“Give it a rest, Carla. We’re here,” MJ said, her chin raised. She pushed a strand of her mouse-brown hair behind her ear.
“We’re supposed to meet with the realtor at two, but I want to show you the school and the house first.” She made a right turn onto Sycamore Street, and then a left onto Pine. “Once you see how perfect it is, you’ll agree it isn’t a dumbass move.”
“Right.” Carla crossed her arms over her baby bump, lips tightly compressed. “The area isn’t as rustic as I thought it would be,” she admitted, twisting her mouth to the left.
MJ smiled. “It’s a nice neighborhood. There’s the school.” She stopped in front of the imposing two-story, red-brick building with polished oak doors with large brass handles glittering in the sunshine. “You would love the gym. It was added two years ago.”
“I still think you’re crazy. An elementary school that looks like a convent is the last place I would picture you. I don’t get it,” Carla said, shifting in her seat. “Snotty-nosed kids? Winter yard duty? Why?”
“I wanted something different—a complete change,” MJ answered, her lips pursed. “There was too much drama in my life last year. I don’t want to deal with broken hearts and mean girls.”
Carla burst out laughing. “And you think teaching second grade will get you away from it? Good luck. Between my son and my two eight-year-old nieces, there’s more angst than on a soap opera. It’s all about drama at that age.”
“You’re exaggerating, but even if you aren’t, I’ll figure it out. Regardless, it’ll be better than living through another minute of the Mark and Melena show.”
She clamped her jaw shut to stop herself from going down that road. M and M had already caused her more than enough grief. She put the car into drive once more.
“Anyway, when I spoke to the principal last month, he said the owner would hold the house for me. I’ll be able to walk to work. Think of the money I’ll save on gas.”
“Whatever,” Carla said, folding her arms across her chest again in her ‘I don’t believe you for one minute’ gesture. “Where is this fantastic house of yours?”
“Just down this street. On Elm.”
“Elm Street?” she shrieked. “You’re moving into a house on Elm Street?” She crossed herself. “Have you lost your flipping mind?”
MJ bit her tongue to stop herself from laughing. “I intend to decorate it to the hilt for Halloween. I’ll take off my glasses, dress in black, and hand out treats from a cauldron.” At Carla’s look of horror, she giggled. “Relax. Freddy Kruger doesn’t live next door. You’re going to love it.”
“Right, and I’m looking forward to that root canal surgery next month, too.” Carla clenched her lips so tightly they were white.
“Here it is.” MJ pulled the car to the curb, turned off the engine, and opened her door. “What do you think?”
Carla got out of the vehicle, stretched her back, and turned toward the house. Her eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped open.
“Oh my God. It’s gorgeous,” she exclaimed, crossing the street without waiting for MJ.
Locking the car, MJ hurried to join her on the sidewalk.
“What did I tell you? When I drove by the first time I was here, I knew I was destined to live in this house. I could almost see Papa on the veranda and hear Mama calling me in to dinner.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “The landlord is charging me twelve hundred a month plus utilities. I wouldn’t have gotten a broom closet for that price in New York City, and you know it. Good things are going to happen for me, Carla, you’ll see.”
She nodded. “If this house is anything to go by, you could be right.”
MJ took a deep breath, grateful her asthma wasn’t bothering her despite the heat and humidity here. The house looked even better than she recalled. The lawn had been cut and the fieldstone walk re-laid, not a single weed in sight. Elephant hostas decorated the base of the veranda on which sat a couple of gliding lawn chairs separated by a brass and glass table. How nice of Mr. Newton, the landlord, to provide those homey touches.
In front of the house, the sixteen-foot blue spruce in the center of the lawn had been trimmed, the skirt raised, and crushed white stone laid all around the trunk.
“I thought you told me the place was a little run down,” Carla interrupted her perusal of her new home.
