Read Can't Stand the Heat? Online
Authors: Margaret Watson
Tags: #Going Back
Walker shoved a twenty dollar bill at the kid who worked in the photo section. “Here, keep the change.”
He grabbed his envelope of prints and hurried to the front of the store. A blond woman stood in line, but he didn’t need to see Nick standing beside her to know who it was. The shape of Jen’s back, the color of her hair, the curve of her hip seemed to be implanted in his head.
He had a serious case of lust. For Jen Summers.
She said something to Nick, and although Walker couldn’t hear her words, her sharp tone drifted back to him. Then Nick sneered at her and said loudly, “You’re not going to open it tomorrow. But I have a test tomorrow.”
This wasn’t the kid he’d talked to about Stevie the other day. That boy had been thoughtful. Kind. Willing to do anything to help his friend. This Nick was rude, sullen and disrespectful. Had Walker been that way with his own parents? Angry and insolent? Had he been that much of a pain in the ass?
Maybe that was the reason he’d fought with his father all through high school.
What did Nick want?
And what was Jen going to open? Walker edged forward, curious in spite of himself.
“Then you shouldn’t have waited until ten minutes ago to tell me you lost your calculator,” she was saying. “The school has a loaner program. You could have borrowed one.”
“Those are for dorks and losers. No one else uses them.”
“Then you’ve got a problem, pal. I can’t give you the money.”
“That’s so unfair. You have the money.”
“Yeah, I do. But it’s already in my savings account.”
“You could take it out if you wanted.”
“Why should I?”
“Because someone stole my calculator.”
“Really?” Jen asked. “Did you report it to Mr. Breen?”
“He couldn’t do anything.”
Walker noticed the kid didn’t look at Jen.
“Translation—you lost it. So you pay for it.”
She was at the counter now, and set down shampoo that had a picture of a lemon on the bottle, and a box of allergy medicine.
“You don’t care, do you?” Nick raged. “I’m going to bomb that test, and you don’t give a sh—”
“Nick.” Jen glanced at the cashier and the people behind them in line. “You’re making a scene,” she said. “Stop it.”
Before Walker realized it, he was behind them. “Are you guys all right? Need help with something?”
Jen spun around and her face reddened. Walker had no trouble reading her expression. He was the last person she wanted to witness their fight.
“We’re fine, thanks,” she said. She shoved her shampoo and medicine to the side and grabbed Nick’s arm. “We were just leaving.”
Walker followed them out the door. This was an opening, and he was going to take it.
“I couldn’t help overhearing you,” he said, following them down the sidewalk. “Nick needs a calculator?”
“Not your business, Walker.”
Their kiss had been four days ago, and he hadn’t seen her since. The Harp had been busy over the weekend, and she’d managed to slip out each night.
Now she was acting as if it they were nearly strangers, and that irritated him. He sure as hell hadn’t been the only one affected by that kiss. He’d felt her response.
Time to remind her of that.
“It sounds as if you didn’t bring enough money,” he said, although that wasn’t what she’d said. “Can I lend you what you need? Just until you get home?”
Jen took a deep breath. “It’s not that I don’t have the money. I need it for…never mind. Nick lost his graphing calculator and he doesn’t have enough to pay for it.”
She’d just handed Walker something he could use. “How about I lend it to him?”
“No, thank you. We’re fine.” She elbowed past him, pushing Nick ahead of her. The kid’s shoulders were hunched, and Walker read embarrassment in every line of his body.
“It’ll be a loan. He can work it off,” Walker said.
“Work? For you?” Nick stopped and looked at him, his hope almost blinding. “Really?”
“Sure,” Walker said easily. “I could use some help with…” He thought quickly. “Getting ready to run
at the Harp.”
“Awesome!” The kid was practically bouncing. “I could totally do that. That would be the cherry.”
Jen pulled a ten-dollar bill out of her wallet. “Nick, go buy my shampoo and medicine while I talk to Mr. Barnes.”
He opened his mouth to protest, shot a glance at Walker and shuffled back into the drugstore.
Jen turned to him. “I can’t believe you said that. I told you to stay away from Nick.”
“Are you going to do the DNA test?”
“No. I’m not changing my mind.”
“Then this is a good way for me to get to know him. Without him suspecting anything.” Walker gave her an easy smile. She wasn’t the only one who knew how to turn the tables.
“What would ‘getting to know him’ accomplish? He’s Tony’s son. Besides, he doesn’t need a new calculator. He can borrow one from the school.”
“And become a loser? And a dork?”
Her mouth tightened. “You think this is funny? Those calculators cost almost a hundred dollars. This is a good lesson. He’ll be more careful with his stuff.”
“Maybe so, but this solves a lot of my problems. I need help setting up the game, programming to make it work on Quinn’s system.”
“I’m certain you’re more than able to do the work yourself.”
“Sure I am.”
“You’re backing me into a corner.”
“I’m trying to. Test him or let him work for me. Your choice.”
“What about those pictures you claimed you had? The ones that might look like Nick’s baby pictures. Didn’t that pan out for you?”
He held up the white bag. “Got them right here.”
“Good. Let me see them, then you can get out of our lives.”
She peered in the store window, then held out her hand. He slid the folder from the bag and passed her copies of the two photos.
She glanced at them, then gave them back. “You were a cute kid, but there’s no resemblance.”
She hadn’t even realized she was seeing two different children—him and his father. “You barely looked at them.”
“I didn’t need to.”
“I want to compare them side by side with Nick’s,” Walker insisted.
“Fine. Come over and I’ll let you.”
“How about today?”
“Good. Let’s get this over with.”
