© Copyright 2005 by Diana Mylek
With Emily gone, and the apartment quiet, Lacey allowed herself the pleasure of a nap. It had been quite a week, and it finally caught up with her Sunday afternoon. She hadn’t heard from Eric, and he was probably with his family anyway, so she figured the day was lost anyhow. Closing her curtains tightly and pulling the covers over her head, she surrendered to sleep, at one point thinking she heard a knock on her door, but ignoring it in favor of drowsiness. A few hours later she was rested, alert, and her hair was sticking up on one side of her head. She laughed at the spectacle, and showered so she could return her hair to its normal blunt cut. When she was presentable again, she wandered to the living room and looked out the window at her boat. Someone had placed flowers and a note on the tarp, and she groaned in annoyance.
“Who is it this time? The garbage men?” She pulled on her shoes and went outside. A man in a Jeep Cherokee drove slowly past and smiled at her.
“It’s parked for the winter,” she called as he opened his window.
“See you in the spring,” he called back and drove away.
“This is a bit much, Lord,” Lacey mused as she reached for the envelope. “I guess it’s true—be careful what you pray for; you just might get it.” There was a card inside the envelope. It read, “Lacey. Sorry I missed you. Thought you might like to get away today and I was right, because you’re gone. Thinking of you and not your boat. Love, Eric.”
She missed him! Why didn’t she answer the doorbell earlier? It must have been him. She smelled the flowers, leaning against her boat and kicking the tires in frustration. Lacey laid her chin on the boat and wished she had stayed awake.
An engine sounded behind her. Not another one, she sighed, and didn’t bother to turn around.
“Excuse me miss, do you know who owns this boat?”
“Not a clue,” she said, walking away.
The car caught up with her. “Because I have a date with her on Valentine’s Day.”
“No, you don’t…Eric!” She spun around and slapped at him. “You had me going for a minute!”
“Just another admirer.” She rolled her eyes. “Another desperate man. I’m getting bored with all this.”
“I’ll bet.” He pulled the car into an empty space and stepped out to greet her.
“Where did you get this car?” Lacey asked. “A Corvette. Very impressive.”
“It attracts women. Like a man in the park holding a baby. Drives ‘em wild.”
She laughed and hugged him. “I am so sorry I missed you earlier. Come inside.”
He followed her into the apartment, and held her flowers while she searched for something to put them in. She finally settled for an oversized drinking glass, and added them to the collection on the dining room table.
“I can see why you’re getting bored with all this,” Eric commented, counting the bouquets.
“Actually, I’m thrilled. I’ve never had so much attention in my life.”
Eric’s heart sank a bit. She had plenty of offers to choose from; what would make her keep him?
“Tell your father I lost the bet. I’ll pay him for the dock space,” Lacey said.
“He won’t want you to,” Eric assured her. “But what he does want is for you to join us at my house for dinner. Sunday is our family day, and my mom wants very much to meet you.”
“She does?” Lacey was thrilled. This was a very good sign. “I would love to, but on one condition.”
“What is that?” Asked Eric.
“I bring some kind of dessert. I won’t go empty-handed.”
“Deal,” replied Eric.
“I’ll get my purse,” said Lacey.
Despite visiting almost every store in the mall, Stuart and Emily were not able to find even one suitable sweater, maybe because they were more concerned with pleasing each other than concentrating on the chore that had brought them together. At first, Emily told herself she must only help him shop, that they did not technically belong together, but he was so attentive, so grateful for her assistance, that she found herself relaxing and enjoying his company. What a wonderful feeling, to be appreciated. It was a rare luxury in her life. She found herself trying to please him in ways other than shopping; listening to his stories of his sister and the marina, letting him choose their meal at the restaurant, and finding reasons to touch him as they went about the stores. This seemed to please him the most, he was like a thirsty man, drinking in her affection, and this to her was the most rewarding aspect of her time with him.
As they sat across from each other in the restaurant waiting for their meal, smiling at each other and touching lightly, Emily reached out and brushed his hair away from his eyes.
“You need a haircut,” she said, tucking his hair behind his ear.
“You think?” He replied as his hair fell again.
She pushed it back once more. “You look more like a surfer than the owner of a marina.”
“Give me ten years.” He took her hand and held it, gazing into her eyes. “I had a great day, Emily. You’re right. The mall is a much scarier place than the lake.”
“I didn’t get to be a hero, though,” she said. “Like you were for me.”
“Oh, but you are,” he replied, leaning closer to her. “Two weeks ago I had no reason to live. Now I want to celebrate.”
“Hold that thought.” She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them again. “You’re still here. I’m not imagining this.”
He grinned and kissed her hand. “I’d go for your lips, but this table is holding me back.”
“Down, boy. We’re in public,” she reminded him.
He sat back on the booth. “You are so lovely. I could stare at you forever.”
“You don’t get out much, do you?” she teased. “Although I hope I’m more pleasant to look at than fish.”
“Definitely. And I would imagine, better to kiss.”
“Oh, yuck!” she laughed. “Tell me you’ve never kissed a fish!”
“You’ve never caught a seven pound bass before. You’d kiss it too.”
Her laughter was like a gift to him. He hadn’t enjoyed a woman’s laugh since his sister was silenced. Oh, Emily if you only knew how hard I’ve fallen for you. I won’t give you up no matter what, to Raymond or anyone. I need you and your musical laugh, your touch that makes me dizzy, your caring eyes that melt my frozen heart. Somehow, some way, I’m going to win your heart, and I’m going to keep it and cherish it for as long as God allows. And I’m going to make you the happiest woman on the face of the earth, or at least the lake, and you will know that you are loved.
The food arrived, interrupting his thoughts, and he reluctantly let go of her hand.
As Eric pulled into the long driveway that led to the family home, Lacey wondered how they managed to drive such a steep incline when the ground froze.
“It doesn’t really freeze here very often, but when it does, it’s no problem,” Eric explained. “We have a heated driveway, and it keeps the ice away.”
“Heated driveway!” Lacey exclaimed. “I’ve never heard of that!”
“Mom’s idea. She wasn’t about to slide to the bottom of the hill in a car. My dad did that a few times and wrecked her new van. We got the driveway right after.”
Lacey laughed. She couldn’t wait to meet this remarkable woman.
“I have to warn you,” Eric said as they parked in the rear of the house in an actual parking space. “There’s more family than you can count, and all of them are here.”
“Oh, I feel better now.”
He grinned. “You won’t remember all their names today so just smile and act like you’ve known them forever. It makes them wonder.”
“I won’t be quizzed or anything, will I?” She stared at the huge structure Eric called home. He opened a side door and they entered a room—the indoor swimming pool. Lacey was speechless as he led her through that room to another; actually a series of rooms, all contained in one huge space and separated by furniture and other dividers, but no walls. The windows rose two stories high and she could see over the lake as if they were standing on thin air above it.
“Eric, is my mouth hanging open?” she asked, tugging on his sleeve.
“Your mouth is…fine,” he replied, not telling her he wanted to taste it. He swallowed hard. “We get this reaction from all our first time visitors. I’m kind of bored with it, actually.”
She laughed at his quotation of her words. “It’s very…beautiful. But I can’t help wondering, why a pool when you have the whole lake?”
“It’s a status thing,” Eric replied honestly. “Plus my mom can keep an eye on her kids and grandkids. She doesn’t like being outdoors.”
“I thought she was quite the sports-woman,” Lacey said, confused.
“She hates bugs,” Eric confided. “If we get a mosquito in the house she hunts it down like she’s on safari.”
Lacey laughed and slapped Eric’s arm.
“I’m not kidding,” he said seriously. He took Lacey into the common area where his family was watching the grandchildren play a video game on the wide-screen television. There were eight or nine of them, in ages ranging from newborn to teen, and they raced to greet their uncle.
“Hello you rascals. I brought someone to meet you.”
