DATING A SAINT
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SERIES: NEVER TOO LATE, BOOK THREE
PUBLISHER: CREATESPACE PUBLISHING
FORMAT: TRADE PAPERBACK & EBOOK
LENGTH: 270 PAGES
RELEASE DATE (PRINT): October 30, 2011
E-BOOK ISBN: 978-1-939988-05-8
PRINT ISBN-13: 978-1-466207-22-6
SMASHWORDS ISBN: 978-1-458093-56-1
Are you over 40? Over 50? This hot romance series is just for you!
Let the stories of Alexa, Regina, and Lauren convince you in this humorous romantic comedy saga that it is “Never Too Late” to find romance and love.
In Book3, after divorcing her cheating ex-husband years ago, 42 yr old Lauren McCarthy is upset to find herself attracted to a married man. Or at least, 42 yr old James Gallagher says he’s married, even though Lauren has never seen a wife. Every time Jim puts his hands on her, she thinks if Jim would only trust her with his secrets, she might be willing to risk her saintly reputation to be in his arms.
Read Prologue and Chapter 1
“Are you ready for randori, McCarthy-nan?”
Lauren McCarthy tightened the belt on her dogi. She bowed to Morrow Sensei who asked the question, and then turned to bow to the four men across the mat before assuming the stance that told them she was ready for their attack.
Her mind should have been focused on what was about to happen, focused on the men who would hold nothing back as they fought to defeat her. Unfortunately, her thoughts as she waited were racing ahead to the mandatory lunch with her mother. It would be yet another meeting where she would have little or no control, where she would be incessantly nagged about reconciling with her cheating SOB of an ex-husband.
Resentment and anger tightened her already stressed muscles. Lauren ordered herself to calm down, but lost the opportunity when all four men rushed her at once. Five years of hard training kicked in as all her focus shifted immediately to protecting herself.
She sent the first man sailing past her shoulder as she deflected his attempt to grab her.
The second one she stopped with a sharp hit of her flat palm, landing him on the mat three feet in front of her.
The third man kicked high at her shoulder. She grabbed his ankle, used it to twist his whole body, and sent him flying off to the side.
However, the fourth man caught her off-guard. He connected with a dual punch to her chest that knocked her back on her heels. The power of a hit from a man her mind registered instantly as bigger than even James Gallagher stunned her momentarily. She shook her head to clear it. Her hair swung against her face as she righted herself and circled him.
Though she looked her opponent squarely in the eyes as she prepared her defense, in her mind she saw Jim instead. A sudden burst of temper traveled through her veins like liquid fire.
She rocked forward to the balls of her feet, narrowed her eyes, and charged her attacker before she could stop herself. Two seconds later, the man was pinned to the mat with her foot across his throat. He pounded the mat with a loose hand, signaling his concession to defeat.
Lauren swallowed hard, removed her foot, and reached a hand down to help him up. He was one of her fellow students, though not as practiced as her. She respected him because he was often the only one brave enough and big enough to withstand the full force of her when her adrenaline was high. But she had no right to project her anger onto a sparring partner and was instantly ashamed for having done so.
After she was sure he was okay, Lauren walked backwards to stand where she began. She was breathing heavily now, her body still vibrating from the rush.
The four men backed up to stand across from her, then bowed to her, acknowledging her win.
Lauren sniffed quietly, fighting not to shed the tears of regret that always followed one of her emotional meltdowns on the mat. She bowed to the men, and then watched them bow out to leave the mat before she turned to Morrow Sensei again. She dropped to her knees and rocked her hips back on her heels, waiting for the lecture she knew was coming. At that moment, she wished her chin-length silver blond hair was longer, just so it could cover more of her embarrassed face.
Her sensei waited a full two minutes before talking. He waited—Lauren knew—to make sure she had ample time to reflect and regret. When he spoke, his tone was firm.
“The answer is yes. I noticed you lost your temper again. My advice to you is still the same. Resolve your emotions off my mat. Your problems will never be resolved here no matter how many of your fellow students you defeat.”
She acknowledged his words with a respectful nod and another sniff.
“I can provide you no sempai to fight with who are more skilled than you are. Your temper is the only thing keeping you from teaching. It is time to master yourself and become a sensei,” he said sternly.
