Liz Cooper rushed around her apartment collecting everything she should have assembled last night: towels, sunscreen, hat, glasses. She thought she’d have more time this morning. And she would have, if she hadn’t hit the snooze alarm so many times that it shut off for good.
Today she was seeing Kathleen, her best friend since first grade, who had the nerve to marry a great guy who swept her out of Orange County and all the way north to Seattle. While her great guy sweltered at a convention in Atlanta, Kath had taken a bungalow for a week at Huntington Beach. Liz planned to spend all day Saturday with Kath and her three kids. Or what was left of Saturday, after the 30-mile drive to the beach.
Liz glanced around her apartment and quickly confirmed that she was ready to leave. As she slid her half-read novel into the outside pocket of her tote, the phone rang. She grabbed it on the second ring.
“Oh, Liz, you haven’t left yet.” Kath sounded harried. But with three kids under age nine, she always sounded that way.
“Sorry, I’m running late. I’ll be there.”
“No, this is great. My brother called and I need you to pick him up.”
“Pick him up?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you he’s coming to the beach with us today? The kids haven’t seen Uncle Joey in, like, forever.”
“Joey’s coming with us?” She remembered Kathleen’s bratty brother. The thing about kid brothers was that there was no reason to let them live. When Joey wasn’t releasing captured reptiles into Kath’s bedroom while they played, he was invading Barbie and Ken’s wedding with his army of Imperial Storm Troopers.
“Look, if you want to make this just family . . .”
“Don’t be silly. The kids want to see you and they want to see Joey. You haven’t seen him in years! This’ll be fun!” Kath gushed.
Liz doubted she’d find Joey all that fun, but for Kath and the kids’ sake, she agreed to pick him up. She wrote down the directions to his place, packed her gear and took off.
Before she reached Joey’s address, she saw a tall guy in trunks and T-shirt, dark glasses and carrying a gym bag, standing halfway into her lane. Kath must have told him about her car, because he waved her over with a “Hey, Liz!”
This couldn’t be little Joey. How long since she’d seen him? Seven years, at least. The brat had grown over six feet tall, with muscles filling out those scrawny little arms. The perpetually shaggy dark hair was cut somewhere between military short and businessman sleek. She guessed those three years in the Army did him good. But he’s still Kath’s kid brother, and she had a long memory for his disruptive antics.
“Thanks for the lift.” He tossed the gym bag into the back and folded himself into the passenger seat.
Liz answered noncommittally and headed for the freeway.
They were only 30 miles from the beach, but there was no easy route. The freeway gave way to surface streets, and apparently everyone else was driving to the coast today. She kept the radio turned up just loud enough so that they didn’t have to talk much. But after yet another driver cut in front and forced her to brake quickly, Liz let out a colorful description of what that driver could do to himself.
“Hey, relax, Liz,” Joey said. “We don’t have a deadline.”
“I”ve been running late all day.”
“What do you mean?’
Joey laughed. “You were always late. Late to school, late to graduation, late to your own wedding.”
Liz glared at him.
“Oh, I guess that’s something we can’t talk about.” He nonchalantly glanced out the window.
“My wedding? I should have been even later and missed it altogether. Talk about mismatched couples.”
“So it’s over?”
“It’s definitely over. Three years now.”
Joey turned his gaze back to the road. The radio was almost loud enough mask his quick “Good.”
The traffic cleared and Liz hit the gas. The car lurched forward then rattled to a stop as the engine died. She turned the key, and the engine rolled over and over, but didn’t catch.
“Damn.” The honking began a few cars back.
“I think it’s dead,” Liz muttered.
Joey opened his door and hopped out. The honking intensified. “Let’s get off this road.”
With him pushing and her steering, they rolled the lifeless car out of traffic. It glided to a stop on a side street, right in front of an auto shop that looked the least greasy of several lining the road. Liz popped the hood and looked over the engine compartment. She’d hoped she’d find a loose wire or a big switch that said “flip me,” but no such luck.
Liz backed away from the car and crashed into Joey. She whirled around to apologize and found herself just inches away from the guy. He took off his dark glasses and his eyes were oh-so-green. Green like nothing she’d seen in nature. Green like the bottles that hold the most premium beer available. Green and full of mischief, the good kind. The fun and sexy kind. He smiled and ohmigod! he still has dimples. They look so different on his all-grown-up face. So kissable.
Before she could say or do anything that would embarrass her for life, a mechanic came out from the repair shop to see if they needed help. Liz explained the car’s symptoms, got an estimate and handed over the key. The mechanic directed them to a waiting room filled with mismatched plastic chairs, vending machines and a coffeemaker that smelled like it had been heating the same inch of tar-like brew for hours. Joey headed to the soda machine with a handful of change. Liz plopped into a chair and worked to banish her earlier thoughts. Yeah, Joey’s cute, but he’s Kath’s kid brother, and the thing about kid brothers was that they were put on this earth to annoy older sisters and their friends, no matter how hunky they grew up.
Joey handed her a diet soda and took the chair next to her. He popped the tab on his root beer and kept his gaze on her as he drank down the can in one gulp.
Liz popped open her soda. “Sorry. I should have told you the car’s a piece of crap. My alumni association wants my license-plate frame back.”
Joey just smiled.
What does that mean? Liz wondered. She took a deep breath to keep from babbling, as she knew she would given the chance.
“I’ll put in a word for you. I belong to the same alumni association.”
“What do you think I’ve been doing since I got out of the Army?”
Come to think of it, she did remember Kath saying something about Joey going to their alma mater. “What”s your degree?”
“Oh, that’s useful.”
He chucked and hook-shot his empty can into the recycling bin. “Actually, I just got accepted at the sheriff’s academy.”
Liz pictured him in a tan uniform and a shiny badge. A very nice image, indeed. She smiled. “Who could resist a man in uniform?”
Joey leaned closer. “I hope you can’t.” And he kissed her.
Liz started to resist, to explain all the reasons why they shouldn’t do this. And there must be a million reasons why they shouldn’t do this. Starting with …uh… Liz ignored all the objections that popped into her head and kissed him back. They could wait.
Joey eased out of the kiss and pressed his forehead against hers. “Nice.”
“You know,”she said, “I’m old enough to be your …”
“…Older sister. So? You’re not 30 yet, and it’s not like 25 is so young for me. Sounds just about right.
Liz grinned. He was right. The thing about kid brothers is that they grow up.
Before we announce the two runners up and the winner, the Orange County Chapter of RWA would like to thank Mary-Theresa Hussey, Executive Editor for Silhouette, for agreeing to judge this contest! Mary-Theresa is always gracious and generous with her time, expertise and talent to help out our chapter, which is why the Orange County Chapter of RWA awarded her the very first Helping Hand Award.
Thank you, Mary-Theresa Hussey!
And now it’s time to announce the two runners up and the winner. Starting with the runners up first…
The 2nd Runner Up is…
MR. PERFECT by Dana Diamond!
The 1st Runner up is…
ROMANCE HEROES; ALWAYS THERE WHEN YOU NEED THEM by Michelle Thorne!
And now the winner is…
FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE by Gillian Doyle!
Thank you all for submitting and reading the blogs, and for making the 25 Days of Romance a success! FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE by Gillian Doyle will be recorded as a pod cast and the link to that will be posted on the OCC/RWA website by Saturday, March 25th.
By Gillian Doyle
Rubye Freeman looked more like Cinderella’s fairy godmother than the mailroom lady at a factory. Sweet-faced, gray-haired, rolly-polly Rubye may not have worn a long blue gown or waved a magical wand, but the mischievous twinkle in her eyes should have given me a clue.
One summer break from college, I took a job at a temp agency, filling in for a sick clerk in that same mailroom. My first day, I looked up from sorting mail to see a man filling the doorway with his broad shoulders. As he entered the room, his russet-blond hair brushed the top of the door despite his slight bow to clear it. My hands stilled. My mouth went dry. His thick wavy hair curled over the white collar of his oxford shirt. Unlike the other executives in traditional dark business suits, he wore a buckskin suede jacket with the required necktie and dark slacks. No brown wingtips for him, though. Only cowboy boots make that distinctive heel strike on the hardwood floor in the slow stride of Gary Cooper in High Noon.
But did he notice me? Hardly. This young executive was out of my league.
Little did I realize that Rubye thought otherwise. She had a soft spot for Donald, as she called him even though he was Don to everyone else. He had started as her assistant a few years earlier, and he still liked to stop by the mailroom to see if there was anything she needed. When he came around, he charmed her with the quiet impeccable manners of a real gentleman. With that slow half-smile, he was her soft-spoken knight-in-shining-armor, running errands for her on his lunch hour, lifting boxes too heavy for her to manage, stocking the higher shelves in the supply room, dropping by after he’d clocked out so he could help her finish her own work.
I struggled between mute gawking (when he wasn’t looking) and joking with him as if he was just another friend of my brothers. Growing up a tomboy, I was more comfortable as the gal-pal to all the guys. I was far from being a statuesque brunette capable of winning the affections of Mr. Marlboro Man in the Mailroom.
After a few days, the regular clerk was ready to return to work and I moved on to another temp job. A month later, I was called back, specifically requested by Rubye. I was not only flattered– I truly enjoyed working for her– but I was also looking forward to another opportunity to secretly fantasize about that tall urban cowboy.
But that seemed to be as far as it would ever go….pure fantasy. Oh, I had a few hopeful moments, like when he stuck his head into the mailroom at lunch time and asked if I wanted a bite to eat. Was he asking me out? No, he and another guy were going to pick up burgers and would bring one back for me if I was hungry. Oh geez…he was only offering to feed the hired help. Or, as he liked to refer to me “Rent-a-Girl”.
One afternoon Rubye asked me to retrieve a five-gallon jug of Sparkletts from the warehouse. I was in a dress and high heels and had no idea where to find the warehouse. No problem, she assured me. She had asked Donald to drive me. Minutes later, I followed him out of the air-conditioned building and into blistering July heat where the bright Southern California sun bubbled the black asphalt parking lot. I stopped dead in my tracks when he escorted me to a brand-spanking-new blue fastback Mustang Mach I. Oh, Lordy…(Should I mention that I was a sucker for guys with hot cars? Shameless, I know. But to be fair, I had fallen hard before I knew about his car, okay?)
Still, the feeling did not appear to be mutual. Oh, he did take me out to lunch eventually…at Jack In The Box. I joked about being a cheap date, even though I knew it wasn’t a real date. Feeding the Rent-A-Girl, remember? I must’ve bruised his gentlemanly ego because he invited me to lunch again. This time it was a local bar that served lunch for the workers at the surrounding industries. (Hey, what did you expect, a five-star restaurant nestled among the factories?) Unfortunately, when he ordered a drink, I had to admit I was not yet twenty-one. I was sure that my admission of being underage had slammed the door on any potential romance with this older guy.
My last day on the job was Friday the Thirteenth. As (bad) luck would have it, there was no invitation to lunch. So I spent my free hour driving to the bank to deposit my paycheck. On the way back, a car ran a red light. I don’t know how he missed me by mere inches. Back in the mailroom, I was shaky but lucky to be alive. If only I could have a bit of that same luck in regard to a certain cowboy, I thought to myself.
With only an hour left till the whistle blew, Rubye came out of her office to say goodbye. Patting my hand, she said, “I left my appointment calendar open on my desk. I want you to write your name and phone number on today’s date.”
I assumed she wanted my number for future temp jobs. She’d already said as much. But she added, “If Donald doesn’t ask you out by the end of work today, I’m going to tell him on Monday to check my calendar for his mileage. I keep track of his errands so he is compensated for the gas. And it’s about time for him to do that again.”
I felt my face burn with embarrassment. “He doesn’t even like me.”
She only smiled with that mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “Let me take care of that.”
But Rubye didn’t have to send Donald to her calendar on Monday. As I gathered my things and prepared to leave, I heard the distinctive sound of his boot heels. I turned and found myself staring at the center of his broad chest. I craned my neck to look up at him. Lord almighty he was a tall drink of water.
With that sexy half-smile lifting one corner of his mouth, he gave a casual shrug. I honestly thought he was about to give me one of those Hollywood lines like, “It was nice knowin’ ya, kid.”
Instead, he said, “There’s a John Denver concert this Sunday….”
Many years later, a package arrived in the mail with a postmark from Washington state where Rubye had moved to live next door to her only daughter and family. Inside was a bundle of letters tied with a blue ribbon, accompanied by a note. Rubye had passed away in her sleep, her daughter wrote. Among her things were my cards and letters sent over the years. Her daughter told me that Rubye had cherished them. As my tears fell unchecked, I reverently untied the ribbon and went through each and every card, the invitation to our wedding that Rubye had attended, the birth announcements of our baby girl, then our baby boy, their photos from each year of school, the graduation announcements.
Near or far, Rubye had watched over Don and me and our little family throughout the years, our real-life fairy godmother…Always and forever.
Author of Paranormal Suspense