Lucas opened the door for Randie and her grandmother on Sunday and knew he was in trouble. Randie’s grandma, tall and thin with her gray hair pulled back in a bun, squinted at him with a sparkle in her eyes. Hercules ran to greet them, and Gram cocked an eyebrow at the chihuahua.
“Is he an ankle biter?”
Randie stooped to stroke him, the chihuahua’s tail wagging excitedly. “No, he craves attention.”
“Good, you keep the dog happy and Lucas can carry things inside.”
She made it sound like a chore. How many groceries had they brought? Lucas started out the door. “How many bags?”
“Everything in the trunk.”
Randie had popped the trunk open and Lucas stared inside. A heavy, cobalt blue Dutch oven? He carted it into the house, along with a bag of groceries. “This is new. I have one of these.”
“Not a real one.” Gram motioned for him to put it on the kitchen island. “You need something with substance.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Gram motioned him back outside.
The woman was a little demanding. He carried in another bag of groceries and a slew of pots and pans. He looked at the name brand and shook his head. “I’ve heard of these. My sister has them on her wish list. I hope you plan on taking them home when we’re finished here.”
Gram was digging in his refrigerator’s produce drawer. “I already have a set. I asked Randie to wash these so they’re ready to use. We can’t take them back.”
“Want a bet? Let me give it a go.”
Gram turned to make eye contact with him and lifted her chin. “I’m a rich old woman. You’re letting me use your kitchen, but I don’t want to use your pots and pans. These are what I have at home, and I don’t want to have to bring them with me each time I need them. You are going to let us cook here every once in a while, aren’t you?”
He gave her a long, steady stare. He was being railroaded to do something he didn’t want to, and he wanted her to know that he knew it. “You’re used to getting your own way, aren’t you?”
She reached up to pinch his cheek. “You’re a sweet man. You won’t mind indulging me, will you?”
“Yes, I mind.”
Gram’s eyes sparkled even more. Was that a good sign or a bad one?
Randie stopped unloading bags and stared at him, shocked. Didn’t anyone ever argue with Gram? He’d have to be careful. He wanted to lure Randie to his house, and if that meant putting up with her grandmother, it was worth it. But he had limits. Gram was too much. “We’ll call the pans a draw. You can have your way this time, but no more.”
Gram tried to look meek. She wasn’t very good at it. “Whatever you say.” But she didn’t sound sincere.
Lucas turned to Randie. “Can you control her?”
“Does it look like it?” Randie looked especially cute today with her hair yanked back in a ponytail and not much makeup on. She could be barefoot, dressed in a gunnysack, and he’d still think she was adorable.
He gave Gram a stern glare. “I’m pretty easy-going, but you’re not going to take over my kitchen.”
She beamed at him and clapped her hands. “The last man who laid down the law to me was my dear Stan. You’re a peach. I’m going to like you.”
He wasn’t sure that was a victory, but he’d make the best of it for now. He went for his last load and spread everything out on the island. “What are we making?”
“Randie said you liked beef and noodles.”
His mouth watered. “My grandma used to make them for us. She always served them over mashed potatoes.”
Gram motioned to the five-pound bag of Yukon Golds. “That’s what Randie said. Beef and noodles take a while to fix. We should get started.”
She rolled up her sleeves. Yup, he was in trouble. This woman came here with an agenda. Before he knew it, he was put on duty, chopping potatoes. Gram explained, step by step, how she was spraying the new Dutch oven and drizzling olive oil in the bottom. Then she sprinkled salt and pepper over a chuck roast and seared it in the pan. Did his grandma do that? He had no idea. He’d been too young to cook with her. She retired to Florida before he learned any of her cooking secrets.
“While you and Randie dice onions, celery, and carrots for later, I’m going to add garlic and a package of dry French onion soup to the roast,” Gram said. “Then it goes in the oven.”
“What about the potatoes?”
“You can put them in your inferior Dutch oven and cover them with salted water. We don’t need to turn on the heat for a long time, but it’s nice to have them ready to go.”
His inferior Dutch oven. He grumbled as he filled it with water and added salt.
“My hearing is perfectly fine,” Gram told him. “You can stop fussing.”
Lord. Somehow his romantic day with Randie was turning into a bust.
She motioned for Lucas to cover the pot and lift it into the oven. “There. That has to roast for three hours or so. It has to cook until the meat falls apart. Do you mind if I ease my old bones on your couch and watch some TV while you and Randie make dessert?”
What a sly dog! She had the whole day choreographed. And she’d planned in time for him to be alone with Randie. He was beginning to appreciate this formidable old woman. He led her to the living room and turned on the TV, handed her the remote. When he returned to the kitchen, Randie could hardly hide her amusement.
