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Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date. For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now. NOOK Book. Low murmurs, hesitant, fractured. The faint smell of bleach from the toys, washed nightly, was almost overpowered by the sickly sweet smell of lilies. Vases on every table. Money better spent on shampoo and baby wipes. But the donor meant well. They always did. People say that volunteer work is rewarding in ways no paid job can match. A furtive glance my way. A quick nod. I like kids.
I think they can sense I was an only child, only grandchild, too, growing up in a world of adults. Cathy headed for a rickety wooden chair, but I patted the spot beside me on the sofa. She perched on the edge of the worn red vinyl. Not the prettiest piece of furniture, but it was bright and cheery and washable. Did the clients look at all the vinyl and wood and plastic, and imagine us after hours, bleaching down everything in sight, cleaning off the contagion of their desperate lives?
She relaxed and nodded. She had two children under the age of four. Another on the way. And she was three months younger than me. Not that she looked it. She certainly had that extra decade of life experience. Kicked out of the house at sixteen. Married by eighteen and divorced by twenty-one.
Nothing could be further removed from my own experience. I live with my mother in a house bigger than the entire shelter. Do I appreciate it? On good days, it chafes, like a dress with a scratchy tag. On bad ones, I feel like a bobcat caught in a trap, ready to gnaw my foot off to escape. Then I look at someone like Cathy, and a wave of guilt and shame stifles the restlessness. Cathy nodded and wound a lock of hair around her finger.
Her gaze stayed fixed on my chin. Brief shows of defiance. Achingly brief. Frustratingly brief. There was more in that lowered gaze than deference, though. I could sense it. Feel it, thrumming through the air between us. Joey raced past wearing a tattered backpack in the shape of an owl. It reminded me of the one that hooted outside my window that morning. A bad omen. If you believed in omens. I was just admiring his backpack. She shook her head. I cursed under my breath. I had the name of the bakery in my wallet. I had a few ideas for how to accomplish that. But I am, and as such, I have other avenues of attack, equally effective, if somewhat lacking in drama.
After Cathy left, I flipped through the stack of job printouts. Pointless, of course. In so many ways. My mother had always expected me to follow her example. Marry well and devote myself to volunteerism and philanthropy. Leave paid work for those who need it. Dad had been more amenable to the idea that a young woman in my position could have a career beyond organizing fund-raisers.
My mother came from money—she was the daughter of minor nobility, raised in English society. Take over the family business eventually. For now, I intended to go back to school in the fall and get my doctorate in Victorian lit. No use stressing her out when her dream was about to come true—her only child married, and married well. First I was checking out my options for local schools.
Not unless I wanted to. I most certainly did not want to. When I finished tidying up, I stepped outside the front doors, and the city hit me. The screech of tires and growl of engines. The stink of exhaust and the tang of roast pork. The flash of colors—bright shirts, neon s, blinding blue sky. Our family doctor used to blame my hypersensitivity on my upbringing, raised in a quiet house in the suburbs. Usually it passed in a moment, as it did now. I took a deep breath and headed to the gym. The photographer stepped back into the shadowy doorway as the young woman approached.
Once she was abreast of him, he lifted his camera and held down the shutter button, silently snapping photos. He smiled, a blazing grin that had every woman at the table swooning. Well, sadly for everyone else.
As charity dinners went, this one ranked about average, which meant somewhere between uncomfortable and excruciating. The cause was excellent—New Orleans reconstruction. The food was just as good—Creole by someone who obviously knew how to cook it, which meant it was heavy on the spices and not nearly as appreciated by the older crowd.
Most of it got left on the plates, which had me looking around the sea of tables, mentally calculating how far that wasted food would go in some Chicago neighborhoods. James was doing it in his stead. That happened a lot lately, as his father aged, to the point where the organizers would be surprised—and probably disappointed—if James Senior showed up instead. While he conversed with everyone in turn, I entertained the others. Every few minutes, his hand would brush my leg, sometimes a flirtatious tickle but usually just a pat or squeeze, a reminder that he appreciated me being there.
Finally dessert was served: Doberge cake, a New Orleans specialty, a half-dozen layers of chocolate cake with lemon and chocolate pudding between them. The meal was coming to an end, and conversation was hitting the stage of desperation. Liv was always there. Usually getting into trouble. Liv prefers fighter pilots. The point is, she was not easily wooed. James spoke after dinner, making an impassioned plea for donations. I would say it was a lovely speech, but that would be arrogant, considering I wrote it. If James was going to be my husband, I was going to be more than a bauble on his arm.
My parents had a great relationship but, well, it lacked what is to me an essential component of a partnership. Namely the partnership. Dad ran the business, Mum did her charity work. Never the twain shall meet. James has let me into the business side of his life from the start, and I appreciate that. So if he asks me to write him a speech, I do.
I will say, then, only that the speech was successful. Checkbooks opened. As they did, James made his way through the crowd, with me at his side. Then, so deftly that even I hardly noticed, we ended up in the back hall. You looked like you needed a break. Perfect, as always. He pressed me back against the wall, lips coming to mine in the kind of deep, hungry kiss that had, a year ago, made me decide James Morgan was a lot more interesting than he looked. The chuckle deepened, and he lowered his hands to my rear, pulling me against him as he kissed my neck.
A rough laugh. We rested there. It was peaceful—the white walls, the distant voices blending into a monotone murmur, the stomach-churning mix of perfume and cologne reduced to the spicy scent of his aftershave. I buried my face against his neck, inhaled, and relaxed. I was going to take you to a fancy dinner and pop the question.
He smiled. This is a proposal of another sort. Equally terrifying in its own way. Neil Leacock came to see me today. He—they—the team and its supporters—would like me to consider running. Grooming me. I know you might not want a life of endless speeches and endless dinners.Sex dating in Cainsville
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