This month's book focus
“Come on now, old girl, you have to keep up or we’ll miss the good doughnuts and end up with the ones with the holes in the middle!”
The good doughnuts meaning the jelly and cream-filled ones. Libby rolled her eyes, fighting the urge to tell her grandmother that she could run circles around her and her old cronies, if she wanted to give herself away. Every five minutes she was forced to remind her grandmother that she was an old friend and supposed to be acting like a seventy-year-old woman. All of which usually fell on deaf ears.
She bent to drag up a sagging knee high doing her best to catch up, imitating the surprisingly rapid gait of her grandmother, while at the same time trying to insert a little age into her step. Goodness, you’d think she hadn’t eaten a doughnut in a month, not just the Monday before. Libby thought about the pancakes they’d had on Friday. If this kept up she was sure her one hundred and ten pound weight was going to double by the end of the summer!
“I’m doing the best I can, Gram…Margaret,” Libby said in the scratchiest voice she could muster. Even after a week she was still having a difficult time remembering to call her grandmother by her first name. Old habits were hard to break.
“Good morning, Reba!”
Libby shot a quick glance next door, waving gaily at the elderly man sitting on his porch sipping coffee. “Good morning,
“Don’t encourage him or we’ll never get away from him!” her grandmother whispered harshly, uncaring if she was overheard.
“Gram!” Libby scolded under her breath, skipping to catch up. “Be nice.”
“The old fool is interested in you,” Margaret continued, not breaking her brisk stride. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. You’re new meat. He’s nothing but a big flirt and he’s old enough to be your grandfather!”
“Well, he doesn’t know that.” Libby chuckled, waving back at him one last time.
Her grandmother made a disgusted sound beneath her breath and nearly swung the club house door off its hinges when she opened it to walk through. Libby remained on her heels, knowing the drill by now. No time to stop and chat with any of the fifty or so elderly who’d come to the meeting that morning.
The first priority was the small buffet table someone had set up with hot coffee and a colorful array of every kind of doughnut one could think of.
“Margaret…” An overweight woman close to Margaret’s age greeted her. “I was wondering—”
“I’ll be right with you, Lois.” Margaret made a beeline for the table. Libby grinned beneath the heavy makeup she was wearing, watching her grandmother snatch up a paper plate and cream-filled sweet in one smooth swoop.
Libby paused in the foyer to the large dining room, grimacing at her reflection in the mirrored wall. She’d gotten her money’s worth. The heavy theatrical makeup she’d purchased at the local theater certainly did what it was intended to. No one, unless they were looking for it, would be able to guess her secret. And with the age limit restriction of fifty plus, Libby knew the importance of that. She’d never be allowed to live there if anyone knew the truth.
She took a moment to straighten her hair, which was really a wig in the prettiest shade of blue silver she could find. It hadn’t been easy stuffing her waist-length hair beneath it. She’d even contemplated cutting off the red gold locks, but she’d always had long hair and couldn’t bring herself to get rid of her best asset, or so she’d been told most of her life. Clear green eyes peered out from beneath a pair of fake bifocals that had the thickness and color of coke bottle glass.
Libby glanced around and almost laughed out loud. Pedal pushers, as her grandmother referred to capris, and sneakers seemed to be the normal summer wear for most of the women around there, while the men opted for baggy knee-length shorts, white socks up to their knees and sandals. What was it with elderly men, socks and sandals anyway? Her own father had tried to sneak out of the house once wearing them and her mother had nearly had a heart attack!
Well, Libby wasn’t making a fashion statement either in her borrowed clothes. She couldn’t get by with capri style pants; there wasn’t enough makeup in the world that would give her the lumps, wrinkled skin or varicose veins that seventy-year-old women wore like a badge of achievement. Libby was forced to wear baggie dresses that hung past her knees and thick ugly support hose, or long pants, which didn’t go well in the stifling Florida heat. And she had to wear a blouse with long sleeves too, or reveal the fact that her underarms didn’t flap like a free-blowing flag in the wind. The body suit she sported gave her figure a full, slightly sagging appearance.