“Not very subtle, is she? I think she’s something.”
“She’s something, all right.” He wasn’t quite sure what yet.
Randie wrapped her arms around him, and everything felt better. The woman was a combination of softness and curves. If her grandma wanted top dollar pots and pans in his kitchen, what was wrong with that? Dulcey was going to envy him, so maybe he’d buy her one skillet and pot at a time until she had a set. Maybe his brothers would go in with him, since Dulcey cooked all of their holiday meals.
Randie nuzzled her head under his chin. Her copper hair teased his jawline. She was a perfect fit. “Gram thought you might like some homemade peanut butter fudge and a vinegar pie.”
He frowned down at her. “A vinegar pie?” He loved fudge, but wasn’t vinegar for salad dressings?
She laughed. “The pie has an odd name, but it’s wonderful. Really.”
“If you say so.” He’d help her bake a pie that had hot sauce in it if it made her happy.
She turned and pulled a candy thermometer from a small bag. “Candy’s easy if you have one of these.”
He wouldn’t know. Didn’t care. He’d rather have her in his arms. He bought fudge and taffy when he went to touristy towns.
“Come on. I’ll show you.” Did they have to cook while Gram rested? But Randie hovered close as she walked him through each step. He’d never had more fun cooking than when she was in his kitchen.
The pie took longer than the fudge. When he bent to crimp the dough for the crust, he felt like he was all thumbs. His hands were too big. He grew frustrated, then Randie leaned forward and kissed him. He glanced at the living room to see if Gram was watching.
Randie grinned. “She’s asleep. She likes an afternoon nap. Unless we scream or you drop a pan, she won’t wake up for an hour.”
An hour. A lot could happen in sixty minutes, but then he glanced at the clock. How much time had they already lost with the fudge and the pie crust?
Randie pressed herself against him. “We probably have another twenty minutes.”
To hell with the pie filling for the moment. He bent and crushed his lips to hers. She moaned and threw her arms around his neck. A lot of kissing and petting was going on when Gram called out, “Is the pie done?”
They jerked apart.
“We just finished the crust,” Randie told her.
“Prick the bottom before you put it in the oven.” Gram reached for the throw draped over the back of the sofa. “I’m chilly.” She arranged it from her shoulders to her feet. “Do you mind if I give myself a few more minutes?”
Why hadn’t Lucas thought to cover her when she settled on the sofa?
“Take your time,” Randie called. “Everything will be ready when you wake up.”
Lucas went to grab himself a beer. He brought a glass and the bottle of zinfandel back for Randie. He felt like a kid again, like he’d been caught by Miss Weaver chewing gum in third grade. He needed to get Randie alone, just the two of them. This stop and start was torment.
She took a sip of her wine and visibly tried to compose herself. “We might as well finish this up. When Gram wakes up, she’ll want to start on the beef and noodles.”
They both got down to serious work. By the time Gram finished her nap, the desserts were cooling on the countertop along with the chuck roast.
Gram sat up and stretched her arms. “It smells good in here. Your couch is comfortable. Is everything ready to go for supper?”
“We’re ready for you,” Randie told her.
Gram pushed off the couch. “You can add the mirepoix now,” she said.
“The what?” Lucas glanced at Randie, who was trying not to laugh.
She took mercy on him. “The onions, carrots, and celery.”
“Why didn’t she just say that?”
“I did.” Gram turned on the heat under the Dutch oven and grabbed a wooden spoon to give everything a stir. “Now we’ll add the liquids.” She whisked beef broth and bouillon together, added Worcestershire sauce, water, thyme, marjoram, and parsley.
Once the soup was hot, she had Lucas add a bag of Amish noodles. Randie turned on the heat under the potatoes. When the noodles were cooked, Gram watched Lucas shred the chuck roast and add it to the noodles. By then, the potatoes were ready to drain and mash. Randie opened a can of green beans and heated them.
Gram frowned at them. “Someday, I’ll teach you how to make fresh green beans.”
If it meant Randie was in his kitchen, fine by him!
When they finally sat down and ate, Lucas had to admit Gram’s beef and noodles were the best he’d ever eaten. The fudge melted in his mouth, and the vinegar pie was delicious.
Gram reached to pat his hand. “You’re a good boy, but I’m losing energy. Do you mind if we leave you the mess to clean up?”
He grinned. “Does the mess include the leftovers?”
She laughed. “Everything in this kitchen is yours.”
His gaze went straight to Randie. She blushed, and Gram chuckled. “You’re going to have to work on that.”
He intended to. As a matter of fact, he was looking forward to it.