Read Can't Stand the Heat? Online

Authors: Margaret Watson

Tags: #Going Back

Can't Stand the Heat? (9 page)

kitchen, where she could hear Nick and Walker at the computer in the dining room. So far, she hadn’t understood a thing they’d said. The two blond heads were close together, staring at the computer screen as they talked.
As she watched them, leaden fear settled in her stomach. Even from the back, they looked alike.

Because they were both blond. That was all. The baby pictures were a fluke.

Maybe they weren’t.

She’d been studying Nick, trying to see any resemblance, since the first time Walker had spouted his wild assumptions. And she hadn’t seen it.

The angles of their faces were different. Their eyes were a similar color, but not the same shape. Nick’s hair was straight and Walker’s was wavy.

He hadn’t shown her any teenage pictures of his father. Would they look like Nick?

Maybe they would.

It couldn’t be. She would have known, wouldn’t she? How could a mother not know who her baby’s father was?

That’s why they have paternity tests.

If she was adamant about not testing Nick, Walker would probably give up. Especially if he got a dose of her son’s sullen moodiness.

If Nick is Walker’s son, he has a right to know.

It would do irreparable damage to his relationship with Tony. And with her. Walker wasn’t interested in the hard work of parenting. He was trying to get back at her. That was all.

“Did you say you left your car on Main Street?” she asked Walker.

“Yeah,” he said absently as he showed Nick something on the screen of his computer.

“You’re going to have to move it. Or you’ll get towed.” She smiled to herself as she added potatoes to the roasting pan.

“Why?” He turned to her.

“That’s what the signs say. No Parking During Rush Hour. And they take that seriously.”

“Rush hour? In this Podunk town?”

She slid the roast into the oven. “We get a lot of traffic in the evening. People commuting between Door County and Green Bay.”


As she cut zucchini and pea pods to stir-fry, she heard Walker say, “Start working on that code.” The front door shut a moment later.

She stuck her head out of the kitchen and saw Nick still glued to the computer. “He’s coming back?”

“Yeah. We’re right in the middle of something.”

Damn it. “You’re not done?”

“Duh, Mom. We’re, like, working here.”

“I want to see, too.” Tommy, who’d come up from the basement, dropped into the chair Walker had abandoned.

“Get out of here, Tommy. You don’t know anything about computers.”

“Yes, I do. I have computer every Wednesday in school.”

“Beat it, rat boy.” Nick shoved his face close to his brother’s. “This is my deal,” he growled. “Go play with your baseball.”

“Nope.” Tommy settled into the chair as if he’d grown roots. “This is a lot more fun.”

“Do I have to make you?” Nick said.

“You can try.” His sneer was a mirror image of his older brother’s.

“Tommy, Mr. Barnes was sitting there. You’ll have to stand behind them if you want to watch.” Jen took a breath, irritated that she’d have to break her rule about video games in the afternoon. She didn’t want her other son to fall under Walker’s spell. “Or you can play a video game downstairs.”

“Really?” His eyes widened. “Cool.” He scampered back down to the basement, and Jen sighed. Another thing to add to her Walker grievance list. She was going to have to start a second page.

, Jen,” Walker said an hour and a half later.
“Thank you.” Jen sent a smoldering look at her mother, on the other side of the dining-room table, but she pretended not to notice. Her mom had invited Walker to stay for dinner, then arranged the places so he was sitting next to Jen.
Real subtle, Mom.

He took another bite of meat and his arm accidentally brushed hers when he set his knife down. Just like he’d
nudged her knee when he’d shifted in his chair. Jen pushed her plate away.

He touched her arm, sending prickles of heat over her skin. “Could I have the gravy, please?”

“Sure.” She handed it to him. His knowing smile made her reach for a dinner roll. Instead of eating it, though, she slowly shredded it.

“Thanks for inviting me to dinner, Mrs. Horton,” Walker said to her mother. “For including me.”

If Jen hadn’t known what he was doing, she’d think he sounded almost wistful. As if he’d never eaten a family meal before.

Was she supposed to feel sorry for him? The rich man who was trying to ruin her life and steal her son?

“I told you to call me Nell,” her mom replied. She sounded delighted, and Jen closed her eyes.
Don’t do it, Mom. For God’s sake, no matchmaking.
“And you’re more than welcome. We’ll do this again soon.”

No, we won’t.
“Nick, Tommy, would you clear, please?” Jen said, too loudly.

The boys pushed away from the table, and Walker stood, too. “Can I help?”

“Sit down, Barnes. That’s the boys’ job,” Jen’s father, Al, said. “Nick’s been telling me how you’re showing your game at the Harp. What’s going on with that?”

Walker sat down again. He draped his arm casually over the back of Jen’s chair, and the warmth from his skin made her neck hot. He stilled, as if he noticed her reaction, then began talking to her father. Jen shoved away from the table, forcing his arm off the chair, and grabbed the last of the plates.

