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No matter how Maureen wanted to convince herself that the meeting she had called to help her neighborhood and the Sisterhood better protect themselves against burglaries, as she watched Simon stride up the sidewalk, her racing heart told her she’d lied to herself.
Her breath fluttered over her slightly parted lips. My. My. What a man.
Today he was dressed casually in a lightweight wheat-colored sports jacket, white shirt with an open collar, creased jeans that caressed his muscular thighs. His jet black hair gleamed in the afternoon sun. His skin was the color of rich chocolate. She couldn’t see a spare ounce of fat on his muscular frame, and she was looking hard.
Her hand fluttered to her stomach. She was in good shape herself. For a woman her age. Reality hit her just at the doorbell rang. She jumped away from the curtained window. Yesterday the spa had been invigorating, but she remained fifty-nine.
The chine came again. Stop being silly, she admonished herself and started for the door. He’s just a man. No big deal. She opened the door. Simon, who had been looking around, turned and smiled at her causing her body to throb, her throat to dry. He might be just a man, but what a man.
“Good evening, Mrs. Gilmore.”
She felt old. “Lieutenant Dunlap, please come in and please call me Maureen.”
He entered and waited until she closed the door. “I guess Ashley is out.”
She flushed, then smiled because he was. “Thank you for not mentioning we’d met before Sunday night.”
His smile faded. “How have you been? Did you sleep all right? “I did. Ryan and I took your suggestion,” she told him.
She caught herself smiling and gazing at him, the same way he was smiling and gazing at her. Perhaps Traci was right. Perhaps he would ask her out again. “This way to the terrace.” She started though the foyer and great room.
“You have a beautiful home,” he said.
“Thank you. My late husband and I moved in when Ryan was nine months old,” she told him, a subtle reminder to both of them.
“Then this house must hold a lot of fond memories for you,” he said, stepping ahead of her to open the French doors leading to the terrace.
Pleased that he understood and hadn’t choked at the mention of her late husband, she stopped. “It does. Ryan and I made more after we changed the bedding. We looked at family films and pictures. Played cards. He let me win.”
“Your smile is as beautiful as you are,” Simon said, still holding the latch. “To have stolen that would have been a travesty.”
Pleasure went through her before she could stop the reaction. She simply stared at him.
“Simon, right on time.” Ryan strode toward his frat brother, extending his hand.
Simon turned to shake hands with Ryan when what he really wished was that he could send everyone away and be alone with Maureen. Soon, he promised himself. “I didn’t expect you here.”
“Mother might not want to follow through on your suggestions.” Ryan looked at his mother. “I plan to make sure she does.”
“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself and following though with Lieutenant Dunlap’s recommendations, Ryan.”
Her son kissed her on the cheek. “Never said you weren’t.”
“Would you like something to drink or do you want me to introduce you to everyone and get started?” she asked Simon.
“Why don’t you introduce me?” Simon suggested, wondering if Ryan had caught his mother’s brief annoyance. Women hated being made to feel as if they were incompetent or stupid, and he couldn’t blame them. They were as smart as men. Sometimes smarter. “I can talk to them and see how I need to gear the discussion. A woman living alone needs will be different than a couple.”
“That sounds good. This way,” Maureen said
He was watching her. Again.
Every time Traci looked at Ryan, he was looking at her…which meant she was watching him as much as he was watching her. Annoyed with both of them she went to the kitchen for another tray of food. With the attentive way Maureen was listening to Simon it wasn’t likely she was going to get it. Traci supposed she couldn’t blame her. If she hadn’t known of their history she might not have paid any attention to all the time Simon looked at Maureen. Since she was sitting with the Sisterhood, he could have been looking at any of them.
Tracy knew better.
Simon hadn’t been boring. In fact, he was a hit. The Sisterhood liked him even before he volunteered to inspect each of their homes to improve safety. Simon was proving to be a nice guy.
In the kitchen, Traci opened the side-by-side refrigerator and bent to take out the covered meat and cheese tray. Picking up the tray she bumped the door closed with her hip and turned, almost dropping the tray on seeing Ryan. It ran through her mind that he had seen her use her wide hips, bringing more attention to them. Her temper spiked.
“Why are you sneaking up on me?”
“Sorry.” Ryan glanced over his shoulder. “I wanted to get you alone.”
Her pulse sped up. Her hands clenched on the tray.
“I need your help to plan Mother’s birthday party,” he whispered, coming closer.
Traci blinked. “What?”
“Let me have that.” Ryan took the tray out of her hands and set it on the island. “I’m not sure if she wants a large to-do at the country club or a girl’s night out with you and the Sisterhood. Maybe a private pampering spa thing.”
Traci was having trouble taking it in. “You want help planning her party?”
“It’s more involved than that,” Ryan folded his arms and leaned back against the island. “I could hire a party planner, but I want it to be special. After the break-in Sunday night, a special night is even more important.”
Surprised and oddly annoyed, Traci didn’t know what to say. How could she have been so wrong?
“I hate to throw this on you, but I’ve been trying to catch your attention for weeks. The Sisterhood is a great group and, no offense, but I thought since mother is younger and you two are such great friends, you might have a better idea on what she wants.”
He didn’t want her body: he wanted her mind. She could really hate Ryan Gilmore.
“I’ll take this. It will throw Mother off if she saw me come after you.” He picked up the tray. “We better get back before she misses us. Do you think you might be able to get away one night this week to have dinner and discuss things?”
She had let a man fool her again and, although it wasn’t in a sexual way, she wanted to disappear. How could she have read him so wrong? She had almost made a complete fool of herself. How could she have been so blind, so stupid? She knew the type of women he dated and they certainly didn’t resemble her.
His smile faded. “You aren’t going to refuse are you?”
Not if she ever hoped to be able to look him in the face again and, since he was Maureen’s son, there was no way she could ever get around that. “No, I was just thinking of where we could meet,” she lied and suggested the first place that entered her mind. “Circa 1897.”
“Great. It’s quite enough so we can plan and talk,” he said. “Is eight tomorrow night all right? There shouldn’t be any danger in Mother seeing me. I’ll make reservations.”
The restaurant was quiet all right, and very intimate, but it was done. “Why don’t I meet you there?”
He shook his head. “If I pick you up we’ll have more time to talk.” He turned away, then turned back. “Thanks. See you tomorrow night at eight sharp. This is going to be great.”
Traci watched his leave, her pride in tatters, but she had done it to herself. She should have known Ryan wasn’t interested in her. It took all of her courage to go back to the patio where all the guests were converged.
She was in time to see Celeste, the single daughter of the couple at end of the block, slide up to Ryan. Celeste was in her late twenties, a college drop-out, and still trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life while living at home. From the way she was curled against Ryan, she had found one thing she was interested in. Ryan, just like a man, was grinning from ear to ear at the attractive brunette.
Traci took a seat and gave her attention to Simon, who was discussing how outdoor lighting served the duel purpose of beautifying your home and keeping burglars away. Too bad there wasn’t something that kept men faithful. Their conscience and morality certainly never got in the way.
Celeste could have Ryan. Traci wasn’t interested in being cheated on again.
Copyright © 2008 by Francis Ray. All rights reserved.