Falling for the Manny
“Tell me again how you acquired Adonis out there.”
Gwynevere Pederson handed her friend and co-worker, Kayla, a can of diet Coke. They both stared out her kitchen window into the backyard, eyes glued to the gorgeous man who temporarily lived in Gwyn’s basement and at that moment mowed her lawn.
“First of all, Adonis’s name is Leo Córdova,” Gwyn said. “And you know how bad I am at saying no to anyone. One minute the BRA people were giving me my Librarian of the Year award and the next thing I knew I had agreed to take him and his sister in for a couple of weeks. Helping with the chores and odd jobs around the house were his idea.”
Gwyn glanced over at Kayla, riveted by the scene in front of them.
"But Gwynnie, look at him. He's perfection."
Gwyn couldn't argue with her. Leo looked like the epitome of a romance novel hero. Tall, olive-skinned, exotically dark, and handsome, buff—you name it, he possessed it. No wonder he won the Hottest Romance Hero contest at the Books with Romance Association convention.
“It's nice to see a man around here for a change. When was the last time your ex-husband came around to mow the lawn?” Kayla asked.
“I don’t know, but don't get too used to seeing him here. I just told you the Córdovas are only here temporarily until they find a place to live in the city so they can start their modeling careers."
“I can't imagine that Adonis and Aphrodite will have much trouble in that department. What do you think he'd do if you threw yourself at him?"
Gwyn crossed her arms and moved away from the window.
“I'm not doing that.”
Kayla blew out a breath. “You know what you need to do, Gwyn?”
“No, but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”
Kayla read a lot of self-help books. She couldn’t wait to hear her latest philosophy.
“You need to stop with all your negative energy and put some positive vibes out into the universe to attract the things you want.”
Gwyn snickered. "So, if I start believing I can have that guy, he will magically catch my vibe of loneliness and desperation and take me to his bed?"
“If that’s what you project into the universe, then yes.”
Gwyn placed a hand on Kayla’s shoulder. “I’m worried about you, my friend.”
“Go ahead and laugh, Gwynnie. Most women would take full advantage of this situation and be plotting how to get laid by that guy. But what are you thinking?"
“That’s what I thought. That a guy like Leo wouldn't even give you a second glance. Right?”
“That's exactly what I'm thinking. It's called being realistic.”
“Poo on reality.”
“Let's be honest, Kay. I'm a thirty-seven-year-old single Mom and librarian. With very average looks, I might add. And let's not forget I weigh about fifteen pounds more than I should. In answer to your question, I'm quite certain he hasn't given me a second glance.”
They both glanced out the window. Leo, now off the mower, jumped around wind milling his arms around his head.
“Wow. Everyone in Spain really does know how to dance,” Kayla said.
Gwyn watched the mower as it ran out of control until it hit the fence.
“He's not dancing.”
Heart in her throat, Gwyn threw open the door to the cabinet under the sink, grabbed the wasp spray, and ran out the back door.
Leo chased after the mower while she released the contents of the can in the air and on the ground where he ran over the yellow jackets' nest.
He shut off the mower. When he spun to face her, red welts appeared on his beautiful face.
“The mower is fine," he declared with a smile even though his bottom lip looked swollen.
“Come with me,” she said, grabbing his hand, pulling her Latin landscaper behind her.
“Sit,” she motioned to the kitchen chair and ran to the medicine cabinet. Thank God she kept Benadryl in the house just for emergencies like this. She handed Leo a teaspoon and the bottle of pink liquid.
“Take four teaspoons of this. That should help until we get you to the ER.”
She ran to the bottom of the stairs and called for the kids to come to the kitchen.
For the first time ever, Kayla stood there speechless.
“Will you stay with the kids until we get back?” Gwyn asked.
Her friend nodded but remained quiet.
“Leo, get in the car. I'll get Pilar and be right there.”
“I feel fine,” he said, winking at her. Nope. Not a wink, just a blink from his puffy eyes that were swelling more by the minute.
“The medicine is working, Gwyn. I think you are over-reacting,” he said.
“I'm not taking any chances. Go,” she pointed toward the garage.
