The biggest challenge to Grace’s self-imposed celibacy? Love.
As a little girl, Grace Caldwell watched her father walk out on her mother as she struggled through the final stages of breast cancer. Grace, knowing the odds that she could suffer her mother’s fate, resolves to never to let any man close enough to hurt her that way.
Her new boss, Aaron Severn, isn’t hard to figure out—his reputation with women is legendary. She’s confident it won’t be hard for her to resist his charm. To her surprise, Aaron seems sensitive and caring, the kind of man who will be there for her, no matter what. Despite her vow of self-imposed celibacy, Grace finds herself allowing their friendship to grow deeper.
When her worst nightmare becomes reality, Grace’s past fear rears its ugly head, driving her to push him away. But Aaron’s not the kind of man to give up on Grace’s love—or her life—without a fight.
Aaron left it up to me to choose where we would have dinner. I decided he needed a little authentic taste of Texas. So I took him to my favorite barbeque joint. The kind of place where they serve barbeque up by the pound on white meat market paper. Aaron wasn’t nearly as convinced as I was when I told him he would love it.
“Come on, you have to try it just once. This place is a legend around town.” Still not so sure, he took a bite of one of the well-seasoned ribs, sending sloppy barbeque sauce squirting in just about every direction. It was on his face, running down the front of his crisp, white shirt, before plopping onto the white paper. He was lucky to have taken his jacket off otherwise it would have been all over that as well. And I was almost positive I felt some of it strike my cheek.
As hard as I tried when I looked at his completely disgusted expression, I had to laugh. He was such a Yankee. Didn’t he realize you couldn’t eat ribs like that without a bib and whole lot of napkins?
“You did that on purpose didn’t you?”
“I did not. I’m sorry. How did I know you had no idea how to eat ribs? Don’t they have them in New York?” I reached for a handful of napkins, handed him several, then tucked one into his shirt. “There, you should be safe now.”
That strange expression was back on his face as he leaned over and wiped the sauce from my cheek.
“Pretty good shot, don’t you think?” He showed me the sauce he’d just wiped from my face.
“Remind me next time to sit at another table.”
“There’s not going to be a next time, so you can forget about that. You got me once. You won’t be so lucky again.”
“Well, maybe not with barbeque but there are lots of other ways, Mr. Severn. You are, after all, a foreigner here. You stand out like a sore thumb.”
At least I made him smile a little, which diminished that disturbing expression in his eyes. “Another homespun adage I take it?”
“Yep, I’m full of them.”
“I can see that. Like I said before, I think you’re going to be trouble for me. I’m not so sure I’m ready for you just yet, Miss Caldwell.” I had no idea what he meant. I was finding the best way to take him was on face value alone and not dig too deep.
Even so, I was aware of every little thing he said or did. To cover my sudden awareness, I decided to ask him some questions about himself. So far all I knew about him was that he could be impossible to deal with and he dated lots of women.
“So, your parents must be very proud of you?” Okay I never said I had a lot of tact. That probably was the least pleasant way of changing the conversation but I didn’t care. I just blurted that one out, surprising him and probably giving him whiplash at the speed of my subject change.
“Is this your way of asking me about myself? I didn’t think you cared.” He took my silence for what it was—complete annoyance at his sarcasm. “My parents passed away when I was away at the university. It’s only me in the world.”
“I’m sorry…oh, Aaron, I had no idea. That must have been…awful.”
“Yes, it was. But it was also an awfully long time ago.”
“Really? I didn’t know you were so old.”
His full attention was back on me once again. “Your way of asking how old I am?”
“That old, huh?”
Aaron shook his head. “Okay, smart guy, what about you? How old are you?”
“You know, I’d think with all the women you’re supposed to have dated in your lifetime, you would have learned something about them by now. Don’t you know you never ask a woman her age?”
Aaron didn’t laugh. In fact, he wasn’t even smiling. “It just so happens there aren’t as many women in my past as you and everyone else in the world would like to think. And I happen to know you’re twenty-three, Grace. I was just being polite. What about your parents?”
Of course, I knew the question was coming even though I was trying my hardest to steer the conversation away from me. I hated talking about my parents because it always led to the inevitable questions about them I didn’t want to answer.
Looking into Aaron’s blue eyes I knew if I didn’t say something, and soon, he would guess the truth on his own. “My mother passed away when I was six. I haven’t seen my father since.”
I think he figured by the way I blurted those words out that it was not the time to ask a whole lot of questions on the subject.
“Where did you grow up?” The compassion in his voice threatened to crack my hard won resolve.
“With my grandparents. My mom’s parents. They have a small farm outside of Amarillo.”
“I see. That must have been hard—losing both parents so young?”
How could I tell him I couldn’t let go of the hurt? At times the pain was just as strong as it had been when I was that scared girl of six who didn’t understand her mother was dying. The little girl who cherished her father’s love only to lose it when he left us both for good.
I tried again to change the subject. “It was. But my grandparents were wonderful. I was lucky.” I pretended to look at my watch before faking surprise. “Oh geez, is that the time? I really need to go.”
Just before he agreed with me, I saw the truth. He knew. He’d seen my pain before I could hide it. It was there in the ever-so-slight-did-I-actually-imagine-it softening expression in his eyes.
Rating: 78! I have a wonderful time reading Survivor because of the author’s often graceful prose. It’s why I keep reading her books, actually, since the books I’ve read by her have prose that really appeals to me… The author can easily sell me even the most fanciful or whimsical ideas when I’m really quite the cynic.
I loved the whole concept of this story that shows not only true romance between the characters but that there is still that all time consuming passion that surpasses anything even a person’s fear of letting go and learning to love for the first time.