Authors: Josie Brown
Tags: #action and adventure, #Brown, #chick lit, #contemporary romance, #espionage, #espionage books, #funny mysteries, #funny mystery, #guide, #handy household tips, #hardboiled, #household tips, #housewife, #Janet Evanovich, #Josie Brown, #love, #love and romance, #mom lit, #mommy lit, #Mystery, #relationship tips, #Romance, #romantic comedy, #romantic mysteries, #romantic mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #Suspense, #Thriller, #thriller mysteries, #thrillers mysteries, #Women Sleuths, #womens contemporary
“Mom! Where have you been? We’ve been waiting here since basketball practice ended two hours ago!”
Jeff’s way of saying
Thanks, Mom for picking me up, and boy do I miss you and love you and can’t live without you
leaves a lot to be desired.
Yes, admittedly, I’m late for my turn at carpooling Jeff and his two pals, Morton Smith and Cheever Bing, from basketball practice.
Hey, that’s what happens when a hit doesn’t go according to plan.
I would have been much later, too, if a trucker hauling artichokes and Roma tomatoes from the Central Valley hadn’t been kind enough to give me a lift off the side of a lonely two-lane blacktop.
But just my luck, I hitched a ride with the only trucker in the world who sees no need to have a cell phone when he's got his trusty old Cobra CB radio, so I had no way to call Jack and let him know the mission was accomplished, sort of.
When I hopped in the trucker’s cab, he warned me he could take me only as far as downtown Los Angeles. But he changed his mind and dropped me across the street from Ratko’s office in Beverly Hills when he realized I knew every song on his
Best of Bonnie Raitt
He sighed and wiped away a tear as I finished the last mournful stanza of “Not the Only One.”
“It’s as if Bonnie is sitting right here beside me.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” I said, nodding shyly. I may not be a redhead (at least, not today) but the raspy voice was natural enough after that frigid dip in Big Bear Lake.
Little did the trucker know how much that particular song means to me. Only recently I found out about Jack’s unresolved feelings for Valentina.
To put it bluntly, I’m not his “only one.”
No doubt he’d claim the same about me. Not only did my ex, Carl, let me in on Jack’s little secret in the hope of breaking us up, he’s also made it clear that he plans on staying in my life, despite my telling him to get lost.
Even his position as number three on every terrorist watch list hasn’t kept him from wooing me, threatening me, and shooting me.
I know he’s a crack shot, so it must be true that love is blind.
Considering how many of my bullets have just grazed him, I guess I have a few unresolved issues as well.
Now that I’m on dry land and within arm’s reach, does my son even notice that I’m sopping wet from head to toe?
Nah. That would mean he’d have to look up from the video game he’s playing on his cell phone.
Okay, I can play a game as well. “So sorry! I was out Christmas shopping.”
His anger dissipates when he hears this. I can tell by the silent shrug that accompanies his quick glance into the back of my Honda SUV.
To dodge the fact that there are no store bags anywhere in sight, I ask, “Why didn’t you call you father?”
“I did! But when I told him you weren’t picking up your phone, he sounded sort of worried and hung up fast."
"Call him back and tell him I'm here." The last thing I need is for Jack to worry about me, now that I'm safe and sound.
As he hits Jack's digits, Cheever pipes up. “And my mom should be here any minute." Then he adds with a smirk, “But she sounded pissed. You know, she schedules her mani-pedi when it’s your turn to drive, so she can gossip with Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Cockhead… um, I mean Mrs.
gets the desired effect. Morton snorts the last of his Red Bull through his nose and almost chokes on it.
I wince when I hear this. Not because Morton might suffocate on my watch (frankly, a loss of oxygen to his brain may calm down the kid’s libidinous fantasies), but because it means I’ll get yet another tongue lashing from Penelope Bing for showing up late to carpool.
There’s still time to beat her fair and square. If he’s already at our house, and I fill his belly with a nourishing bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and Kraft grilled cheese sandwiches, she’ll have nothing to bitch about.
I drill the boys with my best
do as I say
look. “Jump in! Now! I’ve got a pot of hot soup and sandwiches waiting—”
“What about Mary?”
“Oh!” How could I forget my eldest daughter? Thank goodness Trisha, my youngest, had an after-school play date with her pal Janie Breck, whose mother owns the largest McMansion in Hilldale. “Well, where is Mary? I asked her to wait here, with you.”
Cheever chortles like a hyena. “Making out under the bleachers with Trevor Smith.”
Both Jeff and Morton slap their hands over his mouth. “Shut your piehole, Cheever! They paid us a buck each to keep quiet, remember?”
His bites to their palms have them yelping. “Yeah, well, I warned them. Anything under a fiver, I have a selective memory.”
Mary’s crush on Trevor Smith, Morton’s brother and the lead forward on Hilldale Middle School’s Varsity Wildcats basketball team, grows exponentially with every three-pointer he makes. The last thing I need to hear is that Mary and Trevor’s ongoing attraction for each other has gone from shyly flirtatious wordplay to outright foreplay.
I jump out of the car and run into the gym. It’s empty, but I hear moaning, and pain has nothing to do with it. I move quickly but silently under the bleachers until I spot them huddled together on the floor, eyes closed and lips pressed together.
By her fierce concentration, my guess is that it’s not the first time she’s been kissed.
This realization is both sweet and bitter for me. While your first kiss is a rite of passage that every girl dreams of, every parent contemplates it with both angst and pride. Yes, we are proud that someone sees the beauty in our child. But we dread the thought of her experiencing heartbreak, or that she may grow up much too fast, and much too soon.
When Mary fell for this guy, where was I? Doing laundry? Watching Trisha attempt pirouettes in ballet class? Saving the world from terrorists?
Wherever I was, it certainly doesn’t matter now. Neither do my feelings about it. She has a right to grow up, fall in love, and make her own mistakes.
Within reason! My goodness, she’s still twelve years old.
And in time, she’ll understand she has nothing to hide from me, that she can always share her celebrations with the one who loves her as no one else can. She will realize I welcome every rite of passage on her life journey.
Had my mother felt the same way about me? I’ll never know. She died of cancer when I was only eleven. I guess that’s why I see no reason for chastising Mary for keeping this very special memory a secret.
But I’ll break every finger on Trevor’s hand if it reaches its final destination, her breast.
“Ouch!” Trevor cries, as I yank his pinky finger as far back as it will go. “
? What are you doing here?”
At the sound of my name, Mary’s eyes pop open. When she sees me, she practically leaps straight up in the air.
“Mom! I didn’t expect you—”
“Obviously not.” I give Trevor’s hand one more hard twist, behind his back, and point him toward the exit. “Get in the car, now. Both of you. Trevor, I’m dropping you and Morton at your house.”
“No, Mom! Trevor was going to help me with my math homework!”
“I think Trevor has taught you enough for one day. Let’s get moving.”
Mary glowers, but she follows Trevor out the door.
We’re too late. By the time we’re back outside, Penelope Bing is already there. With her is her usual momtourage, Tiffy Swift and the unfortunately named Hayley Coxhead.
“So you finally remembered you’d left the children out here in the cold to fend for themselves.” Penelope’s glare could melt ice.
Tiffy’s laser-sharp gaze sweeps over me. “My God, Donna, you’re a mess! You look as if you took a swim in some lake!”
I’m envisioning what it would have been like, had she been down in the icy depths of Big Bear, as opposed to me.
Or worse yet for her,
The thought puts a smile on my face. “Sorry I’m so late. I got caught in a flash flood, east of the city. Christmas shopping. But now that I’m here, you ladies are welcomed to go back to your spa treatments.”
“As if,” Hayley mutters. “Our pedicures are ruined! See?” She arches a foot in my direction.
Her paint job looks fine to me. It’s even got some jewel inlays. A whiff of Hayley’s breath confirms my suspicions. Not only were they done with their mani-pedi’s, they had time to hit a happy hour as well.
They’re lucky I’m in a holiday mood. “Yeah, your foot is quite a mess. Let me make it up to you. Why don’t you ladies finish up with your appointment? Penelope, I don’t mind Cheever hanging with us for another hour or so. He can stay for dinner, too.”
Penelope purses her lips as she considers my generous offer. The tilt of her head brings the others into a huddle with her. If it were a full moon, I’d be convinced that I was watching the first scene in Shakespeare’s
. Granted, I don’t hear any chanting of
Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble
. Instead, they’re debating the cons of leaving Penelope’s precious cargo in my obviously not-so-capable hands with the pros of downing yet another pitcher of mojitos, possibly delivered by a bow-tied but bare-chested waiter at their favorite watering hole, the Hilldale Chippendales Club.
The waiter has nothing on Jack. This is blatantly obvious when his Lamborghini comes roaring into the parking lot.
