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by Pauline Baird Jones
Description: Debra Kirby's boys aren't lonesome anymore, and now the long time widow finds herself pining for a bit of adventure and romance in her life. When Donovan Kincaid offers a plane ride to a friend's wedding, neither of them expect trouble, but that's just what they get. Now the "lonesome mama" is having her own adventure and her own romance--if she can survive.
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2011 London, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: February 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [65 KB]
Reading time: 37-53 min.
It was a lovely day for a barbeque, Debra Kirby decided as she sat on the swaying wood swing in her back yard. It was warm and dry, with a slight breeze to keep things from edging over into hot. Sharp and unexpected regret bit deep into her heart. How John would have loved being with his boys in the huddle around the grill. He'd have looked her direction with a proud-papa grin then stirred the pot a bit so he could see his boys strut their stuff.
No question the easiest pot to stir was middle son, Matt. The pugnacious set of his jaw made an odd counterpoint to his gentle rocking of Mark, perched on Matt's shoulders, pounding his father's head with his baby hands. John would have loved being a grandpa and watching Matt getting some of what he'd dished out as a child. Debra got a kick out of seeing her tough-minded son wrapped around a tiny, chubby, and rather grubby, little finger.
Three years of marriage agreed with Matt. He was a man at peace--except with his baby brother, Jake, who held both fork and tongs and so had all power over the state of the sizzling meat. Debra shook her head as her middle and youngest bristled at each other over the doneness, or lack thereof, of their lunch. Some habits were hard to break, even with the softening influence Dani brought to Matt's side of the equation.
Luke, like Switzerland, stood between the younger siblings, still trying to negotiate peace. As dark-visaged as Matt, but a bit taller and grayer, he'd always looked cheerful on the surface, but now the joy went all the way through. Gone were the dark days following Rosemary's death and the deep sorrow hidden by surface cheer. A year of marriage to Amelia had been good for her first-born.
That left only Jake's situation to ponder. Lighter and leaner than his older brothers, he was the only one of her sons that looked like her, though in a masculine way. She'd smiled and hid her worry when Jake married a convicted thief two years ago. Her restraint had been amply rewarded. Jake and his Phoebe were a perfect match, even if she would be on probation for another million hours or so--a fate shared by the fourth man at the grill.
With them, but not of them, Dewey Hyatt was tolerated by the Kirby boys because Phoebe considered him a brother and they liked his wife, Bryn. Bryn was in the kitchen with the Kirby wives, probably still wondering how she'd happened to fall in love with the mischievous, high-tech thief. Domesticity sat uneasily on the FBI Special Agent, but she had a compelling reason to hang with the Kirby wives--the same one that had driven Debra Kirby outside to the swing and her musings.
With four very pregnant women in one room, there was one topic of conversation. Not that Debra hadn't tried to change the subject, but like lemmings, they returned to what, Debra conceded, was a subject dear to all their pumping-for-two hearts.
Four babies and all due in the same, upcoming month. They couldn't have planned it that way if they'd tried. Debra had been grand-childless for many long years. She'd delighted at each month of Dani's pregnancy, even when Dani lost her delight and wanted relief. She'd been outside when Matt brought her the news of Mark's birth. She'd cried when she held Mark for the first time--and wished for John with a fresh, sharp ache. Now she felt overwhelmed and acutely aware that she was very much alone in the companionship stakes.
She'd hoped that sticking a toe back into the dating world with John's best friend, Henry Maxwell, would ease the odd ache that had developed around her heart after two decades of peaceful acceptance, but all it had done was make her miss John even more. Henry was a nice man, but he was almost too much like John, without managing to be enough like John to suit. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, but the heart rarely did. Henry had proposed the other night, but she couldn't see herself marrying a pale shadow of John just because she was lonely. It wouldn't satisfy her or him.
There was a stir at her back door and her three daughters-in-law and Bryn waddled out bearing condiments and accompaniments to the meat Jake was pulling off the grill. The women were followed by Amelia's father, Donovan Kincaid, with his bimbo du jour hanging on his arm. Debra bit back a grin as she watched her boys puff up like offended blow fish at the sight of the young thing tripping across the lawn in highly spiked heels and very few clothes.
"Daddy's here," Amelia said brightly and with an air of still enjoying the sound of the words in her ears. Blonde, beautiful, infinitely serene, and amazingly pregnant, she had a hint of mischief in her violet eyes and around the edges of her lush mouth. Clearly she'd anticipated the effect the bimbo would have on the brothers Kirby and was prepared to enjoy the moment to its fullest.
Debra narrowed her gaze against the high, bright sun as she studied her newest guest. This one might be the youngest yet. As if to echo that thought, Matt made some comment about asking to see her ID, that the wind chimes only partially obscured. Even Luke had trouble staying Switzerland. It was a little harder to remain neutral where his father-in-law was concerned. Debra set her grin free. There was no question that Donovan brought a rakish quality to the proceedings that was highly entertaining.
If the boys wouldn't rise to the bait so beautifully, Donovan would probably quit riling them--though maybe not. Donovan used his bimbo parade as a shield of sorts, but Debra didn't have a clue what he was afraid they would see in him or about him.
The former mercenary turned security specialist appeared both delighted and terrified by his new role as father and soon-to-be grandfather. She understood those feelings, despite the huge disparities in their life experiences. She knew how roles and appearances could obscure what went on inside. She knew that age was a physical, not mental, thing. Sometimes her brain would forget and send a signal to her legs to jump up, and then be surprised when she couldn't. It was odd to feel so out of synch with herself, to look in the mirror and see a faded, unfamiliar version of herself. The gray hair and marked-by-life face didn't reflect her innate belief that her life was still full of possibilities.
