Chapter 36

I found my favorite spot in Greg’s office and settled onto the couch, placing my purse at my feet. I waited while Greg rummaged through some file drawers, retrieving several sheets of paper. Smiling, he took a seat behind his desk, holding the papers in his hand. Rolling his chair into place, he reached for a pen at the far corner of his workspace with his free hand then rested the papers in his lap. Glancing over at me, his eyes sparkled with honest intrigue. “So, how is Ms. Hope today?”

I leaned back against a plush new throw pillow and sighed. “It’s been a long week. Let’s just say, I’m really glad it’s over.”

Shifting in his seat, Greg moved the papers from his lap to his desk, stacking them in a neat pile. “Care to talk about it?”

“Sure,” I forced a grin. Exhaling slowly, I allowed myself a moment to arrange my thoughts. “After leaving your office last week, I found out the power company had disconnected our electricity,” I continued. “We went without power for almost four days, during which time our water was also turned off.”

“Ooo, that’s rough,” Greg cringed. “So, what did you do?”

I pressed back the cuticle of my left thumbnail, avoiding eye contact. “Calleigh and I camped out at my mom and dad’s house the entire time. Brad chose to stay at home, steering clear of me. I have no idea how he didn’t suffocate. It’s really hot out there!”

“You’re not kidding,” Greg agreed. “We may have hit some record-breaking highs last week.”

“I’m sure being indoors without air circulation was lots of fun,” I added a bit of sarcasm. “Florida has definitely earned its Sunshine State status this year. That’s for sure! I’m just happy Mom and Dad didn’t mind sharing their A/C with Calleigh and me. It made living much more tolerable.”

“Nice of them to offer you a reprieve from the heat,” Greg agreed.

“Yeah. Calleigh thought sleeping over at Grandma and Grandpa’s was the best thing ever,” I dramatized my account. “Any inconvenience was easier to deal with due to her positive attitude. I’m grateful for that!”

“Kids are resilient that way,” Greg nodded. “There’s definitely a lot less stress when kids choose to view a negative situation as an adventure instead of some great misfortune. You must’ve been doing something right. Sounds like she dealt with it like a champ.” He smiled.

“She did. Wish I had some of her adventuresome spirit. Unlike her, I was happy to get back to a familiar routine. I like knowing how my day is going to play out. The whole idea of flying by the seat of one’s pants has never been my thing, and there was a lot of that going on last week.”

“I get that. Spontaneity is an acquired taste if it’s not naturally built into one’s personality.” Greg chuckled. “You don’t exactly strike me as an uninhibited sanguine.”

I added to his laughter. “Not by a long shot.”

Greg reached over and tapped the stack of papers on his desk. “Remind me about those before you leave,” he requested, “but, first, I want to hear more about your relationship with Brad.” He leaned back in his chair, supporting his elbows on the armrests and lacing his fingers together across his stomach. “How did you go from not dating to getting married? That’s quite a leap.”

I allowed Greg’s humor to turn the corners of my mouth into a smile. “Brad’s a charmer—always has been. He invested a lot of energy into our relationship from the get-go—more so than any other guy I had ever dated or who had ever shown an interest in me. That’s probably what drew me to Brad the most—his desire to be with me. Didn’t hurt that our worlds meshed together easily, too. That just made being with him all the more desirable.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

An early Sunday afternoon nature walk led Brad and me down a path time and travelers had not yet worn. We tromped through patchy spots of forest, snapping twigs and crunching leaves beneath our feet. Towering trees provided shade until their canopy of branches gave way to a private, open field, dotted with wildflowers and bathed in sunshine.

“This is beautiful! How did you find this place?” I gushed. Our enchanted surroundings lured me forward into what felt like an exclusive world meant for just the two of us. “You’d never guess the city is nearby.”

“I know, right?” Brad flirted with his eyes. “A friend and I stumbled upon this field a few months back. I think it keeps its verdant beauty because no one knows it’s here.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Verdant beauty?” At least he’s educated and not some dumb jock like his good looks might have one believe, I laughed.

“Yes. Verdant beauty. Like lush, lavish, green.” His tone reflected pride in this knowledge. “You’ve heard of it before, right?” He looked me in the eye.

“Can’t say I have,” I returned his stare. “I know verde is the Spanish word for green, though. Think there’s any correlation?”

Brad shrugged. “Possibly. Regardless, this is a great place to have you all to myself.” His eyes sparkled in the sunlight.

“Should I be concerned?” I chuckled.

“You’re safe with me,” he winked.

“Nice to know you’re not some serial killer,” I played along. “This place is secluded.”

Lowering the backpack he’d been carrying onto a pile of pine needles, Brad knelt and pulled out a vibrant, multi-colored kite from the bag’s back pocket. “So, that’s the secret you’ve had hiding in there,” I teased. “Was wondering what that was.”

A smirk enhanced Brad’s deep dimples. “I thought it might add to our excursion,” his words enticed. “Wanna take it for a run?”

Reaching for the string, I started untangling a few visible knots. “I’ll let you do the honors. I can’t remember the last time I flew a kite. I probably wasn’t even knee high to a grasshopper.”

“It’ll come back to ya,” he promised. “It’s kind of like riding a bike. Once ya learn how, you never really forget.”

I grinned and challenged his presumption. “Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve ventured out on two wheels. I’m not sure I’d go comparing the two. How does that saying going? If you don’t use it, ya lose it?”

Brad laughed some more. “Note taken.” Pausing from opening the plastic kite wings, he watched me for a moment. “I think I know where I can scrounge up a couple bikes, if you’re game. It might be fun to hit the trails again. I haven’t been in a while.”

I grinned at his optimism. “How ’bout we work on getting through this date, first?”

“Fair enough,” he answered.

Unwinding several feet of string, I announced the good news. “I think we’re ready for a test run.”

Brad stood and picked up the kite at its axis point, running toward the center of the field. Holding the kite above his head, he yelled over his shoulder, “Tighten the string so the kite will catch air!” I wound the string around the plastic handle and held it close to my stomach. The kite’s minimal weight allowed for easy lift, but a light crosswind drove it into the ground several times.

“I may be a novice at this, but I’m pretty sure the goal here is to keep it in the air,” I laughed. As I pulled the string tighter, the kite seemed to suction itself to the ground. “Talk about stubbornness! This kite is determined to make us look like complete novices.”

Brad joined in the laughter. “That’s OK. We’ll get it figured out.” He picked up the kite and headed back into the open field. “Try again,” he instructed, running into the wind. Up…up…up it soared as he let go. “Yes! We did it!” he cheered. “Now, let more string out so it’ll climb higher.” I loosened the tension and watched as the kite ascended several feet above our heads.

“Looks like it’s working,” I smiled, reciprocating Brad’s good mood.

Closing the distance between us, Brad took the anchor from my hand and hooked it on his backpack. He then turned to me and made his thoughts known. “Life isn’t about perfection, but this sure feels like a perfect moment,” he beamed. Wrapping his arms around my shoulders, he locked his fingers behind my back and lifted me off my feet as he spun the two of us in a circle amongst a patch of dandelions.

“You’re crazy. You know that?” I laughed, landing on my feet.

“Crazy for you,” Brad flirted. Grabbing my right hand, he fell to one knee and looked up at me with puppy dog eyes. “Be mine, Hope. Let me tell the world that you’re my girlfriend. I know we’ve only known each other a few weeks, but, like Jerry Maguire says, ‘You had me at hello.’ Face it, Girl. We belong together. Whatta ya say?”

Heat rushed to my cheeks and my heart began pounding in my ears. “With such enthusiasm and devotion, how can I say no?” I batted my eyelashes, adding a hint of charm of my own.

“Is that a yes?” His eyes grew big. “I think that’s a yes!” He quickly stood to his feet and wrapped his arms around my shoulders again, squeezing me to his chest, swaying us side to side.

You smell heavenly and feel like home, I acknowledged to my inner self. I could stay right here forever.

Slowing the pace, Brad looked down into my eyes. “May I seal the deal with a kiss?”

Though his desire came with much respect, I shook my head, my mouth suddenly parched like the Sahara Desert. “My lips are dry,” I managed a raspy response.

“That’s OK. I’d still really like to kiss you.” He studied my lips.

“Like I said, they’re really dry.”

A mischievous grin surfaced on Brad’s face as he saturated his lips with his tongue and inched closer to my face, his intentions clear. In a sultry voice, he asked, “Would you like some help with that?”

I grinned, choosing not to resist. “You think you can remedy this situation, do ya?” I stared into his eyes.

He nodded, answering in a controlled voice. “I do.” The gentle caress of his hand against my face sent sensations washing over me as his lips touched mine. Soft. Slow. Passionate. Then, more deliberate. Ardent. Driven.

Pausing for a moment, Brad lead me to a portion of tall grass a few feet away then sat amongst the blades. He patted the sod next to him, motioning for me to join him. I knelt down beside him, then shifted onto my left hip as he laced his fingers through my hair at the nape of my neck and leaned in for another kiss. As the passion between us intensified, he lowered me onto my back. Tree roots and lumpy soil pressed into my spine. They make this look much more romantic in the movies, I winced. Closing my eyes, I focused on enjoying the feel of Brad’s lips on mine, paying attention to the way he breathed, the tenderness he displayed. As our kiss deepened, Brad’s right hand wandered across my left breast and down to my waist. My eyes came flying open, and I pulled away, speaking with firmness. “No. Please, stop! We’re not doing that.” I turned my head.

Brad bristled, embarrassed by my reaction. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean anything by it. Please forgive me.” He assisted me in sitting up then released a deep sigh.

“We’re good,” I assured him. “We just can’t let things get out of control. I know how fast these actions can turn into something else, and I can’t allow that to happen.” I touched Brad’s arm, trying to prevent an emotional disconnect. Why did I allow anything more than a simple kiss? I should have known better. You’re as much to blame as he is, I scolded myself.

Brad nodded, visually disappointed in himself. “I agree. I hope I didn’t make you feel uncomfortable. I hate thinking I might have jeopardized our friendship over an uncontrolled impulse. Please forgive me.”

“Nothing to forgive. Let’s just take it slow,” I suggested. “No sex before marriage, remember?”

“I remember,” he smiled. “Don’t worry. That hasn’t changed.”

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