Chase could hardly wait until he saw Brooke again. At work, Darrick again kept him occupied out of the office, but on Wednesday morning, Darrick had an appointment. Chase covered the office for him. Baylee was also gone that morning, and it gave him a chance to talk to Brooke.
He kept the conversation neutral. “It looks like the job is going good.”
“Yes, it is. Darrick ordered the new program and I will be working on that starting Wednesday.”
“It won’t be too much work for you, will it?” He didn’t want her to give up and quit if it was too much stress.
“He is giving me these two weeks to get it up and running, while Baylee continues the old system. He had to order a new computer, too. I don’t think he was too happy about it, but the other one didn’t have high enough speed to handle the new program efficiently.”
“He does hate to spend money on anything,” Chase said. “He always looks at the bottom line.”
“The new program will save him over time, especially in hours worked. I’ll put myself right out of a job.” She laughed.
“Don’t do that,” he said with exaggerated worry.
She laughed, and the light sound made him feel good. He liked her sense of humor. That had been lacking in Lisa.
He cringed as he realized he was comparing her to his ex-wife, again.
“I’ll still have a job, but I will be able to handle it on a part time basis. I won’t need to work as many hours as what Baylee has been working, so that will save some money, there. She’s really nice, your sister.”
“Yeah, she is. I’m glad she is going back to school and getting her teaching degree. It’s what she always wanted.”
“Your family gave up a lot when your dad got sick, didn’t they?”
Her sympathy was comforting, rather than offensive, because it was genuine. “It hurt the business at first. Dad was the one who bid on jobs and ran interference with contractors and customers. I tried it at first, but we had to hire help for Dustin, and there were a lot of mistakes. Darrick found out how things were going. He’s the one who sacrificed the most, when he moved back home and took over for Dad.”
“He seems to resent it.”
“That’s just how he is. He likes being the one in charge, don’t let him fool you. That’s no hardship for him.”
“Baylee says you and Dustin have made the business profitable.”
“We keep it going. We have a couple of other guys who work with us. Which you know, if you’ve been working on payroll.”
“I’ve seen them a couple of times when they have stopped in for parts.”
“They’re a pretty good team, also. They do all right installing systems, but Dustin and I are the only ones who repair them also.”
“I have a lot to learn about it. But I am thankful for the job. It looks like it is going to fit me very well.”
“I’m glad. We’ve been hoping to find someone who we could trust to take over the payroll and accounting. Darrick interviewed a couple of people, but we hadn’t found anyone suitable yet.”
“Baylee said you wanted someone who wouldn’t gossip.”
“That is true. I can’t believe she said that, but she is right.”
“I don’t gossip. My sister tried to tell me some things about you, but I told her I didn’t want to hear them.”
“Why not?” Did that mean she was not interested in him?
“I figured if there were things you wanted me to know, you would tell me sometime.”
“I will.” If they were still dating down the road, he added to himself. He wanted to see her and talk face-to-face. “So do you think we could find a time to go out again?”
“Do you want to?” She sounded surprised.
“I do, do you?”
She hesitated for a moment, and it seemed like an eternity before she answered.
“I do want to go out with you again.”
“Without the kids,” he emphasized.
“My mom said she would like to have the kids stay overnight again before they go back to school. If she will keep them Friday night, I wouldn’t have to get a sitter.”
“I’d love to take you out this Friday.” He hoped his mom would watch the kids again. She wasn’t thrilled about his dating Brooke. Not that she didn’t like Brooke. She was still hung up on what had happened at the reunion and the damage she had felt it did to both of their reputations. And she thought he was moving too fast.
He didn’t think he was getting to know Brooke fast enough.
He called Brooke later that evening.
“Did you find out if your mom would watch your kids Friday?”
“Yes, the kids are going to spend the night at my mom’s. They’ll go out on the pontoon on Friday afternoon. Devon wasn’t so sure about staying overnight again, but Dad said he would take him fishing Saturday morning.”
“Pontoon and fishing? My kids would love that. What am I saying? I would like that.”
He was joking, but she said seriously, “Maybe we can find a time to go out on the pontoon. I can ask my mom about it.”
“That’s something to think about for later. For Friday, where would you like to go?”
“Do we need to go out to eat?”
