Luke Meets Chloe
As he drove south, the scenery got less and less familiar. He’d never come downstate before, never had a cause to. Crazy traffic, stores everywhere. He spotted three Walmarts in a five mile stretch, with subdivisions, gas stations, and fast food places squashed in between. People actually chose to raise their children here. He pitied them.
Sterling Pines, just another cookie-cutter town. And there weren’t any pines that he could see, not many trees at all except those growing in people’s yards. Where were the marshlands? Where were the woods? Where was the green space? The whole picture gave him a bad feeling.
The GPS on Luke’s phone found the house, an older ranch with crab grass for lawn and shaggy overgrown shrubbery. Only a few hours south of Blue Lake, the temperature warmer, the lawns greener. He walked across the grass, and it held firm, no mud here.
He went around the side of the house, checking out back. Rickety deck, ancient, rusty chain-link fence, enormous poplar that had been struck by lightning. The tree bent precariously toward the back of the house. His eyes took in the old-fashioned swing set in a far corner of the yard. There was work here for him. He went back to the front of the house and rang the doorbell.
A goddess in blue jeans, her brown hair streaked with gold and gathered into a messy twist atop her head, answered the door. He did not expect the slam of hunger that hit his body like a blow. He tugged on the bill of his ball cap, trying to settle down. Ursula?
“Can I help you?” Venus spoke through the screen door.
He checked the address. “Are you Ursula Muscach?”
“That’s my mom.”
“Uh.” Luke stood there like an idiot. “I’m Luke Anderson. Your mom wanted some landscaping work done?”
The goddess in blue jeans nodded but still didn’t open the door. “Yeah, she mentioned something about that. I’ll give her a call to see what’s going on.”
She left him on the porch, just like a smart city girl should. She came back a few minutes later with a phone to her ear.
“Well, he’s here now.” She rolled her eyes at him. She listened for a few minutes and then said, “Fine,” before disconnecting. She didn’t seem happy about it, but she opened the door and let him in.
“You’re Luke? From Blue Lake?”
He nodded, hardly hearing what she said because her voice so low and sweet caught and held him.
“I’m Chloe. We have a cottage there. I love your summers.”
“It’s a great little town.” The only thing missing: a woman just like Chloe.
Chloe nodded. He gazed down at her bare feet. Her toenails were painted a light shade of pink, each toe perfect, like a little pearl.
“So you’re staying with us?”
The business person in Luke stepped out to take the place of the love-struck teenager. “I need to write up an estimate, and if she’s cool with that, I’ll get the job done.”
“Oh, she’ll be cool with it.” Chloe’s voice had an edge he didn’t understand, but, hey, city girl. Who knew? He followed her from the living room into the kitchen. “She wanted me to show you your room. It’s down here.”
He followed Chloe down the stairs into a knotty pine paneled basement, a bar with a few stools at one end, a sofa under the high, tiny window, and a desk with a laptop and stacks of papers on another wall. Chloe walked to the closed door across from the desk and threw it open.
“Your bed. Shower’s around the corner.”
He kept a blank face so she wouldn’t know his thoughts right now. “It’s fine. Great. Thanks. I’ll take it.
No problem. Perfect.” Luke babbled when he was nervous, and his feelings about what he wanted to do with Chloe in that shower she’d mentioned made him more than nervous. He hadn’t felt this alive in years, and now, pow. Wow. So good to be himself again, so good to be interested in a pretty woman.
Even though they were in the basement, everything seemed brighter. And he had a feeling she got the same rush. He could swear she’d blushed at his inept and overly expressive response to her. She went over to the desk and shut the laptop. Then she piled papers on it and started back up the stairs.
“I usually work down here, but I’ll move everything to my room.”
“I don’t want to put you out,” he said. Today was his lucky day, and if she lived with her mother, as she seemed to, the coming week would be his lucky week. Was she moving up to Blue Lake with her mom? How excellent would that be?
“No problem.” She started up the steps. “You can help me with the desk later.” It was a small desk. She came back down for the lamp and chair, and he picked up the desk and followed her upstairs. He would follow her anywhere.
“Thanks,” she said, when they got to her bedroom.
She pointed toward an empty corner, and he set the desk there. “I’ve got some work to do, so if you’ll excuse me.” She turned her back to him and opened her laptop. Her curt dismissal froze him in place. He became hyper-aware of her unmade bed. The sheets were white with tiny pink flowers. A nightgown, baby blue, tangled in the blankets.
She must have noticed him not moving because she turned her head and said over her shoulder, “The garage is open. We’ll park our cars on the street so you can have access. If you need a place to write up your estimate, feel free to use the kitchen table.” She actually made a motion as if to shoo him from the room.
He left the room but stood in the doorway. “When will Ursula be home?”
She let out a huff of breath. Turned from the desk to face him. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Our moms. They’re summer friends. We have a cottage in Blue Lake. They plotted this. This setup.
That’s why my mom isn’t here. They want us to be alone for a while.”
As soon as she said it, he knew it was true.