She tried not to make a face at the sight she presented in the multicolored dress hanging almost to her ankles and gold sandals, reminding herself it was all for a good cause. Every time she looked at the happy face of her grandmother she knew she’d made the right choice, even if her parents still had reservations. It had taken Libby a long time to convince them just to give her plan a try. Three months, her father had stated with authority, three months’ trial period and then they’d, meaning him, would make a final decision.
“Reba, come get a doughnut!” her grandmother hollered, remembering her name for a change. She’d calmed down now that she had her breakfast and had joined some of her friends. They were making their way to one of the empty tables, laughing and talking as they moved along.
“Yes, join us, dear,” Joan encouraged. “After we eat, Vincent’s grandson is going to talk to us about fire prevention and the different types of fire extinguishers.”
“Yes, he’s going to tell us how to put a fire out,” Libby’s grandmother added, smiling.
“He’s certainly lit a few fires around here!” Someone else chuckled.
“Gertie!” Joan chastised, turning her head to hide her own smile.
Is the woman actually blushing? Libby glanced around the room, looking for the retired Adonis that still had the power to make a woman turn pink at the mention of his name. If he was the same man who’d saved her grandmother, she wanted to thank him.
“Good timing too, considering what almost happened here a couple weeks ago,” another of her grandmother’s friends mentioned.
“Yes, thank God Logan was around then, too.”
It sounded like Logan was around a lot. Libby vaguely wondered if he had a love interest living there. “What makes him an expert on fires? Just because he’s a fireman doesn’t mean he’s an expert on fires,” she teased. She looked the strawberries over for just the right one. She popped one into her mouth, her lips curving upward at their sweet and juicy taste. Maybe she wouldn’t double her weight by the end of August…
After a couple seconds of devouring the delicious fruit, Libby glanced up and fell headfirst into a pair of laughing gray eyes. Her jaw dropped, and she knew for certain that she was staring into the face of Adonis himself. Oh my! She felt the heat spread up her neck and settle onto her strawberry stuffed cheeks. He looked wicked and wild, like something right off the cover of Playgirl. The gleam in his eyes was mesmerizing. There was nothing retired about this man—he was in the prime of life.
His face was bronzed by the wind and sun, and it was obvious he spent a good deal of his occupation outdoors. His lips were firm and sensual and curved with humor over her remark. Laugh lines fanned out from his eyes. His handsome features were rugged beneath the thick unruly cut of his streaked, tawny-gold hair. Libby’s eyes continued her silent inspection of the man, taking in the powerful build of his six-foot-plus body dressed in a sleeveless tee-shirt that revealed the well-defined muscles of his powerful arms and faded jeans he looked like he was poured into. She couldn’t help dropping her curious gaze to the male attributes so clearly defined behind his straining zipper. There was actually a prominent bulge there! She caught her breath, praying her instant reaction to his charisma wasn’t noticeable.
Dear Lord! No wonder Joan had blushed at the mention of his name. And what gave him the right to dress like some hot stud around a community full of elderly, weak-hearted women? Did he want to give them all heart failure? Libby’s gaze shot back up to his face. She began to choke on the strawberry when it slid down her throat the wrong way.
Concern quickly spread across the man’s face. When he made a sudden move to come around the table she panicked and waved him back.
“Let me help you, ma’am, I’m a firefighter,” he explained as Libby coughed out of control.
Her eyes began to water and she felt her glasses slipping down her nose. She didn’t care what he was. She didn’t want him touching her in any way, shape or form. She shook her head, feeling her wig slip and grabbed for it wildly. “I’m not on fire,” she said between coughs, backing away from him. Her rump came in contact with a chair and she nearly stumbled to the floor.
“You look red enough to be on fire to me,” someone had the nerve to say with a loud laugh.
Was that her grandmother’s voice? Libby glanced in her direction to see the merriment dancing in her ageless eyes. “Gr—Margaret!” she stuttered in a shocked tone, praying her grandmother took the unspoken hint to behave herself.
“The poor dear is choking!” a frail voice said, chastising her grandmother for being insensitive. “Do something, Logan, help her.”