Lauren frowned as she watched Morrow Sensei shake his head and sigh heavily. He was disappointed in her—again.
“Seeing you so close to tears makes me want to go beat someone up, Lauren. You know I am not a violent man.”
Despite her embarrassment, and her chagrin, Lauren laughed softly at her teacher’s denial of being violent. Numerous times over the years he had fought and defeated her. Joseph Morrow was currently the only person in her dojo that could take her down alone. It only made her sniff harder. Her respect for the man was above all others.
“Thank you for caring, Morrow Sensei.”
“I care that you learn from your time on the mat, Lauren. Sometimes a person has to put his or her needs first in order to find a path to healing their heart.”
Morrow Sensei bowed, and taking her cue from his respect, Lauren stood. She returned the bow and backed up several steps before turning to leave the mat. As usual, she was much more humbled than when she first stepped onto it earlier.
“Really, Lauren. Would it kill you to wear a feminine dress that didn’t emphasize how wide your hips are? Those jeans are deplorable. They only emphasize assets better hidden.”
Lauren glanced at her mother and fervently wished she hadn’t been an only child. Disapproval of nearly everything had etched a permanent frown on Lydia McCarthy’s otherwise unwrinkled face and nearly perfect lips. Since her father had died, verbal disapproval of her only child had doubled, no doubt to replace the unexpressed scorn her mother had felt for her father.
Years ago she had resented her mother’s criticism, but sympathy for Lydia’s obvious unhappiness had melted most of that away. Instead, Lauren tried to imagine how hard it must be for the perfectly groomed socialite. Lydia looked years younger than her actual age, yet her aging daughter was never going to be delicately feminine enough for normal sized men to want to date, much less marry. Her size six mother credited her much larger size to an unfortunate accident of her impressively large father’s gene pool contribution. From her friend Alexa Ranger, who was equally as statuesque, Lauren had learned to like being taller than most men.
Fighting off her typical long-suffering sigh over her mother’s negative commentary, Lauren calmly sipped her mineral water until her irritation was constrained. “I was sparring at the dojo all morning, Mother. Be grateful I showered and changed before I showed up. I told you I really didn’t have time for lunch today. If you hadn’t insisted, I would not have come.”
Lauren fought back guilt when her mother sniffed at the disdain, but she knew Lydia McCarthy would refuse to let it distract her from her task of imparting more gloom and doom.
“This couldn’t wait, Lauren. I needed to tell you something important. Jared has given the woman he’s seeing a ring—an engagement ring.”
“Wonderful. I wish them all the best,” Lauren said.
Truthfully, the news about her ex made her want to jump up from her seat and do a happy dance right there in the restaurant. She sincerely hoped it was true. Maybe her mother would give up now and leave her love life alone.
“Honestly Lauren, I don’t know what Jared sees in her. The woman is not very attractive. I suppose she’s a bit more slender than you. Well, actually she’s smaller overall, but Jared always seemed to favor your height when you were married. He’s always complimentary when he speaks of you. Most men don’t like women as tall as they are.”
Lauren swallowed another sigh to make sure it didn’t escape. Her mother had entered that zone where she wouldn’t hear a single word she said, but Lydia would twist any show of physical exasperation into pining over her rat bastard, cheating ex.
“The angel hair pasta is so terrific here. I wonder what they do differently. Mine always turns out sticky,” Lauren said, hoping to change the conversation. She twirled the excellent pasta onto her fork and brought it to her mouth for a bite.
“Lauren, stop eating and focus. Jared takes the woman to dinner every Thursday at The Grey Goose, so I made a reservation for us there this evening.”
“What?” Lauren asked, swallowing pasta that was suddenly tasteless.
“Stop pretending you didn’t hear me. Wear that short black dress Jared was so fond of. You still have it, don’t you? And for God’s sake, do try to look happy for once,” Lydia ordered.
