For Better or Worse(8)

By: Lauren Layne


“Leave her alone, Mom,” he called.

His mother ignored him as she led a beaming April into the kitchen. “I’m so sorry to intrude on your morning like this!” his mother exclaimed.

Now Josh did let out a snort.

“Oh gosh, no problem at all,” April gushed. “I’m just disappointed you got here before I could make us all some breakfast.”

His mug clattered to the counter. What now?

“Oh, aren’t you sweet as sugar. Now you just let me take care of that. I’m here to make pancakes! Josh loves when I make pancakes.”

“You know what else I love?” he muttered loudly over the whir of his coffee grinder. “When you call first.”

“So you don’t want my pancakes?” his mom said, finally shifting her attention away from April.

Josh considered as he turned to face the women and crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the counter.

On one hand, he had two women eager to cook breakfast for him.

On the other hand . . . he had two women eager to cook breakfast for him.

But what the hell was he supposed to do? It was hard enough figuring out how to convince one woman that leaving was her own idea. No way could he handle two at the same time.

Josh sighed. “Pancakes would be great, Mom. Perfect fuel for that conversation we’re about to have about boundaries.”

But neither woman was paying attention to him anymore.

“So what do you do, April?” Sue asked, going to Josh’s tiny pantry and pulling out the container of flour she’d stocked for him, again without his asking.

“I’m a marketing analyst,” April bubbled. Josh rubbed his temples. Good God, had her voice been that chirpy and annoying last night? “Technically, I’m based here, but I travel a lot.”

Sue made a tsking noise as she pushed Josh out of the way so she could place all of her dry ingredients on his counter. “Traveling’s no good. Must be hard to maintain relationships.”

Josh turned around so April wouldn’t see his grimace. “Coffee, ladies?” he asked.

“Always,” his mother said. “Your father insists on buying that cheap stuff whenever he does the shopping.”

“Is that why you’re here unannounced?” Josh asked. “Because my coffee’s better?”

“That, and I want a pancake. If I make them at home, your father will eat them, and if he eats them, he’ll put syrup on them, and the diet I’ve put him on will be for nothing.”

“The diet you were doing . . . together?”

“You hold your tongue, son,” she said with a little wink.

His parents had both put on a bit of weight after turning sixty. Something Josh’s dad had accepted just fine, but his mom was always on a “lose a dress size” mission.

At least until she got a pancake craving.

“Oh darn” came a quiet mutter from Josh’s kitchen table.

Josh’s one-night stand turned breakfast companion looked up from her cell phone with an apologetic look on her face.

“I’m so sorry, but I have to get going,” April said. “One of my coworkers has a stomach bug and needs me to cover a conference call for her.”

“No problem,” Josh said, just as his mother exclaimed, “Oh no!”

“Rain check?” April said, standing and coming over to touch his mom’s arm.

Absolutely not.

He liked April. She was a nice woman. Cute. Smart. Likable.

But he’d made it perfectly clear last night that he was only looking for last night. Only last night.

His mother’s unexpected appearance had bought her a reprieve for this morning, but no way was he looking to turn this into a thing. That wasn’t his style—at least not anymore.

Josh was already braced to counteract whatever invitation to dinner his mother had at the ready, but to his surprise, Sue Tanner gave April a noncommittal pat on the back of the hand.

“It was just lovely meeting you, dear. Good luck with your meeting.”

“Thanks,” April said, gracious enough not to press any further. She turned toward Josh and opened her mouth to say something. Then, ­seemingly seeing there was nothing to say, simply glanced down at the oversized clothing he’d shoved at her. Probably debating leaving wearing something three times too big versus putting on last night’s dress, which if he remembered correctly was flesh-toned, skintight, and probably not what she’d hoped to meet a guy’s mother in.

“They’re yours if you want them,” Josh said, jerking his chin at the clothes.

Her head snapped up. “Really?”

Josh smiled. “Really. Keep them.”

The light in her eyes dimmed just a little bit as she put the pieces together that keep them had a very different meaning from you can give them back later.

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