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"This is crazy," Jack Quinn muttered. "I should never have taught you how to use Facebook." He glanced over at his mother, standing quietly next to him in the baggage claim area at the San Francisco airport.
For a woman who had worked so tirelessly her whole life, Elyse Quinn looked remarkably young. But then, he'd noticed a change in her entire demeanor these past few months. He caught her smiling for no reason and the weight of the world seemed to have lifted from her shoulders. She looked optimistic.
Jack's mother had retired from her teaching job and was now happily looking forward to the next phase of her life. And part of that shift had included more travel. Strangely, her first post-retirement trip wasn't to Europe or Asia, it was to visit an old childhood friend on the West Coast.
Elyse Quinn and Ben McMahon had spent summers as neighbors, their families living in lake cabins next door to each other. But when financial problems caused Elise's family to sell the cabin when she was fourteen, they lost touch with the McMahons. Until Elyse discovered Ben on Facebook and they reconnected.
"Where are we supposed to meet him?" Jack asked, his gaze returning to the baggage carousel.
"Ben said he'd be here to pick us up. I expect if he doesn't find us here, he'll be waiting outside." Elyse glanced over at him. "You really didn't have to come along with me, Jack. I'm perfectly able to travel on my own. I went to Norway last year by myself, after all."
"That was a tour. I'll be damned if I'm going to let you fly halfway across this country to meet some man you barely remember. You don't know anything about him."
"Don't be silly. We've been writing to each other for six months. And phoning. And using Facebook. And Skype. And I know you've done your research, too. If there'd been anything bad about him, you wouldn't have allowed me to buy a plane ticket. Ben McMahon is a nice person and once you meet him, you'll see that."
Jack groaned inwardly. "You know what I think? I think you have romantic feelings for him. You just won't admit it."
Elyse smiled. "Don't be silly. We're old friends and that's all. It's a little late for me to be thinking about romance. And it is possible for a man and a woman to be friends." She sighed softly. "Your father was the one great love of my life. I'm not looking for love."
Jack's thoughts flashed back to the night his father died, the night he'd been called to John Quinn's bedside at the hospital.
The virus had taken away so much of his strength, destroying his heart. Jack had known that the end was near. He'd been nine years old and his father told him that he was now the man of the house. It was his job to protect his mother and two younger sisters.
And so he had, taking on the task with such ferocity that his concern sometimes bordered on obsession. His two younger sisters, now married, had every boyfriend strictly vetted until they brought home two men that Jack had finally found worthy to join the family.
Once Katie and Kris were out of the house, Jack had been left with just his mother to watch over. Luckily, his work as a sports writer had kept him in the Chicago area and her career as a kindergarten teacher had kept her busy. But now that she'd retired, everything had changed.
"There it is," Elyse said, pointing to her bag. "Now where is yours?"
Jack continued to watch the carousel. "Did you call to confirm the hotel rooms?" he asked. "I still think we should have rented a car."
"Ben is more familiar with the city than we are. And parking is so expensive, even at the hotel. I'm sure he knows best."
Ben, Ben, Ben. That's all his mother had been talking about for the past six months.
"What did you do with Roger for the weekend?" Elyse asked.
"He's with Melanie," Jack murmured. He and Melanie had broken up last year after a six-year relationship that his family had assumed would result in marriage. They'd shared a condo, an active social life and a mutt named Roger.
"I sure wish you two could work out your problems," Elyse said.
"Mom, don't start. I told you, that's not going to happen. We're just friends."
Her brow arched. "Just friends. I thought men and women couldn't be just friends."
"Very funny," he muttered. "We're happier this way. Besides, I'm pretty sure she's dating someone else."
Elyse's calm expression shifted to one of surprise. "Oh, Jack, I'm sorry. I always thought you two would end up together. You seem so perfect for each other. I love Melanie. Like a daughter."
"I know, Mom. But that's not going to happen." Jack saw his bag and quickly grabbed it. "All right. Let's go see if we can find our ride."
"I want you to be nice," Elyse warned. "This man is my friend and I don't want you criticizing him like you do some of those ball players in your column."
Jack had done a little research on Ben McMahon. And to his dismay, Ben seemed like a stand-up guy. He'd been married for over thirty years when his wife had passed away three years ago. He'd made his money in the computer industry and he had three daughters.
They headed for the doors, but Elyse reached out and touched his arm. "Wait," she said.
"What's wrong? Are you nervous?" Jack asked.
"A little. But I'm excited, too." She glanced over at him, tears swimming in her eyes. "It seems like just yesterday we were swimming together and roasting hot dogs over a campfire. It's like my life just rushed by without me noticing."
Jack felt a lump of emotion fill his throat. He knew how hard it had been for her. After his father had died so many years ago, she'd put every ounce of her energy into providing for the family. There had been no dates, no men, no thought of remarriage. Just a single-minded desire to give her three children everything she possibly could.
But even though she'd denied any notion of romance, Jack knew that the line between friendship and love was very hard to navigate. "You'll be fine," he said, reaching out to give her a hug. "Just be yourself."
"I feel like a silly teenager," she said. "How am I supposed to be myself?"
They headed toward the sliding door that led outside. As they walked through, a slender woman with blond hair tumbled around her face ran into him, her body slamming against his chest.
She wore a black leather jacket and skinny jeans that clung to her long legs. Her hair was styled as if she'd just run her fingers through the waves after she'd crawled out of bed and her sunglasses were perched on the top of her head.
Jack grabbed her arms as she stumbled back and his gaze meet emerald green eyes. "Are you all right?"
"Sorry," she murmured, stepping to the right just as he stepped to the left. They went back and forth a few times before he grabbed her again.
Then, they both froze and in an instant, their eyes locked. Jack felt a strange current running through his body, the warmth of her flesh seeping through the soft leather jacket. His breathing grew shallow and his mind suddenly lost its ability to form words. She was, in a single word, stunning.
He opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't come up with anything worth saying. Introducing himself seemed a bit nervy. And asking if they might find a quiet spot to be alone was totally out of the question. What should a guy do in a situation like this?
Kiss her. Every instinct in his body urged him forward, but yet Jack knew that he couldn't do that. She was a stranger and he fancied himself a gentleman.
"II really need to get inside," she said. "I'm late."
"Oh, right," Jack mumbled. "Sorry. II'll just get out of your"
The moment he moved, she was gone, disappearing through the sliding-glass doors. He stepped back into the terminal to look for her, but she was already lost in the crowd. Somehow, at that moment, he realized he'd just let opportunity pass him by. What was this powerful attraction, to a complete stranger? And why now, of all days?
He was thirty-one years old and happily single, although not necessarily by choice. He'd always thought that he'd know when the right woman came along. But even after six years with Melanie, the spark just wasn't there.
And here he was, nearly bursting into flames over a stranger. He cursed beneath his breath and brushed the image of the beautiful blonde out of his head, then walked back outside.
He found his mother standing at the curb, staring at a black Mercedes sedan. The hazard lights were on, but there was no one behind the wheel. Airport security had just pulled up and was examining the car.
"Ben said he'd pick me up in a black Mercedes sedan," his mother said. She glanced down the long walkway. "I wonder where he went?"
Jack rolled his suitcase over to his mother. "Watch the luggage. Don't talk to strangers. I'll check to see if he's inside."
In truth, Jack was more interested in finding the blonde, but he knew she was probably long gone. He hurried back through the doors, searching the crowd for a guy who looked like the man he'd seen on Ben McMahon's Facebook page. But as he wove through the waiting passengers, he caught sight of a familiar face.
There she was. The goddess, standing in a spot near some uniformed chauffeurs, holding a sign made out of crumpled paper. As he approached, he searched his brain for something to say. Maybe he should just be honest.
"I'd really like to get to know you? Would you be interested in meeting me for a drink?" he murmured to himself. That seemed a little forward. "Hey, it's you again. Sorry for getting in your way. Maybe I can buy you lunch."
He glanced down at her sign. Maybe he should just pretend he was the person she was looking for. Jack stopped short when he saw "QUINN" scrawled across the paper in ballpoint pen.
"I'm Quinn," he murmured. He hurried up to her, then cleared his throat. "Hey, there. I'm Quinn."
She looked at him and rolled her eyes. "Sure you are."
"No, I am," he said.
"I'm here for an older woman named Elyse."
"That's me," Jack said. "I mean, that's my mom. I'm her son. She's waiting outside. Elyse Quinn."
She gave him a suspicious look, as if weighing the truth of his words against their previous encounter. "If this is just some come on, I really don't have the"
He held out his hand. "Hey, I'm not messing with you. I'm Jack Quinn, Elyse's son."
She took his hand, folding her fingers against his. The moment caused a tiny shock to rock his body. She had the most beautiful fingers and his mind automatically thought of what those hands might do to his body. He'd never realized that chauffeurs could be so sexy.
"I'm Mia McMahon. I'm Ben's daughter."
All his fantasies screeched to a halt and Jack tried to cover his stunned expression. "His daughter?" His mom had told him that Ben had three daughters, but he'd just assumed they'd be married, and living elsewhere. He searched her hand for a ring and found her fingers bare. For some reason, that made him happy.
She smiled warmly. "I'm sorry. My dad sprained his ankle playing tennis this morning. He's hobbling around on crutches. He would have been here, but he can't drive. So he asked me to look for your mother."
"Well, she's waiting outside. Let's go," Jack said, nodding at her.
She gave him a coy smile. "All right." They wove their way back through the crowd and strolled out the door. But as they made their way back to the Mercedes, Mia took off at a run. The security officer was bent over the hood of the Mercedes, slipping a ticket beneath the wiper.
"No!" she cried, grabbing it and holding it out to him. "I'm here. I'm right here. We're leaving."
He held up his hands and shook his head. "Sorry. You can't leave your car unattended.
There's no parking allowed here at all. You can circle and load, but no stopping to wait."
"But I had to"
"Nothing you say is going to make me rip up that ticket. You can mail the fine in to the address on the back."
Mia shook her head as he walked away. "Great," she shouted. She glanced down at the ticket. "A hundred and ninety-seven dollars? For five minutes?"
Jack walked up and took the ticket from her fingers. "Don't worry. I'll take care of it. It was our fault."
"No!" she cried, grabbing the ticket back. "Don't be silly. It was my fault."
"It was my mother you were picking up," he countered.
Their gazes met again and for a long moment, Jack lost track of where he was and what he was doing. God, she was pretty. He gently took the ticket from her fingers, then cleared his throat. "Maybe we should get in the car," he said.
"Right," she said.
He dragged their luggage to the rear of the vehicle as Mia popped the trunk. And when he'd finished loading it, he circled back to find that his mother and Ben's daughter had made their introductions and Elyse had taken a spot in the backseat. Jack opened the front door and slid into the luxurious interior, taking a spot next to Mia.
She glanced over her shoulder and pulled away from the curb. "Seat belt," she whispered to him.
"Where is Ben?" his mother asked.
"He sprained his ankle playing tennis this morning." Both Jack and Mia answered at the same time and he chuckled softly. He saw a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth and wondered what was going on inside her head.
Was she as attracted as he was? Jack hoped that her duties for the weekend didn't end with a ride to their hotel. He was going to be alone, for the most part. It might be nice to spend some time with a beautiful woman like Mia McMahon.