Authors: Dave Jackson,Neta Jackson
Book 4 in the Windy City Neighbors Series
Evanston, Illinois 60202
© 2014 Dave and Neta Jackson
From the moment Nicole Singer saw the long black Lincoln sliding toward her, she knew it was the same vehicle that had almost hit her and her two children a few minutes before as they’d dashed across Western Avenue in the rain. She gripped Nathan’s and Becky’s hands, lifted her head a little higher, and picked up the pace, ignoring the approaching limo and the large drops making their way through the branches of the overhanging elms.
The stretch Lincoln eased over to her side of the street—the wrong side, though there wasn’t much traffic in this quiet neighborhood—and slowed to a stop as it came even with her. A dark rear window hummed down. “Excuse me,” a man said.
Nicole kept walking, looking straight ahead to the far end of the sidewalk.
The car began backing up to keep pace with her. “Excuse me. Do you live on Beecham Street?”
Her six- and eight-year-olds were lagging, twisting to look at the speaker. “Mom, it’s the McMansion man,” Becky said in a stage whisper.
Nicole relented and looked.
The man in the limo chuckled, an easy smile spreading across his handsome features. “She’s right, you know . . . big house across the end of the block? I suppose you could call it a McMansion, but to me it’s just home. I’m Lincoln Paddock, by the way. And I’m really sorry my driver gave you a start back there on Western. I don’t know why we were going so fast. I’m not in any kind of a hurry. Here . . .” He swung open the door to the plush limo. “I’m so sorry. The least I can do is offer you a ride and get you out of this rain.”
Nicole hesitated. But Nathan tugged on her hand. “Can we, Mom? We’ve never ridden in a real stretch limo.” At least her son knew what to call it. She hesitated, but Becky began to whimper. “Please, Mommy. I’m gettin’ cold.”
Nicole stepped across the parkway grass toward the curb. “I wouldn’t want to put you out, Mr. Paddock.”
“Please, just call me Lincoln. It’s no problem giving you a ride. Please.” He stepped out and held the door open like a gentleman ushering them into his coach. He was taller than Nicole and a real hunk under his black business suit. Nicole felt herself blush at taking note. How would she like it if that was his first impression of her?
Both kids had claimed the long side lounge seat, stretching out each way with their heads together in the middle. “Look, Mom. A TV in the car and a little kitchen with things to drink.”
She could have walked all the way to the front and taken that seat, but it didn’t seem dignified, all bent over from the waist, so she sat down on the far side of the back seat. “Kids, get your feet off the seats, now.” They complied just as their neighbor closed the door and sat down beside her.
“Don’t worry about it. The seats are leather and wipe right off with a damp cloth. Here, kids, let me find something for you to watch.” He pressed buttons on the controller until a cartoon came up on the flat screen.
The car began to move, the driver proceeding without being told.
Paddock turned to her. “We’ve never met, but I’ve seen you in the neighborhood with your kids. So you are . . .?”
He extended his hand, and she shook it awkwardly. “Nicole. That’s nice. Do they call you Nikki?”
She shrugged. Her husband was really the only one who used that pet name for her, but even then it’d been a while.
“After we almost ran you over, I thought I recognized you, so I told Robbie to go around the block until we found you. But,” he chuckled, “what I want to know is, what you three are doing this far from home in the rain?”
Nicole was going to brush off his question by saying it wasn’t that far and it hadn’t been raining when they started out, but Nathan seemed to have two-track hearing. “We were at Indian Boundaries.”
, dum-dum, Boundary! Indian Boundary Park,” his sister corrected, proving she, too, was tuned in to more than the cartoon.
“Becky . . .” Nicole let her voice rise in warning.
“Okay, I know where that is.” Paddock ignored the name-calling discipline. “No wonder you were rushing back across Western.”
“Yes, we probably should’ve driven. Never can tell how fast rain’ll come up in this spring weather.” Nicole grabbed her damp blouse at the corners of the shoulders and lifted it away from clinging to her like a second skin, only to realize her actions drew Paddock’s attention.
“Mom, can we have somethin’ to drink?”
“Honey, we’ll be home soon. You can wait.”
Paddock chuckled again. “That’s okay, but the bar’s dry. We haven’t restocked it for a while.” He pushed a button. “Robbie, head up to Howard Street and swing by McDonald’s to get these kids something to drink.” He glanced out the back window. “There’s another McDonald’s back there a couple of blocks, but turning this thing around is like a battleship in a canal.”
“But he”—Nicole let her eyes go wide—“he can get it through a McDonald’s drive-thru?”
Paddock’s chuckle was becoming characteristic. “Not a chance. We’ll stop across the street, and he’ll run our order over. I usually take one of our Town Cars. Robbie has to jockey this baby around in our cul-de-sac just to get it out of Beecham.”
“Oh, please, don’t go to any trouble on our account. The kids don’t need anything, and you can drop us at the end of the block.”
“It’s no problem, Nikki. He was taking me home anyway.” Lincoln Paddock looked at the children. “So why aren’t a couple of bright kids like you in school today?”
His questions seemed far too personal, but when the kids didn’t answer, she said, “We homeschool.”
“Homeschool? That means you do your own lessons and, and . . .”
“And we get to go on field trips,” Nathan offered, still staring at the cartoon.
“And your field trip today was . . .?”
“Really? I didn’t know there was a zoo in that park.”
