“Nice to know I’m not the only night owl,” Mary said as she stepped back to allow Jared to come into the kitchen. The caller with the similar story had jangled her nerves, so she was glad Jared had stopped by, even it if was 2:30 a.m. She sometimes saw a light on late at night in the carriage house apartment, which made her feel a bit less lonely knowing he was awake, too. “I was just about to fix a snack. Care to join me?”
“Sure, Mary. Or should I say Layla?”
She spun around. Jared stood with his arms folded across his chest.
“What are you talking about?” She fiddled with the buttons at the neck of her blouse. Her fingers slipped on the smooth surface as her palms dampened. Her secret life as a disc jockey had been kept hidden from everyone except for Amy and her pastor for so long, she had no idea how to explain it to Jared. Maybe she could bluff her way through his questions. “Who is Layla?”
“Don’t play games with me. I heard your show tonight. You were the only kid I knew who sang all the words to ‘Heartaches by the Number.’”
“You listened to my show?” Mary blurted. Her heart pounded. That meant he had heard her interaction with Beatrice and the other callers, and her amateurish attempts at reading them over the phone. Being a professional psychiatrist, he probably thought radio shows like hers had no business dabbling in psychology. “I had no idea you were a fan.”
“I’ve listened a few times.” He wore an unreadable expression. That must be the look he used when he wanted his counseling clients to share their secrets.
“What did you think?” She hadn’t meant to ask him that, but longed to know what he thought. Jared’s good opinion of her was important as much as she hated to admit it. Because of her engagement, she ignored the little voice that whispered it was perhaps too important.
“You have a good radio voice.”
“Thanks a lot.” She shot him a wry smile. “That’s like telling a fat girl she has a nice personality.”
“Fair enough. An honest question deserves an honest answer.” Jared leaned against the kitchen counter. “You have a natural rapport with the callers, a way of convincing them to tell you their innermost thoughts. Very similar to a counselor.”
A warmth spread over her. He considered her good at her job.
“But I thought your advice to Beatrice a bit off the mark.”
His remark doused the fuzzy feeling in her bones as effectively as a cold shower. “Don’t hold back. Tell me how you really feel.”
Jared raised his eyebrows.
Her tone sounded snarky, but she hadn’t meant it to be. His comment hurt because it hit too close to home.
“I think you flubbed it with Beatrice because her story’s too like yours.”
Hands on her hips, she tossed her head, whipping back her braid. “The only similarity between her story and mine is that we both met our men online.”
“You haven’t met David face-to-face.”
“No, but we met through a Christian dating site with an excellent reputation for vetting its members.” So there, she added mentally, even though it was childish. “And I just ordered a background check on him.”
“That’s wise,” Jared agreed, his eyes never leaving hers. “But don’t you think it would be better if you didn’t rush this wedding? Meet the guy before he leaves for Peru, but hold off on tying the knot for a bit. Even missionaries get furloughs.”
His tone, although even, raked across her feelings like fingernails on a chalkboard. She drew in a deep breath. “I don’t think you want me to get married. Maybe you want me to stay an old maid and die in this house like my grandmother did.”
She gritted her teeth at his not seeing the truth of her situation. “I’m going to marry David and go to Peru and have a long and happy life as a missionary to the Amazon River tribes. You’ll see you were wrong. We love each other and you’re just jealous of his attention to me.”
Jared stood motionless.
She pointed with a finger that trembled to the door. “I think you should leave before we both say something we’ll regret.”
Instead of leaving, he moved closer, wrapped his arm around her waist, and tugged her into his body. His other hand gripped her braid and gently pulled her head back.
“Maybe I am jealous, but your precious David isn’t here, now is he? And I’m here, a flesh-and-blood man who finds you gorgeous.” His lips captured hers in a fierce, possessive kiss. Just as suddenly as the kiss started, it ended, and he released her.
“Now when you go to sleep tonight, I wonder which of us you’ll think of—him or me?”
She staggered backwards and caught the edge of the counter to steady herself.
“See if your online fiancé can compete with that.” Jared favored his hurt leg as he walked to the back door. The door closed behind him with a crisp snick.
Mary stood for a long moment in the empty room, her fingers touching her tingling lips. Of all the ways she had imagined her first kiss, never in her wildest dreams had she thought it would be from Jared in her kitchen during the wee hours of the morning. While, if she was really honest with herself, she had once or twice wondered how his lips would feel on hers, nothing in her imagination had prepared her how much she enjoyed the kiss.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.