The adults turned in their seats to view Eric’s friend. Lacey felt a moment of panic. There were so many of them, how would she ever remember their names? She counted ten adults, including Al.
“Mom, Dad, Rick, Kathy, Bill, Tina, Peg, Rich, Jen, and Al junior, this is Lacey Blessing.”
“Hello,” she managed, immediately forgetting all their names.
Eric’s mother Susan rose from the sofa, a newborn baby in her arms. She handed him to Eric and reached for Lacey’s hand. “Hello, Lacey. Eric’s told us all about you. It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”
“I guess he warned you about me,” Lacey replied.
“He did mention that you might have a trail of admirers bearing gifts and requests to see your boat.”
“They’re not after me for my body, I assure you.”
Susan laughed lightly. “Al told me about you and your boat. I said, finally, a woman who uses common sense!”
“Actually, God told me to buy it, so I can’t take the credit.”
“Really?” Susan seemed intrigued.
“I was sure your husband would think me daft, but if he did, he covered it well. Then your son saved me from making an utter fool out of myself when I tried to make it look like I actually fished. He was so patient and kind, teaching me how to use my new boat.”
“I enjoyed it. She’s a quick study.” Eric smiled at Lacey.
“And I only ran down two signs,” Lacey said.
“What signs?” Asked Al.
“Nothing to worry about,” answered Eric quickly. “She learned so fast I expect her to win a bass tournament next year.”
“Only if you bait my hooks,” replied Lacey.
Susan led Lacey to the large kitchen and they gathered around the huge table.
“How is your sister?” Susan asked.
“Much better, thank you,” Lacey answered. “She’s at the mall with Stuart right now.”
“We are so pleased that he’s interested in someone!” Susan poured a cup of coffee for Lacey. “After his sister Kate died he became a recluse and retreated from the world. We couldn’t seem to help him no matter what we did.”
“Emily has a lot of compassion—sometimes too much. She is perfect for him, and she herself needs someone to care for her.”
Susan leaned forward and tapped Lacey’s arm. “Thelma about sent herself into a fit trying to make sure those two met after you girls visited, and then it happened anyway.”
“Emily hooked him,” Eric said.
“In more ways than one,” chuckled Susan. “We consider Stuart family, and it’s family tradition for the men to be lured, caught and drawn in by the women.”
“I met my husband at a wrestling match,” Peg informed Lacey. The referee asked for volunteers from the audience to wrestle the pros. I thought Rich was cute, so I raised my hand.”
Her husband continued, “She jumped in the ring and smiled as if she was seriously going to wrestle me! No way was I going to hurt a lady, especially one as pretty as her. I shook her hand and said, ‘don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,’ and she flipped me on my back!” He laughed and kissed Peg. “I fell for her, literally.”
Bill was next. “I met my wife, Tina at a drag race. This car that competed against me looked like it was held together with duct tape, but when we raced it left me in the dust. I guess it was her brother’s car and she stole it from him one Sunday and entered the contest. Anyway, when I shook her hand to congratulate her, thinking she was a guy, she took off her helmet, and her hair fell down her back…It was love, man.”
Lacey’s eyes wandered to Peg, who was clearly as in love with her husband as if they had just met. Eric glanced at Lacey, and she smiled back at him. He looked adorable, holding his newborn nephew and she wondered if he wanted children of his own… and if he would want them with her.
Another sister, with the same hair and eyes as Eric, said, “It wasn’t as dramatic for us. Rick and I were both counselors at Christian summer camp, though different ones. He was at a boy’s camp across the river from us. We crossed paths while canoeing, and I accidentally tipped his canoe when he got close. I saved him from drowning, gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation.”
“I let her work on me for twenty minutes before I let on that I could swim,” Rick laughed. “Then at night I snuck away from my camp to sing love songs under her cabin window.”
“He had the wrong cabin,” Kathy told them. “For the rest of the summer, the camp director thought she had a secret admirer.”
Lacey laughed along with the rest of them, amused and pleased to be included in the family stories. They shared a meal, and the dessert Lacey provided, and later Eric suggested the two of them take a walk in the woods surrounding the house.
