“What exactly do you learn in a class called Rituals?” Connor looked up skeptically from Rae’s pile of textbooks sitting on her kitchen floor.
Laughing, Rae glanced at the textbook in question. “At least I have textbooks; have you ever gone to class?”
It was Connor’s last year at APU and Rae had never seen him going to or coming from class. She would wonder if he was even graduating at the end of the year, but as much as Connor goofed around and pretended like he didn’t care, Rae knew he was very serious about his education.
“Independent study.” Connor said with a grin. “I basically hang out all day and go to a lecture a week.”
Leave it to Connor to find a way to do nothing and get credit for it. Rae looked at her schedule. She was finally getting to the meaty classes and Rituals of the 20th Century was actually a class she was looking forward to taking. “It’s about traditions and customs in the early 20th Century.”
Connor was staring at her again. After a year of being friends with him, she’d gotten used to it. Sort of. “You know, if you take a picture then you won’t need to stare at me so much. I feel like a bug under a microscope when you do that.”
Connor blinked. “A bug? For a lit major, that wasn’t very poetic.”
“Literature minor – and stop deflecting. You are always staring at me. Why?”
Sighing, Connor shifted in his seat and became serious. “I don’t know. At first I stared because you were the sexiest woman I’d ever met.” Rae rolled her eyes and he laughed. “But now, I don’t know. You’re different and I can’t figure you out, pretty girl.” Connor shrugged and smiled, done with being serious. “My parents are planning a big Thanksgiving dinner, you want to come? There’ll be food and good music and you can meet the ‘rents.”
“Connor, aren’t holidays supposed to be shared with family and close friends? Why don’t you ask someone who actually likes you to go?” Rae looked at Connor and tried not to laugh at the look on his face. She lasted all of two seconds before a giggle escaped.
Looking relieved, Connor said, “Not funny Rosie. Besides, I told my family all about you; they can’t wait to meet you.” Connor got up and walked away, leaving Rae to frown and throw some choice words at his back.
At least he is persistent.
“Or a stalker.”
“Connor can’t stop talking about you. It’s very nice to finally meet you, Rae.” David, Connor’s younger brother, held his hand out and the moment Rae’s fingers made contact, she felt a jolt pass between them. Rae looked up to see if David felt it too and by the frown on his face, he had.
After a light squeeze of her hand, David let go and smiled at someone behind her. Without having to turn around, Rae knew it was Connor. Her awareness of him was very acute, a fact she tried to ignore.
“I see you’ve met my brother David.” Connor stopped next to them.
“Hey CJ, I was just saying hi to your girlfriend, it’s about time you brought her around,” David said.
Rae almost choked. “I’m not his girlfriend,” she said.
Talking over her, Connor said, “Yeah, she finally agreed to come by.”
Sometimes, especially during moments like this one, Rae got the sudden urge to kick Connor. “If you’ll excuse me, David, I need to go throw up now. Connor makes me nauseous.”
Laughing, David said, “So if you and my brother aren’t dating, you want to go for a cup of coffee with me?”
Rae stood there stunned. It must run in the family; this need to flirt must be a family trait because this was just ridiculous.
Before Rae could say anything, Connor put his arm around her. “Rosie doesn’t date.”
“Really, then why have you been telling the entire family she was your girlfriend?” David asked with a teasing grin.
“Soon to be girlfriend,” Connor corrected, not even having the decency to look guilty.
Rae shrugged Connor’s arm off her shoulders. “You two are unbelievable. I’m going to go find someone sensible to talk to.”
“Try mom. I told dad about your love for history and he’s smitten too.”
Rae walked out of the kitchen after helping Mrs. London with the salad. She’d made it a point to avoid both Connor and his brother most of the night. David made her uncomfortable. There was something about him, almost as if she had met him before, but just couldn’t place when and where.
David is interesting.
“I’ll say,” Rae muttered.
“What was that?” Connor said as he walked up beside her.
“Hmm? I was, uh, just thinking that your brother is interesting.”
“David, interesting? Yeah, like a tree stump is interesting.”
“Have you ever seen a tree stump? They are amazing, actually. You can see how old the tree was by the – what? Stop laughing!”
“You are amazing, Rosie.” Conner laughed harder. “Come on, let’s go eat.”
“Connor, when I said that I wanted to see the movie, I was not asking you out on a date!”
Rae stood in her front foyer, staring at Connor. He was dressed up in a jacket and tie and he had flowers. Fricking red roses! Rae was used to him dropping hints and being overly flirtatious, but really – flowers?
“I wanted to get you something and I know your favorite color is red. If it had been green, I would have gotten you some grass or something. And I always look good, so what if I put on a tie? Take the flowers Rosie and let me in.” Connor smiled and Rae knew she’d lost this fight.
As much as she tried to deny it, she enjoyed the flirting and random acts of kindness that Connor did for her. They spent almost all their time together – in fact, she couldn’t remember the last time he went on a date and he made her feel things that she never had before. They spoke to each other every day and Rae confided in him about almost everything.
In the beginning, she thought he would get over his infatuation with her and move on. But Connor had not . Rae kept meaning to sit him down and have a real discussion about all the reasons why they couldn’t be together, but she had to convince herself of those reason first.
Scary, isn’t it? To find someone who loves you, no matter how much you push him away.
Rae sighed. Connor didn’t love her, she was probably the first woman to tell him no and he saw her as a challenge. Maybe she should just give in and date him.
She really liked him, but if she let herself get more involved, she would get hurt. She knew this, but the temptation to let Connor into her heart was strong.
Let him in, Rae. Not just your home but also your heart. He is a good man; we deserve this.
We? Rae looked over to where she thought Rebecca was standing, hidden from view. It occurred to her that she knew almost nothing about this spirit that had been with her almost all her life. She had never thought to wonder whom Rebecca had left behind when she died. Perhaps a loved one and that’s why she was pushing Rae to be with Connor?
Connor walked Rae up her walkway. Tonight had been fun and no matter what she said, Connor would definitely call this a date.
“Thank you for taking me to the movies.” Rae smiled at him.
Rae had been pensive all evening. Her brows always furrowed when she was thinking about something important and she got this far away look on her face, as if she was listening to something only she could hear. She also tended to talk to herself – it was a cute quirk. Granted, everything about Rae was cute to him.
“I’m sorry; I know I wasn’t much of a date tonight. I’ve been thinking about a few things.” Rae turned to open her front door.
Connor stepped up behind her. Whether she knew it or not, Rae had just admitted they were on a date. He had a moment of stunned disbelief. Rae never said things she didn’t mean. So either she’d decided to cave and give in to their mutual attraction or whatever she was thinking about must be so important as to distract her. He prayed for the former, but it was likely the latter.
When she turned around, he’d closed the distance between them to a few short inches. “You’re welcome Rosie; it was fun, even if you were preoccupied.” Connor lifted a hand and stroked Rae’s cheek. “Whenever you want to do this again, let me know. I’ll get you chocolate next time, since you are so opposed to flowers.”
Rae took a step back from him and he let his hand drop. He wouldn’t push her. For whatever reason, Rae wasn’t ready to let anyone in. They’d been friends for almost a year and in that entire time she never once went on a date. Not that he was complaining; Rae dating other men would not sit well with him.
But she didn’t go out with friends, she went home a lot to see her family, and when she was around, she spent most of her time studying or with Dune.
He soon realized that the only way to spend time with her was to make plans and just bring her along. It wasn’t that Rae was reclusive or antisocial, far from it. When he did manage to get her out of her house, they had a good time and she fit in well with his friends. She was fun and friendly and everyone loved her. She just didn’t seem to have many of her own friends nor any inclination to make any.
As he prepared to say goodnight, Rae leaned up to him, “Connor?”
Looking into her deep brown eyes, Connor felt her right hand land softly over his heart. “Yeah?”
“I’m going to kiss you now.”
He frowned. What was that?
Before he could dwell too much on the sound, Rae reached up and pressed her lips gently onto his. All thoughts of mysterious words – in fact, all thought was completely erased from his brain.
Deep down in his gut, something stirred.
Rae closed her eyes, ignoring Rebecca’s presence. She was not going to let some ghost ruin this moment for her.
It was only supposed to be a quick kiss, but Connor pulled her towards him and deepened it. His lips were so soft, definitely not what she was expecting. Although, it wasn’t like she had much experience. Aside from Cameron, the boy she went to prom with, Rae had never kissed anyone before, and he did not count. She’d found out later that he’d kissed her on a dare. His friends wanted to know what kissing someone like her felt like.
