“Yeah.” Carl grinned, as if he’d suddenly discovered the secret path to a woman’s heart. “She forgave me.”
“How do you know?”
“I spoke to her on the phone a few minutes ago. She called to thank me for the roses. And she said she’d be in this afternoon to talk about next week’s show.”
Kit ground his teeth. Hell, he should have sent her roses! He had every reason-they’d had a wonderful time last night. Then maybe she would have called him. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted more than to hear her voice. Well, maybe he wanted to see her a little more than hear her. Touching her might be nice. Hell, kissing her again would be the best.
Though he ought to feel guilty about kissing Roxanne, he couldn’t. At first, he’d rationalized it as part of a plan to protect his father, to keep Roxanne away from the family fortune. But in truth, he’d kissed her because he couldn’t go another minute without tasting her mouth. “Only a dozen?” Kit asked. “Don’t you think that’s a little…cheap?”
“Cheap? Roses are three dollars apiece,” Carl said.
“But these days, a guy usually sends two dozen. Or even three dozen. It’s more impressive,” Kit said, hoping to test the depth of his father’s feelings for Roxanne.
“I figured you’d have something to say about the roses, but it wasn’t that.”
“Roxanne insists that there’s nothing going on between you two.” Kit watched his father’s reaction, but to his surprise, Carl seemed unfazed by the comment. “I figure it’s none of my business,” he added, trying to draw a comment. “The more I protest, the more determined you seem to be. But how do you feel about her?”
“A dozen roses was always good for my generation,” Carl said. He pointed to a chair and Kit nodded, a silent invitation to sit down. “You know, I can’t figure why someone hasn’t married her,” Carl continued. “She’s a beautiful woman. Don’t you think she’s beautiful?”
“Yeah, sure. She’s great.”
“She’s smart and funny and she needs someone to take care of her. I can’t understand why her husband would have walked out on her.”
Kit fiddled with some papers on his desk, trying to appear only mildly interested. “What do you know about that? Her divorce, I mean.”
“He ran off with some…” His father searched for the word.
“No, professional wrestler. Female professional wrestler. She calls herself the Velvet Hammer. He cleaned out their savings and stock accounts and headed for Bermuda or Barbados. From what I understand, she and the family had a pretty cushy life before he left. Now she’s struggling to keep a roof over her kids’ heads.”
“So, is that why you want her to work at the station?”
Carl ignored Kit’s question. “I’d imagine she’s going to make someone a great wife.” He sighed wistfully and reached for a framed photo on Kit’s desk. “She reminds me a lot of your mom,” he said, pointing to the picture. “When we met, she was working three jobs and going to college at night. She was determined to have a career. That was when women’s lib was in full gear and your mom was right in the middle of it. Roxy has that same kind of tenacity.”
“You call her Roxy? So you two must be getting close.”
“It’s a nickname for Roxanne. It fits her, don’t you think?”
“She comes with four kids, Dad.”
“What difference does that make?”
“I’m just saying that if you take her on, you’re taking on her kids, too.”
“You don’t think I’d be a good father? Wasn’t I a good father to you?”
“You were thirty years younger at the time.”
“I suppose it would be like riding a bike. You never really forget how.” With that, Carl stood and set the photo back on Kit’s desk. “That’s a nice one of your mom. I remember when I took that.” He slowly walked out of the office, his mood suddenly pensive.
Kit groaned softly, then rubbed his temples with his fingers. “This is just great.” It was clear how his father felt about Roxanne Perry. He’d gone from interested to besotted in a matter of a few days. Though Kit could relate. Hell, he’d changed his own tune pretty drastically.
But Carl Lawrence had been out of the dating pool for nearly forty years. The pretty little goldfish Carl was used to had been replaced by sharks. Kit knew what it was like. He’d been out there and it was brutal, not exactly the kind of world his father was prepared to handle.
Back when his parents were courting, women were willing to wait for a relationship to develop slowly. Marriage was serious business. But these days, if a man wasn’t sure after a few months of dating, the relationship would end and the woman would move on, not willing to waste another day in the quest for the perfect husband.