She frowned. “It was. The landlord must’ve spruced it up. The veranda, shutters, and garage have all been repainted, and the windows have been washed. I didn’t think he would go to that much trouble for a tenant. Come on. I’ll take you around back. I haven’t seen the yard, but according to the principal, there’s a deck and a place for a garden. Maybe I’ll plant tomatoes or something.”
“You? Gardening? Hah.” She snorted. “You killed an air fern, not to mention a cactus.”
MJ ignored her comment, opened the gate, and stepped into the backyard. Carla stood in the open gateway behind her.
“Holy crap! That’s one hell of a nice landlord you have.”
MJ stopped in her tracks and stared. As with the front, someone had done extensive landscaping back here. The lawn had been mowed, the garden planted, and a hammock hung between two stately red maple trees. The deck had been stained and sported a gas barbecue and a patio set. She admired the brand-new dog house, the largest one of its kind she’d ever seen.
Dog house? That couldn’t be a dog house. It had to be a utility shed.
Before she could take a step back, a huge animal came tearing around the side of the house. Carla reacted by screaming and slamming the gate shut, locking MJ in the yard with a dog, at least she thought it was canine, heading right for her. She put up her hands to shield her face.
Her heart hammered. She had the wrong address. This perfect house wasn’t the one she was supposed to rent.
Before she could raise her arms to shield her face, the enormous dog ran up to her and knocked her to the grass with his greeting. His large tongue bathed her face, including her designer prescription sunglasses, making it impossible to see anything clearly, and he barked out a welcome. If she weren’t so terrified, she might have enjoyed this doggy’s exuberant greeting. She liked dogs, really she did. She just preferred them a hundred pounds lighter and three feet shorter.
“King, get over here,” a man called sharply. The animal licked her one last time before turning to obey his master.
She sat up. The barrette holding her hair in place had gone flying, her frizzy hair exploding out of it. Glancing down at the enormous muddy paw prints on her white blouse, one on each of her breasts, she groaned.
“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” the man said, squatting beside her.
His words were a red flag to an angry bull. People called her mother “ma’am,” not her. She wasn’t that old.
“He’s still a pup and a little too friendly. I just got him last week.” He chuckled.
“That’s a pup?” The words burst out of MJ’s mouth. “What the hell kind of dog is it?”
“He’s not a purebred, but most of him is Irish wolfhound,” the man answered as if he were the injured party. “By the time he reaches his adult size, he may stand seven feet tall on his hind legs. He’s more than half-way there now. I rescued him from the animal shelter. His previous owners hadn’t expected him to get this size either. Are you okay?”
“Do I look okay?” she retorted through gritted teeth, her cheeks burning. “I could’ve been killed by that monster. You need a warning sign on your fence. Is a dog that size even legal in the city?”
“Look, lady. Calm down,” the man ordered. “King may be big, but he’s harmless. Now, does anything feel broken?”
“No,” she replied grudgingly. Her pride had suffered more than her person, and that was a miracle. “Your pet dinosaur, and maybe you should rename him Dino, just knocked me down and stepped on me, not to mention gave me a bath.”
Between the hair in her eyes and the blurry glasses, she couldn’t see the man clearly, but his sexy voice grated on her taut nerves.
“Hey, don’t go all offended maiden on me,” he answered, an edge to his caramel-smooth tone. “I’m not the one trespassing. The gate was closed, and I know the latch works. Here, give me your hand.” Standing, he reached down to help her up.
MJ accepted the proffered hand and stood, but not before a powerful jolt of awareness ran through her. Shaken by the strength of her reaction to this man, she let go of his hand as soon as she could.
“Thank you.” That was the least she could say. He was right. She was the one in the wrong.
“MJ, are you okay?” Carla’s panicky voice came from the other side of the gate. “Should I phone the police?”
“No! I’m fine,” she answered before Carla called 9-1-1 or something equally humiliating. “It was just a dog.”
