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How about tomorrow night?
Sorry, Spence, I can’t leave the kids on a weeknight. But…
Annie checked the calendar…
Alex has a two day camping trip with his scout troop this weekend. I can probably find a friend for Hope to stay with. Friday night?
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Again, a quick return.
You’re on. What would you like to do?
She remembered something from his profile.
How about bowling? Your profile says you bowled with your brothers.
His response took a bit longer than it should have.
Bowling it is. And don’t forget to leave all that gorgeous hair down.
She smiled broadly at the computer.
I’ll leave it down. Just for you!
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“We’re going to have to liquidate AllGreen Gear.” Contrary to how torn he’d been about Annie, Spence was at his best here at work, at his desk, doing business. Across from him sat AllGreen’s founder, who’d flown in from New York to meet with him.
Jacob Henderson was a middle-aged man with a bald head and shrewd brown eyes, which were now filled with fire. Spence preferred that kind of spunk in a client instead of defeat. “I don’t understand. You gave us a month to come up with a new business plan.”
“The deal assumed you would keep the assets you already had. In the last weeks, you lost three big customers. Frankly, we have no choice but to act now.” From his inbox, Spence pulled out papers listing the failures AllGreen had incurred. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think the downfall of your company is your fault. The economy can’t sustain the prices. An environmentally friendly wedding dress for twenty-five hundred dollars is steep for the average family. That’s why the shops that had orders with you canceled. Your products aren’t selling.”
our prices are high. When we started, that merchandise was in demand.”
“I realize times have changed, Mr. Henderson, but it’s the present that counts.”
“What will you do with my company?”
”Assume your financial assets as indicated in this contract. Liquidate your inventory. I’ll have to come to New York and will need access to the books to see what else we can do to get our investment back.”
The guy’s fist clenched on the table and he sat forward. “I can’t let you do this.”
Spence studied Henderson. There was grit beneath his unhappy exterior. Spence admired grit. Still, determination wasn’t enough. “You have no choice. We retained controlling shares. Our vote counts more than yours.”
“I’ve got somebody working on more cost-effective materials for our clothing. And my son thinks if we branched out into required items, not ancillary ones, we would sell more products.”
His interest piqued, Spence tried not to show it because he didn’t want to get Henderson’s hopes up. But he was curious. “Like what?”
“Eli’s got a plan for all-green uniforms. The market could be huge.”
Hmm. Global Industries financed or owned shares in a number of businesses that used uniforms. If Spence got involved… Still, he wasn’t sure working with AllGreen was a cost-efficient way to spend his time. “Not a bad idea. But I’m inclined to cut our losses now.”
“I’m not now, nor ever have been, a loss.”
Spence shook his head. He should take back his words, but he couldn’t afford to show the weakness Harold had.
“Give me the full month.”
“I refuse to cooperate.”
“Then I’ll have to put our lawyers on this.”
Now Henderson paled. “You’re a bully.”
Worse had been said about him, so he wondered why the slur stung. “Calling me names won’t help. Now, we need to make arrangements for me to come to New York to start the liquidation process.”
After the meeting was over, Spence had his assistant escort Henderson out and pivoted his chair to face the window overlooking Rockland’s skyline. Second thoughts weren’t like him, so he wasn’t sure why he was considering what Henderson had said about the uniforms.
Annie flashed through his mind. A tree hugger, she’d want him to give this company another shot. Maybe it was
Spence, the side Cole said she brought out in him, that had him hesitating to close AllGreen. Spence scowled fiercely. Hell, this wasn’t going to happen. No way,
was a woman influencing his job. That part of his life was inviolable.
On the drive home after her Methods of Teaching Art class, Annie was thinking about Alex and how he wouldn’t eat breakfast this morning, actually seemed repulsed by it. He’d be back from school now, but Hope wouldn’t be done for another hour as she started later, so Annie could have some alone time with her son. After she reached her house and went inside, she called out to Alex. No answer. Maybe he was upstairs. She climbed the back steps off the kitchen and stopped at the playroom over the garage. The house was so big, they hadn’t needed this space, but Keith had insisted. Now, standing in the doorway, she admitted it was a pleasant area with high ceilings covered in light pine, two skylights and a lot of windows. They used it often, and sure enough, Alex was at the computer. Engrossed, he didn’t hear her come in. “Hi, honey.”