Lauren put down her fork and stared in disbelief at the woman sitting across from her. Was her mother seriously encouraging her to compete for the attentions of a man who had been repeatedly unfaithful during their marriage? When two years of therapy had failed to change his behavior, she had finally given up and divorced him. Regina had helped her find a house to buy the day she made the decision, and that very evening introduced her to Alexa. Both her notorious friends helped her survive the social disgrace Jared Smith had heaped on her. Lydia McCarthy seemed determined to heap it back any way she could.
“Mother, I have dinner with Alexa and Regina on Thursdays—every Thursday. I am not available tonight, but even if I were, why on earth would I want to spend any time trying to impress Jared? Honestly, I don’t know how you could even suggest such a thing. Let him marry another woman. I just hope he treats her better.”
Lydia lifted her cocktail to take a stiffening drink, glaring at her obstinate daughter over the edge of the glass. “For heaven’s sake Lauren, you’re forty-two years old. Men are not easy to find at your age. Jared may be the only choice you have left. At least he’s free to marry you, which is better than the only man you’ve been chasing after lately. You need to get over your infatuation with James Gallagher and come back down to earth. Gallagher is married, Lauren. He openly admits it. There’s no room for you in his life.”
Lauren nodded but glared back at her mother. “You may be right about giving up on Jim, though I still have never seen a wife. But you are dead wrong about Jared. I’d rather die alone than let that man back into my life. I wish his next wife better luck with keeping him faithful. That’s all I can do, Mother.”
Lydia huffed and rolled her eyes. “Be careful what you wish for. You’re halfway to death already. You’ll be thinking I’m right when you’re alone at sixty-six like I am. You’ll wish then that you had tried.”
“Mother, please. You’re only alone because you choose to be. Lots of men would date you if you would just go out with them.” As Lauren offered the gentle reassurance, she reached across the table to touch her mother’s hand. Lydia let it linger for about ten seconds, then pulled away.
“I would never tarnish your father’s memory by remarrying,” Lydia declared.
“Mother, you didn’t even like Daddy. You had separate bedrooms for most of your marriage. What could possibly get tarnished?” Her frustration was evident in her declaration, but for once Lauren didn’t care.
“Sweetheart, you don’t understand the complexities of relationships. Men are beasts, and none of them are capable of being faithful. Your situation was normal.”
“Oh Mother—really? That’s not . . .”
Lydia shook her head. She was determined to get through this time. “Lauren, please—for me. Give Jared another chance. In his own way, he loves you. Maybe you just weren’t woman enough to meet all his needs. That happens more often than you know. And I certainly understand not wanting to fulfill your wifely duties at someone’s whim. God knows I hated doing that with your father and was only grateful when he turned his attention elsewhere. Even you said Jared treated you well except for the other women. Think about it. He would see you never lacked for anything financially. You could be using your trust fund for enjoyment instead of paying bills with it.”
Lauren shook her head too, mirroring her mother’s actions. “No. There’s no room in Jared’s heart to love a wife. You’ll just have to trust me on that one. And I’m sorry you had a bad marriage with Daddy. He always told me he loved you but could never find a way into your heart. I’m sorry you hated having sex with him,” Lauren said cautiously, making herself say the words. Awkward didn’t even begin to cover what she felt about discussing this even though it needed to be said. “Personally, I like sex just fine. Jared didn’t have to go anywhere to have his needs met, Mother. The other women were about him, not about me. His cheating was not my fault.”
“Really? If you like sex so much, then why have you not been dating all these years?” Lydia challenged. “I think inside you’re still pining for Jared. He tells me all the time how much he misses you.”
“Of course he misses me. When we were married, I was the backup woman when he ran out of potentials for affairs,” Lauren declared.
She thought briefly about mentioning her vibrator collection which kept her from needing to date men for sex. In the end, she decided it might shock her sex-hating mother into having a heart attack. Plus it just wasn’t any of her mother’s business what she did.
“Believe me—I’m not pining for Jared or any other man. I’m not dating because I want to keep my life simple.”
“Sweetheart, you can say whatever you want,” Lydia said sympathetically, patting her daughter’s hand. “I can tell you’re just in denial. I can also tell that Jared is going to marry this woman if you don’t stop him. I know you can do this, Lauren. I have faith in your womanly wiles, even if you don’t.”
