Solid Ground

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Chapter 5

Man-Catching Pancakes

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Dash of salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

3 tablespoons melted butter

Dash of pure almond extract (5 to 7 drops)

Pre-cooked and crumbled bacon and sausage

Another egg…two or three for hungry SEALs

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a whisk or large fork, mix in the buttermilk and egg until well combined and smooth. Stir in the melted butter and almond extract. Heat a skillet, adding a touch of butter. Using a 1/4 cup, measure out the batter and pour into pan. When firm and golden brown on one side, sprinkle pre-cooked and crumbled meat mixture on the uncooked side and flip it. In a separate pan, fry an egg …or two (over-easy or sunny side up work best) while the pancake cooks on the other side. Top with maple syrup. Best served warm, wearing nothing but an apron, garter belt, stockings, heels, and a naughty smile. But not if’n the kids are around!

Daniel rolled over slowly in his bed. It took a moment for him to place where he was. It always did. His dreams were sometimes more vivid than reality, whether of smoke-filled battlefields or limp, lifeless blonds. This morning, in particular, the confusion hung over him. He ran a hand across his face as if to clear the cobwebs from his brain.

Pancakes? He smelled pancakes. But that made no sense; his mother had not made pancakes since he was in kindergarten. Eggs, bacon, toast, a hearty man’s breakfast that his father adored, but not pancakes.

Then he remembered. The woman. Jill was her name. The events of the previous day came flooding back like lava flow after a volcanic eruption. She had flown thousands of miles to marry him based upon emails he had not even written. The idea seemed ridiculous and flighty, but from what little he had seen of her, she seemed anything but the type of woman he would expect to do something so…crazy.

Rolling over, he looked at the digital clock on the nightstand next to his bed — nine thirty-eight.

“What the fuck?” he spat. He never slept past oh-six-hundred. Not in years. Not even on vacation. It was programmed into his mind and body. His alarm clock was more for show than functionality.

The girls. What about them? Where were they? Worse yet, what had they gotten into? Even if she was up and cooking pancakes, the girls did not know Jill. How could she manage three children under the age of six and make breakfast?

Daniel’s senses were immediately at attention, his mind racing with horrific images of disasters, each worse than the last. Three little girls could cause more trouble than a terrorist sleeper cell. He threw back the blankets and raced down the hall towards the kitchen, not even considering his attire.

***

Jill flipped another of the sweet breakfast treats in the small pan. This morning she had opted for the thicker American style batter that rose in the pan, a golden delight visually as well as its smell and taste.

Her brows creased in thought. It was amazing that two countries, which shared the same language and were, in fact, close relations, could have so many differences. She had barely been back in the United States for twelve hours, and already she had run across at least a dozen different words or customs. Pancakes that were so thin you could see right through them seemed inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, especially in the bright morning light.

The mess that she had made of her life by hopping on the first available plane and coming three thousand miles to marry a stranger - that was consequential.

“Bel, you ready for another?” She asked the little girl, playing quietly at the table with a Barbie doll. Turning around with another pancake poised on the spatula, she almost dropped the frying pan. The sight that greeted her gaze sent her heart into overdrive and pushed the air from her lungs.

Six foot plus of lean, muscular male filled the doorway between the kitchen and living room. His soft chocolate hair looked as if someone had just run their fingers through it. His matching beard was in disarray. His blue eyes held a sleepy, dream-like look that invited her mind to go places it should not. Most disconcerting of all, he wore nothing more than a pair of basic military issue white boxer shorts. Jill’s throat tightened further at the sight.

The man was beautiful. She knew that was not the correct word to describe this tough, macho-type man, but nothing else fit. She thought of the Greek gods that she had read about in high school. Ares, the god of war. The man before her was the modern-day reincarnation of Ares.

She tried to ignore the rush of heat that coursed through her blood and pooled distinctly between her thighs, wetness that begged to be relieved. She was a woman, after all. Any woman would feel the same. She almost jumped out of her skin at the girlish giggles, which echoed off the kitchen walls.

“Daddy,” Bel squealed. The twins, seated in matching Winnie the Pooh high chairs, simply hit their messy hands against the white plastic trays that surrounded them.

“I hope the girls didn’t wake you,” he said in a deep husky voice that caressed her skin and sent electric shock waves skittering along her spine.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she fumbled, waving her hands towards the countertop where eggs, flour, sugar, and milk sat among drippings of yellowish batter and white powder. “I suppose my body clock is still a bit off,” she smiled nervously by way of explanation.

“Mind? Lady, I woke to the smell of pancakes. Why the hell would I mind?” He paused and with a conspiratorial wink to Bel added, “As long as there are some for me.”

“Yes, Daddy. Jill saved you some, but she said not to wake you up,” the child explained through the gap where her front teeth had once been.

“I’ll put some more on while you get dressed,” Jill hinted as she turned back towards the low flame on the stove. The idea of sharing an intimate breakfast with him wearing nothing more than boxers might be appealing. Still, it was also more than a bit daunting, given the misunderstanding that had resulted in her current uncertain future.

Nonetheless, she doubted that the sight of this man in his bare feet and boxer shorts would quickly fade from her mind, if ever. More than likely, her brain would file it away and bring it forth to haunt her erotic dreams in an empty bed for months and years to come.

“If you’re sure the girls aren’t bothering you,” he questioned once more.

Jill giggled under her breath, but she could hardly tell the man, ‘It’s not the girls that are bothering me, commander.’ Over the years, British politeness had taught her to keep such thoughts to herself. “We have everything under control, commander,” she was careful to keep her back towards him and her eyes straight ahead.

