Read Laugh Online

Authors: Mary Ann Rivers

Laugh

BOOK: Laugh
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Laugh
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Loveswept eBook Original

Copyright © 2014 by Mary Ann Hudson

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

L
OVESWEPT
and colophon are trademarks of Random House LLC.

Cover image: © Geber86/Getty Images

eBook ISBN 978-0-8041-7822-8

www.ReadLoveSwept.com

v3.1

For Eliza Kay.

You were the first one to make me laugh in a new city.

You were the first one I told I would have the chance to make a book.

When the world would have challenged your laughter, after your beautiful boy was born, the boy I held at his newest, you let the world hear how loud your laugh could be.

It’s not just the chickens in your backyard that inspired this story—it was your friendship, too.

Chapter One

Sam Burnside reached into his car’s console for a pack of cigarettes, and instead found a crumpled stack of overdue parking tickets.

He had given up cigarettes two years ago, but his right hand was still surprised not to close around a slick cellophane-wrapped box of smokes.

Clearly it wasn’t his higher executive functioning that was in charge this morning.

That never boded very fucking well.

He needed every neuron of his higher executive functioning he could recruit or marshal with his morning dose of Adderall.

He hiked up his hips, sweat sticking his T-shirt to his back, to pull his phone out of his pocket, thinking he’d thumb through his mail while he waited. Except there wasn’t a phone in his pocket. He had forgotten to charge his phone last night, then meant to grab it with his car charger this morning, then left it on his kitchen counter where it would be just as dead when he finally got to it this afternoon.

Goddammit.

This isn’t where he wanted to be on a Saturday morning.

Though, lately, trying to sleep, he wasn’t sure where he wanted to be.

Or maybe he wasn’t sure where he belonged.

Lacey, his partner in the low-income health clinic they were opening, had decided that his helping her on Saturdays was “too much,” but he didn’t think that meant he was actually too much
help.

He was pretty sure that meant he was too much, in general. He was really good at a particular kind of too much that was, in fact, not enough at all.

He remembered the first time his parents told him that he would be a big brother and that he would have to be extra good, and a help, and an example.

He was a big brother three times over, and he felt as solemn about his duty to his family as he did when he was a kid.

He also felt more and more certain that the more he did try to help and to protect and to be an example, the more he was fucking up.

So he was here.

No convenient vices.

No phone.

He closed his eyes.

No distractions
, he reminded himself.
That’s a good thing.

He gazed into the red haze of sun filtering through his eyelids. Took a slow breath.

Recalled his ophthalmologist had warned him to start wearing sunglasses.

He wondered if the sunscreen he applied that morning had already sweated off in the hot car.

Realized he forgot to tell his sister to get the mole he noticed on her shoulder checked out before she went overseas.

He opened his eyes.

He looked at his watch. Six thirty. It was already close to ninety degrees. He thought farmers were supposed to get up early. He had been up since four. He’d actually been up at eleven thirty, somewhere around two, three, and then four, terrified that he wouldn’t get up in time to be here at six.

But the farmer he was supposed to meet, the farmer who farmed in the middle of the city, was late.

This farmer was a new friend of Lacey’s and had new interests in the neighborhood that Sam and his family had lived in his whole life. This farmer had opened a café on the north end of their neighborhood, closest to downtown, which it seemed everyone had tried but him. The farmer had taken over vacant lots and grown things in them. She had made partnerships with the neighborhood schools to get kids outside, and with the city hospital where Sam moonlighted she was starting a series on healthy eating.

He’d only seen the farmer in passing, as much as he’d heard.

Pretty. He had the impression she knew how to laugh.

With nothing better to do, he looked at the vacant lot he was parked alongside that sat right between the Lakefield Public Library’s parking garage and an older brick building Lacey had told him was for the grounds maintenance staff of Celebration City Park.

The lot was—fecund. That was the only way to describe it. Raised wooden growing boxes disappeared in long, narrow rows into the back of the deep lot. Every box supported tall ladders of rebar structures twined and tied with massive plants.

The plants seemed to steam and rustle in the morning heat, like creatures occupying the middle of a scale between animal and vegetable.

It looked unlikely, absurd, this compressed farm between two very urban buildings. Sam thought of rabbit holes. Stumbling into a snowy kingdom found in the back of a wardrobe.

Surely, he didn’t belong here.

If he hadn’t been watching the serpentine movements of the plants, he would have missed the very humanlike movement in the depths of the lot. He squinted against the heat mirage rising between the rows of plants.
Well.
The backside pointed in the air inside those very small shorts was decidedly human.

