The Manning Grooms Page 3

True to his word, it took Jason all of thirty seconds to make the necessary repair.

“The bathroom faucet’s been leaking, hasn’t it, Mom? Don’t you think we should have him look at that, too, while he’s here?”

Jason glanced at his watch and frowned. If the kid kept this up, he’d miss the start of the basketball game. But he decided he had little choice: pay now or pay later. He gave Carrie the lead she was hoping for. “Or it’ll need fixing tomorrow, right?”

“Probably.” There was a clear glint of warning in the fifteen-year-old’s eyes.

Charlotte turned around and glanced from one to the other. Crossing her arms, she studied her daughter, then looked at Jason as if seeing him for the first time. Really seeing him. Apparently she didn’t like what she saw.

“Is something going on here I don’t know about?” she asked.

“What makes you say that?” Carrie said with wide-eyed innocence.

Jason had to hand it to the girl; she had the look down to an art form.

“Just answer the question, Caroline Marie.”

The mother wasn’t a slacker in “the look” department, either. She had eyes that would flash freeze a pot of boiling water.

The girl held her own for an admirable length of time before caving in to the icy glare. She lifted her shoulders with an expressive sigh and said, “If you must know, I took the screw out of the faucet so we’d have to call Jason over here.”

Once again Jason glanced at his watch, hoping to extract himself from their discussion. This was between mother and daughter—not mother, daughter and innocent bystander. He hadn’t meant to let Charlotte in on her daughter’s scheme, but neither was he willing to become a full-time pawn in Carrie’s little games. No telling how many other repair projects the girl might turn up for him.

“Why would you want Dr. Manning here?” Charlotte asked with a frown.

“Because he’s a good-looking man and he seems nice and I thought it would be great if you got to know each other.”

It was time to make his move, Jason decided. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be leaving now.”

“You purposely broke the faucet so we could call him down here?” Charlotte gestured toward Jason.

Carrie sent him an irritated look as though to suggest this was all his fault. “I wanted him to see you. For being thirty-five, you aren’t half bad. Once he saw your potential, I was sure he’d ask you out on a date. I tried to talk him into it earlier, but—”

“You what?” Charlotte exploded. Color flashed into her cheeks like bright neon lights. Her eyes narrowed. “Tell me you didn’t! Please tell me you didn’t!”

Carrie snapped her mouth shut, about ten seconds too late to suit Jason.

“This is all a big joke, isn’t it?” Charlotte turned to Jason for reassurance, which was a mistake, since he was glaring at Carrie, irritated with her for saying far more than necessary.

“I had to do something,” Carrie cried, defending herself. “You need a man. I saw the look on your face when you were holding Kathy Crenshaw’s baby. You’ve never said anything, but you want more children. You never date…I don’t know what my father did to you, but you’ve shut yourself off and—and…I was just trying to help.”

Charlotte stalked to the far side of the small kitchen. “I can’t believe this. You actually asked a man to take me out?”

“I did more than ask. I offered him money!”

Charlotte whirled on Jason. “Just what kind of man are you? Agreeing to my daughter’s plans…Why…you’re detestable!”

Despite himself, Jason smiled, which was no doubt the worst thing he could have done. “So I’ve been told. Now if you’ll both excuse me, I’ll leave you to your discussion.”

“What kind of man are you?” Charlotte demanded a second time, following him to the door, blocking his exit.


“Go to your room, young lady. I’ll deal with you later.” She pointed the way, as if Carrie needed directions.

Jason hadn’t imagined things would go like this, and he did feel badly about it, but that didn’t help. Charlotte Weston could think harshly of him if she wanted, but now Carrie was in trouble and Jason felt halfway responsible.

“She was just trying to do you a good turn,” he said matter-of-factly. “Think of it as an early Mother’s Day gift.”


With her daughter out of the room, Charlotte scowled at Jason Manning, angrier than she could ever remember being.

“You’re…” She couldn’t think of anything bad enough to call him.

“Detestable is a good word.” He was practically laughing at her!

“Detestable,” she repeated, clenching her fists. “I’ll have you know I’m reporting you to…” The name of the government agency, any government agency, was beyond her.

“Children Protective Services,” he supplied.

“Them, too.” She jerked the apron from her waist and threw it on the floor. Surprised by her own action, Charlotte tried to steady herself. “According to the terms of our rental agreement, I’m giving you our two-weeks’ notice as of this minute. I refuse to live near a man as…”

“Heinous,” he offered, looking bored.

“Heinous as you,” she stated emphatically. Then with an indignant tilt of her chin, she said as undramatically as she could manage, “Now kindly leave my home.”

