Finding a Hart

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Chapter 44

Jared

Stephanie didn’t spend every night at my place, but she started spending more time there than she did at her own home. I wasn’t complaining. I preferred the nights she was in my bed.

When she did stay the night at my place, we didn’t meet at Java Express. Instead, we had coffee in my kitchen and I kept us stocked up on unhealthy breakfast options for my girlfriend to eat. I even had donuts delivered every Friday and she joked that I was marriage material after that.

We still hadn’t had sex. I was letting her decide when she was ready. I had no problem with waiting because I knew when we did have sex, it was going to be amazing.

There was no way to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but I was in love with Stephanie Gibson. I don’t think falling in love with her was something that happened suddenly but rather something that built up like a slow burn. All I knew was that I couldn’t imagine not having Steph in my life.

We had to postpone our date when Briana had come down with a cold the Thursday before. We didn’t want to take any chances of Chris getting sick so she and Marco agreed to watch him the following weekend. So two weeks went by before Stephanie and I could go out on a real date.

During those two weeks, one of her predictions came true.

Christopher laughed.

It didn’t happen all of the time and was usually reserved for when he was tired and loopy, but his little giggle was an amazing sound. The first time he laughed had been right after a bath when I was dressing him. He was tired and I called Stephanie’s name, something he found hilarious because he instantly started giggling. Steph had come running and he giggled for another couple of minutes while she recorded him with her phone.

“Make sure you give him his lovey at bedtime or else he won’t even entertain the idea of going to bed,” I told Briana on Saturday night as she bounced my son in her arms. She rolled her eyes in a way that was so much like her sister that I almost laughed.

“So you’ve said twice before. Go away. We’ve got it.”

Chris seemed charmed by Briana but was a bit weary of Marco. They had both arrived about thirty minutes before and I knew they were capable but that didn’t stop me from being nervous.

“He’ll be fine, Jare,” Steph said as she walked down the hallway, looking breathtakingly beautiful. She was wearing another sleeveless dress, this one she claimed was coral when I called it pink. It gave me a sneak peek of her breasts but stayed modest, reaching her knees. The back, however, was the best part. It dipped so low that I was pretty sure she wasn’t wearing any underwear. She had another pair of fuck-me heels on her feet, these silver, and I appreciated the effect they had on her legs.

Her hair was pulled back into a low knot on the back of her head with a few pieces framing her beautiful face. She had make-up on but it wasn’t very much because she honestly didn’t need it.

I’d let her choose my outfit, which included a pair of grey slacks and a green- or emerald if you asked my girlfriend- colored button-up shirt. I tried to tame my hair and shaved my face just for the occasion.

“Damn, Steph. You look amazing,” Briana said with a grin. “Doesn’t she look great, Marco?”

Her husband nodded his head. “Perfect. You’re a lucky guy, Jared.”

Yes, I was.

Chris also saw Stephanie and he started to squirm in her sister’s arms while focusing his blue eyes on his favorite person. When she didn’t take him from Briana, he started fussing.

“Hey, none of that.” Stephanie stepped forward, causing Chris to stopping whining and smile. Instead of taking him, she grabbed his hand and pressed her lips to his tiny palm. “Bri and Marco are pretty cool. Don’t try to talk them into giving you beer, mister. It won’t work.”

The baby continued to smile at her like she was the sun. That smile slowly disappeared when she backed up and grabbed some silver purse thing. My son’s lips turned down into a pout and his eyes looked between me and Stephanie in utter betrayal.

“Goodnight, sweet boy,” Steph cooed softly. “Sleep tight.” She tugged on my arm. “Let’s go. It’s only going to get worse the longer we stand here.”

“Have fun, guys. We’ve got this.” Marco offered us a wave just as Chris began to cry. I felt Stephanie hesitate slightly but I knew she was right. If we didn’t go then, we never would. With her hand in mine, I tugged her out of the condo.

“We could just bring him with us,” she suggested as we waited for the elevator. I chuckled and shook my head.

“He’ll be fine in just a few minutes.”

Kenneth was at the desk and he smiled when he saw us. He held the door, bidding us a good night, and I led her out to my car. I helped her into the passenger seat, not letting go of her until she was in even though she was perfectly capable, and headed around so I could get in behind the steering wheel.

I smiled at her while turning the ignition. “Ready?”

“Beyond ready,” she replied with a nod, buckling her seatbelt. “This date is about six months in the making, you know.”