He got up to head for the door when Jeremy, her ten-year-old son, came into the kitchen. He took one look at Leo, and his eyes widened in horror.
“Just a little bee sting, Jeremy. Not to worry,” Leo said, playing it cool, as if anaphylaxis wasn’t happening right in front of them.
That didn't surprise her. The one thing she’d learned about the hunky Spaniard in the five days he had been with them was, he never ruffled. He always remained calm and cool, unlike her, who panicked over every little thing. At least he could still speak, which meant his throat wasn’t closing.
But Jeremy couldn't stop staring.
“That's not just a bee sting,” he said. “I got stung last year and it didn't look like that, remember Mom? No, you look like you got stung by a swarm of bees because your face looks as red and puffy as one of those baboons with the big red butt and—”
Pilar came into the kitchen and wore the same horrified look Jeremy did.
“Yikes. What happened?”
“It’s nothing,” Leo said.
“He ran over a bee's nest. Come on, we're going to the hospital.”
They all headed to the door, until a blood curdling scream stopped them all in their tracks. Gwyn rolled her eyes. If they gave awards for Drama Queen of the Year, Emmy would win, hands down.
“He looks like a monster!”
“It's okay, Em. He got stung by a bee,” Gwyn said, hugging Emmy to her. “I'm taking him to the hospital, and you're going to stay here with Kayla."
Leo still managed a smile even though his lips, now looked like he just got a collagen injection. And he no longer refused.
Gwyn drove to the ER as fast as she could without running any red lights or exceeding the speed limit. Pilar went into the triage room with Leo while Gwyn went to the waiting room. She found a seat in the very back in the corner, far away from all the coughing, sneezing and the one woman holding an emesis bag just waiting to vomit into it. This was the worst place for someone like herself, a self- proclaimed germ-a-phobe.
She made sure her mask was in place and held her handbag on her lap because there was no way on God's green earth, she would set it down on any surface in there. Reaching inside, she grabbed her hand sanitizer. The astringent alcohol smell made her wrinkle up her nose, but she'd put up with the strong odor if it meant her hands were clean.
As she watched different people come and go, her mind wandered. She never thought her weekend would end with a trip to the ER with two strangers now living in her house. When had her life become one bad decision after another?
She had planned it all out perfectly right down to the birth of her children. Exactly four years apart.
At least she thought she had, until her dream marriage and perfect family came to an abrupt halt. Mark left her for a younger woman, divorced her, and she was basically raising the kids alone.
She never saw it coming and asked herself every day how she could have been so naïve. She missed all the signs of him having an affair, and it left her doubting many of her other decisions in life.
Including allowing the Cordovas to stay at her house.
When Joan, her good friend and the president of the Books with Romance Association asked her for a favor, Gwyn couldn't disappoint her, even though she had her reservations. Although, after she spent time with the stunning brother and sister duo during the last full night of the convention, she no longer thought they were con artists who wanted to get into her house to steal her identity or her kids.
Yes, the thoughts were irrational, another side effect since Mark left. Many of her thoughts were lately.
Joan insisted it would only be for two weeks. And so far, it had been painless having them there.
Gwyn closed her eyes and hoped Leo would be okay. Her body relaxed just a little, enough for her writer’s brain kick into action.
Bending down in front of the dryer, Gwyn pulled out a towel and she shivered from the warmth from Leo’s body so close to hers.
Gwyn turned to him. He moved in and stroked his thumb over her lower lip before gently covering her mouth with his.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and breathed in the scent of him as he slowly introduced his tongue, deepening their kiss.
It had been so long since she felt wanted. The sexual tension so thick between them as he lifted her up on top of the dryer. She wrapped her legs around him, drawing his hardness against her. He searched her face with his warm, brown eyes and called her name softly.
“Yes,” she sighed against his lips.
Gwyn snapped out of her daydream to see Leo in front of her, smiling.
"Oh, Leo." Relief washed through her. Red welts no longer marred his beautiful face, although one of his eyes still looked as if he’d been in a fight.
“How do you feel?” She asked.
"She’s coming. Are you okay? Your face is flushed."