Adonis was moving closer and Libby knew if he touched her it would all be over. One attempt to dislodge the strawberry would send her padded boobs flying right out of the oversized bra she was wearing, and her secret would be exposed. She cleared her throat and reached for someone’s water glass—she didn’t care whose—and gulped enough down to cool her suddenly overheated body. She was actually sweating, and that was big trouble for someone wearing the amount of heavy-duty makeup she was!
Libby forced herself to meet Logan’s eyes. Steel had replaced the humor, turning his eyes into charcoal as they moved over her quickly and efficiently, all with respect and concern and not the least bit interest. Libby was a little disappointed. Well, how did she think he was going to look at her? With the same lust in his heart as she had in hers?
He was close, yet he kept his distance, obviously not sure of her. “I’m fine, young man. It just went down the wrong way.” For once Libby didn’t have to work at making her voice crack with age. “You can go put out someone else’s fire.” Laughter erupted around her and his brows rose and Libby realized what she said.
“You all right, Reba?” Vincent, Logan’s grandfather, made his way to Libby’s side in an uneven gait that was characteristic of him. Compliments of an old war wound, he’d told her. “Logan’s trained to save people, honey. He can do CPR and mouth to mouth.”
Mouth to mouth! Libby felt faint all of a sudden, her heart racing out of control by just the thought.
“Oh for goodness sake, Vincent, she’s okay!” Margaret snapped from her chair. “Come sit down so we can listen to what Logan has to say about fires. And bring me one of those cream-filled doughnuts when you come.”
“Guess I’m good for something around here,” he grumbled good-naturedly. He gave Libby a wink. “You go ahead, Logan. Say what you need to before the old fool burns herself up in a fire. She’s the reason you’re here.”
Logan’s eyes moved over Libby one last time, as though to judge for himself that she was okay. Satisfied, he gave a slight nod and turned away. Libby released a sigh of relief, still thinking about what Vincent had said about mouth to mouth. Just the thought of Logan’s sensual mouth on hers sent a sharp rush of intense heat throughout her body.
Goodness, she was already experiencing hot flashes!
* * * *
“Wasn’t that interesting? Logan sure is a handsome devil and he knows what he’s talking about too. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be here today.”
Libby grinned, deciding not to remind her grandmother that the little grease fire she’d caused had hardly been life threatening since it had happened out of doors during a cookout at the pool.
“Maybe next time you’ll make sure whatever you toss into a cardboard box isn’t still on fire,” Libby quipped, noticing how slowly her grandmother walked when there wasn’t the promise of free coffee and doughnuts at the end of her trek.
She couldn’t argue with her comments concerning Logan. He was more handsome than any man had a right to be. And just thinking about him stirred Libby’s blood surprisingly fast. She reached up and wiped the sweat off her upper lip. If she didn’t get out of these clothes soon and cool down she was going to suffer heatstroke.
Her grandmother decided to ignore her comment about the fire. “Did you happen to notice how gray Logan’s eyes were?”
As gray as silver lightning and just as exciting. “Yes,” Libby responded.
“Did you notice how tall he is?”
At least six foot four. “Yes.”
“And those manly muscles! Did you notice how well built he is?”
Like the Viking warrior on the cover of the romance novel she was reading. “Yes.”
“And that face. Have you ever seen such a strong, handsome face? You should see him when he’s all dressed up in his fireman garb. Vincent has pictures.”
Finally her grandmother’s words got through to her.
“Gram, if I didn’t know better I’d swear you have a crush on the man, when you should be interested in Vincent. He told me he’s been a widower for three years. I think he’s lonely.”
Margaret snorted. “He’s a tomcat on the prowl, chases anything in skirts.”
Libby’s brows arched high on her forehead. She’d been living with her grandmother for a week now and hadn’t seen anyone in a skirt. She started to pluck at her loose blouse. The heat was getting to her and it was only ten in the morning. She’d love to be able to throw on a tank top and pair of shorts.
Wouldn’t that cause a stir!
“Oh dear!” Libby followed her grandmother’s gaze, glancing up the huge oak tree until her eyes fell on the object of her interest, calmly sitting on a branch as though it was a throne.
“So, that’s where Rufus has been. Poor dear is probably stuck up there and can’t get down.”
