Randie still felt fragile on Monday, but she was germ free. If she walked into the classroom, enthused and motivated, she could catch up on lesson plans before Thanksgiving break.
The kids settled in their desks, and she gave them a big smile. “We got behind last week because everyone took turns being sick, including me. But if you study the charts on the board, we can catch up if you all kick into gear.”
She pointed to the top chart. “We have to do five writing pages before Thursday. Can you do that?”
They pulled out their books and flipped to the right page. They got started while she collected lunch money and took attendance. Then she pointed to the second chart. “Seven reading workbook pages before Thursday. That’s a lot. We’d have to be super heroes to get that many done.”
When she started the first reading circle, the kids were concentrating on their workbooks. After lunch, she didn’t give them printed-out sheets, but let them have extra time to work in them, too.
“Math’s going to be the big challenge. We need to do five pages of problems. If we don’t finish all of those, we’ll try again after Thanksgiving.”
But every time a kid finished one assignment, instead of going to a learning center in the room or reading or goofing off, he took out another work sheet. Randie grinned at them and gave them a thumbs-up.
When class ended, she applauded them. “You guys are warriors. You’re attacking your assignments. I think you deserve cupcakes tomorrow.”
That got them excited. And when they walked into class the next day and saw the bakery boxes on her file cabinets, they grabbed their writing books and hit the ground running. She rarely awarded treats for good work. They were motivated enough, but she planned on pushing them hard before their Thanksgiving break, so they deserved some recognition. The kids dug in even harder, and they flew through work. After lunch, she passed out a cupcake to each kid. At the end of the day, the pile of papers they usually turned in was lots higher than usual. “If these papers are good work, you deserve a cookie and ice cream.”
“Really?” Robbie’s eyes went wide.
“Can you finish everything by the time you leave tomorrow?”
The class nodded in unison.
“Then you’re awesome, and you’ve earned an extra treat before your four days off.” They’d over eat for Thanksgiving anyway, and when they returned on Monday, it would be work as usual.
By the end of the day, she looked at the stacks of homework pages and felt pretty sure the class had caught up to where they should be on their lessons. And she was right. When she finished grading the last work sheet later that night and recording them in her grade book, after two weeks of the flu, her class was back on track.
She stopped at the grocery store before she drove to teach the next day and bought cookies from the deli and a bag of small containers of ice cream. She passed them out during her story time at the end of the day, and the kids left happy for their four-day vacation. She and Jonathan said their goodbyes before he drove home to grab his duffle bag and head to Bloomington to see Priscilla. They’d have four days together.
She smiled and went home to get ready to drive to Lucas’s house. Tonight, she was cooking with him so that his family would have a nice Thanksgiving. She took more time than usual getting ready. She played with her hair and makeup, then changed into jeans that hugged every curve and a V-necked, clingy top that showed lots of cleavage. She packed her car with all the things that she and Gram would need to make a meal for their family at Lucas’s house. Tonight, she’d help Lucas and early tomorrow morning, she’d pick up Gram to put their twelve-pound turkey in his oven and then get started on the stuffing and sides for their small family.
When she walked into Lucas’s kitchen, she stopped and stared. A huge turkey sat in a roaster on his kitchen island. She stared at him. “How big is that?”
“Twenty pounds. It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” He smiled with pride. Obviously, to Lucas, bigger was better.
“Who’s coming to your meal again?”
He counted them out on his fingers. “Dylan, Toby, me, and the kids.”
“Five people.” She shook her head at the giant bird. “I thought we’d decided on a ten-pound turkey.”
“But they were on sale. I got this for a dollar a pound.”
She sighed. The man was going to have left-overs for months. “The bigger the bird, the longer it takes to cook it. Let’s say fifteen minutes a pound, so that means we need to have it in the oven for about five hours. You planned your meal for two in the afternoon, like ours, right?”
He nodded, studying the naked bird. “So, I have to put it in at nine in the morning?”
“That’s not too bad.” She relaxed a little. The thing looked so big, she had visions of him starting it before dawn. “It takes a while to prep it, and you need to preheat the oven, so you should start work on it at least a half hour before that.”
She shoved the step-by-step recipe to him, and he frowned at it. “All I have to do is cut lemons and onions in fourths and shove them inside the cavity. I can do that. But how do you stick butter under the skin?”
She showed him, and he blinked in surprise.
His gaze kept going to her cleavage until he focused on his cooking. “Okay, I can handle that, too. And then just smear the whole thing with olive oil and season it, right?”
“That’s it. Now let’s put them in the refrigerator to dry out overnight, and then we can start on our pumpkin rolls.”
He made it look easy to lift the heavy turkey onto a refrigerator shelf, followed by her twelve-pound bird. Muscles rippled under his snug T-shirt. “What’s a pumpkin roll?”
“A pumpkin sponge cake with a cream cheese filling. We’ll each make one, and I’ll walk you through it.”
His kitchen was a cook’s dream. A six-burner stove with a serious hood took up the center of one wall. Two built-in ovens hugged the far corner. A deep farmer’s sink and dishwasher sat under the side window, and a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer took up a third wall. The large island sat in the center.
“Who designed your kitchen?” she asked.
“I did. I wanted a house that could hold all my friends and family. Mariah loved to entertain, but she wasn’t crazy about cooking. I like to spend time in the kitchen, and I thought someday, we’d have even more people over if my brothers got married and had families.”
