The Husband Recipe
Linda Winstead Jones

<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >>

A man with three kids was not in her plan. Not only was the time not right, she had no intention of taking on an entire family. Perhaps one day she’d have a child of her own. One, when the time was right. Preferably a little girl, but a son would be acceptable. Not that she planned to rush into anything. She wasn’t yet thirty. There was plenty of time to find the right man, wait a while to make sure she wasn’t mistaken this time around, and only then, perhaps, a child.

Her life was carefully ordered, and though she’d only admitted so to a few close friends, she had a wish list for the perfect man. Among the requirements were no jocks and no kids. Jocks were often self-centered and since she wasn’t at all interested in sports that would be a problem right off the bat. Stepchildren were always a complication. Why ask for trouble?

But she’d watched Cole Donovan as he’d spoken to his children, and her heart had done a decided flip. She’d felt a flutter in her chest. She’d also felt an unexpected flutter a good bit lower. Why was it that a totally unsuitable man who obviously loved his children made her biological clock kick into gear as if it had been jump-started with an electric jolt?

The broad shoulders, big hands and blue eyes hadn’t helped matters at all. The way his jeans fit and the fascinating muscles in his forearms had been an unwanted distraction. She’d noticed that he’d recently shaved, and the sharp line of his jaw was more than a little interesting. She’d very much wanted to reach out and touch him, just lay one finger on a muscle or that nice jaw to see how warm he was, how hard.

Not only that, the way Justin had looked into her eyes as he’d made it very clear that he didn’t like lasagna had grabbed her heart and made her fight off an inappropriate smile. Hank was absolutely charming, and Meredith was a beautiful girl with vulnerability too easily seen, in spite of her attempt at cold dismissal.

His house was a mess, his kids—charming though they might occasionally be—were uncontrollable, and the disruption of having this family next door was ruining Lauren’s once neatly organized life.

But she couldn’t deny that they possessed something she didn’t. There had been so much love in the room that it had washed over her like a tidal wave. She hadn’t expected that strong emotion, hadn’t wanted it, and she certainly didn’t want to be a part of it.

Who was she kidding? She would never be a part of anything like what she’d discovered at the house next door. It wasn’t in her plan, didn’t fit into her life, and any strange compulsion she had to cook for Justin and touch Cole Donovan had to be squelched. Now.

They hadn’t had a meal like this one since they’d moved away from Birmingham and Janet’s frequent offerings. Even though Cole had told her time and time again that it wasn’t necessary for her to cook for them, he’d looked forward to the meals his sister-in-law had prepared for them. He’d tried to learn, and he had mastered a few basics, but he wasn’t a very good cook. Meredith was going to surpass him in the cooking department in no time.

Though Justin had insisted that he didn’t like lasagna, after watching his sister and brother dive into theirs he’d taken a hesitant bite. Now he was relishing his food, just as Hank and Meredith were. The frozen stuff he’d tasted a time or two couldn’t hold a candle to this.

Hank scraped the last of what was on his plate onto his fork, shoved it into his mouth, and before he swallowed he said, “I think you should date her, Dad.”

Cole automatically reminded his middle child not to talk with food in his mouth, and then he added, “I don’t date.”

“What’s a date?” Justin asked.

Meredith answered, “It’s when a boy and a girl, or a man and a woman, go out to eat and to a movie. Sometimes they might dance, or go bowling or something.” She kept her eyes on her plate.

Hank added, “And then they kiss.”

“I want to go on a date,” Justin said. “But without the kissing. Yuck. Maybe Miss Lauren would take me to the new movie with the talking hamsters and then we could get ice cream. Would that be a good date?”

Meredith took a deep breath. “You’re too young for Miss Lauren,” she said bitterly. “She wants to date Dad, which is why she brought over lasagna and dessert and stared at him like he was one of the Jonas brothers, and do you really think this food was intended for us? No, she wants to show off what a good cook she is, and how pretty she is, and if we hadn’t been here she probably would’ve jumped all over Dad and kissed him …”

“Meredith,” Cole snapped. “That’s enough.”

Hank didn’t help matters by throwing in a series of smacking sounds. Sounds that ended abruptly when Cole gave him a narrow-eyed glare.

Meredith stared at her plate, but didn’t entirely give up the fight. “First we move away from Aunt Janet and all our friends, and now we have Miss Lauren next door trying to change everything. I’ll bet if Justin threw up on her she’d run away crying just like that other woman you dated.”

Cole started to chastise his daughter again, and then he saw the lone tear running down her cheek. “That was a long time ago, Mer. I don’t date anymore. Who has the time?” And to be honest, the memory of those few dates was enough to warn him away from trying again too soon. Being a full-time dad and trying to have a social life that didn’t include his kids didn’t mix.

“Nothing’s going to change,” he said evenly. “I know the house is different, and I’m starting a new job, and you’re going to have to make all new friends here in Huntsville, but when it comes to this family …” He knew what Meredith feared, had seen it before. Of the three kids, she was the only one who remembered their mother. Hank and Justin had been too young, but Meredith had been seven. She remembered her mother. Worse, she remembered the pain of losing her mother.