Her father could entertain him for a while. She took a deep breath as she walked into the kitchen, but Walker’s gaze burned into her back. Ignoring him, she scraped the dishes into the sink, then set them on the stained beige Formica counter.

“I’m going to make a sandwich for Walker. In case he gets hungry tonight,” her mom said, grabbing a paper plate, some bread and the mustard.

“He’s staying in a motel, Mom. What would he do with a sandwich?”

“What’s wrong with you?” Her mother studied her with suddenly narrow eyes. “You haven’t been very friendly tonight, Jen.”

“Why did you invite him?” Jen whispered. “We’re not friends.”

“He was here. We were getting ready to eat. It would have been rude not to ask him to stay.”

“Rude would have been fine.”

Her mother glanced into the dining room, where Walker and her father were deep in conversation. “Too bad you didn’t…” She clamped her mouth shut, but Jen knew what she’d started to say.
Too bad you didn’t pick him instead of Tony.
Her mother had never liked her ex-husband.

“Don’t you have to get ready for bowling?” Jen asked, trying to change the subject.

Her mom glanced at the clock. “Good heavens, yes.” She giggled. “The time just flew during dinner.”

Nell Horton didn’t giggle. Jen stared at her, feeling queasy. “Mom—” she started to say, but her mother had bustled out of the room.

“Let’s go, Al. We’re going to be late for bowling.” She smiled at Walker. “We bowl on Mondays, when Jen doesn’t have to work. We’re gone for several hours.”

Horrified, Jen watched as her mother practically hauled her husband out of his chair and up the stairs. This had to be a nightmare.

Then Walker caught her eye and grinned.
Oh, God.
She turned away and wiped the counter down. Again. How fast could she get him out of the house?

She couldn’t. Fifteen minutes later, her parents were gone and Walker was still in the living room, sitting on the couch, talking to the boys.

“Mom!” Tommy jumped up. “Do you know what Mr. Barnes used to do?”

“What?” she asked cautiously.

“He ran a fishing charter. He
all day instead of working. How cool is that?”

“I’m sure he worked hard if he was on a fishing boat.” She glanced at Walker and was surprised at the flash of anger she saw. “I don’t think it was the same kind of fishing you do with your dad.”

“Probably not,” Walker said. Maybe she’d imagined the anger, because he smiled at Tommy. “We mostly took out big groups to catch salmon. Sometimes we caught fish to sell to Tomcat’s.”

“Yeah? I’ve eaten some of your fish! Grandpa buys chubs there all the time!”

“I stopped fishing a long time ago, Tommy. Probably before you were eating smoked chubs.”

“How come? That’s the coolest job in the world.”

“Fishing is…fine…but I wanted to design computer games.”

Nick was sprawled on the floor, typing on Walker’s laptop, she noticed uneasily. As if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Fishing’s okay,” Nick said. “But I’d rather design games, too.”

“Since you both like fishing, why don’t we all go this weekend?” Walker suggested. “There won’t be a lot of fish, probably, but you’ll catch

Tommy dropped back onto the couch beside Walker. “On one of those big boats with all the fishing rods sticking up in the air? That would rock.”

“Yeah, on one of those. I’m sure I still know some of the charter captains.”

Walker was sliding right into her family. He’d already charmed both her boys.

She was still immune, thank goodness. “You’re supposed to spend the weekend with your father,” Jen reminded them.

“Dad texted me this afternoon,” Nick said. “He can’t make it this weekend. We’re going next week.”

Damn it.

“Sounds like we’re set,” Walker said. “Now, don’t you guys have homework or something?”

After a prolonged goodbye, the two boys trudged down to the basement, where Jen had set up a small study area for them next to their bedroom. “Need help getting your computer together?” she asked Walker.

“Nope. I’m good.”

“I don’t want to keep you, then.”

The silence stretched tight as she stood and stared down at him. He stared right back, slouching on the couch, making himself at home. To break the tension, she said, “Don’t worry about the fishing trip. I don’t expect you to take my sons out.”

His eyes narrowed at the slight emphasis on the word
“No problem. It sounds as though they like to fish. I’ll enjoy showing them what I used to do.”

“We’ll talk about it later.” If he was like Tony, he’d forget all about the promise.

“Fine.” She picked up Tommy’s baseball and mitt from the floor and put them on an end table. “I hope Nick was able to help you.”

Walker raised his eyebrows. “You think a couple of hours was worth a hundred bucks? No way. I may have enough money to cover the cost of the calculator, but you said this was about Nick learning a lesson.
the money to pay for his mistake.”

“I’ll give you the rest of the money, Walker.” It would hurt, since she needed every penny, but it was better than having him around the house. Especially now that her mom was on one of her matchmaking kicks.

Could this nightmare get any worse?