She was grateful to get away from the commotion for a few minutes. Her head was spinning, trying to remember names, and who belonged to whom. She had managed to separate a few of Eric’s siblings and their spouses, but she was at a loss to repeat any of the children’s names. She wondered how Eric kept track of all of them.
“Name tags help,” he teased. “For last year’s company Christmas party, Dad had badges made for each of us just like we wear at the store.”
“I can only imagine how festive Christmas must be at your house, Lacey sighed, thinking of the lonely day she shared with her sister last year.
“It’s pretty much chaos,” Eric admitted. “We all swim, that’s a tradition.”
Lacey smiled, thinking of all of them splashing in the pool.
Eric walked her to a spot in the woods overlooking the lake. “You can’t see it from here, but the marina is to the left, a couple miles.” He stopped and leaned against a thick tree branch. “This was our climbing tree when we were kids. Our house was a lot smaller then.”
“But you still lived in these woods?”
He nodded. “Stuart and I have been friends since kindergarten. Later, in our teens, he, Kate and I were the three musketeers. She raised him after her parents died, when he was thirteen and she was seventeen. Kate devoted her life to him, and they were close friends as well as siblings.”
“And you were close to her also?” Lacey moved to his side.
“I was practically her shadow, till she died last year. She was very special. I miss her something fierce.”
“Did you love her?” Lacey asked.
“Yes, more than she knew,” Eric admitted. “She was older than me but I adored her.”
Lacey thought how wonderful Kate must have been. She was terribly jealous of this woman she had never met.
Eric bent close to Lacey. “But what I felt for her pales in comparison to what I feel for you.”
She stopped breathing, paralyzed, watching him. He stepped in front of her and touched her chin with his curled finger, pulling her face to his.
“Do you feel the same about me, Lacey?” He whispered as their eyes met.
“I am very…pleased,” she said.
“Pleased?” He repeated, stopping short of kissing her. “You mean, pleased to meet you, or pleased…what other kind of pleased is there?”
She moved back against the branch. “I’ve waited all my life to hear someone say those words to me; no one ever has. Certainly nothing like the last two weeks.”
“Oh, I get it.” He fought despair. “You’re in demand now, and you want to date around. I can’t blame you. I guess I would do the same.” I am such an idiot for thinking she might feel the same about me, he told himself.
“No, that’s not what I mean,” Lacey replied, seeing the look in his eyes. “You are a most unique and wonderful man, Eric…Almost too good to be true!” She played with the collar of his shirt. “And for someone like you to say what you just did to me…it’s almost unbelievable.”
“What are you saying?” He put his hands on his hips and frowned.
“I’m saying,” she moved her hands to his chest and brushed at imaginary lint, “That I have this practical side to me that says, ‘the man has everything. He’s handsome, rich—I noticed, Eric—funny, smart, absolutely charming’…So why, if he could have any woman in the world, would he choose me?” She let her hands drop. “Of course the unpractical side tells me, ‘What do you care? Shut up and kiss him!”
“First of all, Lacey,” Eric said, folding his arms, “I live in a very remote area. I don’t have my pick of women, unless I’m not too particular about whether or not they are related or have teeth.”
“And I did have someone I loved, Kate, and spent years devoted to her, though only as her friend. That was fine with me; I felt fortunate, just knowing her. Then she died, and I realized that I needed something more than just friendship from a woman. My sisters and brother all married, had kids, and I lost out.”
He stroked her hair. “Then you waltz into my life, to buy a boat of all things. I was sure you would really lose it when you took it out on the lake! But you didn’t; you were great, you listened to me and made me feel like I was the smartest person alive. I knew you were trying to please me when you worked so hard to do just what I told you, and I said to myself, this one is a keeper.”
“Ooh, those fisherman words make me tingly all over, Lacey gushed. “I could lose my head around you. But Eric, it’s only been a few weeks—days really. If we make big declarations about each other this soon, I’m afraid we won’t be able to live up to each other’s expectations.”