“As you wish.” He opened the door and without a backward glance walked out of her apartment. He’d worn a cocky grin throughout, as if he found her tirade thoroughly amusing.

His attitude infuriated Charlotte. She followed him to the door and loudly turned the lock, hoping the sound of it would echo in his ears for a good long time.

When he’d gone, Charlotte discovered she was shaking so badly she needed to sit down. She sank onto a chair, her knees trembling.

“Mom?” A small voice drifted down from the hallway. “You weren’t serious about us moving, were you?”

“You’re darn right I’m serious. I’m so serious I’d prefer to live in our car than have anything to do with that…that…apartment manager!”

“But why?” Carrie’s voice gained strength as she wandered from her bedroom to the living room, where Charlotte was seated. “Why are we moving?”

Charlotte had clearly failed as a mother. One more layer of guilt to add to all the others. “You mean you honestly don’t know?”

“To punish me?” Carrie asked, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I’m really sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

What Carrie had done was bad enough, but Jason Manning was an adult. He should’ve known better. True, her daughter had played a major role in all this, but Carrie was a child and didn’t fully understand what she was suggesting. Her daughter had Charlotte’s best interests at heart, misguided though she was.

Jason Manning, on the other hand, had planned to take advantage of them both.

“It isn’t you I’m furious with, it’s him.” Charlotte pointed after Jason. To think a professional man would actually agree to such an idiotic scheme.

“Dr. Manning?”

“The man’s a sleaze! Imagine, taking money from you—”

“He didn’t.”

Charlotte hesitated, the sick feeling in her stomach intensifying. “Of course he did,” she argued, “otherwise he wouldn’t have played out this ridiculous game with you.”

“I was the one who took the screw out of the faucet, Mom. Jason Manning didn’t know anything about it. When I asked him if he’d agree to take you out on a date, he refused. He was really nice about it and everything, but he didn’t seem to think it was a good idea. That’s when I offered him the babysitting money I’ve been saving, but he wouldn’t take it.”

A dizziness replaced Charlotte’s nausea. Several of Jason’s comments suddenly made sense, especially the hint of sarcasm she’d detected when he’d held up the missing screw. Yet he’d allowed her to rant at him, not even bothering to defend himself.


“You really aren’t going to make us move, are you?”

Charlotte closed her eyes and groaned. She’d had a rotten day at the office, but misplacing a file and getting yelled at in front of an important client didn’t compare with the humiliation that had been awaiting her at home.

“I wonder how many fat grams there are in crow,” she muttered under her breath.

“Fat grams in crow? Are you all right, Mom?”

“I’m going to be eating a huge serving of it,” Charlotte grumbled, and she had the distinct feeling she wasn’t going to enjoy the experience.

She gave herself an hour. Sixty minutes to calm her nerves, have dinner and wipe down the counters while Carrie loaded the dishwasher. Sixty minutes to figure out how she was going to take back her two-weeks’ notice.

“You’re going to talk to him, aren’t you?” Carrie prodded her. “Right away.”

Charlotte didn’t need Carrie to identify him. They both had only one him on their minds.

“I’ll talk to him.”

“Thank heaven.” Carrie sighed with relief.

“But when I finish with Jason Manning, you and I are going to sit down and have a serious discussion, young lady.”

Some of the enthusiasm left Carrie’s pretty blue eyes as she nodded reluctantly.

Charlotte would’ve preferred to delay the apology, but the longer she put it off, the more difficult it would become.

Her steps were hesitant as she approached Jason’s apartment. For some reason, she chose to knock instead of pressing the doorbell.

When he didn’t answer right away, she assumed, gratefully, that she’d been given a reprieve. Yet, at the same time, she hated letting the situation fester overnight. With reinforced determination, she knocked again.

“Hold your horses,” Jason shouted from the other side of the door.

Charlotte took one step in retreat, squared her shoulders and drew in a deep breath. He opened the door. He looked preoccupied and revealed no emotion when he saw her.

“Hello,” she said, hating how shaky she sounded. She paused long enough to clear her throat. “Would it be okay if I came inside?”

“Sure.” He stepped aside to let her into his apartment. One glance told her he wasn’t much of a housekeeper. A week’s worth of newspapers were scattered across the carpet. Dirty dishes, presumably from his dinner, sat on the coffee table, along with the remote control, which he picked up. The TV was instantly muted. He walked over to the recliner and removed a pile of clothes, probably things he’d recently taken from the dryer.

“You can sit here,” he said, indicating the recliner, his arms full of clothes.

Charlotte smiled and sat down.

“You want a beer?”

“Ah…sure.” She didn’t normally drink much, but if there was ever a time she needed to fortify her courage, it was now.

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