California Girl
casting surreptitious glances at his companion as
she admired their handiwork. Admittedly, she looked almost ethereal with her
see-through shirt blowing in the breeze, but what the yokels didn’t know, and
he was just starting to suspect, was that there wasn’t a damned thing fragile
about Alys Seagraves.
    When the boys removed the spare tire from the trunk, she
smiled so proudly at them that they straightened their backs and worked harder
to free the no doubt rusty jack. For that smile, Elliot had half a mind to
elbow the clods out of the way and show her how a real man jacked cars and
changed tires.
    But he wasn’t a teenager running on hormones. He took
another swig and let the boys prove their masculinity.
    Seeing the laughter peeking from beneath Alys’s thick fringe
of lashes as she walked toward him, Elliot crossed his arms and appreciated the
view of her swaying hips and enticing curves. He supposed he’d been young and
foolish enough to fall for a woman’s wiles once. He just didn’t remember when.
    “Verifying you still have the old sex appeal?” he asked as
she approached.
    Instead of taking insult, she leaned next to him against the
rail, crossing her arms over her breasts in imitation of him. “When I was a
kid, I was plump and wore thick glasses. My parents knew nothing about the
latest fashions, and I had no sister to teach me, so I looked like a geek. I
was happily married before I had laser surgery and learned to make myself
presentable. I never learned to flirt. Why shouldn’t I start now?”
    She said that without an ounce of whining and with such interest
that he couldn’t take offense that she was just toying with him. For the first
time, he noticed her ring finger was bare. When had that happened?
    “Because flirting is dangerous?” he asked wryly, unwilling
to analyze the meaning of the missing ring. Before she demanded an explanation,
he continued in his best radio talk-show manner, “Your husband must have been a
man of rare good sense if he married a geek.”
    She turned her approving smile on him, and he felt it clear
down to his metatarsals. Maybe it was a damned good thing he couldn’t see his
radio callers if they could spit and fry him with a single look.
    “Fred was a geek, too. A brilliant one. We met in a movie
theater showing a French film with subtitles. The theater was almost empty and
we each had attended alone. We laughed in the same places and started arguing
over cultural symbols before the movie ended. Afterward, we spent half the
night talking. I missed out on a lot by marrying young, but I’ll never regret
it.”
    Her sincerity stirred him. He understood gawkiness. He’d
been a beanpole as a teenager. But he’d always been too dedicated to his cause
to care about his dateless life. With two younger brothers and a huge
responsibility on his shoulders, datelessness had been convenient. But lonely.
    “A real-life love story, I guess.” He wasn’t certain if he
believed in love at first sight and had to wonder what would have happened had
Fred lived on as a geek while she’d turned into a butterfly.
    He winced at the sadness filling her eyes.
    “One love story a lifetime is about all I can manage,” she
said decisively.
    Remembering she’d just lost her husband, he mentally kicked
himself. He sought for something reassuring to say. “Mame was like that. She
lost her husband in Vietnam and never remarried.” Like that was helpful. Why
didn’t he just throw himself in front of moving traffic?
    She crushed her empty Coke can and leaped up, casting him
one of her laughing glances. “From the sound of it, she had three young boys to
occupy her. Why on earth would she need a man?”
    Knocked off his complacent block, Elliot remained seated
while she danced off to thank the young men jacking the car down. The spare
tire was a size too small and Beulah listed to one side.
    He’d never thought of life from Mame’s perspective. She must
have been young and widowed

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