If his father was in love with Roxanne Perry and she wasn’t in love with him, then Kit would be the one to pick up the pieces. He pressed his intercom button, buzzing the secretary that he and his father shared. “Linda, will you call the receptionist and ask her to send Roxanne Perry up to my office as soon as she arrives? And then I’d like to send her some flowers. A big bouquet. Really big.”
“Roses?” Linda asked.
“No. Spring flowers. Tulips, daffodils, those really nice-smelling ones.”
“Yeah. Real colorful. Cheerful flowers. Not…serious flowers.” He could imagine the smile on his secretary’s face. “You know what I mean.”
“No frowning or depressive flowers. Got it,” she said.
Kit stood up and paced the width of his office, trying to decide how to approach Roxanne. After last night, he had a serious conflict of interest. He’d kissed his father’s girlfriend. Now was the time to remain objective, to separate his feelings from his father’s feelings. Sure, he liked Roxanne, but he wasn’t in love with her. If he had to give her up to protect his father, then that was a sacrifice he was prepared to make.
The phone rang and Kit leaned over the desk to snatch it up. “Kit Lawrence.”
“Mr. Lawrence, Mrs. Perry arrived a few moments ago. I’ve sent her to your office.”
Kit stood, nervously fiddling with his tie. A minute later, Roxanne appeared at his door, her coat thrown over her arm.
“Hi,” she murmured.
Kit’s breath caught and he wondered why she looked more beautiful every time he saw her. Was she doing something different with her hair or her makeup? Or was the anticipation of seeing her again simply causing him to imagine it? “Come in,” he said.
She glanced around, as if stepping into his office was dangerous. She was right. If he closed the door behind her, there wouldn’t be much to keep him from sweeping her into his arms and kissing her again. But before he did that, he had to get a few things clear between them. “I wanted to talk to you about my father.”
Roxanne smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. He apologized for last night. He also sent roses.” She sent him a shy smile. “And I wanted to thank you for the swimming and the pizza. We had a lot of fun.”
Her gaze met his and Kit knew she was thinking about the kiss they’d shared. He wondered how she’d react if he stepped out from behind his desk and repeated the experience. Would she melt into his arms or would she push him away? But kissing Roxanne would not solve the problems standing between them. “Please, sit down.”
She did as she was told, folding her hands on her lap and watching him expectantly.
“What are your intentions regarding my father?” he blurted out.
Kit paused, trying to frame his words as delicately as he could. “Though he won’t admit his feelings to me, I think it’s time you made your feelings clear to him. I don’t want to see him hurt. I want to know what it would take for you to walk away.”
She frowned. “I don’t understand. Walk away from what? I’m not in love with your father! He’s a nice man and he’s been very kind to me. How many times do I have to say that?”
“Don’t say it to me. Say it to my father.”
“He’s never given any indication that he has serious feelings for me. As far as I can tell, he’s still in love with your mother.”
Kit drew a deep breath, knowing that he should end the conversation. But he couldn’t help but push it. He needed to know how she really felt, and not just for his father’s sake but for his own. “I know how difficult things are for you now, financially. And this job that he’s offered you does have a small salary. I’d like to help you out if you’d agree to walk away before you hurt him.”
“Wait.” Roxanne stood up. “I don’t need to listen to any more of this. Your father offered me a chance. And I’m going to take it.”
“My father owns thirty-three percent of my company. If you think I’m going to let you-”
“Don’t even say it,” she warned, holding out her finger to silence him. “If you really cared about your father, then you’d want him to be happy. And if he had the good fortune to find happiness with me or any other woman, then you should be jumping for joy. Because real happiness…real love…is very hard to find.”
She turned on her heel and strode out of his office, slamming the door behind her. He stared after her, suddenly wondering what had possessed him to take such a tack with her. Maybe his first instinct had been right-to let his father’s infatuation run its course. But he didn’t want to watch his father fall more deeply under her spell. And he didn’t want to learn that Roxanne Perry was the kind of woman to take advantage of a vulnerable man. But even worse, he didn’t want to believe that she’d choose his father over him.
He punched at his intercom button and when Linda answered, he schooled his voice into relative calm. “Cancel those flowers,” he said. Hell, he didn’t care whether Roxanne Perry kidnapped his father and turned him into a sixty-year-old sex slave. From now on, he was staying out of it!
