Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 67

“You know, it’s funny,” Grace said, taking a step to follow Luke. “This.”

She held up the now antique-looking paper, motioning to it.

“It was given to me by the girls, a blind date they set me up on. I would never have gone, but I know them, and they would never set me up with somebody they didn’t think I’d hit it off with. Or,” she laughed, “they would have badgered me until I gave in. But they would have made sure it was worth it.”

She watched her desired effect play across his face, just a touch of dread, but hopefully it wouldn’t last long.

“It’s funny how things work out, though, isn’t it?” She went on, slowly making her way to him. “I never went on this date because I ran into you. Then I lost it – well, forgot about it really – because I had been so smitten. You were perfect. Everything I thought I could have ever asked for in a man. So much more, actually.” She paused wistfully and knew they were both replaying memories in their minds of those first few weeks together.

“But you being all of that – wonderful, charming, devilishly handsome – it would never have worked. Because at that time, no matter how perfect you were, you were disrupting the only thing I’d cared about, and I wasn’t ready. I needed my dad, and he was here. In these walls, in my walls.” Grace walked out and ran her fingers along the old, exposed, stone walls her dad had insisted on keeping.

“So, no matter how much you tried, or gave me space, it only confused me more. I couldn’t focus on you because I need to focus on this, here.

“A couple people saw me struggling. You were one, but I couldn’t listen to you because in my mind you were causing my struggle. That, and you’re a man, and sometimes that’s enough. But they helped. My friends, my mom,” she gave a somber smile as she added, “and even my dad, in his own way. All of their advice was a little different, but it all came down to the same solution. I needed to start over.”

She flicked the paper in her hands.

“With this. I am going to start over with the man I was supposed to meet that night. Give him a call and see if he wants to buy me a drink.”

Grace nodded and began entering the number into her phone.

When his phone lit up, he stared at it. Luke turned and looked up. He waited to see if there was anger, resentment.

Grace smiled and shrugged. When the phone rolled to voicemail, Luke looked down once more and watched the screen dim and listened to Grace’s voice leave him a message.

“Hi, I was given your number by one of my girlfriends. I know we were supposed to meet quite a while ago now. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. This cute guy distracted me, and my senses went right out the window. That’s not like me, by the way, I’m usually very sensible. So, if you’re up for it, I’d love to meet for a drink, maybe start over? I think you have my number.”

The click to end the call was audible, and a second later, Luke’s phone lit up again.

One New Voicemail.

Grace watched Luke process the information. He knew the date, the first date was meant for him, but he couldn’t quite believe what had just happened.

When Luke heard it, he didn’t slow and he didn’t hesitate. In one simple message, he was given all the answers he needed.

Grace felt the exhilarating rush of excitement and anticipation as she watched Luke close the gap between them. Joy exploded from every part of her as he wrapped her up and spun her around. The only thing she could do was circle her arms around him and hold on tight.

Luke set her down but held her close, not wanting to let her go. So he simply held on, unmoving, until he finally found words. “I feel like I should apologize for standing you up, and I assure you it will never happen again, for the rest of our lives.”

“The rest of our lives,” Grace repeated. Loving the sound of those words. Loving him. “I could get used to that.”

“What are you going to do with this space?” Luke asked. His eyes moved around the building.

“No way. I’m not touching this old pile of bricks.” Grace’s eyes slanted.

“You’re going to need to expand,” Luke said, deep in thought. “Well, unless you want to keep fighting. But I think being president of our newly acquired company, Thomas and Jane, sounds a lot more pleasant.”

“Did you just – what? President?”

“Apparently Abbi thought you’d be best suited for the new role if Thomas and Jane continues to operate independently. We think the board will agree tomorrow.” Luke said with a wide smile.

Grace tried her best to hide her excitement as she registered the news.

“The space, you ask?” She tried to play it cool. “I don’t know, I haven’t had much time to think about it. And seeing as I’ll be swamped the next couple of months...” Grace said, taking in Luke’s response of a curious tilted head. “I’m going to have a lot going on. I’ll need to start planning for a move, and I’m going to need to go dress shopping.” Humor sparked in her eyes.

“Dress shopping? Actually, that reminds me.”

When Luke let her go, she worried she might have gotten a tad carried away. But hey, he was going to have to get used to the idea. She watched him as he struggled to pull his hand back out of his pocket then fumble the small box to the ground. Though she couldn’t see what it was, she realized he wasn’t getting back up. Her mouth dropped open.

Luke remained on one knee and took Grace’s hand in his.

“Grace Lydia Thomas, please don’t cry.”

Grace’s free hand flew to her face, and she felt joyful tears well in her eyes, dangerously close to falling. But she couldn’t help it.

“It hasn’t been a long time. But the time we’ve spent has been filled with more meaning than some people have in a lifetime. You have made me feel. Your compassion, your love, your humor. Everything about you, I’ve fallen in love with. I’ve fallen in love with you. What I’m trying to say is, I’d like to spend a lot more time with you – every single day – for the rest of our lives. If you’d like to marry me?”

Luke opened the small navy blue box with an intricate gold design along the edges. And on the inside, the perfectly round diamond sat simply on a gold band.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God, yes! Yes, I’d like to marry you. I’d love to marry you. Luke Wallace, you are the best man. And you’re mine.”

Luke slid the ring around her finger, and she surrounded him.

Kneeling in front of him, she held his face in her hands. She felt happier than she’d ever been. She loved this man.

“I love you so much.”

“I love you so much.”

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