Elsie couldn’t take her eyes off Hildreth.
The way he moves.
The way he fights.
She clenched her hands into fists.
I want him.
I want to grab him.
I want to push him and shove him.
I want to grab his hair and pull it until he agrees to fight me. I want him to fight me. I want to feel the rush of danger and the thrill of possibly being hurt.
But I know him. He will never fight me like that. He will never hurt me. I shouldn’t expect him to.
Still, I can’t help it. I love seeing him in motion. I love seeing him fight like this. I can’t help wanting him to fight me in the same way.
The two guys finished their performance to very enthusiastic applause and cheers. Master Shinowa cheered the loudest.
Jeff hugged Hildreth again and the two guys parted. Jeff left the room while Hildreth returned to Elsie. He sat next to her with a broad grin on his face. “Come on, Els. Tell me you were a little bit impressed.”
“What? Wait. Did you do all of that for my benefit?”
He gave her a quick kiss. “Completely.”
She gaped, too astounded for words.
“After all this time we’ve been together, I know what you like.”
Heat blossomed from her earlobes all along the rims of her ears. “And what do I like, Hildreth Mayhew?”
“Oh, I was hoping you’d ask. You like me. You think I’m hot. You think my backside is the greatest thing God ever created. You think all sorts of whee-hooo! stuff when I’m fighting. You think—”
“I think you need to stop talking so I can kiss you.” She grabbed his hair along the sides of his head. “So I can really kiss you.”
“Oh, baby. Talkin’ all smutty in front of my boys. Mm. Your mother would approve.”
“Of course she would. So, Hildreth. Kiss me.”
“If you’re going to insist.”
“You know I will.”
His gaze dipped down to her lips. “I do.”
So, he did.
“So?” Elsie’s Aunt Vincienne rested her elbows on the table and looked flirtatiously at John. “Are you going to stay for the rest of the reception?”
“I would love to.” He smiled ruefully. “But I really need to head back home. I have a little girl waiting for me.”
“Oh? Is she yours?”
“No, she was a homeless girl that Barbara and Ambrose rescued. She’s staying with me until they return from their honeymoon.”
“Oh, I do admire a man who’s willing to take on such a big responsibility. It shows a level of maturity you just don’t see in a man nowadays.”
The other five women at the table chipped in an assortment of agreements. “So very true, V.” “Oh, absolutely!” “That’s true even with men our age.” “Oh, yes!”
“You should give her a call and let her know you’re coming.” Aunt Vincienne said.
“I would, but she isn’t able to speak.” He frowned and tried to remember if Barbara had explained the reason to him. “I don’t know why. So, even if I called her, she wouldn’t be able to tell me if she’s okay or not.”
“Ohh,” Aunt Vincienne fluttered her eyelashes at him. “You are so good and caring. I can’t believe you’re single!”
“Well. Actually, I’m widowed.”
All of the women gasped. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” “That’s so tragic!” “She was a lucky woman.”
Clarice returned to her seat. “Sorry I took so long! The restroom was crowded. I don’t even know why.”
John smiled up at her. “I’m the lucky one twice.”
Clarice and John exchanged a long, quiet glance before he resumed talking with the other ladies.
He’s so at ease with them. I don’t think he even realizes that Vincienne is flirting with him. Such a dear, wonderful man! I want to wrap him up in a cashmere sweater and take him home and bake him decadent brownies.
Now that I think about it, I do want to make him brownies. I want to make brownies with his help.
She laughed to herself.
Wow. That sounded like some bizarre innuendo. But, innuendo disregarded, I really do want to make brownies with him.
She took his hand and interlocked their fingers.
He stopped in mid-sentence and looked at her.
“I love you, John Addleston.”
He leaned in and kissed her. “I love you too.”