“Would you rather see a movie?”
“I like Chinese.”
“The best Chinese around is right here in town. They don’t have much of a dining area.”
“I thought we could get takeout.”
His heart thumped at her suggestion. “And take it back to your house?”
“You will think I am forward, but honestly, I prefer a quiet evening at home over getting dressed up and going out to a restaurant.”
“So you are pretty forward, aren’t you?” He was only half-joking. What was she thinking would happen?
“I won’t try to seduce you, if that is what you’re afraid of.” He heard the teasing in her voice.
He was a little afraid of that. He hadn’t planned to move this fast.
“I’m not suggesting a romantic evening,” she said in a serious tone. “I have a collection of John Wayne and old James Bond movies.”
“You are trying to seduce me,” he said, joking now. He waited until he heard her laugh, then went on. “It sounds good. I’m not one for going out to restaurants, either. I’d like a chance to get to know you better where we can actually carry on conversation. But Brooke—”
“Yes, Chase?” Her response was careful.
“Are you sure you don’t want a little romance with your movies?”
He could picture the pink flush in her cheeks as she took in his comment.
“I was afraid that was what you would think. I can take back my invitation, can’t I?”
“No way, not when you promised me John Wayne and Chinese.”
“Um, okay. I will see you on Friday, then.” She was all businesslike now.
When Chase told Dustin about their plans, Dustin couldn’t believe it. “She doesn’t seem like the type. Now some of the other women in your graduating class, yeah, they’re the type, but Brooke seems shy and reserved.”
“She is shy and reserved,” Chase said. “Until you get to know her.”
“Well, I guess you will get to know her really well then, won’t you?”
Chase’s eyes narrowed. “If you weren’t my brother, I’d make you regret that remark.”
Dustin faced him squarely, challenging Chase to take a swing. “Well, I am your brother, and I’m concerned about you. Brooke just got back to town, and it seems like she wants to get her hooks into you pretty fast. I’d be cautious if I were you.”
“You’ve got her wrong.” Chase would stand by his comment. He didn’t get the sense at all that Brooke was chasing after him.
“They say it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”
Chase was in the office on Friday doing paperwork while Brooke worked with Baylee. He tried to get a read on her to see what she was thinking about their date. Was she really as forward as Dustin suggested? She seemed to be trying to pretend he wasn’t there, and he wondered why. When she got ready to leave, he walked with her out to her car.
“Are we still on for tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
“I saw the way Dustin was looking at me. He thinks I am pretty forward, doesn’t he? He doesn’t seem to trust me.”
“He mentioned that, unfortunately.”
“Maybe it would be better if we go out to eat. I don’t want your family, or anyone else, to get the wrong idea.”
“I was looking forward to watching John Wayne.”
She smiled. “So was I.”
“Don’t worry about what Dustin thinks. He’s the only one who knows you invited me over, and he will make sure it stays that way.”
“I haven’t told my mom. I don’t think she would understand, either. I just don’t enjoy a fancy dinner or a movie theater as much as being at home. I guess you should know that about me.”
Devon grumbled about spending Friday night with his grandparents when he learned that Brooke was going out with Chase.
“Why are you seeing Josh’s dad again?”
“Because I like him.”
“Are you going to marry him?”
This was worse than when her dad had questioned Carl, the first time he had come home with her.
“I don’t know him well enough to marry him.”
“How long will you have to know him before you can marry him?”
Brooke’s cheeks flamed with both anger and embarrassment. “I am not thinking of marrying Chase.”
“Do you want to get married again, Mom?” Devon asked.
“Stop with the questions about Chase, Devon. This is all new to me, so I don’t know how things are going to go.”
“Grandpa said he would take me out fishing in the morning. Dad used to go fishing, didn’t he?” Devon changed the subject, and a piece of her heart broke. He so seldom talked about Carl.
“That was one of the things he liked to do with his dad.”
“I don’t remember going fishing with him.”
“You were too young to go with them.” At least, that is what Carl and his dad had said.
“What were they doing in Alaska, again? You know, when the plane crashed?”
Brooke felt tears sting her eyes. “They were on a fishing trip.”
“How come I wasn’t with him? Didn’t Dad want me to go fishing with them?”