“You know, you’re absolutely right,” Eric said, rubbing his chin. “You should shut up and kiss me.” He closed the distance between them and kissed her passionately, the way he had intended to when he brought her out into the woods. woods. Her lips were like a banquet to him and he tasted them repeatedly, savoring the feel of her in his arms. He pulled away from her and sighed.
“I see your point,” he gasped, trying to catch his breath. “That kiss about knocked my socks off. We couldn’t kiss like that all the time.”
“No?” Asked Lacey with a coy smile. “I was just getting warmed up.”
He groaned and fell to the ground. Lacey laughed and climbed up to sit on the tree branch, dangling her feet over him. He reached up and pulled off her shoes.
“I guess you’re trapped now,” he teased. “Unless you want to walk barefoot through these woods.”
“I’m wearing socks, silly. And I’m not going anywhere without you, shoes or no shoes.”
He started to pull at her socks.
“Hey!” She kicked him away. “I’m not that kind of girl!”
“Oh, that’s right. City girls wear socks and shoes to bed, don’t they?”
“Socks, yes. Now you know all my secrets.”
“No not all of them. I still don’t know why you chose me when you could have had Darryl.”
“Because, silly,” she said, dropping off the branch next to him and pinning him to the ground with her arms, “I like my men to have teeth.”
“I feel better now,” laughed Eric. Lacey pulled him to a sitting position.
“Say something outdoors-ish to me,” she growled, kissing him lightly. “You know, that manly sports talk.”
He thought for a moment. “Umm…fishing gear.” He lowered his voice. “Lock and load. Deer hunting season.”
She rolled her eyes and moaned. “You’re making me weak.”
He kissed her and whispered against her lips, “Target practice. Small mouth bass.”
“Ahhh,” she breathed.
“Camouflage. Jerk bait.”
“Jerk bait?” She laughed.
“I’m having a tough time thinking,” he said.
“Then let me take over.” She kissed his chin. “Ouch. You need to shave.”
“Hurts sooo good.” She let kisses fall on his face and neck.
Eric moaned. “So, Lacey, do you want to get married on Valentine’s Day?”
“Yes, a three week courtship would please your parents, I’m sure.”
“They were married in two.”
“What?” She sat back on her knees. “Are you serious?”
“About them or us?”
“I asked you first.”
She laughed. “No, you didn’t.”
“Oh,” He stood and wiped the leaves from his clothes. “Yes, two weeks. Her father almost shot my dad a second time.”
“And it lasted.”
Eric kissed her. “He says he got her pregnant on the honeymoon so she couldn’t change her mind.”
“That sounds like him. What about your sisters and brother?”
“All of them eloped. It’s another family tradition.”
Lacey laughed out loud. “So that’s how they afforded that house, with all the money they saved by not paying for weddings.”
“No, but I’m sure it helped.”
She wrapped her arms around his waist. “So if we were married on Valentine’s Day, would I be pregnant the next day?”
“Absolutely. Or I’d at least die trying.”
Lacey sighed and leaned against the tree. “That’s the most irresistible thing in the world to a woman, you know. A handsome man who wants marriage and children. Add chocolate and I’d throw myself at your feet.”
“Just like a beautiful woman with a bass boat. All we needed was the right lures.”
“So, Mr. Hook,” Lacey murmured, bringing him close to her by his shirt, “Want to use my bass boat? If you marry me, I’ll let you take it out whenever you like.”
“I’ll give you all the chocolate you can eat, if you promise that I’m the only one you will ever lend your boat to,” he replied, grinning.
“It’s a deal. Shall we shake on it?” She leaned into his embrace.
“Not a chance. I’m sealing this with a kiss.”
A voice called to them from the direction of the house. “Uncle Eric!” One of his nephews burst into the clearing. “Grandma says if you don’t come back to the house in the next ten minutes, they’re sending out a search party—with wedding presents!”
Eric and Lacey laughed.
“Who are we to defy tradition?” Lacey maintained. “Tell them I want the china with the fish on it, and one of those coffee tables with dead animals inside.”