“Nothing and no one will ever come between the four of us. We’re a family, and that can’t be changed.”

“We’re the Four Musketeers!” Hank said, emphasizing the importance of this designation by standing on his chair and lifting his fork high, as if it were a sword.

Great. Another fantasy that called for a cape.

“We don’t need Miss Lauren,” Meredith whispered. “We don’t need anyone.”

“No,” Cole said, his heart sinking unexpectedly. He didn’t want to live the rest of his life alone, and he sure as hell didn’t enjoy living like a monk. There was something special about Lauren Russell, something that spoke to him in a way no woman had in a very long time. He barely knew her, but since she’d come to his door fuming mad and still in her pajamas, he’d found himself thinking about her more than he should. She was cute, she was smart, she could cook, she had a really nice ass. She made him smile. What man wouldn’t think about her? But it wasn’t enough. This was his life, for now.

“We don’t need anyone.” He ordered Hank to sit and added, “Four Musketeers is enough.”

Chapter Four

Lauren had lived in her house for three years now, and she never missed the neighborhood Fourth of July cookout. She’d missed the Christmas party once, thanks to a nasty cold she hadn’t wished to share with her neighbors, and she skipped as many of the annual homeowner’s association meetings as was possible, but she truly looked forward to the annual cookout.

Her potato salad and homemade cookies were always a hit, and it wasn’t as though she got to see her neighbors on a regular basis. Everyone led busy lives; they were constantly on the go. If not for the occasional get-together, she wouldn’t know her neighbors at all.

This year Cole Donovan was the newest arrival on the block, so he was the center of attention. Most of the men and several of the women knew very well who he was. More of them followed baseball than Lauren had imagined. They hadn’t needed to look up Whiplash to find out who he was. No, they’d known him on sight.

He stood in the center of a tight circle of people and answered questions, now and then glancing toward the pool where his kids swam with other neighborhood children. There were lots of children in the neighborhood, but until the Donovans had moved in none of them had been so close by, or so loud. Most of the children who were of an age to be boisterous were in some kind of day care, since so many of them came from two-income families. Lauren couldn’t help but wonder if she’d now be tuned in to every distant scream and peal of laughter.

She’d been talking recipes with several of the women from the neighborhood while the men all gathered in a knot with Cole at the center. As she had since arriving, Lauren tried not to look at Cole, but she’d seen enough to know that he’d been initially uncomfortable with the attention, though that discomfort was fading as he relaxed and got to know the other men. Lauren smiled and laughed and contributed to the conversation in this part of the large yard. Talk was currently on the evils and benefits of carbs in the diet. All the while, she did her best to act as if she and Cole had never even met. Not that she had to bother. He didn’t pay her the least bit of attention. His neglect stung more than she was willing to admit, even though she knew it was for the best.

She had not chosen the white shorts and simple white sandals and brand-new turquoise tank with him in mind, though she had instinctively passed over the denim shorts that sagged in the butt and the oversize T-shirt she sometimes wore when she worked in the garden for something more attractive. She’d used more mousse and hairspray than usual, and her hair was down, instead of up in the ponytail that would’ve been more appropriate for such a hot day. But that had nothing to do with the fact that her neighbor was going to be here. Nothing at all.

Some of the men peeled away from the circle to tend the grills, while Juliet Smith and a couple of her closest friends scurried off to the kitchen to make a few last-minute arrangements. Children of all shapes and sizes ran and laughed and splashed in the pool. Without looking, Lauren could pick out the screams of the Donovan children. They were the loudest, and they were strangely and disturbingly familiar.

Summer Schuler, who lived several doors down on the opposite side of the street, sidled up to Lauren and smiled as she leaned in very close. “Your new neighbor is a hunk and a half.”

“Is he?” Lauren said coolly. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Summer laughed, then took a long swig of sweet iced tea from her red plastic cup. “You’re very together, Lauren, but you’re not blind. And you’re a terrible liar to boot. Of course you’ve noticed. He’s single, you’re single….”

“He has three children whose only operating speed is full blast….” Lauren added.

Summer laughed again and placed a friendly hand on Lauren’s arm. “No man is perfect.”

And didn’t Lauren know that well enough….

Summer lowered her voice. “I know he doesn’t exactly fit all the requirements on your list, but he is healthy. And I’m sure he has a wonderful sense of humor.”

“He’s a jock, he has three kids and he’s too tall.”

Summer’s eyebrows shot up, and not for the first time Lauren had the thought that Summer was improperly named. She had black hair, black eyebrows, dark brown eyes. She didn’t look at all like a Summer. “You’ve added a height requirement?”

“He should be no more than five foot ten. Five-eleven, tops.”


“I shouldn’t get a crick in my neck every time I talk face-to-face with a man who’s a part of my life.”

“Girl, you have gone off the deep end. You’d throw a man over for a couple of inches?” Summer bit her lower lip. “Let me rephrase that. It’s not like Donovan is freakishly tall, or anything. He’s very nicely proportioned.”

Didn’t she know it….
<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >>