In "Teach Me", a summer vacation for an elementary school teacher ends up in her helping an old boyfriend from high school with a head injury. The surprise is not Murphy being stuck in the past, but rather in meeting back up with his younger brother, Grayson, who's had a secret crush on Leslie for years. Not quite a cougar story, but definitely a younger man/older woman theme.
"Her Best Mistake" is the story of a woman accidentally getting involved with the wrong brother. I love stories about mistaken identities. Plus I always wanted to do one about getting twins mixed up. And yes--this is another cougar story. What can I say?
The last piece is called "Cruising Speed". I wrote it out of guilt for not finishing "Covered In Paint" this year, but had great fun writing my favorite kind of older woman/younger man story. I wanted fans of the Art Of Love series to have a little something this year. So here is a definite cougar story, but with a motorcycle twist. You see I'm a Harley and the guy in my life is a Triumph GT. So I definitely know what it's like to be an older woman who feels like she's moving at different speed. And that's why I had to make Mikkel so irresistible that Kia just could not turn him down. The Larson males and their wives all have cameo appearances.
Leslie Mercer swung her blue Honda Civic into the old familiar driveway. She turned off the car and then just sat in the blistering July heat trying to remember why she’d felt compelled to give up her precious summer vacation for Murphy Webb. To say she didn’t want to be back here in Brenham, Texas would be an understatement, but to be back and have to deal with Murphy again seemed a worse fate.
Flipping the mirror down to check her face, she raked fingers through dark bangs that had gotten windblown on the drive from College Station. Despite the intense heat, she had needed fresh air more than cool, so the windows had been down for most of the trip. Now she was sticky and dirty, but her mind was at least clear.
She felt sorry for the Webb’s family trauma and truly sorry that a head injury had caused Murphy memory problems. Unfortunately, her memory was still very clear.
It seemed like yesterday, instead of eight years ago, that she’d caught Murphy pounding himself into Sheila Watson in his car the weekend she’d left for college. Since Murphy had declared that he wanted to marry her just the night before, the memory still stung something fierce. She had moved on certainly, but Leslie had no desire at all to take a walk down that particular old lane again, and yet here she was sitting in the car outside his house. Okay, you agreed, she reminded herself, so let’s do this.
Leslie tried to look for the positives. This was what she was constantly telling her fourth grade students at Sul Ross Elementary to do all the time. So she did what she always did to sort things out. She made a list in her head.
Positive #1: It would be good to see Mrs. Webb again. She had always been fond of her. Murphy’s mother had been much more domestic than her own mother, filling the Webb house with the smell of cookies baking or dinner cooking. Leslie had hung for her as much as for Murphy at times.
Positive #2: She wouldn’t mind seeing how Murphy’s brother Gray had turned out. He’d been fourteen the last time she saw him. Now with the ink barely dry on his civil engineering degree, she’d heard from his mother that he’d been hired by a firm in Bryan, a sister city to where she lived.
Deciding that those two positives balanced out the negative of seeing Murphy, she climbed from the car, pulled her wet clothes away from her sweaty body, and walked to the front door. Mrs. Webb swung it open and threw her arm around Leslie before she even let her inside.
“Oh, bless you, Leslie honey. Thanks so much for coming. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.” She pulled Leslie by the hand into the house. “Come into the kitchen. I just made some fresh ice tea. Gray is out back. I can’t believe you cut your beautiful long hair. I guess school teachers would find long hair hard to keep up.”
“No,” Leslie said. “I just like my hair short now and again. It grows really fast.”
“It must be at least four or five years since I last saw you. You still look as good as ever.” Mrs. Webb put the ice tea on the counter near where Leslie stood, arms folded.
“It’s been eight years,” Leslie said easily, not meaning to be unkind but feeling a need to emphasize that it had been a long time.
In the mudroom off the kitchen, Leslie heard the screen door open. A giant yellow and brown dog rambled through the kitchen moments later.
“That’s my Lucas,” Mrs. Webb said.
“Well, aren’t you a beauty,” Leslie cooed, stooping to pet the golden retriever/collie mix behind the ears. He licked her in happy abandon as she praised him. She giggled over the wet welcome, thinking it was most excitement from a male that she’d seen in a while. Sighing over her dormant love life, she hugged the dog in sincere appreciation.
Hearing shoes stomping off dirt in the mudroom, she raised her eyes to the tall, blond man who walked through the kitchen doorway moments later. Her tongue literally curled against the roof of her mouth at her first sight of the now very grown-up looking Grayson Webb.
Attractive wasn’t the right word for him, she thought, with his wire frame glasses and his outdated haircut. However, the maleness certainly radiated off him to fill the kitchen. Thinking back to the fourteen-year-old who used to talk her ear off, Leslie appreciated that Gray’s boyish energy had morphed into the man now staring at her.
Snippet from HER BEST MISTAKE
Finn Roberts tried to stand, but quickly found his legs wouldn’t hold him up. Whatever intelligence allowed him to finish two masters and one doctoral degree before the age of thirty obviously did not extend itself to helping him make good decisions when it came to his wicked brother, Eric.
“What the hell was in those drinks?” Finn demanded, grabbing the table to keep from pitching forward and falling on his face. Dizziness engulfed him and his head spun. Thirty-six hours of flying had taken its own toll. Alcohol had only worsened the resulting jet-lag.
Eric laughed, stood, and put an arm around Finn to hold him up.
“Look at you, Finn. Two girlie drinks and your ass is all but on the floor. God, I’ve missed you. I wish you’d quit digging in the dirt and come home to Boston.”