“I’m sure he’ll come down when he gets hungry enough,” Libby pointed out, shooting the old tomcat a scowl. She and Rufus didn’t get along. And on top of that, she was tired of having to rescue him from the same predicament. Her grandmother seemed to have a selective memory when it came to remembering that Rufus had managed to come down the tree all by himself until she moved in.
“But what if he doesn’t? I can’t bear the thought of him being hungry. He’s been up there for at least two days already.”
“He’s probably made a meal of some poor old bird,” Libby said, continuing toward the house. “There’s probably a nest full of helpless babies he’s tormenting.”
“Come on, Rufus, come on down, baby. Come to Mama.”
Releasing a long breath, Libby halted when she heard her grandmother gently calling to her old cat. Guilt consumed her when she thought of how much her grandmother loved that beast. Libby couldn’t just go inside and not do something.
“Here, kitty, kitty.”
Libby frowned; Rufus hadn’t been a kitty for a long time. “Gram…” She quickly looked around when she realized her mistake. “Margaret, he’ll come down when he’s ready.”
“No, he won’t. He’ll go hungry. Or maybe he’ll fall because he’s so weak from hunger.”
“I can’t go up there after him, Gram,” Libby said beneath her breath. “I’m supposed to be an old woman, remember?”
The sudden gleam in her grandmother’s eyes should have warned Libby. “No, but you can go up there as my visiting granddaughter,” she pointed out without hesitation. “You have before.”
Libby glanced up at Rufus, then back at her worried grandmother. She couldn’t argue with that, and besides, she was hotter than heck. The thought of slipping into something cooler, if just for a few moments, decided it for her. “Just give me a few minutes while I run inside and change.” Maybe if she were lucky Rufus would come down while she was changing.
It didn’t take her long to strip out of her clothes and peel the cumbersome body suit down. She groaned when the cool air hit her warm body, and then wiggled into a pair of cutoff jeans and a tank top. Snatching off the wig, she shook her hair free then quickly removed her makeup and washed her face before heading outside.
“I haven’t climbed that tree in at least five days, Gram, so you might end up with both of us stuck up there,” Libby said sarcastically, grasping the first limb and hoisting her up.
“I’ll call the fire department if that happens, dear.” Margaret laughed softly.
Libby released a grunt when she slipped, just managing to grab a branch in time. It didn’t take her long to reach the limb Rufus was perched on. For a moment they eyed each other with disdain. “Come on, Rufus.” Libby reached for the overweight orange feline. But as soon as she held her arms out, he released a hiss and scampered further up the tree. “Rufus! You…” She bit down on her lip to keep from swearing. He was higher than he’d ever gone.
“Careful, dear, don’t fall,” Margaret cautioned from below.
“I’m okay,” Libby grumbled, glaring at Rufus, who remained just out of reach as if he knew the trouble he was causing and enjoying every second of it. “But I’m not making any promises about Rufus,” she finished in a low tone so her grandmother wouldn’t hear. “Come on, Rufus, give me a break. I just want to get you down so Gram will stop worrying about you. Aren’t you hungry?” He didn’t look hungry; he looked like he could miss a week of meals and be okay. Libby continued to climb. “If I didn’t love Gram, you’d stay up in this tree until Christmas.”
“Not too high, dear!” Margaret warned loudly.
Libby could hear muffled voices beneath her, aware someone had joined her grandmother. Probably one of her neighbors. She didn’t glance down, keeping Rufus in eyesight as she continued to climb the giant oak. Once again she was within grabbing distance, only this time she didn’t lunge. If he climbed much higher she wouldn’t be able to follow him.
She offered the grinning cat a smile. “Hello, Rufus, you mean, ugly, smelly old cat,” Libby said in the sweetest voice she could muster. “You see that sweet little old lady down there? She loves you, so be a nice kitty and come here so we can both get out of this tree.”
All of a sudden Rufus’s eyes got big, his back arched like a tightly strung bow, and he hissed like Libby had never heard him hiss. For a moment she reared back, afraid he was going to lunge at her with his exposed claws. She forgot where she was, losing her balance. As she fell back, she let out a scream of pure fright.