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Little Secrets

Little Secrets by Crow Connie
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Karen Stevens has it all -- including a son who might just be engaged to his half-sister.
Awe-Struck Publishing; February 2004
150 pages; ISBN 9781587494147
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Little Secrets
Author: Crow Connie
Karen studied herself in the hotel room mirror. Her silky slip skimmed her curves nicely and her chestnut curls still bounced when she tossed her head. She could see Joe watching her, fiddling with his tie, standing behind her. She threw him a saucy smile, bounced a hip and asked, "Do I look like the mother of the groom?"

"You look like a pretty sexy mom to me," he answered, stepping up behind her, slipping his arms around her waist. "Besides, you don't know that our son is getting married, yet."

She leaned back against his chest. Their eyes met in the mirror. They made a good looking couple. His Mediterranean dark hair, eyes and complexion balanced her creamy Midwestern skin and occasional freckles. Of course, gray wisps drifted through the dark at his temples, and his "love handles" suggested one too many plates of Mamma Stevens' spaghetti and meatballs. Still, they really didn't look old enough to be the parents of a twenty-one year old, but they were. And they were here in Colorado Springs to see him graduate from the Air Force Academy.

"Of course I know. Mothers always know these things. Why else would he have asked us to fly out here so early?" Her smile dimmed. She turned her head, pressing it against his chest. "Makes me feel old, Joe. I'm not ready for Mark to be grown."

"Well, you're only as old as you feel," Joe murmured, nuzzling her neck, "and right now, you feel pretty good." He tightened his embrace, his blood warming, as it did whenever they were close.

Karen turned within the circle of his arms and slipped her own around his neck. "You're a nice man, Mr. Stevens," she whispered. "I remember why I keep letting you sleep with me." They kissed slowly and deliciously, moving even closer together, allowing the warm, sensual feelings of the moment to drift around them.

"But," Karen said, leaning back, "Mark will be downstairs soon--much too soon--to pick us up, and I have to finish dressing."

Joe smiled and nodded. "Hold those thoughts, woman--we'll continue this later."

He patted her rear affectionately. She turned to pick up her dress. He shook his head in wonder. She still could turn him to jelly with one of those great "come hither" looks. Not bad for twenty-one years.

She headed into the bathroom, shaking out her dress. She dropped it over her head, brushing out the few folds. "Thank God for knit." The six-gored skirt flared gently, emphasizing her petite shape. Its jewel neckline and three-quarter sleeves suited her, and the turquoise matched her eyes. It was one of Mark's favorite outfits. She wanted to look extra special when she saw her son. They hadn't seen him since Christmas.

Joe busied himself with his sports jacket while Karen finished dressing. They had flown in from Anaheim, at Mark's request, almost a week before his graduation. He'd said only that he had a surprise for them, some people he wanted them to meet.

"So, missus mind reader, who're the mystery guests we're going to meet?" he asked, toward the door.

Karen's voice floated out of the bathroom. "Miss Right and her parents, of course. She must be in his class. Good heavens, they'll both be in the service. Do you realize, she could end up on one side of the world and he could end up on the other?"

Karen stepped out to face Joe, eyes wide at the prospect of her future daughter-in-law stationed in the far reaches of Thule, Greenland.

"Sit down," Joe said, laughing. "You don't know if there is a Miss Right, or if she's at the Academy, or if there's a wedding planned."

"Yes, I do know. He's always mentioned his current girl in his letters, until this year. He mentioned one last fall, and he hasn't said anything at all in months. There's something going on, I'm sure of it."

Joe laughed and kissed her cheek. "Mark better get here soon or you'll have him half way around the world, trying to reach his true love."

She smiled, picking up the filmy, multicolored silk scarf lying on the bed. She turned back to the mirror, flipping the scarf around her neck, fishing her earrings out of her travel bag. She quickly put them on and as if on cue, the phone rang.

"Yes, operator--Tell him we're on our way down."

Hanging up the phone, she said, "Well, Dad, we timed that just right. We're ready and he's here. Let's go meet his surprise people."

Joe ushered her out the door, and down the walkway balcony of the Embassy Suites. Karen leaned over the balcony to see if she could catch a glimpse of Mark below.

