Beach Lane

By: Sherryl Woods

Mick just shook his head. “Damned waste, if you ask me. Reel the man in or move on, that’s my advice.”

“Not that I asked for it,” Susie said. She’d heard some version of the same advice for a couple of years now from just about everyone in her family, and a few outsiders to boot. It was getting tiresome, mostly because it was sound advice she didn’t particularly want to heed.

Unfortunately, as crazy as she’d been about Mack for most of her life, she was also a realist. Handsome, sexy ex-jocks who dated sexy, sophisticated, powerful women weren’t going to be seriously interested in a woman who was ordinary on her very best day and downright pitiful when the sun freckled her pale skin and her bright red hair refused to be tamed. Despite a college degree and a few family trips to Ireland, Susie was basically a small-town girl, not Mack’s type at all.

Though Shanna, who was married now to Susie’s cousin Kevin, had suggested that Mack was as infatuated as she was, Susie didn’t entirely believe her. She’d also discovered it was next to impossible to break a non-dating pattern once it had been established. With Mack and her, it was practically carved in stone. Other than one kiss under the mistletoe that had gotten decidedly out of hand, their relationship was strictly platonic. That kiss, however, had given her enough hope to give things between them more time to heat up.

“Maybe I’ll ask Mack to dinner myself,” Mick said, studying Susie intently as if to gauge her reaction. “How about that?”

She shrugged. “Up to you.” Being around Mack wasn’t the problem. They were together all the time. Turning it into anything romantic, that was the problem. Tying him to her bed and having her wicked way with him seemed extreme, though she was getting desperate enough to consider it.

Beyond that, she didn’t have one single idea about how she could change things without risking total humiliation. She wondered what her uncle would have to say if she asked him straight out how to get Mack to make love to her. Her lips curved just thinking about Mick’s reaction to such a query.

Mick regarded her suspiciously. “What are you smiling about?”

“I was just wondering how far you’d be willing to take your meddling,” she said, studying him curiously. “Meaning?”

“You pride yourself on getting all five of my cousins happily married. What do you think you could do to get Mack and me to the altar?”

At the immediate glint in his eye, she reconsidered her question. “Not that I’m asking you to intervene,” she said hurriedly. “I’m just wondering.”

Mick pulled up a chair and sat down, his expression suddenly serious. “Okay, let’s think about this. I imagine I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve that might work.”

The daring side of Susie’s nature failed her at the eagerness in his voice. The status quo might well be better than the disaster her uncle might unleash. “Never mind, Uncle Mick. I think I’d better deal with Mack myself.”

“You sure about that?” he asked, looking disappointed. “Like you said yourself a minute ago, I have a track record.”

Susie knew for a fact that most of her cousins had found true love despite their father’s interference, not because of it. “I’m sure,” she said.

He shrugged. “Up to you, but I’m around if you change your mind. It’s obvious your father’s no help, but you can count on me.”

Susie fought to hide her smile. Once again, her uncle’s competitive spirit had reared its head. She might not know a lot about what the future held with Mack, but she knew with absolute certainty that the very last thing they needed was having her father and Mick in the middle of their relationship, vying for control of their future. Somehow she’d just have to figure out a way to get Mack to stop seeing her as a pal and realize that she was a desirable woman.

As Mick left the office, Susie glanced ruefully at her reflection in the window. First, though, she had to learn to see herself that way.

Mack walked into the managing editor’s office at his Baltimore newspaper a week before Thanksgiving, took one look at Don Richmond’s face and sat down hard.

“You’re firing me,” he said before his boss could. He should have known that being summoned into the office this morning couldn’t mean anything good.

“I hate this,” Don said, which wasn’t an outright confirmation, but it certainly wasn’t a denial.

He met Mack’s gaze with an earnest expression that begged him to understand. “I don’t have a choice, Mack. You know how it is. We’re making cutbacks in every department. The newspaper business has been going downhill for quite a while now, and we’re not immune.”

Don scowled at the computer on his desk. “It’s because of this,” he grumbled. “Darn things are taking over. I know the world is changing, but I didn’t think I’d live to see the day when newspapers would be all but obsolete.”

Mack had been anticipating the possibility of being fired for a while now. His sports column was widely read and sometimes controversial. The publisher didn’t always like dealing with the fallout after Mack had called some local athlete or team management on a boneheaded move. He said it was ruining his digestion when he had to face those same people at some benefit or other and defend Mack’s words.