Eric’s nephew ran ahead to the house.
“Where will we take our honeymoon?” Lacey asked.
“In a houseboat on the lake,” Eric answered. “We’ll live there until we get a place of our own.”
“Better make it fast,” she warned him. “I’m not giving birth on the water.”
“I promise,” said Eric. “Let’s go surprise my family.”
Stuart walked Emily to the door of her apartment. It was later than he intended to bring her home, but he wanted to make the day last as long as possible. She hadn’t objected, and seemed to enjoy his company.
“I feel bad, Stuart,” she said as she turned the key in the lock. “We never did get you a sweater.”
He shrugged. “It’s not important. And it gives me a reason to see you again.”
She smiled shyly. “Actually, I have something for you.” She opened the apartment door. “Wait here while I get it.”
He waited in the doorway as she went to her room, and returned with a large box.
“Here,” she said, setting the box on the sofa and opening it. He moved to be next to her. She took a white, hand knitted sweater from the box and held it up to his chest.
“It fits!” She exclaimed, running her hand over the fabric. “I’ve been knitting this for a couple years, I don’t know why. Well, now I do. This is for you, Stuart. To replace the one I ruined.”
He smiled, touching the garment. “I guess we wasted the whole day looking, when you had one here all along.”
“Not wasted at all. It was a great excuse to spend time together.” She took the sweater and folded it back into the box.
“Thank you, Emily. No one’s ever done that for me before.”
She was humbled and pleased at his gratitude. “You showed me kindness when I didn’t deserve it. I want to do the same for you. Only you do deserve it, you are a kind and thoughtful person.”
“That’s the way we marina owners are,” he teased. “Unless you have a boat, you’ll never know.”
She smiled into his eyes as she moved close enough to play with his hair. He brought his hand up to the middle of her back and gathered her close to him. Bending slightly, he pressed his lips lightly against hers, and kissed her deeply as she surrendered to his embrace.
“Emily,” he said breathlessly, “I want you to know that I…”
The phone rang, and she jumped, suddenly remembering her conversation with Raymond earlier.
Stuart frowned. “Do you need to get that?”
She became agitated. “No, I…”
He eyed her carefully. She backed away, looking at the phone as if it were on fire.
She looked at him with a dazed expression. “I should…I mean I have to answer that.”
“Should I go?” He picked up the box and waited for her answer.
She nodded miserably. Stuart was certain who was on the other end of the line. He went into the apartment hall, and closed the door behind him but stayed to listen, knowing the walls were paper-thin. He heard every bit of her end of the conversation.
“Hello? I know, Ray. No, I just got in. I know I said I would but…don’t yell at me, please. I know you didn’t mean for me to get sick; I shouldn’t have walked home in the rain. It’s my fault. You’re right. It was stupid.” She sounded defeated. “With a friend. No, I won’t. Ray, please. Because he makes me feel special, wanted, and he doesn’t think I’m stupid, that’s why. He’s not just saying that. I don’t know why he likes me, yes I know there’s nothing to attract him. No, Ray I would never hurt you. I know you care. Okay, we can talk. But just talk, Ray. Maybe I do care more for him. Okay, just for a few minutes.”
Stuart stood in the hall, his heart sinking. What do I do now, Lord? If I leave, he wins! This guy controls her. What if he hurts her? I need her, God, and she needs me to show her how special she is, a treasure. What can I do? Raymond was sneaky and conniving. He wouldn’t confront Emily here, in front of Lacey; he knew she disproved of him. His answer was easy when he heard Emily’s next words.
“I’ll be over in a few minutes, but I’m not staying long.”
That was all Stuart needed. He ran out of the building into the parking lot. Forgive me now, Lord, but this is something I have to do. Hoping he had the right car, he slipped underneath, and with his trusty Swiss army knife, cut the wire to her battery, then ran to his own truck and backed up slightly. As Emily walked out the door of the building, he moved his truck forward as if he was just pulling in. She stopped when she saw him.
“Stuart!” She called. “Did you forget something?”