This Embassy was typical of the franchise hotel chain. The building, built in a square, had an open courtyard through the entire center of the building's five stories. Every room opened onto the interior walkway balcony. The ground floor held a beautiful tropical garden, filling the center. Benches and tables throughout the garden, invited weary travelers to sit down, relax and contemplate the beautiful miniature trout stream meandering about. Walkways, paths and bridges led visitors to quiet spaces, tucked away in every corner. It was really quite romantic and restful. Fat, lazy trout glided effortlessly from one feeding spot to another. Nearly every guest took the time to throw a few crumbs to the silvery water creatures. Karen loved these hotels. She always stayed in them when she traveled. They offered a wonderful respite from the grind of book signings and reader greetings.

The glass-walled elevator ride down allowed a full view into the courtyard, but Mark was nowhere in sight. Finally, she spotted him, standing by the lobby desk, when the door opened. "Doesn't he look nice in his uniform, Joe? He really has grown and changed."

Joe nodded and waved. Mark saw them, grinned and crossed the front lobby in long, strong strides.

"Mom--Dad--you look great. Gee, I'm glad you're here. How was your flight? Sorry I couldn't meet you at the plane. Is your hotel room okay?" The words tumbled out while he gave Karen a crushing hug, shaking hands with Joe at the same time.

"Thanks--fine--that's okay--and yes--I think, to answer all your questions," Karen said, laughing at his exuberance. "We're glad to see you, too."

Mark towered over both of them, his 6'4" frame far out-distancing her 5'3" or Joe's 5'11". A marvelous product of good nutrition and Air Force training, he was lean and hard. He made the perfect poster cadet; chestnut hair just showing under his hat, bright smile beaming and blue eyes just matching his dress blues.

"You didn't have to dress up for us, son," Joe said.

"I came straight from school. We had an inspection this afternoon. I didn't take time to change. " Mark stepped between them, draping an arm around each. He guided them through the lobby, toward his waiting vehicle. He deposited Karen in the front seat. Joe climbed in back. He sprinted around the car, hopped in and took off saying, "We have to get going. I told Jenny we'd be at her place by six- thirty."

"Jenny?" Karen asked, throwing an "I told you so" look over the seat. Joe grinned back as she continued, "Is this your mysterious person we're going to meet?"

Mark glanced sheepishly at her, then quickly turned his eyes back to the road. "Well, she's one of them. We're going to have dinner at her parents' house. That's where we're going. I thought it was time you met my fiancée."

Mark held his breath, waiting for his mother's reaction. He glanced sideways, exhaling cautiously. She was half-smiling, biting the edge of her lip. When their gaze met, she said, "Is this really as sudden as it seems? You haven't mentioned her in your letters."

"No, not really. I was afraid that if I talked about her, you'd think I wasn't paying attention to my studies. I think I've managed pretty well. " By this time, a broad smile danced around Karen's lips.

"What's so funny?" he demanded. "This is serious, Mom!"

"I know it is dear, but--"

"Your mother and I just had a discussion about this, son," Joe finished for her. "She's graciously not saying, 'I told you so'. She had you all figured out from the minute you asked us to come out early. You know you can't keep a secret from her for long."

"You're right, Dad," Mark said. "Mom's the only one who could ever keep a secret." He smiled at his mom, relieved she didn't seem too upset.

"Does Jenny have a last name?" asked Karen. "It would be nice to know it before we meet her."

"Oh, sure. It's Carlson. Jennifer Carlson. Her dad teaches at the Academy. They live here in Colorado Springs. I met her at an interschool dance at the community college last September. She's just finishing her second year there. You'll love her. She's smart and pretty and...what's wrong, Mom?"

The smile disappeared from Karen's face and a small frown replaced it at the mention of Jenny's last name.

"I used to know a Carlson family years ago, dear. Long before I met your father. The name brought up some memories I don't generally disturb."

"It's just a coincidence, hon," Joe said, patting Karen's arm. "There are lots of Carlsons in this world."

Karen's smile returned, though a little less bright. "I'm sure you're right," she said, covering Joe's hand with her own, "and the Carlsons I knew were good people. It's a good name. Onward driver, let's meet your intended and her family."

"Oh Mom, it's not that big a deal. Don't get literary on me. We don't need to be in one of your books. " The smile on Mark's face belied the firmness of his tone. He'd read most of her books, over her protests.

"Now dear, you're both too young to be in my books. Anyway, you know I never write about family." She laughed. "I wouldn't want to have my favorite son disown me."

Karen tried to remain excited as the car sped onward. A tiny dark thought tried to edge its way into her consciousness. She pushed it aside. She never expected to see any of the Carlsons again.

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