Continued from last week. If you missed last week's installment, you can find it HERE.
Aaron Everett forced himself to walk away and not look back. He’d waited too long. That jerk Davis had moved in and taken the place in Missy’s heart that Aaron had coveted far longer than he should have.
He should have kissed her beyond thought and reason at Christmas like he’d planned. But he’d chickened out. Stupid, cowardly thing to do. He should have just done it and not worried about possible consequences or ramifications. At least then he wouldn’t have to walk around with this heavy weight of regret bearing down on him.
Okay, so maybe the moment had been interrupted by her father, but still. That was no excuse for not finding another opportunity, preferably away from the watchful eyes of her father and three older brothers. Her brother Dax was the only one inclined toward violence, and Uncle Wes probably wouldn’t have decked him or anything if he’d caught Aaron kissing Missy. He could have fired him though, and Aaron had been afraid to put the possibility to the test. No matter how close-knit their families might be.
Though no blood tie existed, Missy’s parents were Uncle Wes and Aunt Terry to Aaron and his siblings. Same thing with his parents and Missy and her brothers. If he had kissed Missy and she didn’t reciprocate... well, he’d rather not think about how ugly it could’ve been. His parents would have his head if he caused a rift between the two families.
“Just look at her as a fun little sister who sometimes gets on your nerves.” He couldn’t even remember how many times he’d told himself that. Useless. Utterly useless. All it took was one of those beautiful smiles to blast the “little sister” image clean out of his mind.
A huge reason to pursue his transient lifestyle. Travel for work, doing computer security consulting for Uncle Wes’ firm, kept a safe distance between them. Prevented him from divulging, and indulging, the desires of his heart.
Plus he’d figured Missy wouldn’t want to go out with a guy five years older than herself. He snorted and picked up his pace toward the car. And there she was dating a guy nearly as old as her father. Man, had Aaron pegged her wrong, or what?
Besides, she saw him as nothing more than one of her big brothers. He might as well be one of her brothers. Major drawback to growing up next door and spending so much time with them.
He’d bet she had a date with the cradle-robbing jerk that evening. In fact, he’d stake everything he had on it, and didn’t have a single doubt he wouldn’t win that bet. If he could get anyone to take him up on it anyway.
You should’ve told Uncle Wes about them months ago when you realized her family thinks their dinner dates are purely business. Another thing he’d played the coward about it. Aside from concern her father might shoot the messenger, so to speak, he hadn’t wanted to betray her confidence and risk her never speaking to him again. Then again, if Uncle Wes found out about this and realized Aaron had known all along... would he fire him?
Besides, the pastor at a church in Chicago he’d spoken with months before had assured him many young women dated an older guy at least once but the relationship generally didn’t last long. Part of their road to discovering who they were and what they wanted out of life or some such. You should’ve asked how long is long.
He should’ve kissed her when he had the chance.
“Hey, Mom.” Missy tapped the plexiglass window between her and the cab driver then pointed toward a shopping center. “Take me there instead please,” she whispered, holding the phone away from her ear for a moment. A new dress was in order. Her savings account wouldn’t hurt too badly for the hit.
The man nodded.
She sat back. “So, how’re you feeling?”
“I could’ve come, but your father put his foot down. You’d’ve thought I had pneumonia, the way he acted.” Warm affection softened the words.
“Yeah, well, you know as well as I do that airplanes are like flying petri dishes.”
“You need to stop listening so much to Anthony.” Mom chuckled.
“Maybe.” She shrugged then realized her mom couldn’t see her. “Anyway, Daddy’s just being careful is all. Those chest colds can turn to pneumonia, so you need to take good care of yourself.”
They shared a laugh. “Sorry, Mom. Aaron and Daddy keep saying I’m just like you. Maybe they’re right on more counts than I realized.”
The cab came to a stop. Missy paid the driver and climbed out, shutting the door behind her. She was within an easy walk to the hotel, so if she could find the right dress quickly, she’d be back in plenty of time to get ready for her date.
“So? Are you going to tell me how it went today or do I need to get a blow-by-blow from Aaron?”
Oh, yeah. How could she possibly have forgotten the other reason for calling? Good grief. “Rebel and I won.”
“That’s wonderful! You two have worked so hard. You deserve this.”
She grinned. “One step closer to the Olympic team.”
“Regardless of whether you make the team or not, we’re so very proud of you.”
