With This Ring, I Thee Dread

Who Knew a Food Fight Could Lead to More?
She threw two more eggs at him, but they flew by him and
landed on the floor. “Stay back!”
“You re having fun.”
“I am not!” she fibbed.
“I see a smile forming on your lips. You like getting
messy.”
“Are you crazy? I have to clean myself and the kitchen
up.”
“I told you I have the kitchen covered. And I ll be happy
to take care of you too.”
She knew she couldn t hold onto the sprayer once he
grabbed it. He was too strong for her. She shrieked as he sprayed
water all over her.
He stopped and stared at her. “Aren t you going to run
out of the kitchen?”
She hesitated. If she did that, she would get the living
room messy.
As if he could read her mind, he asked, “Can I do anything
I want to you in this kitchen because you refuse to get the rest of
the cabin dirty?”
She struggled to make her wet feet move but her mind
refused to go. She was covered in wet flour. It felt like paste.
How could she leave a trail of this awful stuff on the floor so she
could get to the shower?
“I m getting closer,” he warned her, stepping towards her.
She anxiously looked at the doorway. She turned to the
eggs and threw one at his chest. Before she could throw another
one at him, he took her in his arms and kissed her.
***
With This Ring, I Thee Dread

With This Ring,
I Thee Dread
Ruth Ann Nordin

Chapter One
R
yan Jackson and Jacob Hackman finished giving their
presentation to the two Intensity cologne executives. Ryan
thought it went well, but now it was up to the executives to
determine whether to accept or reject the commercial idea.
The blinds were drawn over the large three windows of
the room, but Ryan took a moment to peek through them to see
the hustle and bustle of downtown Omaha, Nebraska. The
February sun melted the snow into piles of slush as cars drove on
the streets. He took a deep breath to calm his racing heart before
turning his attention back to the executives.
His dark brown hair was neatly trimmed. His face was
clean shaven, and his dark blue eyes matched his dark suit. His six
foot frame was slender and well-toned. However, despite the fact
that he looked his best, he felt uneasy because one of the
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executives from Intensity was a woman. The man would be
impressed with the facts and figures of the presentation, but what
would the woman think?
The man said, “In your presentation, you outlined the
dance number you want to use. It is apparent that the men in the
commercial are actively leading the dance. Is there a reason for
this?”
Ryan nodded. “Our research shows that men like to
pursue women. They like a challenge, so they lead the dance.
Though the women are coy, they let the men win. So this speaks
to the man’s urge to be dominant in a relationship.”
“We are not saying that women aren t equal to men,”
Jacob quickly added. His dark face revealed a warm smile. “But
there are differences that exist between men and women.”
“What appeal does this commercial have for women?” the
female executive asked. “Why should a woman buy this for her
boyfriend or husband?”
Jacob spoke up. “That is why we have the dancers wear
formal clothes. Women are romantic. They love to dress up and
go dancing. I also think that women want to be pursued, though
not aggressively. The way the men approach them in the
commercial is not demanding and the women are treated with
respect.”
She nodded, obviously content with the answer.
Ryan silently thanked Jacob for his quick thinking. Jacob
was ten years older than him and was happily married with three
kids.
If anyone knows how to handle women, it s a married man.
The male and female executives quietly consulted each
other while Jacob helped Ryan take down the charts for their
presentation. Ryan s father, who was the president of Jackson
Advertising Firm, sat farther down the table. He offered Ryan an
encouraging smile.
Finally, the woman spoke up. “We will take the account.
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Only, let s leave out the narration at the very end.”
Ryan s father stood up and shook their hands. “Thank
you. We will be in touch with you as we film the commercial. We
should begin our first shoot next week.”
The male executive smiled. “We re looking forward to it.”
After they left, Jacob breathed a sigh of relief. “Did you
see the look on her face when you were talking about men’s need
to pursue women? I thought we lost the account.”
Ryan sighed. “Are women repulsed by being pursued?”
“No but they don t want to be sex objects. They want to
be treated like human beings.”
“You did a fine job,” his father said. “In fact, I need to
talk to you alone when you finish putting your things away.”
After his father left the room, Ryan turned to Jacob. “Do
you think the only reason I have this job is because of my dad?”
Jacob shook his head. “No. You are creative.”
“Yes but you know how to handle the women clients
better than I do.”
“It comes with the territory. I ask my wife for her opinion
on a lot of things and she s not afraid to tell me the truth, whether
it s good or bad.”
He supposed that did give Jacob the advantage. Who
would understand women better than a married man? “Perhaps
you should be the vice president.”
Jacob crossed his arms and smiled at him. “How can you
be so confident when you re in front of a group of people?”
He shrugged. “I guess it comes from years of pretending
to be something I m not. I have to act like I enjoy talking to
clients I can t stand.”
“We can t like every client who walks through the door.”
“I m relieved to know I m not the only one who has
difficulty with some of the clients.”
“Do you also hate going to the business parties?”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“If I had someone to talk to, they would be doable. But
you know I have a hard time with women.”
“You have a hard time with them because you don t let
them see the real you.”
“If I did that, they wouldn t like what they saw. I m
boring. Why else would Carmen leave me for another man?”
“Carmen was a model. She had no substance. You need a
woman who can maintain a conversation for longer than five
minutes. Relationships aren t all about sex. The best thing you
can do is stop and wait for the right woman.”
“That s not going to be a problem since I ve never had
sex.”
“That s great, Ryan. It s good that you re not using
women.”
“I don t want anyone to know though, Jacob. I don t
want people to think I m weird because I m a twenty-nine year old
virgin.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
His father s secretary knocked on the open door. “Can I
take the computer back to the media room now?”
Jacob nodded. “We re done.” He turned to Ryan. “Don t
forget to see your dad. I m sure he ll want to congratulate you on
a job well done.”
“Thanks to you,” he added.
Ryan went to his father s office and knocked on the closed
door.
“Come on in, Ryan,” his father called out.
He opened the door and saw that his father was typing
something into his computer. Rowan Jackson was a slender man
with salt and pepper hair and a big smile.
“Close the door,” Rowan said.
Ryan complied and sat in one of the crimson chairs in
front of the large oak desk. Pictures of him, his mother and his
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
father decorated the top of his desk, and several plaques and
certificates and degrees hung on his walls. He had accomplished
many things in his sixty years, and he was proud to show it.
“You and Jacob make a good team,” Rowan stated. “I
hate to break you two up but you have earned your spot as vice
president. I know you spent many hours on the Intensity
account.”
“And I would have lost it had Jacob not stepped in to save
the day.”
“You ve always been modest.”
“Dad, I m not ready for this position and we both know it.
I do a good job, but I only excel because I have Jacob s help.
Can t you make him vice president instead?”
“But you ll take over this company one day since you re
my son. Don t you want to do that?”
“Yes. I enjoy working here, but I m not in touch with the
female clientele.”
“That will come with time. I m sure Jacob can give you
some pointers to consider on that count, though a wife would be a
bigger help. You should consider getting married. You ll be thirty
soon.”
He didn t care for the reminder. His father was anxious to
get him married off. Part of it was to see his son find a suitable
companion but another part was for him to get some
grandchildren. Ryan used to think that women were the only ones
who felt pressured into marriage.
“Are you dating anyone?” his father asked him.
“No.”
His father looked thoughtful. “There is that party the
Hendersons of the Henderson Hotel chain are hosting. Our firm
and the Valentine Professional Decor Firm will be attending it. It
will be held at the Henderson Hotel right here in Omaha. The
Hendersons are interested in having us advertise for their hotel.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“Why are the Valentines going to be there?” He was
familiar with the Valentine family since his parents were best
friends with Harold and Lillian Valentine. Unfortunately, that
meant he had to bump into Elizabeth Valentine, their twenty-
seven year old daughter.
“Barry Henderson wants the Valentines to redecorate the
interior look of his hotels.”
“Will there be a lot of people at this party?”
“Yes.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. He might not run into
Elizabeth at the event.
His father shook his head. “I don t know why you insist
on hating Elizabeth Valentine. She is actually a sweet woman.”
She s as sweet as a bulldog.
He rolled his eyes.
“Anyway, if you don t have a date, I was wondering if you
would take her,” his father continued.
“No! I already have a date,” he lied. Anyone but her
would work out. He would have Zack Richards fix him up with
one of his girlfriend s friends.
“I guess Elizabeth will be showing up without a date
again. I don t understand why she can t find a man ever since
Preston Edwards broke up with her for Carmen Burton.”
“Because she s clearly anti-male.”
“She s not anti -male. She s just been hurt. She needs
someone to come along and show her that men aren t as bad as
she fears.”
Good luck to the man who has that kind of courage. She won t be
likely to leave him with his balls intact.
His father cleared his throat. “At any rate, I want you to
seriously consider settling down. Marriage is a good thing for a
man. I ve been married to your mother for thirty-five years and
would do it all over again.”
“I understand,” he finally said.
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
“The Henderson party will be Friday at six. Don t be
late,” his father said. “You ll want to make a good impression
since you ll put on vice president once Victor Tyrone retires next
year.”
“Don t I always show up on time?”
“You do. But don t stop.”
He smiled. “I won t.”
“Okay. There s a sexual harassment seminar tomorrow
morning. All the employees have to be there.”
“I got the memo.”
He chuckled. “Just wait until you see who s giving the
seminar.”
“Who?”
“The new occupational psychologist at the Valentine
Professional Decor Firm.”
“Who s that?”
“You ll see.”
He didn t share his father s enthusiasm for secrecy but
decided not to press the issue. Instead, he left the office and went
to lunch with Jacob.
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Chapter Two
T
he next morning, Ryan groaned with dread when he realized
Elizabeth was giving the sexual harassment seminar. The room
was filled with a couple hundred employees who grumbled and
yawned. Ryan sat in a chair at a table next to his childhood
friends, blond-haired Zack Richards and redheaded Ben Fisher.
Jacob sat on the other side of him.
Elizabeth didn t look intimidating to people just by
looking at her. She was a slender 5’4″ auburn haired pretty
woman who appeared as if she was still twenty-two. She had big
blue eyes, a button nose and thin pink lips. Her complexion was
fair and her figure was nice. Anyone who looked at her for the
first time would think she was a sweet and quiet woman, but Ryan
knew better.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” she greeted the
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
tired crowd.
She wore her shoulder-length hair back into a tight bun,
and her gray pantsuit was baggy enough to hide the figure he
knew was there. She wore her black square framed glasses which
slid down her nose. She handed out a stack of papers, and he
rolled his eyes when he saw that each person got twenty pages of
sexual harassment notes that were neatly stapled together.
What a
waste of paper. I bet this stuff can be condensed to one piece of paper.
“What did she do? Spend her whole night writing a
book?” Zack shook his head. “This is going to be a major snooze
fest.”
“Give her a break,” Jacob told him. “She just started her
job. She s enthusiastic.”
Ben yawned. “And extremely thorough.”
Ryan had to agree with Zack and Ben on this one.
At the front of the room, she spoke. “My name is Ms.
Valentine, and I ll be your instructor for this one hour seminar.
Please look at the second page of your sexual harassment packet.”
He reluctantly flipped to it. Zack and Ben had already
turned their attention to scribbling their own notes on the paper.
“The first thing I want to point out is the definition of
sexual harassment,” she said.
As she talked, his mind wandered to what he would be
doing that evening. Most likely, he would go home to his
spacious one bedroom apartment and work on a possible
advertisement for the Henderson Hotel chain. He liked to get a
head start on his upcoming projects. Since Bar ry Henderson was
leaning toward an old-fashioned atmosphere to his hotels, Ryan
considered that the commercial for the Henderson Hotels should
have an older song playing in the background. Either a sepia or
black and white video for the commercial would give it an old-
fashioned feel too.
Zack nudged his elbow. He glanced over and saw what
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Zack and Ben had come up with so far in their attempts to make
fun of the seminar. Ben had written, “harass = her ass.” He
forced himself to smile. He didn t really think it was funny. In
fact, it was downright childish.
“On page seven,” Elizabeth continued, “are a couple
examples of sexual harassment.”
He blinked, not realizing she had gotten that far into the
presentation already. He quickly flipped to page seven.
“I think Darlene looks hot,” Ben whispered to him and
Zack. “She s been smiling at me for the past week. I should ask
her out.”
“She s on the rebound from a serious relationship,” Zack
replied. “She ll probably do it with anyone.”
“She s vulnerable right now,” Jacob hissed. “Do you
really think it s a wise idea to treat her like that?”
“Look at the skirt she s wearing. She s practically asking
for it.”
Despite Ryan s better judgment, he glanced over at the
pretty blond and saw that her skirt reached her mid-thighs when
she sat down. It was hard not to be attracted to her long legs.
As if she could read his mind, Elizabeth said, “I am tired
of watching women dress inappropriately at work. From this
moment on, the women in the room should dress modestly. Men
are visual by nature, so it is the woman s responsibility to dress in
such a way that will not draw the wrong kind of attention to her.”
“Which explains why she looks so frumpy,” Ben
whispered.
“She s just upset because she ll never look as good as
Darlene,” Zack agreed.
Elizabeth stopped talking and walked over to their table
which was in the middle of the room. “Do you have something
you wish to share with everyone?” she asked Ben and Zack.
Here it comes.
Ryan was relieved she didn t pick him out.
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“We just want to thank you for your fine example on how
to turn men off,” Ben replied.
Most of the people in the room chuckled. Ryan was
among them.
She crossed her arms. “That is an example of sexual
harassment, Mr. Fisher.”
“No, it s not. I m complimenting you on your ability to
get my attention as far away from sex as possible.”
“Meanwhile, I can see that you and Mr. Richards are
staring at Miss Giles legs. This brings me to my point, ladies and
gentlemen.” She turned to Darlene. “Do you really think such
apparel is appropriate for work?”
“There s nothing wrong with my skirt,” Darlene argued.
“Not if you want someone to view you as a sex object.”
“What s wrong with being attractive?”
“There is a time and a place to be attractive. The work
place is not it.”
“I disagree,” Ben said. “Women should look their best
when they can. Just because you don t share the same good looks
as Darlene, it doesn t give you the right to criticize her.”
“I saw the way you looked at her. You have one thing on
your mind and it has nothing to do with respect.” She turned back
to Darlene and kept her voice low so the rest of the people,
except for Ryan and those around him, could hear her. “I ve
known Ben and Zack for years, and they were notorious for their
sexual escapades in college. They used to tally up who could have
sex with the most women by the end of each semester, and from
the way they are acting this morning, it doesn t seem like they ve
changed at all. Unless you want one of these men to have a one
night stand with you, you shouldn t be wearing that skirt. And it
would help if you buttoned your blouse. There s no need to show
off so much cleavage.” She shook her head and went back to the
front of the room. “Sexual harassment isn t funny,” she told the
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Ruth Ann Nordin
entire group. “People can get hurt by it.”
Darlene frowned and quickly buttoned her shirt. She shot
Ben and Zack a dirty look.
“Leave it to Elizabeth-won t-let-you-get-any-Valentine to
ruin things,” Ben muttered.
There s no way I would ever tell them I m a virgin
. Ryan couldn t
handle their harassment, but he had to admire Elizabeth for
standing her ground.
Elizabeth made them watch a cheesy video that was
mostly humorous since the actors couldn t act at all, but the
subject matter was supposed to be serious so everyone managed
to hold in their giggles.
“Sexual harassment is a two-way street,” she said once the
ten minute video ended. “It isn t popular to talk about but men
do face pressure at work that they don t need to. Harassment can
come from a number of avenues. There may be some men who
don t engage in sexual activity but feel pressured from their co-
workers to lie about it. This is a form of sexual harassment.”
Ryan felt his cheeks grow warm.
Zack nudged him again. “She is so out of touch with
reality. Doesn t she realize that there are no more male virgins our
age?”
“She s living in a dream world alright,” Ryan quickly
replied.
Jacob raised an eyebrow at him.
He shrugged.
To his credit, Jacob kept quiet.
Why do I hang out with Zack and Ben? The older we get, the less
we have in common.
Ryan glanced at his watch. When was the
seminar going to end?
“Sexual harassment isn t confined to speech,” Elizabeth
continued. “It can be a look, a touch, or an image. For example,
if someone has a swimsuit model on their screen saver at work,
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
someone might find that offensive.”
Zack raised his hand.
She sighed but politely asked what he wanted.
“I think it s unfair that you re singling out men as being
the ones instigating these objectionable behaviors,” he said.
“Please explain how you conclude that.”
“Your example is of someone putting a swimsuit model
on the screen saver.”
She stared at him, not blinking. “And?”
He rolled his eyes. “Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“Apparently, you do.”
“Come on. Who but a man would put a swimsuit model
on the screen saver?”
“Did I say whether the model was a man or a woman?”
He paused.
“Aren t women capable of putting a male swimsuit model
on their screen savers?” she asked.
Jacob grinned but quickly hid his smile by covering his
mouth with his hand.
Realizing that Zack wasn t going to respond, she picked
up where she left off in her speech.
“Burn, baby, burn,” Ben whispered to Zack. “She got you
good with that one.”
“Shut up!” he hissed. “I can t stand her. Ryan, what did
you ever see in her?”
Ryan didn t hide his disgust. “I was stupid back then.
Leave me out of this.”
“You went out with her?” Jacob wondered.
“No.”
“Then what was Ben talking about?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” He turned his attention
to page fifteen and pretended to be acutely interested in it.
Jacob understood and turned back to the seminar.
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Ryan breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn t wait for the
seminar to end so he could go home and forget this day ever
happened.
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Chapter Three
E
lizabeth Valentine returned to her new office at Valentine
Professional Decor Firm just in time for lunch. Her office had a
view overlooking the city, and it was decorated with her honor
awards and undergraduate and graduate diplomas. She also had a
bookshelf full of psychology texts.
She tried not to let her encounter with Zack and Ben
upset her but they always found a way to get under her skin. She
was relieved to be done with the seminar so she could go back to
her life and forget about them. They constantly ridiculed her, and
she had hoped that once they graduated from college, they would
grow up but that was hoping for too much. They were still
adolescent creeps.
“Are you ready for lunch?”
She relaxed as her friend, Lucinda Lopez, entered the
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office. “Hi.” She smiled. “Let me get my purse and I ll be with
you.”
“How did the seminar go?”
“I had to write Zack Richards and Ben Fisher up for the
way they were looking at a co-worker. I can t believe they had the
nerve to sexually harass her while I was right there. Sexual
harassment was going on right in front of me while I was giving a
speech on it!”
“It s good that you didn t let them get away with it. You
taught them an important lesson.”
“Like it ll do any good. They re as bad as they wer e when
I went to high school with them. I m just glad I don t have to deal
with them anymore.”
She bit her lower lip. “You might run into them during
the Henderson account.”
“What?”
“Jackson Advertising is going to do the advertising for
Barry Henderson while we work on the decor.”
Elizabeth groaned. “Of course, we ll be forced to go to
meetings together.”
“Right. Though your part will be limited since you re not
an interior designer.”
“That helps.”
She had hoped when she entered the real world that she
would be able to put her school days behind her, but it didn t
seem to be working out that way. She shrugged. If there wasn t
anything she could do about something, there was no need to
dwell on it.
“How do you like being the occupational psychologist?”
Lucinda asked.
“So far, so good. I am eager to add video cameras to the
daycare center. I need to conduct informal inter views on what
else I can do to make this place a better work environment.”
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“I m looking forward to seeing my little girls on the
monitors while I work. I like knowing what they re doing during
the day.”
“How is the divorce coming along?”
“It s rough but I m hanging in there. I got custody and
Nick gets to see them two weekends a month. It s not what I
planned when I got married but I can only handle so much
arguing.”
“So the marriage counseling isn t working?” She liked both
Lucinda and Nick and was sorry to hear they had separated.
“He won t even go. He says it s a waste of time because
the counselor blames him for everything. That s not the case but
he seems to think it is.”
“Wow. It s almost scary to get married this day in age
when there are so many divorces.”
“But it s probably good for marriage counselors and
lawyers.”
“Yes but the counselors are trying to help keep the
marriages together. Do you want to stay married to him?”
She shrugged. “One day I do and the next day I don t.
It s very hard. I know the kids are hurting. We re doing
everything we can to make it easier for them, but it s not easy to
tell them that he s not going to be home that night when they
want to have dinner with him.”
Elizabeth sighed. “I m sorry. Maybe you should see
another marriage counselor. I wish I could help, but I d only
make things worse. There s nothing I can do but listen.”
“I know, but you ve been a big help through this.”
It was hard for Elizabeth to want to get married when she
watched things like this happen. She had been Lucinda s maid of
honor at her wedding five years ago, and she really liked Nick.
She thought they made a good match.
What happened to make them
fight all the time?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“Where do you want to eat?” Lucinda asked, interrupting
her thoughts.
Realizing her friend wished to change the topic, she said,
“Hmm…Let s go to Mario s. I want a big plate of spaghetti and
meatballs.”
***
The next morning at work, Elizabeth was surprised to see
her father. He shut the door behind him once he entered the
room.
She sat up in her chair, her excel spreadsheet forgotten,
wondering what put him in a serious mood.
“Beth, I heard about the sexual harassment seminar. I
think you singled out Zack Richards and Ben Fisher yesterday for
a specific reason. Granted, it s true that they aren t the best
example of what it means to be a man, but I don t think singling
them out in front of a room full of people was a wise idea. I
know your past with them has been less than ideal, but in the
future, it would be best to talk to them alone. Writing them up
was appropriate but public humiliation is rarely a good tactic.”
“I can t believe you re taking their side.”
“I m not. I would say this regardless of who you did this
to.” He paused. “Do you think all men are like them?”
“No. Why did you ask such a silly question?”
“Because you haven t dated anyone since Preston.”
“I ve had a couple of dates.”
He considered her reply. “True.” He nodded in
acknowledgment. “But you haven t had a serious relationship
since him.”
She groaned. “So I haven t met the right man yet. Is that
a crime?”
Instead of answering her, he asked, “Have I been a
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horrible husband to your mother?”
“Of course not. You ve always treated Mom with respect
and love.”
“Then why are you sour when it comes to marriage?”
She rolled her eyes. Did they have to go through this
conversation? By the way he stared at her, she knew she had to
respond to his inquiry. “I m not sour when it comes to marriage.
It s just hard to find a man who is as good to women as you are,
Dad. Men seem to think women are sex objects.”
“Is that why you dress so poorly? Are you afraid men will
find you attractive?”
“I can t believe this. I spent yesterday morning giving a
seminar on sexual harassment and you re telling me to dress
provocatively?”
“I m not saying that at all. What I am sayi ng is that there
is nothing wrong with looking nice. You can wear clothes that
aren t too loose for you, and you can fix up your hair. There s
nothing wrong with wearing a sweater and skirt that show off your
better features.”
“I can t believe we re having this conversation.” She
gagged. Like she wanted to talk to her father about this!
“I want to see you with a man who ll treat you right, but in
order to get the man s attention, you will have to pretty yourself
up. You re such a pretty woman but no one would know it to
look at you.”
“I m busy with my career. I just got this job, Dad. I don t
have time for romance.”
“That s a shame.”
She glanced at the clock. It was still too early to go to
lunch, so she couldn t end this discussion with that excuse.
“Marriage may be risky but it can still last,” her father said.
“You have to find the right man. It takes two people to make a
marriage work.”
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“I ll give it my full attention later.”
“Or I ll give it some attention sooner than that.” He stood
up to leave.
“What do you mean by that?”
He walked over to her door and turned back to her. “I
want what s best for you, Beth. I m afraid if you continue down
this path, you ll miss out on something wonderful.”
Before she could ask for clarification, he left.
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Chapter Four
T
hat Friday was the party at the Henderson main hotel. To her
shock, her mother stopped by during lunch to take her dress
shopping and to the salon to fix up her hair.
“Mom, I m not a child,” Elizabeth protested as her
mother took her by the hand and led her out to her car. “I can
buy my own clothes and fix my own hair.”
“I know, honey, but your dad feels that it is important to
put your best foot forward this evening, so he asked me to help
you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Is this about him wanting to see me
married?”
“Partly. He also wants you to make a good impression to
the Hendersons. The entire Henderson family is going to be there
and Barry wants to personally meet the top people at our
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company. He wants to get a good idea of who he ll be working
with.”
That made good sense, so she stopped fighting her
mother. She actually enjoyed the day out. It was fun to try out
different dresses and see which ones looked better on her and her
mother. Her mother chose a dark green sleeveless dress that went
down to her ankles. Elizabeth thought it complimented her
mother s green eyes. Elizabeth finally decided on a black dress
that reached the top of her knees. “Black goes well with your
hair,” her mother encouraged.
Their last stop was at the salon where they got manicures
and had their hair styled. Her mother chose to wear her long light
brown hair down in soft curls. Elizabeth chose to have her hair
pulled back with pins but curled at the ends. Elizabeth had her
mother help her with her make-up since she hadn t worn any in so
long that she wasn t sure which colors would look best on her.
“You are such a pretty girl.” Her mother grinned at her as
they looked in the mirror at her parents house. “You should take
time to dress nicely. Who knows how many men miss the
diamond in their midst because they can t see past your baggy
clothes.”
“Those clothes are baggy because I lost weight. I haven t
had time to buy new clothes yet.”
“Well, you should. There s nothing wrong with being
proud of your weight loss. You worked hard to slim down.”
She was secretly pleased by her mother s kind words. She
had spent most of her life chubby, but it wasn t until the past two
years that she started exercising and eating better. She accepted
her mother s onyx necklace and earrings. She didn t have a date
but that didn t bother her. She was used to going to places by
herself.
She went to the hotel with her parents and left them to
mingle with her friends. She found Lucinda standing by the patio
22

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
window overlooking the large outdoor pool and hot tub. She
smiled at her friend and walked over to her.
“Beth, you look great,” Lucinda greeted. “I had no idea
you lost weight. How many pounds did you take off?”
“Twenty.”
“You re so slender. I can t believe it.”
“I wanted to keep the weight off this time so I took my
time losing it. It wasn t easy to be patient but it was worth it.”
“Your hard work has paid off. It s nice to see you out of
those old clothes.”
Elizabeth glanced at the night sky. The classical music
played softly in the background while the party guests mingled.
The servers brought glasses of wine or hors d oeuvres by for
people to sample. Elizabeth and Lucinda accepted a glass of
white wine.
“How are things going for you?” Elizabeth asked. “I
haven t seen you for a couple of days.”
“Nick decided to try a different counselor. We ve been
spending a lot of time there.”
“Is this counselor working out better for you?”
She took a deep breath. “I think so but it s too soon to
say. I think ever since Nick lost his job, he s been intimidated by
the fact that I make more money than he does.”
It sounds like your typical male ego.
She couldn t understand
why so many men felt the need to make more money than their
wives did. “Has he found another job yet?”
“He did but it doesn t pay as well as my job.” Lucinda
shrugged. “I didn t even realize that his job was the reason behind
a lot of our fights. When he lost his job due to layoffs, I knew he
was having a rough time but it never occurred to me he felt like he
was less of a provider because of it.”
“It doesn t matter who makes more money as long as
everyone is fed and clothed.”
23

Ruth Ann Nordin
“That s what I told him but he said I don t understand
since I m not a man. I guess he s right. I mean, I don t see things
from his perspective.”
“I didn t realize men could be sensitive.”
“Anyway, I m trying to be more understanding about his
feelings. He said the breaking point for him was when I bought
him a new car. He said it made him feel like he was worthless.”
She smiled. “At least this counselor is getting him to talk.”
“That s a good sign then,” she agreed. “Are you here with
him tonight?”
“No. I came alone. He doesn t feel up to facing my co-
workers because he s afraid they ll laugh at him. So he s at home
with the children.”
Barry Henderson stood at the center of the room and
called everyone to gather around him. The two friends joined
everyone else and waited for him to speak.
“Good evening.” He was in his mid-thirties and seemed
like a good-natured person, if his infectious smile was an
indication of his temperament. “For those of you who don t
know me, I m Barry Henderson and I have recently taken over the
hotel chain. I would like a chance to meet everyone, so I ll work
my way around the room throughout the night. If I don t talk to
you, please come to me. There are so many faces that it s hard to
keep track of everyone. I ll tell you a little something about myself
to help break the ice. I am the fifth generation Henderson to be
taking over this establishment. My goal is to take my hotel guests
back to the „good old days while maintaining the comforts of our
modern conveniences.”
As he continued to talk, Elizabeth glanced around the
room. Between the hotel, advertising, and decor employees, the
huge room was full.
No wonder parking was a pain.
The serving
staff ran back and forth to fill up their trays so the guests could
enjoy wine and food.
24

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
“My hobbies include running, skiing, a nd coaching the
Special Olympics,” Barry concluded.
“He sounds like the perfect man,” Lucinda whispered.
“Do you suppose he s as good as he sounds?”
“No one is perfect,” Elizabeth softly replied.
“True. But some are better than others.”
She looked over at Ben and Zack who were standing too
close to their dates. How did they get dates? Were there that
many desperate women out there? She wondered why Ryan
wasn t with them. The three were inseparable in high school and
college.
Not that I care. I have more important things to think about.
“I m going to get the business part of the evening over
with,” she told Lucinda. “Do you want to join me?”
“In a little bit. I want to call Nick and see how the kids
are doing.” She took her cell phone out of her purse. “I have to
admit that I kind of miss him after he opened up to me.”
Elizabeth nodded and walked over to Barry who was
talking to Mr. Jackson. She liked Ryan s father, even if she
couldn t stand his son.
“My son, Ryan, will be heading the advertising for your
commercials,” he told Barry.
“I ve seen samples of his work. Will he be working with
Jacob Hackman after he promotes to vice president?”
“No. He ll be on his own. He and Jacob make a good
team but it s time for him to do his own thing.”
“I am thinking of shooting the first commercial in eight
months. I still have a lot of work to do with the interior design.”
“Speaking of which, Elizabeth Valentine is the
occupational psychologist over at the Valentine firm.” He smiled
at her. “How are you doing this evening?”
“I m doing well. Thanks for asking.” She smiled back.
She shook Barry s hand. “I wanted to say hi before you met the
people who you ll actually be working with. If someone put me in
25

Ruth Ann Nordin
a room to decorate, I d mess it up so badly you would swear a
three year old did it.”
Barry chuckled. “It s good to see you have a sense of
humor about it.”
“Elizabeth has a good head on her shoulder s,” Mr.
Jackson complimented her. Turning to her, he asked, “Where is
your date tonight?”
“Oh, I didn t come with anyone,” she replied.
“It s hard to believe a lovely lady such as you isn t being
courted,” Barry said.
“Courted? I haven t heard that expression before.” She
found that she liked him. He had a natural enthusiasm that
affected those around him.
“Ever since I ve been studying up on the 19
century
th
lifestyle, I ve allowed some of the vocabulary from that time to
infect my speech.”
“Well, it s charming.”
“I hope my staff will think so as well. I am planning to
have my staff talk and dress as if they came right from that time
period. The hotel isn t the only thing I intend to change.”
“What a unique idea. It will give you distinction over your
competitors.”
“As an occupational psychologist, what would your
recommendation be?”
She thought for a moment. Then she chuckled. “Keep
the air conditioning. I can t imagine having to wear 19
century
th
dresses in the middle of summer without some kind of relief.”
“Very sensible. If I wasn t already promised to another,
I d ask to court you.”
“Oh.” She waved her hand as if to dismiss his words.
“You flatter me too much.”
“Are you engaged?” Mr. Jackson asked him.
“Yes. It s through an arrangement my parents made with
26

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
the bride s parents.”
“An arranged marriage? I didn t think that still
happened,” she commented.
He really is taking this 19
century stuff
t h
seriously.
“I have trouble finding a good woman in the circle I hang
around. It s hard to tell who s sincere and who s not. I figured
that my parents would know who best to choose for me, so I
agreed to let them fix me up with someone who shares my values
and beliefs. Did you know most marriages end in divorce because
of in-laws, religion, and money? This way, I ll be getting a wife
who shares those three things in common with me. It should
improve our chances of success. I don t wish to be another
statistic.”
It s not very romantic but if it works for him, then so be it,
she
thought, sipping her wine.
“That s not a bad idea,” Mr. Jackson thoughtfully stated.
“I see the women my son dates and they leave a lot to be desired.”
Elizabeth forced herself not to roll her eyes. That was an
understatement. They were all mindless women whose only
qualification was their ability to look good. She refrained from
making the comment. Instead, she politely excused herself so
they could continue their conversation. She greeted a few people
she liked and made small talk between sips of wine. She glanced
at the clock, wondering when it would be appropriate for her to
leave. She had been so busy that afternoon that she hadn t taken
time to eat dinner, and the hors d oeuvres weren t filling enough
to satisfy her hunger. Besides, she didn t want to eat so many of
them that she looked like she was pigging out on the food. She
went back to the patio overlooking the pool. She wondered
where Lucinda went. She hoped if she stayed there, her friend
would return.
To her dismay, Ben and Zack came over to her.
“We don t appreciate being written up,” Ben said, crossing
27

Ruth Ann Nordin
his arms.
She shrugged. “Then don t sexually harass people.”
“I wasn t sexually harassing Darlene. I was admiring her.
There is a difference,” Ben insisted.
“Really? So you had no intention of sleeping with her?”
“What s wrong with that? It wasn t like I was going to do
that at work.”
“How thoughtful of you.” She didn’t hide her sarcasm.
“You almost cost us our jobs,” Zack remarked.
“The only reason you have those jobs is because you re
friends with Ryan. I ve seen your work and you don t have any
talent.”
“So you re saying that Ryan doesn t have talent either? He
just landed a major account with Intensity cologne.”
“I said that you and Ben don t have talent. I may not like
Ryan but he is talented. I can set my personal opinion aside when
it comes to someone s work. If I almost cost you your jobs, it s
because your employer recognized that you don t have talent
either. There s a reason why you haven t moved up the ladder
since you started working there.”
“Well, there s a reason you still don t have anyone to
date.”
“Be careful. She might write us up for that comment,”
Ben said.
She breathed a sigh of relief when they walked away from
her. Whenever they were around, she felt as if she was right back
in high school and she didn t like it. She was relieved when
Lucinda showed up.
28

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Chapter Five
R
yan shook hands with Barry and introduced him to Cindy
Johnson who was his date, thanks to Zack whose girlfriend
seemed to have a bunch of airhead friends. Cindy was a model
who rivaled Carmen in looks but she didn t have anything
interesting to say. He was relieved when Barry came by to talk to
them.
“I hear you re going to be in charge of the commercials
for my hotels,” Barry told him. He turned to Cindy and shook
her hand too.
Ryan nodded. “Yes. I m looking forward to it. I am
interested in discussing what your goal for the commercials will
be, besides attracting customers.”
“I suppose my overall goal is to make people feel as if they
are back in time. I want the commercials to have the „good old
29

Ruth Ann Nordin
days appeal.”
He decided that he would have to incorporate that theme
into his idea for the sepia colored video.
“Anyway, I m sure we ll have plenty of time to work on
it,” Barry said. “How are you doing this evening, Cindy?”
“Okay. I m a model. I made the cover of Beautiful
Woman magazine.” She giggled.
“I m not familiar with that magazine.”
“They only put the best looking women on the cover.
The competition can be pretty tough.”
“Then that s quite an accomplishment,” he politely replied.
“Yes. Ryan s lucky I m with him tonight.”
No, I m not.
Ryan hid his embarrassment. This was hardly
impressive to a client. Hoping to steer the conversation to a
better topic, he said, “You mentioned that you like skiing. I ski
several times a year in Colorado.”
“Colorado has some great slopes but I like Switzerland
more. It is invigorating to be in Europe. I think it s the history
there that intrigues me the most. I am a history buff.”
“That must have inspired you to remodel the hotels then.”
“Yes. I went to a hotel in Europe that used to be a castle
and that s when the thought occurred to me that it would be nice
to get back to an earlier time period in our nation s history.”
Cindy waved her hand. “History is boring. All I ever rea d
about in history when I went to school put me to sleep. Who
cares about a bunch of people, places, and events that no longer
matter? I like to live in the present where interesting things are
happening, like the article about me in that magazine.”
The knot in his stomach tightened. He didn t wish to be
known as the man with the date who upset Barry Henderson.
“He s transforming his hotel chain to the look and feel of the 19
th
century but it will still contain modern conveniences,” Ryan
quickly told her.
30

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
“Did they have television in the 19
century?” she asked.
th
“No. Television was a 20
century invention,” Barry
th
replied.
“So, will you put televisions in your rooms?”
“Yes. It is a modern convenience.”
“That s a relief. I plan to be in the Sexy Bedroom
commercial in the near future and want people to be able to see
me.”
Ryan closed his eyes for a moment and willed her to keep
quiet.
Barry smiled. “Good luck with your career. I must meet
more people. It was nice to meet you both.”
“He seems like a nice person,” she said as Barry walked
away. “I find that all men are nice to me.”
“When I was taking marketing classes, I learned that the
more attractive someone is, the more favorably people respond to
him or her. That s why attractive people sell more products.”
“I could probably sell anything then.”
There s nothing that turns a man off more than a woman who can t
get enough of herself.
Cindy was incredible to look at but her ego
barely fit through the front door.
Why can t Zack find some one decent
for once? Why can t I find someone without help?
“Do you want something to drink?” he asked her.
“Okay,” she nodded. “I ll be at the mirror making sure
my extensions are in place.”
He had no idea what she was talking about but decided he
didn t want to know.
This night is taking forever to end.
He walked
over to the refreshment table and decided to get her a soda. He
didn t think she could handle anything with alcohol in it. After all,
was she even at the drinking age? She looked like she was
eighteen.
What am I doing with someone that young? I feel like a creepy
old man when I m next to her.
He should have just gone to this thing
by himself. It was his father s threat of pairing him up with
31

Ruth Ann Nordin
Elizabeth that brought him to this low point in his life.
He glanced at the patio and noticed that Elizabeth stood
alone. He didn t like to think that she was a pretty woman,
though she could afford to gain a few pounds to fill out her
curves. She didn t have the startling good looks that Cindy did,
but she was definitely nice to look at. He forced the thought
aside. Instead, he considered how she didn t mind standing alone
in a crowded room. She was never afraid to speak her mind in
front of a group of people or be by herself. He hated that he
couldn t do that. He was always afraid of what other people
would say about him if he didn t go along with what they wanted.
He was a thirty-year-old coward. He just hoped no one else
suspected the truth about himself.
He looked over at one of the mirrors in the room and saw
that Cindy was fiddling with her hair. He guessed that the
extensions she mentioned had something to do with her hair. He
took the soda and returned to Cindy and offered her the drink.
“Oh, you didn t put it in a cup.” She fr owned, her lower
lip jutting out in a pout.
“I didn t know if you wanted me to do that. I thought you
would want to make sure I didn t tamper with it.” Not that he
would dream of doing such a thing but there was the date rape
drug going around and he wanted her to know that she had
nothing to worry about with him.
“Is the drink cold? I don t like warm soda.”
“It was in a bucket of ice.”
“Can you open the can for me? I don t want to break a
nail.” She held up her perfectly manicured nails and admired
them.
He nodded and opened it for her.
She took a sip and frowned. “I need this in a cup. The
can is smearing my lipstick.”
He sighed. This night was dragging on! He went back to
32

