Read Then He Kissed Me Online

Authors: Maria Geraci

Then He Kissed Me

THEN HE KISSED ME

 

A Whispering Bay Romance

 

 

by Maria Geraci

Other Books by Maria Geraci

The Whispering Bay Romance Series:

 

That Thing You Do

 

Then He Kissed Me

 

That Man of Mine

 

 

Berkley Titles:

 

The Boyfriend of the Month Club

 

A Girl Like You

 

Bunco Babes Tell All

 

Bunco Babes Gone Wild

I
f Lauren Donalan were
asked to rank the best day of her life, she’d answer hands down that it was the day her son Henry was born. She might have been eighteen and dumber than an armadillo, but she’d been smart enough to know a good thing when she saw it. Even if that good thing did wake up crying every two hours with a poopy diaper, wanting to be fed.

The worse day of her life wasn’t as easy to pinpoint. To be honest, Lauren couldn’t complain. God had been good to her. She and Henry were healthy, had a roof over their heads, and three square meals a day. A lot more than many people in the world. So, she felt a little guilty even thinking in terms of bad days. But if she had to choose among the not-so-stellar days of her life, it would be this: the day she told her parents she was pregnant (cue in hysterical crying from Momma), the day she asked Tom for a divorce (cue in her own hysterical crying), and the day she and Momma found out Daddy had Alzheimer’s (lots of crying by everyone).

If days could be measured on the pain scale, with one being the best day of your life and ten being the absolute worst, then Henry’s birth date was definitely a one and Daddy’s diagnosis day was a resounding ten.

Today had started out as a perfectly pleasant three. It might be mid-January, but living in north Florida had its advantages. The weather was an enviable sixty degrees, with low humidity and a crystal clear blue sky. Plus, it was Saturday, her busiest day at the shop. Henry was away on a weekend trip with his dad and while she missed her son, Tom was the best father in the world, so, no worries there. The beautiful weather had brought out the tourists, and while she hadn’t exactly been swamped, she had
customers
, as opposed to the usual window shoppers who came in to either a) use the bathroom, or b) take a curious peek inside—because, let’s face it, any shop called Can Buy Me Love tended to attract those sorts of persons who wondered exactly what kind of love she was selling.

 After nearly a year of disappointing sales, today she’d actually turned a
profit
. Which was nothing to sneeze at. Lauren planned to celebrate in the best way possible—by putting up her swollen feet and watching (okay,
re-watching
) her favorite movie,
It’s a Wonderful Life.

Most people thought of it as a holiday flic, but not Lauren. She could watch it any time of the year (any time of the day, really) because there was nothing better than a young Jimmy Stewart (
sigh
) fighting the forces of small town corruption. Add in a glass of Chardonnay and a bowl of buttered popcorn (with some parmesan cheese sprinkled on top) and she was in nirvana.

Unfortunately, her mother had other ideas about how her thirty-year-old divorced only daughter should spend her evening.

“You didn’t forget you have a date tonight?” Momma asked, before Lauren could even get out a hello. Good thing they were on the phone and Momma couldn’t see the expression on Lauren’s face. Growing up, Momma used to warn her, “One day, your face just might freeze up that way.” It had worked all the way up to middle school. Yes, Lauren could be that gullible.

Out of habit, she smoothed out her scowl. “That’s tonight?”

“God Almighty, Lauren, do you know hard it was for me to set this up? It’s Ted Ferguson! Just the most eligible bachelor in all of the Florida panhandle. He’s a catch, and I don’t intend for you to let him get away.”

“You make it sound like he’s a prized mackerel I’m expected to reel in.
Wait
. Not
the
Ted Ferguson? The guy from Miami who tried to turn Whispering Bay into Condo World?”

Lauren had never met him, but everyone knew Ted Ferguson’s reputation. A couple of years ago, his south Florida based real estate co-op had come through town trying to buy beachfront property to build high rise condominiums. But the people of Whispering Bay, led by Kitty Pappas, a local realtor and friend of Lauren’s, had banded together and squashed the project before he was able to get it off the ground. Not that there was anything wrong with condos. Lauren was a native Floridian and smart enough to know that without tourism, the state economy would be hard pressed. But it should be up to a town’s own citizens whether or not they wanted to expand into the tourism realm, not an outsider from another part of the state.

“So he’s a little…aggressive in his business dealings,” Momma said. “He’s an entrepreneur, darling! That’s what they do.”