“He meant to take you to Alaska when you were older, Devon. He planned on taking you to the small lakes to teach you to fish, only—”
“He died first.” Devon finished on a sad note. “I get it.”
“I don’t remember much about Dad.” Brooke’s throat constricted at Brinley’s words. “I remember he tucked me into bed at night and sang me a song.”
Brooke smiled. As often as he could, Carl had tucked both kids into bed at night, from the time they were babies. She was glad that Brinley had those memories.
“I told him to quit singing to me, when I started first grade. It made me feel like a baby.” Devon’s voice hitched. “I wish I would have let him continue.”
Brooke reached over and patted Devon’s hand. “He enjoyed your conversations, even after he quit singing to you.”
She glanced at Brinley in the rearview mirror. “Your dad loved you two very much. I hope you will always remember that.”
“He loved you, too, didn’t he, Mom?”
Tears stung Brooke’s eyes, but she did not let them gather. “Yes, he and I loved each other very much.”
She couldn’t tell her kids that the passion had left their marriage, about the time that Brinley was born and Carl made partner. She was never sure if it was her fault or his, or a result of the pressure of their busy lifestyle. Sometimes, she had feared that Carl was cheating on her with his secretary, but she had never been sure. The way his secretary broke down at the funeral made her think that she had more than a professional relationship with him.
How could she even be thinking about dating Chase? He had been a player back in high school. Even after he started dating Lisa, girls had flirted with him, and he had flirted back. She remembered that Lisa had done the same. All the girls wanted to be Lisa, and all the guys wanted to be Chase. She had never wanted to be like the homecoming queen, but she’d had a crush on the homecoming king. And now, he was coming over to her house for dinner and a movie.
What had she been thinking? What did he think about her invitation? At the time, it had seemed practical. She didn’t like going out to restaurants and trying to eat while they talked. And she didn’t like movies that well, either. A quiet evening at home sounded like a good way to get acquainted. She’d tried to make it clear that she hadn’t meant for it to be a romantic evening, then he had thrown in the little question, didn’t she want a little romance.
She did, but a little romance was not what she thought Chase was interested in. At least, in high school, he’d been after more than a couple of kisses with the girls he dated. She’d always wondered what it would be like to kiss him. Perhaps tonight, she would find out. The thought made her giddy.
She left the kids with her mom and then hurried home. She had told Chase she didn’t like to get dressed up and go out, so she wanted to keep her look casual. But she didn’t want to look like a slob, either.
Or too sexy, she thought, nervously. He’d said he didn’t think she was trying to seduce him, so she did not want to give him the impression that she was. The weather was still hot, so she chose a pair of denim capris and a white short-sleeved top with a navy blue collar and band around the hem.
She’d had her hair cut this week by the woman who cut her mom’s. That had been a mistake. Her mom wore her hair short. Brooke had wanted her hair trimmed, but the hairstylist had cut it shorter than Brooke liked. It just brushed her shoulders.
She baked a frozen pie and the scent of cinnamon still hung in the air when the knock sounded on the door. She opened it, smiling as she met Chase’s eyes. He was dressed in a blue polo shirt that stretched across his well-formed chest and broad shoulders, with white cargo shorts. He was letting his beard grow again, but it was neatly trimmed. He smelled good, a fresh, clean scent, not an overpowering cologne.
“Hi, Brooke.” He smiled, but he looked as nervous as she felt.
“Come on in, Chase.”
He walked in and stood inside the entryway. “Chinese and John Wayne movies. Have you ever seen The Conqueror?”
“I’m impressed. You must be a John Wayne fan.”
“My dad was. When he was confined to his bed, we would all get together and watch John Wayne films to help get his mind off his illness.”
She held out the menu for the Chinese restaurant.
“Have you thought about what you want to order?”
He did not take the menu. “Sweet and sour chicken, always,” he said, relaxing into a grin. “Are you sure you want to trust their delivery person?”
She laughed. “You’re here to protect me.”
“I would be a good protector.” He flexed his arm muscles. He had nice biceps. She tried not to stare.
“I thought I would try the cashew chicken.” That was what had sounded the best to her on the menu.
“I haven’t tried that.”
“Do you want a large sweet and sour?”
“No, just the regular size, plus two egg rolls and fried rice instead of white.”
“I can tell you order there a lot. You know what you like.”
