Susannah's laughter floated on the air. Rory smiled and closed the front door, glad she hadn't resisted the impulse to see them drive off. The smile lingered on Rory's face as the sounds of the car faded. She'd waited a long time for this day, and now it had finally arrived. Too bad Susannah didn't realize she'd tripped over her heart and fallen for the charming D. E. Hogan.
It was easy to see that Hogan was attracted to Susannah. As a mother, Rory couldn't help but hope he felt something deeper than mere sexual desire. But that would be for Susannah to discover. All she could hope was that her daughter didn't get hurt.
That was the trouble with love. You had to risk everything to gain everything. Rory had risked it all, but her gamble had been based on deceit and the unstable commodity known as teenage love. She'd ended up as just another number in the teen marriage and divorce statistics. It had taken a long time for her to make peace with the mess she'd made of her life. Now, only one thing about that bothered her conscience. She'd never told the ugly truth to her daughter.
When Susannah had entered high school, Rory had realized she couldn't go on the way she was. Guilt, bitterness, regret. Those emotions had poisoned her life. She'd known that if she stayed that way, she'd never know any happiness. Slowly, she'd changed. Rory sighed. Too bad Susannah hadn't recognized that her mom had finally grown up.
She went to her bedroom and changed from the khaki chino capris and yellow blouse she'd worn to meet Hogan into a clean pair of jean cut-offs and an old white tank top so stretched and misshapen that the straps constantly slipped off her shoulders. Since she'd be alone in her back yard, she didn't bother with a bra.
She was pulling her shoulder length hair into a pony tail when her reflection in the old-fashioned dresser mirror caught her eye. For the briefest moment, Rory studied herself in the mirror. At forty-two, she'd finally accepted herself. Flaws, mistakes and all. She'd stopped regretting that she'd wasted years of her life in being miserable. If she'd faced up to her mistakes sooner, she might have had a chance to marry again. The past couldn't be undone, but she could take advantage of what the future brought.
Her hands cupped her breasts, thumbs brushed against the nipples. She still longed for a man's caress. For his mouth on hers and on her body. She lifted her hands to her face and pressed her fingertips against her lips. It had been so long since she'd been with a man. So long since she'd kissed. Sometimes the thought of kissing intoxicated her. Did men and women still have what her generation called make out sessions?
As she'd matured, she'd decided women must never get over the need to be held. At least she hadn't. She'd never lost the desire to feel a man's weight on her and feel him deep inside her body. Though she'd had little of that in her short marriage because her husband had been so angry and so filled with resentment. But she'd had enough to know what she was missing as the years had passed.
The trouble was, she didn't want just any man. She wanted a special man. One she cared about and who cared about her. She hated to be pessimistic, but she didn't think there was a man like that for her. If there was, then he sure wasn't in the small town of Vance. Wistfully, she thought if she ever did find a man to unlock the passion inside her, she'd accept him without regret for what the future might hold. Life was passing so fast.
Her hands returned to fixing her hair. Time didn't just march on. It ran. Though everyone always told her she looked young for her age, she knew where to find the silver hairs in her strawberry blond hair. She wore little makeup most of the time but faithfully used moisturizer and sun screen so her skin was good. All the hard physical work she did in the yard had made her body toned and had given her arms and legs any fitness trainer would envy.
She stuck her tongue out at her reflection then laughed, feeling silly at taking such inventory. What did it matter if she had firm breasts and a terrific butt? It wasn't like anyone ever saw her in her birthday suit. And that was okay. She had accepted her solitary state and was comfortable with her life. But, oh, sometimes that old restless, hunger possessed her, and she longed for more. Maybe it was the questions Susannah had asked last night that had made her start thinking about everything again.
Quickly, she tidied up her bedroom, grabbed an old blanket and what she called her nap pillow from the linen closet and took them outside. She spread the blanket beneath the dappled shade of a river birch tree and tossed the pillow on it. Then she gathered the rest of the things she needed for her Saturday yard work. A pitcher of ice water and a plastic tumbler, the CD player, the latest romance novel Grace had loaned her, and a clean pair of gardening gloves. She set the pitcher and tumbler on the table on the porch and placed the book and the CD player on the blanket.
She heard the phone ring so she ran for it. She didn't need Caller ID to know who was calling. She answered it at the kitchen wall phone. Grace was eager for a report so Rory filled her in. As Grace chattered, Rory saw the note Susannah had left on the small bulletin board by the phone. Walter Bofco's number. She remembered how Hogan had described the man. Single and rich. She tried to imagine such a man showing up on her doorstep to "check up on her." She couldn't think of any reason why the poor man would look in on her. She wasn't an invalid.
