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Not Through Loving You
By Patricia Preston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Patricia Preston
All rights reserved.
"Here you go. She's the perfect girlfriend." Retired cop Frank Kendall spoke to his oldest son as he stepped outside onto the wide redwood deck. "She'll do whatever you want, and best of all, she's a D-cup, and she can't talk."
Dr. Aaron Kendall smiled as his father presented him with a naked life-size blow-up doll. "Just what I've always wanted."
"Here." Frank held up his phone. "We've got to take a selfie."
Carrying the blow-up doll, Aaron joined seventy-year-old Frank, a former police chief and father of four boys, with an ample waistline and the same short haircut that he'd worn since he was in the Marines more than fifty years ago.
With the afternoon sunlight warming the deck on a beautiful June day, Aaron, who wore an Atlanta Braves jersey and navy shorts, posed beside his father and the blow-up doll. At six-foot-three, Aaron was taller than Frank, and he bent so his face would be in the selfie alongside his dad's. He had inherited his mother's features, including the blue eyes and black hair of her Irish ancestors. Frank had always said that every time he looked at Aaron, he thought of his beloved Nancy.
"This is gonna be the best bachelor party ever." Ralph Wheeler, Frank's buddy, pumped air into another blow-up doll. Like Frank, Ralph had spent the better part of his life in law enforcement. They had been tough guys in their day. Now they were enjoying retirement, which included fishing, holding weekly poker games, playing pool, and spending a couple of hours on weekday mornings at Cherokee Sam's café where they had breakfast and griped about how politicians were ruining the country.
Aaron reached for a can of beer buried in a tub of ice. Ralph and Frank had five cases of beer iced down in the three large tubs, one on the deck and two inside. Aaron kicked back the beer and laughed as his father danced across the deck with a blow-up doll.
Aaron was happy that his father was doing well, and he didn't regret letting Frank move in with him. It had been good for both of them. The house was plenty big enough. Four years ago, he had bought the five-bedroom country home because he thought it would be the perfect place to raise a family. The place had come with a fantastic tree house nestled in the branches of a hundred-year-old oak tree and a basketball goal complete with a concrete court in the backyard.
But the house had turned into a large, lonely dwelling when his marriage fell apart. After he lost the woman of his dreams, who had never really been his, and the family he hoped to have, he had considered selling the house, but he had hung onto it because there were things about it he loved.
Located just outside of Lafayette Falls, the spacious two-story log home on Everly Ridge Road had been built on a gently sloping three-acre lot surrounded by tall hardwoods and pines. The setting was like something out of a storybook, and Aaron loved the way each season brought its own special beauty to the forested hills. Besides the landscape, he was partial to the house as well. Its exterior, made of fieldstone and logs, blended perfectly with the surrounding woodlands, and the interior boasted over five thousand square feet of living space.
At one time, he had second thoughts about keeping such a big house. Now he was glad he had kept it because there would be plenty of room for him, his dad, and the newborn he was in the process of adopting.
"Ralph." Frank motioned to his friend as he held up his phone. "Grab her boobs. I'll take a selfie of you." Ralph pressed the nude blow-up doll to his chest with his hands over her breasts and grinned as Frank took his picture.
"After tonight, things have to change." Aaron gave Frank a pointed look. "We've got to get it together, Dad, before I bring the baby home from the hospital."
Aaron had to admit that the three-acre lot was perfection, thanks to his father. Frank loved doing yard work. He mowed the lawn twice a week, killed the weeds, and trimmed the shrubs. Plus he'd planted daylilies around the deck and marigolds along the walkway. He even had a small vegetable garden where he was growing what he called prize tomatoes.
But inside, the house was just the opposite. The place reflected the living habits of two bachelors who were definitely not housekeepers. Neither one of them was inclined to pick up behind himself. A busy pediatrician, Aaron claimed he just didn't have time, and Frank had never done "women's work."
Aaron had a biweekly housecleaning service come in and do the heavy-duty stuff like the vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning the bathrooms. Yet day-to-day chores, such as washing dirty dishes, taking out the trash, picking up clothes, and clearing away clutter, were done only when there was no recourse.
"The bachelor pad days are coming to an end," Aaron said. "We have to make an effort to get the dishes in the dishwasher, take out the trash every day, and we can't just leave stuff lying around everywhere. I talked to Maury yesterday." Aaron referred to the attorney who was handling the private adoption. "The home study provider will be here in a couple of weeks to do the assessment. This place has got to be spotless. Inside and out."
"I know somebody you could get to do a home inspection." Ralph inflated another blow-up doll. Arms, legs, and boobs expanded.
"It's not a home inspection. It's a home study required by the state." Aaron explained that the home study, which was an imperative part of the adoption process, would include an assessment of his house in regard to providing a safe and appropriate environment for a baby. He, also, would be evaluated to determine whether he would be a suitable parent who would care for the child both emotionally and financially. He wanted everything to be perfect.