Lauren closed her eyes. Her sensei was right. She needed to deal with her problems off the mat, but how could she? It was hard to resolve anything with a woman so detached from reality. The situation with Jim was frustrating, but the one with her mother was utterly impossible. Her mother’s blindness to her ex-husband’s faults was a prime example of why she was always so angry at her.
“How about this? To prove I’m okay, I’ll dance at Jared’s wedding and even buy them an expensive wedding gift,” Lauren said, wondering how to convince her mother about the depth of her loathing for her ex.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I understand sarcasm when I hear it. If Jared actually goes through with a second marriage, I’ll be standing by your side holding the box of tissues. That’s what kind of mother I am.”
“Mother—God,” Lauren said sadly. She put her head in her hand while her mother patted and cooed.
That evening at Lucinda’s, they were almost finished with the appetizers before Regina finally couldn’t stand it any longer. “Why are you not eating? Did you have a fight with Lydia today?” Regina refused to call the woman Lauren’s mother. What Lydia McCarthy put Lauren through was not nurturing, or even friendly, much less motherly.
At Regina’s question, Alexa lifted her head from her food and studied Lauren’s frown with new eyes. She’d been so happy planning her wedding that she hadn’t noticed Lauren’s distress.
With two sets of concerned eyes now turned to her, Lauren sighed deeply and closed her own. The last thing she wanted was to talk about her mother, but she knew Regina and Alexa would nag her until she spilled her guts to them.
“Today was worse than usual. Mother has decided my lack of dating is because I hate sex. Then as if discussing my sex life over pasta wasn’t bad enough, she told me I should put up with Jared’s other women so I won’t be alone like she is at her age.”
“Honey, Lydia’s not alone because of her age,” Regina said firmly, wincing at the harshness of her words. “Sorry. It’s not my place to criticize your mother.”
Alexa snorted and stared. “Are you sure Lydia McCarthy is your real mother?”
Lauren snorted back at the poor humor. “Like either of your mothers is a prize? I mean seriously, do either of your mothers approve of your life choices?”
Lauren was stung by their criticism, but mostly because it was true. And okay, maybe she had lost count of the number of times she’d fantasized about Lydia not being her real mother. Everyone did that.
Annoyed at the conversation as much as the distress on Lauren’s face, Alexa flipped her hair over her shoulders. “My mother is seventy-four and living the high life in her Florida retirement community. We enjoy the distance between us. I do think she likes me better now that I’m getting married to a Marine.”
Regina waved a hand in the air. “My mother is never going to approve of me because of what I do for a living, but she loves me in her own way. I let that be enough. She adores Ben, of course. Probably thinks I’m not good enough for him. I’ve gotten used to her poor opinion of me.”
“See there? There are lots of lousy mothers in the world,” Lauren insisted. “Mine is just annoying about my ex.”
“The problem is, that unlike Regina and me, you still get pissed over your fights with Lydia. Then you get depressed when the guilt about being mad sets in,” Alexa said, grinning over her analysis.
“My mother is not the only one who pisses me—I mean—makes me mad,” Lauren corrected. She tucked her hair absently behind one ear, glaring as Alexa’s words hit their target.
“Wow. You almost swore back at me. Lydia must have pushed the big buttons today,” Alexa said, pushing the sarcasm harder than usual. She hoped Lauren would just let her anger rip for once. It wasn’t good to hold back all the time.
“Even if you don’t want to fight with Lydia, one of your dilemmas can be easily resolved. Start dating again and tell your mother you’re officially looking for sex. Solves that misconception—easy peasy,” Regina offered with a smile.
“Easy peasy? I’ve been hitting on Jim for weeks now and trying to date him. He won’t have anything to do with me—especially physically,” Lauren complained. “You know he avoids me when he can.”
Alexa smiled. “Jim Gallagher is not the only man in the world. Plus, he might change his mind about a lot of things once he sees you’re back on the open market again.”
“But I don’t want to date other men,” Lauren said softly. “I don’t even like most men. I’m not even sure I like Jim right now. He’s just different. I can’t explain it.”
Regina used her hand to wave away Lauren’s concerns. “Dating would be good for you, Lauren. And I agree with Alexa. It might wake up the comatose Mr. Gallagher to see you aren’t pining away for him.”
