Thwarted Plans Make Life Perfect
Thwarted Plans Make Life Perfect
When Caleb arrived, she was waiting on the front steps. He raced his truck down the street and hit the curb when he pulled up to it. When he got closer to her, she could smell cigarette smoke on his clothes and alcohol on his breath. He’d been drinking, probably at a bar. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have asked him to come over at night.
She pointed out the brown streaks and spots and the dead plants. He picked up a handful of soil beneath one victimized bush and sniffed.
“It smells like bleach. Whoever did this was an amateur hack and they probably used powdered bleach. They just dumped it around randomly and left. There would have been enough time between watering sessions for the damage to happen.”
“Can the plants be saved?”
“No. They’re dead—and the grass is dead, too. You’ll have to take out the old plants and replace them. But first, we have to wait a few weeks for the watering to dilute the soil. The dead grass is basically in a path from east to west, so a couple of rolls of new sod would take care of it.”
“Well, Dagan—I mean, Mr. Brandt, would have to decide what he wants to do. I guess there’s no hurry since you’re saying we have to wait and water for a few weeks to get the bleach out of the soil before we can replant.”
“I can write down a rough quote for the replacement costs right now if you want.”
Running a hand through her hair, she sighed. “I guess that’s a good idea.”
She headed for the house and Caleb followed. When he’d slammed the door shut behind them, he shoved her up against the wall.
“What’re you doing, Caleb?” Her voice was shrill.
“I’m doing what I’ve wanted to for a long time.”
“Let me go.”
He shook his head. The alcohol on his breath made her want to gag. She tried to break free, but he was bigger, heavier, and much stronger. Curse those muscles built by years of landscaping work.
His mouth came down on hers, hard and bruising. She could taste something strong and nasty like cheap scotch or vodka as he invaded her mouth. The more she struggled, the harder he pinned her against the wall.
Fear of what might happen to her made his touch grow more and more painful. Suddenly, he flew backwards and away from her. He tried to pull her with him by the fistful of her shirt he’d grabbed, and she nearly lost her balance. The sound of flesh smacking into flesh was punctuated by a grunt. Had somebody hit him? She opened her eyes.
Dagan held Caleb by the shirt front and had a fist ready in the air. Caleb held up a hand in surrender. She’d never been so glad to see her dark-haired boyfriend. He growled, “What the hell are you doing in my house attacking my girlfriend?”
Caleb’s eyes went wide. “I didn’t know she was your girlfriend. She told me she was dating someone long distance, but I figured it wasn’t serious.”
“It doesn’t matter what you thought. She didn’t want you to kiss her, and that’s all that matters, you stupid sack of shit!” He punched Caleb again, this time knocking him out. Picking up his phone, he dialed 911 and asked for an officer to come to his address. Then, he called his attorney and asked him to come to the house. Finally, he turned back to Caitlyn.
She stared at him, wide-eyed. “When did you get back? I didn’t know you were coming back—and thank you for rescuing me.”
“I wanted to surprise you—which was apparently a really bad idea.” He rushed over to her, enfolding her in a tight hug. “I’d just come in through the garage when I heard you tell him to stop. I ran over here and…I’m so sorry he did that.”
She was surprised to find that she was shaking. Taking several deep breaths, she willed herself to calm down as Dagan just held her and rubbed her back. Finally, when her breathing was almost normal, he released her and stepped back.
“I wanted to get done early and come back to surprise you, so I just about killed myself working non-stop at the refinery. When they had what they needed and agreed the contract was done, I got the first flight back without calling you first. So much for fun surprises.”
She frowned. “I wanted everything to be perfect when you got back. I just got back from visiting my parents and saw that someone had vandalized your new landscaping, so I called Caleb to see about fixing it before you got home. I had no idea he’d attack me—he’s always been so professional before. He’d apparently been out drinking with his friends.”
“That doesn’t excuse him assaulting you. Right now, I don’t give a damn about the lawn. I just want to take care of you.”
The chime of the doorbell made them both jump. A police officer and a well-dressed man who she guessed was the lawyer both stood on the porch. Caitlyn and Dagan both told their side of the story. Caleb woke up, but wouldn’t talk to anyone. Dagan’s lawyer agreed to get a restraining order against Caleb, and Dagan told Caleb that if he ever came to the house again it would be criminal trespassing. Since he hadn’t actually harmed her, Caitlyn didn’t press charges against him. Finally, everyone was gone and Dagan turned to her.
“How are you doing? Can I get you something?”
“I could use some strong coffee.”
He glanced toward the kitchen. “We both just got back from trips. Let’s go out for coffee at the Starbucks.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She followed him out to his Lexus. He helped her into the passenger seat. When the car was rolling down the street, she turned to him.
“Where did you get this car?”
“I let a friend of mine use it while I was gone. I’d arranged it before I ever met you. He took good care of it.”
“That’s nice of him.” She let her head fall back into the black leather headrest, emotionally wrung out.
When they reached the coffee shop, he let her out of the car and helped her inside. He ordered two lattes and some sweet bread. They sat in the same booth they’d first talked in after Dagan had ordered her out of his house. Things had changed a lot since that first coffee they’d shared.
