“No, we just listen to the menus. Then the kids turn on cartoons and I make their lunches,” Renee said.
“Can we get back to this contest?” Roxanne asked. “I really don’t want to be on the radio. I mean, that’s like giving me a dental exam for a prize.”
“Oh, that’s not the prize,” Renee said. She pulled a glossy magazine out of her bag and held it in front of Roxanne, flipping through it until she found a page with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. “See? If you win the national contest, you’ll win a romantic getaway trip to Paris for you and a guest. And since you don’t have a husband, the guest would have to be me, since I entered you in the contest. Can you imagine it? You and I in Paris?”
“So you want to win the contest.”
“Well, I couldn’t nominate myself. And you make a much sorrier case than I do. I still have a jackass scumbag loser living at my house.”
Roxanne laughed out loud when she saw the expression on Carl Lawrence’s face. “Don’t mind my sister. She has a very bizarre sense of humor. Her husband is a wonderful man.” She turned back to Renee. “What else are you going to win if I win?”
“Besides the trip to Paris, you get a $5000 shopping spree.”
“And Bob Compton Ford has decided to give you the use of a brand-new luxury minivan for a year if you win the national contest,” Carl added. “He advertises with the station so we worked out a deal. And Food King will give you a year’s worth of groceries. I’ve also worked out promos with Toy Emporium and a kids’ clothing store. All of us at WBAM want you to win this contest. I’d like to take you out to dinner so we can discuss this in greater detail. How about Monday night?”
“I-I can’t,” Roxanne said. “I’d have to get a sitter and-”
“I’ll watch the kids,” Renee offered.
Roxanne shot her sister a frustrated look. “And my minivan hasn’t been working very well-”
“That’s no problem,” Carl said. “I’ll send a car for you.”
“Go ahead,” Renee urged. “It’s about time you did something for yourself.”
“All right,” Roxanne said, realizing that it was better to give in than to face her sister’s badgering. She could always cancel at the last minute if something came up. She groaned inwardly. What would come up? Her life had been pretty much the same day after day since her husband had walked out, the routine punctuated only by the occasional emergency.
Carl Lawrence handed her his business card. “Then I’ll see you Monday night. Do you like crab?”
“Crab. I know a great place for crab. I’ll give the driver directions.”
He stepped back through the front door and Renee closed it behind him, shutting out the damp wind. When she turned back to Roxanne, Renee’s eyes were bright with excitement and her smile wide. “Isn’t this wonderful?” she asked. “You’re a finalist. I got the letter a couple days ago and I was almost tempted to tell you, but then the guy from the radio station called and insisted that we make a big deal of the whole thing.”
“What would ever possess you to enter me in a contest like this?” Roxanne demanded.
“I thought it would be fun. And you deserve it. You’re the best mother I know.”
A surge of guilt washed over Roxanne as she remembered her son talking to her beneath the closet door. What kind of mother hid from her kids in a hallway closet?
“A trip to Paris?” Renee reminded her. “A shopping spree? You’re going to turn that down?”
“Why would they pick me?”
“Because I wrote an incredible essay about your positive attitude and the love you have for your kids and the new life you’re making for yourself. You forget, I was an English major in college. I gave them my best stuff.” Renee reached out and gave Roxanne a hug. “Just think, you could meet a rich and handsome French man when you’re in Paris, he could sweep you off your feet and take you away from all your troubles.”
“You are living in a fantasy world if you think that’s how it works. Men don’t want an almost-thirty woman with four kids and a mountain of debt. John has been gone for nearly two years and I’ve been officially divorced for a year. And I haven’t had a date in all that time. They’re not beating down my doors.”
“That’s because you don’t put yourself out there. You’ve been hiding out in this house. You’re a beautiful woman, Roxy. And I’m sorry that your husband dumped a truckload of crap in your lap, but it’s time to move on.”
The tears that wouldn’t come earlier, now flowed down her cheeks. “It is time to move on,” Roxanne said. “I didn’t believe that until today, but my life as a married woman is over. I’m on my own now and I’ve got to be strong for my kids.”
“And you never know. That Lawrence guy has a radio station. You majored in mass communications in college. This might be good for you.”
“I don’t have the time to think about myself right now.”
