Read Can't Stand the Heat? Online

Authors: Margaret Watson

Tags: #Going Back

Can't Stand the Heat? (5 page)

If he spent enough time with him, Walker would know, wouldn’t he? He’d be able to tell if the kid was his son.

“Why do you think he’s yours? Other than his birthday?”

That moment from the wedding replayed in Walker’s head, as it had done a hundred times already. A young Roy Barnes grinning at him. “He looks like my dad.”


“I saw him smile. He looked just like my father.”

“You’re delusional. He looks like my mom. Their baby pictures are identical.”

“You don’t think it’s a little too coincidental that he’s into computers?”

She made a scoffing sound. “Most kids his age play computer games.”

“Do they try to write them?”

“Nick’s not doing that.”

“Do you know what he’s doing with the computer?”

“No. He tries to explain it, but I don’t understand what he’s talking about. I’d understand if he said he was writing games.”

She leaned against the car and yanked off her baseball spikes and socks. She threw them into the bag and pulled out a pair of flip-flops. The tiny pink-and-yellow flowers on the straps were vivid next to her pale skin. Her toenails were painted bright red, and she curled them into the green shoes. When he looked up, she was watching him.

Her chest beneath the damp T-shirt rose and fell a little too fast.

“While I’m getting to know Nick, I’ll find some pictures of myself as a baby. We can compare them to yours. If they look alike, will you agree to the DNA test?”

“No. Why do you need him to be your son?”

“You don’t think I have the right to know if I have a child? To have some say in his life?” Was he trying to change history? Trying to be a different father than Roy Barnes? Maybe. But he would make sure any child of his could follow his own dreams.

“A lot of babies look alike, Walker.”

“Yes or no, Jen. If the pictures match will you agree to the test? Since you’re so sure it will be negative, what do you have to lose?” In the distance, he saw Nick and Tommy trudging across the grass.

She picked up the gym bag and stuffed it through the open window. “He’s not your son, Walker. Now get out of here before they get back to the car.”

any arugula.” Jen flipped two burgers and a chicken breast a little too hard. “Isn’t it kind of early for the tourists?”
“You’re touchy tonight.” Maddie leaned against the counter and watched her shrewdly. “Would it have anything to do with Walker Barnes?”


Her friend laughed and headed for the door. “He’s still asking about you. I thought you guys might hit it off. He’s perfect for you.”

“In what universe would that be?” Jen shoved the spatula under one of the burgers and it flew off the grill and onto the floor.

“The one where you’re so flustered when I say his name that you drop food.”

“Knock it off, Maddie.” She tossed the burger into the trash and slapped another frozen patty on the grill.

“He’s going to be here awhile. He asked Quinn if he could demo his new game in the pub.”

“Yeah? When’s he doing that?” She held her breath, waiting for Maddie’s answer.

“In about a month,” her friend said airily.

?” She dropped her spatula. “How long does it take to throw a game into a console and put it on a screen?”

“He said he’s got some work to do before it’ll be ready.”

She couldn’t work here for another month with Walker hanging around every night. Maybe Pat at the bank would give her the loan for her restaurant now if she agreed to a higher interest rate. She could save some money if she bought used kitchen equipment. She’d have Nick search eBay and Craigslist for what she wanted.

Walker’s presence in Otter Tail was turning out to be a good thing. The nudge in the back she needed.

No. There was nothing that would make Walker’s presence palatable.

Jen could feel Maddie’s gaze on her, but she pretended to be busy at the stove. “Why don’t you get to know him?” her friend finally said. “Go on a date. You remember those, don’t you?”

A date with Walker. Right. “Just because you drank the happily-ever-after Kool-Aid doesn’t mean the rest of us want to.” She plated slices of meat loaf and garlic mashed potatoes, then slid the two meals onto the stainless-steel table.

“What’s wrong with him?” Maddie put the food on her tray. “He’s good-looking, fun, smart. Rich. What’s not to like?”

“Deliver the specials before they get cold, Mrs. Murphy.”

That distracted Maddie, as Jen had known it would. “Don’t call me that. Maddie Murphy sounds like a soap-opera actress.”

“It’s your name, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t change my name and you know it.” Maddie lifted the tray. “Maybe after we have kids.”