He startled. “Jeez, Mom, don’t sneak up on me.” He minimized the screen, but she’d seen the familiar logo for a wildly popular social network for young people.
“I wasn’t. You must not have heard me call out.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I thought we agreed you wouldn’t spend a lot of time on FacePage.”
“I’m not. I’ve only been on a few minutes.”
“Whose page do you have up?” She wouldn’t let him have one of his own because he was only eleven, but many of his classmates didn’t have that restriction.
“A kid from school.”
“Have I met him?”
He whirled the chair around, forcing her to step back. “It’s just another kid, Mom!” Alex’s tone was frustrated and his eyes were hot with emotion. “You’re so nosy.”
Literally, Annie recoiled. This was new behavior. “Alex, you shouldn’t talk to me that way. It’s disrespectful and hurts my feelings.”
His expression changed from bratty preteen to little boy. “I’m sorry. But, Mom, I need some
“I-I can accept that. You’re getting older, going through some changes. If you ever want a sounding board, I’m here.”
His face flushed to almost crimson. “I…I tell Dad about stuff.”
Oh, her little boy was growing up! “That’s good, Alex. I know I’m a girl and sometimes I’m not the one you need to talk to. But I went through puberty, too, honey, and it isn’t that easy for us, either.”
His brows rose. “
It doesn’t seem that way for girls.”
“We’re better at hiding our feelings.” Like she’d done for years with Keith. “Would you like to talk more about this? Anything?”
He shook his head.
“Then, how about ten more minutes on FacePage and you come downstairs and have a snack with me before Hope gets home?”
“The Real Deal’s on at three-thirty.” A reality show that wasn’t quite as bad as others consuming the airwaves. “I wanna see it.”
“Fine. I’ll watch it with you.”
“Mom, you hate reality TV.”
“It will be fun to do something with you.”
After he’d agreed, Annie left the bonus room to get snacks and contented herself with the fact that the boy she loved still lived inside the surly almost-teenager. She vowed to bring him out more.
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Spence had negotiated billion-dollar deals, bought failing companies, fired top executives and closed floundering factories. All tough stuff. So how hard could bowling be? Hard enough to make him download information from websites dealing with the mechanics and instructions for the game. He’d also bought a how-to DVD of the sport. He drew the line at actually going to an alley and practicing, though either of his brothers would have accompanied him.
It wasn’t like he’d never bowled. Spence had stuck to the truth as closely as possible. Joe Sr. had been in a league with other cops, and Joey and Spence had been included in their Thursday-night trips to the alley. He and his brother got to play on their own lane, drink soda and eat pizza. But that had been…what? Thirty-some years ago. They hadn’t gone bowling after Joe Sr. got sick and then died. Spence shouldn’t have put it on his profile under
, though, where Annie had gotten the idea to come here tonight. But it seemed so innocuous then.
Everything had. Not so much anymore, he realized, beset by another assault of guilt.
Better get to it. He exited the car, once again wearing his Levis, this time with a brown-and-white checked shirt with seams that didn’t match. When he entered Olympic Bowl, the crashing of pins and the shouts of the bowlers brought on visceral associations from the past. A rush of positive feelings suffused him. He hadn’t realized how much those times with Joey and his dad had meant to him.
Annie was already here, sitting on a bench five lanes from the door. Her hair was down and she was wearing a pretty green blouse. When she stood, he saw she wore the same jeans as last time. The way they gloved her legs… Hell, he was ogling in a bowling alley!
Her smile was thousand-watt when he reached the lane. “Hi, there.”
“Hi.” His gaze dropped to her feet. She already wore the appropriate shoes, and a bright pink ball took up space on the rack. “Am I late or are you early?”
“I’m always early.”
Spence liked that in a woman. In anybody.
