A Portrait for Toni by Annette Lyon Toni has no idea what she’d do without her best friend, Carter. Who else would she be able to vent to about her parents, her job at the dance studio, or her latest relationship woes? When Toni’s father lands in the hospital, Carter, as always, is there for her. That is, until he starts questioning Toni, saying he thinks she has an eating disorder. Then she starts dating Clint, the hot new guy at the studio, and somehow that puts a deeper wedge between her and Carter. When she’s hospitalized after an on-stage collapse, and Carter stupidly starts in with advice about food and weight, she sends him away—then instantly regrets it. One night after a performance, Toni tries to mend the hurt between them. Instead of finding Carter, she stumbles onto proof that he has feelings for her that go way beyond those of a friend. Toni is left with the very real prospect of losing Carter forever, unless somehow she can return his feelings—but that’s impossible. Isn’t it?
“Now you tell me about your ultimate dream. Do you still see yourself as a famous artist living out of a penthouse in Paris? Or is it Rome now?”
Carter couldn’t take his eyes from Toni’s. He wished she could hear his thoughts, know his feelings. “My dreams aren’t too different from yours. I’d love to settle down with a wife, be a dad, have kids.” He gazed into her eyes.
Figure it out!
“Hey, here’s an idea,” Toni said with a laugh. “In another ten years if we’re both single, let’s get married. What do you say?” She put out her hand as if to seal the deal, but Carter just laughed sardonically. Great. She was making a mockery of the one thing he hoped for.
She lowered her hand. “What, am I that repulsive?”
“Of course not.” Carter’s mind was spinning. What could he say that was both true and hid the truth at the same time? “I can’t see either of us marrying without—” He cut off, but Toni smiled, seeming to know what he meant.
“Without what, romance? Falling madly in love? All that stuff is highly overrated. Trust me, I’ve been there.” She shook her head derisively.
All that stuff was hard to deal with when the object of your feelings didn’t return them. He’d been there. “Do the math, Toni. In ten years, you’ll be thirty-seven. You may not be able to get in two or three kids.”
“Then I’ll settle for one.” She punched his shoulder. “We could even adopt kids to avoid the whole ‘we’re not in love’ issue.”
“Oh, right,” he said, rolling his eyes.
She raised her eyebrows provocatively. “Fine. We can be married... with benefits.” She laughed.
His face went hot; he had to turn around so she wouldn’t see his reaction. No way did he want her guessing how much he wanted to hold her, wake up beside her — make children together.
He leaned against the car and laughed along. With any luck, it sounded natural. Instead of shaking on the deal or giving her a direct answer, he opened her car door so she could get in. And so he could escape.
She sat down and put her purse on the passenger seat. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“You bet. Talk to you later.”
Carter watched her drive off. When she waved, he lifted one hand and did the same.
You’re killing me, Toni.
Author Annette Lyon
Annette Lyon is a Whitney Award winner (Band of Sisters, Best General Fiction 2010). She has also been a Whitney finalist two other times, for Spires of Stone (2007) and Paige (2012). She has received Utah’s Best of State medal for literary arts in fiction twice (2007 and 2013) in addition to five publication awards from the League of Utah Writers, most recently the Silver Quill Award in 2013. She’s published well over a hundred articles and more than a dozen books, including novels, novellas, a cookbook, and a grammar guide. She’s one of the coauthors of The Newport Ladies Book Club series and one of the standing contributors to the Timeless Romance Anthology collections. When she’s not mothering, writing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found ignoring the spots on the kitchen floor.
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