Everything about thirty-five-year-old Stone Acres hardware store owner Frank McCord is old-fashioned -- from his bow tie and overalls to the way he happily makes house calls. He dreams of lasting romance, true love, and marriage.
Frank’s ancestors have run the store and been mainstays in the small California town for over a century. While genial Frank upholds tradition and earns the respect of friends and neighbors, he fears he’s too dull and old to attract a husband. Maybe it’s time to break out of his mold.
Then handsome thirty-six-year-old electronic games designer Christopher Darling and his fifteen-year-old son, Henry, come into his life. Christopher has everything Frank could want in a potential partner: charm, kindness, and compatibility. Also, he’s a terrific father to Henry.
When their Stone Acres home turns out to be uninhabitable, Frank offers the Darlings temporary lodging in his ancestral farmhouse, where he and his tenant Emil reside. Since Emil thinks Frank is his, sparks fly.
Suddenly, Frank’s monotonous life promises to explode with love and change him forever.
“Frank, is there a problem? If you can’t go to lunch today, we can make it another time.”
I turned to him with my mouth hanging open. He’d rescued me. Incredible. I didn’t even know the guy, and he’d thrown me the proverbial lifeline. Christopher was looking at me like he expected an answer. I shook myself.
“What? Oh, yes, it’s time to eat. Hold on. I’ll be there in a second.” Then I turned back to Emil. “Christopher, I’m not sure if you’ve met Emil. Emil’s my tenant.”
Emil’s eyes turned to slits -- now like a cat rather than a doe -- as he watched Christopher walk toward us.
I was a little surprised Emil wasn’t panting over Christopher, since he embodied the kind of beauty Emil drooled over in men’s fashion magazines, usually with a comment about how I’d never look like any of them. Then I remembered how Emil hated children, especially teenagers. Maybe the sight of Henry, who’d followed his father into the back room, had soured Emil on Christopher’s handsomeness.
“You didn’t tell me you had a date.” Emil smiled a lips-over-teeth grimace and shook hands with Christopher.
“Did you forget about me, Frank?” Christopher teased, and I grinned back at him in surprise.
“I’ve had a lot on my mind today.” Talk about understatements. The pull between us, however, was loud and strong.
I hustled Emil out the door, past a smirking Riley. I assured Emil he’d be able to find a ride with one of his friends. Over Riley’s quick cough, I even suggested Emil might want to go talk to Gus over at the Old Town garage and see if Emil’s Camry was fixed yet. I suspected Emil didn’t have enough -- or wouldn’t spare enough -- money to get it out of hock and found it cheaper to ride to work and back with me. I was tired of being his chauffeur, and Emil knew it.
He left, grumbling and unhappy.
“Good riddance. You should evict him. That one’s up to no good.” Riley’s mumble made me shake my head.
I didn’t wish Emil ill while he was trying to get himself together. I just wanted him to be less needy and clingy around me.
As I shut the door behind him, I held back a sigh of relief and looked at the time. I had a little over an hour to eat and get back to the store.
When I glanced at Christopher and Henry, they were staring at me. Christopher had concern written all over his face, but Henry seemed like a normal fifteen-year-old.
“I’m hungry. Where are we going?” Henry might have picked up on the discord around him, but he wasn’t going to let a little uneasiness keep him from food.
I was buoyed by his cheerfulness.
We ended up at the newly refurbished Limelight Diner, once a bar and now a breakfast and lunch place. We found a table for three in the back corner where we wouldn’t be jostled by the steady stream of people buying takeout sandwiches and chips.
I noticed a few unfamiliar faces among the folks standing in line to order and realized the summer onslaught might already have begun. I had to get myself and the store ready ASAP.
After Henry got up to retrieve our order and bring it to the table, I leaned in toward Christopher.
“Thanks for the invitation to lunch.” It was awkward, but I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t grateful for what he’d done.
“Anything I can do to help. You’re a kind man, and sometimes kindness gets taken advantage of.”
How right he was. Still, I appreciated his stepping in. As I let his words settle, he blushed.
“Look, Frank, I might have a problem, and I’d appreciate it if you’ve got a minute after Henry’s test to check it out. I need some advice. Some house advice.” He looked both concerned and worried. “Oh no, and now I’m coming across as taking advantage.”
“Not really. I’ll be happy to help.” After the way he’d saved me from being hounded to death by Emil, giving Christopher a few minutes later this afternoon wouldn’t be a hardship. Besides, it gave me more time to ogle him.