Christmas on 4th Street (Fool's Gold Romance) (23 page)

BOOK: Christmas on 4th Street (Fool's Gold Romance)
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Want help?

She was reasonably confident she didn’t ask the question out loud, but that didn’t make the inquiry any less sincere. She would bet Ford looked great in a shower. All wet and soapy. And, um, well, naked. Which was really strange, because she couldn’t remember the last time she’d speculated about a man’s body. She just wasn’t that interested in the whole naked-sex thing. She preferred quiet conversation to passion, and cuddling to groping. Of course, that went a long way toward explaining what had gone wrong between her and her ex.

“Interesting journey,” Ford said.

“Excuse me?”

“You went from imagining me naked to some other place.”

Her mouth dropped open. “I didn’t imagine you...that way. What are you saying? I’d never do that.” Heat burned hot and bright on her cheeks. “That would be rude.”

The sexy smile returned. “So’s lying. Don’t sweat it. I’ll take the compliment in the spirit you meant it.” He raised one shoulder. “It’s the danger. Knowing I’m a dark, dangerous guy makes me irresistible.”

The Ford she remembered had been funny and charming and flirty, but he’d been a kid from a small town. Untested. Unchallenged.

The man in front of her had been honed by war. He was still charming, but he was also right about his appeal. There was something indefinable that made her both want to follow him into the shower and take off running.

She managed to swallow. “You’re saying women want you?”

“All the time.”

“How that must annoy you.”

“I’m used to it. Mostly I consider taking care of them my patriotic duty.”

She felt her mouth drop open. “Your duty?”


Patriotic
duty. It would be un-American to leave a woman in need.”

Her gaze narrowed. So much for having to worry that Ford was uncomfortable around her. Or that her letters had bothered him. No doubt he’d considered them his God-given right.

“Just so we’re clear,” she said. “I’m over you.”

“You mentioned that. You’re not going to love me forever. It’s disappointing.”

“You’ll survive.”

“I don’t know. I’m surprisingly sensitive.”

“Oh, please. Like I believe that.”

He winced. “You’re mocking a hero?”

“With every fiber of my being.”

“Better not let my mother hear that. She’s still trying to convince me to let the town hold a parade in my honor. She wouldn’t like knowing you’re not appreciative of my personal sacrifice.”

“This would be the same mother who took a booth at the Fourth of July festival so she could find you a wife?”

For the first time since she’d walked into the gym, Isabel saw a flicker of discomfort in Ford’s steady gaze.

“That would be the one,” he murmured. “Thanks for reminding me.”

“She was taking applications.”

“Yeah, she mentioned that.” He shifted and turned his head, as if searching for an exit.

Now it was her turn to smile. “Not so big and bad when it comes to your mother, are you?”

He swore under his breath. “Yeah, well, so sue me. I can’t help it. She’s my mom. Can you stand up to yours?”

“No,” she admitted. “But mine is half a world away, so I can pretend to be tough.”

“So could I, when I was on another continent. Now I’m back.”

She almost felt sorry for him. Almost. “I’ll make you a deal,” she said impulsively. “You stop talking about how you seduce women in the name of being a good soldier, and I won’t bring up your mother.”

“Done.”

They looked at each other. Isabel was still conscious of his strength and chiseled good looks, but she was a lot less nervous now. Maybe because she’d figured out his weakness. That knowledge would keep the playing field even.

“So we’re good?” she asked. “The letters, my sister, your mother, all of it?”

He nodded. “The best.” His gaze sharpened. “You didn’t apply, did you?”

She grinned. “To be your wife? No, I didn’t. Technically, I wasn’t qualified. What with me not staying in town permanently.”

“Lucky you.”

She pretended concern. “Oh, Ford, don’t worry. I’m sure she’ll find someone for you. A nice girl who appreciates your giving nature.”

“Very funny.” He paused and the grin returned. “About that shower...”

“Thanks, but no.”

She waved and started for the door. The meeting hadn’t gone at all like what she’d imagined, but she was leaving with the belief that Ford wouldn’t avoid her in the future. Assuming he ever had. And she didn’t have to worry that he thought she was stalking him.

She stepped into the hallway. Consuelo walked out of the locker room, a gym bag in one hand, her car keys in another.

“You two finished?” her friend asked.

“Order is restored.”

Consuelo was one of those petite women who always made Isabel feel as if she were all arms and legs, with massive boat-long feet. The fact that Consuelo could easily wrestle an alligator into submission should have helped Isabel feel more feminine, but oddly it didn’t. Maybe it was because on Consuelo, muscles looked sexy.

“Should I believe you?” Consuelo asked. “You’ve been avoiding Ford for most of the summer.”

“I know and it was silly of me. I should have talked with him before.”

“Uh-huh.” Consuelo sighed. “You’re not going to start following him around now, are you? Women tend to do that. They also show up in his bed without an invitation. Not that he usually sends them away.”

“I heard about that. Not the women, but that it’s his patriotic duty to satisfy them.”

“You don’t sound upset.”

“I’m not. The guy I had a crush on wasn’t this Ford. He was sweet and funny and caring. This more mature version is all that and sexy, too.”

Consuelo waited.

“Not my type,” Isabel said. “Too flashy. I like quiet guys who are thoughtful and smart. The whole sexual-attraction thing is highly overrated.”

Except for the chance at seeing Ford in the shower, she thought briefly. That would be exciting. But she was sure her interest was more about curiosity than temptation.

“You’ve had sex, right?” Consuelo asked. “More than once?”

