Chase wondered how Brooke was dealing with the gossip. On Monday night, after he’d tucked Maddie into bed, he sat in the screened-in sunroom alone. He had his cell phone in hand. He brought up Brooke’s contact information. Was he being a fool to think that she’d felt the connection between them?
She answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, Brooke, it’s Chase.”
“Oh, hi, Chase.” She sounded breathless, and nervous.
“Hey, I wanted to call and apologize for getting involved Saturday night.”
“Yeah. When Ben started in, I should have left it alone.”
“Oh, okay.” Her tone was disappointed. “I thought it was nice that you stood up for me.”
That was a relief. “You did?”
“Yes, I did. But it seems to have become the news headline.”
“I know. That’s why I called. I was hoping you were handling it okay.”
“I don’t like that they have blown it all out of proportion. Especially when my sister told me Megan said you had your hands all over me in the pickup.”
“Technically, it was just your waist.” He realized how stupid that sounded, and was glad to hear her laugh.
“Who would have thought we would be linked? Valedictorian and homecoming king.” Brooke sounded like she could not believe they could go together. “Makes quite the tabloid headline.”
He laughed. “If we’re in the tabloids, then Megan is the paparazzi.”
It sounded like Brooke choked and then laughed. “I’ll tell her you said that.”
Chase grimaced. He did not want to give Megan any more to gossip about.
“No, don’t. Not that it matters. The damage is done.”
Now she wasn’t laughing. “Have you told anyone that I invited you in for coffee? I didn’t tell Megan that, or anyone else. I mean, if you already told people, I guess that’s okay. But I’m not sure what they will say when they hear that I invited you into my house.”
At the worry in her voice, he quickly told her, “The only person I told was my younger brother, and only because he asked me outright. He wouldn’t have believed me if I’d lied.”
Brooke sighed with relief. “I’ve lost count of the times I’ve lied and said you left after you dropped me off.”
“I haven’t told anyone else, because I was worried about your reputation. I’ve been the subject of gossip before, but you just came back to town. I hate that Ben caused a scene and started this whole thing.”
“It will all blow over, eventually.” Brooke sounded hopeful, but not convinced.
He leaned forward and rested his forehead in his hand, feeling the shakiness in the hand that held the phone. “What if I don’t want it to blow over?”
“What do you mean?”
“Would you go out with me this Friday night?”
“On a date?” she squeaked.
“Yes, a date.” He felt his heart pounding in nervous anticipation.
“Why?” Brooke asked in disbelief.
He was going to have to explain something he didn’t understand himself. He took a breath and steadied his nerves.
“I enjoyed our conversation.” And the dance, and the coffee, he wanted to add, but left that out. He would tell her that when he could see her face and gauge her reaction.
“Well, that won’t put any rumors to rest.”
He could hear the laughter in her voice.
“Nobody has to know unless you want them to. There isn’t any place to have a good meal around here, not a nice sit-down dinner, anyway. I thought we could go out of town and get seafood.”
Wow! Just, wow! Brooke felt her heart swell in amazement. Chase was asking her on a date. A real-live, sit-down dinner date. She’d felt a connection last night and had wondered if he’d felt it, too. She guessed she had her answer.
“Um, I would love to go out with you. But Chase—” She could hear him take a breath, and quickly added, “I’m allergic to shellfish.”
He laughed. “That’s a relief. I thought you were going to turn me down. I can take you out for pasta or steak, if you prefer it.”
“Either one is fine.”
“But you prefer pasta, I’ll bet.”
She smiled. “Because I’m a woman?”
“Well, I guess—” He stammered, and she felt bad for teasing him.
“I do prefer pasta.”
“I have to work out the details, make sure it’s okay with my mom to watch the kids.”
“I’ll have to make arrangements also. I’ve heard that the neighbor girls are good babysitters. I’ll ask one of them to come over and sit with the kids. Devon will have a fit, because he thinks he is old enough to stay alone. Which he is, by himself, for a short time, but not to watch Brinley for a few hours.” Brooke knew she was babbling and stopped to take a breath.
“I can pay for your sitter,” he said.
“Oh, no. That’s all right. I can pay her.”
He didn’t argue. In fact, he was silent, and she wondered if she had only imagined his invitation.
“I’ll call you later in the week to set up a time, if that’s okay.”
The warmth in his voice filled her with excitement. “That will be fine.”
When she hung up, she covered her mouth with her hands, afraid she would burst out with a shout of joy.
When she walked into the living room, Devon stared at her. She wondered if her excitement over the dinner date showed in her face. “Are you all right, Mom?”
“I’m fine. Why? Don’t I look all right?”
“Your face is red, and your eyes are shining.”
She couldn’t hide her feelings from a twelve-year-old. How was she going to hide her emotions from Chase when she went out with him Friday night?