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Authors: Lori Handeland

Out of Her League (8 page)

BOOK: Out of Her League
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One of God

s litt
le tricks to keep you from kill
ing us,

Danny answered, used to the question.

Smiling, Evie glanced around the yard to see what the

big guys

were doing to amuse themselves. The usual—talking, tossing a soft football—and starting a water fight with the garden hose.


She stood and started across the yard. But her memories of her dead husband had kept her a bit too long in the past, and the water fight was too far gone to be stopped with a single


The boys had already found extra buckets and cups and had started to douse one another in earnest. The twins left her side at a run, whooping like mad cowboys. Surprisingly, they halted halfway between her and the nexus of the fight, glancing back to see if she was going to put an end to it all.

Evie spread her hands in a

Be my guest
” ges
ture, and they grinned before diving in and wrestling an empty ice-cream bucket out of the third-baseman

s hands.

Stepping out of the arc of fluid projectiles, Evie watched the kids with a shake of her head. What could be more fun than a water fight on the first day of summer vacation? Not much.

Benji and Danny got doused more than the rest, but they didn

t care. It took a few minutes for Evie to realize someone was missing.

Her gaze turned to the table beneath the oak tree. Her son and Toni were still talking—and holding hands. Time for that to stop.

With a purposeful stride, Evie left the shouting boys behind her
and went toward her son. Unfor
tunately, the moment she saw Adam and Toni so did everyone else.

With shouts that would rival Attila the Hun

s, the team tore across the lawn to include the only dry members in the fun. So engrossed were Adam and Toni in each other that they didn

t see the sheet of water coming until the tidal wave sloshed over the table and them.

Toni shrieked and jumped to her feet. She turned
to the group, and one of the twins heaved a bucket of water right into her face.

Water dripped off Toni

s nose, darkened her blouse, ran down her legs. She opened one eye, then the other, and blinked the droplets from her lashes. The yard was as quiet as Oak Grove on a Sunday night.

Evie held her breath. If Toni acted like a girl with wet hair, she

d never be one of the guys.

Toni approach
ed the hose-wielding third base
man. He watched her, uncertain, the hose hanging from his hands and filling his shoes with water. When she stood directly in front of him, Toni smiled. He smiled back, and she grabbed the hose. In one quick, agile motion she flipped it around and sprayed the group with a stream of water, sending them flying in the other direction. She chased them, laughing, as far as the hose would allow.

Evie grinned. Two points for Toni.


The twins went running by on either side, nearly knocking her over in their attempt to get away from Adam. He chased them into the fray, wrestled the bucket from Benji, got Toni to fill it, and then sat on his brothers while he dribbled water onto their heads in an impressive demonstration of the Chinese water torture.

She could put a halt to that—Evie sat in a lawn chair and let the sun warm her closed eyelids—but why?

The sound of children

s laughter—shrieks, shouts
and giggles—announced summer in full swing. As long as there was noise of a certain kind, everything was fine. When it got quiet or a voice got too shrill, Evie would worry. For now, everyone was happy.

! The coldness of the water nearly stopped her heart—it did take her breath away. A sitting duck in the lawn chair, Evie could do nothing but gasp as the hose drenched her from head to foot.

Wh-wh-who did that?

she finally managed, gasping for air and blinking the ice from her eyes.

Stupid question
. Benji and Danny stood directly in front of her chair, the hose held tandem. When she narrowed her gaze on them, they looked a little scared.

Give me that.

Adam yanked the hose from their hands.

Since the hose was still on, the force of his yank sent a fresh spray across Evie

s face. The blast caught her right in the mouth. She choked.

Hey, you

re drowning her,

Toni cried, and grabbed the hose, too.

What followed
was a display of waterworks sel
dom seen in southern Iowa. Toni and Adam wrestled with the hose. Water sprayed upward, sideways, all around. The two of them sta
rted giggling and col
lapsed into each other

s arms

What in hell is going on here?

Everyone froze as the deep, commanding voice boomed across the yard. All eyes went to the gate, then to Evie. She winced, and turned to meet the icy glare of Joe Scalotta. He did not appear happy
to find his soakin
g-wet daughter locked in the em
brace of Evie

s equally drenched son. She really couldn

t blame him. The two of them looked kind of stuck together in
a suction born of water and sun

Evie shoved her wet hair out of her eyes and went to face the music.



to come back and check on Toni. But he hadn

t been able to help himself. His little girl amid all those... those... those...
. The thought would not leave his head no matter how hard he tried to get it out.


d attempted to amuse himself mowing the lawn. That had taken all of an hour and hadn

t been very amusing. Trying to find something worth watching on the television had taken fifteen minutes more. A car ride had occupied two more minutes, then the drive back to the Vaughns

house another five. He

d only planned to meander down the street. If the house wasn

t on fire, if there were no police cars blocking access or ambulances waiting in the driveway, he would just make a circle back home.

The street seemed like any other on a weekday summer afterno
on—Midwest suburbia. Some drive
ways were empty, the houses having the deserted air of a two-income family. Other driveways sported a single motor vehicle—usually a minivan—bikes strewn about, colored chalk drawings scuffed and blurred. Screen door
s banged; moms called out; chil
dren answered, their laughter on the wind. Summer meant freedom.

As he had driven past Evie

s house, Joe had been congratulating himself on finding a paradise named Oak Grove—then he
’d heard a girl

His blood went co
ld. His heart lurched into over
drive. He parked half on the curb and half in the street. He didn

t bother with the front door, just ran to the backyard, and he

d found


Joe glared his best Iceman glare at the crowd of drenched teenagers. They appeared suitably abashed, especially the one with his hands all over Toni. He

d bet his Super Bowl
ring that was Adam, the respon
sible seventeen-year-old Vaughn.


The sound came from deep in Joe

s throat, and the kids scattered.

Except for the twins, Toni and her octopus. They remained frozen where they were. Evie was already on her way over.

Adam, take the boys into the basement and dry them off,

Evie ordered, keeping her gaze on Joe.


d been right. The octopus was Adam. The kid dropped his hands from Toni

s shoulders. His face was red, but he met Joe

s eyes with a challenge. Joe scowled. Kid had too much guts for his own good.

The twins moaned, but when Evie snapped out a command, moved. Impressive, really, if Joe had been in the mood to be impressed by her parenting skills. After what he

d just seen, he wasn


Toni, you
go in the house and use my bath

No, Toni can get in my car and come home right now.

His daughter gazed at him, then Evie, then the ground, which was steadily becoming mud beneath the hose she held in her hands. She was soaked from her head to her toes, and would resemble a lost, scared little girl—except for one thing.

Her wet blouse revealed she was no longer a little girl.

Joe started growling again.

Stop that,

Evie demanded.


Growling like a bear. This isn

t the woods. Toni, turn off the hose and go inside. There

s a hair dryer under the sink and some dry clothes in the laundry basket on the kitchen table. Help yourself. And take your time. Your father and I need to talk.

Without glancing Joe
’s way for approval, disap
proval or anything in between, Toni did as Evie told her. To be honest, Toni had been nothing but obe
dient since Joe had driven away from Karen
’s con
dominium. So obedient, in fact, that she scared him, and Joe had been y
earning for a single hint of re
bellion to prove she was a normal teenager. But right now Joe wanted to
roar his annoyance that she lis
tened to a stranger instead of him.

You look like you

re going to have a stroke,

Evie observed as soon as the screen door banged behind Toni.

You want to sit down?


he returned.


ll take that as a no, though you really need to relax. A big guy like you, out in the heat, veins bulging in your forehead... One of these days you

re just gonna go
. I

ve seen it happen.

She made a tsking sound as she shook her head.


s blood pressure went up a notch. His mother had always done that to him when she

d caught him in an embarrassing situation—cataloguing what he

d done and how he

d looked. But

t the one who should be embarrassed here. Coach Mom of the Year was the one who should be embarrassed. The fact that she wasn

t—at all—made him see red.

My blood pressure is fine and none of y
our busi


re right. But if you grit your teeth like that, it

s hard to understand you.


Incredibly, she laughed, right in his face, and Joe stood there with his teeth no longer grinding because his mouth hung open. People did not laugh when Iceman Scalotta
growled. They choked; they swal
lowed; they went white; they ran the other way. They
did not


m sorry.

She rubbed her hand across her mouth as if to make her smile disappear. It did, but her eyes still danced.

That growling—it works for you?

Up till now.

BOOK: Out of Her League
4.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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