Valentines day anthology.., p.11
Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs, page 11
He took a deep breath and bit his lip. This couldn’t be happening.
Nugget continued to lick all over him, and Adam was willing to let him just so he could avoid the woman who was already permeating his senses. She was consuming him, right there on the spot.
“Your dog must be quite young yet,” she said. “I’ve been watching him. And you. I was sitting on that bench over there trying to read my book, but I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You were so cute with that baby.”
Adam squeezed his eyes shut. It was all he could do, because he had absolutely no control over what his mouth was doing. Damn that whopping dose of love potion. “I’m Adam Conrad Douglas. Twenty-four years old. Degree in business, now studying accounting. I’ll be a very loyal and loving husband and will be perfectly capable of providing a comfortable home for our two point two kids. You won’t have to work outside the home if you don’t want to, but I’ll support you in whatever decision you make.”
Except for Nugget’s heavy breathing and slobbering.
Adam peeked between his fingers.
The woman stood there looking down at them, her head cocked to the side. Oddly enough, she didn’t look too terrified. But she did glow almost blindingly, with pink sparkles in the air and the goofy faces of Val and Tiny and Cupid floating around in circles.
He covered his eyes again. He hadn’t even gotten a good look at her. The glow was too bright.
“I know who you are, Adam Conrad Douglas. I’ve seen you in this park dozens of times, and I’ve had a few classes with you in the past. I graduated last year with a business degree, and I work as a buyer for a department store.”
Adam nodded. He could work with that. So far.
The woman continued. “I didn’t know you knew who I was though. I mean, not well enough for you to propose.” She stepped toward him. “Was that a proposal?”
Adam tightened the grip over his face and nodded.
“How did you know I wanted kids?”
“Because…” He had no idea that she wanted kids. But he wanted kids. Someday. Not any time soon.
The woman crouched down to the ground and petted Nugget. “I’d like to travel before I have kids. And enjoy my pets. I haven’t had pets since I lived at home with my parents, but I’m looking for a little dog now. Maybe a cat, too.”
Adam could deal with another dog, and he wasn’t opposed to a cat. Nugget might lick it to death though. They’d have to get a tough one.
Nugget returned the woman’s affection, pushing her over and licking her face, bringing out a beautiful giggle.
Adam’s whole body burst with protective energy, and he jumped to his feet. “Nugget! Knock it off. You can’t do that to complete strangers!” With all his might, he pulled Nugget off her and attached the leash. “Sit!”
Nugget stood there, wagging and wiggling, panting and slobbering. Mocking.
The woman laughed harder.
Embarrassed for so many reasons, Adam held out his hand to help her sit up. She wiped tears from her eyes as he picked up the crumpled rose and bag. “I’m sorry for all of this.” He wanted to say more, but anything he said would have been just as ridiculous as what had just happened. He shoved the rose and bag in front of her.
Her laughter quietened as she reached out for them, leaving her with nothing but a beautiful smile and soft, twinkling eyes. Adam couldn’t tear his gaze away from her.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper. She turned to Nugget and schooled her features. “Allow me to introduce myself so that I’m no longer a complete stranger to you. My name is Carly April Jones, soon to be Douglas, and I’m going to be your mommy. But that doesn’t mean you can keep knocking me over. And you’re going to have to play nice with your sisters and brothers, okay?”
Nugget woofed and knocked her back over with big sloppy doggy kisses.
Adam leaned over, relieved to now know the name of his future bride. “Does that mean you accept?”
Somewhere between the giggles, he heard a high-pitched yes.
Ellie paced the floor, her stomach alive with butterflies. She wanted to become Mrs. Stephen Cantrell more than anything in her life. But this was a big step, and she had no idea how to do it. Was it appropriate for a woman to be romantic to her boyfriend? Was she supposed to get down on one knee and ask him to marry her? She couldn’t very well present him with a ring because men didn’t wear them until the actual wedding ceremony.
