"I don't know. Christmas is coming..."
"I'm not talking about for Christmas. I'm talking about forever."
John's heartfelt proposal was met with silence. Straining to hear her mother's response, Dawn held herself still. Her fingers were crossed and her breath lodged in her throat. Silently, she prayed that her mother would answer in the affirmative. The past three weeks filled with inspired matchmaking couldn't have been for nothing. Her mother simply had to say yes!
"What are you doing?"
Dawn’s hand flew to her throat as her gaze flew to Lucky. His blue eyes twinkled with merriment and a grin was on his face. Her eyes narrowed as she looked back at him. "Ssh!"
"Don't shush me!" he whispered back her. "Eavesdropping on your mother is bad!"
"I know," she said with a pout, "but I have to know what's going on! John is asking her to marry him and-"
"Come on!" He pulled her to her feet and pulled her down the stairs. As they landed on the bottom step, she hit his arm. "Ouch!" he cried. "What did you do that for?"
"I was about to ask you the same!" she said. "You didn't have to pull me away."
"Oh, yes, I did," he told her. "Besides, we have someplace to be and I don't want to be late."
Dawn's irritated expression softened to one of compassion. She rubbed Lucky's arm where she had hit him and then she reached for his hands. "Are you nervous?" she asked.
Sensations exploded through Lucky as he gazed into her caring eyes. Her love surrounded him and took his fears away. "I'm doing okay. You're still coming with me, right?"
"Try to stop me," she said. "You look amazing. That blue silk shirt brings out your eyes and those black jeans… Well, I'll keep that to myself."
Heat infused his cheeks, turning them into a bright crimson. His sapphire eyes darkened as his gaze roamed over her. The wool forest green dress clung to her every curve. Delicious shades of red colored her lips, reminding Lucky of sweet, plump cherries. Hunger gripped him and unable to resist, he pulled her into his arms.
His mouth opened over hers in a sinfully sensual kiss. Dawn's hands clenched his biceps and Lucky squeezed her close to him, steadying both of them. When he raised his head to look into her eyes, he lost his breath. The desire that shone in her eyes made him dizzy with need for her, too. He ached to quench the fires that their passionate kiss had stoked, but they had some place to be. Sadly, he ended their embrace and took her hand, leading her to the hall closet.
"You're distracting me," he scolded in a husky murmur.
"Sorry," she said. Her fingers closed over his as he wrapped her matching black and green cape around her shoulders. "Are you really okay about dinner tonight? I'm sure that Nikolas has mellowed out some since the last time you spoke with him. I really doubt if he'll be as pissed as he was before."
"He's entitled," Lucky admitted. He gave her shoulders a slight squeeze before he moved to take his own coat from the closet. As he pulled his belt closed around the coat, he looked at her. From her eyes, he could see that words of encouragement were on her lips. He shook his head to silence her. "Really, Sweetheart. I'm not worried about tonight. Nikolas and I will work through it. It may take some time, but it'll happen. I love you for worrying about me."
"I can't help but worry about you. I love you," she said.
"I know, and it feels great." He kissed her cheek and then took her hand. "Let's go, lady."
"Let me see your list."
Raising an eyebrow, Ellen looked up from her sheets of paper to Matt's outstretched hand. The grin on his handsome face softened her and the tart response that initially came to her mind was pushed aside. A seductive gleam sparkled in her brown eyes and huskily she said, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
"Now, that's an offer I can't refuse!" Matt pulled his black cashmere sweater over his head and his hands went straight to his belt buckle. Ellen fell back against the sofa in laughter. "What?" he asked, pausing for a moment.
"I was not talking body parts, Doctor," she told him between spurts of laughter. "I never knew it before, but you have a one track mind. You're always trying to disrobe."
"And do you have a problem with that?" he asked, leaning over her. His arms were steel bars that trapped her against the sofa.
"With you getting naked?" she asked, grinning back at him. "Never. Bring it on, Dr. Harmon!"
"You're insatiable," he accused with a wolfish grin. "I'll bring it on, but first, a peek at your list."
"Matt!" Ellen squealed as he took the paper from her hands. He held the sheets high above her head, preventing her from getting her list back. "Matt, I'm done with it, yet."
"That's okay. I just want to see how many you're inviting." He waved her hands away as he looked over her list. After looking over all of the sheets, he began to frown. "Ellen, you've scratched off more than you've listed. What gives?"
"I'm not sure," she mumbled. She pulled her legs underneath her and looked down at her hands. "Maybe a small intimate wedding would be best. It's not like I have that many friends."
"That's not true," he replied. "You have lots of friends. There's Kevin and Dara…Carrie and John…Dawn and Lucky…Eve and Scott… Not to mention the hospital staff. What do you mean you don't have any friends? Besides, what's going on with Winston? He's not even on the list. Did I miss something?"
Shrugging, she said, "I dunno."
"Ellen," he said softly, "are you getting cold feet?"
She quickly looked at him. "No. I want to marry you. Nothing will me happier than being your wife and spending the rest of my life with you."
"So, what's the problem?" He set the sheets of paper down on the coffee table. Sitting close beside her, he took her hands in his. "Why isn't Winston on the list and why is Alice listed five times with a cross through her name four of those five times? Talk to me."
"I guess I'm being chicken where my family's concerned. They hated that I married Sam. Maybe I'm afraid of their rejection again. Maybe it would be better if they were told after the fact."
"Are you ashamed of me?" he asked her quietly. His dark eyes never left hers as he waited for her response. He didn't have long to wait.
"No!" she said, holding on tightly to his hands. "Of course, I'm not ashamed of you. I love you. This isn't about you, really. It's about me. My family and I made some progress, but sometimes, I still feel like the girl who ran away. I feel like that I have to measure up and sometimes, I just don't want to feel that way. Winston and Mama adore you, Matt. This is just my hang up. Don't worry about it, okay? I'll find a way to deal with it."
"You don't have to 'deal' with it, love," Matt said. "Please, don't try to brush this aside like it's not important. You're not as happy as you should be. It's my job to fix that. We're getting married and this should be the happiest times of our lives. If you're not happy, neither am I."
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't want you to get upset-"
"Ellen!" he cried, exasperated. "I'm not upset with you. I’d like for us to find a way to bring a smile back to your beautiful face. Can we?"
"You already have," she said, wrapping her arms around him. Her head fell to his chest, rising with his every breath. "Just knowing that you care so much makes me smile. I guess there's two ways that we can fix this."
"I'm listening," he said as his large hands stroked her arms and back.
"We can either elope or…" she paused for effect, "I can call them and talk to them."
"I'd love to elope with you, but I would much rather marry you before God and our family and friends."
"Hand me the phone!" she grumbled good-naturedly.