I was incredibly happy to send DAC II off to my new editor today. She has said it would take her around a week, but that means I can still probably release it this month. So you won't have to wait very long after reading the excerpt to get the rest.
Thanks for your patience during my crazy, busy, get-married-in-the-middle-of-it year. All the wonderful encouragement emails you sent to remind me you were waiting were very, very appreciated.
Oh. . .you all are going to LOVE Walter. Happy Reading!
What kind of woman could possibly feel sorry for herself on a day as beautiful as this one? The sun was shining. The breeze was warm. Someone else was going to feed her.
Ignoring the unreasonable urge to whine in spite of all that, Jane sighed heavily instead, not once, but twice, virtually assuring the woman beside her would have no choice but notice. Was she really that desperate for attention?
“Jane? What’s the matter?” Lydia asked.
The softly offered question was laced with sympathy and had Jane sighing heavily for a third time, even though she smiled at the silver-haired beauty strolling through the park with her.
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong really. I think I’ve just been bored trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. Flipping businesses is a passion for me, not just my work. Yet nothing has caught my interest since I sold North Winds to Walter. I’m glad you and Dad asked me to tag along on your picnic today. Obviously from all the sighing I’m doing, I needed to get out.”
“Oh dear. Given all that honesty you just rained on my head, I suppose I should do the honorable thing back. If JD gets a wild hair and shoots off, Morrie and I wanted a strong pair of legs along to help chase him down,” Lydia teased.
“You and Dad are physically fit enough to handle a measly toddler. Tell me the truth. Dad’s worried because I’m not working on anything new, isn’t he?” Jane asked.
Lydia shook her head. “No. If your father is worried about you, it’s about something other than work. He invited Walter to the picnic too, but our new entrepreneur was too busy to come. Just don’t tell your father I told you about him inviting Walter. He likes to think he’s clever. . .and not being obvious.”
Jane laughed at Lydia’s revelation, but shook her head over the information. It still surprised her that her father thought Walter Graham was a good match for her. It was probably the only time in her life her father had been wrong.
“Yes, Dad does like to think he’s smarter than everyone else. But don’t worry. . .I’m used to his sneaky manipulations. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he would use my appreciation for your fried chicken and potato salad to get me here. The joke is on him though, I love watching JD under any circumstances. I keep telling Lauren and Jim to call me when they need a sitter.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “It took a second baby on the way to get Lauren to turn loose of her firstborn at all. She still wants Nanny Martha to come to the house every day. I think he needs the daycare and other children to play with so he can develop better social skills. I’m working on her over-protective mother leanings so she won’t turn out like me.”
Jane laughed at Lydia’s declaration, but felt a twinge of envy. And for the first time in many years, she seriously missed her mother. Of course, even if Evelyn Fox were still alive, there would be no grandchildren for her mother and father to argue over. Neither she nor her brother, Elijah, had gotten that far in their relationships. No—changing her non-mother status certainly wasn’t on the visible horizon as far as she could see. She would just have to remain envious of Lauren getting to expand her late life family.
“If she’s that concerned, I suppose it would be really hard for Lauren to trust an old single woman like me with her only child. She probably thinks I’m not the motherly type,” Jane said, shrugging at Lydia’s questioning gaze.
“What’s the motherly type these days? I don’t think Lauren saw herself as the motherly type until she discovered she was pregnant,” Lydia said, watching something that looked like hope flicker in Jane’s gaze, even though it faded quickly. “Do you want children, Jane?”
“Sure. Of course I do. Or at least, I did when I was younger. From the time I hit puberty, I always saw myself becoming a mother one day. You know—I thought about soccer, band practice, and a giant gas drinking van to haul that kind of life around. Maybe I missed my chance for that when I divorced my ex. I’m probably too old now.”
Lydia snorted and turned her head sideways. “Don’t think I don’t hear that wistfulness in your voice. Lauren was older than you when she had JD. I thank God every day that James Gallagher is his father. You’re smart to wait for the right man, but some take a long time to appear in your life. Just don’t let your eggs dry up while you’re waiting.”
“Don’t let my eggs dry up?” Jane repeated dryly. “Gee, thanks for that helpful tip, Lydia. Maybe you should stop trying to make me feel better now.”
Lydia’s giggle at her response made Jane giggle in return. They were comfortable enough in each other’s company to tease without exchanging ugly reprisals. As stepmothers went, Lydia McCarthy Fox was turning out to be a pretty good one. Her father was certainly happy.
“JD! Get your butt back here, boy!”
