Authors: Catherine Anderson
“I meant well.”
With Laura, Mom?” Isaiah pictured Laura's oval face and large, expressive eyes. She'd been so hesitant during the interview last night, then so grateful for the job. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“Now, now. I don't blame you for being angry, Isaiah, but don't curse at me.”
His eyes narrowed even more. “Don't play the mother card. You know very well I wasn't cursing at you. Out with it, Mom. Why isn't Laura at the clinic, training?”
“Because she found out,” Mary wailed.
Isaiah pinched the bridge of his nose. “Found out what, exactly?” he asked, even though he feared that he already knew.
“That it was a matchmaking scheme. Oh, Isaiah, we meant no harm. You have to know that. She would have been a great kennel keeper. I'm convinced of that. If something more had come from the two of you working together, we couldn't see the harm.”
Don't tell me Dad was in on this.”
You know how your father is. If you choose to stay single forever, he figures that's your business.”
Isaiah tossed Boomer another biscuit. “Maybe you should take a page out of his book. Define â
' Mother. Is Bethany involved?”
“Goodness, no. Your sister is so busy with Little Sly, Chastity Ann, and the riding academy that I hardly ever talk to her anymore.”
“Molly?” Isaiah pictured his brother Jake's amber-haired wife conspiring with his mother over coffee.
“Molly has morning sickness. I don't get to talk to her very often anymore, either.”
Isaiah couldn't believe that Hank's wife, Carly, was involved. She'd only just recently had eye surgery. That left only Natalie, Zeke's wife, and she wasn't the busybody type. “Who, then?”
“Etta, my neighbor, Laura's grandmother.”
Isaiah let his head fall back against the seat and closed his eyes. “I'm running late for a farm call, Mom. Spit out the rest.”
“Laura and Etta were talking early this morning. Somehow Etta let it slip to Laura that we'd hatched this plan to get the two of you together. Laura got really upset, hung up on her grandmother, and never showed up at the clinic.”
“You're sure she isn't there?”
“I called to see. Val says she didn't come in.”
Isaiah released a weary breath. “Okay, let me get this straight. Laura came in for the interview yesterday, completely unaware that her interfering grandmother and
interfering mother were plotting to marry her off to her new boss. Now that she knows, she no longer wants the job and didn't show up for training. Do I have it right so far?”
“Yes. That pretty much covers it.”
“And you expect me to somehow clean up your mess?”
“She's such a sweetheart, Isaiah, and she was so excited about the job. It just breaks my heart to think that everything is ruined for her now.”
“How the hell can I fix that?” Isaiah bumped the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. “If she doesn't want the job, she doesn't want the job.”
“I was just thinking she might change her mind if youÂ .Â .Â . well, you knowÂ .Â .Â . dropped by to talk with her.”
“And say what, Mom? That she shouldn't be upset or feel humiliated? That you and her grandmother are harmless busybodies, and we shouldn't pay you any mind? I have it. Why don't I tell her I'd never in this lifetime be interested in her, so it's not really a problem?”
“I don't blame you for being angry.”
“That's good, because I am angry, and justifiably so.” Isaiah envisioned Laura's face again and clenched his teeth. “Laura really
the job, Mom. It was important to her. And you know what else?”
“No, what?” Mary asked thinly.
“I think you're absolutely right. She would have been a damned good kennel keeper. Now, because of you, she's decided to pass on the opportunity. That's a shame. It's not just any vet who'll hire her, you know.”
“Oh, Isaiah, I feel so awful.”
“Good. You should. The next time you get an itch to interfere in my life, remember how bad you
feel right now. Matchmaking never pays, and it's always,
a bad idea.”
“Does this mean you won't go talk to Laura?”
“Give me one good reason why I should.”
Long silence. Finally Mary replied, “Because she's a sweet, wonderful girl, and you're a good man.”
Isaiah held out the phone, glared at it for several long seconds, and then broke the connection.
Would his mother never learn? The last time she'd pulled this stunt, he'd found himself sitting across the supper table from a woman with three chins and a hopeful look in her eyes.
He didn't need or want his mother's help to find a wife. News bulletin: He didn't even
a wife. More important, when and if he ever decided to find one, he wanted to do his own looking. Why couldn't she get that through her head?
A deep gray gloaming heralded the end of another busy day as Isaiah mounted the exterior stairway to Laura Townsend's residence, the top story of a two-level garage that had been converted into an apartment. From the outside it didn't look like much, a white clapboard rectangle with blue trim and a small porch. But, living on a fixed income as she did, she probably couldn't afford anything nicer.
Isaiah knew firsthand how costly housing was nowadays. A run-of-the-mill one-bedroom apartment ran from seven to eight hundred a month. He and Tucker had paid twice that for the town house that they'd shared for over two years. Now, thank
God, they both had their own homes. Isaiah had found a piece of land out on Old Mill Road near Zeke's place and built a log house. Tucker had purchased an old farmhouse on a large acreage on the other side of town. Their days of paying rent were over.
When Isaiah reached the landing, he stopped for a moment to admire the porch decorations. Planter boxes filled with trailing greenery lined the deck rails. Within the sphere of illumination cast by the porch light, two large terra-cotta pots filled with ivy flanked a dark blue door that sported an ornate brass knocker. Under the eave, safe from rain, an old rocker held a trio of stuffed toysâa bear wearing a satin vest and cummerbund, a yarn-haired doll in a pinafore that he guessed was a Raggedy Ann, and a pig in patched denim overalls. The effect was homey and welcoming.