“It’s warm in here.”
Her sexy daydream about him left her heart racing. Maybe getting back to writing that romance novel she’d started would be a good outlet for her overactive hormones.
The minute they got back home, Gwyn marched right to the sink and washed her hands thoroughly. She thought about changing her clothes but realized how neurotic that sounded so decided against it.
Leo had gone to the basement to rest after his ordeal and Pilar followed, just to keep an eye on him.
The moment they were out of earshot Kayla asked, "What happened?"
Her friend practically drooled for any tidbit of information.
"Nothing happened. He said they gave him a shot and fluids in an IV, then we came home. The end."
Gwyn laughed out loud. "What did you think would happen?"
"I don't know. Sex on a gurney? A little oral action behind those curtains they pull around the bed?"
"Really? You think I’m the kind of woman who would go down on a guy while he was practically dying? Gimme a break."
"No, that’s the woman I hope you’d be," Kayla said, sounding disappointed. "I'm just glad he's okay."
Gwyn held out her hands to show Kayla they were still shaking.
"God, Gwynnie, you really have to learn how to relax."
"I'll be relaxed when I'm dead. Until then, I don't know how to be any other way."
Gwyn dropped into bed and stared up at the ceiling.
One should never have to worry about your house guest dying from anaphylactic shock. She’d kept it together all day but there in the privacy of her bedroom, tears burned her eyes.
For the hundredth time since the ‘bee incident,’ she tried to rationalize her decision to take in the Cordovas. Her friends always said she was a great listener and went above and beyond to help anyone in need. Selfless they called her.
But that’s what got her into trouble.
When Joan said she needed a favor, naturally she answered her cry for help.
Gwyn’s heart somersaulted at Leo’s silky voice and soft knock. She jumped up and threw on a robe over her pj’s.
He wore a black tee shirt and plaid pajama shorts. He smelled of mountain spring body wash, and he slicked back his wet hair, giving her a better view of his long black lashes and dark brown eyes.
She cleared the emotion from her throat. “Leo, hi. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, Gwyn, please relax. You always look so tense.”
She cringed. Mark used tell her she was uptight.
“It’s easier for me to always be on guard, that way I’m prepared for the worst.”
“But how do you enjoy life that way?”
She hadn’t thought of that. The correct answer would be... never.
“I manage.” He needn’t know that from the time she got out of bed, until the time she fell back into it at night, she stressed about—well, everything.
“That’s very sad,” he said quietly.
Maybe, but it’s all she knew. “Did you need something?” No need to go into any more of her personality quirks with him.
“I wanted to say thank you.”
His words in that slight Spanish accent melted over her like warm caramel on ice cream.
“For what, almost killing you?” she snickered.
“It was an accident. Don’t blame yourself.”
His eyes were wrought with such sincerity she looked away, feigning a sudden interest at the fuzz on her robe.
“Thank you again.”
Before she had a chance to react, Leo pulled her against his solid chest in a bear hug that lasted for a few seconds, then let her go. When he smiled down at her, the heat on her face felt as if someone held a blow dryer to her cheeks and for the second time in so many minutes, she averted her eyes from his gaze.
“You’re very welcome.”
She thought that would be it. He would say goodnight and go back down to the futon in the basement. Gwyn opened her mouth to say goodnight, but Leo interrupted.
“I can’t sleep. How about you?”
“I was having trouble settling in,” she admitted.
“I have an idea of how we can both relax enough to get to sleep. Come with me.”
She swallowed hard and blinked to get a grip on herself. He couldn’t be talking about… well, she wouldn’t allow her mind to even go there. Even though she’d only known him for a couple of weeks, she knew he was too much of a sweetheart for that.
Leo made his way downstairs to the kitchen, and she followed.
“Have a seat,” he said, motioning for her to sit at the breakfast bar.
He grabbed the milk from the fridge, poured into a saucepan, and returned it to the shelf it sat on. Gwyn had encouraged Leo and his sister to treat her home as their own and was happy they took her up on it.
He came out of the pantry with a jar of honey and nutmeg complete with mini grater. It didn’t take long for the three ingredients to get warm enough to drink.