She backed through the swinging door. “We’re not done with this conversation,” she called as she disappeared into the noisy pub.

“Oh, yes, we are,” Jen muttered.

Unbidden, she thought about that moment on the baseball field when she’d caught Walker staring at her after she’d changed her shoes. For an instant, she’d imagined desire in his clear green eyes. And her treacherous body had responded.

That’s what happened when you lived like a nun.

But it hadn’t been just some random guy who’d stirred her desire. It had been Walker’s butt in those biking shorts. Walker’s muscles beneath the jersey. Walker’s scent.

How pathetic was that? He’d laugh his ass off if he knew. Then he’d figure out how to use it against her. How to use it to make her agree to a DNA test.

That could never happen. Nick and Tony already had a tenuous relationship. They fought over sports, over Nick’s time on the computer, over his friends.

Nick had a serious case of hero worship for Walker. If he had any idea what Walker was thinking, it would irreparably damage his relationship with Tony.

And Tony. He didn’t know she’d actually had sex with Walker. If he found out, he wouldn’t let it go. Every time they fought about anything, he’d throw it in her face.

wasn’t in her ex-husband’s vocabulary.

As she was about to slide the burger and another chicken breast off the grill, Jorge, the dishwasher, yelled,

A blast of water hit Jen in the back. She yelped and spun around to see Jorge holding the hose attached to the sink. It writhed like a snake, spewing water in all directions. “Turn off the water!” she called.

By the time he got it off, she and Jorge were both soaked. He had somehow managed to kink the hose, and it had sprung a leak.

Jen swiped her wet hair out of her face. “Get the mop and clean this up,” she told the young man. “And don’t look so worried,” she added, softening her voice. “It was an accident. It’ll be fine.”

The swinging door to the pub opened and Walker stepped in. “Jen? You okay?”

She shoved her dripping ponytail over her shoulder and it landed with a wet slap. “Just peachy.” She reached for a sponge and crouched next to the grill. “Patrons aren’t allowed in the kitchen.”

Walker took the mop and bucket from Jorge and said something to him in Spanish. The young man’s shoulders relaxed and he returned to the sink.

“What are you doing?” Jen asked Walker.

“Cleaning up the mess.” He swabbed the floor as if he knew what he was doing, wringing out the mop and moving on to another section before she could object. His biceps bunched and flexed, and the T-shirt he wore pulled taut across his chest as he worked.

She shook her head and let the sponge soak up some water. It was a pitifully small amount, but she walked gingerly across the wet floor and squeezed it into the bucket.

As she headed back to the grill, Walker barred her way. “Let me get it. You’ll be here all night with that sponge.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Jorge and I can clean it up. Get out of here.” She made shooing motions with her hands, but he continued to mop.

“Jorge needs to dry all those dishes. You have food cooking.”

The burger and chicken were smoking. She dumped them into the garbage, then threw fresh ones onto the grill. She’d wasted a lot of food tonight.

“Where did you learn to mop like that?” she asked as she watched Walker.

He pushed down on the wringer hard enough to make water squirt into the air. “My father had a fishing boat.”

Had she known Walker’s father was a fisherman? Had she bothered to find out anything about him, other than his skill with a computer, before she had sex with him?

She reached blindly for plates and buns. So much pain, so many consequences for one stupid, thoughtless act. Tony had lost the career he’d wanted so badly, Walker had lost his scholarship and Jen had lost her self-respect.

Maddie stuck her head through the door. “Those are the last two orders,” she called. She glanced at the walls, still dripping water, and the bucket in the middle of the floor. “What happened?”

“Minor leak,” Walker answered.

“What are you doing back here?”

“Cleaning it up. I was walking past the kitchen when all hose broke loose.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “That’s lame, Barnes.”

“Programmers don’t have a sense of humor. It’s part of the job description.”

The door closed behind Maddie, but not before Jen saw her friend’s smug smile.

“We appreciate the help,” Jen said. “But I’ll finish.”

“You can take over when you’re done cooking.” He wrung out the mop once more, then grabbed her sponge and began to wipe the walls. By the time she’d plated the two orders and shut down the grill, he’d dried the room.

“Thank you, Walker,” she said as she began her closing routine. “Tell Quinn he owes you a couple of beers.”