He hopped out of his truck. “I think I may have dropped my cell phone when I left. Did you see it in the hall?”
She frowned. “No, but I really didn’t look.”
“Going somewhere?” He asked casually.
“I have an errand to run. I forgot about it earlier.”
“Oh.” He started back to his truck. “See you around.”
She looked at him longingly, then sat in her car and turned the key. It did nothing. Stuart waited while she tried a few more times, and then knocked on her window.
“Need a lift?”
She rolled the window down. “It won’t do anything.”
“Hmm.” He told her to open the hood, and he played with a few wires. “Now try.”
“Sorry Emily. I guess it’s too dark for me to fix it tonight.”
He almost laughed at the look of relief in her eyes.
“It’s okay, Stuart,” she said, getting out of the car and locking it. “I didn’t want to go anyway.”
They went back to the apartment, and Stuart resolved to stay until Lacey returned home even if Emily objected. She didn’t however, and turned the phone off before inviting him to sit with her on the sofa.
“I can come by tomorrow morning and give you a ride to work,” he offered.
“Oh, Stuart, that’s so early, and it’s a long drive for you.” She moved closer to him. “I’ll have Lacey take me.” She looked at him through her lashes. “But I’ll need a ride home.”
“I’ll be there,” he promised. “Uh, where?”
She laughed and told him. “I can’t tell you how much I hate being cooped up in a building all the time. I envy you, Stuart, with the whole lake as your office. I’m going to go on Lacey’s boat as often as she lets me.”
“I’ll take you out every day,” Stuart promised, his arms finding their way around her. “Any time you like.”
“Thanks, but you have a business to run, boats to rent, and souvenirs to sell.”
“I would close tomorrow if it meant I’d be with you every day,” he vowed, “but my sister would kill me. She’d come back to haunt me.”
“Don’t even!” Emily touched his face with her hands. “I want to visit your marina. I need you there. Who will teach me to fish if you don’t?”
“Ugh, Em. You’re as demanding as my sister was.” He kissed her. “And thank you, Emily. For the first time, I’m remembering Kate with a smile on my face.”
Emily vowed right there to mend his broken heart, no matter what it took. “You know, Stuart, you should re-name the marina Kate’s Cove, after your sister. I’ll paint the sign for you—did you know I’m artistic?”
“No, but you amaze me every day.”
“I stopped when…” She let the sentence drop.
He wisely changed the subject. “I’m thinking, Em. Valentine’s Day is coming up next week, and I’d kind of like to spend it with someone fishing off the houseboat. Someone who can cook, someone who could help me eat chocolates and cut lures out of my sweaters, someone…beautiful and kindhearted who makes me feel like the luckiest man alive when I’m with her.”
“Did you say chocolate?” Emily asked. “If you fed me chocolate, I’d bait my own hooks. I’d bait your hooks and clean fish. I’d make you ten sweaters.”
“So, do you think we could maybe spend Valentine’s Day together?” Stuart kissed her neck and shoulders.
“It’s very possible,” she teased. “If the guy who owns the marina has an extra boat. They’re very expensive to rent, though.”
He moved his kisses to her lips. “He’s a close personal friend of mine. I’ll twist his arm.”
“I can’t think of anything I would like more,” Emily whispered.
“I can,” teased Stuart, but you’ll have to wait until we’re co-owners of the marina.”
“Is that a possibility?” She asked, his kisses making her weak.
“Most definitely,” he murmured.
A key turned in the doorlock, making them both jump and sit up straight. Lacey entered and eyed them both with amusement.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
“Yes, but you live here, so I can’t argue.”
“Not for long,” Lacey said. “I’ve got big plans for Valentine’s Day.”
“Like what?” Asked Emily.
“Oh, you know. Dinner with Eric and marriage.”
“What?” Emily jumped off the couch and into her sister’s arms. “That’s incredible! Will you keep the boat?”
“Of course, silly, it’s our legacy to our children.” Lacey smiled and hugged her sister. “In the grand tradition of Eric’s family we are eloping on our second date.”