Both women turned in the direction of the voice and laughed as they watched her silver-haired father chase off after the maniacal, squealing toddler scrambling away as fast as his sturdy legs would go. In JD’s case, his legs were exceptional, and his escapes well practiced. With a mother who had black belts in several martial arts almost no one could pronounce, Jane supposed the toddler’s physical prowess was genetically inevitable.
“Looks like the wild child is on the run,” Lydia announced tiredly, fisting a hand on one hip. “That boy. . .”
“No worries, ‘Gamma’. Just save me some chicken. I’m on it,” Jane said, chuckling as she passed the picnic blanket she carried to Lydia.
Then she took off running after her recently acquired step-nephew by marriage. Thankfully she’d worn her sneakers and shorts today. Her laughter carried on the breeze as she passed up her father. “It’s okay. I’ll catch him, Dad.”
Like a marathon runner passing the torch, Morrison Fox stopped and put his hands on his knees, gathering a breath. “What are they feeding that kid? I swear he’s getting faster.”
Her father’s look of relief made Jane laugh harder, which made it nearly impossible to keep up her speed. JD Gallagher was going to grow up to be a marathon runner. . .or maybe that superhero with lightning on his shirt. Yes, that was it. Super JD, Jane decided, giggling hard at the fact that she was barely catching up to the toddler herself.
She heard his wicked laughter as JD broke into an even faster sprint, zigging and zagging a path in front of her. Now who in blue blazes had shown him how to do that?
“James Davis Gallagher. Stop running this instant,” Jane yelled, using the most commanding tone she possessed.
Up ahead, she saw JD slow only a fraction to look over his shoulder at his new pursuer. He grinned when he saw who it is was. When he turned forward again, he hit and bounced off someone’s jean covered leg. He landed hard on his chubby butt in the grass, his pull-up diaper cushioning the landing.
“Ah—oh,” Jane heard him say as she closed in at last. His understanding that he was caught and in trouble made her giggle again. She sincerely hoped she could stifle her amusement before she got to him. She had learned the hard way that being charmed by his rebellion only made JD more apt to repeat the wicked behavior.
“Darn skippy it’s ‘Ah—oh’,” Jane mimicked, between deep gulping breaths. Her dad was right. The little bugger was getting faster. “You are in serious trouble now buddy. Thanks for stopping him Mr. . .oh.”
Her gaze raised from JD to Walter Graham’s laughing blue eyes. “Hi,” she said, her hello sounding breathless and giddy. Jane hoped it was because of the chase and not because of the sexy fireman slash entrepreneur’s sudden appearance out of nowhere to save the day. What was it about him that fascinated her so much? Her mind had not figured out the puzzle yet.
And why couldn’t Walter have been older than twenty-six? His name sounded older. If she hadn’t met Harrison first, she would have thought a guy named ‘Walter’ was someone’s grandfather. As a ‘II’, he was hereditarily numbered. Why hadn’t Walter chosen to be called Harry? Lots of younger men who looked as fantastic as he did were called Harry.
“Trouble keeping up with your toddler, lady? Good thing I decided to come by for lunch after all,” he said.
Walter’s smile deepened as he watched Jane’s breasts moving up and down with her out-of-breath panting. He promised himself that one day soon he’d be causing that reaction.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” Jane declared, staring into Walter’s dancing gaze while trying to ignore the way it kept dropping to her heaving chest. Unfortunately, her breasts loved the attention, and decided to get all perky and happy to see him. She was going to have to have a serious talk with her girl parts about letting Walter affect them that way.
“Hi Jane. I’ve been missing you, too,” Walter said, grinning when she covered her breasts with crossed arms. Even her sports bra and shirt couldn’t hide her whole reaction. Turning Jane on was never a problem. Getting her to admit he caused her arousal was the bigger challenge.
“I didn’t say I missed you, Walter. I said ‘hello”. You need to quit hanging around Harrison so much. He’s trying to pass along his delusions,” Jane said.
Distracted by the Greek God statue laughing at her with lust in his eyes, she had momentarily forgotten about the toddler climbing to his unsteady, but very fast feet. Fortunately Walter had a keen eye, and obviously the ability to think clearly despite his wicked gaze dropping to her breasts every few seconds. It was a split focus she evidently lacked where watching him was concerned. Walter snatched JD up mid-sprint just as the toddler tried to run again.
“Whoa there. Your escape is foiled, dude,” Walter announced, deepening his voice as he tried not to laugh at JD’s squirming protests. He wondered if all kids were like this one. If so, he could see how they could be a lot of work.
“Hep, Gamma. Hep. He got me!” JD wailed, kicking his feet as he dangled in the air.
Jane turned to see Lydia walking calmly toward them, a toddler leash in her hand. “I be good. I be good,” JD pleaded dramatically when he saw what she held.