He was better in the kitchen than she’d thought. She’d brought her hand mixer with her, and he used his while they beat eggs until they formed ribbons when they lifted the beaters.
“I like cooking together,” he told her. “I’m going to buy another mixer so I have two.”
“Why would you do that? How often are you going to invite people over to cook with you?”
He grinned at her, and her knees felt shaky. The man looked as delectable as any of the food spread around them. “Maybe I can tempt you to give me lessons more often.”
He could tempt her without even trying. She licked her lips, and his gaze flicked to her mouth. Her voice sounded husky when she said, “I’d be happy to teach you new recipes.”
“What’s next on the agenda tonight?”
“We need to finish the pumpkin rolls.” They added their dry ingredients to their bowls, then she showed him how to line rimmed baking sheets with waxed paper and spray those. Once the cakes were in the oven, they cleaned their bowls and started the cream cheese fillings. The cakes only baked for fifteen minutes before they turned them onto kitchen towels sprinkled with powdered sugar and rolled them up to cool.
Lucas followed in her footsteps, but looked dubious. She could tell he thought his cake would be crumbles when he opened the towel. When she showed him how to open it and spread it with the filling, then roll it again and put it on a serving platter, he looked amazed.
She smiled to herself. She’d wanted something that would make him take notice. He looked at her.
“This is amazing.”
She shrugged like it was no big deal. “Some people would rather have pie. I’m taking it easy on you this time. I brought store-bought crusts. What did you decide to make for your family?”
“Chocolate pudding with a whipped cream topping.”
Relief flooded through her. “Easy.” And twenty minutes later, she’d made the filling and topping while the crust baked. He’d bought three boxes of Stove Top stuffing, like she’d suggested, so that would be easy for him tomorrow. They each made a green bean casserole that they could just reheat tomorrow, and then they worked together on a seven-layer salad for each of them.
While they chopped lettuce and onions, his gaze kept returning to her cleavage. They were dicing celery when he nicked his finger and had to bandage it. He grimaced. “It’s my own fault. I can’t stop staring at your boobs.”
She laughed. “Good, or I’d have worn this sweater for nothing.”
He stared. “You wanted me to look?”
“I didn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“This?” He held up his bandaged finger. “Collateral damage well worth the view.”
Before she knew it, he’d circled the kitchen island and wrapped his arms around her.
“You have no idea how attractive you are.” His gaze returned to her lips, and she tilted her head for a kiss.
When his lips met hers, zings bounced through her body. The kiss started friendly enough, then deepened until her toes probably curled permanently. Her arms rose and circled his neck. She pressed herself against him, and his tongue slid to touch hers. Her breath caught. Could you die from lust? His hands moved to her back and neck as his kiss became more passionate. Then his fingers moved to her cheek and jaw, slid down her neck. Her nerves grew so taut, she thought they might snap. And suddenly, he stepped back, releasing her.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t rush things with you. I’d do things at your pace.”
“Screw that.” She pulled him to her again, stood on tiptoe, and pressed her lips to his again.
This time, his lips teased her jawline, then found the base of her throat. His left hand cupped her breast while he kissed his way to her other breast. His fingers played with her nipple while he nipped and licked through her lacy bra. Her core tightened, on alert. She wanted more. More pleasure. More of him.
And then the doorbell rang. Lucas’s head jerked up, and he hurried to the other side of the island before Toby came bopping into the kitchen, carrying a big-ass ham. He grinned when he saw Randie. The kids rushed in behind him. They circled her and started chattering.
She tried to catch her breath and concentrate. Lord, what did she look like? Was she flushed? Her hair a mess?
Toby dropped the giant ham on the kitchen island. “Lucas said you’d taken mercy on us and come to help him cook tonight. One of my customers gave me a big ham for the holiday. It’s too much for me, so I thought I’d drop it off to see if you guys can add it to the menu tomorrow.” His words slowed and he stopped to study them. He looked at his brother’s strained jeans and his grin grew wider. “Um, sorry. Bad timing. I’ll just leave the ham with you, and the kids and I will take off. You’re busy cooking.”
Jordy tugged on her hand. “Happy Thanksgiving, Miss Doore.”
“I hope you have a wonderful day, too,” she told him. She bent to hug them both.
Toby patted Lucas’s shoulder. “Sorry, bro. Happy cooking!”
Lucas mumbled something under his breath, and Toby and the kids left as quickly as they came.
Randie sighed. The mood was ruined. “We might as well finish the salad now. Then we can look at the ham.”
He didn’t argue. A half hour later, they each put a salad in the refrigerator for tomorrow and she’d explained to him how to make the ham.
“Have you eaten supper?” he asked when they’d finished. “I can order something in or we can go out.”
Order something in? Would they brush hands and arms again? Kiss and make out? She was ready to vote for that when her cell phone buzzed and she saw Kelli’s text flash.
Are you free tonight? I’m sort of down. Could use some company.
She sighed and showed Lucas the screen on her phone. His lips pressed together and he nodded. As she grabbed her sweater to leave, he said, “Have a great Thanksgiving.”
“You, too.” As she walked out the door, she wanted to shake her fist at the heavens. They’d come so close to touching and groping, her body ached for more. What excuse could she use to spend time with Lucas again? There must be something.
But on her drive to Kelli’s house, she came up blank. Kelli was leaving to visit her parents early tomorrow morning. She wouldn’t return until later on Sunday. But by then, Thanksgiving would be over and Lucas would be watching Jordy and Beth. Their moment had passed.