He reached across the table and wrapped his hand around hers. “How was the visit with your family?” The warmth in his expression filled her with peace.
“It was…eventful. Evie had her babies. They came early, and she had an emergency C-section, but everyone’s doing fine now. The twins have to gain a little more weight before they come home, so it’ll probably be another week before Brittany and Ryker get them full-time. They’re in for a challenge with twins.”
He grinned. “I wouldn’t mind a challenge like that.”
“I guess I wouldn’t either.”
“How’s school? You’re done with classes, right?”
“Yeah. I’ve been so busy, I haven’t even checked to see where I’m being assigned for my practicum. It could be anywhere within an hour of the university. When I’m done with that in January, then I have some final tests and assessments I go through to get my teacher’s license.” She grew quiet and serious. “I guess I need to find new housing now that you’re back, but it’s gonna be tough. I won’t be able to work as many hours, so finding something affordable will be tricky.”
It was Dagan’s turn to frown. “I hadn’t thought about you moving out so soon. I…I honestly don’t want you to.”
“I don’t really want to either, but I have my personal beliefs…I can’t put myself in a situation that might make me compromise. I guess I’m especially sensitive to that after what happened to Evie. I mean, it’s wonderful for Ryker and Brittany that they’ve got children who actually share Brittany’s DNA, but it’s still been really traumatic for Evie. She’ll always have to wonder ‘what if?’ You know what I mean?”
He closed his eyes and nodded. Then he opened them and took a drink of his coffee. “Yeah, I wondered ‘what if?’ and ‘why?’ for a long time. Now that I’m with you, I don’t wonder anymore. I think your sister won’t really be able to let go until she’s found someone to start a new family with. When she’s got more children of her own, then it’ll be a lot easier to let go.”
“You’re probably right.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. Setting it on the table, he looked right at her. “Caitlyn, this may not be the perfect setting, but I made up my mind while I was away from you and bought this on a side trip to Dubai. I was planning to do this later, but I’m as certain about this now as I’ll ever be.”
He opened the box. Inside was a beautiful round-cut one-carat diamond set in a platinum band.
“Will you marry me?”
The past nine months flew through her mind like the whirling images of a kaleidoscope. She’d really connected with him starting with their first conversation here in this Starbucks.
“Actually, Dagan, this is the perfect setting. I think I started falling for you when we had our conversation over coffee for the first time nine months ago. I love you, and I’d be honored to be your wife. I think Chelsea’s insane for letting you go.”
The feeling of relief coming from him was palpable. Apparently, proposing to someone was stressful. He smiled at her, and then reached over and slipped the ring on her finger. “I think I started falling for you when you hugged me in the middle of the night before I left for my contract job. I didn’t want to admit it to myself for a while, though. You could say I was gun-shy. So—what do you want to do about the housing situation?”
“I don’t know. Right now, I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed. First, the damage to the lawn, then getting attacked by Caleb, then getting engaged. Don’t misunderstand me—being engaged is great, but it’s a lot to process right now.”
“I want you to stay. And if we need to get married at the country courthouse first and have a big wedding for the family later to make sure we don’t violate your personal beliefs, I’m fine with that.” A thoughtful look came over him. “I haven’t met your parents yet. We could head over to their house tomorrow and announce our engagement. Then you could stay there for a few days while I get the paperwork done so we can get married at the courthouse. Your parents could be witnesses. After that, you and your mom and sisters can plan the big official wedding for later and take your time.”
She took a deep breath, and then laughed.
He cocked an eyebrow. “What?”
“That’s so crazy, it might actually work.”
“So you’re willing to do it?”
“Yeah, I am. I wonder what Riley and Piper are going to say when they get back?”
“I really don’t give a damn.”
“They already have another place they’re moving to that’s close to school because they’ve both got another year of classes. When they come back in the middle of July, I might be married to their former landlord.”
“It does sound a little creepy when you put it that way. Man, now I feel really old.”
“Don’t worry about it. My dad is eight years older than my mom. They’ve never had a problem with their age difference.”
He reached across the table and took both her hands in his. “All I know is that I’m the luckiest man in the world. You’re not only beautiful; you’re kind, caring, and compassionate. I’ve never felt so…loved.”
“I feel exactly the same way about you.”
He dropped her hands. “Let’s get out of here. I already paid for the coffee.” He scooted out of the booth and stood up. Offering her a hand, he helped her up. When they stepped outside, a light drizzly rain was falling. They stopped walking when they reached the passenger door of his car. She turned to him as he reached around her to open the door. Suddenly he stopped and reached out to cup her cheek in his hand.
“I never got a welcome-back kiss.”
“Want one?” Her tone was teasing.
He leaned in, pressing her up against the car. With his hand slowly caressing her cheek and jaw, his lips met hers, soft and warm and gentle. She shivered as tingling filled her body. His fingers brushed down the sensitive skin on the side of her neck. Involuntarily it seemed, her lips parted for him and he accepted her invitation to deepen the kiss. His other arm slipped around her waist and pulled her closer to him. Reaching up, she wrapped her fingers up in the hair at the nape of his neck. Her bottom teeth grazed his lower lip and he groaned, pulling her even closer.