“It’s a tradition?” Emily asked, skeptical.
“Yes,” answered Lacey. “And Stuart is an honorary Hook, so watch out, danger girl!”
She looked at Stuart, who was grinning and nodding.
“Whew. What a week,” Emily sighed. “But wait, Lacey, if you leave here, I’ll be alone, and…” She put her palm to her forehead in distress. “I’m happy for you, Lacey, but…I’m not strong enough to be on my own. He’ll….”
“He won’t hurt you, Emily. I won’t let him.” Stuart moved to her side.
“You know about Raymond?” She asked. “I never told you.”
“I met him.”
“You did?” She put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, Stuart, I’m so sorry. I should have told you. I really care for you…and I couldn’t hurt you.”
“You couldn’t hurt anyone, Emily. I know that.” He took her hands. “But men like him, Em, they prefer women they can push around, someone easy to manipulate, compassionate, like you. They use your good qualities for bad purposes, make you look like the bad guy.”
“But I did owe him, Stuart. We were in a car accident, it was my fault. He needed me. And I felt so guilty. He reminded me constantly that I was to blame for his injury, and no one else would want someone as careless and stupid as me.”
“I would,” Stuart said quietly.
“You are unique…so very kind. I was so afraid you’d be angry when I ruined your sweater.”
He laughed. “You looked so scared! I almost laughed out loud. Do you know how many times I’ve been hooked? Mostly my fingers.”
“But you didn’t get angry or make me feel bad. That meant so much to me.”
“Emily, real men aren’t mean, they don’t belittle others or force them to do things out of guilt,” Lacey said to her sister. “Compare Stuart with Raymond. Who makes you feel loved, appreciated, happy about yourself?
Emily looked at Stuart and smiled.
Lacey continued. “Who makes you feel worthless and stupid? And Em, who would God want for you?”
“I know the answers, Lacey. But I’m afraid—not of you, Stuart. Of me. What if I hurt you?”
“How could you hurt me, Emily?” He stared at her. “Burn dinner? Hook me with a lure?”
“What if I can’t be what you need?” She looked at him earnestly.
He brushed her hair off her shoulder. “So what? Maybe things won’t work out between us. It happens. We have no guarantees. But Emily, I won’t punish you. I’ll simply move on.”
“Ugh, Stuart. You’re too nice.”
“Oh, yeah? You should have seen him with Raymond,” Lacey informed her. “He ran him out of here and threatened him.”
“You didn’t!” Emily laughed.
“I’ll do it again if I have to,” Stuart vowed.
“You did that for me,” Emily said in wonder. “And you hardly know me.”
“I like what I do know,” he insisted. “And I know Kate would have loved you also.”
“I wish I had known her,” Emily said.
He grinned. “Stick around long enough, you will. She was the marina.”
“It hurts me to think how much you must miss her.” Emily touched his arm.
“It’s getting better.”
Lacey chose this moment to disappear.
Stuart looked at the clock. “It’s really late now, Em. And you have to work tomorrow. Me too. Thelma will have my hide for being late. See you after work?”
“Yes. I hope you’re not too tired.”
“I can sleep on the boat and pretend I’m doing maintenance.”
She put both her hands on his chest. “You’ll be there at five? You won’t forget?”
“Not a chance.” He kissed her in a way that would remind her whom she wanted to be with. “See you tomorrow, Emily. Dream about me.”
She assured him she would, and let him out the door. As soon as it was closed, she yelled, “Lacey! Give me my pager and cell phone!”
“Why?” asked Lacey as she came out of her room.
“I want you to destroy them for me. Break them into little pieces.”
“Uh, I already got rid of your pager. But I can’t let you destroy your cell phone; you’re under contract. We’ll change the number. Or trade phones.”
“I guess that will work. I’ve made up my mind, Lacey. I choose Stuart.”
Emily pulled out the chocolate Stuart had bought her and offered it to her sister. “Now, tell me everything, Lacey. And don’t leave out a single word!”
They talked the rest of the night, until morning.
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