Matt turned the pickup onto the rundown street he was forced to call home for the next three months. A half-starved cat ran for the bushes alongside an empty house. An old man, well wrapped against the chill, sat motionless on his porch. Three boys hung on the corner, watching with hostile eyes as the Chevy passed.
Matt found himself scanning the lot across from his place for a boyish figure with red hair. She wasn’t there. Pulling into the drive, he told himself he was glad. He didn’t need the hassles. He didn’t want the woman, any woman, even one with sunlight in her hair and the earth’s warmth in her smile and the devil’s own determination. And then he caught his eyes in the rearview mirror taking one last, quick check across the street, and his mouth quirked up.
Movement pulled his attention to the front of his house. His cop’s instincts went on alert. Someone crouched on the other side of the concrete steps, half hidden by a screen of bare- branched bushes. Vandal or robber? Matt’s lips compressed. He wasn’t wearing his shoulder holster. His gun was in the house under lock and key.
Stiffly, he got out of the car, never taking his eyes from the kneeling intruder. His boots crunched on the graveled drive. For all his size, he knew how to move quietly, but it was better if his unknown visitor heard him coming. He didn’t want to startle the guy into firing.
The jean-clad rump wiggled. Matt stepped away from the vehicle, arms loose, hands ready, and slammed the car door.
A dark head wearing an Atlanta Braves cap popped into view above the steps.
“Damn,” said Richie Johnson. “You trying to give me a heart attack?”
Matt felt his tension ease even as he tamped down his irritation. “What are you doing here?”
The kid waved a muddy trowel. “Planting.”
“Flowers, man.” His tone was defensive.
Matt grinned. So, real men didn’t plant flowers. He approached the porch. Soiled clumps of squiggly roots dotted the ground. A line of holes edged the bush in front of the boy. Tan sticks stuck up like grave markers from mounds by the house.
“I don’t want flowers.”
Richie shrugged. “Don’t tell me. Tell her.”
Matt didn’t have to ask who her was. “Where is she?”
“Back of her house. She keeps digging stuff up and bringing it over for me to put in,” he confided, faintly aggrieved.
Matt glanced across the street. Sure enough, here came Tinkerbell, slim arms corded with the weight of the pots she carried, small breasts outlined by her earth first T-shirt. He noticed her nipples. In spite of the sun, the air was chilly. She ought to have on a jacket.
Squashing his involuntary pleasure at the sight of her, he rested his weight on his whole left leg, hooked his thumbs in his back pockets, and waited for her explanation.
THE REFORMING OF MATTHEW DUNN