Randie slept in Saturday morning. Stirring awake, her mind replayed bits and pieces of Friday. The kids’ costume parade at school. The festival. And Lucas Cainer. The man was even more good-looking than his brothers. Probably six-four with defined muscles. Dark hair and late day stubble. She had a thing for stubble. And he was so good with his niece and nephew. If any man could interest her—which none could—it would be him.
She reminded herself that a single woman could do anything she wanted without explaining herself to anyone. She didn’t have to compromise. A plus, even if the man was eye candy plus integrity. But freedom . . . Why would she give that up?
He was wearing jeans that hugged his thighs and a hoodie last night, and she’d bet good money that he looked even better without them. She laughed at herself. A girl could look, even if she didn’t mean to touch. On that thought, she pushed out of bed. She’d promised Gram that she’d be at her house a little after noon. She could smell the brewed coffee before she padded to the kitchen. The heavens should bless the inventor of the timed coffee machine. She poured herself a steaming mug then went to her small living room and sagged onto the sofa. Her apartment could fit in the ground floor of her grandmother’s house—a bedroom only big enough for a queen-size bed, a tiny bathroom, galley kitchen, and a cramped living room.
Every Saturday morning, she watched the Food Network. She loved to cook, but cooking for one person was about as boring as watching a snail cross a street. Every once in a while, she invited Jonathan over for supper. Her fellow teacher loved food as much as she did, but his fiancée did all the cooking. Jonathan was hopeless in the kitchen. She’d been to his apartment once, and his refrigerator was stocked with frozen waffles and TV dinners. It was pitiful. Sometimes, she’d invite Kelli, too, but Kelli’s moods were all over the place right now. Sometimes, her friend just wanted to stay home and lick her wounds.
Randie got dressed and ready during commercials before she had to leave for her grandmother’s house.
Every time she pulled into Gram’s driveway, her spirits lifted. Gram lived in a classy, old neighborhood in Willow Creek. Her Gothic Revival rubbed shoulders with Tudors, Georgians, and Federal-style homes. A city park bordered the last street of houses, the one Gram lived on. When you looked out Gram’s front windows, you could watch people jog on the trails that circled the golf course.
As usual, Gram opened the door before Randie reached it. “Mornin’, girl. How was Halloween this year?”
They went to the kitchen and donned aprons before Randie told her about her previous day.
As they chopped butternut squash and leeks to make Gram’s famous bisque, Randie said, “The kids looked so cute in their costumes. Three kids came as ghosts. Their parents either didn’t have the money or didn’t take the time to buy them costumes, but in first grade, no one cares.”
“Money’s tight for lots of families now.” Gram tossed diced carrots on the baking sheet with the squash, then sprinkled them with olive oil.
Randie seasoned them with salt and pepper. Ready for the oven. While the veggies roasted, she and Gram got busy making a gingerbread cake. Gram added apple slices to hers. When they took the veggies out of the oven, they lowered the temperature and slid in the cake. The scent of ginger and nutmeg filled the large kitchen.
While Randie scooped the squash, leeks, and carrots into the blender, Gram asked, “How was the school festival? I remember those as a wonderful night for children.”
Randie told her about the angry father and how Lucas had stepped up to intervene.
“Lucas is an uncle, not a dad?”
Randie nodded, pouring the puree into a large saucepan so that Gram could add chicken broth and cream, among other things. “He and his two brothers are watching the kids while their mom’s in Arizona, tending to her father-in-law while he dies from cancer.”
“Must be a nice family.” Gram took the beef tenderloin out of the refrigerator to let it reach room temperature. “It’s not hard to take on a couple more kids when you have kids of your own, though.”
Randie put the bowl for whipped cream in the refrigerator to get cold. “No, all the brothers are single. That’s what makes what they’re doing so special.”
Gram’s eyes sparkled. “This Lucas is a bachelor?”
Randie heard the undertone in her voice. “Don’t get any ideas. He’s so good-looking, I’m sure he has a woman in his life.”
“He’s great with kids and he’s good-looking?”
“Don’t go there, Gram. He didn’t give me a second glance.”
“Then there’s something wrong with the man, but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless.”
“No, I mean it. Besides, I don’t want a man.”
“Nonsense, dear. There’s nothing better than a man to put your cold feet on when you climb into bed. Besides, if you wait much longer, your prospects will dwindle to divorcees or permanent bachelors. You have to strike while the iron’s hot.”
“Not interested.” Randie started work on the antipasto salad. She put asparagus in the steamer before adding sliced mushrooms, a can of drained artichoke hearts, and black olives to Gram’s salad bowl. She was slicing a red pepper and a sweet onion when Gram asked, “What does this wonderful uncle look like?”
Randie couldn’t keep the star-struck tremor out of her voice. “Tall, lots of muscle, dark hair, stubble . . . “
“Stubble.” Gram sighed. “He might be too much for you.”
Randie gave her a look. “I’m a teacher, remember? Reverse psychology doesn’t work on me.”
Gram chuckled. “You can’t blame me for trying.”
They finished as many foods as they could ahead of time, and then Randie kissed Gram on the cheek. “All we have to do is throw the beef tenderloin in the oven. I’ll be back at six-thirty and help you with that. Dinner’s at seven, right?”
“Wear something pretty,” Gram told her. “Maybe you’ll run into your handsome uncle when you stop to buy wine.”
“I’ve never seen him on my wanderings before. I think I’m safe.”
Gram laughed. “He’s never been shopping for kids before. He might surprise you.”