“Digging in the dirt?” Still feeling ill, Finn had to work to put the proper amount of outrage into his voice to keep up with the insult game about their chosen careers. “Well, at least it’s better than gambling for a living.”
“What can I say?” Eric admitted. “All those people with money to invest and I just love helping them with it. It keeps me in BMWs and Italian shoes. What are you doing with all those college degrees of yours, pretty boy? T-shirts and sandals don’t exactly scream success, Dr. Roberts.”
Eric laughed as he guided a grumbling Finn out of the bar.
“The dig site is in a very remote location. There’s nowhere in the middle of the desert to wear a damn suit. I told you I hadn’t had alcohol in two years, yet you have me doing shots within minutes of my plane landing. How do I let you talk me into acting so insanely? You’ve been doing this to me all our lives. Lord, I think I’m going to be sick. I just hope I hit your expensive Italian shoes when I spew.”
“Don’t you dare. I like these shoes,” Eric said as he laughed harder, halting just outside the lounge. “Okay. Stop walking a minute. Get your breath.”
Finn stopped, closed his eyes, and took a few deep, steadying breaths. When he opened his eyes again, Eric was still there holding him up, eyes full of both love and mischief.
And that’s how he always did it, Finn decided. His brother wore him down with a wicked smile and love in his eyes.
“Remember I’m bigger than you. If I fall, I’m taking you with me,” Finn warned.
“Come on, Dr. Roberts. Let’s get your inebriated ass to the room so you can sleep this off. My condo is still a renovation construction zone, so I went all out and booked you a suite here at the Copley under my name. I’m sure it won’t have the ambiance of your desert tent, but it comes with a few perks I think you will appreciate. In the morning, I’ll come by and take you to breakfast if you’re up to it. If not, we’ll make it lunch.”
“Where are you spending the night?” Finn demanded.
“You’re such a worrier, Finn. I have plans to sleep elsewhere,” Eric explained, favoring his serious sibling with a knowing grin. “Besides, there’s only one bed in the suite anyway. I’m not pulling out the sofa, even for you.”
Snippet from CRUISING SPEED
Tucking his hair behind his ears, Mikkel Gunnarsen drew in a deep breath and opened the envelope that had been shipped by courier to his office. He pulled out the sheaf of papers and saw the final judgment in his divorce on top. It stung a bit to see the divorce made a reality, but not as much as it had hurt living with a woman who confessed she had never loved him.
It had taken a year and the sacrifice of a good part of his investments, but now all his ties to Siddha were finally broken. He was a poorer man but also a free one, Mikkel decided, for whatever that was worth. At thirty-six, the end of his only long-term relationship was the kind of loss he had no idea how to recover from. Though after a year of grieving and watching Siddha wait restlessly to remarry, there wasn’t much left to miss.
His grandmother’s clock chimed on the hour from its home on his office wall and announced his next appointment was about to happen. Mikkel shoved the divorce papers back into the envelope before locking it away in his desk drawer. He would look at everything later. Maybe he would do so while he had a large glass of vodka. Right now, he had to meet an old friend and his beautiful wife. He was quite pleased to know his wild-hearted roommate from college had thought of seeking him out to help with his family’s financial needs.
Michael Larson and he were the same in many ways, and not just because their names meant the same in both their ancestral languages. They each had a restless soul, endlessly searching for peace from their striving. Mikkel figured if the wicked Michael could find someone as charming and wonderful as Carrie, then why couldn’t he find someone equally wonderful? Compared to Larson, he was an easier man and had less of a roving eye. In the last year of living like a monk, he had discovered how strong his beliefs were, especially after his ex had left his bed and gone to another man’s.
Despite his disappointment, he was determined not to dwell on his suffering. Being a positive thinker in most areas of his life, Mikkel had no intention of letting the unfaithful woman in his life ruin his romantic future. He preferred to believe that Siddha and he had simply grown apart in the decade since they had married. He truly felt no animosity. All that remained was a desire to move on as she so obviously planned to do.
Smiling at several motorcycle magazines still littering his normally pristine desktop, Mikkel grinned and scooped them up as well. Michael was the only Larson male who wasn’t a biker, and because of that was likely to give him royal hell for his intention to own a motorcycle again if he saw them. So far though, all the bikes for sale in the magazines were far too small for him, even if their used prices did fit his new and more restricted budget.
The magazines were still fun through, Mikkel decided, as he gathered them up. They inspired him to keep dreaming. And after Michael and Carrie left, he was going to spend some quality time surfing the web and seeing what he could find there. Despite the hefty certified check for the final settlement that he had handed over to his attorney earlier in the week, he had promised himself the bike anyway. His new freedom was going to start with recovering the one pre-Siddha activity he had loved. First though, he had to find a motorcycle big enough to hold his six-foot-six, two-hundred-eighty-pound bulk.
But once he had the perfect bike, then he was going to start to look for a warm and willing woman. He would look for one with a loving heart and the ability to erase the sultry, unfaithful Siddha completely from his mind.
Mikkel grinned at the lustful thought of being intimate with a woman again, one of the many that were haunting him daily now. Perhaps his divorce was making him giddy with relief. He was now free enough to look.
Of course to find a woman, he would probably have to start dating, which was a small problem. He truly hated the social necessity of going out with strangers and the rest of the awkward ritual. Dates usually ended for him with either scaring the woman with his intensity or annoying her with his personality. He knew he was loud, big, and way too bold in speaking his thoughts to be comfortable for most females. Siddha had been an exception, which was a good part of why he had married her first chance he got.
Mikkel sighed as he gave himself a short pep talk on his way to the lobby. “Maybe you will find a bike sexy enough to lure the perfect woman. Two birds, eh Mikkel?”