Jane Fox Waterfield glared in disbelief at her sixty-two year old father, Morrison Eli Fox, wondering if she needed to have him tested for mental disorders. It was the only rational explanation for his latest obsession that she could see.
“There’s just something about the woman that intrigues me, Janie. I like the way she looks so prim and proper in her expensive clothes,” he joked, laughing at his daughter’s pained expression. “Don’t you think I can charm her?”
“Dad, don’t make me laugh,” Jane said, doing just that. “Your charm is not the reason I’m cringing, though maybe it should be. I saw you chatting up Dorothy Henderson and where your hands were.”
Jane smiled when her father looked away. She knew her father was chagrined about being caught more than he was embarrassed. While she never passed up a chance to tease him about it, his flirting didn’t really cause her any concern. Her father had gone through a long dry spell when her mother died. It had forced him into an early retirement and changed his life. Now he was finally more like his old self again. How could that be bad?
Besides, how could someone thirty-eight, divorced, and who hadn’t had a real date for almost ten months judge anyone who was actually going out and taking chances. Truthfully all Jane felt about her father’s love life at the moment was freaking envy. Hating her own singlehood, Jane hadn’t figured how her brother Elijah stood his self-imposed monastic existence. But even the “celibacy-is-righteous” Elijah hadn’t found fault with their father’s serial dating lifestyle. Unlike the adult children of some the residents of North Winds Retirement Community, the Fox siblings didn’t want their still independent parent to resign himself to being lonely and alone without their mother.
Although Jane would be the first to admit that when she had taken on rejuvenating North Winds, she had only been intending to flip it and sell it, not provide her father with a whole new dating pool in the process. Still, regardless of where Morrison Fox found his women, both she and Elijah definitely wanted their father to date.
Jane’s only problem was that she didn’t want her father to waste his time on a dried up old woman like Lydia McCarthy who rarely had a kind word for anyone. Sure, the woman looked really good for her age, but that’s was about her only redeeming quality.
Thinking of her father being on the receiving end of Lydia’s bitterness was enough to give Jane nightmares. It was already challenging enough to deal with Lydia herself when she showed up to volunteer—or as Jane had come to view it—showed up to insult the residents she tried to help.
“There are tons of nice women looking for a great guy like you, Dad. Go home and watch the movie ‘Taming A Shrew’. You can stream it from the video rental software we set up last weekend. It’s Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I guarantee that movie will cure you from the urge to ask Lydia McCarthy out,” Jane said, grinning at her father.
“Jane, I’ve seen that movie. And when have I ever not been up for a challenge? Did you ever think maybe Lydia just needs a little fun to loosen her up?” Morrie demanded, not bothering to hide his laughter.
“Dad, ten pounds of prunes couldn’t loosen that tight-assed, grumpy old woman up,” Jane said frankly, laughing back.
“Well, I like prunes,” Morrie said as reasonably as he could, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing himself. “I eat them most mornings for breakfast.”
“That better not be more crass innuendo old man, I’m scarred enough already,” Jane threatened, even as she laughed. “Thinking about you chasing Lydia McCarthy makes me want to get a bunch of cats and give up men altogether.”
“Why would do that? You hate cats,” Morrie declared, not fighting the grin that lit his face. “Buy a nice dog—a big one. Then I wouldn’t worry so much about you living alone.”
“For pity’s sake Dad, this is Falls Church, not downtown DC. I’m almost forty and fine by myself. If I buy a dog, it would be too tempting to have him trained to attack Nathan Waterfield on sight,” Jane said.
“Nathan been giving you grief again?” Morrie demanded, his grin sliding away at the mention of his former son-in-law.
“Personal grief? No. But he popped by my house last week on some lame excuse that the house in the Hamptons had problems. I called the management service. There are no problems. Do I look desperate enough to settle for taking that cheating bastard back?”
“Definitely not yet,” Morrie said with both confidence and great relief. “But I have been a little concerned that his renewed interest might be the reason you gave up dating. Or is there something else you’ve been meaning to mention to me, baby girl? You know I’m open-minded about any sort of relationship. Or lack of one in Elijah’s case.”
Jane’s derisive snort had her father chuckling. If they hadn’t been at her office, she’d have blasted him with a solid round of swearing over his teasing accusations.