“Oh, it’s not really a zoo anymore,” Nicole said hastily. “Just a few goats and chickens.” Then in case he got the idea that homeschoolers took field trips to nowhere, she added, “The kids have been studying hard, so this was more of a break than a real field trip.”
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “So when can we go to a real zoo, Mom?”
“Oh, you like zoos? Maybe one of these days, I could take you down to Lincoln Park Zoo, where they’ve got lots of animals. Would you kids like that?”
“Could we, Mom? Could we?” The cartoon had lost their attention.
Nicole’s mouth fell open. What was with this guy? “Um . . . maybe someday, when Daddy’s home.” It seemed high time she brought her husband into the conversation. Though she had to admit, there was something enchanting about this ride in the back of a limo with a handsome stranger.
Greg Singer stopped the Jeep Cherokee at the curb in front of his neat bungalow on Beecham Street and turned off the engine. “Okay kids, run on in and help Mommy with lunch. I’ll be along in a minute. Just have to make one call.”
“Oh, Greg. Not on Sunday.” Nicole rolled her head back and gave him a sideways stare as the kids piled out of the car and ran up the walk. “You promised.”
“It’s not work.” He grinned mischievously. When she didn’t relent, he flicked his hand toward her as if sweeping her out the door. “Go on, now. I said it wasn’t business. You’ll see.”
She sighed and stepped out, following six-year-old Nathan and eight-year-old Becky in her bright spring dress as they bounced up the walk. Greg gazed after them. Beautiful kids. Beautiful family. He was a lucky man . . . no, a
man, no question about that! The kids had their mother’s blonde hair, blue eyes. Becky was already becoming tall and slim like . . . well, at least like Nicole had been when they’d first met. But the long winter had bleached the glow from her skin, and she’d become—how to say it?—more “full-figured.” Had to be careful how he spoke of such things or he’d be in big trouble.
Not that the last eleven years hadn’t affected him too. But he liked to think of himself as becoming “more solid,” more like he’d played football than ran track. The wave in his dark hair allowed him to brush it casually forward to take a half-inch off his high forehead without it looking intentional. He was an executive in a sports industry and needed to look the part—trim suits, but open collars. He knew his hazel eyes and easy smile with just a hint of dimples caught the attention of most women, but he didn’t flirt. Nicole was still the one to light his fire.
He punched in the number for Potawatomi Watercraft on his cell phone and waited. “Ah, Roger Wilmington, just the man I wanted to speak to. Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but this is Greg Singer from Powersports Expos. I’m the guy who got you that prime location at the Chain o’ Lakes Boat and Sport Show last February.”
“Oh yeah, Singer. That was great. Best show in years. And they call this a recession! Can you believe that? Really appreciate what you did in positioning us.”
“Uh . . .” Greg hesitated. Would Wilmington remember? “I’m calling about your cottage on Deep Lake. If the offer’s still good, I’m wondering when it might be available?”
“Hmm. I’ll have to check. My secretary keeps the schedule. When were you hoping to use it?”
“According to the weather report, the weather’s supposed to be pretty good for the next few days. I know this is short notice, but, uh, now through Wednesday would be ideal, if that’s possible.”
“Ah, well, I know nothin’s happening
week. Sure, it’s all yours, Greg. My associate, Bob Kruger, went over there a few days ago and put the boat in. It’s a brand-new sixteen-foot Crestliner. You’ll love it. Big Merc on the back and a Minn Kota trolling motor on the front. Crappie oughta be bitin’ pretty good ’bout now too. Sure, you can have it. Listen, let me give you Bob’s address. He lives just down the road from the cottage, less than a mile. You met him at the show. I’ll give him a call, and you can drop by his place and pick up the keys. He’ll check you out on everything. Okay, man? We owe you, and I wouldn’t want you to think we don’t pay up. After all, I’m lookin’ forward to next year’s show.”
Greg took down the information, thanked Wilmington, and ran for the house, taking the porch steps in two bounds. This oughta satisfy Nicole!
“Hey, you haven’t started lunch yet, have you?” he called as he burst through the front door.
Nicole appeared from the bedroom, buttoning a casual shirt as she headed for the kitchen. “How could I? I just now got out of my church clothes.”
He followed her into the kitchen. “That’s good! Forget cookin’. Let’s go to Red Lobster.” He grabbed his wife by the waist and swung her around a little.
“Oh Greg! We don’t have to do that. I was planning on—”
“Come to think of it, forget Red Lobster. That’d take too long. We can catch some fast food on the way.”
“On the way.” Nicole pushed him away and stared at him. “On the way
He’d wanted to keep the whole plan a secret until they pulled up to the cottage on Deep Lake, but he realized that’d never work. There was too much getting ready to do. They needed to pack—food, clothes, swimsuits, and beach toys—if the weather held.
Greg grinned at Nicole, imagining the joy a little getaway would bring. “Remember what you said the other night when I got home, how I’m never around to do anything with you and the kids? Well, like the pastor said this morning: ‘This is your season. Reach out and grab it!’” That’s what he liked about Victorious Living Center, even if it meant driving thirty minutes to the ’burbs. No doom-and-gloom from Pastor Hanson. “So I heard ya, Nicole. You’ve been working too hard. We both have. We need a few days away. The pastor promised we’d receive back tenfold what we seed into the ministry. Now I don’t know if this is tenfold or not, but spring is in full bloom, and it’s supposed to be great weather for the next few days—”