“Since we both have the rest of the day off, I have an idea,” he told her. “What do you say?”
“I’m not telling. Are you in or not?”
Her eyes narrowed as she bit her lip, then she finally nodded. “Okay, but I at least have to change and you…well, you need to be wearing more than boxers and socks.”
“Deal.” Eli laughed. “Let me grab a quick shower and check on Mom and Dad. I’ll be at your house in thirty minutes. Oh, and dress warm.”
As soon as she left, Eli’s eyes traveled back to the bed. Getting her out of that had been the smartest move he’d made—the hardest move, but still his smartest.
Shaking his head as he moved toward his bathroom, Eli figured up the time he had left in Stonerock. On one hand, he couldn’t leave soon enough. On the other, the thought of leaving clenched his heart. He’d never been ready to stay in one place before.
Unfortunately, now he had two places he wanted to be.
Nora had no clue where they were going. The silence in the car was deafening and Eli’s fresh-from-the-shower aroma enveloped her.
That intense moment on his bed really had her thinking…as if she’d been able to concentrate on much else other than this man lately.
As they passed all of the neighborhoods and turned to head into town, Nora wondered what he had in mind. She had a pretty good idea.
“You sure you’re feeling better?” she asked.
“Promise. There’s no way I’d be out with you if I thought I’d get you sick.” He reached over, grabbed her hand and squeezed. “I’m still upset you stayed and put yourself at risk, but if the roles were reversed, I would’ve done the same.”
Nora smiled. “Is that your way of saying thank you?”
“Yes. You were there when I needed you.”
But where were you when I needed you? She wanted to ask, but let the moment pass. Rehashing the past over and over would get them nowhere and, to be honest, she didn’t want to live in the past. She totally loved the Eli she used to know, but this Eli was different. There was almost a vulnerability to him. He’d seen and done more in his life than she’d ever know, which added a layer of intrigue.
The new Eli who greeted her nearly every day had her thinking of the future, thinking of them in ways she probably shouldn’t.
He captured her attention and touched her deeper than he ever had before. And even though he was leaving soon, he was here now and she’d take every second with him and turn it into a blessed memory.
When Eli turned into the park entrance, Nora smiled. Talk about a memory. They’d shared many here.
“This okay?” he asked, turning to look at her.
“More than okay. I haven’t been here forever.”
Nora stared at the light dusting of snow covering the fountain in the middle of the entrance, the evergreen wreaths on the gates. “I never take the time to come. Occasionally I’ll walk a few of the long-term boarding dogs, but I tend to just do that on the street by my clinic.”
“Well, then, we’ll just have to make the most of it today.”
Giddy with excitement, Nora jumped from Eli’s truck and pulled her hat down farther over her ears. Even the chill in the air couldn’t ruin this moment.
When he came around the side of the truck and took her hand, Nora accepted it and let him lead her through the entrance. Since it was nearing evening, some families were out showing kids the Christmas displays set up around the park. A small makeshift cabin posed as Santa’s toy shop, an old red caboose was adorned with a festive garland and a Santa was actually standing at the railing taking pictures with a line of children.
Nora’s free hand went to her belly as she thought of her baby girl. This time next year she’d be in that line waiting for precious milestone pictures.
Eli’s hand squeezed hers. “I can already see you dressing up your little girl for her first photo with Santa.”
Smiling up at him, Nora nodded. “I can’t wait.”
They walked on, heading toward the arched stone bridge that crossed over the wide creek running through the park. Nora stopped on the bridge, resting her hands on the concrete barrier.