He then opened the door, stepped out and closed it quietly behind him.
Dana sighed deeply and leaned back against the door, missing Jared already. She had to be realistic about her pretended engagement or else she would fall head over heels in love with him. And that was something she could not and would not let happen.
Two hours later Jared was in his bed wide awake, flat on his back and staring up at the ceiling. Maybe he was moving too fast with Dana and should slow down. He had a reputation for being an in-control kind of guy, but lately he’d been losing control whenever it came to her.
He wished there was some way he could close his mind and thoughts to wanting and desiring her so much but was finding it impossible. He never intended for their pretended engagement to lead to a brief affair. It was hard getting his mind back in focus, and nearly impossible to remember that their relationship wasn’t real.
Even his brothers and cousins had teased him relentlessly tonight about how hard he had fallen for her. And on top of that, his father had taken him aside and asked if he was sure he could wait another year for a wedding.
Jeez. Was it blatantly obvious to everyone just how much he wanted her? And for a while tonight, while introducing her to neighbors and friends, he had actually considered Dana his.
His heart slammed against his ribs at the thought of anything so foolish. He’d never considered a woman his because he didn’t want any woman to consider him hers. He was only interested in the physical side of a relationship and not the emotional. He had enough of emotional entanglements with the cases he handled.
Crossing the room to his dresser, he opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of swimming trunks. Removing his pajamas bottoms he eased the trunks over his still aroused body thinking that a swim in the pool might cool him off and help calm his mind.
It was almost dawn when Jared returned to his bedroom. His body was exhausted but his mind still swam with thoughts of Dana.
The next few days were busy for Dana. The buzz around the office about her engagement had settled down, however, word had quickly spread about the rock she was wearing on her finger. More than once, a curious co-worker had stopped by her office to get a look at it. Tara had been right. Jared certainly knew how to make a statement. It was just too bad the statement he was making was not true.
On Tuesday morning, she got an unexpected call from Jared’s mother.
“Mrs. Westmoreland, this is a pleasant surprise,” she said smiling, and meaning every word. The more she was around the older woman, the more she liked her, mainly because she reminded her a lot of her own mother—friendly, outgoing and devoted to her family.
“Dana, how are you dear? I was wondering if you could join me for lunch at Chase’s Place?”
Dana lifted an eyebrow as she checked her watch. “Sure. Would noon be fine?”
“It would be perfect. Do you know how to get there or do you need directions?”
Dana chuckled. “Yes, I know how to get there. It’s a favorite for a lot of my co-workers. I’ve even eaten there a couple of times myself. The food is fantastic.”
“Yes it is. Chase still uses some of the Westmoreland family’s secret recipes.”
A few hours later as Dana drove to Chase’s Place, she couldn’t help but think about Jared. He had left a message on her answering machine last night to let her know where he’d gone, which was definitely information a fiancée should know should anyone ask. He’d even left the number where he could be reached should she need him.
But she didn’t need him.
Unfortunately, she had to remind herself of that very thing pretty often these days. She shouldn’t make more of what was going on between them than there really was. Even he had admitted that when this sham was no longer needed he would walk away without a backwards glance.
So why don’t you just enjoy whatever moments you have with him? an inner voice screamed. Why does there have to be regrets after goodbyes? You may not want to fall in love with him but you’re halfway there already. Admit it.
A lump formed in Dana’s throat. She refused to admit anything. Hadn’t she learned a cruel lesson about depending on others for her happiness? First there was the loss of her parents and then Matt and Luther, two men who had walked into her life and then walked out…just like Jared intended to do.
She’d known the score going in so, unlike the others, when he did his disappearing act she would be ready.
Dana saw Jared’s mother sitting at a table the moment she entered the restaurant. She thought Sarah Westmoreland was a beautiful woman at fifty-seven with short black hair she wore in an Afro. She had dark brown eyes, dimples in both cheeks and a medium-size figure. Her smile was always gracious and sincere and Dana knew she wouldn’t just be a mother-in-law to her sons’ wives, she’d be like a second mother.