“You know the rules, young man. You run away. You get put on the leash,” Lydia said in her best scolding voice.
Walter laughed, then coughed trying to cover it. Jane put a hand over her mouth as she giggled again. They exchanged guilty looks as they tried to hide their amusement from Lydia, but as usual the older woman was way too sharp.
“Wait until you have children of your own one day, and then we’ll see how much laughing you two do. Walter, hold JD out for me so I can fasten this on him,” Lydia ordered.
“Yes ma’am,” Walter said politely, biting his lip as he held a now subdued, sniffling JD out to his grandmother.
Lydia fastened the straps around JD’s chest, and then nodded for Walter to set him down on the ground. Once there, JD tugged against the restraint, wanting to run again, but Lydia held him back. “Not just yet, boy-o. Apologize to Jane first for making her chase after you.”
“Orry,” JD said softly, still sniffling as he tugged against the leash.
Jane stooped down and smiled into JD’s pouty, but charming face. “No worries, buddy. I just didn’t want you to get hurt.”
She was caught off-guard when JD hurled his whole body into her arms. His fierce hug almost toppled her backwards, and then he surprised her further with a loud, smacking kiss on her cheek before turning loose. All that male enthusiasm was certainly appealing Jane thought as she hugged him back. Lauren was going to have her hands full when her son one day used that move on some unsuspecting female his own age.
“Okay. Okay. We’re good, JD. Let’s all go have some lunch now,” Jane said, petting the boy’s hair.
JD nodded in reply and turned to put his hand into his grandmother’s.
Standing again, Jane sighed as she watched Lydia and JD walk away. She heard Walter laughing softly beside her. Why did he have to be so masculine and appealing? His appeal was worse than JD’s, and his low laughter had her wondering if he possessed any moves that might surprise her. Curiosity was her major problem with him.
Despite the risk of her girl parts betraying her further, she studied Walter’s amused eyes, his smooth skin, and the way his hair fell perfectly into place. He seemed to have no awareness of how great he looked, no false bravado about the muscles bulging from his sleeves. Why couldn’t the younger man have just been a little bit older? Thirty one or two would have been okay. She could have handled that. But he was only twenty-six. It would take him four more years to even become thirty. Pushing her regrets over their age difference aside, along with all her fantasies, she turned and started walking back.
“I’ve dubbed him Super JD in my head. Lauren and Jim have my utmost respect. I don’t think I could survive mothering a child like that,” she said.
“If it’s any consolation, I’m sure any child of ours would be much better behaved,” Walter replied, sliding a look sideways to watch Jane’s reaction to his comment. As he knew it would, her suspicious gaze came immediately to his. She gave him the same look she always did when he started talking about the life they should have together.
“I think my mothering years are behind me, Walter. I’ve decided to settle for being an aunt,” Jane said.
“Super JD’s aunt?” Walter asked, snickering as they walked. “I can see how being around a child like that for very long might tempt a woman to put a gag on her biological clock to keep it from ticking too loudly.”
Jane chuckled at his surprisingly astute statement, wishing she didn’t find him so likeable. “Yes, exactly. Plus Super JD won’t necessarily be my only nephew. I have a younger brother, so more are possible. I haven’t seen Elijah in a while, but I get an email from him now and again. He’s at seminary.”
“Studying to be a priest?” Walter asked. “No. . .wait. . .that’s not right. A Rabbi?”
Jane nodded as she smiled. “You’re at least in the right religion, but Elijah is not planning to become a Rabbi. Dad was going to be one when he was young, but then he met Mom and changed his mind. He said having a family and pursuing that calling full time were too much for him to contemplate. And now that he has Lydia. . .”
She shrugged away the inference and the complication. Her dad hadn’t talked about being a Rabbi in years anyway. “Life goals change, I guess. Elijah might be considering such a leadership role in our faith, but he hasn’t said.”
Walter nodded to let her know he had heard and was taking it all in. The ability to carry on a serious conversation was one of the things he liked most about Jane. Every moment with her counted, even if they were only talking about each other’s families. He wanted Jane Fox and he liked her. She was the combination of female traits that just completely worked for him. Now he just needed to find a way to convince her of that fact.
“So what is your brother studying at seminary, if not to become a Rabbi?” Walter asked, hoping to distract himself from wanting to wrestle her arms down and find out what secrets her crossed arms were hiding from him.
Jane slowed her steps as she considered the question. “I think Elijah is trying to figure out how to get over his broken heart. His fiancée broke up with him around the same time my marriage ended. He left for seminary the week after and hasn’t been home since.”
