Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 16

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Fortunately, in the spring following Olive's wedding, Jean found more freedom than she'd had in years. One crisp, clear day, she grabbed a sun hat with a knitted rose-colored sash around the brim, slung her bag over her shoulder, and headed out into the sunshine.

She walked for a long while, stopping now and again to skip a pebble or two. It was something a child would do, and she was supposed to have grown out of the habit a long time ago, but she couldn't see the point of giving up something that was so much fun.

She was planning to sketch one of the new houses being built about a mile down from her house. She loved watching the foundation go in and the studs go up for the walls. While she enjoyed seeing the finished product--cozy or grand, cute or historical--it was the internal workings of the building that truly captivated her.

Dorothy, a friend from school, called her name. After Jean slowly made her way over, Dorothy said, "Have I told you how much you remind me of a turtle?"

"Many, many times."

Jean just couldn't see the point of rushing anything. Perhaps it was because she was the youngest child. Olive had always been the one in a hurry. To walk, according to their parents, and certainly to fall in love. Whereas Jean simply enjoyed the world around her. She loved the lake. Loved her family, her friends. Loved reading great books and roasting marshmallows by a bonfire on the beach.

The two girls headed into the diner and drank hot chocolate while they chatted. Suddenly, Dorothy's eyes grew big as she looked at something over Jean's shoulder. "Oh my. Now, there's a man."

Dorothy had a tendency to be boy crazy, so Jean didn't give much credence to her statement. She didn't bother to turn around and see whom she was talking about. She was pulling out a few pennies to leave as a tip when Dorothy grabbed her arm and hissed, "He's coming over here. Act natural."

Jean laughed out loud. Of course she was going to act natural. She didn't care one way or another about some strange man.

At least, until he said, "Excuse me, ladies, could I intrude on your conversation for a moment to ask a quick question?" His deep, rich voice sent thrill bumps popping up one by one across the surface of her skin.

When Dorothy chirped, "Sure!" in an overly bright voice, Jean knew it was up to her to act normal for both of them.

She slowly turned around on her stool at the counter. "How may we help you?"

It was fortunate that she finished her sentence before she lifted her eyes to the man's face.

He was beyond handsome.

She'd studied the human face and form for years, both in books and with pencil and sketchbook in hand. But she'd never seen a face that held such symmetry. Only the slight bump across the bridge of his nose broke up the perfection. At the same time, it was the imperfection that so well highlighted everything else.

Perhaps it was her father's lockdown during a formative period in her growth, or maybe it was just her natural personality, but Jean had never learned the art of disguising her reactions. Which meant that she simply stared wide-eyed at the stranger. It wasn't hard to do, considering his eyes had locked on hers as well. Despite being in a crowded diner, it felt like they were the only two people in the room.

And deep in her soul, she knew that the man she would marry was standing right in front of her.

At long last, he cleared his throat. "My name is Thomas Kane. I've come to Summer Lake from New York City to meet with a Mr. Farrington this afternoon. But I'm afraid his business office on Main Street is locked. Do you have any idea where I might find him?"

Smiling up into his light green eyes, she said, "He's my father."

*

Their courtship was short and oh-so-sweet. Thankfully, her father was overjoyed by Thomas's attentions to his younger daughter.

Jean was overjoyed by them too, even if she didn't understand why Thomas thought he needed to give her so many gifts, such expensive things that were so pretty and so fragile. She supposed she could simply have said thank you over and over again without truly speaking her mind, but that felt like lying. And Jean didn't believe in lies.

"I don't need so many pretty things," she told him one night when he sat across from her at another fancy restaurant, another beautifully wrapped box sitting on her empty dinner plate. She gave it back to him. "If this is who you think I am, then I'm not sure you know me very well at all."

His gaze was as intense as she'd ever seen it when he replied, "I know exactly who you are, Jean. You're a loving daughter. You'd do anything for your sister. You'd risk a piece of yourself before you'd ever let one of your friends be hurt. You have no idea that you're the center of so many lives, that you're the lynchpin that holds them all together." He paused, looking down at the box in his hand, before looking back up and saying, "Anyone who knows you, anyone who loves you, would never try to keep you in his life with stupid gifts." The sincerity, and passion, in his gaze kept her spellbound as he said, "He would know that once you loved, it was forever."

She was in his arms a heartbeat later, the word forever echoing on her lips as she kissed him.

*

Three weeks after they'd first met at the diner, he found her by the lake, sketching. He hadn't needed to say a word, hadn't needed to announce his presence for her focus to shatter. Any time he was near, she lost hold of anything but him, was literally unable to keep from smiling. And there was nothing more she loved than the look in his eyes when he smiled back, as if she was a perfect surprise, a gift he'd never expected would be given to him.

But although she reached out for him to join her on the sandy shore, neither his serious expression nor his position changed. "What is it, Thomas? Is something wrong?"

His gaze roved over her face. "What would a brilliant girl like you want with a man like me?"

She didn't have to think about her reason. It was obvious. And very simple. "I love you."

She put her hands over his, and he lifted them to his lips in a gesture that seemed almost desperate. Something was wrong, but she didn't know what it could possibly be.

And then, almost in slow motion, she watched him drop to one knee on the soft green grass that bordered the sand. "Marry me. Please. You're all I truly want in the world. Just you."

Later, after they'd gorged on kisses and whispered promises, Thomas met with her father to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father was as happy as she'd seen him since Olive's wedding day.

*

Their wedding day dawned sunny, with spring flowers all around the inn for the ceremony and reception. Olive, Dorothy, and several other women from the knitting group had just finished helping her with the finishing touches on her hair and makeup and had gone, so that she could have a few quiet moments alone with her thoughts, when there was a knock on the door.

"Jean." Thomas stepped inside and stared at her in awe. "You're breathtaking. The most beautiful woman in the world."

She knew she was pretty at best. But when she saw herself through his eyes, she believed what he'd said.

A teasing smile on her face, she moved toward him in her wedding gown. "Don't you know it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony?"

But he didn't tease her back. "My luck changed the moment I set eyes on you."

His arms came around her then, and she barely had a chance to whisper, "Mine too," before he was kissing her with all the love in his heart...and she was kissing him back with just as much.

*

When she said, "I do," Jean realized that although she'd never felt incomplete, Thomas had completed her just the same. And oh, how she savored every moment of their wedding night in the penthouse suite at the inn, from the sweet kisses he ran all across her skin to his whispered words of love.

Her mother and then Olive had both pulled her aside to explain what was expected in the marriage bed. Of course, she'd read enough books over the years to have a pretty good idea already. And yet, nothing could have prepared her for Thomas. Not only the exquisite pleasure that he gave her, but also the depth o

f love in his eyes every time he looked at her.

When he finally stopped caressing and kissing her long enough for her to fall asleep in his arms, the last thing she heard over the beating of his heart beneath her ear was his low voice saying, "You'll have my heart forever."

Perfectly warm in the comfort of his arms, she fell into a dreamless sleep. She didn't need her old dreams anymore. She and Thomas would make new ones together.

But as the dark of night turned into dawn, the warmth leached out of the bed, out of the room. Out of Jean.

Because she awakened alone.

Thomas was gone.


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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