“You should go get dressed. Your pancakes will be ready in a couple of minutes.” She would need that time to wipe his mostly naked form from her mind if she were to continue with polite indifference.

Just as she noticed that the pancake in the pan was almost brown on one side, an old idea popped into her head. She reached for the bacon and sausage that she had cooked earlier. She crumbled them onto the uncooked side of the pancake before flipping it. She grabbed another frying pan out of the cabinet and put it to heat on another burner. She broke an egg into it, then another.

It had been years since she had made man-catching pancakes as David had called them. She did not think she had made them since… But that was the past, and considering how uncertain her future was, she had no time to be contemplating her dead husband and the life they had once shared. And while Daniel made it plain that he had no interest in being caught, she figured a couple of special pancakes were the least she could do to repay his hospitality in this awkward situation.

***

Daniel sat at the oval table that dominated the small kitchen with its yellowish walls. His fork was laden with thick layers of pancake. The rich, brown maple syrup dripped to his plate below. The truth was that the smell had not done justice to the woman’s cooking. The pancakes were perhaps the best he had ever tasted.

The unique blend of the sweet pancake with the salty bacon and sausage worked better than he would have thought. And the sunny side up egg that dripped yellow yoke to mix with syrup each time he cut into them was… He could not come up with a word for it. If he were honest, the breakfast was even better than his mother’s, not that he was telling her that when she called to let him how his father was getting on.

“Want more?” the woman asked as she cleared Bel’s plate from the table.

He shook his head. “I really shouldn’t.” He had already consumed at least three. Any more and he would have to add an extra mile to his daily run. He watched as she used a damp cloth to wipe Britney’s hand. Ashley was content to shovel another bite-size piece of pancake into her mouth. Bel had run off to her room, her Barbie doll in tow.

His eyes came to rest on the generous curves of the woman. Her jeans clung tightly to round hips. He stared in fascination. Where this woman was soft and generous, Rachel had always been more angular. Even during her three pregnancies, she had carefully watched each thing she ate, afraid to gain too much weight. After the births, she had spent hours in the gym. Her need to lose it all quickly was almost obsessional.

Hell, Rachel had always been so small that some part of him had been almost afraid of breaking her. As a result, their lovemaking had never been especially good, tame by most standards. There would be no need for restraint with a woman built this solid, yet soft. Her full hips and round backside elicited forbidden thoughts of wild lovemaking, reckless comings together of flesh, softness that was ample enough to take whatever came.

Daniel cleared his throat and, with an iron will, pulled his mind back from thoughts that it had no business thinking. The woman was a guest in his home, a temporary if unexpected guest. In a couple of days, she would be gone, and his life would be back…to normal. Except nothing had been normal in their lives in a very long time.

As if sensing his gaze, Jill looked up at him. She fidgeted with the cloth, wringing it between her fingers nervously. “I really am sorry about all the mess. I tend to make a bit of a mess when I cook. And it is just that I cook when I think,” her giggle sounded as nervous as her fingers on the cloth. “To be honest, I cook when I’m happy. I cook when I’m mad. I cook when I worry. I guess I just cook,” she explained as she turned back to the counter, wiping and cleaning the last remnants of the morning feast.

“Think away then,” Daniel said as he patted his full stomach. If the way to a man’s heart was his stomach, this woman must have left a lot of broken hearts. He watched as she set to work rinsing syrup from the plates, loading the dishwasher, and wiping down already clean countertops. It was clear that this situation was making her as nervous as he was.

When she ran out of work at the sink, she turned back to the table. With a weak smile, she asked, “You finished?” as she stared at his empty plate. He nodded as she picked it up. She hovered for a moment, her eyes downcast, “Is there any way I can get online? I want to email my cousin in Houston.”

“Sure. I’ll set you up on the wireless this morning,” Daniel chastised himself for the poor host he had been. He should have realized that she needed to contact family and friends to let them know she was all right. “Sorry, I didn’t think of it sooner.”

“Thanks, it’s alright. It is just that the sooner I can email my family and check a few things out online, the sooner I can get out of your hair,” she said as she wiped Ashley’s hands and face.

Daniel frowned at her words. Of course, she would want to make plans, since the ones that had brought her here in the first place had fallen through. But it was at odds with the way she fit so perfectly, was so completely in charge, as if his kitchen were her battlefield and his girls her troops to command. It was more than a bit disconcerting how natural it all felt, he thought as she picked the child up in her arms.

“I’ll be back for you, sweetie, after I change your sister,” she cooed to the baby sitting in her clean high chair, chasing a cloth block across the tray.

“Ashley. After you change, Ashley,” he supplied.

Jill smiled weakly at him, “Thanks. I would ask how to tell them apart, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I won’t be staying that long.”

Her words, though true, stung for some unexplained reason. Rather than delve deeper into the whys of the situation, Daniel turned the conversation. “Britney is more demanding, and she has a dimple in her left cheek when you make her giggle,” he explained. “Ashley is laid-back. An easy baby and the dimple is on the right side with her. I just tickle them when I need to figure out which is which.”

She smiled and turned down the hall towards the nursery where she was staying. Ashley tucked naturally in her arms, babbled happily as if revealing secrets of her own. Her baby conversation made more sense at the moment than anything else about this situation. “Thanks,” she mumbled as she beat a quick retreat.

Daniel sighed as the woman left the room. “What now, buddy?” he asked as he shook his head.

As if in answer to his rhetorical question, Britney coo-ed. “Yeah, well, don’t get used to the pancakes, sweet cheeks. You know I can’t cook worth a damn.”

The baby clapped her hands and drooled in response.

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