“How do you even know him?”

“He was at the Alzheimer’s charity event at the country club last week. And you can think whatever you want about him, but he gave a
very
generous five figure donation.”

Lauren sighed.

“He’s rich and handsome,” Momma said, going in for the kill. “And, let’s face it, there’s not much in the way of proper husband material around here, especially not with you being divorced and having a child. A lot of men would see that as an obstacle. And before you get your panties all twisted inside out, you know I mean that in the
nicest
way possible. One of us has to be practical. Tom’s already moved on, it’s time you did, too.”

Momma
loved
reminding her that her ex had recently gotten engaged, a fact Lauren was thrilled about. Despite being divorced, she loved Tom (in that platonic-we-share-a-son kind of way) and had even been just a teeny bit responsible for getting him and his fiancé Allie together. But just because Tom had moved on romantically, didn’t mean Lauren was ready to. She
liked
being single. She’d gotten married at eighteen because she was pregnant with Henry. She’d spent the first eighteen years of her life living under Daddy’s roof and then the next eleven years under her husband’s. Other than the child support Tom provided for Henry, she didn’t take a nickel from anyone, and it felt good. She didn’t need a man to complete her. She could compete herself.

“Have you even been on a date since the divorce?” Momma continued, interrupting Lauren’s Jerry McGuire-ish moment. “Of course you haven’t, or I would have heard about it. You’re almost thirty-one, sweetie, you’re looking at your best years in the rearview mirror.”

“How charming. And I thought life started at forty.”

“Life only starts at forty for men.” Maureen Handy. Busybody Mother, Philosopher Extraordinaire.

“Okay, but can we reschedule? I’ve been on my feet all day and I’m exhausted.”

“At this late hour? It’s already six-thirty and he’s picking you up at seven. No, absolutely not. Nana would roll in her grave if she knew how rude you were.” Lauren heard her daddy in the background. “Is that my Sweet Tea? Hand over the phone.” There was a momentary exchanging of hands. “What’s your Momma giving you a hard time about now?” he asked.

“Dan,” she heard her mother say. “Tell Lauren that it’s simply too late to back out on her date tonight.”

“You don’t have to go on this date, Sweet Tea,” Daddy said.


What
! Dan Handy, give me back that phone!” Momma screeched. Her daddy chuckled. “Listen, you can do what you want, but think of your poor old dad stuck in this house all night, having to hear your Momma talk about your big missed opportunity.”

Lauren smiled. Her parents were truly the happiest couple she knew. Especially when they were arguing. “I’ll do it for you, Daddy. And Momma, are you there? Of course you’re there. Listen up. I’ll go on this date, but no more fixing me up, got it?”

Her momma had control of the phone again. “Believe me, tonight’s the only date you’ll need. Now, wear the diamond earrings Nana gave you and remember, just one glass of wine. Men don’t respect women who drink too much. Oh, and for God’s sake, baby girl, please don’t wear any of that strange retro stuff.”

“You mean the strange retro stuff I sell?”

“Wear the cute little black cocktail dress you wore to Daddy’s retirement party. It made you look incredibly thin, but with just the perfect amount of cleavage.”

Lauren heard a momentary scuffling and then her daddy was back on the line. “
Humph
. Don’t listen to her. You don’t need cleavage. Dazzle him with that pretty smile of yours and he’ll be putty in your hands.”

Her mother snatched back the phone. Lauren was beginning to feel dizzy. “Don’t forget,” Momma said. “Seven o’clock. And
no
costumes!”

*~*~*

I
t was absolutely not
a costume. It was a nineteen-fifties style lime green chiffon knee-length off the shoulder dress that, yes, showed just the
tiniest
hint of cleavage. Wouldn’t Momma be proud? Although to be honest, unless Lauren wore a turtleneck she was going to show cleavage. It was the curse of the double C cup.

She’d found the dress at an estate sale three years ago near Macon and had never worn it. She’d briefly thought about selling it. It would make an awesome window display at the shop, but Lauren didn’t have the heart. Plus, the dress actually fit her with no alterations required. Considering she was a size 4 (with a size 14 bust) it had been somewhat of a miracle. The dress was special, all right. It was like it had been made just for her. A rhinestone headband to hold back her short blonde hair, her signature red lipstick, lime green pumps and a satin shawl finished off the outfit.