Donovan somehow managed to shift his bimbo off into the circle of young people and started in her direction. Debra was glad to put her odd thoughts aside. She liked Donovan and enjoyed spending time with someone closer to her age who wasn't taking HRT.
The sun was behind him, so she couldn't see his expression, but he walked confidently and with a hint of provocation in his easy stride. A bit of a smile tugged at the edges of his mouth. It reminded her of John, just after he'd stirred the pot.
It wasn't the first time Donovan reminded her of John, but unlike Henry, he was no one's pale shadow. Despite the wear and tear of battle, he was a good-looking man and Debra wasn't so old that she didn't enjoy the view. She'd always liked tall men, though he was whipcord lean, a stark contrast to John's stocky build. He walked with the innate confidence of someone who knew he could seriously kick ass. His brown hair might have more gray in it than when she'd first met him--most of it probably acquired during the short period Amelia had gone missing last year--but it was distinguished gray and touched with a hint of silver.
He was learning that fatherhood took a toll, no matter how late in life one came to the role. Amelia was so elated with her new "daddy" that Luke kept his opinions about daddy-dearest to himself--at least he thought he did. Amelia didn't miss much. Luckily for both men, she had a good sense of humor and a personality that spread gentle oil on troubled waters.
Debra didn't play favorites with her daughters-in-law, but Amelia was a much more relaxing companion than, say, the very turbulent, deliberately sexy Phoebe. Even pregnant, Phoebe had a lushness about her that drew her husband's eyes like a magnet. She'd lost the chip on her shoulder early in the marriage, but she wasn't above pulling the chains her brothers-in-law were wont to let dangle so temptingly in her face, particularly now when she was hopped up on hormones.
"May I?" Donovan asked Debra, indicating the empty space next to her.
Debra looked up, shading her eyes from the sun. Despite the "daddy" tag, he retained his air of rakish mystery and his crisp, military bearing. His face was roughly sculpted by nature and beat up some by life, but still managed to be charming. His twinkling gaze invited her to join him in his tweaking of her boys.
Debra smiled a welcome and shifted to give him more room. The bench gave as it took the added weight. Up close, he smelled good. She inhaled, pulling in his scent and that of her yard and the cooking food. Almost imperceptibly, she relaxed inside. She felt different when he showed up. Even an old broad like her felt a bit sexy and almost dangerous.
With the sun at a different angle, she met his watchful, gray gaze and found it, as always, surface friendly, but carefully shuttered against deep penetration. If he ever opened his gaze, what would it reveal? Amelia was probably the only person he allowed in and Debra had a feeling he even put limits on what she could see.
He relaxed back into the cushions with a sigh of relief, his sardonic gaze on the scene by the table. "For such bright boys..." He didn't finish the sentence, just shook his head and slanted her a look that was almost boyish in its mischief.
"You could just stop tweaking them," Debra pointed out.
"I could," he admitted. His date tossed her platinum blonde hair and almost tossed her breasts out of her skimpy top. "But it wouldn't be as much fun."
The expectant women looked amused, despite the bimbo's emaciation, so Debra didn't feel a need to intervene. The boys could take care of themselves, as they pointed out with annoying regularity.
"I suppose not." Debra turned to smile at him and caught him studying her, not his date, with a look in his gray eyes that was oddly unsettling.
"Amelia says you wanted to go to Phoenix next weekend?" Unlike his eyes, Donovan's voice was drowsy and relaxed.
Debra arched her brows. "I have a friend there who is remarrying, but the flights were all booked up. I took too long to decide to go."
"I'm flying there to do some business next Thursday. You're welcome to ride along. I've even got the company suite at my disposal. Two rooms," he added, as if she might think he was making her an improper suggestion.
"That's very kind, but I'd need to stay at least through Sunday night," Debra said, feeling practicality trying to stamp out hope. She longed to see her friend, who saw her as a real person, not just a role, but she'd been worried about leaving so close to her daughters-in-law delivery dates. Theresa always managed to cheer her up. It was one of those friendships that endured separation and picked up as if there'd been none. And she'd love to meet the man who lured Theresa out of her determinedly single state.
"Not a problem. I'm sure there's plenty of tourist crap for me to see. I hear they have cactus."
He grinned as he stretched out his long, lean legs and hooked his hands behind his head. He had cowboy boots on his feet, but they didn't look out of place. They were a part of who he was. His jeans looked worn and comfortable. His soft blue tee shirt added that tint to the gray of his eyes, stealing some of the cool from their depths. He wore his brown hair slightly longer than her boys and she wondered if it was soft or crisp in texture.
Whoa. She gave herself an internal shake to refocus her thoughts in a less dangerous direction. She managed to chuckle. "Well, if that gets old, I am allowed to bring a guest." Her gaze swept his sinewy length. "You'd cause quite a stir, I expect. Plenty of entertainment value."
And he wouldn't look too shabby on her arm, she had to admit, trying not to hope he'd agree. Pride was something she should be trying to stamp out, not blatantly encourage, even if it would be fun. There was one guest she wouldn't mind one-upping. She, Theresa, and Diane had all been young mothers together. Theresa's husband had left her for another woman. Diane had left her husband for a younger man. Debra didn't know why Diane had stayed in touch with her or Theresa, except for the one-upmanship factor. When Theresa had called to invite her, she'd mentioned Diane would be there, with a sigh and the caveat to "wait until you see the new husband." Donovan would be a wonderful antidote to Diane's feigned pity.
The antidote chuckled, the sound oddly infectious. "How could I resist that offer? I'll throw a suit in my suitcase."