She gave him a onceover. “Oh, you don’t have your own shoes and ball? I assumed…”
Never thought of it. “I couldn’t find them. I haven’t bowled in a while.”
A long while.
“No worries. Get what you need. Mind if I warm up?”
After securing shoes and finding the correct-weight ball, Spence was ready to bowl. But he wasn’t sure he was ready for this unobstructed view of Annie from behind. Her hair swayed at her waist as she took the approach, swung back the ball and sent it spinning. What the position did to her cute little butt was merciless on his hormones. In the cavernous alley, balls hit pins and shouts resounded through the high-ceilinged space, but Spence only saw and heard her.
“Strike!” She gave a little hop and clapped her hands together. “Yay!”
He groaned. She could bowl. When he got up and passed her on the alley, she squeezed his arm. “Good luck.”
Running through the procedure in his head, he sent his own ball flying.… Not too bad, seven pins.
She called out, “Get the spare!”
He went for it. And missed.
Cupping her hands around her mouth, Annie yelled cheerfully, “Next time.”
Annie got three strikes in a row.
While Spence managed one spare, he failed to pick up several others. Who cared, though, when he got to witness Annie’s pleasure at her own success? That she took such joy in a simple thing was amazing. At the end of this game, he hadn’t even broken 100 and she’d bowled 187.
“I think,” he said sliding his arm around her in what felt like a natural gesture, “I’ve been sandbagged.”
“Aw, don’t worry. President Obama can’t bowl either. Your score is more than the 37 he got on the campaign trail.”
Chuckling, Spence tried to be a good sport while Annie beat the pants off him in the other two games of the night.
He was grateful for the end of the embarrassing contests, but he didn’t want the date to be over. “Shall we get something to eat?”
“They make the best banana splits here.”
It Takes Two
“Banana splits it is.”
They settled into a booth and both ordered her treat of choice. When was the last time he’d had a banana split? He couldn’t remember. The girls he’d dated in college were too weight conscious to indulge in dessert, and the idea of Marlena and her ilk picking out such a fattening treat was ludicrous.
Thinking about Marlena reminded Spence of the ploy he was implementing and it marred some of his delight of the evening. He hadn’t thought about the fact that he was deceiving Annie all night.
As natural as summer rain, she grasped his hands across the table. “Don’t look so sad,” she said. “The kids and I bowl a lot.” She drew back when the waitress brought them some water. “Though I am surprised you’re quite that bad.”
He laughed aloud. Could she be any more charming? She entertained him with bowling stories about the children—even Hope could beat him—and he told her some true ones about him and his brother. All too soon, the dessert was gone and it was time to leave.
The days had been unseasonably warm, but the March night had turned chilly and he saw her shiver, so he pulled her close on the walk to her car. Her body aligning with his ignited the barely banked desire he’d been feeling all night and Spence had to struggle to control it. Again, the lack of discipline was foreign to him.
When they reached her Civic, he checked his watch. It was only eleven, but she seemed tired. “Ready to call it a night?”
Picking up on the regret in her tone, he asked, “Want to go somewhere else?”
“I shouldn’t. I have to pick up Hope from Lauren’s at eight tomorrow morning for a dance class, so I need some sleep.”
He tried to keep her talking. “Lauren’s your friend who owns the spa, right?”
“Yes. She’s got twin girls a few years older than Hope and offered a sleepover.” Annie chuckled. “When I asked.”
Sticking his hands in his pockets, he leaned back on his heels. “I’m, um, not quite ready for the night to end, Annie.”
“Let’s sit in your car for a while.”
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She scanned the area. She’d parked in the back of the lot, under some trees. With a flirty grin, she said, “It’s pretty deserted over here.”
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She opened her door, popped the lock on the other one and slid in the driver’s seat. Spence managed to crowd into the passenger side. “Ugh,” he said because he took up so much room.
“You’re so big, you must be uncomfortable.”
You have no idea, he thought, adjusting his seat.
He stared over at her. Moonlight slivering in through the window haloed her but Spence’s thoughts clearly were not angelic. He touched her hair, ran his hand down its silky length. “I want to kiss you, Annie.”