Chapter 17: Taking chances
The bright morning sun created a sea of crystal clear diamond sparkles across Lake Pontchartrain as the open-topped convertible cruised eastward along Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Cassie had her eyes closed as she relaxed with one arm resting on the open window, her legs crossed, the wind in her face, an occasional lock of hair in need of brushing back with her fingertips. The bright red polish of her freshly manicured nails matched the color on her toes fully exposed in white leather thong sandals. Her cotton knee-length sundress was white, with spaghetti straps, sweetheart neckline, and pleated skirt. Her black designer sunglasses matched her hair; the round frames complimented the squared shape of her face. The morning air was warm and humid already, but the cooled leather seats of the Infiniti made the ride comfortable.
Feeling his gaze on her, she opened her eyes and glanced over at the driver. His denim jeans were dark, his polo shirt the same shade of red as her nails. Good choice, she thought. The red complimented his skin tone. The Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses added an extra “Tom Cruise/Top Gun” sex appeal, not that the man seated behind the wheel of her convertible, his brown hair also blowing in the wind, needed the addition. Cassie already found him incredibly sexy.
“I love the view through here,” she said, referring to the vast estuary on their left.
"I'm enjoying it,” Jacob said, flashing his dimpled smile that always melted Cassie's heart.
She turned to check out the view on her right, then looked back at him.
“You like swamps?”
“They do have a certain charm about them, but that wasn’t the view I was enjoying,” he said as he now focused on the highway ahead.
Cassie blushed, then asked, to change the subject, “So, what do you think? Like the way it drives?”
“I do. I could get used to this pretty easily.”
“It was a splurge. After my divorce, I wanted a change, and Margo nixed the idea of me going blond, so I bought this instead.”
Jacob laughed, glancing back at her for a second.
“I’m glad. I can’t picture you as a blond. The car was the better choice.”
“I knew nothing about cars, what to buy, but I wanted something fun and frivolous, but not too small. I researched different models. This model impressed me the most for the price.”
“You always do your research first, don’t you?”
“I can’t help it; it’s just who I am.” The tone of her voice was defensive.
“It’s not a bad thing. I meant it as a compliment.”
She studied him for a few seconds. “How about you, Jacob? Do you ever do anything spontaneous?”
“Inviting you to come with me to New Orleans this morning was pretty spontaneous,” he said as he eased his foot off the gas pedal as they entered the city limits of Metairie, the first suburb of New Orleans on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Cassie smiled as she recalled the afternoon before at Tara. Jacob had walked her out to her car when she left, commenting on it when he saw she had driven it with the top down.
“Got the top down today! First time I’ve seen that!” he had said.
“Seemed like a good day for it,” she had casually replied.
“That is one sharp automobile,” he said as they neared it. “I bet it’s fun to drive. I assume it has the optional manual drive?”
“Yes, but I haven’t tried that, for fear of doing it wrong and messing up something. I stick with what's familiar to me.”
“Aww, Cassie, you’re missing out. Give it a try sometime. It gives you a more hands-on feel, more control of the car.”
“Maybe I will.”
They had reached the vehicle and were standing next to it. Jacob opened the door for her, then moved back out of her way. As she stepped around to get into the car, he cleared his throat.
“What?” she asked, facing him, standing between the car and the door, her hands on the open window.
“Um—you might want to dust off the back of your skirt before sitting on that white leather seat.”
“Why? What’s on my skirt?” she asked, stepping out from the door, and attempting to look at the back of her skirt.
“Just some dust from sitting on the Sheetrock,” Jacob replied.
Embarrassed, she dusted the back of her skirt with her hand.
“It’s not that bad.” Jacob stepped closer to her.
When she finished dusting her skirt and looked back to face him, she was surprised at how close he stood.
“You have a little bit here as well,” he said as he reached to touch her left cheek. His stroke was gentle as he removed the spot of dust with his thumb, his hand resting on her neck. Moving his hand to the nape of her neck, he took one step closer, leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. His kiss was first gentle, as it had been Friday night, then more aggressive, parting her lips with his tongue, both hands encompassing the back of her neck, pulling her even closer to him as she returned his kiss, her hands resting on his hips.
“I’ve missed you since Friday night. Glad you came out to feed Prissy,” he said, his eyes intent on hers as he ran his fingers through her hair, having pulled away, finally allowing her to catch her breath. “See you in the morning, I hope.”
“Yes,” she whispered in reply, trying to compose herself after the surprise and intensity of his kisses.
“See you then. Don’t get too carried away with that manual drive on your way home,” he teased. “Wouldn’t want you to get a ticket.”
“Don’t worry about that. I always drive the speed limit,” she assured him, and then immediately regretted it. Of course you do, Cassie. You never take chances; you never take risks.
Yet, standing there, next to her recently-purchased sports car, in front of the abandoned mansion bought with her inheritance from her Aunt Sissy with plans of turning it into a Bed and Breakfast, allowing her contractor’s tongue to explore her mouth while running his callused hands through her hair, taking over her heart possibly, seemed to all be pretty massive changes, pretty significant risks. For over twenty years, she had left the necessary decisions to Phillip, trusting his judgment. Now divorced from him and on her own, she was forced to make all the critical decisions herself. She couldn’t help wonder at that moment which choice she would end up regretting the most. The financial disappointment of the first two she would hate but could handle, the emotional distress of the third was an entirely different story.
“Good. I’m glad,” Jacob said, then turned and headed toward his truck, stopping almost immediately and spinning around.
“Darn. I almost forgot. I have business in New Orleans in the morning.”
“Then I’ll see you Tuesday,” Cassie replied, hoping her disappointment wasn’t apparent in her voice.
“Tuesday it is.”
Jacob had turned and once again headed toward his truck. Just as Cassie was about to step into her car, he called her name.
She stopped, turned to face him.
“Any chance you would consider going to New Orleans in the morning with me? I was thinking—my meeting is at ten in the French Quarter. If you wanted to do some shopping or sightseeing we could have lunch when my meeting ends. I’d enjoy the company during the drive over and back—if you don’t already have plans for tomorrow—”
Should she accept? Would it be a mistake to become personally involved with this man she had only known for a few months? Was it—was he—worth taking the chance of having her not-yet-mended-heart broken once more?
“It sounds fun, Jacob,” she had finally replied. “I’d love to go with you in the morning.”