She studied the table setting. This was a bad idea. She shouldn’t be asserting herself like this. This wasn’t the custom, and he would probably be uncomfortable.
She rushed to the table to blow out the candles and pick up her mother’s china. She had inherited it on her mother’s passing, and Stephen knew she’d only use it for special occasions. She’d already cooked the lamb and fixings, so she couldn’t undo that, but she could at least replace the dishes with the everyday dinnerware.
Yes, yes, that was what she needed to do. She picked up the dishes and scurried to put them away, but then turned back to the table. It was empty and lonely looking without them. Even if she didn’t propose, Valentine’s Day was still a special day. She could give him that much without looking too forward.
She was so torn with what to do that bells sounded in her head. She wanted so badly for this to be perfect. She stared at the plates in her arms, and the bell sounded again.
It was the doorbell, not her head. Who the heck was at the door? She needed to get rid of the person quickly before Stephen arrived.
She set the plates down and hurried to the door in a frenzy, whipping it open, ready to go into beast mode. Nothing would interfere with her special evening alone with her man.
A huge bouquet of red roses filled the doorway. At least three dozen. They slowly lowered, and soon she saw Stephen’s sweet face smiling at her. “Surprise. I came early because I couldn’t wait to be with you.”
Her heart leapt with joy. God, she loved this man. He was too good to be true, and he was all hers.
He stepped inside and set the roses on the credenza, then pulled her into his arms. “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart.”
Their lips met, and in no time their tongues were gliding against each other. Her skin became warm and even more sensitive than usual. She was aware of every fiber of the nylons and garters and garter belt. The sexy little panties and tiny shelf bra. She’d never worn these types of undergarments before. He’d seen her in several naughty nighties, but nothing like this. Val had lingerie Ellie had never dreamed of.
Stephen pulled away. “Are you wearing a new perfume? It’s making me crazy.”
Ellie bit her lip and nodded. Val said couldn’t resist it.
He looked her up and down. “And a new dress? Did you go shopping today?”
“Yes. This is a special day and I want to celebrate it.”
His eyes lingered on the low-cut neckline and tight bodice. “I think we’ll be celebrating without that dress after while.”
Her cheeks heated. “I hope so.”
He took her hand and led her to the table. “Ellie, I’m dying to give you your gift. I’ve had it for weeks and it’s burning a hole in my pocket. Can we do this now before we eat?” He pulled the chair out for her to sit. “You’re using the china?”
Ellie glanced at the dishes. Why had she doubted? Everything she’d done was perfect, and this night would be perfect. Val had told her so, and for some reason she couldn’t understand, she trusted her.
Stephen kneeled in front of Ellie and reached inside his pocket. “Ellie, I love you so much, and I want to give you the world.”
Tears formed. This was it. He was asking her to marry him. He was ruining her plans, but she loved him for it. Her heart pounded as his hand fumbled in his pocket.
With twinkling eyes, Stephen pulled out two slips of paper. Tickets of some sort. Her heart sank.
He took her hand and pl
Ellie chuckled as tears trickled down her cheeks. This was it. The perfect moment. She lowered herself to the floor, kneeling with him. “Stephen, I want to experience the world with you, but I only ask one thing of you.”
His brow lifted.
Taking in all the courage from the perfume and lingerie and roses and chocolate covered strawberries, she finally breathed out the words she had been so scared to say. “Will you marry me?”
A silence ensued.
A cold tingle went down her spine. Why had she done this? She should have been more patient. Why did she trust Val so much? She didn’t even know Val.
Stephen leaned in and softly kissed Ellie’s lips. “That’s the only thing that would make this trip more perfect.” He reached in his pocket again and pulled out a small box. “I was going to wait until after dinner for this part, but now seems more appropriate.” He flipped the box open and took out a sparkling diamond ring. “Greece is going to be our honeymoon, baby.”