Why did Mom sound like it didn’t matter if she made the team? Wasn’t that what everyone wanted? Missy frowned and yanked open the front door of a store. “Um... so how’s Daddy’s training going? Is the new guy wrapping his head around all of that electronics stuff?”
“I suppose so. Your father hasn’t really said much other than that Darrell is bright and a nice guy. I haven’t seen much of him the last couple of days. He has Darrell helping him install an alarm system in one of the businesses in town, so this installation is taking longer than normal.” A chuckle reached across the span of the country, causing Missy to smile. “Then again, the fact he’s training Darrell may not have as much to do with it as you’d expect. If he’d stop calling every hour on the hour to check on me to see if I need anything, he might get done faster.”
Missy smiled. Could Davis love her the way Daddy did Mom? “Well, listen, I’ll give you a call probably sometime tomorrow. I have to go. I’ve got dinner plans and need to get ready.”
“Hang on a sec. ... That’s your father calling. Right on schedule. I better go. Enjoy dinner with Aaron tonight, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Bye, sweetie.”
The call disconnected before Missy could fully digest what her mother said and correct her assumption. Mom had known Aaron planned to invite her to dinner? Had she put him up to it?
Great. Another big brother scenario. And he was in league with her mother. So much for thinking he just wanted to spend time with her.
Good thing she’d made plans with Davis.
The clock crept toward eight o’clock. Missy waited in the hotel lobby for Davis, tingling with anticipation. What had he planned? And why so secretive? She smoothed her hands over the sleeveless, lavender evening gown she’d bought on the way from the stables to the hotel. Hopefully Davis liked it. It certainly cost enough to be awe-worthy.
She ducked behind a large potted plant and twisted to get the bustiere under the dress back into proper position. As uncomfortable as the thing was, she sympathized with women in the era of corsets. If this thing was so fidget-producing and unpleasant, she’d hate to think how bad a corset had to have been with the stiff ribbing.
She glanced down. Of course, if she had more bust, perhaps the uncomfortable undergarment would stay put. Maybe she should have padded it.
She snickered. Good grief. She hadn’t padded a bra since she was fourteen. Okay, sixteen and trying to get Aaron’s attention. Might as well be honest. But she was nineteen now. Adult women did not pad their bras.
Hm. Maybe a question worth pursuing sometime.
The strappy, spiked heels weren’t much more comfortable than the bustiere. She prayed she could spend the bulk of the evening sitting. The shoes already killed her feet, but they matched the dress perfectly and looked far more appealing than riding boots would have.
Davis appeared through the revolving door, his cane more a walking stick than a real source of support given how his stride had improved with physical therapy. He looked dashing and handsome in a tuxedo. His choice of attire made her all the more grateful for her decision to splurge on the evening gown. He crossed the lobby and headed for the elevator.
Missy hesitated a moment, watching him. He’s not right for you. Conviction needled deep. She frowned and shook it off. Now she was letting her family’s unfounded opinions nag her. She lifted her chin, stepped from behind the potted plant, prayed the bustiere would stay put, and straightened her shoulders. “Davis.”
He turned with a questioning look that cleared in an instant to a smile of pure pleasure. His appreciative gaze slipped over her. He came toward her, the look in his eyes reflecting the same warmth and male interest as his smile. The hateful, uncomfortable shoes suddenly didn’t seem so bad. They brought her a few inches closer to Davis’ six foot height. She no longer felt quite so much like a child playing dress-up. The thought raised her chin another notch.
“You look positively stunning.” He gathered Missy’s right hand in his left and leaned down to kiss her gently. He tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and led her toward the doors, his gaze lingering. “I’m going to have to keep you close to me tonight, or someone might steal you away.”
She giggled then bit her lip, annoyed. Why couldn’t she have given him a sultry laugh as she’d seen women do in movies instead of giggling like some enchanted, mindless school girl? Heat crawled into her cheeks.
“That blush makes you look even more lovely.” He leaned down to whisper in her ear as he tucked her back close to his chest and stepped through the revolving door.
She smiled brightly as he moved to her side and dropped his free hand to her waist.
“Are you ready for a full evening? I have some wonderful plans for us.”
You bet, she wanted to yell. But restrained herself. Instead, she gave him what she hoped was a dignified nod. “I can hardly wait to see what you have in mind.”
Deep inside, where no one could see, she performed a little happy dance. That had sounded so grown-up. Maybe she really could pull this off. Excitement sent her heart racing.