Nick wiped a trickle of sweat off of his forehead. He’d gone for a quick run and still breathing heavily, he leaned into the refrigerator for a can of beer. When he shut the door, Tanner was heading into the living room with a beach towel draped over one shoulder.
“Sorry, Dad. Didn’t mean to blindside you. I hope you don’t mind Mrs. James… ah, Kenna being here. Chloe’s been worried about her since the divorce, and they usually do something together Spring Break and well, I told Chloe to invite her.”
“Of course not. It’s cool.” Nick tipped his beer at Tanner. He’d had to get creative where spending time with Tanner was concerned. Between the divorce and Tanner being at college, Nick hadn’t spent as much time with his son as he would have liked over the last year. Though his ex-wife, Karen, had accused Nick of trying to buy Tanner’s affection, Nick had dangled renting a beach house for the week under Tanner’s nose, knowing he couldn’t resist. Most places required the presence of an adult over the age of twenty-five and Nick thought he was as good a chaperone as anyone else. And if he could buy a little time with his son, Nick considered that a good investment.
“Chloe and I are headed down to the beach. You want to come?”
“No, you go ahead. You’re still up for a round of golf one morning, right?”
“Yeah. Sounds good. Let’s get a couple of days on the beach first.”
“I’ll get a tee time for Monday then. And I’ll throw some steaks on the grill later for dinner.”
“You don’t have to go to any trouble. We can go out.”
“Have you seen the outdoor kitchen? It’s not a problem. There’s even a steak for Kenna.” Nick followed Tanner out the back door and plopped down on one of the chairs on the porch that overlooked the beach. This week wouldn’t be all play and no work for Nick. He’d have to answer some emails, and he had two conference calls at the beginning of the week, but today he didn’t have a care in the world, and his view of the world right now was pretty darn sweet.
Kenna was already on the beach, lounging in one the beach chairs the service provided. She’d left her cover-up on and she was flipping through a magazine. He‘d thought about going down and joining her, but she was unduly skittish and he wanted to give her a chance to relax before he tried to spend time with her and there was no question that he would try to spend time with her.
He’d wondered a million times what had made him kiss her on New Year’s Eve, a woman that was at best an acquaintance. He would say he couldn’t help it, but that made him sound like some eighteen-year-old greenhorn though that’s how it had felt. The moment had been right, too perfect to pass up. He’d kissed her because he’d wanted to, and the instant he’d seen her standing in the living room of the beach house this afternoon, he’d realized he wanted to kiss her again.
He’d run into her at the grocery store a few weeks after the party and seen her perusing the wine selection. He’d wanted to talk to her, apologize for his behavior. He wasn’t sorry he’d kissed her. No, that had been the most enjoyable and spontaneous moment of his night—of the last six months. But it had made him look like a world class jerk. Kissing one woman when he was out with another? Not his style. He’d wanted explain to Kenna he wasn’t a jerk, but the second she’d noticed him in the store her shoulders had stiffened, and she’d grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and put them in her buggy then had promptly taken off in the opposite direction, making it perfectly clear she did, in fact, think he was a jerk. She couldn’t get away from him fast enough.
As he sipped on his beer, enjoying the breeze coming off the Gulf, he tried to pin-point just what it was about Kenna James that appealed to him. She was an attractive woman, but Nick had been out with a string of women he considered attractive since his divorce, but somehow with that one kiss Kenna had managed to burrow her way into his mind in a way none of them had. She exuded confidence and not in an in your face kind of way. Kenna possessed a quiet confidence, like she knew who she was and was comfortable with the woman she’d become, which to Nick’s mind was rare when so many of the women he knew, his ex-wife included, worked so hard to be some previous version of themselves.
His ex-wife had lacked confidence, and he was man enough to admit her lack of confidence had been partly his fault. He hadn’t understood. He’d wanted Karen to be happy. It had never occurred to him to try to talk her out of the endless string of Botox injections. He’d never considered telling her the few plastic surgeries weren’t necessary. He’d simply paid the bills when they came in and hoped she’d finally be happy.
So on the day they finally opened up and admitted their marriage was over he’d been stunned when, with tears in her eyes, Karen confessed she’d been fighting to preserve her youth for him, to keep him interested, and she was tired of having to be someone else for him. Evidently, his good buddy and business partner, Matthew, had been more than happy to jump in and convince her Nick wasn’t worth the trouble. That if Nick didn’t appreciate her, he certainly did.
Matthew might as well have punched him in that gut. Nick had been under the impression Karen had been persuing her own happiness and not his. Nick had been truly sorry. It had also been entirely too late. Karen was in love with someone else. She and Matthew had gotten married a month after the divorce was final.
Naturally, the first thing Nick had done was go on a dating spree with exactly the kind of woman Karen had been trying to be for the last few years of their marriage— fifteen years younger, fresh-faced and perfectly proportioned. The kind of woman he’d been out with on the night he’d kissed Kenna. That kiss had woken him up. That kiss had made him realize he wanted to be the kind of man that would attract a woman like Kenna James. That simple touching of lips had made him realize he wanted something meaningful, something real. He wouldn’t find real with a twenty-five-year-old, certainly not Samantha. He’d driven Samantha home after the party, kissed her on the forehead and basically said good-bye. Then he’d gone home and gone to bed alone, thinking about Kenna James and that pulse-quickening kiss.
In the days that followed, Nick thought about calling Kenna. He’d even gone so far as to get her cell number from a mutual friend. Nick’s burgeoning plans to figure out how to get Kenna to agree to have dinner with him halted the second Tanner had walked in their house with his arm around Chloe James’ shoulders and new love written all over both their faces.
He couldn’t date his son’s girlfriend’s mother could he?
He didn’t think so. It didn’t mean he didn’t want to.