“Sweetheart! Stop!” Val’s eyes went wide as her dear husband pulled out several long-stemmed roses from the bunch. She’d turned away for a mere moment to package a heart-shaped picture frame, but that was all it took for the damage to be done.
Confused eyes stared up at her. “What’s wrong, honey pooh? I’m just bundling a dozen roses for the kind gentleman.” His reddened face jerked toward the man on the other side of the cart who was watching the awkward interaction.
Val took a deep breath and fanned herself. No change in destiny would happen. Everything would be okay. The customer would be slightly ahead of schedule, but so be it.
She patted her husband’s hand. “It’s okay, lovey dovey. I had one rose set aside for someone else, but it’ll be alright. A rose is a rose, right?”
Tiny’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t realize we were, um…holding anything for someone.”
A giggle filled the air as Cupid kicked in his stroller, waving his new-age electronic device around. He looked up at his parents and grinned, then lifted his brow at his mother.
That laced rose was Val and Cupid’s secret, but everything had worked out and so it hadn’t been needed.
With a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face, Val stroked her son’s cheek before taking the bundle of roses from her husband. She winked at the customer. “I’ll wrap these up for you, sir, so you can be on your way. I wouldn’t be surprised if your lady friend is quite…open with you tonight.” She leaned in and whispered. “Roses seem to have a magical effect on some women.”
Tiny gritted his teeth. “Some women more than others.”
The man nodded. “I hope so. I have special plans for her in a few weeks, but I want to make this night special, too.”
“Oh, that sounds lovely!” Val said. “A few weeks from now, eh? Are you going to propose?”
Tiny turned to Cupid and muttered under his breath. “Yes, a few weeks. From now. Not tonight.”
Cupid looked up at him, blue eyes flashing with humor, and tapped a pen on his lip. Tiny bristled.
“Here you go, dearie,” Val said, handing over the package and bundle of roses. “Have a beautiful date with your love.”
“Oh, I will,” the man said. “I most definitely will.”
Nothing but the tweeting of the birds and the muffled sound of the traffic could be heard as Val merrily tidied up the cart. She was happy. Their missions were completed successfully, and this man was a mere bonus. Now she could relax as the non-targets strolled by.
“Honey-darling?” Tiny’s voice was tender, yet there was a definite air of anger to it.
“I think you owe me an explanation.”
Val sighed. She didn’t like lying to her husband, even though what she and Cupid had done was right and Tiny was wrong. It was easier on everyone when they didn’t get caught.
She sat on the bench next to the cart and took Tiny’s hand, looking lovingly in his eyes. “Schmoopsy-pooh, you have to believe me when I say I don’t like doing things behind your back. But you need to trust Cupid more than you do. Sure, he’s young, but he’s up on the times. He’s been doing this for a thousand years. He keeps up with the latest tracking capabilities, and his timing is much more punctual than our system. We’re old-fashioned.”
Tiny glared at his son who was scrolling through his tablet. “Tell me what you and your mother did today.”
Cupid rested back in his stroller and looked at the sky. “Well, I can tell you I don’t need to go practice my archery skills. All my shots were spot on.”
“You hit the back of Ben’s phone. How’s that spot on?”
“The timing wasn’t quite right. I needed to muck up that mission in order to distract you so that I could get Adam.”
“Adam. Yes, Adam. You hit him in the hand. That split second his arm was in that position had to be coincidence.”
Cupid shook his head and grinned. “I’m good. I wanted him to notice it so that he’d pick it up. Worked, didn’t it?”
Tiny turned to Val. “And you were in on this?”
She nodded. “You wouldn’t have gone along with it, honey bunny.”
“Did you even put any anti-love potion in the drink?”
“Yes, dear. Just a little bit. Poor Adam didn’t need that big of a dose to get the job done. He’s not even going to be able to control his mouth, the poor love.”
Tiny sighed and looked to the sky. “And you gave him the laced rose? I had assumed it was just an ordinary one.”
