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The New Neighbor


With hands linked together, Tyler drew Lana closer. The salty ocean whipped at their feet and they dashed away laughing at the chasing sea. The late afternoon sun beat on their smiling faces as Tyler bent his head to kiss her, bringing them closer still. Lana could never get enough of him and her heart leaped with anticipation as Tyler lowered his head to hers.

"Mom! Mom!" Timmy yelled, letting the screen door slam.

Caren quickly hit save, wondering how she would manage to finish this chapter before deadline. Her cursor blinked at her, waiting for inspiration but Caren was running out. How was she supposed to work when kids were interrupting every five minutes? The life of a romance writer. Humph. What romance? As a single mom with two kids, who had time for romance?

"Mom!" Timmy snapped her out of her reverie. "Houdini got out!"

"And how exactly did that happen?" Caren demanded. "I told you not to take him outside."

"Yeah, I know," Timmy shrugged sheepishly. "I had him on his leash," he defended. "And it's so nice outside."

Caren slipped on her shoes and followed Timmy outside. "Where's Hannah?"

"She's in the new neighbor's yard looking for Houdini."

"Where did you lose him?" Caren asked, following Timmy around to the side of the house.

"Right here, by the bushes."

With the recent spring thaw, the ground was soft and muddy. As Caren bent to look in the bushes for their small, brown ferret, mud caked her shoes.

"Houdini, come here, Houdini," they called.

After scouring the yard for half and hour, there was still no sign of the adventurous pet.

"I'll get his squeaky toy and treats, maybe we can lure him out," Caren suggested.

Leaving her filthy shoes on the stoop, Caren ran inside, making a dash for the ringing phone.

"Hi, Linda," Caren said, cringing at the timing of her editor. "Yes, I'm making progress," she said, glancing around her messy kitchen. Lunch dishes sat unattended in the sink and paper cups and kool-aid littered the counter-top, leaving orange stains. "Uh huh. Yes." How had her life managed to become so unromantic?

When Caren heard a chorus of screaming, she knew there'd been a sighting.

"Linda, can I call you back? I've got an emergency here. No, nothing life threatening," she assured her.

Caren bolted outside, forgetting to put on her shoes until it was too late. The soppy ground soaked her socks. A cluster of children were gathered in the new neighbor's back yard. This is not how to make a first impression, she cringed.

"Hannah! Timmy! Did you find Houdini?" she called, entering the neighboring yard.

"I think he's in the drainpipe," Timmy informed her.

"Let's break it up kids. Time to go home," Caren shooed the gawkers out of the yard.

On bended knee, she rattled the worn drainpipe to see if the ferret responded. Hannah and Timmy helped her look. The three of them were absorbed in their folly when an unfamiliar voice startled them from behind..

"Uh, excuse me, does this belong to you?" the stranger asked.

Caren whipped around, only to find their troublesome little pet hanging by the scruff of his neck in the hands of their handsome new neighbor.

"Uh, yes. That would be Houdini," Caren answered, awkwardly getting to her feet. Her jeans and socks were damp and muddy. "We're sorry for bothering you," she apologized, taking the ferret from him.

"Not a problem," he answered, good-naturedly. "By the way, I'm Michael."

Caren introduced herself and her kids.

"Nice to meet you. And Houdini as well," he laughed.

Under better circumstances, his friendly manner and soft green eyes would have kept her put, but her filthy appearance forced her to make a hasty exit.

Later that night, when the kids were quiet and the dishes done, Caren sat at the kitchen table with the soft glow of the kitchen light and hit save, shutting her lap top with satisfaction. Lana and Tyler had a good ending; now it was her turn.

On impulse, Caren cut a large piece of apple cake from the Dutch market, who has time to bake?, and a hefty serving of beef stew on a plate and headed next door.

"Peace offering and welcome wagon," Caren announced, when Michael answered his door.

"That wasn't necessary," he smiled, opening the door for her. "Come on in."

"Just for a minute. The kids are home, but it's the least I could do for trampling your yard.

"Houdini does cause a stir, doesn't he?" he teased.

"I'm afraid so."

"This looks wonderful," he said.

"I can't take credit. We have a terrific farmer's market in town. Well, I'd better be going. Sorry again for this afternoon."

"Don't be. It was the most interesting introduction I've had," he said, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"I'm sure," Caren said, feeling her cheeks warm. "In any case, welcome."

"Thanks. Would you like to share dessert with me? It's such a nice evening. We could sit out here on the porch, so you can hear your kids, if they need you?" he suggested.

Caren was impressed by his thoughtfulness, glancing at his well-fitting jeans and long legs. They sat on the worn, wooden porch steps relishing in the first spring night. Neighborhood kids could still be heard running around outside and a soft breeze caressed their skin. It was the most romantic evening she'd had in far too long. Maybe there would be more warm evenings just like this one.