“Why is it that when a mature woman chooses to stop dating for a few months, everyone automatically assumes she’s turned into a lesbian? I’m just straight and picky. It’s a whole new kind of sexual problem to have. I doubt you’d find it in those Dr. Logan books you brag about reading,” Jane teased, giving her father a look that warned him to change the subject before the conversation went places he didn’t want it to go.
“Dr. Logan is an amazing woman, Janie. You ought to run down to Princeton to hear her speak. She guest lectures every few months. Maybe you could pick up a young college boy while you’re there who could remind you that life is supposed to be fun. Just make sure you throw him back afterwards and don’t get too attached,” Morrie warned, having learned that from the first few hearts he’d broken.
“Spoken like a true womanizer. Just don’t turn into Nathan. I’d hate to have to kill my own father,” Jane teased.
“I’ve learned to set dating ground rules up front, but Dr. Logan makes me believe there’s real hope for all of us—even Lydia,” Morrie said with a ever-widening smile as he noted his daughter’s frown and wrinkled forehead.
Jane gratefully pushed her chair away from her desk, enjoying her father's husky unrepentant laugh, even if it was about Lydia McCarthy.
“Do you realize we’ve talked more about our private lives in the last five years than the whole time Mom was alive? This new honesty of yours creeps me out sometimes. I’m at least trying to date now and again. Go lecture Elijah on his total lack of a sex life,” Jane said.
“Elijah is on a spiritual journey,” Morrie recited, a twinkle in his eye. “I don’t know what happened between him and Shira to send him off on it, but it must have been pretty bad to drive him to celibacy.”
“He’s as well rid of her as I am of Nathan. She got engaged to another man like the second she broke up with Elijah. Come on, I’ve had enough of this. I’m done for the morning. Let’s go to lunch,” Jane said briskly, desperate for a change of subject.
“Good,” Morrie said, clapping his hands together. “I’m starved.”
“You know, I hate to shut down access to your current dating pool Morrie, but I’m completely ready to move on to other work. It was fun saving this place, but I will be nothing but happy to sign the business over to a buyer in the next few months,” Jane said, gathering her things. “The realtor said there’s been two inquiries already, and we still haven’t had the open house yet.”
“Do me a favor, Jane. Make sure the next business you rescue isn’t so demanding of your time. You really do need to start dating again,” Morrie ordered firmly, grabbing her hand as she swung her purse over her shoulder.
“Stop worrying about my love life. It’s not my fault all the good men in Falls Church are either married or gay—as in really gay, not assumed to be by their fathers,” Jane emphasized, laughing and squeezing his hand as they walked to her father’s beloved royal blue Mercedes convertible.
“Hey I have an idea. Save a dating service next time,” Morrie teased as they slid in, happy when Jane’s initial snort over the idea turned to a laugh. “Or better yet—start one from scratch. You’ll meet tons of straight men that way.”
“Clever idea, Mr. Business Genius. Maybe I just will,” Jane said, looking sideways at one of the most handsome men she had ever known. There was silver in his Morrison Fox's hair, but his skin was clear, his jaw was firm with resolution, and his gaze lit with amusement most of the time.
She had married her ex-husband because Nathan had physically had that same kind of rugged handsomeness, but he sure hadn’t been like her father in any other way. That had been good at first, but bad during the last three years that he’d starting sleeping with his employees and clients.
“I think if I started a dating service, it would be an over forty one. Of course, we’d be competing with some major online services, so we’d have to be unique in our offerings. You can run the sixty and up group since you’re gaining all kinds of senior dating experience,” Jane informed him with a smile.
Morrie sighed and laughed as he swung the car into the restaurant parking lot. “Maybe I make dating look easy honey, but it’s really hard to find love at my age,” he said softly.
“It’s not easy to find love at my age either, Dad. I can hardly remember how it was to trip over it when I was younger. Now I'm too cynical and on-guard to want to date. How does anyone over forty ever do it?” Jane asked.
“Not sure. Fortunately, you still got a couple of years before you reach the age of needing ten pounds of prunes to loosen you up,” Morrie teased, hugging Jane as they walked into the restaurant laughing.
It had taken Lauren almost a year to be willing to come back to this particular restaurant with her mother. She had missed the great Italian food, but not her mother’s negative company while she ate it. If Regina hadn't encouraged her to give her mother another chance to be her friend, Lauren knew she still wouldn't be here. The only reason she had agreed was that Dr. Regina Logan was rarely wrong about anything.