“You need to make the time,” Renee said. “Why don’t you put on a pot of coffee and we’ll get started? I’ll give you a pedicure. And we’ll decide what you should wear to your dinner. What do you think of that Mr. Lawrence? He’s kind of cute.”
Roxanne started toward the kitchen. “He’s old enough to be my father.”
“Yeah, but a guy that age wouldn’t run off with a professional wrestler. A guy like that would appreciate a woman like you.”
Roxanne sighed inwardly. Was this what she’d be faced with out in the dating world? Finding a man whose only redeeming quality was that he wouldn’t be attracted to professional wrestlers? Suddenly, she had the overwhelming urge to crawl back in the hall closet and never come out again.
KIT LAWRENCE pulled his car into the restaurant parking lot, steering the BMW into an empty stall. He stepped out and set the alarm, wondering why his father always had to choose some strange, out-of-the way restaurant for their regular Monday night dinners.
Since Kit’s mother had died ten years ago, Carl Lawrence had become more and more eccentric. He’d gradually turned his business interests over to Kit, who had transformed a string of east coast radio stations into what Fortune magazine had recently called a “new media empire.” Lawrence Media Enterprises now owned twelve radio stations, three newspapers, a television station, seven magazines and eight Internet providers up and down the Atlantic coast.
Kit had wanted to share his success with his father. He’d even tried to interest Carl in serving on the board of directors, but Carl had brushed him off, choosing instead to go back to managing the very first radio station he’d purchased, WBAM.
He and Kit’s mother had started there, Carl working as an on-air newscaster and Louise working as a secretary. When the failing station went up for sale, his parents had invested every penny they had to buy it. Now, Kit suspected that his father only worked there for sentimental reasons, hoping to recapture something he’d lost, searching for some memory of his dead wife.
Kit strode to the front door of Fred’s House of Crabs, the restaurant located on the outskirts of the city, near the waterfront. The inside was dark and noisy, the kind of mom-and-pop place that Carl loved, a place where the bartenders were generous, the food was great and the check small. He approached the hostess stand.
“I’m here to meet Carl Lawrence,” Kit said to the harried woman carrying the stack of menus.
She checked her book. “He’s already inside,” she said, cocking her head in the direction of the dining room. “He and the lady arrived about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Real pretty,” the hostess said. “Is she your sister?”
Kit frowned and shook his head, then walked to the dining room entrance. He paused and scanned the crowd, searching for his father’s distinctive gray hair. He caught sight of Carl Lawrence sitting at a small table in a dark corner. Seated across from him was a woman, maybe thirty-five or forty tops, with shoulder-length dark hair and attractive features. Kit knew everyone who worked at the station and he’d never seen this woman before.
The two of them were involved in an animated conversation, their heads bent close so they could hear each other over the din in the dining room. He said something to her and she laughed. And when she replied, he reached across the table and patted her hand.
Making his way through the dining room, Kit considered all the possibilities. She could be an acquaintance, or maybe a new employee. But another more disturbing possibility pushed its way into his thoughts. She could also be his father’s date.
Since Kit’s mother had died, Carl had stumbled through a few relationships, all with grasping divorcées who were interested in finding a man to provide. Kit had warned him that a multimillionaire of his age would be easy pickings for the wrong kind of woman. Luckily, Carl had broken off the relationships before he had become legally entangled. But this woman was something new-she was prettier and younger, an irresistible combination for a man approaching the age of sixty.
“Aw, hell,” Kit muttered. “I should have stayed home.” He wove through the tables and stopped next to his father’s. “Hi, Dad.”
They both looked up from their conversation and Carl immediately rose and clapped Kit on the shoulder. “Kit, my boy. I was wondering if you’d make it.” Kit glanced over at the woman and his breath caught in his throat. She wasn’t thirty-five at all, probably not even thirty.
Her skin was flawless, luminous in the low light of the candle that sat in the center of the table. Her hair brushed against her jawline and he fought the impulse to reach out and touch it, to see if it was as soft as it looked. She smiled at him hesitantly. He watched in fascination as her lips parted slightly and he found himself wondering what it would be like to kiss a mouth like that. Good Lord, she was pretty.
“Kit, this is Roxanne Perry. Roxanne, my son, Kit.”
Startled out of his fantasy, he took the hand she offered, folding her delicate fingers inside his.
“Your father has told me so much about you,” she said. “It’s so nice to meet you, Kit.”
“Sit,” Carl said. “I’ve ordered another bottle of champagne. Would you like a glass or do you want your usual scotch?”
Kit glanced back and forth between his father and Roxanne Perry. By the flushed look on his father’s face, the guy didn’t need any more champagne. “No.” Kit turned and flagged down a waitress. “Chivas on the rocks,” he said. When his attention returned to his dinner companions, he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. “So, how long have you two known each other.”
“Oh, just a few days,” Roxanne said. “We met Saturday morning.”
“Roxanne is a finalist in a contest that WBAM is promoting. I was the one who gave her the good news.”
“A contest?” Kit asked. “What kind of contest?”
“I’ve been nominated by Family Voyager magazine for their ‘Mother of the Year’ contest,” Roxanne said.
“And the prize includes dinner at Fred’s House of Crabs?” Kit asked, trying to cover his embarrassment. She was married and a mother and this was nothing more than a simple business meeting.
“No. A trip to Paris. Your father invited me to dinner and I accepted.”
A long silence fell over the table. “So, are you involved in radio?” Roxanne asked, glancing at Kit from over the rim of her champagne flute.
Kit chuckled softly. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” He dragged his gaze from her face, reminding himself that Roxanne, though attractive, wasn’t available. “Why don’t you tell me something about yourself?”
She gave him a shy smile. “Well, I’m divorced and I have four children.”
Kit cursed silently. This did not bode well. His father was already gazing at Roxanne as if she’d hung the moon and the stars. “And what do you do for a living?”
“Actually, I don’t work. I have a little money from my father’s family. It’s hard to work with young children. But I hope to go back to work soon.”
“I was just trying to convince Roxanne to take a job at the station,” Carl said. “We need to increase our demographic with young mothers and I think she could help us. Every talk radio station in the world is chasing the conservative male demographic, but I’m thinking that we’ve found a niche with stay-at-home moms like Roxanne. That’s what we were just talking about.”
“I told Carl it makes sense,” she said.
“I’m sure you did,” Kit replied.
“When I’m taking care of the kids, it’s impossible to watch television. But I would listen to the radio if the programming were interesting. And appropriate for little ears.”
“You’re already starting to think like a radio programmer,” Carl teased.
A blush stained her cheeks. “I’m just telling you what I know about being a mother, that’s all.” She took another sip of her champagne, then smiled at Kit.
The conversation continued without Kit’s participation. Though she tried to draw him in, he preferred to sit back and watch her in action, to evaluate her motives and to find the best way to counteract her beauty. His father seemed completely captivated, hanging on every word she said, lavishing her with compliments.
When she finished her champagne, she set her napkin on the table and pushed back in her chair. “If you’ll excuse me. I need to call home and check on the kids.”
They both watched her walk out of the dining room. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Carl said.
“What the hell are you thinking? She’s got to be thirty years younger than you.”
“At least,” Carl said. “But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Are you really that blinded by her beauty? She’s out to snare you, Dad. She knows you have money and she’s moving in for the kill.”
“What?” Carl laughed, clearly taken aback by Kit’s comments.
“Come on, Dad. I see what’s going on here, even if you don’t.”
“You think you do,” he said. “But you’re wrong.”
“You can’t date her.”
He straightened as if suddenly insulted. “I suppose I could do whatever I want. I’m old enough to make my own decisions.”
Kit threw his napkin down on the table. “If you expect me to approve, then you’re crazy. I’m not going to condone a relationship with a woman who’s young enough to be your daughter.”
“Are you leaving? We haven’t even ordered yet,” Carl said. “The crab here is fantastic. Sit down and stop acting like a spoiled child.”
“I have to go,” Kit said. He strode out of the dining room and turned the corner to the front door. But he wasn’t watching where he was going and ran, full tilt, into Roxanne Perry. She cried out in surprise and Kit grabbed her to keep her from falling backwards.
For a long moment, they stood in the foyer of the restaurant, his hands gripping her bare arms, their gazes locked. God, she was beautiful…and soft. And she smelled really good. No wonder his father found her irresistible.