“Is that a Spanish home remedy?”
“No,” he said as he poured the milk into the mugs. “I found this recipe on the internet.”
He smiled as he handed her one of the mugs then took the stool next to her.
“Salud,” he said.
Gwyn tapped her mug to his and smiled. “Salud.”
The milk was the perfect warm temperature to drink. The combined taste of the honey and nutmeg made it sweet and oh so soothing.
He took a sip and put down his mug. “I hope I didn’t traumatize the kids too much today.”
“Are you kidding? Jeremy loved it.”
“True, but Emmy, not so much.”
After Leo had rested for about an hour, he came back upstairs and went to great lengths to show her daughter that his face was back to normal, and he no longer looked like a monster. He sat with her on the sofa and read from her favorite books until she couldn’t keep her eyes open. When he saw her nodding off, he offered to carry her up to her bed.
Emmy refused. It had been two years since Mark left, and she still had trouble getting used to the fact that her father wasn’t coming home to live with them anymore. As a result, she wouldn’t allow herself to get close to any male figure, even her grandfather. Emmy didn’t say those things in so many words, but Gwyn knew her kids.
“You get an “A” for effort for trying to make her feel better.”
“I know this must be hard for all of you. Pilar and I interrupted your routine by coming here. We both spoke to Joan about staying at her place, but she has four cats in her little apartment and Pilar is allergic. I just want you to know how much we appreciate your hospitality.”
She nodded. They had no furry pets, although Jeremy constantly begged for a dog.
“It’s no big deal. It’s only for a short time, and I think Jeremy likes having another guy around.”
“I can’t help but notice that your ex-husband doesn’t come around that often.”
“No, his new wife gave birth prematurely to their baby. The poor little guy has some health issues now. He has to stay in the hospital for another week or so.”
She sighed. “I know it’s where Mark needs to be at the moment, but kids don’t get that, you know?”
Leo nodded. “You are very understanding.”
“I wouldn’t be setting a very good example for my kids if I demanded him to be here to do trivial things like mow the lawn. That’s not being very compassionate. And wow, I’m sorry. I should not be unloading my problems on you.”
“You have to talk to someone.”
They quietly sipped their milk in awkward silence. She honestly didn’t know what else to say.
She lifted her head up to catch his eyes on hers, and her body heated at his intense gaze.
“What’s that, now?” she stalled, trying to get her bearings.
“I know when a woman has been crying, Gwyn. When you opened your bedroom door, your face was red, and you had tears in your eyes.”
She looked down into her mug again. Denying it seemed like the right thing to do, but that would also take more energy than she had at that moment.
“It was a long day, that’s all.” She had to make a conscious effort to keep emotion out of her voice. She despised that she cried at all. And doing it in front of a stranger made it worse.
“It must be hard for you,” he continued.
“Running this house, working, being a mother and a father to the kids. You’re amazing. I have a lot of respect for you.”
“Thanks. I try to do the best I can.”
They sipped in silence again.
“Do you think you’ll ever get married?” she asked, keeping her eyes to the contents of her mug while conveniently changing the subject.
“I hope so. I came close once.”
“Yeah. She backed out the week before the wedding.”
His tone grew softer, and her heart squeezed in sympathy for him.
“Did she give a reason?”
His shoulders came up into a shrug. “She wasn’t ready to settle down. She is a model, too. The thought of having babies and ruining her body worried her.”
“It definitely does that.” She had the stretch marks on her stomach to prove it.
He shrugged again. “Heidi Klum had four babies, and it didn’t affect her career at all.”
The man made a good point.
“Why else do you get married? When you want companionship, you get a dog. When you want love, you find a wife. Having children comes from that love, right?”
He had conviction in his voice.
“You make love and marriage sound so simple.”
“Not always.” Not in hers and Mark’s case anyway.
“Well, if you have the right partner, it should be.”
She snickered and went back to sipping her milk while Leo looked more confused than ever.
“Why do you laugh when I say that?”
“How old are you, Leo?”
“Almost thirty. Why?”