He finished off the beer and dug another one out of the tub. He wiped the ice off the can and popped the top. These were his last days as a single guy with no responsibility. He planned to make the most of them.
A black pickup truck veered off the driveway, drove over the lawn, and wheeled to a stop beside the deck.
"Stevie." Aaron waved to his kid brother, who was considered the scoundrel of the family. Stevie had been one of those unplanned surprises when his parents were in their forties, and he'd been in college for the last six years. He had yet to earn a degree, but he could con his way out of anything.
"The entertainment has arrived," Stevie shouted out the truck window.
"Look at that shit," Frank fumed. "He drove through the yard. Of all things."
Wearing a sleeveless hoodie, denim shorts, and sandals, Stevie bailed out of the truck. In contrast to Aaron, Stevie had light brown eyes and sandy brown hair that he wore cut close on the sides and combed up in the center. Frank disapproved of the hairstyle; he said Stevie looked like the damn Gerber baby. So Aaron was happy to see that Stevie wore a Budweiser cap.
His kid brother waved a couple of porn DVDs in the air: Girls Gone Wild. Then he extended his hand to a blonde who slid out of the truck dressed in a red silk robe and heels. She had wide, fluffy blond hair that resembled a lion's mane. Bright cherry lipstick covered her small lips, and an artificial beauty mark was stuck on her right cheek.
"This is Cheree," Stevie announced as they came up the steps to the deck. "She's a stripper, among other things. I hired her to liven up the party tonight."
Ralph's jaw dropped, and Frank said politely, "I'm glad you could come, Miss Cheree."
"That's my dad." Stevie made the introductions and took a couple of photos of Cheree and his father. "And this is my big brother, Aaron." He roped his arm around Aaron's neck. "He's the one with all the brains."
"It's nice to meet you," Cheree said in a Marilyn Monroe whisper.
Aaron nodded. She wasn't his type, but in a pinch, she'd do. "You two want a beer?"
"You know we do."
Aaron handed Stevie and Cheree each a can of beer.
"I got a job at the club where Cheree works," Stevie said with a somber expression. "Pole dancer. I think I may have found my calling."
"I give up." Frank picked up two of the blow-up dolls and headed into the house.
Stevie took a swig of beer. "You ready to get your ass kicked in a game of pool?" He grinned at Aaron. "I'll put fifty dollars on it."
"You got it."
Aaron had a competitive spirit that had propelled him into sports all his life until a wrist injury had sidelined him as a baseball pitcher in college. These days he played basketball in his backyard and softball at the park. He finished off his beer and took another one out of the tub. Cheree was beginning to look better with every drink.
"Have you got fifty dollars?" he asked Stevie.
"Sure, I've got money. Pole dancing pays good."
"You are so full of shit." Aaron kicked back the beer.
"Listen, I may need to crash here for a few weeks. Like the rest of the summer."
"Don't tell me you got kicked out of your apartment again."
"No, man. Me and the landlord are cool. We're tight like this." Stevie crossed his middle finger over his index finger. "But they found mold in the place, so I can't live in there with mold. They're gonna clean it up."
Aaron had no idea if what his brother said was true. With Stevie, you never knew.
Frank called from the open slider. "Lloyd and Jerry are here with the pizzas and nachos."
As Stevie and Ralph gathered blow-up dolls, Aaron watched Cheree lead the way indoors. Stevie sidled up beside him.
"Hey, man, if you're interested, later on tonight, I'm sure I can get you laid at a discount. She might go down on you for free. You never know until you ask, and I ask all the time." He winked, and Aaron laughed.
"I'm glad you came." Aaron slapped Stevie on the shoulder as they stepped into the spacious family room, which was the centerpiece of the first floor. Golden oak beams crisscrossed the ceiling, and wide plate glass windows provided a panoramic view of the outdoors. The room had a massive stone fireplace, ecru plaster walls, brass chandeliers, and hardwood flooring.
Aaron planned to replace the area rug that had absorbed one too many spills, and the old furniture needed to go, too. A few months ago, he had purchased an eighty-inch television with a sound bar, much to Frank's delight. Perfect for watching ESPN. It sat atop a cluttered entertainment center.
Stevie handed the porn DVDs to Ralph. "Wait 'til you see what these girls can do." He rocked his hips back and forth.
Aaron kicked a sneaker out of his way as he crossed the family room on his way to the dining room where the pool table was located. The sneaker landed in a pile of newspapers beside Frank's recliner.
Stevie followed. "You know this place smells like a locker room."
"Not for long." As Aaron racked up the balls on the pool table, Stevie stopped to check out the Playboy calendar featuring Miss June skinny-dipping. The doorbell rang, and Stevie called, "Hey, Dad, let Cheree get the door. Surprise your friends."
Cheree untied her robe and let it fall open, revealing a G-string and pasties.
Stevie turned to Aaron. "It's a good thing you're a doctor," he said. "Some of these old men may need CPR before the night's over."
"Possibly." Aaron grinned as he chalked his cue stick. He went for the break, knocking a solid-color ball in a corner pocket.