“Are you going to have one with me?”

“Sure,” she said easily. “I’ll meet you up front.”

“I’ll wait and help Jorge.”

“You don’t have to do that. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

He tossed the sponge in the bucket and wandered over to the dishwasher. “I haven’t fallen for that kind of line since…”

He paused, and she glanced at him. His expression was easy to read.
Since you asked me to change Tony’s grade.

She pushed harder at the metal blade she used to scrape the grill. He was right. She’d planned to sneak out the back door again.

Jorge was working on his last load of dishes when she wrapped up, and Walker was leaning against the wall. Waiting for her. She grabbed her jacket and purse from the hook at the rear of the kitchen, then paused. If she slipped out the back, Walker would just follow her. The best strategy would be to go out the front and lose him in the crowd.

She tried to walk through the swinging doors, but Walker caught her arm and leaned close. Too close. “If you try to leave, I’ll tell Maddie I’ve asked you on a date and you refused.”

Her friend would hound her mercilessly. She’d dig for details. Jen couldn’t bear the constant reminder of what she’d done to Walker so long ago.

“That’s a lie.” His hand was warm on her arm, his fingers slightly callused. She let his warmth sink into her muscles, her bones, for a long instant before she pulled away.

“Go out to dinner with me,” he said promptly.


“There. I’d be telling her the truth.”

Two could play this game. He was trying to throw her off balance. Since Jen was quite sure he was no more interested in her than she was in him, she’d go along with him. Turn the tables and make him think she was pursuing him.

Then she’d watch

Looping her arm through his, she smiled to herself at his surprise. “Let’s go have that beer.”

as they stepped into the noisy crowd. What was going on?
One minute he’d been needling her, and the next she was acting all chummy. As if she actually wanted to have a drink with him.

He knew she’d been planning on bolting out the back door. He’d seen her eyeing it. Now she slid onto one of the stools at the bar and smiled at Quinn.

“I’ll have a Leinie, boss.”

“Me, too,” Walker said.

Quinn glanced at the two of them, and Jen edged closer to Walker. Beneath the smell of beer and grilled onions in the air, he caught the tang of lemon in her hair. When he leaned a little toward her, the subtle scent of her skin drifted over him.

“Here you go.” Quinn set the two beers on the marble bar and smiled. “You want some company or do you want to be alone?”

Instead of bristling at the implication, Jen smiled back. “Hard to be alone in a room full of people.”

What the hell was she up to?

Quinn grinned. “I’ll let you two figure out the logistics.” He moved away from them.

“What are you doing?” Walker demanded.

She lifted the glass of beer and took a drink. “Having a beer,” she said, setting it on the coaster. “What does it look like?”

This was about Nick, and about convincing Jen to let him do a DNA test. Walker had figured if he irritated her enough, she’d give in just to get rid of him.

Instead, he was sitting on a bar stool too close to her, drinking a suddenly tasteless Leinie.

“Tell me about Nick,” he asked.

Her hand tightened on the glass, but she said, “What do you want to know?”

He wasn’t even sure what questions to ask about kids. “Um, whatever you want to tell me.”

Her smile was amused, as if she’d read his mind. It faded as she centered her glass in front of her. “He’s a typical teen. Always testing the limits,” she said quietly. “But a good kid. He doesn’t like sports, but that’s Tony’s fault. He pushed too hard, and Nick finally rebelled.”

“He likes computers.”

“He loves computers. He’d spend all day and all night on his, if I let him.”

Walker absorbed the information and realized it wasn’t nearly enough. The same things could be said about hundreds of boys Nick’s age. Walker wanted to know what was beneath the surface.

What kind of person he was.

What parts of Nick might have come from Walker.

He wanted to look at Nick and see himself.

And wasn’t that a kick in the ass? He’d never thought about having kids. Never even considered it.

Not even with his ex-fiancée. They hadn’t talked about children. And now he hungered for information about a boy he’d never even known about.

Jen finished her beer and stood. “Thanks for the drink, Walker. I have to get going.”

He slid off his stool. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

“I didn’t drive.” He saw the instant she realized the trap. “So sit back down and enjoy your beer.”

“I’ll take you home.” He finished the last of it. “We’re having so much fun, I don’t want the evening to end.”

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