“You’re still young so you see things differently than someone my age. Eventually you’ll see that love isn’t that easy. Other factors play into it.”
“I know I’m never supposed to ask a woman her age, but you don’t look that much older than me. And certainly not old enough to be that cynical.”
Leo finished his milk and went to the sink to rinse his mug out. As he dried it with a dish towel, he turned to her.
“Do you think you’ll ever remarry?”
“I don’t know. I have the kids to worry about.”
“Gwynevere, do you ever worry about yourself?”
Her name rolled off his tongue and a rush of heat shot through her again.
“I can’t worry about myself. I’m all they’ve got.”
“But if you don’t, you will have nothing to give them.”
While she sat there and finished her milk, she hated that everything he said was true. But what could she do about it? She had to be there for Jeremy and Emmy.
She stood with her empty mug and Leo took it from her, washed it, dried it, and put it away.
“Your remedy worked like a charm. I’m sleepy enough to turn in,” she announced.
He grasped her hand and gave it a quick squeeze.
“Thanks again,” he said.
“I’m glad you’re okay. Goodnight.”
She had to get back to her room.
“Yes?” She wouldn’t be rude and race up the stairs to get away from him, even though that’s exactly what she wanted to do.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself about your divorce. I suspect a lot of guys get tired of coming in second or third.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Behind the children. Some guys don’t want to put in the extra effort it takes to keep the mother of their children, their wife.”
She shook her head. He talked in circles. “I’m not following.”
“When you first meet someone and fall in love there are fireworks.”
Gwyn couldn’t remember whether she and Mark had fireworks per se, but they had something at one time. Something she hadn’t felt with any other guy before him.
“The longer you stay together the fire dies down, yet the heat is still there, smoldering under the surface. After the kids come, the embers get banked. That is when some men make this mistake.”
He had her attention. “Go on.”
“His wife is too busy with the kids, the house, her job, so instead of stoking the fire, he gives up.”
If nothing else, Leo waxed poetic, and she liked it.
“Mark stoked the embers okay,” she said. “They just weren’t my embers.”
Gwyn always blamed herself for their divorce. Too many times she wished she’d been more attentive to Mark’s needs, so he wouldn’t have strayed.
“As the mother of his children, you should be put on a pedestal,” he continued. “You gave him the greatest gift of all.”
Gwyn swallowed. “I don’t know if he ever thought about it like that.”
Nor had she now that she thought about it.
Leo stared off into the living room as he leaned up against the kitchen counter. He wore no expression, mostly likely thinking about his relationship with his ex-fiancée.
“How did you get so smart in the ways of love, Leo?”
He swung his gaze back to her. “I grew up with loving parents and grandparents. They taught us that you need to tend to love. To nurture it. With the right person, it’s worth that time and effort.”
His deep, soft voice had a lilting quality, one that lulled her to the level of calm you felt before falling asleep.
“All I’m saying is, a real husband is a man who knows he won’t come first in your life. And he should remind you at the end of every day, the reasons you fell in love in the first place.”
An image took over her mind.
She walks through her bedroom door, and Leo is lying in her bed. Nothing but the sheet covers him from the waist down, but what she does see is chiseled and perfect. He turns down the sheet on her side and pats the mattress. He wants her, and her body catches fire, while her breathing gets erratic. She gets in and he wraps his solid arms around her. He rolls on top of her and…
“Good night, Gwyn.”
She grabbed the staircase railing. Her knees were dangerously close to collapsing and she feared if she did, Leo would pick her up. And she’d totally let him.
He went through the basement door. She listened as he descended the stairs.
Gwyn finally unglued her feet from the spot she stood and made her way upstairs. Back in bed, she went back to staring at the ceiling. Now she was restless, awake, and aroused.
She thought her flames had died out—even had joked to Kayla that her lady bits were long dead. But hearing Leo’s sensual words told her that her hormones hadn’t pulled the plug on her libido just yet. It simmered beneath the surface just needing to be stoked, like he said.
Thank heavens the Cordovas would be gone soon. All Leo’s talk of flames, fire, and passion would most likely cause her to spontaneously combust.