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He'd never given marriage much thought. At least, not for himself. And especially not since God had seen fit to bless him with a grandmother like Dorothea Stevens Latham, a passionate and determined matchmaker. In fact, avoidance of the subject was one of David's favorite hobbies.
At the red light, he brought his vintage electric-blue Camaro to a stop, and watched a few snowflakes melt on the windshield. It hadn't felt all that cold earlier in the day, but years in Philly had taught him to expect anything from the weather. It was the twelfth of December, after all.
He flicked on his radio, and smiled at the sound of Miles Davis's mellow trumpet. It filled the car with its richness; it flowed over him like melted fudge. He loved music, especially the lushness of jazz.
The cell phone rang; he looped on his hands-free headset. "Latham."
"So how was dinner with the lovebirds?" asked Dan Maddox, a fellow agent with the FBI's Philadelphia Organized Crime Unit.
The light turned green. David pressed the gas pedal. "Honeymooning agrees with J.Z., and Maryanne's just as radiant as on their wedding day."
"Wish I could've been there."
"Well, someone had to mind the store. Since I took the day off, and you are supposed to be on duty--oh, that's right. You're on 'sit and watch' detail."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm on surveillance. Don't rub it in. So how was dinner? Can the bride cook?"
David took the next turn. "You missed out, man. Homemade lasagna, garlic bread, the best green bean dish I've had in years and tiramisu. Eat your heart out."
David remembered how he'd felt the entire evening. Good food,good friends, good atmosphere. J.Z. and Maryanne's happiness had made a unique fourth at the dinner table.
And while his thoughts hadn't veered into dangerous territory during the visit, the minute he walked out of the cozy condo, a question had elbowed its way into his brain. It didn't want to take a hike.
What would happiness like what he saw tonight be like?
How would it feel to close the door behind a visitor, and turn around to find himself in the company of the person who brought him that kind of joy?
"...earth to Latham!"
He blinked. "Sorry. Guess I lost track of our conversation. I'm on my way to pick up Grandma Dottie."
"What's wrong with her brand-new Hummer?"
"Beats me. She just said it was in the shop, that she needed a ride home." Her request had stunk like a fine, tire-flattened polecat on a hot summer day. His grandmother was nothing if not independent.
But he'd rather discuss her than think of marriage. He muttered, "That only leads to danger, my man."
"Come again?" Dan asked.
David blushed. "Nothing. Just wondering what Gram's up to this time."
"Yeah, well. With her you can be sure she's up to something every time. Where is she?"
"I'll tell you, but don't you dare make any stupid comments, Maddox. She's at the latest Lady Look Lovely makeup party."
Dan's guffaws threatened David's eardrum. "Oh, yeah. She's up to something all right. She wants great-grandchildren, Latham, and she's lured you to an event peopled with women of all ages, sizes, shapes and interests. But there is one interest they all share, you know. Men, single men. Like you."
"That's not funny. I'd rather suffer bubonic plague than face that crew."
"Better you than me."
"Maybe that's what I should do. Have you pick her up. Sometimes I think she loves you better than she does me."
"Can't blame the woman for her good taste."
"Give me a break. Just for that, I'm gonna turn around and call her. Tell her I'm sending you in my place. You should face the 'sweethearts' she hangs around with. Especially those who aren't till-death-dous-part attached to a sucker of the male persuasion."
With Dan's indignant squawks in the background, a niggle of discomfort crossed David's mind. That was how he'd viewed the lot of the average married man. Until tonight.
He murmured a few "Mmm-hmms" and a few "Huhs," which kept Dan happy and blathering.
David's thoughts ran rampant.
Maybe Dan was his best defense against Gram's zealous efforts, now that J.Z. and Maryanne had infected him with curiosity...and, if he were completely honest with himself, something he always tried to be, with a weird kind of emptiness in the pit of his--was that his gut that felt so jittery? Or was it his heart that made him feel strange, on edge?
He'd always thought the heart did nothing more than pump blood. He'd always rejected love-sloppy poets and schmaltzy chick flicks with their throbbing hearts and broken hearts and mended hearts. He'd always believed that the Lord would guide him to the woman he was meant to marry--if he was even meant to commit such lunacy in the first place.
"...are you okay, David? I've never known you to space out like this, and you've done it twice now. You still driving?"
"I'm fine. Just irritated with myself. I can't help the soft spot I have for Gram. You should've heard her. She was in fine form this morning. "Oh, Davey, it's not a problem. I'll just have Bea drive me home after the party. She only lives two houses down from me, you know."
Dan hooted. "Sure, as if we didn't know that Bea Woodward has more driving citations than a stray mutt has fleas. I don't blame you. I don't want your grandmother careening down Philadelphia's wintry streets in that white-haired maniac's car any more than you do."
"And she knows how I feel."
"Too well." Dan gave another chuckle. "She's a special one, all right. But you're gonna have to brave the females and pick her up yourself. I'm on duty, remember?"
It was his turn to say, "Too well."
Four long blocks away from Lorna Endicott's palatial, old-money mansion, another red light made him stop. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, and "Uh-huhed" some more.
He sighed. How did Dad do it? How did the man handle such a mother? Was that why the moment he saw his chance back at the ripe old age of eighteen, his father bolted to the wild, wild West, and settled in Seattle?
Had that been the only way for Dad to find a mate on his own?
A car honked behind him, and David realized he'd been so caught up in his freaked-out thoughts, that he hadn't seen the light go green. He pulled forward with a jerk, his blush hot all the way to his forehead.
"...you know why you're on your way to pick up Grandma Dottie. You're nuts about her. And I am, too--everyone is. She's the sassiest, sweetest, smartest woman I've ever met. And you'd do anything for your grandmother."
"I already admitted to my weakness, Maddox. So what's your point?"
"Just that I wish I could be there to see you face a crowd of women who just spent hours and beaucoup de bucks turning themselves into traps for unsuspecting guys."
At the next stop sign he looked both ways, relieved by the lack of traffic. True, it was ten o'clock on a Wednesday night, and he was driving down a posh residential neighborhood now, but you never knew when a speed demon would come at you with total lack of forewarning.
David tuned out Dan's teasing again, and started into the intersection. Headlights appeared in his rearview mirror. He wondered if it might be another sucker roped into an appearance at the Lady Look Lovely party. Maybe the two of them could commiserate--
A woman stepped into the crosswalk.
He honked, yelled, "NO!"
Dan's gibberish turned anxious.
The headlights pulled up to his left side. The gray Lexus roared ahead.
Twin beams limned the woman and a child she pushed behind. She stumbled on.
"Get off the street!" David yelled. He slammed the horn and stomped on his brakes.
Dan squawked some more.
David ignored him, tried to block the gray car with his. The woman froze.
The Lexus swerved to avoid him then veered back, its aim sure, deadly. It hit her.
David skidded toward the sidewalk. "Call 911," he yelled at Dan. "Ambulance, too."
The car slowed. He gave Dan his location. Almost before he came to a full stop, David jumped out.
His temples pounded. He wanted to yell again, but something took hold of his throat. He rushed to the woman, who now lay on the road, the little boy frozen at her side.
An urgent prayer accompanied him down to his knees. "Are you all right?"
He took her pulse. Fast, too fast, but strong.
The woman, younger than he'd initially thought, gave him a wobbly grin. "Yes...no--maybe."
He forced a smile when he saw no blood. "Now there's a definite answer for ya."
"It's kind of hard to say...." She worked her way up to a sitting position, her shadowed features twisted in pain.
"I think everything's where it should be, and probably in working order, too. The car didn't hit me hard."
Her words contrasted with the fear in her eyes and the tremor in her hands. She held out her arms, and the boy crumpled into her embrace. Over the child's head, she met David's gaze. "Umm...you see--"
The boy's sobs cut her off. She turned her attention to the scared kid, who couldn't have been more than five or six. She murmured reassurances in a soft, musical voice, and her hands in turn dried tears, smoothed hair, checked for any sign of injury.
"He seems fine...right?"What did he know about kids? She gave a tight nod. "The car didn't hit him. I made sure of that."
It struck him then that he'd failed to take note of the license plate on the Lexus. He made a face.
The woman inched away from him.
Great. He'd scared her. "Sorry. I just thought of something...important."
She scooted away a little more. "Please. Don't let me keep you. I'm sure you have somewhere to go. We're fine."
Considering they were sprawled all over the middle of the street, David didn't agree. But she did have a point--one, only one. "That reminds me..."
He thanked the Lord for the lack of traffic, pulled his cell phone from his pocket, and dialed his grandmother. In a few, terse sentences he let her know an emergency had come up and that he'd be late. She knew him well enough not to doubt the tone of his voice.
As he turned back to the victims, he heard distant sirens. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"You're going to be okay," he told the frightened two. The little boy's eyes looked like huge dark holes in the poor light. "You a doctor, mister?"
David grinned. "No, but my mother sure wanted me to be one."
The tyke frowned. "Did she make you time-out 'cause you dinn't 'bey?"
"No, not for that. But I spent hours and hours doing time-outs for all kinds of other things."
A spark of mischief rang in his "Really?"
"Don't bother the nice man, Marky. I'm sure he has to get going."