Jared teases Mary, Chapter 25, Phantom Love

Mary had been relieved when David typed that he had to go because of a client meeting. Her chat with him was off today. She’d ask Amy to stay for dinner after she finished Jared’s massage.

She stirred the meat in the pot and slid the chopped onions in, wondering if she should ask Jared to join them, too. Maybe afterward they could watch a movie. She had several DVDs from a mail-order service. She thought about which one would be a good pick when Amy walked into the kitchen.

“Smells heavenly, Mary.”

“Session over?” Mary raised the saucepan’s lid to stir the contents.

“Uh huh.” Amy took the spoon from her and sampled the sauce. “This is really good.”

Mary laughed. “I was going to ask you to stay for supper, so you’d better leave some.”

Amy smiled. “I’d love to stay, but I’ve got a date with my fiancé.”

“Where’s he taking you tonight?” Mary reached into the fridge and pulled out salad fixings.

“No place special, just the Olive Garden. We’re going to talk about setting a date. It’ll be very romantic, both of us hunched over our smartphones, clicking through our calendars. I doubt I’ll even see his eyeballs tonight. Once you get a phone in his hands, he’s be a goner, checking email, texting his buds.” Amy shook her head. “What can I say? I love him despite his flaws.”

“When you put it that way, I almost feel sorry for you.” Mary surveyed her dinner preparations. “I may be eating leftovers for a month.”

“If my leftovers smelled this good, I wouldn’t mind eating the same thing for four weeks straight.” Jared leaned against the doorjamb, his cane swinging in his left hand.

Heat crept into Mary’s cheeks, which had to be the color of tomato sauce.

Amy looked from Mary to Jared and handed Mary the sauce spoon. “I’ve got to go. Calvin will be picking me up in forty-five minutes.” She squeezed Mary’s arm before picking up her portable massage table. “See you later, gator.”

“Bye, and thanks for coming over.” Mary’s gaze collided with Jared’s. She averted her eyes as he crossed the room toward her. She didn’t look up when he stopped beside her and took the spoon from her hand. She involuntarily followed the path of the spoon from the pot to his mouth before she yanked her eyes away from his lips.

“This is very good.” Jared returned the spoon to her and looked around the kitchen. “Were you expecting company?”

“I, uh, no.” She turned back to the stove. The water for the noodles had come to a boil. Mary kept her gaze on the pot, trying not to think about her sweaty palms. This was only Jared, a grown-up version of her best friend from childhood. She sucked in a breath and relaxed her shoulders.

“I was going to ask you and Amy to stay for dinner, but she has other plans.”

“Her loss is my gain. I’ll be happy to eat her share.” He stood looking at her, with his head cocked to one side. “Why thank you for the kind invitation. I would be delighted to have dinner with you.” He winked at her.

“Sorry. Please do stay for dinner.” Mary flushed. At this rate, her cheeks would stay red all evening. She turned her back on him and stirred the noodles in the boiling water. She jumped when Jared placed his hand on her shoulder.

“I was only teasing.”

Mary kept her eyes on the pot as Jared shifted closer. The heat from his body caused her pulse to race. “I know.”

“But I’ll still accept your invitation. Can I help with anything?”

She closed her eyes as his breath feathered across her cheek. She had to turn him away from here. If he continued to stand this close, she might burn dinner, so distracted were her thoughts. Why Jared flustered her was a thought for another day. “You can, uh, set the table.”

A whoosh of cool air assaulted her back as he shifted away from her. She turned her head slightly to see him. Jared walked over to the kitchen table barely using his cane. “I guess your leg is feeling better?”

He looked up from folding paper napkins and nodded. “It does indeed. She’ll make a great massage therapist.”

Mary moved to hand him plates for the table. “I think so, too. It’s kind of a late career change for Amy. She used to live in New York and worked as a stockbroker. But nineteen years ago, she decided that wasn’t the kind of life she wanted and so returned here. Massage therapy is her newest passion.”

“She should definitely stick with it.”

Their hands brushed slightly as Mary gave the plates to Jared. Mary thought for sure he’d felt the spark but he appeared unfazed by the encounter. A few minutes later, the food was on the table. As they sat down, she said, “Would you say grace?”

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.

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