since I had that heart attack, I've been-"
Joe tuned out
her emotional blackmail. He didn't need a reminder of the scare
that had made him move to his parents' town just north of Kansas
City, Missouri. He did need a plan to stop his mother without upsetting
her and endangering her health, and he needed it soon. Last week
would have been good.
she continued, "I'm concerned you're heading down the same
path as your dad. You work even more than he did. You don't go out
and enjoy life."
don't have to worry about me." He unlocked his jaw to speak.
"I date all the time."
what worries me. You're always dating, never courting."
know perfectly well what I mean. You need to settle down. Stop wrapping
your work around you at night and get a wife to keep you warm."
plenty warm, believe me."
you talk smutty to me, young man."
face heated. He felt like a hormonal teenager rather than the president
of his own firm. "I didn't mean it that way."
try to sidetrack me, either. I'm going to find you a good woman."
his eyes. A good woman. Just what he didn't want. He had to do something.
Last week, she'd told his secretary she planned to meet Joe after
dinner but had forgotten the name of the restaurant. After getting
the information, she'd sent the daughter of a friend to meet him.
Unfortunately, he'd been closing a deal, not just dining. Besides
embarrassing his "date," the incident had jeopardized
an important contract. He'd done some fast talking to save the deal
and the woman's feelings.
of the women he'd dated in the past few months. Due to the demands
of getting Riley and Ross Electronics relocated to the Midwest,
too few came to mind. Since he hadn't felt a connection with his
dates, he hadn't seen any woman more than once. Work kept him extremely
sons required desperate measures. Joe took a deep breath. "Look,
I wasn't going to say anything yet because I didn't want to get
your hopes up. But I guess you've left me no choice."
never could keep a secret from me."
as memories of his teenage years flashed through his mind. If she
only knew. "I'm seeing someone. Regularly."
Skepticism laced her tone. "Just how often is 'regularly' with
your work schedule?"
been dating for three months. It's not easy to find time to get
together, but she's worth the effort. So you don't have to call
all the young maidens in the neighborhood. I'm perfectly happy."
Joe nodded, pleased with himself. That ought to do it.
not worried about you being happy, Joe. I want you to be married."
"I have to choose? I couldn't be both?"
you telling me you've proposed?"
The woman played hardball. "No."
you're not really serious?"
things take time."
He could sense a trap coming, but without knowing what form it would
take, he couldn't evade it. "How long for what?"
long do you have to date to get serious enough to propose?"
could just buy some time to reassure himself about her health. He
wanted a wife eventually, just not on his mother's timetable. Once
the company got firmly established, he'd enter Wife-Hunt in his
PDA under Things to Do. He squinted in concentration. How long had
he said he'd been dating this imaginary woman? A couple of months?
He was almost certain he'd said two.
months," he said. "Five months just to know, another to
ask her, a couple for her to decide. I'll let you know when it's
kind of woman takes a couple of months after the proposal to decide
to marry you? Maybe your father and I had better meet her."
the receiver from his ear and stared at it. He'd sprung from this
woman's loins? No wonder the electronics world considered him a
shark. She was cunning and relentless. He couldn't help but admire
the trap she'd set.
he had to get out of it. "I can't, Mom," he said. "Work,
she said in an understanding tone that raised the hairs on the back
of his neck to alert status, "this is why I worry about you
so. Too much work. If this girl can't tear you away, maybe she's
not the right one. I'll call my-"
he cut in. He didn't want to hear which friend or distant relative
she'd call. He didn't want a surprise date at the next family dinner
and especially not at his next business meeting. "It isn't
just my work, Mom. It's hers. I'm trying to be an understanding
guy, you know, respecting a woman's career."
What does she do?"
around his office, looking for ideas. He pushed aside some papers
on his desk. What would satisfy his mother?
through some file folders. One had potential. "She's a caterer.
She owns the business, so she has a lot of pressure and time constraints."
her name?" she asked with doubt in her tone.
might be convinced if he stuck with his story. He shuffled through
the proposals. The hotel would handle dinner, but he'd decided to
have dessert trays set up around the ballroom afterward. Pierre,
Antoine, Lisa, Caesar- "Lisa. She owns-" he squinted at
the paper "-Goodies to Go." He just might accept this
woman's bid to cater his company's year-end party out of gratitude.
you say Goodies to Go?" his mother almost purred. "How
extraordinary. She's catering our exhibit next week at the Garden
Society. I'll have a chance to meet her, after all. Isn't that wonderful?"
The cold steel of her trap tightened around his neck. Knowing he'd
stuck his own head in didn't help.
bakery kitchen down in her basement, Lisa Meyer jerked, spurting
pink icing across the countertop. Glaring at the chime box over
her work space, she wiped her hands and ran upstairs.
her apron on the counter as she passed through the family's kitchen.
A quick glance in the mirror had her pushing stray blond hair behind
and icing flowers called her from the basement, taunting her with
their lack of completion. She answered the door on the off chance
the children might have come home a little early, hands full of
leftover pizza boxes. Abby and Bobby were with her best friend,
Ginger, eating pizza and playing arcade games-a treat Lisa could
ill afford-and weren't due home for half an hour. Hopefully, Bobby
had behaved himself and this wasn't them coming home early due to
one of his outbursts of temper.
stood on her porch, the chill mid-April breeze ruffling his hair.
Lisa stared at him, instinctively wary of his good looks. A salesman,
no doubt, and probably a good one.