“Mother? Who are you staring at?” Lauren asked, digging into her pasta.
“Jane Wakefield just came in with her womanizing father,” Lydia said with a sniff. “I don’t feel safe going to North Winds to volunteer anymore with that man roaming about the place all the time.”
Lauren laughed. She couldn’t help it. “Why? Has that man done the unpardonable and actually asked you out?”
“Absolutely not,” Lydia said, huffing at the idea. “I would never tolerate that kind of thing from some strange man I don’t even know.”
Lauren turned around to take a look at the womanizing, strange man in question whom she saw was happily chatting and laughing with his daughter. She felt a tug of envy for their easy family conversation, then sighed and told herself to just let it go.
“Well, you can relax, Mother. I don’t think he’s interested in you,” Lauren said flatly, returning her attention to her plate.
“It’s no wonder you stayed single all those years,” Lydia said, giving her attention to her food while keeping a watchful eye on Morrison and Jane. “Of course, Jane’s single too. Harrison Graham still lives at North Winds. He said Jane was divorced from a wealthy guy who still owns a whole string of carpet cleaning services. Women just can’t seem to hold on to their men these days.”
Lauren rolled her eyes and sipped her wine. “Maybe her ex-husband wasn’t worth the strain on her arms.”
“You’re so droll in your humor dear,” Lydia remarked.
“At least I have a sense of humor, Mother,” Lauren said, smiling back. “Could I maybe enjoy the rest of my pasta without hearing running insults of people I don’t really know? I try only to insult people I've actually met.”
Lydia sighed. “You’re right. I apologize. The disgrace Morrison Fox makes of himself is not a proper topic of conversation for our lunch. Tell me about my grandson instead. Is JD liking his daycare?”
Lauren snickered about her mother using her son's nickname. They had named him James Davis, but her mother had been calling him JD almost from the beginning. Calling him Jamie or Dave hadn’t even had a chance to happen.
“Because of his bigger size, JD plays with the two year olds instead of toddlers his own age. He has now learned to yell at the top of his lungs and does so at every opportunity,” she reported, amazed when her mother genuinely laughed. Her son was the only human on earth who seemed to have that kind of effect on her mother.
"I agree JD is quite the spirited child for only fourteen months," Lydia said. "Do you think he likes going?"
"What’s not to like? You and Jim have him enrolled in the most expensive, fun-filled daycare in town,” Lauren grumbled.
“Jim and I both agreed that the security they offered at that daycare was needed. After all Lauren, you married a very, very wealthy man. You need to take a few more precautions in your life now,” Lydia said.
“Martha was doing just fine with JD at the house. We could have brought kids in to play with him,” Lauren said sadly. “I miss him popping in on me, even those three days.”
Lydia’s heart warmed. Lauren was such a good mother. It made her hopeful that she hadn’t made a complete mess out of Lauren’s life with her own haphazard parenting. She reached over and rubbed Lauren’s hand.
“You are a wonderful mother. Those three days are good for both of you,” Lydia said sincerely.
Lauren’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You think I’m a good mother?”
Lydia nodded and swallowed a bite of her excellent pasta. “One of the best I’ve ever known. Much better than me, actually. I had no idea what to do with you when you were born. Thank heavens your father could afford a nanny to help me.”
“Mother—you just gave me a compliment,” Lauren declared, still in shock.
Lydia laughed softly. “Of course I did, I compliment you all the time,” she said.
“No—no you certainly don’t, but this one makes up for the past,” Lauren said, reaching across the table to hold her mother’s hand. “Thank you for saying it. Sometimes I don’t always feel like a good mother.”
“Darling, you’re a poster child for the best mother and wife in Falls Church,” Lydia said expansively, teasing in her exaggeration, but it also held a lot of truth. Lauren was truly wonderful at both.
Lauren let go of her mother’s hand and reached for the wine glass by her mother’s plate, lifting it to her nose and taking an exaggerated sniff.
“What brand of wine is this? Did the wait staff slip a happy pill in here? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were plotting against you,” Lauren said, mostly teasing.