“AND THAT’S OUR SHOW FOR TODAY. Join us next Tuesday when we’ll be talking about the perils of dating for a single mom. This is Carl Lawrence, for Roxanne Perry. Thanks for listening to Baltimore At Home.”
Carl flipped a switch and turned to face Roxanne. “Great show. I enjoyed our conversation about discipline. I didn’t realize how different things were in a single parent household. No good cop, bad cop.”
“Carl, I need to talk to you about something,” Roxanne murmured.
“And I need to talk to you. Let’s go to my office.”
Roxanne followed him out of the studio and when they reached his office right next door to Kit’s, he closed the door behind her. She nervously took a seat across the desk from him and tried to put order to her thoughts. She needed to tell him how she felt. Though she respected him and cared about him, there was no romantic spark. He was old enough to be her father.
“Carl, before we talk about next week’s show, I need to clear the air.”
“You can clear the air after you look at this,” Carl said. He slid a sheaf of papers across the desk and she picked them up.
“What is this?”
“It’s a contract. I’m offering you a permanent job here at the station. Twenty-five thousand a year with benefits. I know it’s not a lot, but there’s a clause in there that allows you to renegotiate after six months if the ratings increase the way I think they will.”
She stared at the paper, the words a blur. “A job? You’re offering me a real job?”
“Radio is a strange gig,” he said. “Either you’re good at it or you’re not. You’re a natural, Roxy. People listen to you. You’re compassionate and outspoken and funny and that’s a rare combination.”
“But I don’t have any professional training.”
“I didn’t either. Before I got into radio, I was selling used cars. I came into the studio to do some commercial work for my boss and they liked my voice. I did more voice-overs and they offered me a job reading the news. That’s how I got my start.”
“I don’t know what to say,” she murmured, clutching the contract in her hands as if it might suddenly disappear. She thought finding a job would be difficult, that she’d have to suffer months of rejection before someone would hire her. And now, he was handing her a career on a silver platter.
“Say yes,” Carl urged. “It would be a great job for you. You’d need to be here from about nine until three on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that’s it. You can do research for the show from home. We’ll get you a computer with Internet access. You know how to use a computer, don’t you?”
“Sure. I used to help my ex-husband with his research when he was just starting up his law practice.”
“We’ll go over the show in the morning before we go on the air. And then we’ll spend an hour afterwards brainstorming for the next week. We should-”
“Why are you doing this?” Roxanne interrupted.
“I told you,” Carl said. “Because you’re good.”
“There isn’t another reason?”
He shrugged. “Well, maybe I’d like to help you out.”
She drew a slow, even breath. “Your son says that you’re falling in love with me. Is that true?”
Carl chuckled. “That’s what he thinks?”
“He offered me money to stay out of your life.”
He didn’t seem to be surprised. “How much?” Carl asked.
Roxanne gasped. “He didn’t offer me a specific amount.” She paused. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“I’d hold out for a hundred thousand,” Carl advised in a serious voice.
“Ever since I turned the business over to Kit, we’ve switched roles. He’s been treating me like the kid and I’m supposed to treat him like the parent. He’s the one who suggested I move into the condo so I wouldn’t have to make the drive home when I worked late at the station. He’s the one who insisted on the car service after I had a few little accidents on the freeway. And now he’s trying to control who I spend my time with. Yes, Kit has this notion that I’m in love with you. And maybe I haven’t disabused him of it quite yet. I’m trying to teach him a lesson.”
“And what’s that?” Roxanne asked.
“That it’s time for him to stop running my life and start living his.” He paused. “Now do you want the job?”
“Can I have a few days to think about it?” Roxanne asked.
“Sure,” he replied. “As long as you promise to say yes, you can take as long as you want.”
Roxanne stood, pressing the contract to her chest, then started toward the door. When she got into the hallway, she searched for a quiet spot, a place to absorb everything that had happened. She opened the door to the janitor’s closet and stepped into the dark interior, needing just a moment to reflect.
She had a job, a way to provide at least some measure of security for her family. Though it wasn’t much, if she worked hard, she could make the show a success. After all, she’d wanted to go into television work after she’d gotten her degree. But then she’d married John and they’d started their family and she’d put all thoughts of a career behind her.