“Of course. I was married. It’s fine.” Sort of. “But I don’t see it as a driving force in my life. Ford’s the fling guy and I’m not a fling girl. Not that he was asking.”

Consuelo looked her over. “He would have been. Eventually. He might not be your type, but you’re sure his.”

“He likes blondes?”

Consuelo’s mouth twisted. “He likes women.”

Isabel had friends in New York who were all about the thrill of the chase. Sex was important to them, which was fine. But she was different. She wanted someone she could talk to. Someone she could hang out with. Which was probably why she’d ended up with Eric, she thought sadly. They got along great, had the same interests. Their relationship had been one incredible friendship. Unfortunately, they’d both mistaken it for more.

“I have to get back to work,” Isabel said. “I have two brides coming in this afternoon to try on gowns. Let’s have lunch this week.”

“You’re on.”

* * *

 

F
ORD
H
ENDRIX
COULD
disappear into the mountains of Afghanistan for months at a time. He could live within a mile of a village and no one would guess he’d ever been there. He’d traveled the world for his country, fought, killed and been wounded. More than once, he’d stared down death and won. But nothing in his fourteen-year career with the military had prepared him to have to deal with the determined, stubborn woman that was his mother.

“Are you dating?” Denise Hendrix asked as she filled a mug with fresh coffee and handed it to him.

It was barely six in the morning. Normally Ford would have been up and heading for work, but he was a civilian now and starting his day at O-dark-thirty was no longer necessary. He’d stumbled into his kitchen, only to find his mother had shown up and started coffee. Without warning.

He glanced around the small furnished upstairs apartment he’d rented and tried to make sense of it all.

“Mom, did I give you a key?”

His mother smiled and took a second mug for herself, then settled at the small table in the corner. “Marian gave me keys to the apartment and the house before she and John left on their vacation. In case something happened.”

“Like you thinking I can’t make my own coffee?”

“I’m worried about you.”

He was worried, too. Worried that coming back home had been a mistake.

When he’d first arrived, he’d stayed in the family home because it had been easy. Only he’d awakened more than once to find his mother hovering. What she couldn’t possibly know was that with his military training, he didn’t react well to people hovering while he slept. Sneaking around like that was a good way to get dead.

So he’d moved out and into a house with Consuelo and Angel. Only he and Angel were too competitive for that kind of arrangement, so he’d been forced to move again. Technically, Consuelo had threatened to gut him if he didn’t, but he was going to ignore that. In a fair fight, he could take her. The problem was Consuelo didn’t fight fair.

He’d found what he thought was the perfect apartment. Close to work, quiet and away from his mother.

He sat across from the woman who had given birth to him and held out his hand.

She blinked at him. “What?”

“The key.”

Denise was in her mid-fifties. Pretty, with highlighted hair and eyes. She’d survived six kids, including triplet girls, and the death of her husband. A couple of years ago, she’d fallen in love with a guy she’d known in high school. Or maybe after. His sisters had written Ford about the romance. As far as he was concerned, his mom had been a faithful widow over a decade. If she found someone else at this stage in her life, he was happy for her.

“You mean the key to the—”

“Apartment,” he finished. “Hand it over.”

“But, Ford, I’m your mother.”

“I’ve known who you are for a while now. Mom, you can’t keep doing this. Dropping in on me. You have grandkids. Go freak
them
out.”

Her dark eyes filled with emotion. “But you’ve been gone for so long. You almost never came home. I had to travel to other places to see you, and you didn’t even let me do that very often.”

He wanted to point out that she was the reason why. She smothered him. He knew that of the three boys, he was the youngest, but he’d grown up a long time ago.

“Mom, I was a SEAL. I know how to take care of myself. Give me the key.”

“What if you lock yourself out? What if there’s an emergency?”

He didn’t say anything. He kept his gaze steady and determined. She was no more threatening than a Kalashnikov, and he’d faced plenty of those in his day.

“Fine,” she said, her voice small. She pulled a key from her jeans pocket and dropped it into his palm. He closed his fingers around it.

The part of him that knew his family wanted to ask if she’d made a copy. He figured he would wait to see if that turned out to be a problem. For now it was enough that she wasn’t going to pop in when he least expected her.

“You probably want me to go,” she whispered.

“Mom, don’t be a martyr. I love you. I’m home. Can’t that be enough for now?”

She sniffed, then nodded. “You’re right. I’m glad you’re home and staying in Fool’s Gold. I’ll give you a couple of days to settle in, then call. We can go to lunch or you can come over to dinner. How’s that?”

“Perfect.”

She rose. He did the same. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. They headed for the door. She opened it and stepped onto the small landing at the top of the stairs. He’d nearly breathed the sweet air of freedom when she turned back to him.

“Did you get a chance to look at those files I sent you?” she asked. “There are several lovely girls.”

“Mom,” he began, his voice warning.

She faced him. “Honey, no. You’ve been on your own for too long. You need to get married and start a family. You’re not getting any younger, you know.”

“I love you, too,” he said, gently pushing her out the door and closing it before she could say anything else he would regret.

“I want you married, Ford,” she yelled through the closed door. “I have the applications on my computer, if you want to go through them. They’re on a spreadsheet so you can sort them by different criteria.”

She was still yelling when he reached the bedroom and closed that door, as well.

ISBN: 978-14603-1956-7

Copyright © 2013 by Susan Macias Redmond

All rights reserved. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical,
now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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BOOK: Christmas on 4th Street (Fool's Gold Romance)
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