“No. Dating is crap. Dating means dressing up to lure men into thinking things about me that I have no intentions of doing with them. Honestly, I hate all those games,” Lauren complained. “Won’t Jim eventually—?”
Her glare was met by the doubtful gazes of her two best friends.
After the silence grew too long, Lauren sighed in defeat. “Fine,” she grumbled. “I’ll think about dating, but I am not sleeping with other men to prove anything to my mother—or to Jim.”
“So can I kiss you goodnight?” Kenneth asked, stroking her arm. He was feeling brave because Lauren had been smiling at him all evening. Now he was more disappointed than usual to feel her tensing before the question had fully left his mouth.
“Kenneth, please don’t go there. We’ve been through this debate before. I only want to be friends. I’ve always been honest with you about how I felt.”
Lauren took keys out of the purse on her arm and began unlocking the door of her house.
Kenneth sighed and put his hands in his pockets. “Yes, I know you keep giving me the just friends speech, and you sure haven’t let me touch you, but exactly why do you think I keep asking you out, Lauren?”
“I thought it was because you liked my company,” Lauren said, both surprised and hurt by his sarcasm.
Kenneth snorted. “You can’t be that naïve. Of course, I like your company, but damn it, Lauren, I also want to kiss you—maybe even sleep with you eventually. Don’t you like men?”
Lauren paused in the process of pushing open the door. “Of course I like men. Why? You think I’m a lesbian? Just because I won’t kiss you?”
For just a moment, she couldn’t help worrying if all the time she spent with Alexa and Regina had her putting off some sort of female-only vibe. When Kenneth just stared at her in reply, it told her more than his words had.
“No. I’m not a lesbian,” Lauren said flatly.
“Do you maybe wish you were one?” Kenneth asked.
“No I do not,” Lauren said, her voice indignant with disbelief. “I wish I had married better, and trusted men more, but no—I have not gone over to the other side. I’m still heterosexual.”
“How can you tell for sure?” Kenneth frowned when he saw Lauren look away. He sighed with frustration as he noticed the angry flush on her face. Her leashed temper only made her more appealing to him because it meant there was a passionate woman buried somewhere under her reticence to get involved. But after several friendly dinners, he had finally realized that he would be old and gray before Lauren McCarthy ever let him find out for sure.
“For the record, not all men are cheating bastards like Jared,” he declared. Kenneth backed away from the front door when Lauren gave him a direct and very dirty look. “You’re not being fair to me, Lauren. Yes, I date a lot, and yes—I sleep with some of the women I date. That’s not a crime. It’s just how most of us figure relationships out.”
Standing a couple of steps down her front walk, he stopped and kicked an imaginary rock with the toe of his polished Italian shoe. Though it disagreed with his instincts, he couldn’t help wondering if Jared Smith’s bitter comments about Lauren being frigid had been on target after all.
“Hell, Lauren. You’re the kind of woman who inspires faithfulness in men, but not everyone can be a saint all the time,” he said angrily. “Some of us have stronger needs than that.”
“I am not a saint,” Lauren said tightly. Memories of Alexa and Regina’s teasing added more fuel to the flame Kenneth was lighting with his taunt. “I’m just not interested in bed-hopping. That’s not a crime either, Kenneth.”
“You’re right. It’s not. But I bet your bed is always lonely and cold, Lauren McCarthy. There are a lot of good men who wouldn’t mind warming it up if you’d ever let one have a chance. Call me if you want to discuss me as a possibility, but don’t call me again just for another platonic dinner. I don’t want to just be friends with you.”
“Fine,” Lauren said, her stomach clenching and unclenching. She refused to feel guilty for not being sexually interested in Kenneth.
Then a clear image of a man she was sexually interested in suddenly popped into her head.
She closed her eyes on her physical reaction, thinking she understood now why Regina and Alexa swore so much. You needed a good strong swear word to describe this level of frustration.
“I’m sorry if I misled you. I never meant to do that,” Lauren said finally.
Kenneth sighed at her tortured expression but refused to feel sorry for telling her how he felt. There was nothing more anyone could say or do until Lauren McCarthy changed her perspective. “I guess I’ll see you around then.”
Lauren watched as Kenneth turned his back and walked to his beloved silver Mustang GT parked at the curb. After he’d climbed into the car, she walked inside, closed and bolted the door.
Kenneth had surprised her with his comments, but only because she was acting every bit as naïve as he had accused her of being. Now she couldn’t help replaying their conversation any more than she could help admitting Kenneth was right in some ways.
She agreed there was nothing wrong with dating or even sleeping with someone under the right circumstances. Despite what people might think about her habit of abstaining, she wasn’t a prude. She was just cautious because nice guys like Kenneth didn’t do anything sexually for her. Zilch. Nada. No tingles, as Alexa would say. It listed high among the worst things she knew about herself.
Lauren knew Kenneth would be shocked to learn she would have let Jim Gallagher into her bed tonight without even thinking twice about it. She had a level of sexual desire for Jim much stronger than anything she had ever felt for any other man. Long past the point of denying her feelings, she even wanted Jim despite the humiliation of him openly resisting the attraction between the two of them. She still didn’t understand. Jim had all but admitted there was no other woman sharing his bed, so why then didn’t he want her? He had admitted to wanting her.
Fearing Jim was never going to be gracing her mattress with his giant to-die-for body was the reason Lauren had finally broken down and asked Kenneth to dinner.
“Oh damn Jim Gallagher anyway,” Lauren swore, finally realizing what she had done.
She was worse than Kenneth implied because she was lying to herself—as well as being a tease. But all she wanted was dinner with a man who acted like he wanted to spend time with her. What was so wrong with wanting something like that?
Frustrated emotion built to swearing level again, which she did over and over as she hung up her coat. She was so tired of being a person no one took seriously. She could see how people could conclude she had no needs at all, but she was far from being the saint Alexa and Regina kept harping about.
Her current frustration was completely Jim’s fault. Why did he have to be the only man in seven years she had wanted to take to bed? She had been perfectly fine before he’d kissed her in Alexa’s garden—well, mostly fine anyway.
Deflated and depressed, Lauren trudged upstairs to the second-floor master bedroom with its large bathroom and deep, claw-footed soaking tub. She added a double dose of her homemade lavender and chamomile bath salts in as it filled, hoping she could find enough peace to sleep.
Lucinda’s was crowded for dinner the next evening, and every table was packed. It was one of those times they were glad Alexa had a permanent reservation on Thursdays.
“So how was your date with the delectable Kenneth Adams?” Alexa asked.
Regina lifted an eyebrow at Alexa’s teasing tone but kept eating her veggie pizza.
“It was fine,” Lauren hedged, looking away. The stuffed mushroom she’d been swallowing stuck in her suddenly tense throat.
“Good. You can really pick them, honey. That man definitely knows how to kiss,” Alexa remarked, pointing at Lauren with her fork. “If anyone can take your mind off you-know-who, Kenneth probably can with that talented tongue of his.”
“How do you know how Kenneth kisses?” Lauren demanded, losing her interest in the food.
“Oh, I dated him a little right after his divorce. It was a rebound kind of thing. I didn’t sleep with him, but kissing him was fun.”
Then Alexa saw the hurt in Lauren’s gaze. She shook her head as she prepared her defense. “No way. I am not feeling guilty. My history with that man was way before I knew you well enough to share those details of my life. And you only mentioned Kenneth tonight, so you have no reason to be mad at me.”
“Well, I don’t know how the man kisses because I never let Kenneth kiss me,” Lauren said, picking up a celery stick and crunching it loudly.
“Why not?” Regina demanded. She was agitated herself and unable to let the comment go even though she’d counseled herself multiple times on staying out of Lauren’s love life. “A simple goodnight kiss is like a good cup of coffee after an excellent meal. It doesn’t have to be serious.”
“Says the woman who kissed a virtual stranger, and then married him three months later,” Lauren declared. Then she immediately blushed, furious with herself for letting her envy show.
Alexa put her hand on Regina’s arm to stop her from blasting Lauren with something sure to reduce their timid friend to tears. She could tell Lauren was walking the edge tonight.
“Lauren, I’m really sorry it bothers you that I kissed Kenneth. I didn’t joke about it to hurt you. He is a perfectly nice man who was seriously hurt when his wife left him for his best friend. I’m sure he’s still just looking for the right person like everyone else.”
Lauren swallowed hard. She wasn’t angry with Alexa for what she’d done or not done with Kenneth. She was angry with herself for not even wanting to kiss him. “Yes. Kenneth is a perfectly nice man, but evidently, I’m not into nice any more than you were. Apparently, I can only get turned on by a womanizing tease who churns me up and leaves me hanging.”
Irritation drained instantly from Regina, only to be replaced by a staggering and overwhelming concern for both Lauren and Jim. Jim was obviously still feeling guilty about his wife, who wasn’t even a real wife, and now Lauren was suffering for the situation as well. How the hell was she going to stay out of the situation when it was her own damn fault for encouraging Lauren to get to know Jim? She squirmed in her chair, pizza forgotten.
Finally, Regina leaned across the table to speak quietly but firmly to Lauren. She was fervently hoping the other patrons at Lucinda’s weren’t listening. “You know he’s interested. Jim put two hickeys on you the first time he touched you. If he’s not pursuing your connection further, it might be because now he likes you and is feeling guilty about his commitment status. Honey, if you want Jim Gallagher, you’re going to have to retire your sexual halo. You won’t get that intense, complicated man into bed being as saintly as you usually are.”
Lauren smacked both hands hard on the tabletop, making dishes, glasses, and silverware jump, as well as Regina and Alexa. “Stop calling me a saint. I hate that, Regina. I—Am—Not—A—Saint.”
Regina bit her lip so she wouldn’t laugh and merely lifted her hand in surrender. “Never again,” she promised. Then she crossed her heart with an X to emphasize.
Though Regina hadn’t cut loose on Lauren, Alexa couldn’t help laughing. It was the most inappropriate thing she could do in the face of her friend’s obvious distress, but it was flat-out amazing to see Lauren McCarthy win a verbal smackdown with Regina Logan. Alexa snorted as she raised an eyebrow at Lauren.
“All that emotion over the no-follow-through James Gallagher. I warned you it wasn’t going to be pretty or simple. I warned you he was going to leave more than a physical mark. Now you can’t even kiss another man.”
“And I just bet you love saying I told you so,” Lauren complained.
“In this case, I do,” Alexa said.
Lauren was so freaking mad about Alexa being right that she lifted her middle finger and gave her smirking friend the bird. She winced at the snickering and giggles from the tables around them, which made it all even worse.
Unable to restrain herself any longer, Regina burst out laughing at Lauren’s aggressive actions and had to use her napkin to wipe away tears. It was just too funny to see the mostly quiet, usually reserved woman being so downright ugly in public. She had always known there was a passionate woman in Lauren, but she’d never seen public evidence before today.
“Do you two battling Amazons know how many patrons in here would love to see a good catfight between two of the most beautiful women in the restaurant?” Regina asked, continuing to laugh and wipe her eyes.
Alexa studied Lauren’s embarrassed face with a kind of awe. It never ceased to amaze her how the right man could push every hot button all at once. God knew Casey made her livid about every fourth or fifth time he opened his mouth. She had learned to think of her anger as foreplay. Maybe the same might work for Lauren, she thought, amused at how her friend might react to that piece of advice.
When Alexa and Regina’s knowing, amused stares finally wore her bravado down, Lauren put her face in her hands and groaned. “Oh, hell,” she said, drawing out the word. “No man is worth this emotional crap. I’ve managed to avoid it for almost seven years. Why now? Why him?”
When she peeked through her fingers at them, Alexa and Regina both just shrugged.
“Gee, thanks for the support,” Lauren said dryly, finally laughing herself. She pulled her hands from her face and put them on the table again. “I think I’m spending too much time with you two anyway. When I wouldn’t kiss him goodnight, Kenneth asked me if I was a lesbian.”
Her statement sent Alexa and Regina into another round of laughter which drew even more attention to the three of them. Lauren leaned back in her chair and sighed. Her face could not get any redder, so there was little else to do. If she’d had a white flag, she would have waved it in surrender. If she had been in the dojo, she would have pounded the mat. Instead, she had no choice but to wait out their amusement.
“I’m surprised you didn’t kiss Kenneth senseless just to prove him wrong,” Alexa said, her laughter finally stopping.
Regina dabbed her eyes furiously with her dinner napkin, noting with dismay her mascara was starting to rub off on it, while of course Alexa and Lauren still looked as perfect as ever. “Well, I’m surprised you didn’t just give the ignorant ass Jim’s phone number for a reference. That might have fixed both your problems.”
Lauren’s eyes grew wide at Regina’s suggestion. “Do you think it’s too late?”
Regina looked at Lauren and raised her chin. “It’s never too late, honey.”
Lauren sighed but dropped her gaze from Regina’s before the outrageous woman talked her into being brave enough to do it. “Sorry, I’m being such a bitch tonight. There’s no reason to take my frustration out on you two.”
Regina just laughed again. “I’ve heard you use more swear words tonight than in the entire time I’ve known you, and you didn’t even have to ask us what they meant. I’m very proud of you for dealing so positively with your less pleasant emotions. I may have to cry again in sheer happiness.”
“That can be arranged. If you call me a saint one more time, I will not be responsible for my actions,” Lauren threatened, practicing her venting on Regina with gleeful enjoyment. “I might even enjoy pounding on your ass for real and getting the upper hand with your Dr. Logan smart mouth for once.”
“Pounding on her ass? Where in the world did you pick up that language?” Alexa asked, backtracking on her tone when she saw the obstinate look on Lauren’s face. “Sorry if I sound like your mother, I’m not trying to make you angrier. I’m just very curious.”
“I guess I heard a guy say it in kickboxing class,” Lauren admitted quietly.
“Kickboxing?” Regina and Alexa repeated together, looking at each other for validation, then back to Lauren in surprise.
Regina wanted to laugh again but was half afraid to now. She wondered what else their quiet little friend had been hiding. Kickboxing classes at least partially explained the toned and athletic body Lauren so actively maintained. “So… kickboxing? Tell us about that.”
Lauren nodded. “Yes. I’ve been taking all kinds of martial arts for years. I needed something very physical to offset being—”
“—constantly horny?” Regina supplied, laughing at the sudden steel in her friend’s gaze.
Lauren narrowed her eyes. “Well, I was going to say sexually frustrated, but okay, let’s use the sex therapist’s quaint term for it.”
With joyful laughter rumbling through her, Regina jumped up and ran to Lauren. She hugged and kissed her cheeks until Lauren pushed her away squealing, ordering her very loudly to stop.
“I couldn’t be more proud of you if I were your mother,” Regina declared, calmly walking back to her chair. She lifted the single drink she now allowed herself, not able to resist toasting Lauren’s honesty. “Here’s to Jim Gallagher. May he survive Lauren pounding on his fine ass when she catches him.”
Alexa laughed at Regina’s irreverent toast. “Wait—I’ve got another one.” She shook her luminous hair back behind her shoulders as she lifted her glass of mineral water. “Here’s to fellow Amazon, Lauren McCarthy, a trained-to-kick-ass wolf tamer.”
Lauren reluctantly lifted her glass of Chardonnay and stared both of them down. “You two drive me crazy with your teasing, but I know you care about me, so you get to live today. Here’s to the true love you two have found. May it one day find me as well. But in the meantime, here’s to me at least having sex with someone.”
She drained her wine glass and slammed it down on the table.
“I’m sick and tired of you two getting all the action in our group.”
Every eye in the restaurant turned toward the table where three grown women laughed uncontrollably.
What a fascinating author! McDonald’s not only broken the mold, she’s completely shattered it with her tales of mature love. Her books are heartwarming, encouraging, and every woman should read this series! ~ JM Madden, author of Wet Dream, Second Time Around, The Awakening Society, A Needful Heart, and Urban Moon
Dating a Saint was different from the prior books in the series with its more serious undertone. There is still plenty of humor and sexiness. Donna McDonald has a way with words. Never Too Late series really lives up to its name because both Lauren and Jim had given up on love. When they were ready to finally take the chance, it was so worth coming along for the ride! ~ Lexxie at Risqué Reviews
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