The feeling that nothing existed in the world but him was delicious and dangerously overwhelming. He pulled away, leaving her breathless.
“We’re getting drenched. I must be crazy for kissing you in this downpour, but I couldn’t help myself…And I think we’re gonna have to get married sooner rather than later.”
“I’m fine with that.”
“Good, let’s go home.”
The simple phrase had never sounded so wonderful to her. She brushed a raindrop off his forehead and slid inside his car. At the house, they both dropped into their beds, exhausted. The next morning, they threw a few things into suitcases and headed out of the house. Caitlyn texted her parents to tell them that she and Dagan were coming to visit for a few days while he pulled out of the driveway in his Lexus. The time went by quickly as they talked and caught each other up on the separate lives they’d been leading while they were apart.
When they arrived at her parents’ house, Dagan seemed a little anxious.
She laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t worry. They’re going to love you.”
Her mother threw the door open before they’d even reached the top step. She pulled them into the house and enfolded them both in a big hug.
“My goodness, so many wonderful things have happened this week. First, Evie’s babies were born and Riker and Brittany are going to raise them. Then, I get to meet Caity’s boyfriend.”
“Actually, Mom, he just became my fiancé—last night.”
Tears sprang to her mother’s eyes. “That’s even better. Come in and tell your father.”
They followed her into the kitchen. On the way, Dagan turned to her with a smirk.
She slapped his arm. “Shut up.”
Her father was seated at the table with a report from work. When they came in, he looked up at them. Then, his eyes widened and he slid his reading glasses up onto the top of his head. He stood up and walked over to Dagan.
Holding out his hand, he introduced himself. “Welcome to my home. I’m Aaron, and I assume you’ve already met my wife Sarah.”
Dagan shook his hand firmly. “Yes. I’m Dagan Brandt.”
Her father studied him for a moment. “Caity’s told us about you. It’s good to finally meet you in person.”
“And I’m glad to meet you. I just want to make your daughter happy.” He paused, looked at Caitlyn, and then turned back to her father. “I know this is sudden, but I want to marry your daughter. We’d like your blessing.”
Her father looked thoughtfully at the two of them, his eyes moving from one to the other and back again. Finally, he gestured for them to sit down at the table and sank down into his own chair.
“It’s been quite an exciting week around here. You know, Caity’s always been level-headed and fairly content. But I’ve never seen her this happy, Dagan. I think you’re good for her. You have my blessing on your marriage.”
She released the breath she’d been holding. She hadn’t really believed her father would disapprove of her fiancé, but it was good to hear his approval spoken out loud. Just then, Evie came into the kitchen, walking slowly.
“I overheard everything. Congratulations, you two.”
Caitlyn stood up and gave her a gentle hug. They both sat down at the table. Everyone turned at the sound of the front door opening and shutting. In a moment, Brittany and Riker appeared in the kitchen doorway looking tired but happy.
“Guess what? The doctor says Taylor and Tyler are doing so well they can come home tomorrow. We’re going to bring them over here from the hospital and get a family picture. You’ll all be here, right?”
As people were nodding, she turned to Dagan. “You’ll get to see the babies!” He grinned at her. Brittany’s voice broke into their shared moment.
“Hey, is this your boyfriend, Caitlyn?”
“Yes and no. Ryker and Brittany, this is Dagan Brandt, but he’s my fiancé, not my boyfriend.”
He stood up and held out his hand. Ryker shook it, but was quickly brushed aside as Brittany threw her arms around him in a hug.
“I’m so glad to finally meet Caitlyn’s mystery man.”
She turned and whispered to Caitlyn, “He’s gorgeous…better get married quick.”
Caitlyn’s face burned. Her mother saved the day by asking Brittany to set dishes on the table. Then she pulled some rolls and a casserole from the oven and brought them to the table. Soon, the whole family was talking and eating. A feeling of warmth and comfort settled on her as the meal progressed. During the remainder of the evening, Dagan and her family members talked, shared stories about themselves, and laughed so much that it almost seemed as if he’d always been a member of the family.
She shared a room with Evie, and Dagan slept on the couch in the family room that night. The next day, he was able to be in the family photo with the babies. When Ryker and Brittany had taken the newborns back to their small home, Brett had gone to a movie with his friends, and Evie was taking a nap, she asked her parents to come witness their simple marriage at the courthouse the following Tuesday. They were sworn to secrecy, though because Evie and Brittany would be furious about not being told. They agreed, especially when she admitted that she’d been living in his house the whole school year.
Then Dagan got called into his office for an emergency project. He wouldn’t be back until the next day. When he left, she and her mother made plans for the big wedding that the whole family would attend. They decided to let enough time pass that she could finish her teaching practicum, which would also give Evie time to heal, and let the babies grow bigger and stronger.
The next day, curled up in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, Caitlyn enjoyed a quiet moment before Dagan returned. Apparently, life was what happened to a person when the original plans she’d made didn’t work out. Her life certainly hadn’t gone the way she’d thought it would, but that was a good thing—no, it was actually perfect.