She turned and shouted back, "No, I will not!"
She had to get out. Grabbing her purse, she was halfway to her car when she realized she'd been so furious with Bruce she'd forgotten her coat. By the time she'd unlocked the house, retrieved her coat and climbed inside her vehicle, she saw Bruce's car turn the corner. She sped away and prayed he hadn't seen her.
No such luck. Not only did he see her, he followed her into the Safeway lot. He parked two cars over, and left his car the same moment she did.
"Why are you mad at me?" he asked.
Rachel ignored him and hurried toward the store, as intent as if she were gathering provisions before a snowstorm.
Bruce refused to give up. "I don't understand what I said that was so horrible," he said, trotting beside her. "Nate Olsen would be a good husband for you."
Rachel didn't deign to reply.
"He loves you."
She continued to ignore him and seized a cart at the outside entrance to the store.
"Nate has connections and money and prestige." Bruce collected a cart of his own.
She'd had enough. Whirling around to face him, she demanded an answer. "Why did you kiss me?"
"Any of those times."
"Why?" he repeated. "I don't know. I guess I shouldn't have."
"I couldn't agree with you more." She shoved her cart past him and noticed that the other shoppers moved quickly out of her way. Apparently these strangers recognized the mood she was in. Bruce, unfortunately, didn't seem to.
As she tore down the aisle, Rachel tossed in items, although she had no idea what they were or if she needed them. Bruce was right behind her at the checkout stand.
When she'd finished paying, he abandoned his empty cart and reached for her groceries. "I'll carry these for you."
"I'm capable of taking out my own groceries."
"I'm sure you are." He walked out of the store, hauling her three bags.
Rachel had no other choice but to follow him. When she got to her car, Bruce was standing there, waiting for her.
"I think it's fairly evident that we need to talk," he said calmly.
Rachel glared at him in response. "All right. What do you want to say?"
He exhaled. "I lied."
"About what?" she asked, folding her arms.
"I don't want you to marry Nate. In fact, I'm convinced it would be the wrong thing for everyone involved-including me. Especially me."
"But you said-"
"I know what I said, and I didn't mean a word of it."
"Then why say it?"
He shook his head mournfully. "Because in every way that counts, Lover Boy is the better man."
She didn't bother chastising him for the derogatory nickname; it didn't matter anymore.
"Better than whom?" she muttered.
That caught him up short. For a moment Bruce didn't respond. When he did, his back was straight and his fists clenched. "Me."
"You?" She dropped her arms. It'd taken him long enough to get to the point.
He inhaled sharply. "I love you, Rachel. I don't know when it happened. All I know is how I feel. If you married Nate, it would devastate me. Not just Jolene. Me."
"I told you I broke up with him." She also remembered his reaction. Zilch. Zero. Nothing.
"Why?" he asked. "Why did you break up with him?"
"Because the night I was kidnapped, I realized I was in love with you. I was afraid I was going to die, and it was you I thought about. It wasn't Nate."
He took one step toward her. "Then why are we fighting?"
"Because when I told you I'd broken up with Nate, you...you acted like you didn't care."
He blinked. "I...did?"
"Yes, you did."
"Maybe I was afraid to believe it was true."
"Or maybe you don't know what you want."
"Oh, yes, I do," he insisted. "I'm in love with you, and I have been for a long, long time."
She frowned, unsure she could trust him. "Then why aren't you holding me?"
He grinned. "Mainly because I'm loaded down with these bags."
Rachel promptly unlocked her car door and as soon as Bruce had set the groceries aside, she was in his arms. Then he was kissing her, and it was every bit as good as that night at the Taco Shack. No, better. She hadn't thought that was possible.
"Thank God," he whispered over and over. "I was so afraid I'd lose you."
Rachel had been afraid, too.
"I'm not in favor of long engagements," Bruce told her. He kissed her again, deeper this time. His kisses were filled with meaning, with joy and antic.i.p.ation.
"I'm not, either."
"Oh, Bruce, I can't believe you really love me."
"Believe it. I think I always knew," he admitted. "But the night you were kidnapped made it completely clear." He grimaced. "That Russian chess player actually did us both a favor." His arms tightened around her.
"I know," Rachel murmured.
"After Stephanie was killed, I didn't think I could ever love another woman. But I do, Rachel. I love you. I can't impress you with a big diamond or a fancy house. I'm just a regular kind of guy trying to make a living and raise my daughter. I've been alone for years, but I don't want to be alone anymore."
Rachel didn't, either. She'd been lost, adrift, afraid. For the first time since her mother's death, when Rachel was nine years old, she had a family.
Emily Flemming sat down at the piano in the church sanctuary. She poised her hands above the keys. In quiet moments like this, she enjoyed playing the piano and singing hymns. They brought her a feeling of peace.
Dave was due back at the church soon. He was on one of his routine calls to shut-ins. Her husband had a strong sense of responsibility and an equally strong sense of compassion. Being married to a minister wasn't easy; the demands on Dave took him away from the family five or six nights a week. Lately, he'd been gone even later and longer than usual. When he returned to the house, their sons were always fast asleep, and Dave would be mentally and physically exhausted. That was one reason she was looking forward to a relaxing evening. It was their anniversary, and they were going to D.D.'s on the Cove.
After she'd been playing and singing for about thirty minutes, her voice grew tired and she decided to wait for Dave in the church office.
When she got there, Angel, the church secretary, was shutting down her computer for the evening. "I'm sure he'll be back any minute," the middle-aged woman said.
"I'm sure he will, too." Dave had promised to take her out for dinner before he met with the Finance Committee to work on the church budget for next year.
She was afraid moving to 8 Sandpiper Way earlier in the year had strained the family's already tight budget. Emily blamed herself; she'd seen the house and fallen in love with it. Despite her protests that they couldn't afford a new home, Dave had insisted on buying it for her. She loved him all the more for it.
"I'll wait inside his office," Emily said as Angel gathered up her things. "There's no need for you to stay."
Angel hesitated. "Gary and I are going to a movie with friends tonight."
"Go," Emily said, waving her out the door.
Wandering around her husband's office, Emily looked at the books in his bookcase and the objects on his desk. He seemed to accumulate books the way some women did shoes.
His favorite jacket hung on the door. Apparently he'd forgotten it at the office this morning. Taking it off the hook, she draped it over her arm and then heard something hit the floor. Whatever it was rolled beneath the desk.
Getting down on all fours, Emily discovered a woman's earring. It looked expensive. Diamonds? She checked the pocket; there wasn't another one. If this was a surprise anniversary gift, then there'd obviously be two. They'd be in a jeweler's box as well. These were elaborate and somewhat old-fashioned-certainly not her style. Dave would know that.
An eerie sensation came over her. Surely Dave wasn't seeing another woman. He couldn't be-could he? Her mind flashed back on the past few months, and she was startled to realize that their love life wasn't what it had once been. When had this happened? Six months ago? A year?
She suddenly grew cold as she recalled a recent visit by Sheriff Troy Davis. He'd come to question Dave about Martha Evans and her missing jewelry. Could this earring have belonged to the wealthy old woman? There was a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She heard the church door open. "Emily?"
"I'm here, Dave," she called.
Hurriedly shoving the earring in her purse, Emily forced a smile and went out to greet her husband. As she did, she wondered for the first time in her life if she really knew this man.
74 SEASIDE AVENUE.
Copyright 2007 by Debbie Macomber.
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