Winters next door would buy whatever he was selling just to gaze
at his attractive features. Tanned skin, hair as dark as midnight,
and deep blue eyes. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a body
to lust after in a navy pinstripe suit. A light blue shirt stretched
over his chest, bisected by a dark tie. If he had a voice to match
her imagination, he'd be trouble.
Lisa could resist temptation. Whatever he offered, she had neither
the money to buy it nor the time to listen to his pitch.
I'm looking for Lisa Meyer."
like roasted marshmallows. She firmly repressed a shiver of delight.
"How may I help you?"
widened, carving creases in his cheeks.
wishing she had some extra time and a little spare money. But she
had neither, not to call her own, anyway. She straightened her spine
and her resolve. "I'm rather busy."
don't intend to keep you long. I'm Joe Riley of Riley and Ross Electronics."
leaped. She'd tendered a bid for his company's function but hadn't
expected a personal visit from the president. Thank goodness she
hadn't been too rude.
she'd misjudged him. Just because he wore charm like aftershave
didn't mean he had to be a slick conniver like her ex, Brad. Fixing
a smile in place, she extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you."
hand encompassed hers, leaving an impression of warmth and strength.
Lisa berated herself. Business, not pleasure, no matter how gorgeous
the client. Besides, she'd learned from Brad that a handsome face
could hide a devious heart. "Won't you come in?"
the door and gestured to the couch. "Would you care for a drink?
Or would you prefer to see my kitchen?"
cold drink sounds great."
be right back." Lisa strode from the room, planning a side
trip to the bathroom to do a little primping. She needed to resecure
her hair-to comply with health code restrictions, not to impress
for the kitchen first to get their iced tea. Footsteps on the linoleum
tapped right after hers. She looked over her shoulder.
at her. "I thought I'd help."
her head as she retrieved glasses from the cupboard. "This
isn't the right kitchen. My business is downstairs."
over to the wall of windows and gazed out at her overgrown backyard
while she got out the tea. "I didn't come to inspect your bakery."
welcome to. I'm in the middle of a project right now, but you'll
find my set up immaculate."
sure it is." He turned, and his smile deepened, making those
enticing creases reappear.
show you downstairs after we've talked."
smoothed out, displaying a facade she instantly mistrusted. His
eyes remained serious, making him look thoughtful at best, if not
downright calculating. Brad all over again, but this time she wasn't
blinded by love. This time it was only business. "Shall we
sit in the living room?"
the tray with the pitcher and glasses. Lisa enjoyed the novelty
of having someone carry things for her-until he came to a dead stop
and she crashed into him. He made a gallant save of the glassware.
the matter?" she asked, moving in front of him. She expected
to find a toy on the floor, but the path lay clear.
toward her refrigerator with the tray. "You have kids."
at the refrigerator, covered with drawings, baton and soccer reminders,
and handcrafted magnets from Abby and Bobby. She didn't understand
why her having children threw him off guard. She raised her eyebrows
"I just. Running a business from your home seems more difficult
with kids underfoot."
based my business at home because I have children. It's more convenient
and saves money on babysitters. We have strict rules regarding their
presence in my bakery."
sure you do." His gaze flicked to her bare left hand.
herself straighter. "Children, but no husband. Not anymore."
tanned skin darkened. "I'm sorry."
seemed businesslike to think of a potential client as cute, but
his blush endeared him to her. Lisa led him toward the living room,
feeling his gaze on her. Every nerve along her spine prickled with
awareness. Settling in a chair across from his, she poured their
drinks. She handed one to him and said, "I assume you're considering
Goodies to Go for your company's party."
at her, then studied his glass. "Yes, we are. I'm arranging
the event myself because I want it to be special. We've had a profitable
fiscal year so far, and we want to reward our staff." He took
a sip of tea. "A few of them uprooted their lives to follow
us from California. Hopefully, the celebration will help our new
employees feel more like part of the team."
read about the success of your company. You've created quite a stir
in our little town." She raised an eyebrow. "Why did you
locate in Howard?"
partner, Dylan Ross, is from here. I grew up just east of Kansas
City. We worked for the same company in California and became friends
as the token Midwestern boys. Later we left and formed our company."
"After my dad retired, my parents remembered Dylan's stories
of its small-town charm and moved to Howard. We could relocate the
business here because the universities nearby provide an educated
workforce. It's small enough for comfort, but not too far from Kansas
City to entertain."
may have forgotten how precarious summer can be in Missouri, weatherwise.
Have you decided on an indoor or an outdoor event?"
a long drink. "I'm still looking into both options, although
with the humidity, we'll probably opt for indoors. I'll make a decision
after I analyze costs." He set his glass on a coaster on the
end table. "But I'm actually here today to discuss a different
heartbeat quickened, and she eyed him with interest. Did he want
her to cater a second party for his company? That would really help
alleviate some of the debt Brad had left her. It came to over a
million dollars, if she counted the double mortgage on the house,
and since the bank counted it, Lisa had to, as well. She needed
as much work as she could drum up.
a calming breath. Easy, girl. Wouldn't want to appear too eager.
"Would this be for your company?"
exactly. Maybe I'd better start at the beginning."
She wouldn't get her hopes up, she told herself, but, oh, how she
needed the money.
catering the Howard Garden Society's annual show next weekend, correct?"
thinking of her frosting flowers in the freezer. The exhibit would
showcase hothouse exotics. Lisa wanted her presentations to be as
impressive to the eye as they were sweet to the taste. She hoped
this commission would lead to others, not only from the Garden Society,
whose Rose Exhibit was scheduled for June, but also private parties
from the attendees. Word-of-mouth advertising was invaluable.