Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 30

The road sign that marked ten miles to Little Falls zoomed past them, and at that moment, Luke reached over and intertwined his fingers with hers. He gave her hand a little squeeze, and their hands rested on her lap the rest of the way.

Grace wanted to keep her eyes open to take in the golden hue of Fall that only happened in this sweet spot of September. But she took a brief second to close her eyes and appreciate how happy she was at this very moment. She let the quiet beat of the music fill her head. The whirling speed of the tires sending a slow vibration through her. The feeling of Luke’s hand warming hers. When Grace opened her eyes, she admitted she’d never felt better, or happier.

It was a little before five o’clock when they pulled into a long driveway that led the way to a picturesque two-story home. When she took in the white wrap-around porch and the wooden rockers sitting out front, she couldn’t contain her excited giggle. She looked over at Luke, beaming, and got out of the car, leaving him inside with whatever he was about to say to her. She had the sudden urge to be in this home, to look around, to wander.

Beyond the porch sat a white house with faded black shutters and old charm. The front door that matched the shutters swung open as Grace gaped at the beauty she saw. The green landscape and colorful trees seemed to go on for miles.

A woman with a nest of white hair appeared in the doorway with her hands on her hips, one hand holding a dishrag. She was tall and lean, and Grace immediately saw the resemblance between the two. Luke gestured and motioned with a nod of his head to come over. He took her hand and together they walked toward the elegant woman, who at the moment was wrapped in oversized bib overalls that no doubt had been her late husband’s. They draped over her thermal long-sleeve shirt and rolled near her ankles. It made perfect sense. From the silver clasps all the way down to her red rubber rain boots. She was a vision.

Grace had never been happier to have decided on wearing the chambray shirt and Sorel ankle snow boots. The two of them kind of matched.

“Bring this blonde beauty up here so I can get a closer look at her!” the woman yelled from the porch.

Luke led her up the stairs and handed her off while making the introduction, “Grandma Edna, this is Grace. Grace, this is Grandma Edna. She’s old and crotchety, but she’s the best looking – best baking – lady around town. It’s why they let her stay,” he said with a grin.

Edna took both of Grace’s hands and held them out wide to take her all in. Getting a good look, she supposed. That didn’t stop Luke from bear-hugging his grandmother off of the ground. Edna and Grace’s hands stayed clasped, and they rose and fell with the lift of Luke’s hug.

“Put me down you big lug, I need to take in this beauty you’ve brought to visit me.”

Edna was lowered much gentler than she was hoisted. Once down, she resumed her analysis.

“So, this is beautiful Grace?” The regal smile Edna donned reminded Grace of old-Hollywood glamour. Something you’d see in a black and white film.

“Yes, I think she’ll do just fine.” Edna added a wink.

It was a mannerism Grace had seen Luke offer more than once, and had her grinning at their similarity.

“Now, let’s get you inside and changed before the big game.” Edna cheered her fists into the air.

“The big game?” Her curiosity followed Edna into the house.

“Oh yes, the season has started for our high school boys’ football team. I haven’t missed a home game in nearly thirty years. I just love it. Let me take you to your room so you can settle in and get changed. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of getting you a little something with school spirit. We’ll be matching.”

Edna opened the door to a quaint bedroom just up the squeaky stairs. The room had lemon-colored walls adorned with framed prints of dainty flowers. A small white writing desk sat beneath a window that was wrapped with flower-patterned curtains. A cream quilt draped the double bed and was adorned with daisies that were stitched in light yellow.

“I’ll leave you for a bit, and don’t worry about wearing the clothes if they aren’t quite your style. It’s just a little keepsake.” Edna squeezed her hand and added, “Come down whenever you’re ready. We’ll have a quick meal. Nothing too big. We need to save room for some game-food. And Grace, he doesn’t do things he isn’t sure about, so I hope you can understand why I am so happy to have you here and to be the first to meet you.”

With that, she was out the door and down the stairs whistling a peppy tune Grace couldn’t quite place.

Grace sat on the end of the bed and picked up the purple gift bag. The sparkling tissue paper was removed with care, revealing a purple crewneck sweatshirt with an iron-on print of Little Falls Football. Beneath the soft fleece were two more gifts: a white stocking hat and matching gloves with the same print as the sweatshirt, sewn in the same purple.

The crewneck took her back to the memories of high school when she, Rachel, and Casey would get ready for football games. They’d put on makeup and braid their hair beneath matching stocking caps. She hugged the sweatshirt, inhaling the nostalgia, and had never been more excited to have that Friday night football feeling again.

Grace was still smiling to herself when she heard the creak in the floor and turned to find Luke leaning against the doorframe.

“Are you going to be okay in here?” He was genuinely concerned.

“Of course, this is perfect. I love it in here,” Grace said honestly, looking around at the quaint room.

“I know we hadn’t talked about the sleeping arrangements, but being bound in matrimony is a must for same-bedroom sleeping around here.” He moved toward her and raised her off the bed to face him. “I’ll spend the night wishing I was next to you.”

“Do you practice lines like that?” She asked, smiling at the cuteness of his words.

The sensation from the soft kiss placed in the tender nape of her neck seeped into her, igniting every sensual, sensitive feeling. A mixture of moisture and heat burned into her. She had no choice but to close the eyes that had blurred from the simple touch. Luke’s hand cupped the back of her neck when her response had her leaning back, exposing more of her neck.

“You just kind of do that to me.”

Luke accepted her offering forging a trail of kisses, tracing a path to her parted lips. The destination was soft and tender. Their noses brushed as they kept their faces close, breathing each other in, feeling the closeness between them. His hand moved lightly from her neck down her back, working its way to her hip, pulling her into him. Their breathing was thick and wanting, growing hoarse as their bodies pressed against each other.

His kisses continued their path to the opposite side of her neck, and when they stopped, his staggered whisper struggled out, “You fascinate and captivate me. I didn’t mean to start this here,” he placed one more kiss on the edge of her ear, and she felt his smile form into her cheek, “but I’m not sorry for this feeling.”

This time it was her turn to return the favor. Her hands skimmed his chest slowly with their heads still side by side. When her hands stopped just below his pockets, she angled her head to press long, slow kisses of her own on the chiseled edge of his jawline. She gently forced her body deeper into his and knew he felt just as much when an uncontrolled grumble escaped him.

“I’m not sorry either.” The warm breath filled his ear, and she knew it was just about too much for him to handle, so she backed away before they could go any further.

“I think we can maybe make it through the rest of the weekend.” She grinned and looked up at Luke.

“So, this is what torture feels like.” He grunted and was only kind of kidding.

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