Love and Other Lunacies
(Available as a Kindle edition for only 4.99)
Who says love can't be funny? It can be a riot when it happens to two people who shouldn't even be in the same room, let alone the same relationship!
Audrey Stallsmith, who earned a starred review in Booklist and a Top Pick from Romantic Times for her novels, wrote these short stories and novellas as a form of relaxation between her more serious mysteries. Created for fun, they should be read for fun as well.
This collection includes the following light romances, several of which were previously published:
Love and Other Lunacies: Luna, the offbeat daughter of outdated hippies, defies the establishment--the soon-to-be district attorney and his upper class family.
Take My Life--Please!: Soft-hearted Amelia marries a dangerous man to get herself killed, so her impoverished relatives can inherit.
Bridal Sour: Lonna Jane, a southern ex-detective, wrangles with her infuriating former chief after an attempted shooting at a bridal shower.
Big Game: Mean Peggy McKean, a bankrupt hunting guide with few social skills, decides to hunt herself down a husband.
Just Say No: Stacey, a spacey artist who agrees to take in a precocious foster child, gets taken in herself by a bad boy cop and flaky drug dealers.
I Know What I Like: Sheba, the manager of an art studio, seethes when her beautiful mother tries to steal her artist boss.
Burying Caesar: Ivy, the owner of a health food store, clashes with the local doctor who has dubbed her "Poison Ivy."
Law and Disorder: Susan, in the most disastrous of all blind dates, is paired with the arrogant cop who issued her a warning just days before.
Romance--After a Fashion: Priscilla, the prissy editor of a bankrupt fashion magazine, is forced to ask her curt and slovenly neighbor for a loan.
(Book description from Amazon.com)
Just Say No
“Ms. Cadell, please,” the voice on the phone said. It sounded female and weary.
“Speaking.” I added a thwack of brown to the chin of the portrait I was painting and contemplated it with a frown. Would Irene Sedgwick object to having her mole included?
“This is Marcia,” the voice continued in a mechanical sort of way, “from the Department of Human Ser—“
“You want the other one,” I interrupted.
“You want the other Ms. Cadell. Jocelyn. My mother. She’s the serving humanity type, not me.”
“Yes, it was Jocelyn I needed. Could I speak to her?”
“That depends.” I slopped flesh-covered paint over the mole, and studied the result critically. No, that didn’t look at all like Mrs. Sedgwick. The mole was what they called a prominent feature. “The telephone service where Mother is can be tricky at times, but I have the number here somewhere.” I looked around at my welter of canvases and paint tubes without enthusiasm. “If you are really determined to have it.”
“Well, the matter is urgent. But, if Jocelyn’s on vacation, like everybody else, I suppose she can’t help me either. Where is she exactly?”
“Zambia,” I said. “Or is it Zimbabwe? One of those Z places anyway. And it’s not exactly a vacation. She and my stepfather joined the Peace Corp.”
“I see.” Marcia didn’t sound as if she really did. “As a permanent sort of thing?”
“With my mother it’s difficult to say.” I firmly reinstated Mrs. Sedgwick’s mole. I could tell her that the picture wouldn’t be her without the beauty spot. I firmly steered the conversation toward a conclusion too. “My stepfather probably won’t like Africa, since he tends to disapprove of everything. But, as you can tell from the fact that my mother decided to keep her previous name, she doesn’t take him all that seriously. Would you like me to pass on a message?”
“Well, no. Actually I need Jocelyn’s help right now. I understand from the file that she didn’t want us to call on her unless it was urgent. But, from the hour at which I’m phoning, you can deduce that this is an emergency. I’m sorry if I woke you.”
I looked hazily at the clock. Could it really be 1:00 AM already? Had I eaten any supper? I would have to see whether there were any dirty dishes in the sink. Not that that would actually prove anything.
“No, I was up,” I replied politely. “I’m an artist so my hours are somewhat irregular. If you want to call Mother, it’s probably an entirely different un-emergency sort of hour in Zaire.”
“Zaire? You said Zambia before.” For a public servant, Marcia seemed on the irritable side. Papers rustled on the other end of the line. “Stacey? You might actually do, after all. You are Stacey, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I admitted cautiously. “Is that important?”
