Leah sat across from James in Lindaman’s, her hands clasped tightly on the table, her eyes scanning the restaurant for the 10th time. She wondered how long it would be before someone came up and said, “I know you. Weren’t you two the ones in the paper?” and ruined everything.
She turned her attention back to the man sitting across from her, watching the traffic zip by on Grand Boulevard. He looked good in a wheat colored cable knit that accentuated his dark features and emphasized his broad shoulders. He also looked very uncomfortable. As if feeling her eyes on him, he turned to study her. Then he leaned forward, letting his hands drop to cover hers, his expression apologetic.
“You know, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. If you don’t want to be here, we don’t have to stay. I can take you home.”
Stung, Leah pulled her hands from beneath his. “If you didn’t want to come, you could have called. Then we could have avoided this whole situation.”
James sat back in his chair. “I wanted to come. I’m not the one who looks like they’re about to pass a kidney stone.”
Leah scowled at him. “I wanted to come, too,” she defended herself, thrusting her chin forward, daring him to deny it.
James burst out laughing, those delicious dimples appearing with his
grin. “Then why the Attila-the-Hun looks? I’ve been afraid to say two words to you since we got here.”
“Look around,” Leah said. “See all these people?”
The restaurant was awash in a sea of faces, people busy with their own lives, their own conversations. Nobody appeared to be looking in their direction. Still, they made Leah nervous.
“So?” he said.
“So, what if one of them recognizes us? What if they saw the paper or watched the news? What if they come up to us?”
“We’re already yesterday’s news, Leah.” James pushed back his chair. “We’re just two people out for lunch like anybody else.” Leah watched him go to get their wine. He was right. If she didn’t loosen up, it would be her own fault if their afternoon was spoiled.
James returned, setting Leah’s glass next to her plate. He sat back down, with his own glass in hand. “So, Leah, what do you do when you’re not healing the sick or out running?”
“Do?” Leah eyed the dismal world outside. “In this weather, not much. I’m not really into winter. I pull a lot of double shifts and pretty much stay indoors. But come spring …”
“Yeah …?” James said, imitating the way she’d let her voice trail off.
“Come spring, you couldn’t keep me inside. I love being outdoors. I like going to the park and sitting in the swings, or taking a picnic to the Bowl and Pitcher.”
She looked up, finding James watching her with the kind of warm, approving look in his wonderful blue eyes that could make a woman’s heart melt. Blushing, she took a sip of wine, and realized she was having a good time after all.
Any hint of their initial awkwardness evaporated as the afternoon unfolded. They lingered long after finishing their meals, lost in conversation. They had much more in common than Leah would have imagined.
After lunch, as they walked to the car, she looked up at St. John’s Cathedral. She stopped and stared in admiration.
James came up beside her. “Impressive, isn’t it?”
“Very. Do you know, after all these years in Spokane, I’ve never been inside?”
“Want to go?”
“Sure. Why not?”
Leah grinned. “Yeah. Why not?”
They walked to the church. Inside they were greeted with high ceilings and massive stone columns, flaring arches and stained-glass glowing with brilliant color. They strolled the aisles hand in hand, peering into alcoves, investigating the architecture.
Leaving the church, James paused on the steps. “Not ready to call it a day, are you?”
When Leah shook her head, he hurried her back to the car. In minutes they were driving south up Grand. To Leah’s surprise, James took a right into Manito Park.
“Manito in February?” she asked.
“It’s not February in the Conservatory.”
They left the car, heading up the path to the greenhouse. James held the door as Leah stepped past him, entering what felt and looked like another world.
Gone were the dreary grays of winter. Tulips bloomed in rich reds and velvety yellows. Daffodils modeled their fine coats of gold. There were hyacinths and narcissus and every other imaginable spring flower.
“James, this is wonderful,” she said, inhaling the rich, earthy blend of scents.
“I’m glad you like it.”
Giving her another one of those heart-melting looks, he offered his hand. They ambled along the walkways, enjoying the vivid splashes of color until James drew her to a stop in a secluded corner.
“Considering how all of this started, we’re doing OK, aren’t we?” he asked, gazing down at her with a warm intensity.
“Mm-hmm,” Leah murmured, hoping she was reading his intentions correctly. She had a strong suspicion that he just might be one terrific kisser. He leaned closer. She raised her head to meet his descending lips.
Pop. Flash. They sprung apart, each glancing about wildly for the reporter with the camera. But there was no reporter trying to catch them in the act, only a wide-eyed tourist holding his camera apologetically and pointing at some exotic plant.
James and Leah burst into laughter. He grabbed her hand. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
Friday: Love in bloom.