“That was a dog?” Carla asked, opening the gate and poking her head into the yard. “I’ve seen smaller horses.” She stared at the man next to MJ and paled. “Holy shit.”
MJ frowned and turned around. The dog was sitting quietly beside its master. She pushed her hair off her face ready to apologize when she realized what had left Carla speechless. This was a thousand times worse than Freddy.
Kill me now.
It had been fifteen years, but there was enough of the boy in the man that she would’ve recognized him anywhere. What the hell was he doing here in her house? He was shirtless, wearing only a pair of baggy shorts, and the man didn’t have a six pack—hell no. That was at least a twelve pack. His chest was covered with a fine mat of dark hair that didn’t quite hide the puckered, circular scar on his left shoulder, and his left leg was crisscrossed with fresh scars. He was a little older, a little taller, tanned a delicious golden brown, and more muscled than he’d been as a teen, but there was no mistaking the man staring down at them as if she and Carla were aliens. She smiled and swallowed what little saliva she had.
“Hello, Paul. It’s been a while,” she said, her voice cracking on the last word.
The man’s frown deepened, creasing his eyebrows, accentuating his chocolate-brown eyes where curiosity replaced annoyance.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
If ever there was a time for the ground to open and swallow her whole, it was now.
“Of course you do,” Carla piped up. “It’s Marilyn Jean.”
Where was a bolt of lightning when you needed one?
At his continued confusion, MJ huffed out a breath. “It’s me—MJ? Kid? Ron’s little sister? The pest?” He couldn’t have forgotten her that completely, not when he’d meant the world to her, even if he’d been oblivious to the fact. She removed her Jackie O sunglasses.
His confusion turned to shock and incredulity played across his face. The man’s eyes almost bulged out of his head.
“Son of a bitch. Kid? Is that really you?” he asked slowly, his gaze raking her from head to toe before settling on her paw-marked breasts.
She fought the urge to cover her chest and swallowed. “The one and only,” she answered with a false bravado her brother Ron would’ve appreciated.
“You’ve gained weight.” He smiled, eying her up and down once more, further adding to her desire to vanish. He shook his head. “You’ve changed.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” Carla guffawed. “I’m Carla Balducci—Hunter now. Do you remember me?” she stuck out her hand.
“Yeah. Kid and her trusty sidekick.” He shook Carla’s hand and then focused on her again.
Did he really think she was fat? The man was gorgeous, way more attractive than she’d ever imagined he would be. The long, black hair she recalled had been cut military short, but the style suited him. Her fingers itched to run through it, and she fisted her hands at her side lest they fly up of their own volition.
“What’s it been? Fifteen years? It’s great to see you, but what are you doing here?”
“The house,” she stammered. “I came to look at the house. I thought it was the one I was going to rent, but I’ve obviously made a mistake. Mine must be farther down the block. I didn’t know you lived here. Sorry for trespassing.” She was blabbering. What the hell was wrong with her? Maybe these baggy pants made her look fat.
He grimaced and shook his head. “Right house, I’m afraid, but it isn’t for rent anymore. I made the owner an offer he couldn’t refuse, bought it, and moved in a couple of weeks ago.” He shrugged. “Is your husband with you?”
“She’s not married,” Carla supplied. “Are you?”
“Am I what?” he asked, his brow furrowed once more, his eyes focused on MJ’s face.
“Married,” Carla repeated the word.
MJ fisted her hands at her side. If Carla opened her mouth again, she would kill her. It would be justifiable homicide. No jury of single women would ever convict her.
“Carla, for God’s sake,” she whispered through clenched teeth.
“I’m not,” he answered.
Her friend grinned. “Great. Then you two can get to know one another again.”
“I would like that. So, you’ll be working down the street. Mr. Newton mentioned a teacher had been interested in the place.”
“More than interested,” Carla piped up again before MJ could answer.
Couldn’t the woman keep her damn mouth shut?