Isaiah straightened his shoulders and dragged in a bracing breath before rapping his knuckles on the door. From inside he heard the clatter of metal followed by fast footsteps. He stepped back just as Laura opened the portal. She looked nonplussed and charmingly tousled, her hair in an attractive stir around her lovely face. Her eyes went wide when she recognized him.
“Isaiah,” she said. And then her face turned scarlet.
He tugged on his ear and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Hi, Laura. Can we talk?”
With the back of her wrist, she brushed a streak of what looked like flour from her cheek. Then she retreated a step to allow him entry. The instant he
stepped over the threshold, his senses were bombarded, first with colorâbright throw rugs, colorfully draped furniture, artfully arranged pillowsâthen with delicious smellsâpumpkin and cinnamon, roasted meat, and fresh coffee.
His stomach growled. He could only hope Laura didn't hear the rumble, for in that moment he wasn't sure what appealed to his senses more, the smells or the woman. She wore a red gingham bib apron over a red knit top and snug blue jeans. As he trailed his gaze downward, he noticed that her feet were bare. Normally he wasn't into feet, but hers were small, delicately made, and oddly cute, the tips of her toes as pink as rose petals.
Pushing the door closed behind him, Isaiah found himself at a loss for words. He settled for, “It would seem that my mom and your grandmother have been up to mischief.”
Laura's face reddened even more. She rubbed her palms over the front of the checkered apron. “I'm sorry about that. I didn't know. Really, I didn't.”
Isaiah took a quick breath and plunged in. “It's not your place to apologize.” He tucked his hands under the hem of his old leather jacket to rest them on his hips. “It was undoubtedly my mother who came up with the idea. She has a history.”
“Oh,” she said softly.
Isaiah rubbed his jaw. “Normally I can just shrug it off. She'll invite me over for dinner or throw a party, and when I arrive there's some lady she wants me to meet. It's uncomfortable, but no real harm is done. This is the first time she's ever gone
this far. I'm as embarrassed as a cougar chased off by a ground squirrel.”
Her lovely hazel eyes filled with incredulity. “You?” she said softly.
“Wouldn't you be embarrassed? It's not like she's done this only once. She's a repeat offender, continually trying to find me a wife.” He glanced down at himself. “Is there something so wrong with me that she doesn't think I can find one on my own?”
She gave a startled laugh. Then she caught her lower lip between her teeth, studied him for a time, and shook her head. “There's nothing wrong with you that I can see.”
Isaiah could see nothing wrong with her, either. No acne, no double chin, no irritating personality quirks. For once his mother had chosen someone who was actually appealing. And wasn't that just his luck? What went for Belinda went for every female employee at the clinic: No workplace romances. It was a hard-and-fast rule, instituted before he and Tucker had opened their practice. If Laura came to work for himâand he sincerely hoped she wouldâshe would be strictly off-limits.
She gestured toward the kitchen. “I was about to eat, and I always make way too much. Would you like to talk over supper?”
Isaiah was starving, and the smells drifting to his nose were almost too tempting to resist. “Oh, no, I shouldn't. You weren't expecting a guest, and you probably have plans for the leftovers.”
“No.” She shook her head and smiled. “I can't change the amounts in the cookbook to make less
of something. Counting is one thing, real math another. I have trouble with divide and subtract.”
Most people would have said
division and subtraction.
It occurred to Isaiah that she constantly had to choose her words to avoid stammering.
She lifted her hands in mock appeal. “
save me from having to eat the same food all week.”
“No man can resist an invitation like that,” he said with a grin. “I'd love to talk over supper.”
She gestured to a coat tree next to the door. “Take off your jacket and come on in. I only have a little left to do.”
As she turned toward the adjoining kitchen, Isaiah trailed his gaze over the small living area. Overstuffed furniture draped with slipcovers vied for space with mismatched end tables, a battered old trunk that served as a coffee table, and a hodgepodge of knickknacks, wall hangings, and stuff sitting on the floor in all the corners. Everywhere he looked, his eye was caught by somethingâa wreath made out of what looked like hay and bedecked with ribbons and flowers, little hand-painted plaques, braided rugs, vases of all shapes and colors, and family photographs, which particularly piqued his curiosity. Were her parents still together? Did she have siblings, and if so, how many?
He shrugged out of his jacket, hung it up, and slowly followed her, pleased to note that her decorating scheme included animals, a gold-framed painting of a dog, a plaque depicting a trio of kittens at play, and all kinds of critter figurines. Her love of animals was clearly genuine, a trait that would serve her well in a veterinary clinic.
Her kitchen, open to the living area, continued the warm, country feeling. A hickory hutch and china cabinet displayed a mismatched collection of blue-and-white dishes. A writing desk along the wall was surrounded by practical yet decorative stuffâa hanging shelf full of cookbooks, a teacup rack, a cottage-scene calendar, and a clock with a rooster painted on the face.
Without being directed, Isaiah sat at an odd-looking dining table, which was small, rectangular, and had drawers under the top lip. None of the four chairs matched.
“Yard sales,” she explained as she filled two goblets with dark red wine. “I moved out on my own only six months ago. My folks gave me a few things. The rest I picked up here and there. That's an old pastry table. The drawers held rolling pins.”
“Ah.” Isaiah's gaze went to the adjacent wall, which had been covered halfway up with synthetic rock capped by a thick, shelflike ledge to hold baskets and more doodads. “I should hire you to decorate my house. It's as empty as a beggar's pocket.”
“I couldn't take money. I'm not that good.”
Isaiah thought she was. He liked the warm, cozy feeling she had created. Somehow she'd transformed a small, rectangular living space into a home with character and appeal.
As she set down the glass of wine, she inclined her head at a basket of fruit at the center of the table. “If you're hungry, help yourself. It'll be a few more minutes.”