Excerpt from Summer Temptation

Copyright Wendy S. Marcus

 

Chapter One

Leigh DeGray

Being fresh out of college, about to start your dream job, and winding up pregnant isn’t the end of the world, I told myself, again, as I slowed down to avoid rear-ending the car in front of me. I’d survived worse, like losing my mom and older brother in a tragic car accident when I was only twelve years old. Like almost losing Grandpa Carl, who was like a second father to me, after he’d suffered a stroke three months ago and almost losing my dad, the most important person in my world, to a heart attack a few weeks after that.

I could survive being pregnant at the age of twenty-one.

I could raise a child on my own.

If it turned out I was, in fact, pregnant.

Technically, at the moment, I was only late…going on six weeks late, the tardiness of my period unprecedented since my entrance into womanhood. The last few months had been crazy hectic and stressful which surely explained my current…irregularity.

I mean, in addition to dealing with dad’s and grandpa’s health crises, I’d successfully presented final projects and aced final exams to graduate summa cum laude from Penn State. After sending out twenty-nine resumés and attending twenty-seven job interviews in five different states over the past six weeks, I’d landed a coveted position in the NYC office of Hollis and Hamilton, the largest and most prestigious public relations firm in the country.

Anyone’s system would be a little messed up after all that.

I glanced in my side mirror, then over my shoulder, before steering into the left lane to pass a truck, wondering how my employer would react to finding out the one new hire they’d allotted themselves, who they’d chosen from hundreds of applicants, was pregnant. Rather than working long hours and jetting across the country at a moment’s notice, I would soon need time off for doctors’ appointments, maternity leave, and childcare issues. The thought of that conversation sat heavy in my gut – for sure the reason I suddenly felt queasy and in desperate need to escape my car.

Lucky me, I noticed a cute little restaurant coming up on the left, so I slowed down, clicked on my signal, and pulled into the turning lane. Then I sat and watched the oncoming cars, inching along, bumper to bumper. Gotta love summer traffic in the Hamptons. Not!

Finally a nice woman let me go, and I squeezed my dependable Subaru Outback into an opening that I’m not sure was an actual parking spot, but who could tell in a gravel lot? My head resting back, eyes closed, I fumbled for the button to open my window and breathed in the warm summer air tinged with the scent of the ocean. This was exactly what I needed: rest and relaxation, the beach, fun in the sun with my two best friends from college, Storme and Kelsey. Our last hurrah before we embarked on life as responsible adults.

A delicious charbroil smell wafted past my window, and suddenly I was hungrier than I could ever remember being. I glanced at the clock. No wonder! Almost four in the afternoon, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I grabbed my phone to text Storme.

Starving. Stopped to eat. Will be there before the pool party. Promise.

Then I threw the phone into my pocketbook and headed inside.

Of course I didn’t have a reservation, so of course there were no tables available on the pretty outdoor terrace or in the crowded indoor dining room. I opted for the last remaining seat at the far end of the bar.

“Just a glass of water with lemon,” I told the bartender, though I really wanted an over-sized wineglass filled to the rim with cabernet. “And a menu.”

He smiled at me, that ‘hey baby, what’s a pretty girl like you doing here all alone?’ kind of smile. I’m used to it. Not to be conceited, but I’ve been blessed with a clear complexion, my dad’s green eyes, and mom’s trim figure, that I don’t really remember but I’ve seen in pictures. I lowered my eyes and gave him my demure half-smile. Move along, buddy. Good girl here. Well, at least most of the time.

Under the guise of checking my phone for messages, I secretly snuck glimpses of my fellow bar patrons, my eyes lingering on an older gentleman, mid-seventies, sitting catty-corner to me on the right, his head down, shoulders slumped, so sad. A rock glass filled with some amber-colored liquid sat on the bar in front of him, untouched. He pulled a white linen handkerchief, same as my grandpa always used to carry, from a pocket in his red-knit sweater vest, lifted it to blot an eye, and I had to ask, “Sir?” I reached out and placed my hand on his white dress shirt covered forearm. “Are you okay?”

He looked up and my heart broke at the sight of tears in his kind gray-blue eyes.

He cleared his throat. “Me? I’m fine.” He tucked the handkerchief back in his pocket. “Just fine.” Then he stared at his drink, lifted it, and took a sip.

Okay then. At least I’d tried.

When the bartender returned with my water and a menu, I gave him a quick, “Thank you,” and went in search of my hamburger options. My mouth watered, remembering the enticing charbroil smell that’d drawn me inside.

The older gentleman spoke. I lifted my head and found him looking at me. “I’m sorry,” I said, closing the menu. “What did you say?”

“Today would have been my fiftieth wedding anniversary.”

Would have been.

“Proposed to my wife right out there on the porch.” He motioned to the window with his hand.

A beautiful spot overlooking the ocean. So romantic.

“This place has changed owners over the years, but we come back on this date, every year, to celebrate. The kids talked about having a big party…but my Lilly couldn’t hold on. A stroke took her from me. Three months ago.”

Darn strokes. Evil things. My heart ached for his loss as well as for my own. Even though my grandpa had survived his stroke, he could no longer communicate or take care of himself. And he no longer recognized his family. In my mind, maybe death would have been easier to deal with. “I’m so sorry.”

“And here I am.” He looked down at his drink. “Didn’t know where else to go.” He lifted his sad eyes to mine. “It seemed like a good idea yesterday, when I made the reservation, but now… I don’t want to be here alone.”

This sweet old man reminded me of my grandpa: same glasses, same white hair, and the same quiet, gentle manner.

Just then the hostess came over, holding a menu. “Mr. Kenzy. Your table is ready.”

“I, uh…” He slid off the chair clumsily, like he’d stiffened up during the time he’d been sitting. I hurried off my own stool to steady him. “I don’t think…” He hesitated.

An idea popped into my head, something that would, perhaps, cheer us both. “Would you give us a moment?” I asked the hostess. At her nod, I turned to my new friend. “I don’t have any pressing plans.” Storme and Kelsey might disagree, but this was something I had to do. “I know it’s forward of me, but I’d be honored to join you for dinner, so you wouldn’t have to eat alone. I’m happy to listen to stories about your wife, if you feel up to sharing them, to celebrate her life and your almost fifty years together. You don’t have to pay for me, I’ll —”

“No plans? You?” He looked me up and down, his expression a total ego boost. “On a Friday night? What is with young men today? A bunch of idiots.” He shook his head in disgust.

I smiled. He was absolutely adorable.

Holding his arm out in front of him, bent at the elbow, same as my grandpa used to do, he said, “My name’s Murphy. Would you care to dine with me on this fine afternoon?”

I slid my hand into the crook of his arm. “I’m Leigh. And I’d be honored.”

Murphy told the hostess, “I’m ready now.” He glanced over at me with a smile. “And it seems my table for one has turned into a table for two.”

“Certainly, sir,” she said with a courteous smile. Then she led us outside to a lovely table on the patio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The food delicious, the company enjoyable, and the view fantastic, the evening ranked up there with the top ten best dinner dates I’d ever had…until a younger, taller, much handsomer version of Murphy approached our table.

And he didn’t look at all happy.

 

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