Briefly, she wondered if Bofco was more attractive and younger than the other bachelors in Vance who could more rightly be called old geezers. Of course, to her way of thinking, the name Walter Bofco didn't exactly sound like a gorgeous playboy. The name brought to mind someone of her grandparents' generation.
Maybe Walter the Mayor would appreciate her gardening muscles and her other assets. Rory suppressed a giggle at that thought. Whether he was attractive or an old fuddy duddy, she doubted he'd give her the time of day. By virtue of being rich and single, he'd have women coming at him from every direction. Women prettier, and younger, than a lowly bookkeeper more at home in ragged jeans than cocktail dresses.
"Listen, Grace, I need to get out into the yard before the sun gets any higher. I'll let you know if Susannah calls." She listened for a moment then laughed. "Okay, you're right. I'm only going to work a little. I've got the book you gave me last week, and I plan to spend the whole morning reading. No, I don't need anything, and, yes, you'll be the first I call if I do."
Rory smiled fondly as she hung the phone up. Small towns were wonderful, but sometimes she wished she lived an anonymous life in the city where no one knew her habits. She dropped the piece of note paper with the Mayor's phone number on the kitchen counter.
She paused to slip her feet into her yard shoes, a pair of old sneakers minus the laces, that she kept by the back door. Then she went to the garage for a pair of small gardening shears she kept in a bucket containing a mixture of motor oil and sand. She wiped the blades on the folded rag she kept next to the bucket, grabbed an empty bushel basket and marched over to the climbing roses. She set the basket down, hit the play button on the CD player, and began clipping the spent roses.
As she snipped the faded blooms with the sharp shears, she listened to a Kenny G CD and tossed the trimmings into the basket. She hummed along with the mellow music while she worked her magic on the old-fashioned bushes. Their heady perfume flooded her senses. Finished, she stepped back and nodded, pleased with her handiwork.
Satisfied, Rory stripped off the gloves and tossed them on top of the pile of brown rose petals in the basket and went to get a drink of water from the pitcher on the porch table. She pulled the elastic band from her pony tail and laid it on the table and kicked off her shoes and left them on the porch steps. Barefoot, she returned to the blanket, ready to settle down for a good reading session.
Everyone laughed at her penchant for lying on a blanket in the yard and reading the morning away. It was a habit she'd developed while Susannah had been away at college. Saturdays the empty house had felt especially lonely without her daughter so she'd started spending the day outside. If the weather was just right, she'd lay on the old blanket and take a mini-vacation in the pages of a book.
With a sigh of pleasure, she stretched out on the faded blue cotton. The music lulled her, and the warm morning relaxed her. She adjusted the pillow under her head and picked up the romance novel. Without a twinge of guilt, she read the last couple of pages of the book. She wanted to make sure the story had a happily ever after worthy of spending her Saturday on it.
Satisfied with what she read, she returned to the first page. The quiet buzz of honeybees flitting around the many blooming flowers made her even sleepier. She was having a hard time getting into the story. Bored, she found herself flipping through the book, stopping at a love scene only ten pages into the story. Though the scene was hot enough to singe her fingers, she found it difficult to feel any connection to the heroine who was performing oral sex on a detective for the purpose apparently of getting him to take her case. Rory hooted with laughter and tossed the book aside. She just didn't like the kind of stories where women gave men sexual gratification without getting any in return. That was too much like real life.
She wanted to read a book where a woman had hot sex, and drove the man wild with the desire to do nothing but please her in bed. Maybe she'd ask Grace if she had bought any of the new erotica books she kept seeing in the grocery store. Reading one of those would be about the closest she'd ever get to hot, steamy, sizzling sex.
For a while, she watched the fluffy clouds through the lacy tree branches and imagined pictures in their shapes. Her thoughts drifted. She fantasized about a man lying next to her, pulling her into his arms, kissing her just like the hero in a romance novel kissed. Slowly and thoroughly. This fantasy man knew how to touch her and where she wanted to be touched. Like the old song, he had slow hands.
Drowsy, she thought small towns might have their drawbacks, but this was something she bet city dwellers didn't dare do, lay outside on a blanket and feel perfectly at ease and safe while they daydreamed. Rory smiled at her fantasy man as she drifted asleep.
* * *
Walter Bofco had knocked on the front door for several minutes but no one had answered. He looked around, impressed by the landscaping. As Susannah had said, it was the most beautiful yard in town. He knocked again.
Odd. There was an old minivan in the driveway. He didn't actually know how old Susannah's mother was. Perhaps she was elderly and still infirm after her surgery. Susannah had said she was fine, but her uncle had called him and said he was worried about Rory Quinn. Barney had asked Walter to drop by and check on her.
Walter had hesitated. True, he'd been forced to say he'd keep an eye on the woman, but he did have other plans for the day. Then Barney had said Grace and her husband were out of town and had taken Barney's wife with them, and Barney couldn't leave the office because he was waiting for a call from the Department of Public Safety. The officers on the weekend shift were working an accident out on the highway.
"All right, all right. I give up," Walter had said with a laugh. "I'll take care of it." Amused as much as exasperated, Walter wondered why Barney didn't have a cell phone so he could be reached at any time, then he wouldn't have to stay in the office.
Well, he'd tried his best. He could call Barney and tell him, with a clear conscience, that he'd paid a visit, but no one had been home. Yet, Walter could swear he heard music. He let his ears lead him as he followed the porch around the house, dodged an old-fashioned oak swing hung from the ceiling, and skirted a wicker table and chairs.
A pitcher of water with slivers of ice floating in it sat on the round table. A half full red plastic tumbler emblazoned with the name Sunset Red's Café sat next to the pitcher.
From the porch, he saw a woman lying on a blanket in the yard. The music he heard came from a stereo near her feet. He started down the back steps. To his amusement, the woman seemed to be asleep. How trusting people in small towns were. He started to call out, but something, curiosity perhaps, held him back. He wanted a better look at this sleeping beauty.
Five feet away from her, Walter stopped. This couldn't be Susannah's mother. She was tanned and toned and entirely too young to have a daughter as old as Susannah. As he got to the edge of the blanket, he could see faint smile lines near her eyes and bracketing her mouth, but that didn't detract from her attractiveness. She certainly wasn't an invalid.
He couldn't think of fitting words to describe the lithe form lying at his feet. Just as he couldn't decide if her hair was more red than blond or vice versa. He guessed it was what people referred to as strawberry blond. He felt silly analyzing her looks, and even sillier when the name Sleeping Beauty kept echoing in his mind. His pulse leapt as he crouched. The thought of calling out and waking her had gotten lost in his appreciation of her body.
She was built much the same as her daughter with long, lean muscles. Funny, he'd never had these kind of feelings when he'd looked at Susannah. Just watching the sleeping woman was playing hell with his libido. A fine sheen of perspiration covered her sun-kissed skin. The top she wore had slid off her shoulders as she'd slept. His hands itched to touch her and discover if her skin was as silky as it looked.
What color were her eyes? Walt moved closer. Closer. Finally, he hunkered down on the edge of the blanket. That's when she opened her eyes.
They were an incredible shade of gray-blue with gold flecks.
Walt was immediately aware of two things. One, he had the most painful erection, and, two, the woman was about to scream her head off.
He stood abruptly. "I'm sorry. Don't be scared. I'm Walter Bofco. The Mayor." He hastened to add, "of Murphy's Cove. I know your daughter. And your brother. Barney asked me to drop by and, uh, see if you needed anything since Susannah was gone."
Walt realized he was babbling like an idiot and sweating bullets. He maintained eye contact with her and hoped like hell she didn't notice his crotch. My God! He was acting like a hormonal school boy with no self control. It wasn't as if it was the first time he'd ever seen an attractive woman!
She sat up quickly and looked him over. Her eyes rounded. She scooted back on the blanket, away from him. "Yes, I've heard of you. Thank you for dropping by. Uh, you can go now if you don't mind."
Walt felt his face turn bright red. He knew she'd seen the way his pants tented over his erection. "Certainly. I didn't mean to intrude. You just looked so beautiful, uh, I mean, relaxed that I hated to wake you." He turned and pointed to the porch. In a strangled voice, he said, "I saw a pitcher of water there. Would you mind if I poured myself a glass? It's such a hot day."
"No, I don't mind. Go, please." Gracefully, she rose to her feet in one fluid motion. "Glasses are in the kitchen, the cupboard to the right of the sink."
Walt couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it. Cement boots wouldn't have held him as securely to the ground as the vision of Rory Quinn did with her tousled hair, sleek arms and legs, and a thin white tank top that left little to the imagination. He could see not only the shape of her nipples but the shadow of the areola as well. And he'd never seen anything so sexy in his entire life.