His deep green eyes scan every face, but his boyish grin breaks out only when, finally, he catches sight of me behind the children.
In a flash, he’s out of the car. His long, muscular legs moves like pistons as he runs to me. Tall and broad-shouldered, he arches down over me as he takes me into his large, strong arms. His deep, hot kiss leaves me limp with the longing that comes with the realization that life is too fleeting, and passion is its most precious reward.
Our love spell is broken by Morton’s hiccup.
When I open my eyes, I find Jeff and his friends staring at me, as if I’m some sort of exotic creature. My son is still fascinated that there is actually someone in this world who sees his mother as an object of desire.
Mary’s look doesn’t waver either. It’s not the wide-eyed grin of her brother’s, but a scowl. “Maybe you two should get a room,” she mutters under her breath.
I know what she’s thinking. At least her display of affection wasn’t quite so public.
She’s right. The sooner we get a hold of ourselves, the better. Reluctantly, Jack and I resume the sort of practiced nonchalance that comes as second nature to parents of tweens who are embarrassed by every move we make.
It takes a moment for Penelope, Tiffy and Hayley to pick their jaws up off the pavement. They still find it hard to believe the neighborhood wet dream is married to me, the one woman who refuses to acknowledge their superiority, let alone kowtow to the petty demands they make through their fiefdom, the Hilldale Women’s Club.
“Well… I guess it’s okay, now that Jack’s home, too.” Penelope’s shrug is her way of showing me she’s doing me a favor. “Just remember my rules, Donna. Only vegan! And it’s got to be all natural. No preservatives and nothing genetically engineered or modified! And I presume you’ve already forgotten that Cheever is allergic to thin-skinned fruit, dairy, peanuts, and gluten. It’s okay, since I’ve got it all written down, somewhere.” She rummages through her purse until she finds what she’s looking for. One of the laminated cards she carries with her at all times and thrusts into the hands of teachers and play date parents, per her attorney’s instructions.
With threats of a lawsuit hanging over one’s head, is it any wonder the only thing Cheever’s hosts will offer him is a glass of filtered water?
“That’s okay, Penelope. Cheever plays at our home a lot. I’ve got several of those cards, remember?”
What I really mean is
. After the fifth one, I’ve gotten into the habit of tossing them in the trash. Besides, if Penelope saw what Cheever gobbled down when he’s out of her sight, she’d faint. But hey, she’s a mom, so short of tackling her husky little guy, I’ll gladly follow her rules.
Besides, stating the menu up front covers my ass. “I was planning on serving tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“No to the sandwiches, since they contain dairy and gluten. But he can have the soup. Feel free to double his portion.”
As portly as Cheever is, I’m guessing he’ll ask for seconds, no problem.
Despite recent Collagen injections, Tiffy attempts a frown. “Can he, really? Aren’t tomatoes a fruit? And if so, aren’t they thin-skinned?”
“Oh my God! Great point, Tiff!” Penelope tears up at the thought that she may have colluded in the demise of her own son, in front of witnesses no less. “Do you have vegetable broth, with no noodles?”
I nod solemnly.
All three of the women give sighs of relief. Tiffy’s empathy certainly wins her Brownie points with Queen Bee Bing, whereas no one doubts Hayley’s loud heave has more to do with her desire to quench her thirst and flirt with the waiter.
As they peel out of the parking lot, I glance over at Jack. “I’m so glad you showed up! I’ve got one more stop to make before the store closes. Would you mind taking the kids home?”
Even as he chastely kisses my forehead, his smile twists into a grimace. “No can do, now that you’re back on the radar with, I presume, mission accomplished.”
I toss out a thumbs-up.
“There’s another major fire to put out, Donna. Ryan wants everyone in Acme’s offices as soon as we can get there.”
“But what about the kids? And Trisha needs a pick-up, too.”
“Tell you what, I’ll get Ryan and the others to meet us at our place in, say, half an hour. In the meantime, go run your errand with this bunch, and I’ll grab Trisha from Janie’s house.”
“That works for me. The store with the only Furby left in all of Los Angeles closes in twenty minutes. If we leave now, we still have time to make it.” I turn to the kids. “Okay, gang, climb onboard. We’ve got to make one stop before we go home.”
As they scurry into the car, I grab Mary’s arm before she has a chance to climb into the back row of the SUV, next to Trevor. “You’re riding shotgun. The Smith brothers can sit all the way in the back. Jeff and Cheever, take the middle row.”