Divine Grace(6)

By: Heather Rainier

“Grace, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve been looking forward to it.” Adam reached out to her, and his big hand dwarfed hers as he lifted it and bent down slightly to kiss her knuckles. She was surprised by the old-fashioned gesture but even more so by the undisguised interest in his eyes.

Ethan leaned in and kissed her cheek, shocking her completely. She was not accustomed to receiving so much attention but had a feeling she could easily get used to it. He leaned in and said, “Supper was really good last night. We enjoyed it so much we thought about stealing you and bringing you home with us. Maybe we can cook for you some time to return the favor.”

Surprised at his words, her lips popped open, but she wasn’t sure what to say.

Oh, my gosh. Steal me. Plunder and pillage!

“He’s serious, by the way,” Jack said, chuckling a little. “Maybe sometime soon, after things settle down a bit, we could have you out to the ranch for a nice meal.”

She had no idea what to say. She wasn’t stunned speechless because she thought their invitation was inappropriate, though it might just be at the moment. She didn’t know what to say that would not come across as overeager. Then Owen reared his ugly head in her mind again. He was so out of there it was almost funny. Like Wile E. Coyote careening over a cliff with an anvil tied to his ass. He never should have asked for her ATM card.

Thoughts of Rose Marie came to mind, and she could almost hear the old woman say, “Seize the day, baby.” It was a truly surreal moment.

She grinned back at him and bravely said, “That sounds like a fantastic idea, Jack. I’d love to. Just give me a few days. I have some serious house cleaning to do first.”

Though she meant it figuratively and not literally, it did bring her current housekeeping dilemma to mind, which made her pause and frown.

“You don’t know any reliable, and more importantly, available air conditioner repairmen, do you, Jack?” It seemed like a reasonable, legitimate question. She wasn’t prepared for the mild surprise on all three of their faces. Or the grins that followed. What had she said? They seemed pleased and amused by her question, even Adam, who finally spoke up.

“What seems to be the problem?”

“My AC quit on me yesterday. I got home from dropping off your supper, and it wasn’t cooling the house anymore.”

Jack said, “You remember me telling you that one of my partners was an AC and heating contractor? Adam’s your guy. He can fix whatever is wrong with it.”

Adam quickly nodded and said the magic words. “I can come over later this afternoon if you’d like.”

“Oh, I’d like that just fine,” she replied, so relieved she wanted to cry happy tears. “I’m definitely feeling a little wilted.”

Jack took her hand in his and said, “Why don’t we get you inside and cool you off a bit.”

The men brought her inside and stayed with her until it was time to walk to the cemetery, which was a short distance from the ranch house. She would have preferred to blend into the background with the other mourners, but Jack kept her hand securely clasped in his own as the preacher spoke.

At the reception afterward, Jack introduced her as a friend of his who was close to Rose Marie. She visited briefly with some of the other attendees and got some interesting looks, but overall, she felt accepted.

“Adam, why don’t you ride with her to our house and then follow her home in your truck.” Jack said something else quietly to him, to which Adam nodded in agreement.

“I’ll need to change out of my suit, anyway.”

Jack and Ethan walked them down the drive to her car. She’d sensed a shift in their friendship today, and she felt it strongly as she turned to Jack.

For the very first time, he took her gently in his arms and hugged her to him.

For once, Owen didn’t come to mind. She slid her arms around his shoulders, not retreating or holding back. She pressed into him, inhaling his woodsy, masculine scent.

“See you soon, darlin’.” Jack squeezed her briefly, then released her.

Ethan leaned in and kissed her cheek and thanked her for coming. He hugged her, too. She got into her car, a little breathless, and Ethan closed the door for her again, reminding her to buckle up.

Adam climbed into the passenger seat, dwarfing her little Honda, and buckled up as well. She was unused to being so close to someone so big and strong, so powerful and masculine. He made her feel tiny and feminine by comparison. She smiled up at him as she turned the key in the ignition. She could lose track of time gazing into those pale green eyes. Jack and Ethan waved to her and watched as she and Adam pulled down the drive.

“I feel a little guilty for taking you away from your family this afternoon,” she said, glancing over at him.

“There is no need. Everything around the ranch has already been taken care of, and Jack’s older sister, Anne, is going to be staying with Joe for the time being. Jack and Ethan will probably stay around to visit a little longer and then head on back to the house themselves.”

“Maybe so,” she said, “but I imagine you were close to her as well. I’m sorry to put you to work on a day you would normally spend with your family.”

“It seems to me Jack is more worried about me seeing to your AC

problem than he is about whether I follow funeral protocol, whatever that would be in a case like this.”

When he asked her, she described the problem in detail to him on the way down the drive. He asked her a few questions to make sure he had whatever he’d need on the truck. When they got to the house, he insisted she come inside while he changed out of his suit. Their house was cool and neat as a pin, everything in its place. While she waited, she looked at the photographs that hung on the living room wall near the front door.

She especially liked a larger black and white photograph of the three of them as boys. It was an outdoor shot of them all piled into an inner tube floating on a river. She guessed they must have been in about first grade because they were all missing their front teeth. Their hair was wet and standing up in spikes, and all their toothless grins were a mile wide. The little boys looked like they were having the time of their lives.

Adam came up behind her. “Rose Marie took that picture on the Guadalupe River when our parents took us camping in New Braunfels. They let us have a tent all to ourselves. We swore we’d stay up all night, and our

parents said we could if we wanted to. We were on the river all day, had a cookout that night, and we were all sound asleep by eight o’clock. The sun had barely even set.

“Did you notice we were all missing our front teeth? They all started getting loose about the same time, and we wiggled and worked them until they were barely hanging on. Then one afternoon on a dare, we pulled them all out at the same time. Our parents told us the tooth fairy was gonna go broke.” He chuckled. “Ready to go?”

“Yes,” she replied in a daze.

Listening to him tell that story in that deep voice of his, she felt like she was there watching it happen. His voice drew her in and had a sort of hypnotic effect on her. Her confusion over her earlier feelings for Jack and Ethan increased, and she was troubled by the way she was now responding to Adam as well. She should feel nervous about being alone with him, but she wasn’t. She wanted to stay and listen to him tell more stories.

She took one last look at the photograph, then turned to find him gazing down at her. “You know, it meant a lot to Jack that you came today. I noticed he never let go of your hand. He was right. You have a very sweet spirit.” He leaned down and inhaled as he kissed her cheek.

Surprised, all she could do was stand there and blush. Was he saying these things to test her reaction? His kiss felt like so much more than just a peck on the cheek. It felt intimate. If he was testing her reaction, he certainly was getting one because her cheeks were flaming and her panties were damp.

“He said you blush easily. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I just wanted you to know we appreciate you, you know? You look very pretty in that outfit.” His voice sent a pleasurable shiver up her spine.

“Thank you. I’m just not used to people paying so much attention to me and saying such nice things. It’s not that I’m mistreated or anything, I’m just…not used to it.”

Owen was so out of there. She was too mistreated.

“Well, be that as it may, what I said was true and not just flattery. Let’s get on over to your house and see what I can do about the AC.”

She followed him out, feeling all warm and fuzzy.

She cringed when she turned onto her street and saw Owen was home, his beater truck parked in the driveway. She pulled up to the curb, and 32

Adam parked behind her. She got out of her car and noticed the grim look on Adam’s face as he climbed out and opened the toolbox on the utility camper.

She wondered if Jack told Adam what he had seen of Owen’s behavior that day in the store when he’d come in asking for money. She felt embarrassed and ashamed that Adam was probably going to meet Owen when he was at his worst—hungover and mean. She gathered her purse and led Adam into the house.