Rory shoved her hair back behind her ears with her left hand. The movement caused her top to slip another notch. It slanted crookedly from left to right and dipped low over her right breast. His treacherous eyes could not, would not, move away from where the white cotton hovered, barely covering her nipple. He swore he could see a tiny edge of pink peeking above the cotton. Desire throbbed through him. If he didn't get away from her, Walt figured he was going to embarrass himself in a way he hadn't done since he'd had his first sexual encounter.
Rory's face had been pale with fear, now she blushed crimson when she realized where his gaze was planted. She turned her back. "Why don't you go find a glass in the kitchen? I'll join you on the porch."
"Okay. Sure. Thank you." Walt felt about as articulate as a robot.
While she adjusted her top, Walt had the consolation prize of looking at her beautifully shaped butt before he turned and all but ran for the porch, with thoughts of looking for camouflage.
In the house, he pulled out his mental bag of tricks in order to subdue his rampaging lust while he opened and closed cupboard doors. Once he found the glasses, he grabbed a plastic tumbler like the one he'd seen on the porch and hurried back. Thankfully, his body calmed.
Rory walked up the steps. Her arms crossed protectively over her chest, neatly obscuring her breasts. Yet he remembered the trace of pink he'd seen. He nearly groaned aloud. All his mental tricks had been for nought. He was getting hard again. Disgusted for acting as if he hadn't had sex in a century, he grabbed the water pitcher and held it low in front of his hard-on, waiting for Rory to sit before he took the chair opposite.
He tried to fill both tumblers, but he sloshed water onto the table. This was ridiculous. He had a reputation for being suave, but he was acting like a horny fourteen-year-old virgin on a first date, hoping to get lucky.
"Are you all right?" Rory asked.
He looked up. She looked as if she were hiding a smile. Her eyes entrapped his. They stared at each other for several long moments. The amusement on her face faded. He felt a connection with her. He wasn't imagining it. She felt it too. Her gaze dropped. Pink color flooded her face. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. He couldn't say what was in his mind. How could he tell this woman that he'd just met that the only way he could ever be all right, was if he could lay with her on her old blanket out in the yard? And remove her clothes and kiss every inch of her. And give her what his body so wanted to give.
"Mr. Bofco?" Rory asked, her voice the softest whisper.
"Mrs. Quinn," he said in the same moment. They both fell silent. Her eyes met his then danced away. To his amazement, he could see the pulse pounding at the base of her throat. "Walt. Call me Walt."
"Rory," she whispered. She looked up. Her eyes met his. "Call me Rory," she said in a stronger, more assertive voice.
Walt held his breath. This was crazy. But he thought she was feeling the same thing he was feeling.
Rory's blush deepened. "Walt, I'm going to ask you something weird."
"Go ahead. I'm open to weird." Part of his brain jeered that his daughter would find that difficult to believe.
"What's your middle name?"
"What?" Some of his tension eased. "Why do you want to know that?"
Softly, Rory said, "Because Walter doesn't fit you. Walter's a name for an old geezer, and you're definitely not an old geezer."
"I'm not? My daughter would definitely disagree with you there." After a moment, he said, "Is Willard any better?"
"Willard," Rory shook her head sadly. "No, it doesn't suit a man like you either."
He found himself grinning at her, flirting. "And what kind of man am I?"
* * *
Rory looked at him. At first she thought she'd dreamed him up. Her fantasy man come to life. He did something to her. Made her feel something she'd waited for years to feel. Her heart had already been beating fast, but now it kicked into high gear. She took a deep breath and gathered her courage.
Blame it on the fact that she'd noticed he had an erection as he'd looked at her out in the yard. Blame it on the fact that she knew he was available. And safe. Not some stranger off the street that no one knew. Blame it on her earlier thoughts or blame it on the erotic dream she'd been having, but she was going to do something she'd only read about in books. She was going to try to seduce him.
"You're attractive, intelligent, and something about you makes me want to be brave. Or foolish. I haven't figured out yet which it is." Rory laughed. "I have the oddest feeling that I've been waiting a long time to meet you."
"Maybe that's," he croaked, stopped, cleared his throat. "Maybe that's what they call destiny."
"Destiny?" Rory smiled. She looked at him in a way that she hoped was seductive. "Maybe it is. I want to tell you something."
"Certainly. Go ahead."