“I won’t take your money. The deal was Nick had to earn it. What time does he get off school tomorrow?”

“You can’t come over tomorrow. I have to work.”

“I won’t say anything to him.”

“My rules,” she reminded him. “I have to be here.”

“Okay. Then when can Nick and I get together next?”

“We’ll figure it out. Some other time. I need to make sure they’re doing their homework.”

“Go ahead and check on them.”

“You don’t take hints very well, do you? I have things to do.”

“Yeah, I got that.” He held her gaze. “What kinds of things?”

She stood there for a long moment, trying to force him to go. He ignored her.

She gave in first and descended the stairs to check on the boys. They were actually working, apparently concentrating on their schoolwork. Giving her no excuse.

She headed upstairs slowly. But when she reached the living room, Walker was gone. Thank God. The door to the porch was open, although the light was off. He must have forgotten to shut it.

She began to swing it closed, when he said, “I’m out here.”

She was tempted to lock the door. Squaring her shoulders, she stepped onto the porch.

It was cooler than the house, but not uncomfortable. Her mother had cleaned the porch for spring, and the room smelled of potting soil and the geraniums her mother had planted in the hanging basket near the window. For a moment, Jen didn’t see Walker.

“Over here,” he said, his voice soft in the semi-darkness.

He was sitting on the wicker love seat, hidden in the shadows. She could see his eyes and the darker shadow of his arms, draped across the back. He’d slouched down and stretched out his legs.

As if he wasn’t going to leave for a while.

Her heart lurched, then began a hard, relentless pounding in her chest. What was she going to do with him? How would she get rid of him?

Except her treacherous hormones didn’t really want him to leave.

“What do you want?” she asked.

He patted the cushion next to him. “Come sit down so we can talk.”

Not in this lifetime. She grabbed one of the wicker chairs and dragged it close enough to see his face, then sat on the edge. “Go ahead.”

His mouth twitched as he studied her. “I wanted to thank you for inviting me to dinner.”

“That was my mother’s idea. Next time she asks, tell her no.”

“I had fun,” he said. He sounded surprised. Be-mused.

“It was dinner, Walker. Happens every night. It’s not a big deal.”

The wicker creaked as he shifted. “In my family, we usually ate in front of the television. I didn’t know what was missing.”

“Who helped you with your homework?”

“My parents both worked. When my father got home, he was too tired to do much with me.” The wicker creaked again. “My mom, too, I guess.”

“My parents worked, too. But they were never too tired to spend time with us.”

“And now you do the same for your kids.”

Was that wistfulness she heard in his voice? He was rich and famous. He could buy whatever he wanted. “Our lives are hardly perfect.”

“Especially not when some guy is trying to muscle in on your territory, right?”

“You think that’s what this is? A turf war?” She moved her chair closer. “I’m trying to protect Nick. If he knew about this insane idea of yours, it would devastate him.”

“I have to know,” Walker said in a low voice.

“Why is this so important? Why would you even think it’s possible?”

“We had sex. Nine months later, Nick was born. That’s why I think it’s possible.”

“We used a condom.”

“An ancient condom. I’d been carrying it around in my wallet for probably three years.”

“That’s a lot of wishful thinking.”

“Hope springs eternal in the…uh, mind of a teenage boy.”

“The odds are against it. It was one time, Walker. I was making love with Tony, too.” The heat of shame burned through her, and she couldn’t meet his gaze. “Lots more than once. I was in love with him. Of course Nick is his son.”

“Love has nothing to do with making babies.”

“In this case it did.” She got up and stared out at the night through the high bushes in front of the windows. The streetlights were tiny cones of yellow behind the budding branches. “Tony and I didn’t always use a condom.”

“I thought you were one of the smart girls, Jen.”

“I was.” She stared blindly through the windows. “Love makes you do stupid things.”

“Does it?” He stood and moved behind her. His breath tickled her ear and stirred the fine hairs on her nape. “What about lust?”

“Even worse.” She wrapped her arms around her waist, remembering that day in the janitor’s closet in high school. She’d never intended to have sex with Walker. She’d just wanted to persuade him to change Tony’s grades. But her resolve had been weakened by their kisses. Completely destroyed when he’d touched her. “Lust changes everything.”

“Mmm.” He put his hand over hers, pressing it into her waist. “And it’s so much fun.”

His fingertips grazed her stomach, and she sucked in a breath. “What are you doing?”

“I remember how you taste.” She felt his erection against her rear. “How you shiver when I do this.” He nuzzled her neck and let his fingers trail down her hip. “Those tiny sounds you make when I trace your tattoo.”

Need rose inside her like a hot wave. She was drowning in it, and he’d barely touched her. What would happen if she turned around and kissed him? If she slid her hands beneath his shirt to feel his skin.

If she let herself want him.

“No,” she said.

His hands crept up her abdomen, and she put hers on top of them.

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