Lucas’s week sped by until it was Friday, and it was his turn to pick up the kids again. He had to laugh at himself as he drove to Mae’s house to collect Beth. He was looking forward to spending the evening with them.
When he pulled into Mae’s drive, Beth ran to climb into his pickup.
“What are we going to do tonight?” She tossed her backpack behind her, her thoughts no longer on school, but moving to the weekend.
“Don’t know. I thought we’d play it by ear.”
“Can we play Frogger again?”
“After supper, I guess. But I bought more games, and I thought you might like Spyro, the Dragon.”
She clasped her hands together, wiggling with joy. “A dragon? Does he protect a princess?”
“He’s purple. I think he eats sheep.”
Her jaw dropped. “He’s not very nice!”
“Hey, dragons have to eat, too. They can’t graze on grass like cows. Do you want him to starve?”
She pursed her lips, thinking about that, as he pulled to the curb in front of Jordy’s school. They could hear the dismissal bell ring, and kids started filing out of the building. Randie, with her first graders, came after the kindergarten classes. It only took one glance for Lucas to know she was upset—the tenseness in her shoulders, the sharpness of her movements. Yup, something was bothering Miss Doore, but she was smiling and hugging kids as they left, just like always.
Jordy didn’t run to the pickup, but stayed close to her. He motioned for Lucas to come to them. A summons. Lucas took Beth’s hand and went to him. “Hey, buddy, are you spending the weekend at school?”
Jordy plunged right into the heart of the problem. “Miss Doore’s car has a flat tire. The custodian came to tell her. She can’t drive home.”
“Is that all?” Lucas ruffled Jordy’s hair. “I can change tires. My brothers and I drove beater cars when we first got our licenses. Between us, there wasn’t anything we didn’t have to fix.”
She shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll call a mechanic to come help me.”
“Late on a Friday? Good luck with that. Really, walk me to your car, and I’ll have your donut on it in no time.”
The second-grade, male teacher walked out of the building with his kids and came to join them. He frowned at Randie. “Is something wrong?”
She explained the problem, and he pinched his lips together. “I’ve never changed a tire, but I’ll give it a try if you want me to.”
Lucas shrugged. He wasn’t going to stick around while her cute guy tried and failed to rescue her. “I’ve changed lots of them. I’d be happy to help the two of you, but it’s your choice.”
The teacher looked at him. “You don’t think Randie and I are a couple, do you? You know that I’m engaged, right? My fiancée’s finishing her Master’s, so we can only see each other once in a while. That’s why Randie and I spend time together, just as friends.”
Randie blushed a deep red, thoroughly embarrassed. “I should have introduced you. This is my friend, Jonathan. Jonathan, Jordy’s uncle—Lucas.”
Lucas raised a brow at Jonathan and couldn’t stop a smile. “If you’re just a friend, and you’ve never changed a tire, then the choice is sort of obvious. Let me lend Randie a hand.”
Jonathan smiled, too. “Works for me. I’m driving to Bloomington tonight to see my girl, but I wouldn’t leave Randie stranded.” He turned to her. “Have a great weekend. I’ll see you on Monday.” And he left.
Randie blew out a long breath and nodded to the teachers’ parking lot. “I drive the blue Chevy with the flat tire.”
She didn’t sound thrilled about him helping her, but Lucas was enjoying himself. He’d rattled her again. When they got to her Chevy sedan, the tire was completely deflated.
Lucas shook his head. “If you kids want to play on the playground, go for it. This is going to take a minute.”
Jordy and Beth took off, and he looked in Randie’s trunk for what he needed. He jacked up the car and removed the tire in twenty minutes with Randie hovering over him. Then he started putting on the donut.
“You don’t want to drive far on this. I can follow you to a tire place or your favorite mechanic’s so you can leave the car there, and then I’ll drive you home.”
She chewed on her bottom lip. A nice, full lip. Very kissable. Lucas pushed the thought away.
“That’s really nice of you.” She struggled with some internal debate, and Lucas waited to see what won. “I’ll only take you up on that if you and the kids join me for supper. It’s the least I can do. You’ve spent a lot of time helping me.”
Jordy had wandered back to them since he saw Lucas finishing up. “What would we eat?”
She looked uncertain. “I’ve never cooked for kids. I made slow cooker lasagna. Do you like that?”
Jordy’s face lit. “I love lasagna! So does Beth. Mom used to make it for Dad.”
“And you?” She turned to Lucas.
“I’ve only had the frozen kind. Mom bought it for special occasions.”
“Then we’ll have to see how you like homemade.” She gave him her home address. “In case we get separated by traffic. I’ll drop the car at my usual mechanic’s.” She gave him the address of that, too.
They loaded into their vehicles and Lucas followed her to her car shop, and then she hopped into his backseat, and he drove to her apartment.
Jordy looked around. “It’s small.”
She laughed. “It’s perfect for one person. Easy to clean and no yard work. I spend a lot of time at my grandma’s.”
Beth’s eyes went round. “She must be nicer than our grandma.”
It hurt Lucas to hear that, but his mom didn’t deserve any better.
Randie grinned. “My grandma’s the best, but she loves to meddle. If she met you three, she’d never stop asking questions. She likes to know everything about everyone.”
There was more to it than that. Lucas had seen the matchmaker gleam in the woman’s eyes when they’d met at the restaurant. Randie gave him a sharp look. “I had to hold her back so that she didn’t come over and bother you and your girlfriend at the Gas House.”
“My ex-girlfriend,” he told her. And he could have sworn she looked relieved.
“What do you do with your grandma?” Jordy asked. “Play games?”
“We cook.” Randie led them into her tiny kitchen and lifted the lid of the slow-cooker. The aromas of spices and tomato sauce filled the room. Lucas’s mouth watered. “I put the slow-cooker on a timer so it doesn’t overcook. It should be ready to go now.”
There was no dining room table, so she dished up their plates, added salad for her and Lucas, and then they circled the coffee table in the living room to eat. The lasagna was so good, Lucas wanted to savor every bite. The kids annihilated theirs, and he realized even kids could appreciate quality.
“This is delicious,” he said.
“There’s lots more. Help yourself to seconds.”
He did. So did the kids. When they finished, he grinned. “I might come to poke a hole in one of your tires, just so I can change it and get fed again.”
She laughed. “You don’t have to earn a supper. I love to cook, love to have people over.”
“You have lucky friends.” Lucas rose to carry their dirty plates to the sink in the kitchen.
She glanced at the wall clock. “It’s still early. Want to play a game of Chutes and Ladders?”
Lucas frowned, confused.
“It’s a kids’ game,” Jordy told him. “I’ll help you play it.”
How complicated could a kids’ game be? But Lucas nodded. “Don’t let me get in too much trouble.”
Jordy was no help at all, though. His nephew had a ruthless streak when it came to winning. Not that it mattered. Once they started playing, Lucas was past help. He landed on every space where you had to draw a card, and every card he drew was bad. By the time Beth won, Lucas had six babies in the back of his game car. He’d been taxed and had to come up with money to send them all to college. He studied the game board and was happy to see there was no Poor House for debtors.
Randie laughed at him. “The game’s been hard on you. You need some dessert.”
“Dessert?” Cakes or pies could alleviate most pain.
She took a lid off a 9x13 pan to reveal brownies. “From a box mix,” she said.
He didn’t care. She cut them each a square and scooped vanilla ice cream on top. His grandma used to cook like this when she still lived in Willow Creek, before she moved to Florida. She might still cook, but he didn’t get to see her very often.
When they finished dessert, Lucas nodded for the kids to get their jackets. “Thanks for the supper,” he told Randie. “I haven’t eaten like this for a long time. You brought back memories of my grandma.”
Her expression softened. “I’m glad. I had a nice night.”
“So did I.” He went for his jacket, too, and then led the kids outside.
Jordy sighed on the drive home. “Why couldn’t her tire have gone flat on Thursday so Toby could change it? He likes girls.”
“I like girls,” Lucas protested. “And I like lasagna.”
“Uncle Toby would like Miss Doore. He might want to stay with her.”
“She’s a keeper,” Lucas agreed.
Jordy stared at him. “She’d cook for you.”
Lucas shook his head. He didn’t want Jordy to get his hopes up. “Give it a break, kid. I’m not ready.” But that wasn’t strictly true. He just worried Miss Doore would kick him to the curb. If he turned on the charm and gave it a try, could he finagle his way into her heart? Toby was a lot more fun than he was. His brother would probably have better luck with her.
He’d had a wonderful time tonight, though. Warm. Relaxing. When he’d been with Mariah, she kept him involved, on edge. She made him tired. It might be nice to be with someone you felt comfortable with. Miss Doore kept getting more and more appealing. He didn’t think he had the same effect on her, though.
When they got home, Hercules went hyper. The poor dog had been alone a long time. The message light on his answering machine was blinking, so while the kids fussed over the chihuahua, he went to see who called. His mom. His hands balled into fists. She called his home phone and left a message when she didn’t want to explain herself to him.
“Hey, son, just wanted to let you know that I can’t take the kids until two tomorrow. I’ll swing by to pick them up when I finish my chores.” Click.
Chores! Who was she meeting for brunch or lunch now? He grumbled, but let it go. What did he expect? He’d invited his brothers over for supper tomorrow night, since they were all free of the kids on Saturday. If worse came to worse, the kids would just eat with them.
Jordy and Beth had listened to the message, too, and cheered. “We get to stay here longer!”
“You can help me clean the house.”
Jordy didn’t take the bait. “We have more time to play the new game you bought.”
“Spyro? Want to try it out for an hour before bed?”
They got comfortable on the sofas in the basement, and they kept playing much longer than an hour. Lucas’s fault. He got just as much into the game as the kids. Who knew a purple dragon could hook you? They finally headed up to bed close to eleven. Lucas read a quick story to them, turned out their light, and he was asleep not long after Jordy and Beth.