“I still want him to work for me.” He would make her see the resemblance. “You can say the pictures don’t look alike, but I still want him tested. And I want to get to know him. Or I’ll get Tony’s permission.”
“You’re a bastard.”
“I am. So what’ll it be, Jen?”
She peered in the store window, fuming. “I don’t want him spending time with a bastard like you.”
“I’ll stop pressing you for the DNA test.” For now, anyway. “I get programming help, and Nick earns some money.”
“I’ll pay for the damn calculator myself.”
He couldn’t resist pushing her. “Is it because of the other night?”
She held her ground. “What about the other night? What does walking me home from the Harp have to do with this?”
He struggled to keep the smile off his face. “Just wanted to make sure you weren’t afraid of anything.”
“You think I’m afraid of you, Walker?” She narrowed her eyes. “I know how to take care of my family. And myself.”
“Glad to hear it. Nick wants to do this.”
She looked in the window of the drugstore at Nick, standing at the counter, and her expression softened. “You’re right. He’s thrilled by the idea. You saw how excited he was. You made it so I can’t say no.”
“I’m using what I have.”
“Fine. He can work for you until he pays off the calculator. But you do it at my house, where I can watch. I’ll listen to everything you say to him.”
“Okay, we’ll work at your place.”
Nick ambled out of the store and shoved the bag at his mother with a scowl. “Here’s your stuff.”
“Thank you,” Jen said.
Walker reached for his wallet and handed Nick a hundred-dollar bill. “Go get your calculator and we’ll figure out the details later.”
Nick stared at him. “Really?” He looked at Jen. “You told him it was okay?”
“Get the calculator, Nick,” she said.
“Thanks, Mom.” He turned to Walker. “This is so awesome. Thank you, man.” He rushed into the store.
The wind ruffled her hair, lifting the tiny tendrils that had escaped her ponytail. They glittered like gold in the sunlight. “Now that we’ve agreed about Nick, let’s talk about you.”
“We haven’t agreed about anything. You forced my hand.” She shoved the strands of hair behind one ear.
“I didn’t force your hand the other night. And if you feel the urge to kiss someone again…”
“I didn’t kiss you. You groped me.” She shifted her purse to the other shoulder. “You were trying to manipulate me. It didn’t work. End of story. Forgotten as soon as I walked into the house.”
Desire punched him like a fist as he watched her fingers tremble. “Really? You put it out of your mind?”
“Completely,” she assured him. But she spoiled her airy dismissal by drawing a sharp breath when he held her gaze.
“Maybe you need a reminder.”
“Don’t think so,” she said. “When something is important, I have a very good memory.”
“Then I’ll have to make this important.”
The door of the drugstore banged open and she jumped. Nick came out, clutching a bag. “Thanks, Mr. Barnes. This was way tight of you. I needed it for a test tomorrow.”
“Left it a little late, didn’t you?” he said mildly.
Nick looked from him to his mother and his eyes narrowed. “You were talking about me.”
“We were talking about remembering things.” Walker glanced at Jen, who suddenly needed something in her purse. “Nick, why don’t we go to the diner so we can talk about what I need you to do?”
“Cool.” He stood straighter. “Is that okay, Mom?”
“You can talk at our house,” she said. “Walker probably needs to see your computer.”
“Is that okay, Mr. Barnes?” Nick asked.
“Sure.” Walker smiled at him. “Whatever your mother says. I know we both want to make her happy.”
car? The Porsche?”
“Cool. Sure, I’ll get it.” He held out his hand for the keys.
“Me, too!” Tommy shouted. “I want to see the Porsche.”
“Forget it, dork.” Nick scowled. “What do you know about cars?”
“Let him go with you,” Jen said. She didn’t want either of the boys around when she and Walker compared the pictures. Thank goodness both her parents were still at work.
“You’re not touching anything,” Nick said to his brother as they walked out the door.
As soon as it slammed, Jen went over to the bookcase and found the picture that was similar to the one Walker had shown her. It was at the back of the shelf, behind a collection of Nick’s school photos.
She spun around. “How did you know I had a picture like that one of yours?”
“Last time I was here, I looked at your photos.”
“You went through my things?”
“They were in plain sight and I was curious. Was I supposed to ignore them?”
She studied the baby smiling back at her. He’d been such a happy child, always laughing. She touched his mouth, then stuck out her hand. “Give me yours.”
He set them side by side on the dining-room table. “This is me.” He pointed to the first one. “This is my father.” He touched the second.
“The pose is the same,” she said, surprised.
“Same photography studio,” he said, tapping the name embossed at the bottom of each photo. He put the picture of Nick beside his father’s.
She moved it next to Walker’s. Walker’s face was a little longer, her son’s rounder. Nick’s nose was bigger than Walker’s. Walker’s eyes were bigger than Nick’s.
“They’re not alike at all.”
He put Nick’s shot next to his father’s. “How about this?”
Oh, my God. The two babies were almost identical. Same smile, same nose, same chin. She gripped the edge of the table and stared, her heart thundering.
“All babies at that age are unformed. Undefined. That’s what you’re seeing. Baby-ness.” Her hands shaking, she switched the photos around again, putting Nick’s next to Walker’s. Like a barker at a carnival, trying to confuse the audience and muddy the issue, she realized with another spurt of panic.
“They could be twins.”
“No. They couldn’t.”
But they could.
“You’re not seeing the similarity because you don’t want to.”
Oh, God, she saw it. And she’d think of an excuse in a minute. “You’re seeing it because you
” She gestured at the pictures. “They prove nothing.”
“Nothing that would hold up in court. Unlike a blood test.” He slid his photos back into the folder.
“Are you threatening me?”
“I don’t want to do that…”
The “but” hung in the air.
“My answer is still no.”