A light came into his eyes. “I do know what I like.”
She understood what he meant, and blushed. She picked up her phone. “You can make yourself comfortable if you would like.”
He sat down on the couch. She ordered, then sat down in the chair.
“I picked up a cola for you,” she said.
“How did you know that is what I like?”
“I’ve been around the shop for a couple of weeks. I’ve noticed that’s all you guys drink.”
He looked sheepish. “I guess I don’t think about it, it’s just what we drink.”
“That’s all right. I prefer iced tea, so I made that also.”
“I can drink iced tea.”
“If you don’t drink the pop, it will go to waste.” She was smiling.
“Well, I can’t let a cola go to waste.” He looked more relaxed. “How is the job going?”
“It’s going well.”
They talked about work until the delivery person showed up. Chase took cash out of his wallet to pay, adding a tip. The teenager thanked him, and he carried the bag into the kitchen.
Brooke set plates on the table, while Chase set out the containers of food. She poured his drink and hers, and then they sat down.
For a few minutes, there was quiet as they dished their rice and entrees onto their plates. Chase dumped the whole container of rice on his plate, then topped it with all of the chicken. Brooke looked at him in surprise, as she spooned about half of the rice and her entrée onto her plate.
After a couple of bites, Chase said, “I like your haircut.”
She reached up and flipped the ends. “It’s shorter than what I am used to. I won’t be able to pull it up.”
“I like it down like that. But then, I liked it up, too.” She blushed, and he grinned.
“While we’re talking about what we like about each other, I like your beard.”
He rubbed his hand over his jaw. “I shaved it off for you a couple of weeks ago. I guess I was trying to impress. But I prefer to wear it, so I let it grow back.”
“I’m glad you did.”
He knew he was blushing. He went back to eating his chicken. “Do you want to try this?”
She reached over and forked a piece and put it in her mouth. He watched her as she chewed it and seemed to savor it.
“It’s very good.” She pushed the cashew chicken over to him. “Do you want to try this?”
He reached for a piece of chicken. “As long as I don’t have to eat a mushroom.”
“How about the broccoli?” There was a teasing light in her eyes.
He shrugged. “I kind of have an aversion to broccoli. Give me a green bean any day.”
“Green bean casserole?”
“No, just green beans. I like them canned, but I also like them garden fresh sautéed with a little butter.”
“That does sound good.” It brought up another subject. “Your mom has a pretty big garden, doesn’t she?”
“She does. It’s one of the ways she relaxes, planting and tending her garden.”
“My mom has said that about her.”
She had him curious now. “What else does your mom say about my mom?”
“She says she is the most courageous woman she knows.”
“Oh.” Chase was stunned.
“My mom has never had any real hardship, you know. Dad has always made good money, and she works because she wants to. They have both been in good health. She said it was so hard on your mom when your dad was diagnosed with ALS, but that she faced it bravely and has kept her faith. My mom admires her.”
“My mom is great.”
She finished what was on her plate, but closed up the half-full boxes. “I’ll put these in the fridge.”
He had finished everything on his plate. He saw her open a pantry door and toss out the napkins. He got up and tossed away his empty food boxes. He stood awkwardly while she rinsed the plates and put them in the dishwasher. He set his empty glass on the counter.
“Do you want some more pop?” she asked.
“How about a movie now?”
“I’ve been looking forward to watching True Grit all week. Do you have that one?”
“Of course I do.”
He followed her into the living room and sat on the couch. She put the DVD in the player and turned on the TV, then sat down on the other end of the couch. She was suddenly uncomfortable with having Chase so close. What had she been thinking?
She was glad she’d seen the movie many times, because she couldn’t concentrate on it. Chase was here, sitting on her couch, and they were on a date.
. She shivered, and covered her arms.
“Are you cold?” Chase asked.
“You won’t be chilly if you move over here.” There wasn’t any pressure in his tone, but his eyes were lit with warmth.
She smiled. “All right, but let the record show that you made the first move. Dustin already thinks I’m forward for inviting you over here.”
He laughed outright. “I promise I’ll let Dustin know that I made the first move.”
She settled onto the cushion beside him. “Will you tell him about our date?”
“He’ll know if it’s a good date or a bad date just by looking at me. He’s intuitive like that.”
