Jared wiped the sweat from his eyes to watch Mary bound out of the house. She fairly floated on air. He narrowed his eyes. This must mean she’d had good chat with her cyber boyfriend. Why that rankled him would have to be examined another time because the object of his musings skidded to a halt in front of him.
He forced himself to ask the question he was sure she wanted him to, feeling like the wrong end of a country music song. “You seem happy. What’s going on?”
Mary twirled around, throwing her arms wide and laughing. “I had to tell someone and, well, you are an old friend, after all.”
Jared waited, afraid to speak lest he say the wrong thing. With what he and Will had talked about last night, he didn’t want to tip off their quarry that they were on to the scheme. But neither did he want Mary to get hurt. Her expression told him that the not-getting-hurt part was history. “What are friends for but to share in the joys of life?”
Mary’s smile spread even wider. “You are looking at an engaged woman.” She bounced up and down on the pads of her bare feet, her toenails glistening purple in the grass. “Me, engaged.”
Jared swallowed the gigantic lump in his throat. He tore his eyes away from her happy face and refocused his attention on the back garden he was weeding. “That seems really soon.”
“Maybe. We chat every day, have been for more than three months. You get to know a person pretty well in that environment.”
“Are you sure you want to get engaged to someone you’ve never met in person?” He was taking a chance that she wouldn’t get mad at him for pointing this out, but he had to say something.
“Lots of people meet online and end up getting married.”
He picked his words carefully, as if they were a time bomb that would detonate with one false move. “That’s true. I just don’t want you to get hurt, that’s all.”
Mary came closer and laid her hand on his shoulder. “I’ve prayed about my relationship with David for a long time. I really feel that he’s the one.”
“He would be a fool not to see what a treasure he has in you.”
She blinked and smiled up at him. He stared down into her violet eyes, his heart beating more rapidly at her closeness.
“Thank you, Jared.” She moved away and spun around in a circle, her earlier excitement returning. “If only Aunt Geraldine could see me now. She never thought I would find someone to marry.”
Jared kept his gaze on the section of English ivy he’d been clearing out. “She apparently didn’t know about men like David.” He bit his lip, looking back at Mary to see if she had detected the sarcasm in his voice, but her exuberant face told him she either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. “So, when’s the big day?”
“Oh, we haven’t decided that, but probably in late August, so that I can go with him to Peru. He told me today that his departure date got moved up again, to August 29, because of the woman I told you about has to come back to the States for an operation in early September.”
“That’s what, six weeks away?”
She counted on her fingers. “Seven weeks, plus a few days.”
He pulled off his gardening gloves and shoved them into the back pocket of his jeans. “I guess it’s a good thing you have that passport ready to go, then.”
Mary laughed. “You’re right. I hadn’t thought about that. I always knew there was a reason I kept it up-to-date.” She startled him by throwing her arms around him in a hug. She laid her head on his shoulder and squeezed him. “I’m so glad you’re here to share this with me.”
Jared raised his arms and enfolded Mary into his embrace, not caring that his dirt-streaked tee-shirt and jeans coated Mary’s bright yellow Capri pants and matching sleeveless top. “I’m glad, too.” He breathed in the sweet scent of her shampoo, something flowery and light, and wondered if he and Will would find the evidence in time to stop her marriage. His heart ached for her and he wished she hadn’t fallen in love with someone as shady as David appeared to be, especially with their conclusion that he and Wildcat were one and the same.
She pulled back and he loosened his hold, his hands lightly touching her waist, her hands on his shoulders. Mary’s flushed cheeks, bright eyes, and rosy lips beckoned him like the sirens who lured ships to their destruction. As his lips inched closer to hers, his body tensed. Their precious friendship hung in the balance of what he did next. The thought that a flesh-and-blood man in her arms might outweigh the cyber presence of man far away won out and he moved forward to kiss her.
A blue jay called above their heads and Mary looked up. He shook his head. How could he have been about to kiss her when she just told him she was engaged to another man. He reached around and plucked the gardening gloves from his pocket. “I’m really happy for you, Mary. Congratulations. I’d better get back to work.”
“Of course, and thank you. That means a lot to me.” She glanced around at the piles of ivy and other weeds. “You’re doing a great job.”
Jared resisted the urge to go after her as she walked away, taking another piece of his heart with him.
# # #
A knock on the doorjamb interrupted David’s typing. He finished his thought to lonelygirl and swiveled in his chair to face the doorway.
Sylvia stood there, her eyebrows raised. “Am I to congratulate you?”
“You may.” David grinned. “She, of course, said yes.”
Sylvia sauntered over to him and straddled his lap in the armless office chair. “Then I think a celebration is in order.” She shifted slightly and David raised his hands to grab her waist. “After all, this little pigeon is going to make us very rich indeed.” She leaned closer and nibbled on his ear.
David closed his eyes. “I wouldn’t count that particular bird right away. There’s still the potential problem of Jared Quinby.”
She leaned back, her hands on his shoulders. “I told you that I’ve heard nothing about the FBI investigating anything remotely close to our game. And even if he starts nosing around, he’ll hit a dead end with David Kline.”
“Ha, ha, very funny, Sylvia. But if he digs deeper than the surface, he might find out…”
“We’ve covered our tracks more than enough.”
“What does Wildcat say about it?”
Sylvia shrugged. “Nothing much.”
David eyed her closely. “You didn’t tell him about Jared, did you?”
“I keep him informed on a need-to-know basis. Since there’s nothing to tell about Jared, he doesn’t need to know.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“You let me worry about Wildcat. Your job is to concentrate on reeling in the lonely ladies.” She wiggled closer to him and kissed his lips. “Now, how about that celebration I promised you?”
David returned her kisses, allowing himself to forget about Mary and any potential problems Jared could cause. After all, Sylvia was very good at her job.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.