“Tough break for both of you,” Walter said quietly, thinking about what he would do if Jane were to try to marry someone other than him. As much as he wanted her, it would probably be something that would get him arrested, or at the very least disowned by his conservative parents. Regardless, he would do whatever necessary to stop it from happening.
“Yes, it was a tough break. His breakup was worse than my divorce in some ways. Even though Mom and Dad set a good example for us, Eli and I just haven’t been as lucky in love as they were,” Jane said.
“Not lucky until now, you mean,” Walter corrected. “You’ve found the perfect pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with me, Jane. I’m going to make you a great husband.”
“Do you have any idea how much you sound like one of Harrison’s crazy schemes when you talk like that? Give it up, Walter. I haven’t gotten any younger since the last time you flirted so hard with me. There’s no audience for the joke, and we’ve had this discussion too many times,” Jane said wearily.
Sure, a few months ago she had joked with Lydia’s daughter and her friends about becoming a cougar, but inside. . .inside Jane knew she was not equipped to date someone as young as Walter. She just wasn’t the same kind of woman as Alexa Ranger. Her self-esteem wasn’t strong enough to deal with the difference in their ages. . . or their bodies.
Thirty-nine was around the corner. Turning forty next year was an even stronger motivation to keep her distance. She was already going soft in the waist. When the lines and wrinkles started owning the rest of her body’s real estate, she didn’t want to see pity in some younger man’s gaze every day. No matter how outstanding Walter might be as a sexy guy, she preferred to avoid the inevitable crash and burn that any smart older woman would see coming from involvement with someone as young as him.
Her ex had found her lacking when she was young and at her best—perpetually perky breasts included. Maybe Walter was a very different sort of man, but could a woman really tell with a man under thirty? Too bad she hadn’t met Walter before she had married Nathan. Things might have been different when she was still young and optimistic herself.
Well, except that Walter would have been a teenager and she’d have been put in jail for molesting a kid. Jane rolled her eyes and shook her head at that particularly awful thought.
“Jane. . .” Walter said her name loudly, hoping to interrupt whatever thoughts were making her frown so hard. What the hell was it going to take to convince her that he had a serious admiration for her, as well as chronic lust? If the words existed, he hadn’t found them yet.
“No matter what you say Jane, I’m not giving up on us,” he insisted, despite hearing Jane sighing over his statement. Maybe it had not been the most erudite declaration he’d ever made to her, but at least the determination in his tone matched what he was feeling. Jane’s adamant rejections of his overtures always shook his faith a little, but not enough to quit.
“Walter, you need to stop teasing me,” Jane ordered.
“Oh, I am definitely not teasing. Have you found an older guy who turns you on as much as I do yet?” he asked.
Jane huffed out a breath. She wasn’t sexually stupid, and neither was the man beside her. Walter wanted her sexually. And there was plenty of chemistry between them to make that potentiality appealing to her too. He’d already gotten her to admit it once. Maybe if they weren’t practically living in each other’s pockets with their families so close. . .but no. She just couldn’t go there either. Not even in her imagination.
It was better to keep her relationship to Walter like it was. Innocent. Friendly. Familial.
“I’m hungry. Aren’t you? I think I’ll go help Lydia set up lunch,” she said, hoping she sounded casual and undisturbed, despite her rapid, excited pulse proving otherwise.
Picking up her pace, she headed toward the picnic table where a repentant, restrained JD played with his toys under his grandparents’ watchful eyes. It was always tough to turn her back on the attraction that drew her to the man following slowly behind her.
If her dating life didn’t start to improve soon, it was going to get much harder to do, especially if Walter kept talking about babies every time he saw her. Not that she wanted babies with Walter. Babies just made her think about how they were made, a process she would definitely like to explore with him.
“I’m hungry too, Jane. Starved in fact,” Walter called loudly, not missing Jane’s stumble as she heard his words. It made him grin to see she hadn’t become immune to him yet, no matter how much his pursuit of her warred with her logic. Why was the woman fighting the attraction between them so hard? If he ever got her in bed, he was going to make sure that Jane stopped thinking of him as a kid.
Shaking his head over his carnal thoughts of how he could prove himself, Walter let his gaze follow Jane’s shapely rear to the picnic area. Her shorts showed off her muscular, attractive legs to perfection. Her streamlined thighs and toned calves offered convincing evidence that she worked out to achieve them. Admiration filled him, along with visions of Jane in a gym. She’d be sweaty, but her eyes would be twinkling. Her mouth would be firmed as she worked. Her seriousness was a constant challenge to him. It was also one of the things that turned him on most. Would he ever discover anything about the older woman that he didn’t like? Somehow he doubted it.
But obviously, he needed a better plan for finding out.