She studied his face. He was handsome. Tanned, with a chiseled jaw, dark brown hair going gray at the temples and brown eyes that should have been deep and mysterious, yet they seemed remarkably without guile. If she saw anything in his eyes, it was admiration. And possibly heat that matched hers. Rory's anxiety eased. "I warn you it's something private. Intimate."
"Intimate?" his voice seemed to deepen. Softly, he encouraged. "Go ahead. I'm even more open to intimate."
Rory laughed softly, "If you'd like to leave, now would be a good time."
"This is one of the strangest conversations I've ever had, but I don't think I could walk away from it, from you, if I wanted to. Go ahead. I'm waiting."
"Since you live down at the Cove instead of in town, you probably haven't heard the gossip about me before," Rory began. To her surprise, this wasn't as difficult as she'd thought it would be. "I've lived my whole life trying to prove to everyone in town wrong." She saw the surprise in his eyes, but she didn't stop. "I just want you to know I'm not a slut."
"If I've offended you," he said in a rush, "I apologize. I don't know what's come over me since I stepped into your back yard. It was just something about you that, that, well, that spoke to me."
"That's not why I said that. I want you to know that I don't sleep around. Don't think that what I'm about to say is something I say to every man."
"At the moment, I can't think of anything except how to control myself."
Though Walt laughed as if he were making a joke, Rory sensed he meant what he said about control because she felt dangerously out of control herself. She shrugged and looked over at him. "Actually, I haven't even had sex in more years than I want to admit."
Walt started to say something, but Rory reached out and pressed her fingertips to his mouth to silence him. She felt instant heat rising inside her. To her shock, his lips puckered. He kissed her fingertips. She jerked her hand away as if he'd bit her.
They stared at each other. Rory unfolded her arms. She saw his gaze drop to her breasts then jerk back to meet her eyes. She didn't understand it, but she was positive he wanted her as much as she wanted him. She pushed her chair back and stepped around the table to stand in front of him. "Would you mind very much if I kissed you?"
"God, no!" He started to rise, but she stopped him.
"Please, if you'd just sit still and let me kiss you?"
When he nodded, Rory leaned down, cupped his face, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips to his mouth. She heard him groan as if he were in pain. The table grated on the floor. She opened her eyes and pulled back a little. Walt gripped the edge of the table with both hands and appeared to be hanging on for dear life.
"Would you kiss me back please?"
With a guttural cry, Walt's hands came up and tangled in her hair. His mouth slanted over hers, and he thrust his tongue into her mouth. Rory captured it and felt a tremor rack his body. His hands reached out and grasped her shoulders and pulled her to him. He took command of the kiss, shaping her lips, tracing them with the tip of his tongue, then plunging into her mouth.
Rory felt weak. When he pulled her onto his lap, she felt the unmistakable ridge of an iron-hard erection. She kissed him back and gasped when his mouth left hers to slide down her throat and bite the sensitive cord there. She pulled his mouth back to hers. She'd gone years without this, and she intended to savor every moment. She felt his heart pounding in his chest against her breast. With what little brain she had left, she was thinking about sliding her top down and pulling his mouth to her breast.
He pulled away. "Rory," he panted. "I can't take it. I'm so close to coming that it's not even funny."
Rory's eyes were huge in her face. She had difficulty catching her breath. Her lips were wet and felt overly sensitive. The pulse pounded at the apex of her thighs. His erection throbbed against her bottom. "I haven't done anything except kiss you," she whispered, not ready to stop.
"No, you've enchanted me. From the minute I saw you asleep. I'm old enough to know better, but I think I'll die if I can't make love to you."
To his surprise, Rory laughed softly. "Well, I wouldn't know how to explain a dead mayor on my back porch."
Walt smacked the heel of his hand against his forehead. "Damn! I don't have any condoms."
She looked taken aback, then she smiled ruefully. "Well, don't look at me. I've been celibate for about two decades." Her confession fell like a stone into still water. She lowered her head, embarrassed by her own bluntness.
Walt tipped her chin up until she looked into his eyes. "I haven't been. But there isn't anyone special in my life. There really hasn't been since my wife died."
Rory smiled. "Good."
"Let's try this again. The right way. Rory, would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"
"Why, yes, Walt, I would."
He took a deep breath and exhaled. "I'll pick you up at eight."
"I'll be ready."
Then he set her on her feet and stood, carefully adjusting himself. When he took a couple of deep breaths and tried to walk it off, Rory giggled. "You're walking funny."
"I feel funny." He gave her a sheepish grin. "I think that's my exit line. I'll see you tonight."
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