“What if it’s a bad date?”
He put his arm around her shoulders. “Any time I spend with you is a good date.”
It was even harder to concentrate on the movie when she was tucked under his arm. The warmth from his chest radiated through her shift. His heart beat strong against her back. His fingers toyed with her hair. Every now and then his heartrate would quicken, and she wondered if he was thinking of kissing her. Then it would slow back down to a steady rhythm. Her heart seemed to be in sync with his. By the time the movie was over, all she thought about was kissing him.
When the movie ended, she sat forward. “Do you want me to put another movie in?”
He kept his hand on her shoulder. “Not really.” With just a slight pressure, he drew her back to him. He shifted, and lowered his lips to hers There was no awkward moment. It felt just right, like the most natural thing in the world. She sighed as he deepened the kiss.
“I can’t be your lover,” she said in a shaky voice.
He put a finger on her chin and turned her head, so their eyes met. “I’m not sixteen,” he said in a gentle voice. “I’m not desperate for sex.”
“I didn’t think—” He raised his eyebrow, and she blushed. “Okay, I thought that’s what this was all about.”
“I’m not asking you to be my lover.”
“But the kiss—”
Her blush deepened, and he touched her cheek. “I want to get to know you, Brooke. I know we have to take things slow. We have kids to think about, and you work for my family.”
“Can we take it slow? With that kiss?”
“We may not get a chance to kiss like this again for a while. Unless you want to send your kids to their grandma’s house every weekend.” He grinned, and she responded with a smile.
“They would definitely resent me for that, especially Devon.”
He moved away. “I thought so. I could go for a cup of coffee now, and did I see a pie sitting on your counter?”
“Yes, you did. It’s apple.”
“You really were trying to seduce me. John Wayne and apple pie.” His tone was teasing, but she was embarrassed.
“I hate that Dustin thinks that.”
“He’ll get to know you and realize you’re not that way.” He stood up and held out his hand. She put hers in it and he tugged slightly, until she was standing beside him.
“I didn’t bake the pie. Well, I baked it, but it was a frozen pie to start with.”
He followed her into the kitchen. “That’s all right. Any pie is good with me.”
“Do you want coffee with the pie?”
“Sure. Something mild would be good.”
She popped a single cup in her coffeepot. While his cup brewed, she cut the pie, and put pieces on two small plates. She set the pie and a fork in front of him. Then she handed him the coffee and the glass sugar bowl.
He looked around. The countertops were free of clutter. Everything looked perfectly set in place.
“You are a very neat housekeeper.”.
“I try. This house is so small that if I don’t keep it picked up it doesn’t take long until it’s chaos.”
“I have a feeling you’ve always kept a neat house.”
“I’ve tried. With both my husband and I working full time, there was always laundry and dirty dishes to wash. Carl helped as much as he could, but he put in a lot of hours so he could make partner.”
She shouldn’t have mentioned Carl, but it was a fact of life that they had both been married before.
She sat down with her cup of coffee. He took a bite of pie, then.
“I did most of the cooking and cleaning when we were married,” Chase said. Brooke’s eyebrows rose. “We both worked full-time, but Lisa wasn’t domestic.”
“That must have been hard.”
“We didn’t eat elaborate meals, and used a lot of paper plates. But we survived.” He found a more neutral topic. “Do you like to cook?”
“I do enjoy it. Or rather, I used to. I love to look up new recipes on the internet and try them. Carl—” She stopped. “The kids are pretty picky. My mother-in-law cooked whatever they liked and wanted. And it wasn’t always healthy choices. Since we’ve moved here, I’ve been trying to cook differently, but it’s a struggle.”
Chase sighed. “I would like to have some say now in what the kids and I eat. My mom is in charge of her kitchen and I know better than to offer to cook.”
Chase finished his pie and drained his coffee cup.
“I’ll get going now.” He stood and rinsed his plate and set it in the dishwasher, along with his glass. She scraped her uneaten piece of pie into the garbage disposal and added it to the dishwasher.
“I’ll walk you to the door.”
He took her hand as they walked to her front door.
“I’ll call you, probably on Sunday night.”,”
“All right. I’m glad you came over.”
He kissed her at the door.
She gave a little wave and a smile as he walked away.