In a rare moment of contemplation, Stevie gave Aaron a thoughtful gaze. "I don't know that I've seen you this happy in a long time. I guess you're sure about this adoption thing?"
Aaron heard the same doubt in Stevie's voice that he heard in everyone else's voice.
Up until ten days ago, he had never considered becoming a single parent. But that had all changed when he had walked into a small ER exam room to meet with a young woman who had just given birth to a premature baby. She was in her early twenties, but her face showed no signs of youth. A vagrant, she was with a friend and refusing to stay in the hospital. Restless, she was complaining because she hated hospitals and sick people. Besides, she had other things to do.
"I don't want the baby. I never wanted it. I know there's some kind of law where you can leave a baby at a hospital and the cops won't hassle you, right?" she asked as she put on her sandals. "Can you find it a good home?"
"I can give him a good home." Aaron's reply had come straight from somewhere deep within his heart, and it had set him on an irreversible course of action. That night the baby, who had been dubbed Baby John Doe by the nursing staff, became his son.
"I've never been more certain about anything," he told Stevie.
Aaron was happier than he had been in years. The light had gone out in his life the day he had come home from his clinic to find his wife had left him. He found a good-bye note on the kitchen counter from Molly, who was six months pregnant. She said the baby wasn't his, and DNA tests proved that was true. He had not only lost his wife but a son as well. Baby John was his second chance.
"I'll be glad when the adoption is final," Aaron said. While they played pool, he told Stevie about the upcoming home study, which had to be completed before his attorney could file the adoption papers in court. "I'm going to put you on painting detail while you're here."
Stevie's eyes rounded. "What?"
"For starters, I'm getting rid of the pool table and painting this room. I'm going to turn it into a real dining room."
"It's summer," Stevie protested. "Who works in the summer?"
"You can work this summer, or you can go live with the mold." Aaron didn't give his kid brother any other options. "I want John Aaron to have a first-rate home."
"Is that what you're gonna name him?" Stevie asked as Aaron lined up a shot. "That baby is lucky."
"I feel like the one who's lucky." Actually, he and the baby were both lucky. John Aaron had been born six weeks premature, malnourished, weak, and unable to breathe on his own. It had been one battle after another, but the baby was a fighter. He was still in the NICU, and Aaron was doing everything possible to make sure he survived.
"Uh oh," Stevie said when Aaron inadvertently sank the eight ball and lost the game. "There went your luck, bro. Pay up."
Cheree escorted two more of Frank's friends and the groom-to-be and guest of honor, Larry Nash, into the family room where he was presented with a blowup doll. He had a slight limp due to a recent knee replacement.
"Everybody smile." Frank held up his new smartphone.
"Too bad we're not filmmakers. We could make a geriatric version of The Hangover." Stevie put up his cue stick.
"You got that right," Aaron said. "You want some pizza?"
"Not now." While Aaron headed to the kitchen to get the pizza, Stevie slipped out the slider that led onto the deck.
In the den, Ralph, who was manning the TV remote control, hit a button, and the eighty-inch screen lit up with Girls Gone Wild. One porn actress jumped into a swimming pool where she was joined by a nude friend, who French kissed her. "Holy shit, look at the knockers on that gal," Ralph said.
"Guys," Larry, the groom-to-be, said as he held one of the blow-up dolls. "I told Dianne we were cooking out. So what happens at Frank's stays at Frank's."
"You know it," Frank agreed as Aaron returned with a couple of boxes of pizza and a fresh beer. He shoved aside the junk on the coffee table to make room for the pizza. He flipped open the top of a box and lifted a slice of fully loaded deep-dish pizza as the two girls in the porn movie got it on.
Outside, Stevie stood on the back of his truck and dug a joint out of his pocket. He held it between his lips as he answered a text from a girl he'd met the other night who was demanding to know where he was. The bad thing about some women was once you slept with them, they thought they owned you.
Sorry, babe, I can't get out of the house. My wife's watching every move I make.
UR MARRIED???? YOU ASSHOLE. SCREW U!
He grinned. Amazing how that always worked. He took a drag off the joint as a shiny red Jaguar sports coupe swung into the driveway. Was that not one fine car?
He headed down the drive to get a better look at the sleek, low-slung Jag. Just looking at it could give you an orgasm. He took a photo of the car with his phone. The Jag probably belonged to one of Aaron's doctor buddies, who made like a hundred bucks a minute. The driver's side door opened, and Stevie straightened as a brunette emerged.
Like the car, the babe was superfine. A cloud of white ribbon secured her long dark hair at the nape of her neck. She had wide dark green eyes and a slight dimple in her chin. She wore a sophisticated navy suit, matching heels, and a necklace of gold beads. All polished and professional, she looked as if she were on her way to a corporate boardroom instead of a bachelor party. She carried a small shoulder-strap bag and mini tablet.
Excerpted from Not Through Loving You by Patricia Preston. Copyright © 2017 Patricia Preston. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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