“My file here says that you trained to be a foster parent at the same time your mother and stepfather did.” Marcia sounded accusing, as if I should have mentioned that little fact before. “As you are answering at her number, I assume you live in the house that was approved at the time. So you are also qualified—“
“No, I’m not,” I interrupted quickly. “I only trained so my parents would have an approved babysitter, and I’m just house sitting for them while they are gone. I usually live in a cramped little apartment over the garage. Not to mention that I don’t like children at all. They are noisy and demanding and they interrupt my painting. Speaking of which, oil paints are very dangerous you know. Downright poisonous, some of them. Did I mention that I don’t like children?”
“I don’t see any complaints here. The children must have liked you.”
“That’s because I bribed them. If they made it through a whole evening without interrupting me and without 911 having to be called, I gave them cash. And,” I added glumly, “they kept raising the rates on me. As I’m on the small side, I don’t make much of an authority figure, I’m afraid. Fortunately, my mother soon decided that she liked children better in theory than actuality. That’s why she only had me, I suppose. She tends to forget such things, being an optimistic type. Jocelyn means cheerful, you know. That’s my mother, relentlessly hopeful.”
“But it’s not you, I assume?” Marcia was beginning to sound definitely acidic. “Listen, Stacey, I’m in no mood to be picky. They only called me in, because everybody else is away for the holiday weekend, and the person who was supposed to be covering the office quit suddenly. Though why she should want to leave such a fulfilling job as this one—"
Really, I thought, the public servants have become quite sarcastic these days. Probably those drastic staff cuts that I’ve been hearing about have made them cranky. Not to mention persistent. Maybe I should have implied that I was racist too. Not strictly true, but most racism is largely subconscious, isn’t it? So I could be unaware of it. And what holiday weekend does Marcia mean? I looked blankly at the calendar. What do you know? Monday must be Labor Day. Where did the summer go?
Marcia had paused to draw a steadying breath. “Anyway,” she continued in a determinedly calmer tone, “I’m sure you won’t have to keep the boy for more than a day or two. Some relatives are bound to show up. But his mother is dead, the police just arrested his father, and nobody has room for Saul anywhere. So, since Jocelyn said we could call on you in an emergency—“
“Call on her, you mean,” I corrected hastily. “I suppose, in reality, your Saul is one of those difficult kids that everybody else refuses to take. I seem to recall that the New Testament Saul was a character, even after he got reformed. And he had the advantage of a religious upbringing, which I somehow doubt that yours does. I’m afraid I’ll have to—"
“Ms. Cadell!” Marcia’s voice had risen alarmingly. “The file doesn’t say we can only call on your mother. Now you may be an artsy only child who can do what you want most of the time. But I am an underpaid social worker who is supposed to be on maternity leave. At Officer Carbone’s insistence, I dragged my grossly oversized body out of the house and down to the office at an ungodly hour. Just to phone an unholy number of people who either weren’t home or weren’t answering.
“I’m now lying on a gurney in a hospital hallway. I suspect the fact that I am suddenly soaked to the skin means that my water just broke. It isn’t going to kill you to look after one small child for one night. So I am going to tell Officer Carbone to take the boy to you, and that is final!”
I heard a dial tone in my ear. Some women, I decided, get mean when they are in labor. Where is the calm, nurturing mother instinct? And did she really say Officer Carbone? That’s all I need, to run into Rocco again at this late date.
He also ruled out any idea of locking my door against the unwanted intrusion. Rocky was quite capable of breaking in if necessary.
It was appropriate that he should turn up in this instance, as he’d been a foster child himself, back when he attended my high school class. As I recalled, his Italian parents had owned a grocery store in a dangerous neighborhood, and had been killed during a holdup there.
A baby-faced and in-your-face type, Rocky was somewhat short for a guy, though taller than me. But, then, everybody was taller than me. Rocky was the sort that everybody was sure would wind up in prison eventually. So he thumbed his nose at them yet again by becoming a cop instead.
Of course, if rumor could be believed, Rocky still made his own rules and was always on the verge of getting reprimanded for something. They couldn’t fire him, as he’d actually been a hero a couple times too, largely by violating procedure. He’d always reminded me of Boscorelli on Third Watch. Like Bosco, Rocky had been popular with the dumber sort of female, but not with my stepfather, who had been our high school principal.
Imagining Bob’s reaction if he knew that Rocky was calling on me at this late hour, I had to smile. Could I work that into a phone conversation sometime? “When Rocky dropped by last night—in the early morning, I mean.”
I abandoned the idea somewhat regretfully. It might give my stepfather a good excuse for rushing home immediately. That would be inconvenient, as I had turned his study into a studio. No, on second thought, I had better not mention this foster thing to my parents at all. For some reason, people always think that I am not even capable of looking after myself, let alone a child.