Rae had no idea how long she stood there, getting kissed by Connor, but he was gentle, even as his kiss scorched her from the inside out. When her knees started to give, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her up, never breaking his hold on her lips. Rae wrapped her arms around his neck and held on. This was what she’d been missing out on for a whole year and she felt all kinds of stupid.
Rae finally had to pull away; she needed to come up for air. Connor gave her just enough space to do so, but he never let her out of his grip. When he leaned back down to continue kissing her, Rae had to laugh.
“Connor! At least let’s go inside. I don’t want the neighbors knowing my business.”
Instead of answering, Connor started to kiss her down her neck.
Laughing harder, Rae swapped at his shoulders. “Connor, stop it. Inside now, more kissing later.”
Connor gave her a slightly unfocused look before a smile spread across his face. “Promise?”
“What? Oh, come on!” Rae rolled her eyes. “Yes, I promise. Now, keep your hands to yourself while I open the door.”
She might as well have asked for the moon. Connor would not let her go and the moment she unlocked the door, he picked her up and opened the door. Slamming it shut with his foot, he headed to her living room and placing her on the couch, finally let her go.
Rae had stopped laughing the moment Connor picked her up. She suddenly felt very shy. Sitting up, she watched as he settled himself next to her. Her tension spiked when he reached for her. Instead of pulling her towards him and kissing her again, like she thought he would, he tucked a stray strand of hair behind her right ear.
“I’m less threatening then I look, Rae. Remember?” Connor smiled at her. He picked up the television remote and turning the TV on, started flipping through the channels.
Rae watched as the light from the screen washed over his face. Rebecca was right. Connor was a good man. Taking her hat off, Rae settled in for an evening of TV with Connor.
Connor glanced over at a sleeping Rae. It had taken all of ten minutes for her to curl up and pass out. Shaking his head, he flipped through the channels, listening to her murmur to herself. She had kissed him and just that quickly had frozen up again.
Something inside him seemed to have shifted when she kissed him. He felt more alive somehow, more aware of his surroundings. Sighing, he closed his eyes. She was definitely the one.
“This is going to be the best vacation ever,” Kaitlynn, Rae’s baby sister, said enthusiastically.
Rae laughed and walked into the house. Her parents had recently bought a home in Sunlit Tides and her mother decided to have a girl’s weekend getaway. Rae had jumped at the opportunity to get away from Appaloosa and, if she was being honest with herself, to put some distance between her and Connor.
“Mom, there’s no food in this house!” Kaitlynn was already being difficult and Rae could see her mother struggling for patience.
“Ade and I will go grab a few things from the market.” Rae gave her mother an encouraging smile and turned to her sister, “Kate, don’t drive mom insane, we just got here!”
Kaitlynn pouted and ran outside to the pool area.
The drive to the market started off with an awkward silence. Rae hadn’t spoken to her sister in over a year – not since Ade got married and moved to China with her husband.
“So, I’m assuming you want to talk to me about something and that’s why you volunteered me to come with you to get food. What’s going on with you, Rae?” Ade made the first move to break the tense quiet.
“Oh, you know, nothing much. Going to school, fixing up dad’s old house, falling in love, taking care of Dune. The usual.” Rae pulled up at a small café and parked the car.
“Wait, back up. Falling in love?” Ade practically screeched. “When did that happen? With who?” Getting out of the car, Ade pinned Rae with a stare.
Rae smiled back at her and shrugged. “Remember the guy I told you about last year? The one that Rebecca seemed so interested in?”
“Connor London? The firefighter? Nice one, Rae.” Adeya grinned and dragged Rae inside the cafe. After ordering some food to go, the girls sat down to wait for their sandwiches.
“Why do you know his full name?” Rae laughed.
“He’s the only guy you’ve ever talked about, aside from Cam, who we are not going to talk about – the little idiot. Anyway, of course I remember his full name. I’m so excited! Tell me everything.”
Rae frowned. “Don’t get too excited. There isn’t much to tell, not really. He seems to like me enough, but what will he do when he finds out about the ghost thing?”
“Hmm, I can see how that could be a problem. How far into the relationship are you?”
Rae blushed. “Not far, but I couldn’t get serious with him without telling him. He’s just so different than any other guy I’ve met. He’s kind and has an easy laugh that makes me want to laugh. He can tell when I’m having a bad day before I even say anything and he makes me feel, I don’t know, warm and tingly. But there are times when he can get so intense, especially when we talk about family. He has a way of looking into my eyes – Ade, it’s like he sees right into my soul! I keep thinking that he must already know all my secrets. I can’t not tell him about my past. I couldn’t do that to him.”
Adeya reached over and grabbed Rae’s hand. “Sweetie, there is nothing wrong with you. Just tell him. I’m sure it will be fine. You obviously love him very much, and the way that man has hounded you for the last two years, he definitely loves you too.” She smiled at Rae. “Now come on, our order is up and that little devil we call our baby sister is probably torturing mom as we speak.”
Rae and Adeya grabbed the bags of food and headed home.
“What’d I miss?” Adeya walked over to the edge of the pool and slipped into the water.
“I was just asking mom why Sarah couldn’t make it.” Rae wiped some water from her face. “It would have been nice to see her.”
“You know Sarah doesn’t go anywhere without her brother,” Aaliyah responded. “I don’t know what she’s going to do after she gets married. Speaking of which, Rae, are you going to wait until Kate gets hitched before you start dating? You can’t let your younger siblings all get married before you, love.”
“Mom, you have five kids. If I don’t get married, it won’t be the end of the world.” Rae sighed. Her mother just didn’t understand. It’s not that she didn’t want to get married; she just wanted to make sure it was with the right guy!
“Honey, I don’t care if you never get married, but I do want to see you happy. That’s all I ask for.” Aaliyah gazed fondly at her eldest child before getting up and walking over the walkway to the back of the house.
Adeya swam up to Rae and said, “You know mom never pushes, but if even she is saying something, maybe you should take it as a sign and talk to Connor. I want to see you happy too. But you can’t be if you’re too scared to put yourself out there.”
Rae splashed her sister. “When did you get to be so smart?”
Wiping the water from her eyes, Ade said, “I’ve always been smart, but after marrying Noe, I like to think I’ve gotten a little wiser. Love is an awesome thing to have and to get. Don’t be afraid of it.” Smiling, she ducked under the water, giving Rae time to digest what she just said.
Rae swam to the edge of the pool and pulled herself out of the water. Her sister was right, and wasn’t that what she’d already decided when she kissed Connor that night? So why was it so hard to just continue on that track? The worse that could happen was Connor deciding he didn’t really want to be with her anymore.
Trust me, darling, your problems won’t even faze him.
“Nice of you to drop by Rebecca; I was starting to wonder if you’d all but deserted me.”
I thought you’d want some alone time with your loved ones.
Rae smiled and looked out towards the setting sun. “That includes you too, and it seems my mom has the same ideas as you.”
Ade looked over at Rae. “Is that Becca? Tell her I say hi.”
Hello sweet Ade.
“She says hi back.” Rae shook her head and pulled out her phone.
As it rang, Rae again thought of all the reasons why she shouldn’t go through with this, but whenever she looked up, she saw her sister’s smiling face.
Finally Connor picked up. “Hey, pretty girl.” She could practically hear the grin in his voice.
“Hey.” Maybe she should have given more thought to what she actually wanted to say.
“How’s your trip? Are you enjoying the time with your family?”
He always knew just what to say. “Yeah. It’s great having some of my family around. Maybe I can convince them to stop by Appaloosa and say hi to you.”
There was a long pause on his end as he took in what she was saying. Rae hoped she’d said the right thing. She had never invited him to meet her family, even though she’d been to his house for Thanksgiving and they’d known each other for a couple of years.
She could hear him clearing his throat. “Are you asking me to meet your family, Rosie?”
“I guess…I guess I am. Yes.”
“Okay. I’d love to.”
“Okay. Good. So, we need to talk.” Wow…super awkward.
“Over the phone or in person?” Connor asked the concern evident in his voice.
“In person. Before we do this, there are a few things you need to know about me. And I want full disclosure before, you know.”
“Rosie, no matter what it is I’m not going to change my mind.”
“Okay, we’ll go to that bistro you like when you come back.”
“Now go enjoy the rest of your time with your family. Bye, pretty girl.”
“Bye, Connor.” Rae hung up the phone and looked at her sister. “Well, if he sticks around after I tell him, he’ll be the first.”
“Not true Rosie. We stuck around.”
Rae rolled her eyes. “We’re family. You can’t get rid of me. You might need a kidney.”
Rae jumped back in the water. “I bet you I can hold my breath longer than you.”
“I totally accept that challenge!”