Chapter 11

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Petronia knew she was impaired while driving home, that last glass of wine having tipped her over the edge. She drove the speed limit and fortunately was able to keep her car between the lines. Drinking so much had been reckless and irresponsible of her. She thought about the nightmare scenario of being pulled over by one of her colleagues, being administered a sobriety test, and arrested.

It would be humiliating and likely end her career in law enforcement.

"I'm not going to try to excuse my behavior, but a perfect storm of circumstances caused me to overindulge." She slapped the side of her face. "I'm more than a little impaired if I'm talking to myself."

Petronia's emotions swirled as she replayed the conversation with Barlow in her head. She had gotten over him a long time ago, right? So why did her heart ache now that she had seen him again? Why did she wish things had turned out differently?

She felt the same hurt now she had ten years ago when they had parted. She never understood his reason. She thought he had loved her more than anything in the world and had expected Barlow to ask her to marry him. Sure, it would've been difficult. They would've had to make a home while she attended university and while he was overseas, but they could've survived. Other couples did it. Why hadn't he wanted to at least try?

Reality washed over her as she pulled into her driveway. This was her life now, working odd hours as a state trooper, and an ex-husband she had settled for.

Settled for. She let that thought hang.

Why hadn't she told Barlow about her divorce? Because it was none of his goddamn business, that's why. Let him think she was married. Let him envy what he had missed out on.

Oh, she was really drunk and emotionally spent. Her head spun and her stomach felt queasy. She unlocked the door to her apartment and her already queasy stomach roiled. She ran for the bathroom to the toilet bowl and tossed up the chili she had enjoyed earlier.

When the wave of nausea ended, she washed her face. While rinsing with mouthwash, she glanced in the mirror. "Barlow has my nerves and emotions in a knot. That's probably contributed to my feeling sick."

Barlow told her he had a girlfriend. He had obviously moved on. Here she was a divorced loser who hadn't had the guts to tell him she was no longer married.

Pathetic. If only she could replay the night over again.

She shuffled to her bedroom and peeled off her clothes, somehow managed to struggle into her flannel pajamas, and sulked.

"I still love you, Barlow," she whispered.

She had way too much to drink. Tomorrow she would pay the price.

Pay the price.

Pay.

"Oh, no!" Petronia shrieked and brought both fists to her mouth. She had been so tipsy and distracted by her encounter with Barlow that she had walked out of the Dancing Bear having forgotten to pay her bill.

She felt mortified. Trevor and Jill Dunne, the owners of the inn knew her and also knew she was in law enforcement. What would they think of her? 

Grabbing her phone, she dialed directory assistance and asked for the Dancing Bear's number.

After getting the number from the operator, she dialed right away. On the third ring, a man answered, practically shouting into the phone, "Inn of the Dancing Bear, this is Anson."

She knew Anson was one of the bartenders. She could hear the band playing in the background. "This is Petronia Henning. Look, I'm so embarrassed. I was there tonight but forgot to pay my bill before leaving."

"What?" Anson yelled. "You're going to have to speak up to be heard over the band."

Great. Her head was pounding and the last thing she wanted to do was to scream into a phone. She cupped her hand over the receiver and repeated what she had just told him.

After a pause at the other end of the line, Anson said, "Sure, Trooper Henning, I know who you are."

"I'll stop by tomorrow and settle my bill."

"Hang on," Anson said. She heard the thump of the receiver as he laid it on the bar.

What was he doing? Why did he put the phone down?

He came back on the line. "I just spoke with your waitress. The gentleman you were with took care of your bill."

Petronia squeezed shut her eyes. The gentleman she was with.

"Are you still there?" Anson asked.

"Yes. Thank you. I'm sorry, and it won't happen again."

"No problem," he said before ending the call.

Barlow had rescued her. Just like he always did when they were growing up. If he had a girlfriend, why had he asked for her number? How serious was his relationship with his girlfriend? How long would it take to settle his father's estate? How long would he be in Perry County?

Petronia groaned. What did any of it matter? He wouldn't call, and she had no way of finding him or getting in touch. She would never see him again.

Still, there was hope. He had asked for her number.

Regret gripped her chest. Why hadn't she asked Barlow for his?

Have you ever accidentally walked out of an establishment without paying the bill?

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Have you ever accidentally walked out of an establishment without paying the bill?


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