What started out as a choked giggle, turned into a full blown belly laugh that embarrassed Lydia when it echoed loudly through the entire restaurant. Fortunately, it was starting to empty of the lunch crowd that had filled it for the last hour.
“Will you stop going on and on? You’d think I never said anything nice to anyone. Maybe I’m getting mellow in my old age. If so, you can thank JD for it. I love being a grandparent. Make me some more grandchildren like him and maybe I’ll think of more nice things to say,” Lydia said.
Lauren shook her finger. “I knew you were up to something. I want to wait until JD is two before I go through all that again. That’s not that long from now.”
“Then you might want to go easy on the pasta until you get pregnant again, dear. You know how hard it is to lose baby weight. Good thing you’re tall enough to hide that extra twenty pounds you gained with JD and still haven't lost,” Lydia said.
Lauren sighed and laughed. “I knew it was too good to last. I should have recorded you being nice with my new phone. No one is ever going to believe me and tomorrow I won’t even believe it myself.”
When Lydia laughed at her daughter’s teasing again, she felt strange eyes on her. She looked across the room and straight into Morrison Fox’s interested gaze.
Her smile fell away, turning to a frown when the man smiled back knowingly and waved. Morrison always gave her the impression that he knew things about her no one else did. No matter how preposterous such a reality seemed, Lydia still kept her guard up when he was around, just to be safe. She couldn’t imagine why in the world the man was so interested in her.
Lauren looked over her shoulder and was treated to a wave as well. She returned it with a smile before turning back to her mother’s shocked face.
“Okay—maybe Mr. Fox is interested. He looks nice, Mother. How old is he? Around sixty?” Lauren asked.
“Several of the women residents say he’s a touchy-feely kind of guy—likes to hug—that sort of thing,” Lydia said stiffly. “They seem to find his behavior appealing. It’s definitely not for me.”
Lauren turned back to look at her mother. “Why not? He’s handsome and looks fun. I think you should date him if he asks you out.”
“Don’t be silly,” Lydia said firmly. “Why would I?”
“I don’t know,” Lauren said thoughtfully, knowing better than to mention again that the smiling man looked like he’d be fun, which really left only one reason her mother might actually say yes. “Is Mr. Fox wealthy? Maybe he’d be a good catch.”
Lydia snorted. “Darling, at sixty-seven my ‘catching’ days are well over.”
“Mother, you need to look in the mirror more often,” Lauren said. “You exercise. You have your hair done. You know you look much younger than you are and you’re still very attractive. You’re going to look great for another two decades at least if you keep up what you’re doing.”
“Thank you dear,” Lydia said, pleased that her daughter thought so highly of her. God knew it cost her enough money and effort to keep it true. “Let’s just eat and hope the rude man stops staring.”
Morrie turned his attention to his pasta again with a smile. He could all but feel Lydia keeping a discreet eye on him. That had to mean she was interested on some level. What would it take to get her to go out, he wondered?
“Stop plotting,” Jane ordered, fighting not to laugh at the determination in her father’s gaze. “You’re flirting is bad enough. That woman with her might be her daughter.”
“So? I’m just waving, Janie,” Morrie said easily. “Haven’t you ever waved at a friend across a restaurant before?”
“Morrison,” Jane said, using his proper name and tilting her head as she glared. “That glaring woman is not your friend. She barely nodded to you when you said good morning to her earlier at North Winds.”
Morrie laughed at his daughter’s consternation.
“Well, we’re not friends yet Janie, that’s why I waved,” he said, fighting to keep his tone reasonable. “No wonder you’re not dating. You've forgotten how to send out friendly signals.”
Jane pinched off a piece of breadstick and threw it at her father who had already turned back to stare at Lydia McCarthy with longing on his face.
“If you don't stop looking at her that way, Lydia will be in my office tomorrow demanding I do something about you,” she whispered in mortification, leaning her head on her hand in exasperation when her father caught Lydia's gaze again and winked. “Holy hell, Dad.”
Morrie turned back to his swearing daughter with a broad smile. “I believe that’s an oxymoron dear. If you’re going to swear, you need to learn to just let it rip.”
“I only swear around you when you’re acting this way. Now stop.”
Jane rolled her eyes when he didn’t turn around. Leaning back in her chair, she shook her head, hoping some other female caught her father’s interest soon before he did something to Lydia McCarthy they were all going to regret.