“Mrs. Westmoreland,” Dana said as she approached the table.
“Dana, it’s good seeing you again,” the older woman said, standing and giving her a huge hug. From the first, Dana had decided that Jared’s mother was a warm, loving person. And there was so much excitement in the older woman’s voice on seeing her that no one would think they had just seen each other on Saturday, which was only three days ago.
“And it’s good seeing you, as well,” Dana responded, thinking she could get used to all the love and affection the woman generated.
Once they took their seats Mrs. Westmoreland smiled and said, “How are things going at work? Jared mentioned you’re a landscape architect. That sounds like a real interesting profession.”
Dana smiled. “It is. My parents owned a nursery so I got interested in trees, plants and shrubs fairly early in life.” She paused while the waitress gave them glasses of water and their menus. Then she continued. “A lot of people don’t understand the involvement of a landscape architect whenever a building is constructed. My job is to make sure the outside area is not only functional but also beautiful and compatible with the natural environment. “
Sarah Westmoreland nodded. A sad look then appeared in her eyes. “Jared told me about your parents’ passing. That must have been devastating for you.”
Dana nodded. “Yes, it was. I was the only child and was very close to my parents. Their deaths left me without any family.”
Sarah smiled warmly as she reached out and covered Dana’s hand. “Well, all that’s changed. Like I told you the other night, the Westmorelands are your family now and I want you to feel like a part of us.”
“Thanks.” Dana felt a deep lump in her throat. She hated deceiving Jared’s family, although she knew it was being done for a good reason. Dana looked down to study her menu. There was no way she could look at Mrs. Westmoreland right now.
“So, dear, have your heard from Jared since he’s been gone?”
Dana glanced up. At least her answer wouldn’t be a total lie. There was no reason Mrs. Westmoreland needed to know that, although Jared had called, she hadn’t actually spoken with him. “Yes, he called last night.”
“I’m sure that he’s missing you.”
Dana smiled. She doubted Jared was missing her but she definitely was missing him, although she didn’t want to. She spent her days trying not to think about him, but found herself doing it anyway.
Dana took another sip of her water and decided to shift the topic off her and Jared. “So, how have you been?” she asked the older woman.
Sarah smiled. “I’m fine. I’m sure Jared told you that I had breast cancer a few years ago and that recently the doctor found another lump. But there’s a chance it’s nothing more than fatty tissue. I’m having it removed in two weeks and then we’ll know the results. Whatever it is, I’ll deal with it. I’d be the first to admit chemo and radiation were hard on me, but if I have to go through them again, then I will. I’m a fighter, Dana. My family gives me a lot to fight for. And I’m looking forward to the day when I become a grandmother,” she said excitedly. “Jared told me that the two of you wanted children.”
Dana inwardly thought that that was a lot for Jared to have said, considering they had never discussed children, not that they really planned on having any together.
At that moment the waitress walked up to take their orders and Dana was grateful for her timely arrival. A pretended engagement was bad enough. The last thing she needed to think about was having Jared’s baby.
O n Wednesday evening after feeding Tom, Dana curled up in her favorite chair to read and relax. It had been a hectic day. One of her clients had been difficult, upset that the city’s ordinances would keep him from constructing a huge man-made waterfall on the property where he planned to erect his company’s building.
Not wanting to think about the problems that had plagued her that day any longer, she switched her thoughts to the lunch she’d shared with Jared’s mother yesterday. Afterward she felt a special bond toward the woman that she shouldn’t feel and didn’t deserve. She wondered what his family would think when they ended their engagement, which just might be two weeks from now if his mother’s test indicated her lump was benign.
She glanced up from her book when she heard the sound of the doorbell. It was barely six o’clock and she wasn’t expecting anyone. Cybil and Ben had decided to take the week off to visit his brother in Tennessee.