Ted was everything Momma had described. Early forties with a game show host kind of handsome that reeked of rich. Or at least the kind of rich who wanted everyone else to know he had money.

“Whoa! It’s Marilyn Monroe.” He smiled, displaying the whitest set of teeth Lauren had ever seen. “I didn’t know we were going to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance!”

Oh, a comedian
. Lauren faked a smile.

“No, really, you look fabulous,” he said. Although Lauren couldn’t tell if he was talking to her, or to the twins. “Is that like a…period piece?”

I’m up here,
she wanted to shout. She tried to look at the bright side. She was getting a free dinner out of tonight, and more importantly, an opportunity to wear the dress. Plus, this would nip Momma’s incessant nagging about finding a man. At least for the next week. Maybe even for a whole month.

“You have a good eye,” Lauren said, trying to give Ted the benefit of the doubt. “The dress is from the nineteen-fifties. I picked it up at an estate sale.”

“Got screwed in the divorce, huh?”

Free food
.
Chance to wear the dress.
“Not at all. I own a boutique which specializes in this type of vintage clothing. This dress could actually be considered a collector’s item.”

He winked at her. “Just like you, huh?”

She had absolutely no idea what he meant by that. But she smiled and tried her hardest to be gracious. A summer spent at Miss Mary Ellen’s camp for Southern Girls of Good Breeding (okay, that wasn’t the actual name, but close enough) had taught her more than just how to do the foxtrot at the country club.

They walked out to the driveway. The night air was nippy, probably down in the low fifties. Ted drove one of those fancy looking convertible sports cars.

“We’re not driving with the top down, are we?” Lauren asked. If that was the case, then she’d need to go back inside and get a proper jacket.

He frowned. “Well, that’s how this baby was meant to be driven. It’s a Ferrari, top of the line. But you look so pretty, and I wouldn’t want you to get all mussed up, so in this case, I’ll make a rare exception and put the top on. Just for you.” Then he showed her those teeth of his again in the most disingenuous smile Lauren had ever seen.

Today was rapidly disintegrating into a four.
Free food
.
Chance to wear the dress
. He helped her get in the car. The click of a button brought the car’s rooftop smoothly back in place. Then Ted turned on the ignition, shifted gears and took off like a bat out of hell down the residential street.

“Um, Ted, you might want to slow down. There are kids in the neighborhood.”

“Not at this time of night,” he said tightly. Then he relaxed and added, “No worries, I haven’t run anyone over. Yet.”

He sped through town and took a sharp turn into the parking lot of The Harbor House, Whispering Bay’s most expensive restaurant, coming to an impressively seamless stop in front of the valet parking podium.

“Smooth, huh?” He reached out and patted the console like it was his pet puppy.

The two valets on duty took one look at the car and came scrambling out from behind the podium. One of them opened the car door for Lauren.

“Oh, it is
so
my turn,” said the tall one, gawking at the car.

“You got to drive the Lamborghini last week,” said the other valet.

Ted grinned, obviously enjoying the fight over his prized possession. “No need to squabble. One of you can park her and the other one can bring her around when we’re done.” He tossed the keys to the tall valet, who caught them in the air and made a fist pump, causing Ted to chuckle. “You’ll handle her right, won’t you, boys? A car is like a woman, the more expensive she is, the gentler you need to handle her, until you’re in the driver’s seat and she’s beneath you. Then it’s the pedal to the metal and full steam ahead.”

Both valets laughed as if this was funny. Ted must have noticed Lauren’s shocked reaction, because he cleared his throat and shrugged. “Sorry, couldn’t help myself.”

She pursed her lips. Boys and their toys. She suspected Ted would be a boy until the day he croaked. The valet with the keys did a slow three-sixty around the car to admire it. He stopped briefly and bent down to inspect something on the bumper. Was there a dent on Ted’s precious baby? Lauren was beginning to hope there was. Maybe he’d be so traumatized that he’d have to cancel their date.

The valet’s gaze darted to Lauren, then to the other valet, who also came around to get a look at the car from behind. Both of them studied the bumper, then looked at her again and laughed. Lauren frowned. “Is there something—”

“I’ll expect that car in the exact same condition when we’re done,” Ted said, cutting her off. He offered her his arm. She was loathe to take it, but the sooner they got tonight going the sooner she could resume her date with Jimmy Stewart and that bowl of popcorn.

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