“She thought it was a done deal. Now, she’s got no place to live and … Ouch! Why’d you kick me?” Carla bent and rubbed her shin.
“Did I?” MJ bit off through gritted teeth, glaring at her. “My foot must’ve slipped on the grass.”
“Come inside,” Paul said, staring at her mud-stained shirt. “The least I can do is give you a cold drink and let you clean up. If I’d known company was coming, I wouldn’t have watered the grass.” He led the way up onto the deck and into the house.
The kitchen was just the way she’d imagined it. The new matching range and refrigerator were white, no doubt to coordinate with the built-in dishwasher. The above the range microwave oven looked unused. On the counter sat a variety of small appliances, including the latest in food processors her mother would have loved. Four oak bar stools stood on one side of the large, granite center island. This kitchen was every cook’s dream.
“Can I get you a glass of water?” he asked, closing the screen door to keep King out of the house. “I’ve got beer if you prefer.”
“Water for me,” Carla said, pointing to her stomach. “Bun in the oven, and all that.”
“Beer’s good,” MJ answered, glancing down at her blouse once more. “I’d better clean up.”
“Bathroom’s down the hall. Same floor plan as your old place. Help yourself.”
Nodding, she stepped out of the kitchen. The living room and dining room, both painted a light brown and trimmed in white, were empty other than the appliance boxes stacked in the corner and the gas fireplace which must’ve replaced an older wood-burning one. He might not be married, but a bachelor didn’t buy a house like this. So where was his main squeeze?
She entered the bathroom, painted light blue, with brand new white fixtures and white trim, and locked the door behind her, leaning against it for support. White towels? Definitely not a bachelor pad.
Slipping down the door, she sat on the floor and let reaction and disappointment take over.
Paul Davis. He and Ron had been inseparable and always in one kind of trouble or another. In fact, Paul had probably spent as much time at her house as at his own—maybe even more. Between them, they’d made her pre-teen and early teen years hell. But, in spite of all that, he’d been her first love, as painful as the experience had been.
She’d worshiped him. He’d been her hero, coming to her rescue more times than she could count, but the rest of the time, he’d treated her the same way Ron had, as if she were his kid sister. He’d called her Kid—he probably didn’t even know her real name. Mama had been the one to hold her in her arms when Ron had told the family that Paul had moved away for good—gone without even saying goodbye.
If she were honest, every boy she’d ever dated had been measured against her memories of her brother’s long-lost friend, and sooner or later, all of them had been found wanting.
Letting out a deep breath, she sighed. Tears slipped down her cheeks. More bad luck. When would it stop? She was a good person, damn it. She tried to do the right thing, but the Fates never gave her a chance. It was as if she were cursed. What was she going to do now?
Over the years, especially those months after he’d left, she’d dreamed of running into Paul again, but it had generally involved a crowded ballroom and her in a wispy evening gown. He’d see her across the room and hold her gaze as he moved toward her, pushing the beautiful women out of his way until he took her into his arms. “Once upon a Dream,” the song she loved from Sleeping Beauty, would be playing, and they’d step onto the dance floor, moving as one. He’d bend his head toward hers and—that’s when she would wake up.
The man she dreamed of resembled the tall, lanky eighteen-year-old she recalled, not the sexy man she’d just met, and in her fantasy, he always remembered her, unlike the reality of today, and he never told her she looked fat! That thought put steel into her backbone. What was she doing crying, sitting on the jerk’s bathroom floor? Fifteen years ago, the son of a bitch had broken her heart and now, he’d shattered her fantasies and destroyed her dreams of living here. Damn him!
Why the hell hadn’t the realtor or Mr. Newton called? No doubt they’d expected her to go to the realty office before showing up at the house. That’s what a normal person would’ve done, but not her.
She stood, walked over to the sink, and turned on the tap. Unwilling to ruin one of the pristine facecloths, she used toilet paper to clean her face and then tried to wipe away the mud, making everything worse instead of better. When the mirror revealed nipples visible against the wet fabric of her blouse and bra, she smacked herself in the forehead.
Can’t I get a break? Just one?
Using the blow dryer she found under the sink, she aimed it at her chest, letting the heat repair the damage. A few minutes later, convinced this was as good as it would get, she opened the bathroom door and cringed at Carla’s laughter. More than a little nervous, she walked into the kitchen. What other secrets was her friend giving away?
The twosome stood beside the stove tasting whatever was in the pot. She had to admit, it smelled delicious, just like her mom’s fasolada. Come to think of it, there were other aromas in the house that made her mouth water.
Paul turned toward her and gaped.
“Sorry about your blouse,” he said, scowling. “I’ll replace it if you want to take it off.”
MJ’s cheeks heated at the image her mind created of the two of them buck-naked on the kitchen isle, humping like bunnies, in a scene reminiscent of Bull Durham.
As if he’d read her mind, Paul reddened. “I mean Carla says you’ve got a suitcase in the car, so you must have another top to wear, or I can lend you a t-shirt. You can change your blouse, and I can give it back to you in a few weeks when you move up here.”
“That isn’t necessary,” she said. “It’s not really that bad…”
“Are you insane?” Carla cried, her eyes huge and filled with disbelief. “Yes, it is. You can’t go to the realtor’s looking like that.” She pointed to MJ’s chest. “They probably have air conditioning there, too.”
MJ glanced down at the nipples projecting from her breasts and quickly folded her arms over them. She looked up and saw Paul staring and wanted to kick him. Why did guys’ eyes always zero in like that?
But the look on his face confirmed one thing. She stood a little taller.
Fat my ass!
MJ sighed. “Fine. I’ll change if you think I have to.”
Carla nodded. “Let me get your bag.”
Once Carla left, Paul handed her the beer, forcing her to uncover her damp, mud-stained chest. MJ lifted the can to her mouth and guzzled half of it.
“So, Carla said you’re moving up here because you wanted a change. I would’ve thought you married with a houseful of kids by now. How’s Ron?” he asked as if there was nothing wrong.
Swallowing a burp that would have rivaled anything Ron might’ve made, she nodded. Apparently, Paul could gawk at her nipples, appreciate what he saw, and yet dismiss any sexual tension between them just like that; whereas, she was hornier than she’d ever been.
Some things never changed. So much for her femme fatale fantasy.
“Ron’s fine,” she answered, trying to be as nonchalant as he was. “He married Lucy Montroy. They’ve got three-year-old twins.”
“Your mother must be thrilled. I’ll bet she enjoys fussing over them as does your dad.”
MJ swallowed, trying to hold back the tears so damn close to the surface these days.
“He would’ve adored them, but sadly, he died eight years ago.” She swallowed. “Mom dotes on the twins, but now that Ron’s job took him to Buffalo, she doesn’t get to see them as often as she did.”
“I’m sorry, Kid. I know how close you were to your dad. He was a great guy. And as far as Ron moving away, that sucks.”
“Mama certainly thinks so, and believe me, I hear about it regularly, as well as the fact I haven’t given her any grandchildren.” She raised the can to her lips once more.
“Speaking of your offspring, how come you aren’t married? You must be what? Almost thirty?” He chuckled. “Doesn’t that make you an old maid or something?”
Fighting to keep her temper in check, she squeezed the beer can, releasing the pressure only when she felt it dent in her hand. First, he said she was fat, and now, he’d called her an old maid. If she could, she would punch him, but King, who was watching them through the screen door, would probably break in and rip her throat out.
“Thirty-one last month, but who’s counting? Never met the right guy, I guess. I’m not the only one who hasn’t tied the knot. There’s still Antonia, Maria, and Lena.”
“Antonia’s the one with the…” he rubbed his upper lip with his finger. “I remember her. She started shaving before half of the guys in our class did. Nobody messed with her.”
“She’s got a great personality.” MJ winced. Describing a girl that way was the kiss of death.
Could this day get any worse?
MJ almost jumped for joy when Carla returned and handed her a small overnight bag. Chitchatting with Paul had been unnerving, especially when he seemed fixated on her chest.
“I’ll be right back.”
Paul had called her an old maid, a fat, old maid at that, but hadn’t been able to keep his eyes off her boobs. She closed the bathroom door and pulled at the blouse, ripping off one of the buttons. Fighting not to give in to her disappointment and frustration, she removed her bra and replaced it and the blouse with the black tube top with the built-in bra she’d brought with her.
Dressed decently again and more than a little nosy, she looked around and saw that the house’s bedrooms had been repainted. The smallest room contained an easel and art supplies and was a soft shell-pink. Dismay filled her once more. This couldn’t be Paul’s studio.
The door to the master bedroom was shut. He was only wearing shorts. Had they interrupted something? Maybe his girlfriend, the one who’d chosen the pink paint and white towels, was in there waiting for him to get back to bed. Why else would the door be closed?
Jealousy, stronger than anything she’d felt over Mark, speared her, and she shook her head. So what if he had a dozen women in that room? It was none of her business.
Glancing at her watch, she hurried back into the kitchen. “I hate to drink and run, but we’d better get going. I’m supposed to meet with the realtor in twenty minutes. If I had a lick of common sense, I would’ve called before I left Stilton, but you know me—jump in with both feet before checking the depth. If I had I could’ve spared us both this.” She gestured at the kitchen.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” he said, smiling. “And, as I recall, that day at the lake, Ron jumped in first.” He took a swig of his beer. “You know, if you can’t find anything today, you’re welcome to stay here until you do. I’ve got more than enough space.”
MJ almost choked on her last mouthful of brew.
“If you’re working down the street, it would be perfect for you.”
Carla burst out laughing. “And what would your neighbors think of that?”
MJ’s libido was doing handsprings. If he offered to have her stay with him, there couldn’t be a woman in that bedroom. She visualized getting to know Paul, in the biblical sense, in every room of the house.
“Get serious, Carla. MJ might as well be my sister,” he said and shook his head. “I spent as much time, if not more, in her house than I did in mine. The offer stands.” He turned back to her, a friendly smile pasted on his face. “Think of me as your second big brother. The rest of the furniture arrives on Wednesday. If you want a place to crash until you find yours, feel free, and if it works out, I won’t mind the company.” He shrugged. “I’ll be out of town until the last week of July. You could house sit for me. King’s friendly. You couldn’t be in safer hands.”
Thoroughly dejected, her girlish dreams in ashes at her feet, she mustered every ounce of dignity she possessed.
“Thanks for the offer, Paul, but Carla’s right.” She licked her lips. “Working for the diocese has its drawbacks, and the morality clause from hell in the contract is just one of them—not that I live the life of a Kardashian or anything, but living here, with you...” She was blabbering again. “I might think of you as a brother, but others wouldn’t. Don’t worry about the blouse. I’ll take care of it.” Handing him the empty beer can, she smiled, hoping she didn’t look like a hungry barracuda. “Unfortunately, I won’t be here until the end of the month either, so I can’t help you out while you’re away, but I’ll tell Ron and Mama that I saw you. Maybe we’ll run into one another sometime.”
Hopefully, when I’m driving the car, and you’re in the road in front of it.
The murderous thought surprised her. Ashamed of herself, she turned and headed out of the house with Carla scrambling to keep up.
Tossing her small suitcase back into the trunk, she slammed the lid shut with more vehemence than necessary. As soon as Carla was in the car, MJ didn’t even give her time to buckle up before pulling away from the curb.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Carla asked. “You were downright rude.”
“Was I?” MJ swallowed her pain. “I didn’t mean to be. It was past time to leave, that’s all. Besides, his girlfriend was waiting for him in the bedroom.”
“What are you talking about?” Her brow furrowed into her trademark ‘are you nuts?’ expression. “He lives alone. He told me so.”
“Just because he lives alone doesn’t mean he was alone, or that he plans to stay that way. The small bedroom is painted pink, and the bathroom towels are white—not that I was snooping. You smelled those cookies and tasted whatever was cooking on the stove. A bachelor doesn’t cook and bake for himself, nor does he paint rooms pink.”
Carla laughed. “Point taken. Hank freaked when I suggested we paint the bathroom pink. Since Rod’s at my mother’s, no doubt he’ll have a stack of empty pizza boxes in the recycling when we get back, and we’re only gone overnight. By the way, it’s bean soup. Paul claimed he’d made it according to your mother’s recipe. It’s even better than your mom’s, but don’t tell her I said so.”
“You can rest assured I won’t. Everything he does is great,” MJ spat the words out, her upper lip raised at the left corner. “It always was.”
* * *
Paul stood in the living room window watching the car disappear up the street and frowned. Seeing Kid today was the last thing he’d expected. He’d recognized her the moment she’d taken off those sunglasses. There was no way in hell he’d ever forget her incredible eyes. They were a pale aquamarine with a deeper ring of the same color edging the outer iris. They reminded him of sand beaches and warm seas, and he’d never seen any others like them.
Turning back into the kitchen, he lifted his beer to his mouth and finished it, tossing the empty into the recycling bin along with hers.
Kid had been a vital part of the best times in his life, the times he’d hoped to recapture here. She’d been almost sixteen the last time he’d seen her. Pale and fragile, she’d reminded him of an angel, but looks could be deceiving. She’d grown a tough skin, forced to stand up to the bullies even when it brought her more trouble than she needed. He’d tried to make things easier for her; after all, she’d been his sister as much as Ron’s. He shook his head. Kid. Hell, she was no more a kid than he was an elephant.
Her father had called her his wild, Greek-Irish rose. She still had that pale peaches and cream complexion, but her cheeks had burned brighter when she’d noticed King’s pawprints on her breasts. With that curly hair, petite and curvy the way he preferred his women, the hard-on he’d gotten when she’d come back from the bathroom in that blouse, her nipples standing at attention, had yet to subside. No matter how many times he kept reminding himself that she was Kid, his body refused to accept it. Trying to keep his mind out of the gutter while he talked to her had been a feat worthy of sainthood.
What the hell had he been thinking offering to let her move in? Thank goodness she’d seen the danger in that. There was no way the neighbors would accept that there wasn’t any hanky-panky going on. Hell, he wouldn’t believe it either. If Mama Summers knew what he was considering, she would emasculate him with a kitchen knife, and Ron would beat the living shit out of him and be done with it.
Guilt washed through him. He hadn’t given a thought to the teacher who’d expected to move into this house. Buying it out from under her had been a dirty trick, but he’d been desperate. While he’d painted the living room, dining room, and kitchen in modern colors, he’d insisted on coming as close to the way the house had been for the two small bedrooms. He’d painted hers, the room where he now spent his evening hours drawing, a blush pink, the closest he could get to the color he remembered, but the green one where he’d spent so many hours avoiding the reality of his own family life was that same shade of green again.
Instead of the beige that had been in the master bedroom, he’d gone with the palest shade of turquoise. He hadn’t realized why until today. In all these years, his memory of her eyes hadn’t faded one damn bit.
He sighed, walked over to the stove, and stirred the soup. A couple of the guys from the base were coming over later to watch the ball game. It was just as well he wouldn’t be alone tonight because the urge to follow her right now was as strong as any he’d ever had. Since his plan had been to recreate the happy times in his life, having her around would make that easier. In the last week, now that he had King and the house, there’d been fewer nightmares, and that meant his plan was working. As the doctor had warned, the Fourth of July had been difficult, but he’d managed. The healing had begun.