Heather Park


Guest Author Series: Nora Roberts

Catherine Elizabeth Parker-Carlisle was an attractive woman. She had long auburn hair that she kept tied neatly behind her head. Her skin was the color of warm sunshine and her dark eyes were strong but gentle. Her body was not what it once was, but she had the pleasant curves of a woman in full bloom. After the accident (she did not intend to have a third) she realized that motherhood was not always kind to a woman's figure, and vowed not to go down without a fight. So thanks to lots of Pilates and cardio, she was fit and trim and often attracted the looks of men, sometimes much younger men. 

She was a lawyer by training and had been a successful prosecutor. After her youngest child was born, however, she realized that, at least for now, her true calling was to be a full-time mother to her boys. 

When asked, she would say, without hesitation, that she was happy and her life was very good. And she would be telling the truth were it not for the fact that she was lonely. Her husband Wayne, whom she had met in law school, was a good man who loved her. And she loved him. But he was traveling more and more, and when he was home, his time was taken up with the kids. She longed for the days when they could make love in front of the fire without sitting on a pile of Legos.

She would never consider cheating, but now and then it did not hurt to imagine herself in the arms of another man. That’s when she saw him.

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He was helping his daughter across the monkey bars, his solid body flexing easily under his Tommy Bahamas. Catherine watched him for a while, careful not to catch his eye. His behavior was strange, not like that of most dads she had seen on the playground. First of all, it was a weekday. Most dads only showed up on the weekends. And second, he actually looked like he knew what he was doing. Interesting, she mused. Perhaps I should talk to him, I need to find out more about this intriguing--and yes, very good looking--man. Her body shivered with excitement. 

But in her reverie she had not noticed that he had slowly worked his way to her side of the park and was now standing just a few feet away. Caught a little off guard, she turned to him and smiled awkwardly.

“Hi,” she said, “Daddy’s day out?” It was dumb of her to say it, but there it was.

“No. Daddy’s day out involves scotch and strippers." 

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Oh my God! He didn’t just say that did he? Gross. You may be handsome, but you're also a pig. She now wished he would just go away.  

But he did not go away. Instead, after a moment of tense silence he said, “Sorry, that was a little crude.”

“Yes it was,” she shot back, with what she hoped was a sufficient amount of coolness. If he was looking for forgiveness, he was wasting his time.

“It’s a nice day, isn’t it? We’ve been due for some sun. It’s good to be outside for a change--we love coming here to Heather Park. I don’t think I could take another day at the Hoppy-Hop Gym.” She grudgingly had to admit he had a point. She believed that a child could never have too many opportunities to run free in a controlled, safe and stimulating indoor environment, but the Hoppy-Hop Gym did have a funny smell. 

Before she had a chance to decide what tone her answer would take, he turned to her again and said, Look, I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. It’s just that I hate that phrase, ‘Daddy’s day out.’ I’m a stay-at-home dad, so every day is Dad’s day out.

Catherine's quick mind was now fully awake. A stay at home dad? Oh, this man is something different altogether. She then noticed that his eyes were green, set not too close together, and unnervingly deep. Their color was somewhere between the dark green of the stormy North Atlantic in winter and a Shamrock McShake. She was afraid she might fall in. She’d have to watch that. Stay cool Catherine Elizabeth. Remember how you were in the courtroom: calm, in control, strong...and sexy. She smiled to herself as she recalled how she used to flash that one young defense lawyer steamy glances and twirl her hair whenever he would say “briefs.”

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He continued, “Actually, the reason I came over here was that I just wanted to tell you your son looks like a good kid. He plays well with the other children and knows how to 'use his words' instead of just screaming." 

Damn! He was good. How could he know her weak spot? She had no defense when it came to praise of her children. She felt like a schoolgirl again. Be careful Catherine, this guy’s an ace and he’s up thirty-love. 

“Thanks for the compliment,” she managed to get out. And now for her return: “How did you come to be a stay at home dad? That’s really great. Does your wife work?”

“Yes, she’s a financial advisor and we decided that her career prospects were better than mine, and that I’m actually well-suited to raising our two girls. The other's in pre-school.”

Oh my, she thought, how sensible, how open-minded. She had given him her best backhand, and he had lobbed the ball over the net with ease. She barely heard him ask, “And you, do you work outside the home?” 

Breathlessly, she whispered, “Yes...I mean no...you see, I was an attorney, but when I had my third I decided that I wanted to be there for my children full-time. Besides, my husband works such long hours, it would cost us a fortune for a nanny.” Ok, mister I-don’t-know-what-your-name-is-but-want-to-find-out, the ball’s in your court, are you going to ask about my husband, or go on about your wife, and kill conversation, or are you going to go where we both know we want to go? She hated herself for losing control like this, but those eyes!

“What’s your name?” he said.

“Catherine.” Oh he’s quick.

“Hi Catherine, I’m Evan, and that’s Alexandra. What’s your boy’s name?”

“Tobias” she answered, suddenly realizing her advantage. He was stalling, asking about her son. It was then she knew she had to take over. “Your daughter looks like a real sweetheart.” She paused, her senses tingling, “maybe we should get the two of them together for a playdate.”

He didn’t answer. Maybe he didn’t hear her. Maybe he was just like every other guy she knew—clueless. Or maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, and was going to make her wait. Maybe he was just pretending to turn all of his attention to his child going down the big-kid slide. It was time, she decided, to step things up a notch. Then it hit her like a train, maybe he’s not attracted to me...

Just then he spoke, “Did you say your third? You don’t look like you have three kids.”

“Oh, you don’t mean that.” She prayed that hadn't come out sounding as hopeful as she was feeling.

“Sure I do, you're, um, quite...attractive." She noticed his slight hesitation, and she got the sense that his mouth was dry. Was he nervous? Yes, maybe he was. 

It was time to press her advantage. She tossed her head and arched her back ever so slightly. She watched him intently as his gaze briefly shifted and eyes flashed. Normally, she prided herself on using her wit and intelligence, not her body, to engage men's attention. But it was good to know she always had that ace up her sleeve. Besides, she wanted him to look, and not just because she needed to break away from his hypnotic gaze. 

But when their eyes met again, they looked more dangerous than ever, for they now they glittered with an intensity and heat that was only partly the reflection of the fire she felt in her own...

Editorial Note:For those readers who haven't yet clicked off in disgust or vomited on the keyboard, it's necessary to tell you about the great debate that occurred among the members of the editorial board here at AAD. We all know where this story is going, right? Well, not so fast--the manuscript goes on for another 232 pages before the drilling rig spouts black gold, so to speak. Holy Toledo! 232 more pages of this crap?! This thing is already ridiculously long. And nary a dragon, secret agent or submarine in sight! Well, apparently that's the point. See, some female members of the board insisted we print the whole manuscript to preserve the emotional nuance and sense of anticipation that characterizes Ms. Roberts's masterpieces. 

But as supreme commander of saying yes and no here at AAD--and the only one who has the password to the server--I say nuts to that. As a compromise, I'll give you a brief summary of what happens next, and then get to the good part so we all can get on with our lives:

Before they leave the park he says something dumb, she calls him on it, they go away mad. They meet the next week in the supermarket over the melons. They touch hands. They do the Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy thing for a couple of months. One day he puts his hand on her shoulder, and leaves it there...for a long time. She changes to a new perfume. They meet at a dance, they have a misunderstanding, she tries to throw him off with her best Hester Prynne, but he pulls out a Captain Wentworth the likes of which she has never seen... 

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...but he didn’t stop there—this train was headed to the station. “When we first met, you mentioned a playdate...that would be great. Alexandra and I don't have to pick up Zoë at school for another hour." He paused, filling the air with anticipation, and then added, "I have some Barney DVDs in my bag” (he didn’t need to tell her it was from Kate Spade’s new men’s collection).

OK, Catherine Elizabeth Parker-Carlisle, what are you going to do? Her mind flashed red, but those green eyes of his said...go. She took a deep breath, jumped into the sea of Evan and mouthed the words, 

“I’ll open a bottle of Chardonnay.”



Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen