A knock on the back door stopped Mary at the sink, her hands immersed in soapy water. She knew without turning around that it was Jared. Her lips tingled at the very thought of him, but she squashed that emotion. Her heart belonged to David. Another knock, firmer this time. She wiped her hands on a towel and walked over to the door. Ignoring her increased heart rate, she pasted a smile on her lips and cracked open the door. “Hi, Jared.”
He paused before answering. “Mary, I, uh, want to apologize.”
When he didn’t elaborate but merely stared at her, she stepped back. “Please come in.”
“Thank you.” He followed her into the kitchen, but hovered by the back door.
“You caught me in the middle of doing the dishes.” She returned to the sink. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just finish them while the water’s hot.” She plunged her hands into the soapy water, her back to Jared. The warm water usually soothed her but not tonight, not with Jared standing in her kitchen.
“I’m sorry to drop by like this, but I had to see you.”
Mary tightened her grip on a glass. Of course, he was going to say he was sorry for kissing her. That would be the honorable thing to do, and Jared was an honorable man. “Oh?”
“You were right.”
Carefully rinsing the glass, Mary set it in the drainer. “I was?” Goodness, at this rate, the apology would take forever.
“But not about my being jealous. I mean I would be jealous if David was, but he’s not, so I’m not. Really. But you think he is, so I guess that means I am jealous.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” She dried her hands and turned around to see Jared pacing by the door. No wonder his words were muddled—he wasn’t even walking in a straight line, but in a half circle.
He halted and took a step toward her. “I’m not making any sense, am I?”
She shook her head. “Not really.”
“And me, a psychiatrist who’s supposed to know the right thing to say in any situation.”
“That does seem to put you in a quandary.” Mary folded her hands. Jared usually had no problem telling her what he thought, but not today, which made her wary of what he had to say.
“I’m really worried about you marrying some guy you barely know,” he blurted.
Mary held up her hand. “I’m not going over that again, Jared. I do know David.”
“But what if he’s not who he says he is?” He reached up to rub the back of his neck.
“I’m running a background check on him. I know I should have done it earlier. I’m not stupid, you know. Besides, Bringing Christ to Latin America vetted him, too. I checked that organization out, and it’s legit.” She might not have romantic experience but she did know David, and he wasn’t going to hurt her. He loved her, showed her that daily in their chats and the way he included her in planning their life together in Peru.
“I have a good reason to believe he’s not who he says he is.” Jared crossed his arms.
She narrowed her eyes. “Really?” Mary hoped he heard the sarcasm in her tone, but raised her eyebrows for emphasis. “Do you have any solid proof?”
He broke eye contact and looked at the floor. “Not exactly.” He took another step toward her, then reached over to touch her hair. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“David wouldn’t hurt me.” She was beginning to feel like one of his patients. She could take care of herself; she had been doing just fine on her own for years.
“How can you be sure when you haven’t even met him, haven’t stared into his eyes?” He inched closer, his hand grazing her cheek. “Eyes are the windows to your soul. You can tell a lot by someone’s eyes.”
“That’s deep.” She licked her lips, wishing that had come out more sarcastic than it had.
“Your eyes are talking to me right now.” His fingers wound themselves into her hair, which hung loose down her back.
“What are my eyes saying?” Part of her longed to surrender to the spell that was drawing them together, while another part wanted to remain aloof because of his inferences about David.
“They’re saying, ‘I have doubts about David.’”
She blinked and took a step back, shaking her head to dislodge his hand from her hair. “Doubts about David? You’re making that up.” Just because she had enjoyed their kiss yesterday didn’t mean she wasn’t committed to David.
“No, I’m not. You do have concerns about him.”
“No, I don’t.” She frowned. “I love him and am going to marry him in five weeks.”
“Then why did you want to kiss me just now?”
Her hand covered her mouth. She needed to focus on David, not Jared. “What did you say?”
“You heard me.” Jared smiled knowingly, then removed her hand from her lips.
Her cheeks warmed at the knowledge that he was right—she had wanted to kiss him. But not because she had doubts about David. “I shouldn’t have kissed you last night.” She blew out an exasperated breath. “I am an engaged woman.”
“Who’s never met her fiancé.”
“We’ve had this conversation already.” Mary resisted the temptation to stomp her foot. It wouldn’t due to appear childish when she wanted Jared to take her seriously.
Jared shifted closer to her, his eyes on hers. “I want you to acknowledge how ridiculous it is for you to marry a virtual stranger.”
“Arranged marriages have been going on since the beginning of time. Only in my case, we choose each other instead of our parents finding mates for us. Besides, I know David better than I know you.”
“I doubt it. What’s his favorite rock song?”
She titled her head. “You think knowing someone’s favorite rock song is the secret to a long and happy marriage?”
“Trust me, it’s a guy thing. What’s the answer?”
Mary shrugged. “Maybe he doesn’t have one.”
“Believe me, he has one. What’s mine?”
“‘You Really Got Me’ by Van Halen.” She clapped her hand over her mouth. She couldn’t believe she remembered that after all those years.
He lifted his hand as if to touch her arm, but she sidestepped away. “See how much better it is when you really know someone.”
“That doesn’t prove I don’t know David.”
Jared snorted. “For all you know, he could be an ax murderer.”
She waved her hand in the air. “I’m running a background check on him, remember? That will turn up any stints in prison for homicide.”
“That’s true, but that’s about all. There’s so much you need to know that a background check will never show at the level you’re doing it, especially if he has things to hide. What if he’s not using his own real name? Then you’d be checking out the wrong guy—maybe his neighbor or someone he knows who goes to church.”
She threw up her hands. “Boy, you are paranoid. First he’s a killer, now he’s involved in some vast conspiracy to deceive me? For what purpose?”
He crossed his arms. “A million-dollar painting is pretty good motive.”
Mary’s mouth fell open. “How did you know about that?”
“I was in the house when you were talking to that Sullivan fellow.”
“You eavesdropped on my private conversation with Mr. Sullivan?”
“I didn’t mean to.” He stiffened his spine. “But yes, I did.”
“Since you seem to know it all, tell me how David knew about the painting? He never asked me to sell it, he never mentioned it. I was the one who told him about it. This isn’t a well-known painting. Nobody knows I even own it.”
“I’m not sure how, but there are ways of knowing, if a person has the right connections. Don’t you think selling the painting is going too far?”
“I’ll tell you who’s going too far—you.” Mary clenched her fists at her side. She firmed her lips to steady their trembling. “How can you accuse David of wanting money when he never knew I had? I didn’t think you would stoop so low.”
“Save it.” She cut him off with a slash of her hand through the air. “I’ve heard enough of your innuendo and speculation. Do you have any solid evidence that David’s not who he says he is?”
“That’s not his photo on the website. It’s a picture of model who is currently out of the country.”
Mary dismissed it with a shrug. “David told me himself when we first starting chatting that he’s often mistaken for a well-known model. Anything else?”
“No.” He opened his mouth as if to add something but then shook his head. “No proof, just a gut feeling he’s not a good guy. I’m a trained professional and I’ve encountered my share of shady people, and I know he’s not on the up and up.”
“Well, my gut is not telling me that.” She walked over to the door and opened it. “I think it’s best if you stick to the yard work you were hired to do and stop coming around the house.”
Jared followed her over to the door. He stepped outside but turned just as she was about to close the door. “Your Prince Charming isn’t all he pretends to be. I only hope you wake up before it’s too late for a happy ending.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.0