“Oh, good heavens no. Adam will come on to her so strong that she will need it to neutralize her reaction. She’ll run away for good, otherwise.”
At Cupid’s inability to muffle his giggling, Val patted his chubby little hand. He lost all control and burst out with laughter, holding his device up with a real-time image of the couple walking leisurely along a path. “It’s already done! You should’ve seen the poor guy. He couldn’t even fight it.”
Tiny raked his hands over his face. “How did Carly take it?”
“Couldn’t have gone smoother, even without that extra rose. I think Nugget kept her too distracted to notice how weird it was. They’re taking Nugget home now and then going out to dinner to get to know each other.”
Val nodded vigorously. “Thank goodness. I saw the potion get knocked from his hand, but I didn’t have time to make more. So I laced another rose real quick.”
Tiny stared in the distance. “And he ran off before we could get it to him. How are we getting so bad at this?”
Val rubbed her husband’s arm. “Sugar pie, we’re not bad at this. We’re wonderful at this. We’re actually getting better with Cupid’s technology.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen until Monday.”
“No, Dad. Your calculations are off just a little. That happens after a thousand years, so don’t feel bad. But Adam’s so wrapped up in school, and Carly in her books, that they wouldn’t have noticed each other anyway. Humans are too distracted to look around these days. We have to help them out with that.”
“I know how humans work, son. Ben was my guy, remember? He had his nose glued to his phone even while he walked by us. I mean,” Tiny waved his hand at the obnoxious pink, sparkly vendor’s cart and then themselves. “How could you not notice us?”
Val clapped her hands together, her eyes wide with excitement. “Looks like he’s noticing us now!” She stood and leaned over the cart, smiling wide and waving her hand dramatically. “Hello, Mr. Ben! It’s lovely to see you, Miss Janine.”
Tiny scrambled to the front of the cart, looking at his watch. “Ben! It’s about time. I expected you six minutes ago.”
Hand in hand, the smiling couple approached in a daze that only the love-enhanced chocolate covered strawberries could produce.
Cupid spoke under his breath so that only Val could hear. “Mom, Ben is right on time. It’s Dad who’s off.”
Val patted Cupid’s golden curls. “I know, darling boy.”
Tiny stuck his hand out to shake Ben’s. “How’d your meeting go?”
Ben chuckled. “Got the job. But better yet, I got the girl. Didn’t even know I wanted one. But Janine’s…” Ben lifted his brow. “Wait. You already knew this was gonna happen, didn’t you?”
Tiny shrugged. “Well, yeah…”
Val bounced on her feet and clapped her hands. “But we’d still love to hear the details!”
Cupid rolled his eyes. He was happy to be hidden behind the shelter of the cart so he wouldn’t have to witness the dreamy eyes. He loved romance and love and all that mushy stuff, but his parents never let up. He had to deal with their overzealous romance every single day, every single year, decade, century, millennium…
Janine touched Ben’s arm. “I’ll tell the story.” She turned to Val and Tiny. “I’ve never seen him so dreamy. He came in with a beautiful, sexy smile. Melted my heart right there on the spot. I’ve been in love with him for months now, but he never even noticed me. I was always too shy to introduce myself.
“I was quivering in my chair when he walked in and looked at me. Then he handed me the rose and the bag with the strawberry, and something came over me. My shyness just seemed to vanish.”
Val nodded. “That’s what roses do, lovely lady.”
“Right,” Janine said. She knitted her brows for just a moment, then went on. “So then after our meeting, he asked me out, and, and…” Janine bounced and held Ben’s hand up between them. “And I said YES! I’ve never gone on a date before. Not a real one. I was always too scared. But with Ben, I’m not scared at all. I trust him.”
Tiny elbowed Ben in the hip and winked up at him. “And then you shared the strawberry?”
Ben looked down at Tiny. “Just a few minutes ago. How’d you know?”
“And then you kissed?” Tiny said with a wink.
by Renee Grace Thompson have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes