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Authors: Lori Handeland

Out of Her League (27 page)

BOOK: Out of Her League
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Still, I jumped to
a conclusion. An insulting con
clusion.


Yes, it was.

He sighed, picked up his wineglass and the bottle, then walked over to the kitchen table. He poured himself another glass
and tilted the bottle in her di
rection with a question in his eyes.


No, thanks,

she said. If she had a refill, she

d do more than fantasize about that kitchen table. She had to remember two teenagers were hanging about somewhere outside the house. And one of the rules of parenting was
that as soon as you even contem
plated doing anything you didn

t want them to know about—they would show up. Though with Joe still walking around half-naked, she was having a harder and harder time thinking of anything but him.

He leaned his exceptional rear end against her fantasy table and stared into his glass as he swirled the ruby liquid around and around.

You said I was overprotective.


I apologize. It

s none of my business.


I wish you

d make it your business. You know about kids. That

s your job, right? I

m trying, but I don

t seem to be succeeding. Toni doesn

t know me. I don

t think she wants to. Hell, she still calls me
‘Joe.’”


I noticed that.

He shot a glance at her, and in his eyes was a despair that beckoned to her soft heart. Before she could offer any kind of sympathy, he looked away
and returned to his wine-swirling exercise.

She stopped calling me

Dad

a long time ago. It

s like she doesn

t want to need me.

His shoulders slumped, and he took a sip of the wine he

d been staring at.

Or to love me.


I

m sure she loves you. But you might be right about not wanting to need you. She lost her mother only recently.


Her mother saw her less than I did.


Toni mentioned that.

His head went up.

She did? Does she talk to you a lot?

He sounded hopeful and resentful at the same time.


She talks, but n
ot about anything serious. Base
ball, the twins, school.


But she told you her mother left her to be raised by nannies?


Yes, she did.


So how could
Toni be afraid of needing some
one if Karen was never around, anyway?


Just because Karen wasn

t around doesn

t mean Toni didn

t need her, then lose her. Karen was still her mother.

He sighed.

And no matter what I do, I can never be her mother.


No one can.

Joe shifted his hip on the table so he faced her.

Not even you?

Evie narrowed her gaze on Joe

s face. He wasn

t looking at her again.

Is that what you think? That
I

m trying to be her mother? I

m just trying to be her coach and maybe her friend. She seems to need one.


I know.

He eyed her, and she saw the truth a second before he admitted it.
“I’m jealous. It’s em
barrassing, but I am. I want her to be my little girl.


She isn

t a little girl.


I wish she were.


Wish away. She

s a
young woman. Overpro
tecting her will only make her rebel.


Did you?

Evie finished her wine in one huge gulp, hoping the jolt would give her the courage to remember her youth—when she was only a little older than Toni and a whole lot dumber.


My dad was a cop, and he knew all the bad things that could happen to kids, even in small-town Iowa. Because of
that he hovered. When I was sev
enteen we moved to Newsome because he became the police chief. I was scared and shy and lonely. Ray—my husband—was the cutest guy in school.

Joe groaned.

That sounds too familiar.


Don

t I know it. But Ray was different from Adam.

God, please let that be true
, she said to herself in a quick, familiar little prayer.

He was irresponsible, a party guy. He liked fast cars, cheap beer and easy money.


And you?


Of course.


So, what happened?


My dad always kept tabs on me wherever I went. Checked
out my friends. He made my deci
sions and got me out of any jam that came my
way.”


And what about your mother?


Dad was the boss. He was so protective, she pretty much let me be. She was of the old school, where you didn

t
talk about unpleasant or embar
rassing things—in public or in private. She didn

t make decisions, either. That was Dad

s job.

Evie just shook her head, still amazed that her parents were married and happy. But times had changed, and were still changing.


I understand. That

s how things were at my house, too.

Evie smiled, recal
ling some of his outdated, chau
vinistic ideas. They had infuriated her, but seeing Joe in the kitchen and
at the grocery store, and hear
ing about his attemp
ts to do the best for his daugh
ter, made Evie think that perhaps Joe wasn

t as

Ward Cleaver

as he professed to be.


When we moved to Newsome, my dad was busy with his new job. I wanted to be an adult, but I didn

t know what that meant. I had no idea how to make a choice. So
I made a bad one with Ray. Preg
nancy was not a jam Daddy could get me out of.


He could
have gotten you out of the preg
nancy.

Again she shook her head, disavowing such an option now as she had then.

But he couldn

t get
me out of love with Ray. Ray was the only one who could do that.


And did he?


Oh, yeah. He might have been handsome, and fun, and charming, but he was a great, big, selfish jerk. I figured that out before Adam was born. But it was too late. I tried my best, but Ray never did grow up.


What about you?


I grew up at eighteen.


So what do we do about your son and my daughter?


Maybe we should talk to the two of them. Tell them about the mistakes we

ve made.


Think it

ll help?


Can

t hurt.


You sure about that?


It might hurt us, but them...?

She shrugged.

I think they need to know how one bad choice can mess up an entire future.

He was quiet for
a long moment, swirling, swirl
ing, swirling that wine again.

If you could go back, knowing all that you know now, would you do things differently? If you did, you wouldn

t have Adam.

She

d thought about that many times, and she

d made her peace with her past as best as she could.

My kids are worth a lot of pain and agony, which is lucky, since pain and agony for me seems to be their main goal in life most days. I try to believe
everything works out for the best. Or, at least, that there

s a reason for everything, even if we can

t see it.

His eyes widened.

You believe that?


I have to. Otherwise life

s just too darn hard.

 

* * *

 

 

Chapter
Thirteen

 

 

“What
do
you
think
your mom wanted to talk about with Joe?

Toni asked.

Adam shrugged and started walking toward the back of the house.

Who knows with them.

True enough. Stil
l, Toni was kind of worried, de
spite Mrs. Vaughn

s assurances that she had done nothing wrong. Though Toni had been living with Joe long enough to stop feeling guilty about every little thing, she still expected Adam

s mom to find fault with her somehow, just as her mother always had. No matter how hard Toni tried to do the right thing, nothing had ever been right enough for her mom.

But with Mrs. Vaughn, nothing was ever wrong enough. Heck, Toni figured if she walked in ten runs and lost a game, her coach would just pat her on the back and say,

You did your best.

Since Adam had told Toni what was at stake for his mom in this bet with Joe—then made Toni swear not to say a word, since Mrs. Vaughn would have a cow if anyone knew she needed the money—Toni didn

t understa
nd how her coach could be so re
laxed, or how she could continue to tell the team at every practice and every game that

their best

was
all she was after. Toni wished she could relax about life-altering episodes the way Mrs. Vaughn did.

Toni wasn

t relaxed; she was confused. Her mom always said winning was what was important. If you weren

t a winner, you were a loser. And Joe—well, winning had been his business. But in this town, with this coach, sometimes Toni f
orgot about win
ning altogether.

To be honest, Joe didn
’t seem to care much, ei
ther. In fact, since they

d moved to Oak Grove, he was pretty laid-back. She wondered if he always had been and the tension she

d sensed in him when he

d visited her had actually been between Joe and her mom and not becau
se of his disappointment in hav
ing only a daughter and not a son.

He made no move to hire someone to watch her, or even to hire someone to do all the house stuff her mom always called

the sadistic, oppressive
assign
ments of the male aristocracy,

whatever that meant. It hadn

t been complimentary; that much Toni knew. And when her mom had hired nannies and housekeepers with the same mumbling and grumbling, Toni soon understood where taking care of her rated in the scheme of life. So she tried to be as little of a problem as she could, so as not to be sent packing if sh
e screwed up—as most of the nan
nies and housekeepers eventually were.

BOOK: Out of Her League
5.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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