot. Grocery store? Yep. Even there, looking over the persimmons like they actually knew what those things were for.

Poppy's people slunk a little closer to the ground, always wary, never at home.

She would definitely never be at home in a place like Cindy VanHuett's apartment. No one could be.

Even though it was technically an apartment building, the ceilings were high—loft high—almost like she lived in an upscale version of Asprey's airport hangar. Floor-to-ceiling white hit her in the retinas, with lush carpets underfoot and sleek white leather upholstery everywhere else. Cindy seemed to be allergic to color, except for a few dramatic splashes in strategic locations, like the bowl of green apples on the dining room table and an orange goldfish swimming in a clear tank built into the living room wall.

If anyone asked her, Poppy would fiercely claim loyalty to hand-knitted colorful afghans draped over every surface and a giant, worn picture of the Virgin Mary staring down at them from above the dining room table. Secretly, though, she kind of liked the stark elegance of all that white. It was like walking through a work of art.

"Please make yourself at home," Cindy said, wringing her hands as she nodded toward what was probably a couch but looked more like a long, puckered ottoman. "I feel so stupid for dropping my wallet in the park—I've already cancelled most of the cards in there, and I hate having to explain to everyone what happened and why a grown woman could be so careless."

"Don't mention it," Poppy said warmly. "It happens to the best of us."

"Say, do you want a drink? I know it's early, but I can mix up a pitcher of gimlets. I usually have one before dinner. Cocktail hour, my mom always says, though sometimes I think the whole day is cocktail hour as far as she's concerned."

Cindy was nervous. It didn't take a psychologist to realize that the mile-a-minute talking was one of many signs that Cindy wasn't exactly happy to have her new friend Lucy Higgenbottom drop by.

Poppy lowered herself to the couch—surprisingly comfortable—and smiled. "A gimlet sounds wonderful." And it did, even though she had no idea what it was.

The skittering of tiny nails on expensive hardwoods filled the room. It made sense now that the dog was white. Any stray hairs would blend.

"Hello, Jasmine, baby," Cindy cooed. The only time she seemed comfortable was when talking to the dog.

"Is she named after the tea or the Disney character?" Poppy asked casually, grabbing a women's magazine from a carefully arranged arc on the coffee table.

It promised to teach her how to Catch a Man between Your Legs, but that was silly. She already knew how to do that—it was called a flying scissor kick.

"Oh. Um. No." Cindy was having a hard time deciding on a syllable.

"She's such a sweetie," Poppy cooed, her voice raising several octaves. She reached down to pet the dog, its fluffy white fur like cotton balls underneath her fingers. Jasmine bore it patiently but was clearly tolerating her out of form rather than kindness. At least Gunner's emotions—full of bite—were real. Bea and Jenny had immediately taken to the little dog, and he'd taken to them right back, thank goodness. Asprey might be willing to shove the poor thing back in a cage at the pound, but that just showed how skewed his version of the world was. All it took was a good home and some consideration to show Gunner's good side. Just like every other scrappy mongrel roaming the streets.

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