And woman-shaped.

He guessed his farmer had decided to start her day after all.

He climbed out of the car and the air outside felt cooler, but thicker. For all the moisture in the air, it hadn’t rained for days. He unlocked his trunk and pulled out the dripping-wet flat of flowers that Lacey told him to buy and deliver to this lot.

Their fledging clinic had a relationship with the hospital, and since the hospital had a relationship with this farmer, he was here.

Lacey said it was good for the clinic, and for the neighborhood.

What she really meant was she thought it would be good for Sam.

Good for getting him out of the way.

Sam picked his way through a row, his forearms and shoulders getting drenched with dew from the plants he was brushing past. The light was green and murky and even here, in the middle of the city, the noise of insects beat loud.

At the end of the row he emerged into a clearing crowded with a shed, a low run of fencing, and a huge and dirty worktable made of several wooden pallets hiked up on sawhorses. The entire area looked chaotic, like a dumping ground for large and useless objects. It made Sam itch to look at the mess, so he focused on the farmer.

Her back was to him, those small shorts giving way to legs so curvy and muscular he caught himself tracing the anatomy of her posterior thigh—biceps femoris, semitendinosus.

The gastrocnemius of her calf was bunched so tight under her tan and mud-spattered skin he thought she must be standing on her toes.

“You’re late.”

He snapped his gaze away from her legs and refocused on the head end. She hadn’t turned around. Two jet-black braids, as thick as his wrist, hung down her back. Her voice was so clear and low it sounded like it should be on news radio.

“I’ve been here since six.
You’re
late.”

“I’ve been here since four thirty. You’ve been sitting in your car doing nothing for half an hour.” She still didn’t even grace him with a perfunctory look. She did reach down and grab a large plastic bucket of what looked liked at least twenty pounds of something vile and thumped it onto the table.

The sleek curve of her deltoid barely jumped with the effort.

Sam felt the indignation fire like the precision explosion trapped in a combustion engine. No.
No.
“I was told to be here at six. I was. Exactly. No one was here, I
looked.

She turned around. Her gaze was more than perfunctory. In fact, it was direct and considering. A single
jet eyebrow arched up. High.

There was something offensively smirky going on with her mouth, which should have been impossible with lips like that. Softness like that shouldn’t have the tensile strength to harden into a smirk.

Arms were crossed. That, he was okay with. Because her crossed arms with those tight brachioradiali held up the best breasts Sam had ever seen in real life. And he was a doctor.

He’d seen a lot of breasts.

“What are those?” She pointed her chin at his flat of flowers, which soaked the entire front of his T-shirt with leaking plant waste.

“Plants.”

“What am I supposed to do with those?”

This time he leveled the hard and considering look, and raised his eyebrow. “You tell me. You’re the farmer.”

“What’s that you’re doing with your face?”

Sam suddenly felt a mental trip that forced him to quickly readjust the awkward flat of flowers. “What?”

“When you looked at me you screwed your face up weird. Are you having a stroke?”

Sam stared. “Am I having a stroke.”

It seemed safer to mirror back what she said in a neutral tone until he caught up.

“Because I saw this thing on TV about recognizing the warning signs of a stroke, and I think rudeness and ugly faces were on the list. And possibly planting petunias in the middle of July in Ohio, but I could be wrong about that one.” She reached up and rubbed sweat off her forehead and left a long streak of mud behind. Her eyebrow arched up again, waiting for him to get his thumb out of his ass, he supposed.

So was he.

He briefly considered a conciliatory measure and polite reintroduction of himself and his mission there, and then quickly settled on
fuck that.

He dropped his flowers to the ground and crossed his own arms over his chest.

“Lacey told me to bring those petunias. Everyone’s rude at six thirty in the morning. You have mud on your face.”

The eyebrow didn’t lower. In fact, it may have curved a little higher. However, her arms squeezed tighter and so her pretty rack bounced higher, too. He kept a furtive eye on it.

She looked him up and down, and the wry in her face didn’t spoil the exciting effect of her big brown eyes lingering on his linger-worthy places.

He knew he had more than a few she was certain to notice.

Then she squinted at him. “Are you wearing sunscreen?”

Sam gave up. This was not a normal woman. “Am I wearing sunscreen.” He repeated her question slowly to give himself time to think.

This was important, as this was precisely the kind of situation where if he didn’t give himself time to think he would have to give himself time to apologize, later.

BOOK: Laugh
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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