I put us into reverse and chuckled as we turned out of the parking lot. “I remember the first time I saw you in that coffee shop. You were so damn friendly, even when the barista told you they were out of whatever pastry you ordered. Then you stared at the case and debated out loud what you wanted instead. I think I was hooked then.”

“Yeah?” She reached over and squeezed arm. “The first time I saw you in Java Express, you were listening to an older gentleman tell you all about the projected weather for the week while he waited for his coffee. You already had yours and the conversation was boring as hell, but you talked to him and humored him because you knew he was enjoying the conversation. That’s when I was hooked.”

I stopped at a light and turned to smile at Stephanie. She leaned in and gave me a quick kiss right as the light changed again.

Despite the fact that we were on our first date, conversation continued to flow easily between us. We had agreed ahead of time not to talk about Chris, a topic we both could easily get lost in, and so we spent time exchanging stories and learning new things about one another.

I took her to a steakhouse in North Phoenix and the ambiance inside was pretty romantic. We sat at a table across from one another and I don’t think the smile left Steph’s face for a single moment.

“What’s your middle name?” she asked randomly after the server had dropped off our dessert. I watched her take a bite of the mud pie and grinned when she groaned happily.

“Michael, after my great-grandfather. Nothing too fancy. What’s yours?”

“Nicole.” She wiped her face with napkin and dove in for another forkful. “At least yours has some significance. I think my mom just couldn’t pick between Stephanie and Nicole so she used them both.”

I chuckled softly and took a bite of the dessert. “Stephanie Nicole. It suits you.”

Once dessert was gone, I drove us to the Desert Botanical Garden and smiled at her confused expression.

“This might be corny, but they do flashlight tours at night. I thought we could take in the sights together.”

A look of awe crossed her face before she leaned across the console and pressed her lips to mine. I returned her kiss eagerly and we stayed in a passionate lip lock for several moments. I pulled back, ignoring the desire to strip her down in the car, and offered her a small smile.

“So, that’s a yes?”

“Definitely a yes.” She grinned and her eyes stayed on me as I exited the car, quickly heading around to get her door for her. Once our hands were connected again, I led her to the entrance and bought our tickets.

I’d only brought one flashlight but that was more than enough. We wandered down darkened pathways that were illuminated with dim lanterns and cast shadows around the tall cacti, flowers, and other living plants that surrounded us. There were other people around but I hardly noticed them as we strolled.

“This is beautiful,” Steph murmured as we stopped on an incline, giving us an overhead view of the gardens below. I nodded and dropped her hand so I could wrap my arm around her waist.

“It’s perfect.”

We stood there, not saying anything, for about fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until a loud group of teenagers disrupted our peace that we began to walk back towards the front of the park. She stopped me once to give me a long, languid kiss, and we were both out of breath by the time we separated.

“Thank you for the perfect date, Stephanie.”

She smiled and ran her thumbs along my cheeks. “I should be thanking you.”

I kissed the tip of her nose and we resumed our trek to the front. Neither of us spoke as we got back into my car and I glanced over at her.

“I’m not ready for our date to end. What would you say to a nightcap?”

“I’m completely on board with that idea.” She offered me a blinding smile. “Is it breaking the rules if I text Bri to check on Chris?”

I chuckled and shook my head as I drove us out of the parking lot. “No, but only because I’ve been considering doing the same thing.”

She tapped out a quick message to her sister and was smiling when I pulled into the parking lot of the bar I’d picked.

“Bri says that he stopped crying two minutes after we left and promptly forgot about us. He’s asleep in his crib and they’re trying to watch a movie so we need to quit bothering them.”

We both laughed out loud and I headed around to her door once I had the car off. I offered her my hand and she took it immediately, dropping her cheek to my shoulder as we walked to the front door.

The bar wasn’t anything fancy, just a place I had heard some of the guys at work say they liked to go to. It wasn’t packed inside but it was fairly busy since it was a Saturday night. TVs lined the area, most of them full of baseball games, and I led Steph to the bar where an available stool was. Once she was on it, I stood next to her and leaned in close.

“What do you want, sweetheart?”

“An Orange Peel IPA if they have it,” she said loudly to be heard over the cheers. I nodded my head and held my hand out to the bartender. He walked over and I ordered two of her drink.

The bottles had just been placed in front of us when a loud voice called Stephanie’s name. We both looked to the left and a large man was walking over with his arms out. Stephanie let out a squeal and jumped off her stool, right into the guy’s hold.

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