Ben scowled at the yellow light. Andy’s first day, and I’m late. He screeched into the driveway. Andy was in the neighbor’s yard.
He hollered, “In the house!”
The neighbor glared at him. Maybe his tone wasn’t pleasant, but Andy had a key and explicit instructions. They hadn’t met anyone since they moved just before school started.
Andy threw himself into Ben’s arms. His father tossed him up—his kindergartner was getting too big for this game.
“Sam invited us in for cookies.”
Dear God, I bought a house next door to a pervert!
“Please. I ate one, and they’re really good.”
“Don’t take anything from strangers.”
“A kidnapper could put something in them.”
Ben sighed, but, seeing the eagerness on his son’s face, he paused as he was shrugging off his jacket.
Andy raced outside and pushed the doorbell by the time Ben arrived.
“You can’t come inside without your father.”
Ben held out his hand. “Ben Rhoades.”
“Samantha Walker. Come in.” She walked into the kitchen. Without her heavy coat, her legs in those skinny jeans went on forever, and the curves of her hips were delightfully female! Ben thought about those legs and flushed. He hadn’t thought of a woman that way since his wife died.
“Smells wonderful. Andy’s definitely homemade-cookie deprived.”
Sam retrieved plates and put two peanut butter cookies on each. She poured milk for Andy. “Milk or coffee?”
“With warm cookies, milk.”
“Right.” She poured two more glasses. “Sorry I didn’t come welcome you. The last couple moved—she didn’t like her husband helping a widow. Why repeat the debacle with your wife?”
“My mom died,” Andy announced. “I don’t remember her.”
Hearing Ben’s soft intake of breath, Sam glanced and saw the glisten of tears.
“He’s fortunate to have you, Andy.”
Seeing a photograph of an Army officer on the counter, Ben asked, “Your husband?”
“He died. Afghanistan. Three years ago.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too.” Sam gave a crooked smile.
“Good cookies. Thanks. We can help around the house anytime.”
They became friends, often sharing meals. He learned her schedule: 4 ten hour days. She was a P.A. working in the local emergency room. An attorney, he worked from home after school. On Fridays she volunteered at an emergency foster care shelter, and Andy sometimes went with her.
One spring evening, the phone rang. Ben asked, “Can you come over and watch Andy a couple of hours? I’ve got an emergency. Some kid set fire to a shed. I’ve been appointed to the case, and the police want to question him.”
At 11, Ben let himself into the house. He tiptoed past Sam to check on Andy, then covered her with a quilt and left her lying on the couch.
The next morning Ben sniffed. Bacon. Andy pounced on his bed. “Get up, Dad. Sam fixed breakfast.”
Sam’s eyes twinkled as she set the bacon and eggs on the table.
“This boy last night is from the home,” Ben said. “Nice kid, bad mistake. He fell asleep smoking, and a shed went up in flames. He’s a scared ten year old, but first offense. I doubt the homeowner will prosecute. I wanted to bring him home, but HHS says a single man can’t foster kids.”
“Ditto a single woman. When his father died, his step-mother wanted no part of him.”
“What kind of deal is that?”
“A bad one. I’d give anything to help him.”
“We could join forces—single mom, single dad—but we’d have to make it legal.”
“Are you suggestion—we get married?”
“I like you, Sam. Andy loves you, and this kid’s got no one in the world.”
Three days later they married at the courthouse and got temporary custody. One of the four bedrooms served as Ben’s home office, and they agreed the boy needed his own space, so Ben carried Sam’s clothes into the master bedroom.
The boys knew one another and immediately began playing a new video game while Ben and Sam fixed supper and carefully avoided discussing sleeping arrangements. After baths and prayers, the boys went to sleep quickly, to Ben’s surprise and Sam’s chagrin.
“With all the legal details, shopping, and getting you both moved, we haven’t discussed much. I’ll give you the bedroom and sleep on the couch,” but he took her in his arms, and the kiss was delicious. Sam’s arms surrounded his neck, and Ben went back for more.
“We are married. Would . . . can we consider . . . ?”
“Being married with benefits?”
He carried her to his bed, and her long legs wrapped around him, feeling exactly the way he’d imagined.