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
the table and put some ice into a cup before he poured the soda
into it.
Zack and Ben came over to him. “Isn t Cindy hot?” Ben
asked him.
“She s boring and crazy. Did you know she thinks that
aliens are responsible for global warming? She thinks it s their
plot to evaporate us from the planet so they can take over. Zack,
where does your girlfriend find these girls? And that s another
thing. How old is she?”
Zack shrugged. “If she s good looking, who cares? It s
not like you re looking to get married or anything. Just relax and
have a good time.”
“How can I have a good time with someone who can t
carry on a decent conversation?”
“So don t talk to her. There s plenty you can do that
doesn t involve words.” Ben laughed.
“How old are you?” He didn t mean to snap but it came
out before he could stop himself.
Zack and Ben stared at him, as if they couldn t believe he
would take that tone with them.
“What s your problem?” Zack wondered. “You asked for
a date, so there she is.”
“I m tired of going from one woman to another. After
awhile, it gets old,” he finally admitted. “This was fun in high
school and college but it s not fun anymore. There comes a time
when a man wants to settle down and get married.”
“Sure. Like when he s forty,” Ben replied.
“We still need time to sow our wild oats,” Zack agreed.
Ryan shook his head in disgust. “Is sex the only thing you
guys care about?”
“I think someone took that sexual harassment seminar a
little too seriously.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, Elizabeth had a good
33

Ruth Ann Nordin
point. Women aren t sex objects.”
“Hmm…I didn t think you were paying attention.”
“It was hard not to get something from that twenty page
book she gave us.”
“Just so you know, we were talking to her a couple of
minutes ago and she said that the only reason you have a job at
this company is because your father owns it. She also said you
have no talent, so it s a good thing that Jacob is there to save you
from public humiliation.”
He gritted his teeth. He didn t care what she thought of
his work. She wouldn t recognize talent if it landed on her lap. “I
have to get back to Cindy. If these ice cubes melt, she might send
me running back to get more for her,” he stiffly replied.
When is
this night going to end?
Once he handed Cindy the soda, she took a sip and gave it
back to him. “I m done. Oh, M axine!” She waved her hand to
the raven haired beauty who passed by.
Maxine stopped and smiled at them. “Cindy, what a
pleasure it is to see you again. I just got back from Hawaii on my
swimsuit shoot. Have you been there?”
Cindy pouted and crossed her arms. “Not yet. My agent
keeps promising exotic locations.”
While they discussed various places they had traveled to,
he sighed and glanced around the room. Jacob and his wife were
talking and laughing with Barry. They looked happy together,
their arms intertwined and leaning into each other as if they were
still newlyweds.
That s what I want, someone I can feel a deep connection
with, someone who completes me.
He hadn t envied his business partner
until that moment.
Cindy s giggles grated on his nerves. “I know,” she agreed
with whatever Maxine had said. “I have trouble deciding what to
wear too since I look awesome in everything I try on.”
Closing his eyes for a moment, he willed himself to be
34

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
polite, especially since he didn t think she was a s great as she
thought she was. “Would any of you like something to drink or
eat?” he offered, desperate for an excuse to get away from them,
even if it was for a few minutes.
“I am thirsty,” Cindy replied. “Could you get some other
soda? Something without caffeine?” She motioned to the cup he
held and shook her head.
“No caffeine. And ice in a cup,” he added.
“Right. How did you know?”
Was she kidding? “Lucky guess. Maxine?”
“I ll take soda in a can.” Turning to Cindy, she explained,
“I m not as trusting as you are, Cin.”
He left them alone and returned to the table with the
beverages and food. To his surprise, Mr. and Mrs. Valentine
walked over to him.
“Congratulations on the Intensity account,” Mr. Valentine
greeted with a warm smile.
“I heard the president of Intensity is particular about who
he does business with, so you and Jacob Hackman must have
pulled off an impressive presentation,” Mrs. Valentine added in
her usual soft voice.
“Thank you,” he replied. Even though he didn t like
Elizabeth, he did like her parents. “Jacob is a good man to work
with.”
“I saw the laundry soap commercial and thought it was
well done. You two should be proud of your accomplishments.”
“Your father says that you ll be vice president within a
year,” her father remarked. “He can t stop bragging about you,
you know. He s proud of you.”
Before Ryan could respond, Cindy gracefully made her
way over to him and asked, “Can you take me and Maxine to
Rita s party? I want to check out the other models who ar e going
to be there. It s good to know who my competitors are.” She
35

Ruth Ann Nordin
glanced at Mrs. Valentine. “Oh, you have lovely cheekbones.”
Just as Elizabeth s mother smiled, Cindy added, “It s too bad the
wrinkles around your eyes draw attention from them.” Withou t
another word, she went to Maxine.
More embarrassed than he cared to admit, Ryan
apologized on her behalf and politely excused himself so he could
drop Cindy and Maxine off at the party and say good-bye to them
for good.
36

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Chapter Six
S
aturday morning, Ryan woke up in his apartment to the sound of
his phone ringing. He opened his eyes and squinted at the clock
by his bed. Who would be calling him at seven? He sighed and
picked up the receiver so the annoying ringing sound would stop.
“Hello.” He yawned.
“Oh good, you re up,” his father eagerly greeted.
“Barely. Why are you calling me so early?”
“I have important news to discuss with you.”
“Does it have something to do with the Intensity
account?” Suddenly he was wide awake. He sat up in his queen-
sized bed.
“No. This is more of a personal nature.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment, he was afraid
the clients had decided to go with someone else for their
37

Ruth Ann Nordin
commercial. “What is it?”
“You re going to ha ve to come to the country club at
noon. I want you there on time.”
“Why can t you just tell me now?”
“Because this is something I have to tell you in person.”
“Alright. I ll be there at noon.”
“Good.”
“Dad?”
“What?”
“Why didn t you just call me around eleven?”
“Because I wanted to make sure your calendar was clear
for the day.”
“Fine. It is and I ll be there. Bye.” He hung up the phone
and lay back in the bed. He managed to fall back to sleep until
ten.
When he finally crawled out of bed, he walked by his desk
in the living room which had a pile of papers strewn around on it
that consisted of his ideas for future accounts for potato chips,
jewelry, and camping gear. He had to get those done before he
was ready to tackle the Henderson account. He liked to work
with a paper and pencil before he committed anything to his
laptop. He wanted to work on the potato chip account but knew
if he started drawing something, he would get lost in his work and
he would miss his noon meeting with his father, so he kept
walking. After he took a shower and got dressed in a pair of beige
slacks and a navy blue shirt and brown leather jacket, he grabbed
his car keys and headed out the door.
When he got to the country club, he ordered a
cheeseburger and french fries. He didn t have time to eat
something before he left and he didn t like cooking, so this
worked out perfectly. While he was eating, his father arrived.
Ryan waved him over when he saw him.
“You re always early,” his father commented, obviously
38

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
pleased by this.
“It s no big deal. I came to get lunch. While you re here,
why don t you tell me what s so important that I had to skip my
usual Saturday morning routine?”
“That particular news will have to wait until two people
get here.”
He paused in eating his cheeseburger.
Why does this suddenly
bother me?
His father cleared his throat. “In the meantime, I wanted
to ask you about that girl you brought to the Henderson party.”
He rolled his eyes. “Don t remind me. I m trying to
forget her.”
“So these girls you date, they aren t even meant to be
serious?”
“Ben and Zack usually fix me up with them. I wouldn t
voluntarily date someone like that. I know that girl s too young
for me. I just didn t want to show up alone.”
“I offered to fix you up with Elizabeth.”
“Which is why I went with Cindy.”
“Ryan, this little feud you two have has got to stop. She s
a good woman. She would make an excellent wife and mother.”
“I m trying to eat.”
His father shook his head. “Why do you let something
that happened back in high school affect you at your age?”
He finished his cheeseburger and drank some soda.
Fine. So he s going to keep pestering me
Finally, he took a deep breath.
until I answer all of his questions.
“It s not just high school . Last
night, Ben and Zack told me that she said I have no talent and the
only reason I m working for you is because you re my dad.”
“That doesn t sound like something she d say.”
“I have no reason to believe she didn t.”
He sighed as he watched his son eat his french fries. “I
don t think she said that. However, while we are on the subject of
39

Ruth Ann Nordin
Ben and Zack, I have to be honest with you. I don t know how
much longer I can keep them on.”
He looked up from his plate. “Why?”
“Because they don t do their work. Most of the time,
they re goofing off. Others have to pick up their slack, and they re
starting to complain about it, which I can understand.”
Ryan couldn t argue with that. He knew that his
childhood friends weren t good employees. He just hated to think
it.
“Sooner or later, you have to grow up and leave the past
behind. You re thirty now. You need to think about the future.
Ten years from now, you don t want to be in the same place you
are today. Zack and Ben aren t likely to change but you ve
matured a lot over the past five years. I think separating you from
them has done you a lot of good.”
“Who else would hire them?”
“You re missing the point of this conversation. Stop
trying to save people who need to take responsibility for
themselves. It might force them to grow up if they re fired. After
the way they behaved at the sexual harassment seminar, I gave
them a final warning. I can t have my employees acting childishly
in front of other people.”
“You re actually going to fire them if they mess up again?”
“I ll give them the choice between janitorial work and
finding employment somewhere else. When they actually do their
work, their ideas for our clients are mediocre at best. But it s not
your concern. I have a feeling something will happen with those
two in the next few months, and you ll be safely out of the way
when it does.”
“What are you going to do? Fire me?”
“Of course not. You ll be vice president in a little under a
year. I have other plans for you. You ll thank me in four
months.”
40

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
“Thank you for what?” He felt tense.
Something unpleasant
is about to happen. I just know it.
“You ll find out at noon. You d better finish your french
fries. You have ten minutes left.”
He reluctantly finished eating, washed his hands, and
joined his father in a private small room where they sat at an oak
table meant to seat six people.
Why do I feel as if I m waiting for my
death sentence?
The tension in the room was thick, though his
father remained calm and polite. As soon as he sa w Elizabeth and
her father enter the room, he tried to bolt for the door. His father
put his hand on his arm to stop him.
“This is for your own good, Ryan,” he whispered. “Stay
seated.”
He hesitated.
Elizabeth tried to leave the room but her father blocked
her exit. When she stopped trying to open the door, he gently
pushed her to her seat. She refused to look at Ryan. After they
sat down, her father spoke up.
“You re getting married,” he stated, as if he were
discussing the weather.
Elizabeth and Ryan gasped.
Ryan thought they were going to have to work on a
project together. He had no idea that their fathers were planning
this.
“No way,” she protested.
“Not in a million years,” he argued as his shock began to
wear off.
“See? They can agree on something,” his father glanced at
Mr. Valentine and smiled. “You two are getting married. You will
make a good match.”
“You can t force us to marry,” Ryan said.
“Oh, we can do anything we want to,” his father said.
“And we are. She is twenty-seven. You just turned thirty.
41

Ruth Ann Nordin
Neither one of you is married nor do you have any romantic
attachments. Harold and I agreed to this arrangement.”
“You can t do this,” she insisted. “Just because Barry
Henderson is getting married through an arrangement, it doesn t
make it right for everyone else.”
“You have no choice in the matter,” Harold replied.
“We re going to marry you and Ryan at the courthouse and send
you to Alaska to the cabin your mother and I own by the river.
We will let you two stay there for four months. In that time, we re
sure you will work out your differences and be happy together.”
“What?” Ryan asked.
“You can t do that!” Elizabeth insisted.
“Do you two want to be poor?” Harold questioned.
She gasped. “You will disown us if we don t get married?
But Dad, I m your only child. What does Mom think?”
“She thinks it s a good idea. She likes Ryan for you.”
Ryan shook his head in disbelief. “Am I going to lose my
job too?”
“How can I put this?” Rowan thoughtfully began. “We
have a deal for you since you are opposed to this arrangement.
Ryan, you are my only child. Elizabeth, you are your father s only
child. Harold and I are best friends and want to see
grandchildren. If we have the same grandchildren, we can hand
down our assets to both of you and you ll pass them down to your
children. We always hoped you two would overcome your
differences but you re a stubborn pair. So, if you are that
persistent in not getting married, then we will allow you to go out
into the world to make your own way. You won t inherit a dime
of our money nor will you enjoy the benefits of our money while
we live. However, if you marry and stay in the log cabin for four
months, you will keep your jobs and receive the benefits of being
our children. If during the four months, you are determined to
not be married to each other, simply don t consummate the
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
marriage and we ll let you get an annulment. However, we re sure
that you two won t want to end the marriage.”
“How will you know if we don t have sex?” Ryan asked.
She gave him a look of disgust.
“That s how.” Harold pointed at her.
“Oh yeah? Well, I don t want to have sex with you
either,” he told her.
“So we established that,” Harold said. “If you two are as
adamant about hating each other four months from now as you
are today, we ll let you off the hook.”
She crossed her arms and Ryan groaned. He realized he
didn t have a choice. He had no desire to live without the
comforts he enjoyed, and it was apparent that his nemesis didn t
either. “You will actually disown me?” he asked his father.
“No, I wouldn t disown you. You just won t have access
to my money and you won t work at my company anymore.
You ll have to find your own job and never receive anymore
birthday or Christmas gifts from me.”
“Why four months?”
“Because we ll get started on the Henderson account at
that time. Your input will be important.”
“What about my other accounts?”
“I ll have Jacob and Kyle Matters take over those.”
“But I was coming up with some good ideas for them.
You can t just tear me away from my work.”
“I can for four months. You need to focus on your
honeymoon. Make your bride happy.”
“Dad,” she began, “I just started my job. How will it look
if I take off for four months?”
“It will look like you r e finally having a personal life. I
have your proposal for all the changes you intend to implement. I
can take care of those things while you are gone.”
She sighed.
43

Ruth Ann Nordin
Ryan closed his eyes. He didn t like the thought of losing
his job. He was looking forward to the Henderson account. It
was just four months.
Certainly, I can survive four months in Alaska
with her.
“Alright. I ll do it.”
“One down, one to go,” Harold said. “What do you say,
Beth?”
“Fine. I guess he can sleep on the couch.”
“No way,” he argued. “You re always complaining that
men and women need to be treated equally.”
“Forget it, pal. I get the bed.”
“No. I do.”
“Kids, kids,” Harold interrupted. “You can argue about
that when you get there. Right now, we ll all go home. We have a
big day Monday. We ll stop by the courthouse first thing in the
morning. We couldn t find a preacher this late in the game.
You ll be heading out to the cabin located outside of McGrath,
Alaska. Ryan, McGrath is west of Denali National Park. It s a
cozy spot in the interior of the state. We ll make sure you have all
the supplies you need. The pilot will be bringing you items you
need once a month and at the end of the four months, he ll bring
you home.”
“It s going to be a long four months,” Ryan grunted.
“I m not looking forward to it either,” she snapped.
He rolled his eyes.
“Then it s settled,” Harold smiled. “Monday, at eight
o clock, you ll be at the courthouse before the Justice of the
Peace.”
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Chapter Seven
R
yan sighed in dismay when the seaplane landed on the water.
There was no airport. There were no other cabins in sight. All
around the single cabin were lots of green trees with some snow
still left on them from the previous winter, and the ground was
covered in snow. It was March 1
but it looked like January. He
s t
pulled his coat closer around him and checked out the mountains
in the background. The river that the seaplane landed on was
roughly half a mile away from the cabin. He shook his head.
Why was his dad doing this to him? Did he do something to
make his dad angry? Though his dad insisted that Elizabeth was a
nice young woman, his father didn t know her as well as he did.
And now he had to spend the next four months of his life
confined in the wilderness with her. It was going to be a long four
months. What he wouldn’t do for his job.
45

Ruth Ann Nordin
Once the seaplane stopped, the pilot turned to them.
“Here s your home for the next four months,” Kenneth Nicholas
said.
“You re lucky,” he stated as he stood up. “You get to fly
out of here today.” He bumped into Elizabeth on his way out of
the seaplane. “Get out of my way.” He jumped in front of her so
he could get out first.
She stuck her foot out in front of him so he tripped.
“Oops. Sorry.” She pushed past him.
He growled as he watched her leave the seaplane. He
couldn t stand her. If things had worked out with Carmen, he
wouldn t be in this predicament. As soon as he got off the
seaplane, he wanted to hop right back on it. The air was so cold
that it felt like a thousand icy knives pierced his skin.
“What s the temperature?” Elizabeth asked Kenneth.
“It s ten degrees. That s the high for the day,” the pilot
replied.
She looked as happy about that as Ryan felt.
“I ll get your suitcases and the supplies out and bring them
to your cabin,” he told them. “Meanwhile, you should get the
cabin ready. Your parents haven t been here since last August so
things are going to be dusty and cold in there.”
“Is it unlocked?”
“Yes. There s no one around here for miles. You re as far
from civilization as you can get.”
“Wonderful,” she sarcastically responded as she walked
over to the cabin.
He chuckled as he watched her stumble.
She walks like a
clumsy bear.
“Would you like to carry your suitcases in?” Kenneth
asked him.
“Sure.” He took his nice two brown leather suitcases and
followed her into the cabin, enjoying it more and more each time
46

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
she almost lost her balance. He was six inches taller than her so it
was easier for him to walk across the snow. As soon as he entered
the cabin, he sighed. It wasn t as large as he hoped. He set his
suitcases on the floor by the door.
The log cabin had a fireplace to the side of the living
room, but there was a gas heater, so the fireplace was for show.
The mantle above it featured pictures of Elizabeth from when she
was a baby to when she graduated college. He wondered if he
could find a nice hiding place for those pictures during his prison
term. He didn t want to see her more than he had to.
Sighing, he turned his attention to the living room. The
fireplace stood off to the side of the room. The brown couch
matched the two brown soft recliner chairs that were on each side
of the couch. There was an oak coffee table and a yellow shaded
lamp on each of the two end tables that were between the couch
and two chairs. The yellow curtains were draped over the two
small windows overlooking the mountains in the distance. A
small oak entertainment center with a thirty-six inch screen TV
and a DVD player in it served as the focal point of the room. The
hardwood floor matched the color of the log walls. There was a
yellow shaggy rug in front of the entertainment center. That rug
came right out of the 1970’s. He pushed aside his disgust and
turned his attention to the kitchen.
The kitchen was connected to the living room, and a
doorframe and walls separated the two rooms. Why didn t they
put in a door? The refrigerator, stove, oven, microwave and
dishwasher were stainless steel. There were two sinks and lots of
cabinet space. The yellow curtain framing the window overlooked
the river. These people loved the colors yellow and brown. The
oak table and two chairs were in the center of the room. He
wondered why they didn t have three chairs but figured this was
her parents private getaway.
If I had her for a daughter, I d bail out for
a couple weeks during the year to get away from her too.
47

Ruth Ann Nordin
He went out of the kitchen and saw that the bathroom
was between the kitchen and the laundry room. The bathroom
actually had a white porcelain toilet, tub and sink. He was relieved
that there was actual plumbing. He worried that a cabin meant
there wouldn t be running water. At least her parents liked to
rough it in style. He was glad to see the medicine cabinet and the
mirror over the sink since it was the perfect place for his shaving
supplies. The yellow shower curtain didn t surprise him, nor did
the yellow rug on the floor. But the blue towels hanging on the
towel racks did. Why weren t the towels yellow?
The laundry room was between the bathroom and the
closet that held cleaning supplies and fresh linen. The bedroom
was next to the closet. The bedroom had an oak dresser, two oak
night stands, a yellow shaded lamp on each night stand, and a
small closet. The yellow sheets and comforter covered the queen-
sized bed. How did her parents get all of this stuff out here?
He wondered where Elizabeth disappeared to. He walked
out of the cabin and saw that she was checking out the shed. She
was talking to Kenneth about the generator and gasoline supply.
Well, wonders will never cease. She actually knows something about taking
care of a generator.
He shrugged and returned to the cabin so he could put his
things away in the bedroom. Just as he was about to put his last
pile of shirts in the dresser, she ran into the room and stepped in
front of the open drawer.
“This is my room,” she said, glaring at him.
“I got here first. Move out of my way.”
“Oh no you don t. This cabin belongs to my parents. I
get the rights to this room.”
“They re now my parents too, so I get as much rights as
you do.”
She stood her ground. “Let s flip a coin for it.”
He almost protested but realized she would only throw all
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
of his things out later when he wouldn t be around to stop her.
He sighed. “Okay. We ll flip a coin.”
She took a quarter out of her pocket. “I call heads.”
“I want heads.”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because heads usually wins.”
She rolled her eyes. “You are so petty. But to humor you,
I ll let you have heads.” She flipped the coin. She missed it and it
landed on the floor and rolled under the bed.
He shook his head. “You are so pathetic. Here. Let me
get it.” He crawled under the bed and retrieved it. “I ll flip it this
time.” He flipped it and caught it. He frowned. “We ll do two
out of three.”
“No! I win. I get this room.”
“Two out of three.”
She tried to grab the coin but he held it up so she couldn t
reach it. She screamed in aggravation. “That s not fair!”
“Two out of three,” he growled.
She glared at him but stood still.
He took that as an agreement. He flipped the coin again
and smiled. “Heads.”
She tapped her foot on the floor.
He flipped it again and sighed. “Fine. It s yours.”
She cheered as she threw his clothes out of the dresser.
“I ll do it myself, thank you,” he snapped. “I m going to
drag one of those night stands to the living room. I need
somewhere to keep my clothes unless you want me to get dressed
in here.”
She shuddered. “Take both night stands if you have to.”
So the sleeping arrangements were made.
Kenneth brought in food, toilet supplies, more cleaners,
and other necessities. “I loaded up the gasoline containers in the
shed, so you ll be able to run the generator. I see that the
49

Ruth Ann Nordin
temperature in this cabin is already sixty degrees. It shouldn t be
long before it s in the seventies. Everything looks like it s working
like it should.”
“How is the septic tank?” she asked when the three of
them were in the kitchen.
“That s working properly too. Next time I come here, I ll
bring someone out to clean it.”
“Thank you, Kenneth.”
“Is there anything else either one of you will need?”
“A ride back?” Ryan mused.
“I m sorry, but that is something I can t provide. I will see
.”
you on April 1
st
“April s Food Day of all days,” Ryan dryly replied.
“Yes, it is ironic,” she said. “You would think that date
would make a better wedding day since this whole thing is one big
joke.”
At least they could agree on something. Ryan watched in
despair as Kenneth left. He stood by the front door and watched
as the seaplane took off. How was he going to survive the next
four months in this place alone with her? He didn t want to go
back into the cabin right away because that meant he would have
to be near her, so he shut the door and walked around the
property.
Why did her parents buy a cabin all the way out here?
His parents had a house in the Bahamas. Now that was the way
to live. If he was going to be stranded somewhere, it would have
been better to be in the Caribbean. At least that place was
paradise.
He sauntered around the property. The shed was a
quarter of a mile from the cabin and contained two guns,
ammunition, many gas containers, and an aluminum boat that
would seat two people. The fishing equipment in the corner told
him what he would do with the boat. He questioned the sanity of
people who would put guns next to gasoline but shrugged and
50

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
closed the shed door.
There were many trees and lots of snow. The cold air was
dry. He supposed he would get chapped skin out here. He was
glad he brought lots of warm clothes. He had to admit that the
view of the mountains beyond the river was spectacular. The
front of the cabin faced the river. The back of the cabin faced the
shed, and there was a forest beyond the shed. The bedroom
window looked out to the shed. The living room window faced
the river and mountains. He did have a better view to wake up to
since he would sleep on the couch. It was a tiny consolation, but
it would have to do. Besides, he would never admit it to
Elizabeth, but he lied during the coin toss. She didn t really win
the bedroom but when he saw how much she wanted it, he
decided to let her have it. It was the only nice thing he planned to
do for her while they were there.
He walked over to the river. Most of it was still iced over,
but there were parts of it where he could see fish swimming
around the rocks. He hadn t fished before, but he figured it
couldn t be too hard. He yawned. It had been a long and
exhausting trip from Omaha to nowhere Alaska. He found a large
rock by the river and sat on it.
I thought I would marry Carmen Burton, not Elizabeth Valentine.
He met Carmen in graduate school while he was working on his
master s degree in Marketing. He had planned to ask Carmen to
marry him when he secured the job at his dad s company. He had
known Carmen for one year. She looked like a Barbie doll. She
was graceful and elegant. And although she was a model, he could
actually carry on a decent conversation with her. She had a lot of
enthusiasm for life and cared deeply for animals, which was why
she funded the animal rescue fund. If it weren t for Preston
Edwards, Ryan would be married to her that very day.
Preston was a stupid football player at the college whose
only goal was getting into the NFL which, Ryan grudgingly
51

Ruth Ann Nordin
admitted, he succeeded in getting into. He was also as intelligent
as a vegetable. The only reason he got as far as he did in school
was because of his athletic ability. Ryan shook his head. What
was so great about an athlete anyway? Their careers were short-
lived most of the time, and after they quit playing on the field,
what good were they? Why Carmen would leave him to mar ry
Preston, he would never understand. Didn t she want a marriage
with substance? The only things Preston knew how to talk about
was sports and himself.
Ryan recalled the day he proposed to Carmen. He took
her to the ski lodge at Aspen which was their spot. They would
go with their families and ski down the slopes during the day and
drink hot chocolate in the evening before retiring to their separate
rooms. On this particular day, he and Carmen were on their
favorite couch in front of the fireplace. It was empty in the lobby
since it was late at night. She had seemed unusually distant for the
past month, but he figured it was because she wondered if he
would ever pop the question. He wanted to wait until he received
confirmation that he got the advertising job before he proposed,
and he wanted the proposal to be in their favorite romantic spot.
“Wasn t today perfect?” he asked Carmen.
She wore the white cashmere sweater he loved. Her long
blond hair fell seductively over her shoulders. She looked just like
a snow angel in it. She sipped her hot chocolate and nodded. “It
was a nice day.”
He took a deep breath. He was sure she was going to say
yes, but there was still that chance she would say no. She
wouldn t spend a year of her life dating him if she wasn t
interested in marriage.
Reassured by the logic, he said, “Carmen, I
love you more than I have ever loved anybody, and this past year
has been the best time of my life.” He set aside his mug and knelt
in front of her. Showing her the engagement ring he bought for
her, he asked, “Will you make me the happi est man in the world
52

With This Ring, I Thee Dread
and marry me?”
She looked stunned. “Oh, wow. I don t know what to
say.”
You re supposed to say yes.
He frowned. He had been in
enough relationships to know that this was a bad sign. Suddenly,
he felt awkward. This wasn t the wa y he planned for things to go.
She was supposed to say yes and hug him or put the ring on or
smile or do something other than sitting quietly in front of him.
“Ryan,” she softly began, “I m already engaged.”
His eyes widened. He tried to move but the u nexpected
news froze him in place.
“I didn t know how to tell you,” she continued, wincing.
“I m sorry.”
“When…? Who…? Why…?” He struggled to form a
coherent sentence but his mind was having trouble understanding
why she was at the ski lodge with him, pretending that they were
still a couple for the past two days when she had already accepted
another man s proposal.
She gently set her cup down and sighed. “I came up here
to break the news to you. I meant to tell you yesterday but you
were so happy that you got the advertising job that I didn t have
the heart to say anything. I was going to wait until after we got
back to Omaha.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed someone walk by.
The old man stared at him. Feeling self-conscious, he slipped the
ring back into his pocket and sat next to her. He waited for her to
finish.
“Preston and I never meant to fall in love. It just
happened.” She shrugged. “We originally got together to try to
make you and Elizabeth stop hating each other because we got
tired of hearing you two complain about each other. Then we
started talking and realized we have a lot more in common than
she has with him or I have with you. Anyway, one thing led to
53

Ruth Ann Nordin
another and we fell in love. He proposed five days ago, and we re
going to get married in two months before he goes to the NFL.”
He stared at her. “How long have you been seeing him
behind my back?” His mind still felt like it was stuck in a fog.
“I think it was at Christmas.”
“That was four months ago.” Why didn t she say anything
sooner? Now he felt like such an idiot.
“I m really sorry, Ryan. I hope this doesn t create any hard
feelings between us.”
She has got to be kidding me. Of course, it does.
She had the nerve to kiss him on the cheek, wish him well
in life, and walk back to her room. He didn t even return to his
room. He simply left the lodge and went home.
Staring at the mountains in the cold state of Alaska, he
marveled that one woman could ruin his life. Elizabeth was a
thorn in his side. From the moment she moved to Omaha in high
school, there had been animosity between them. If she hadn t
been so unbearable, Preston wouldn t have sought comfort in
Carmen s arms, and he and Carmen would be married. Instead,
he was stuck with Elizabeth for the next four months. He didn t
want to go back to the cabin because she was there, but he knew
he couldn t stay outside forever. He would likely freeze too death
if he stayed out all night. It was already getting to be twilight.
Day one of my captivity is almost over.
He brought a pocket
calendar to mark the days he had left before he could return home
and pick up where his life left off. He sighed and resigned himself
to his prison.
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Chapter Eight
E
lizabeth finished putting the food away and narrowed her eyes
when she saw that Ryan was sitting on a rock in fr ont of the river
.
Leave it to a man to bail out when there was work to be done.
Ryan was so typical of the average male, which was why she had
sworn off marriage once her relationship with Preston ended.
Preston was the first man she met who actually seemed decent.
He took the time to listen to her and care about her thoughts and
feelings.
But as soon as Miss Gorgeous Carmen showed up, he threw me
aside.
Carmen was a model with the brain power of an insect.
Elizabeth shook her head. Any man would overlook a woman s
lack of intelligence when that woman looked like a doll in the
department store.
Of course, Ryan would pick Carmen, of all women, to
date. She was the true definition of a fairytale princess who was
55

Ruth Ann Nordin
looking for Prince Charming to ride in and save the day. And he
did come. Only it was Preston who ended up carrying her away.
Since her break up with Preston, she went on a couple of
dates but the men weren t interested in a confident, career-
oriented woman. They wanted someone like Carmen. She
wondered what was so attractive about Carmen. Just because she
agreed with every little thing a man said and acted like she was
there to do his bidding, she was desirable? It made her sick.
Elizabeth prided herself on her self-reliance. She didn t need
someone to come in and rescue her, but it would be nice to have
someone she could talk to. She sighed, feeling miserable. It
wasn t meant to happen. Women like her stayed single their entire
lives. Couldn t her parents understand that?
She took out two skinless chicken breasts, frozen
vegetables and noodles. She threw the vegetables into the skillet
while she cut up the chicken and boiled the noodles. She would
add the seasoning later. She did like cooking since it gave her time
to listen to the music or audio books on her ipod. She was
relieved she could at least bring her ipod, but she was dismayed
that she didn t have a computer or internet access. She hated
being alienated from the rest of the world. She wanted to stay in
touch with her friends and family, but the only source she had to
the outside world was from the television and the satellite dish
that came with it. She had checked out the channels and they
came in clearly. She set her ipod to play some music from one of
her playlists. She chose upbeat music to listen to since she would
be moping around if she didn t. She wouldn t let her
circumstances define her mood. She believed in overcoming her
obstacles through positive thinking.
She succeeded in bettering her mood by the time Ryan
came into the cabin. She didn t bother to greet him when he took
off his boots and coat. She frowned when she realized he just
dumped his things on the floor by the door. She shook her head.
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
This wasn t going to continue. She paused her ipod, set down her
spoon where she had been stirring the noodles, chicken, and
vegetables together and replaced the lid over the skillet. She went
to the living room where he was already flipping through the
channels on the TV. She went over to the TV and shut it off.
“I let you have the bedroom. You re not going to take me
away from the TV too,” he protested.
“You can watch as much TV as you want as soon as you
pick up your coat and hat and put them on the coat rack. Your
boots need to go on the rug by the door. I will not be cleaning up
after you.”
He rolled his eyes. “I ll do it later.”
“You ll do it now.”
He sat still and stared at her. “How are you going to make
me do it?”
She gritted her teeth. He knew very well she couldn t
actually make him do it, and she wasn t going to nicely ask either.
The timer went off in the kitchen. She didn t want to burn the
food. He wasn t worth missing her dinner. “Fine. You win this
round. But don t think for a minute you can eat anything I make
until you put your things away.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “You were going to share
your dinner with me?”
“Not anymore.” The only reason she was willing to do
that much for him was because she usually made too much food
at one time. Leftovers, however, were not always a bad thing.
She stomped back into the kitchen and quickly took the
skillet off the stove and set it on the potholder on the counter.
She took out a bottle of water and set it by her plate on the table.
She wasn t intending to eat with him. She had assumed he would
eat in the living room, but now he wouldn t eat at all so she put
his plate back in the cabinet.
She took out a bowl to put the leftovers in. After she ate
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Ruth Ann Nordin
her meal while listening to her ipod, she put the rest of the food in
the bowl and placed the lid over it. When she was done, she went
to her bedroom and shut the door. She lay on the bed, closed her
eyes, and listened to an audio book she had been intending to
listen to for awhile. She didn t realize she had dozed off until a
slight movement by her bed woke her up.
She gasped and sat up. “What are you doing in here?” she
snapped at Ryan. How dare he come into her only sanctuary in
this horrid mess!
“I m not coming to see you, if that s what you re afraid of.
I came to get the night stand. I need something to put my clothes
in, remember?”
She calmed down. “Oh. Right. Well, be quick about it. I
don t want to be around you anymore than you want to be around
me.”
“Tell me about it.” He set aside the lamp and clock that
had been on the night stand and put them on the floor. Picking
up the night stand, he hauled it out to the living room.
She turned her attention back to her ipod and shut her
eyes. It had been a long day, so laying down felt unusually nice
and relaxing. Soon she was fast asleep. In the middle of the
night, she woke up, shivering. She got under the covers but still
couldn t get warm, so she went to the living room with her
flashlight and adjusted the temperature so it would get warmer in
the cabin. She noted, with disgust, that Ryan snored when he
slept.
He is so repulsive.
After going to the bathroom, where she had to put the
toilet seat down, she went back to bed. Three hours later, she
woke up, feeling cold again. She groaned and went back to the
living room. The thermostat confirmed her suspicions. Ryan had
turned the temperature down. This time, she cranked it up higher
than before and went back to bed.
By the time it was eight in the morning, she was nice and
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
warm in her bed. She reluctantly got out of bed and gathered her
robe and towel so she could take a long hot shower before getting
dressed for the day.
Ryan had thrown off all his covers and slept in a t-shirt
and shorts. His arms and legs were spread out like he was ready
to make an angel in the snow. He was still snoring. She
shuddered at the sight of him and went to take a shower. She
grunted when she noticed the toilet seat was back up.
Would it
really kill him to put it back down?
At least the water for the shower was hot. As soon as she
was dressed and ready for the day, she grabbed a quick bite of
fruit salad and went out for a nice, long walk along the river. She
listened to some music on her ipod while she walked. She loved
to walk by herself. The serenity of the South Fork river s gentle
current and the scenery of the mountains brought her a sense of
peace. She inhaled the cold, fresh morning air. It was
invigorating. She had only been to the cabin one time in her life,
and that was almost ten years ago when her mother wanted to
enjoy one last mother-daughter bonding experience before she
headed off for college. Her mother worried tha t as soon as she
went to college, she would meet the man of her dreams and get
married, so they wouldn t have as much time to spend together as
they usually did. Little did either of them know, she would still be
single at twenty-seven.
She never imagined that she would marry Ryan Jackson.
She hadn t gotten along with him from the moment she moved to
Omaha. Her family moved from Atlanta to Omaha so her father
could expand his interior design business, and his desire to build a
flourishing business worked. Meanwhile, she started her freshman
year of high school at the prestigious private school her parents
could suddenly afford to send her to. She got along with the
other girls right away but the boys were a different matter. As
soon as Ben handed her the dog bone that Ryan sent him to give
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her, she earned the reputation among the boys in the school for
being a dog. She sighed and kept walking.
How could my father marry me off to Ryan? He knows what I went
through with Ryan and his obnoxious friends in the past.
He was so sure
that Ryan had matured, but there was nothing from the sexual
harassment seminar that would convince her of that. He still
associated with Zack and Ben, and those two intentionally gave
her a hard time. Thankfully, she managed to remain calm during
the whole fiasco at the seminar. At the very least, she got to write
them up for sexual harassment. She knew that they would be
docked a week s pay and have to attend five hours of sensitivity
training. It was nice to know justice still happened in the world.
She slowly walked back to the cabin, trying to enjoy as
much solitude and serenity as possible before she had to face
Ryan. When she did enter the cabin, she gritted her teeth when
she noticed that he still hadn t picked up his coat or boots. He
was doing this just to make her mad…and it was working.
She forced aside the urge to put the coat and boots in their
proper places and focused on hanging up her own coat and put
her boots on the yellow rug by the door. She put her hat and
gloves on the ledge by the window. She was relieved to see that
he made the effort to put the couch back together, though the
blankets he used were carelessly tossed in the corner of the room.
I can t expect miracles. I should just be glad he put the sleeper bed back into
the couch and put the cushions back on.
She found him eating cereal in the kitchen and quickly
walked by the room so she could go to her bedroom and hide out
for the next few hours. She hadn t thought to bring more than a
few books to read, and the ones she brought were romance books.
Shaking her head, she considered the irony in her choice of
literature. She was hardly in a romantic situation.
When Kenneth
returns, I m going to ask him to bring some mystery novels. A good murder
would be just the thing to ease my mind right now.
She entertained the
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idea of killing Ryan and hiding his body. Who would find him so
far out in the middle of nowhere? Of course, she wouldn t
actually kill him, but it was fun to imagine the look of surprise on
his face when she actually made him pick up his stupid coat and
boots.
She had to fight the urge to take a nap. The bed was
comfortable and with nothing else to do, it was easy for her to fall
asleep. She reluctantly opened the bedroom door to go to the
bathroom and groaned in aggravation when she saw the used, wet
towel tossed on the bathroom floor. The toilet seat was still up
and he had already put his shaving supplies in the medicine
cabinet. He hadn t even bothered to draw back the shower
curtain after he took his shower. She hated to think of where he
put his clothes from the day before, but when she saw them
crumpled up in front of the washer, she shook her head. How did
he survive on his own?
Though she was hungry, she decided to fight the dragon
first. She stomped over to him while he was watching TV.
Is that
all he does on his days off?
When he refused to acknowledge her, she
picked up the remote and pushed the off button.
“What is it now?” he asked, clearly irritated.
“We need to talk about the proper placement of our
personal items,” she replied.
“Who are you? My mother?”
“Apparently, you still need one. Really, Ryan. Are you
thirty or five?”
He didn t answer her. In fact, he continued to stare at the
blank television screen.
She realized this wasn t going to be easy. “Okay. So we re
stuck together for the next four months, whether we like it or
not.”
“And we don t like it.”
“Agreed.” She thought about what she should say next.
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“For the sake of my sanity, I need to set down some rules.”
“You re not my boss.”
“I can t live like this, Ryan. Your filthy lifestyle is going to
drive me crazy.”
His jaw dropped as he looked at her. “Filthy lifestyle? I
took a shower and shaved this morning.”
“Which I am gra teful for. But I am talking about you
throwing your things all over the place.”
He looked around the room. “The blankets in the corner
of the room bother you?”
“They aren t neatly folded.”
“So? I m going to use them tonight. What s the point in
folding them?”
“It s not aesthetically pleasing.”
“Who are we going to impress?”
She sighed. “There s also the towel on the bathroom
floor.”
He just stared at her.
“Can t you hang it back up so it dries?”
“I ll get to it later.”
“Just like you were going to get to the coat and boots?”
“I m not picking those up until I need to use them. I m
not going to pick them up just so you ll cook for me. I don t care
to eat anything you make. I can make sandwiches and eat cereal.
I m not a complete moron in the kitchen.”
“And the clothes by the washer?”
“Do you want them out here?”
She couldn t believe it. Why was he acting as if she was
the one with the problem? “The toilet seat needs to be put down
when you re done.”
“Why?”
“Because I almost fell into the toilet this morning.”
He chuckled.
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“It s not funny.”
“Why don t you just put the seat down when you need to?
I put it down if I have to sit down. It only takes a second. What
is it with you women making a big deal out of small details? So
what if my dirty clothes are by the washer? Don t they belong in
the laundry room anyway? And the coat and boots are by the
door. I didn t put them in the kitchen. The blankets in the corner
of the room are out of the way. I ll pick up the towel in the
bathroom next time I m in there.”
“I can t take living with you. You are impossible.”
“If it bothers you that much, then pick up after me.”
“Ewe! Like I really want to touch your gross things.”
“Then I guess you re stuck with the way I do things, just
as I m stuck with your quirky stuff.”
She crossed her arms. “There s nothing gross about the
way I do things.”
“Oh no? I found a clump of long hair stuck in the shower
drain this morning. I had to pull it out and throw it away. You re
welcome for that, by the way. Then last night I roasted out here
because you kept cranking up the heat to unbearable levels. The
bed that comes with this couch isn t very comfortable. I woke up
with a kink in my back, and I shouldn t even know I have a back
at my age.”
She paused. “If I pick up my hair in the shower, will you
put the toilet seat down and put your towel back up right after
you re done with it?”
He seemed to consider it.
She rolled her eyes. What was the big deal? She just made
a simple request.
“Done,” he finally said. “Can I watch TV now?”
She realized that she wasn t likely to get anymore
compromises from him at the moment so she thr ew the remote
his way before walking to the kitchen. She took the leftovers out
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Ruth Ann Nordin
and listened to her ipod while she ate.
***
That night around four, she woke up, just as cold as she
had been the night before. She grunted as she got out of bed and
went to the living room to check out the thermostat. He had
turned it down again. She turned it up. She didn t care if it was
turned to eighty degrees. She was tired of being cold.
He sat up in his sleeper bed and stomped back to the
thermostat.
“Don t do that,” she protested as she ran back to it.
“You have it set to eighty. What are you? A snowbird?”
“I grew up in Georgia, so technically, I am. I like it
warm.”
“I can t sleep when it s this hot in here. I don t like to
spend the night dripped in sweat.”
“It’s colder in my bedroom then it is out here.”
“Let me check it out.” Before she could stop him, he went
to her bedroom, flipped on the light and went over to the
window. “You have a draft coming in. That s why it s cooler in
here. I don t mind it. We can trade rooms.”
“No. I like it in here.”
He groaned. “Fine.” He went over to the second window.
“This one has a draft too.” He thought for a moment. “I know
what can fix it.” She watched as he left and came back with a tube.
She couldn t read what was written on it since his hand was
wrapped around it. “I thought I saw this in one of the kitchen
drawers. This stuff will seal up the cracks in the sides of your
windows. Then you won t have the draft anymore. The room
will still be cooler than the living room but with an extra blanket,
you should be more comfortable.” He finished his work. “There.
Now we all go to sleep and be happy.”
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After he left the room and shut her door, she went over to
the windows and admitted that the draft was no longer coming in.
She breathed a sigh of relief and turned off the light. As she lay in
bed, she was grateful to have the day finally end.
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Chapter Nine
R
yan couldn t believe someone could be so incredibly petty about
the way he did things. He missed having his maid come and clean
up his apartment for him. She did her work, got paid, and left.
She didn t nag him about his habits. He pulled out his pocket
calendar and flipped through to the month of July. July 1
was his
st
day of freedom. He decided to number the days backwards. He
started at June 30
and worked his way to March 3
. He had 119
th
rd
days left after that day. He groaned and put the calendar in the
night stand drawer. Never did the number one hundred seem so
overwhelming until it was connected with his captivity.
He waited until she left the kitchen and went back to her
room before he went to the kitchen to grab a can of juice from
the refrigerator. He wasn t planning to eat but his growling
stomach informed him that he better eat something if he intended
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to focus on his drawing pad that he had brought up with him so
he could work on some ideas for his job. To ask him to stop
creating new thoughts for future commercials was equivalent to
cutting off his oxygen. He loved his work and had no intention to
put it on hold just because he wasn t in the office.
He turned his attention to the cabinets when he didn t see
anything he felt like cooking from the refrigerator. He hated to
cook. He saw lots of food, but he wanted to make something
quick and easy. He settled on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,
which was the same thing he had the night before.
Where was the good stuff? There was no junk food
anywhere in the place. Everything was geared towards good
health and nutrition. He missed snacking on the miniature candy
bars and mints he usually kept in a dish on his desk.
When Kenneth
comes in April, I m putting in a request for a ton of junk food.
He was
going to pig out until he popped. He knew he d be going nuts for
something sweet or salty once April came.
He took the plate with his sandwiches on it and the juice
to the living room. He set them on the coffee table and got his
large drawing pad out. He set aside two pencils, a pencil
sharpener and an eraser. Then he sat on the couch and flipped
through some channels until he found some commercials. He ate
the sandwiches and watched the commercials in interest.
Watching them usually gave him some inspiration on how he
could improve upon them or do something different for another
company.
He was almost done with his sandwiches when Elizabeth
came out of her bedroom. She stopped and put her hands on her
hips.
What does she want now?
“Are you trying to make more work for me?” she asked,
obviously struggling not to scream at him.
“I made my own meal.”
Really, what is her problem?
“You re getting crumbs all over your shirt.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
He glanced down and saw a group of breadcrumbs across
his chest.
“Sit still while I get the handheld vacuum cleaner.” She
quickly ran over to the closet.
Oh, she can t be serious!
What was he? Five?
She plugged the small vacuum into the outlet by the TV
and went over to him. “Move the plate. I m going to clean you
up.”
He was so stunned that she was actually going to do it that
he sat still while she turned the machine on. She huffed when he
didn t put the plate down and took it out of his hands. He
jumped up when she star ted vacuuming his shirt. “Are you anal
retentive all the time?” he yelled at her.
She glared at him. “Stay still! I need to clean this up.”
He grabbed the vacuum from her and moved it over her
shirt. “How do you like it?”
Shrieking, she rushed to the wall and yanked the cord
from the outlet. She was definitely mad, but he didn t care.
“I ve had enough of your nagging for today,” he spat as he
shoved the vacuum back at her. “Stop treating me like I m a
moron!”
“Were you planning to clean this room when you were
done eating?”
“I didn t last night and you didn t even notice the „mess I
made. I m a grown man, not a child. This room is just fine and
so is the bathroom and laundry room. I think you re just looking
for ways to annoy me.”
He picked up his plate and juice and took them back to
the kitchen.
“I m not doing your dishes,” she hollered after him.
Did I ask her to?
The dishwasher was there for a good
reason. He was capable of putting a dish into it, which he quickly
did before she could nag him about it. He shook his head in
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disgust when he heard her start up the vacuum. It was amazing
she could be more particular than his maid about cleanliness.
He couldn t take it anymore. He stomped back to the
living room just as she put the vacuum back into the closet. He
tore out a sheet of paper from his drawing pad and angrily wrote
his name and her name. Then he drew a vertical line between the
names. Next he wrote different times on the left side of the
paper.
Though he was still angry, he forced himself to talk in a
low tone so he wouldn t yell at her. “One thing we can agree on is
that we want to see as little of each other as possible.”
She slammed the closet door and turned back to him.
“Right,” she agreed.
“Okay. Then here s what we re going to do. We ll take
turns doing what we want in this cabin so we can be in a room
without the other one walking in and disturbing us.”
Like you just
disturbed me.
She nodded. “So far, I like the way this sounds.”
“Good. Unfortunately, there aren t two bedrooms so I m
stuck out here for most of the day. However, I will take a shower
at eight and I ll go outside three times a day for twenty to thirty
minutes. What times would like me to be out of here?”
She thought it over for a minute. “I like to eat breakfast at
nine, lunch at two and dinner at seven.”
“Okay.” He marked a half hour to be gone for those
times.
“Some meals take longer than a half hour to prepare.”
He sighed. “It s too cold for me to be out there for too
long.”
“What if I let you go to the bedroom while I cook and
eat?”
“That ll work. It will be nice to get some privacy too.” He
felt like he was too exposed out in the living room all the time.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“So when do you want me to leave the cabin?”
“How about four? Then I can watch Max Newell.”
“Who s he?”
“He has a TV show to intermediate for people about the
problems they are having.”
Maybe he should see us.
He shook his head. He had no
intention of staying with her longer than the necessary four
months. However, he wouldn t mind having Max give their
fathers a piece of his mind. “Are there any other shows you want
to watch?”
She thought for a moment. “I m really not much of a TV
viewer. Can I think about it and tell you later? Any time I want to
watch TV out here, I ll let you in the bedroom.”
“That s fair. Now, when do you want to do your laundry?
I want to do mine first thing Saturday morning so I can get it over
with for the week.”
“I ll do mine Sunday evening at six.”
He marked down two hours for Sunday evening where he
would be out of her way.
“I ll want to clean the cabin,” she said. “Judging from
your cleaning habits, I d rather take over all of the details on that.”
“You re welcome to it.” He was relieved he didn t have to
do any of it.
“I would like you to fill up the generator with gas and
burn the trash. Both tasks require heavy lifting and I m not as
strong as you are.”
“I can do that.” He feared he was going to regret asking it,
but he continued, “Can you show me where the gas goes in the
generator? I haven t needed a generator in the past, so I don t
know how to use it.”
“Do you need me to show you how to properly burn the
trash too?”
To his surprise, she wasn t being condescending in her
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question. Instead, she seemed grateful he was willing to do those
things for her. He felt his anger cool down. “How hard can it be
to burn trash?”
“Well, you have to make sure the area you re burning the
trash is protected so that the fire won t spread.”
“Alright. I better let you show me how to do those
things.”
She seemed startled.
“What s wrong now?” He didn t know whether to be
upset again or not. Her moods were unpredictable.
“I m just shocked you re willing to listen to me give you
instructions on how to do something.”
“Why?”
She shrugged. “I occasionally meet resistance from men
when I try to teach them how to do something they aren t familiar
with.”
“Is it really that hard for a woman in the workplace?”
“You saw how the sexual harassment seminar went.”
“But that was because Ben and Zack were there.”
“I m not a stranger to that kind of behavior whenever I
give a speech.”
“If those men are like Ben and Zack, then the reason they
resist you is because you re actually intelligent. You can stand up
to them and it intimidates them. That s why they date young
women who don t have IQs.”
“Then why do you go out with that type of woman?”
He felt his face flush. He didn t feel like talking to her, of
all people, about his personal life. “I didn t realize you took note
of who I went out with.”
“Your dad mentioned it at the Henderson party.”
He rolled his eyes. “Well, I was pressured into that one.”
“Ben and Zack pressure you to date that kind of woman?”
“I d rather not discuss this, okay?” He stood up and
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Ruth Ann Nordin
walked to his coat and boots. “Will you show me how to burn the
trash and fill the generator up with gas?”
She looked like she wanted to say something but decided
against it. “Okay.” She put on her coat and boots.
While he put on his coat and boots, he sighed. “I ll put
my coat up on the hook and the boots on the rug.” Since she was
willing to let the issue of who he dated go, he was willing to do
something she wanted.
“Thank you.” He noted that she seemed both relieved and
pleased. “It ll make my job of cleaning easier if I don t have to
constantly mop the floor.”
As much as he hated to admit it, he could see her point.
He already knew that this was also going to lead him to pick up
his towel every morning after his shower. But the clothes on the
laundry room floor would have to stay there since he didn t have a
laundry basket. He followed her out of the cabin and listened as
she told him how to take care of his chores. He went ahead and
filled up the generator so it was full again.
After they went back into the cabin, he put his coat and
boots in their proper place and hung up the schedule they agreed
on. Seeming to be content with their truce, she went back to her
bedroom and shut the door. He picked up the drawing pad and
turned his attention to the TV. He flipped through the channels
until he saw some commercials that looked interesting. After
watching commercials for half an hour, he shut the TV off and
wrote down some possible ideas that popped in his head. He
wasn t sure if his father was going to accept any of his thoughts
for the potato chip, jewelry or the camping gear accounts but he
figured he would send his ideas down to him via Kenneth and see
what happened. He had to stay productive while he was stranded
in the wilderness. He knew it would be another month or two
before he saw the Intensity commercial. He was looking forward
to seeing how it looked on television. He always got a thrill out of
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
seeing one of his and Jacob s wor k on the screen.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Ten
R
yan and Elizabeth managed to fall into a routine that didn t
involve them seeing each other for more than a minute at any
given time. He was relieved that she did clean the cabin so he
didn t have to worry about it. He hated cleaning. He did continue
to make his own meals. The cereal and peanut butter sandwiches
were starting to get old but he didn t know how to make anything
else nor did he have the desire to learn to make anything else. He
spent a lot of time working on his ideas and was pleased to see
them develop into nice ads. By two weeks, he was already done
with them. He didn t know what to do with his time after that.
He watched some television shows which were mildly
entertaining.
He wondered what kind of things Elizabeth did with her
time so he browsed through her bedroom on one occasion when
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she was cooking another meal in the kitchen. She had taken her
ipod, so he couldn t check out what kind of music she listened to.
He had taken his ipod as well but had already listened to enough
songs to satisfy him for awhile. He wasn t going to look through
anything personal so he kept his eyes on things she left laying out
on the top of the dresser or on her night stand. He was surprised
to see she read romance novels. He didn t take her for a
romantic. She seemed unusually opposed to anything to do with
love.
Finally, he decided to go outside more often than not.
The temperatures had slowly climbed up to the mid-twenties for a
high, and her father s parka that she found in the bedroom closet
kept him a lot warmer than his coat. He was able to stay outside
for an hour and not feel like he was trapped in an ice cube by the
time he came back into the cabin. He spent most of his time
sitting on the large rock and staring at the mountains and the river.
It was hard to imagine that life continued as usual in Omaha when
he was stuck in time, removed from any real human contact. The
solitude was nice at first. He rarely had time to sit and do nothing
in Omaha. He was usually busy running from one account to
another or meeting prospective clients. But up here, he had
plenty of time to reflect on how his life was going.
He considered why he still associated with Ben and Zack.
After dwelling on the situation for a week, he realized that he had
never been as close to them as he thought he was. They grew up
together in a small private school environment and stuck together
as they entered the larger student population in high school. Ben
and Zack were naturally popular since they were outgoing and
witty. Being around them made him popular too. He enjoyed
being liked and admired by his peers, so he stayed with them even
when they seemed to go overboard in their behavior. It was easier
to stay with them than to venture on his own to find other friends.
That has always been my problem. I let fear of rejection hold me back.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
He didn t want to envy Elizabeth for her ability to do what
she wanted regardless of what others thought of her. She had
been unpopular in high school, but she still found a group of
friends who were loyal to her. They didn t mind defending her
when she wasn t around. She had an easier time in college since
there were enough people on campus to dismiss all the teasing she
endured from him and his friends. He wasn t proud of the way he
acted.
When Carmen broke up with him to marry Preston, he
became aware that he and Elizabeth had something in common.
They had lost someone they loved to someone else. For the first
time, he was able to put himself in her shoes, and that s when he
stopped making fun of her. Ben and Zack continued to do it,
especially whenever she made another accomplishment. Rumor
was that she had potential.
He thought he did too, but according to his friends, she
didn t agree with that notion.
Why does it bother me that she said Jacob
has all the talent?
Did it really matter what she thought? Did it
really matter what anyone thought of his abilities? He should ve
been focusing on what he thought of his career and where he was
headed instead of what anyone else said. How could he just blow
off other people s opinions when he had been caught up in them
for so long?
Do I just play self-help audio books on my ipod until I start
listening to myself instead of other people? What is Elizabeth s secret?
Do I just walk up to Ben and Zack and tell them that I don t want
to hang around them anymore?
They were at the bottom of the firm.
Their opinion wouldn t affect him anymore. At least it wouldn t
affect his career or how others at his level saw him. The clients
wouldn t care what they thought. It was amazing that their
opinion carried so much weight in school, but in the real world,
the roles had been reversed. Elizabeth s opinion was already
affecting them when she wrote them up for sexual harassment.
She was in the driver s seat now and it irked them to no end.
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By the end of the third week, the solitude began to get on
his nerves. He spent more time outside because he was feeling
too cooped up whenever he was inside the cabin. He ventured
farther out during his walks along the river. Elizabeth had warned
him of the moose and bears in the area, so he made it a habit to
carry a gun with him. Thanks to his target practice on the range,
he was comfortable carrying it. Any moose he did see were
usually far away and didn t have any babies with them so they
didn t see him as a threat. He didn t see any bears. He took
several pictures, more out of boredom than for a keepsake. He
didn t really wish to remember his time out here. He simply
wanted to go back home and act like the whole thing never
happened.
His conversations with Elizabeth were confined to polite
one sentence statements that were of little consequence and rarely
occurred more than twice a week. Sadly, he was beginning to look
forward to these formal and awkward encounters. He started
leaving the cabin whenever she was cooking something because
the wonderful aroma from her dishes only served to remind him
that his own meals were getting more and more difficult to
stomach. He used to look forward to eating but found that to no
longer be the case. He even stopped watching commercials since
most of them had to do with food. He recalled the last time he
ate a cheeseburger and french fries. He never imagined that the
desire for food could be so powerful. He spent nights dreaming
of eating something other than cereal and peanut butter
sandwiches. He was afraid to make anything else after he messed
up a simple spaghetti meal. Who knew that someone could cook
noodles too long?
Sometimes when he was out of sight of the cabin, he
would pretend to talk to his father. He spoke aloud since he
wanted to hear someone talk, even if it was his own voice. He
told his father off several times for sticking him in an unbearable
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situation. Then, just to humor himself, he told Ben and Zack how
they needed to be mature and do their job. He also added how
they needed to consider how lonely they would be if they really
did turn forty and had no one to come home to in the evenings.
Now that he was in isolation, he understood how difficult such
loneliness could be.
***
One evening, he decided to watch the news, which he
never did before but decided to in order to connect himself to the
world again. He wondered if Elizabeth felt as disconnected from
reality as he did but didn t bother to ask in case she laughed at him
for being weak. As he watched the news, he realized that little had
actually changed in the world. The United States was still facing
the global war on terror, politicians were telling people what they
wanted to hear in hopes of gaining their votes at election time,
and police were still chasing criminals. On Thursday evening, the
McGrath local news anchor reported two bank robbers on the run
from the Fairbanks police. He sighed and changed the channel.
He watched a commercial for a restaurant serving fresh
fish. Maybe he should try some fishing. The river was thawing
out enough to step into. And who would cook the fish? He
changed the channel again, ignoring his growling stomach. He
had no desire to eat what he could successfully make. He forced
his mind off of fish and onto the next news broadcast which was a
national broadcast.
“In the world of sports, the Raiders held a funeral today
for one of their own. Preston Edwards, who died from a drug
overdose on Monday, was buried in his hometown of Omaha,
Nebraska. His wife, Carmen Burton, who had been separated
from him for six months, is said to be engaged to actor Alexander
Stewart.”
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This caught his attention. As the news anchor continued
to explain the situation, he went over to Elizabeth s bedroom
door and knocked on it. Then he realized that he hadn t even
It s no big deal. I ll just
thought if she might want to hear the news.
tell her and go. Surely, she d want to know her ex-boyfriend died.
She opened the door, her eyes wide. “Is something on
fire?”
“No,” he quickly assured her. “Did you hear about
Preston?”
She nodded. “I saw it on the news on Monday. He s been
on quite a bit over the past week. They even ran a segment on
drugs and sports on Max Newell.”
She is still connected to the world. This isolation hasn t bothered her
a single bit.
He marveled that she could withstand such a trial.
She shrugged. “I feel sorry for him. He was only twenty-
six. He had such a promising future ahead of him and he blew it
by making the wrong decision. I used to worry that he would
cave into peer pressure. What a way to go when he was at the top
of his career.”
“Well, it wasn t all a bed of roses for him. Apparently,
Carmen left him for an actor.”
“She probably didn t feel like she had much of a marriage
since he was a drug addict. It s hard to blame her for leaving.
Marriage is so tricky. There are no guarantees. It s amazing
anyone even takes the risk anymore.”
“I didn t realize you were opposed to marriage.” The
thought unnerved him though he wasn t sure why.
“I don t like uncertainty.”
“You can t control everything.”
“True. But what I can control, I do. And what I can
always control are the choices I make. I don t let other people
determine my future for me.”
She is the opposite of me. We have nothing in common, except our
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mutual dislike of each other.
“Anyway, I didn t know you already
knew. I ll leave you alone now.”
As he turned away, wondering why she didn t bother to
tell him when she found out, she asked, “How are you taking it? I
know you almost proposed to Carmen.”
He turned back to her. “I m not sure. It s hard to hear
that their marriage was coming to an end. I like to believe that
marriage is forever.”
She raised an eyebrow at his comment.
“I m not talking about us. We didn t choose this
arrangement. But they chose to get married. I would have
preferred it if they were still together.” He didn t think he would
say such a thing five years ago, but he was relieved to realize that
he had put his relationship with Carmen behind him after all.
“Who knows, Ryan? Maybe you ll find the woman of
your dreams someday,” she said. “Just don t let someone else pick
her for you. It needs to be your decision.”
He frowned. “Do you think I let people dictate my life?”
He wasn t comfortable with her reading him so well.
“I usually say the wrong thing despite my intention to help
people.” She sighed. “I m not trying to put you down. Please
don t take my comment the wrong way.”
That helped him feel better. “You re trying to help me
escape the same fate Preston experienced?”
She nodded.
“I won t let Ben or Zack choose my wife for me.”
“Good because from what I ve seen, they re horrible
judges of character.”
“I know.”
She seemed surprised by his admission.
“What can I say? They aren t all they seemed to be in
school,” he replied. “I ll let you get back to whatever it is you
were doing.”
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She nodded again and softly closed the door.
She knows me too well.
He didn t like feeling so exposed to
her, but he had to admit that it felt good to have an actual
conversation that he didn t imagine in his mind.
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Chapter Eleven
T
he next week came and Elizabeth took her ipod off on Saturday
morning. She was getting tired of listening to it. There was only
so much music and audio books a person could take before they
needed other things to do. In fact, she had a headache from
listening to it so much, and she was tired of taking pain relievers.
She left the ipod in her bedroom and took her morning walk
without it. The silence around her was strange. She was used to
constant noise in Omaha from the radio, TV, her ipod or listening
to people talk. Instead, she heard the gentle current of the river
and the rustling of the tree branches as the breeze moved them
around. The temperatures were climbing and, as a result, the
snow was slowly melting. The six inches that had been in front of
the cabin had melted to four inches.
She sat on the rock that she often saw Ryan sitting on and
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took time to really examine her surroundings. Without the ipod
to distract her, she noticed the river and mountains, as if seeing
them for the first time. She loved the view.
Why didn t I take time
to appreciate it before?
She knew the answer to that. She usually kept
her mind on something so she wouldn t have time to stop and
think. She wasn t sure she wanted to know what would happen if
she stopped occupying her mind with the convenient distractions
of her safely built world back home.
I should have taken the ipod with
me.
Pushing aside the uncomfortable sensation, she focused
on the details around her. She couldn t go back into the cabin for
another half hour while Ryan was finishing up with his laundry.
She hadn t talked to him since that night a week and a half ago
when he told her about Preston. He looked disappointed when
he realized she already knew about Preston s death. She didn t
think he would care that he died. She also didn t realize he held
such romantic views of marriage. In fact, judging from the
women he dated, she wouldn t have thought he was remotely
interested in a serious relationship. She had assumed that after
Carmen hurt him, he swore off marriage. She hoped that he
wouldn t keep letting Ben and Zack pick his dates for him.
He wasn t turning out to be such a bad roommate. Since
their initial schedule and chores were set up, he had been abiding
by his part of the deal. She was relieved and thankful he came up
with the idea of establishing the routine. It made their lives a lot
easier than it otherwise would have been. He was probably good
at overseeing people at his job since he could manage difficult
situations efficiently. She didn t realize he was considerate of
other people s thoughts and feelings until she saw that he picked
up after himself and put the toilet seat down. She had to admit
that he was surprising her in ways she didn t anticipate.
Was he really the same person she had known back in high
school and college? Perhaps her father was right.
It does seem like
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he s grown up.
She did note that he was no longer giving her
problems like Ben and Zack were. During the sexual harassment
seminar, he had kept to himself. In the past, he would have joined
Ben and Zack in pestering her, but this time he stayed apart from
it. Maybe miracles did still happen. If she hadn t known him in
high school, she would have sworn he wasn t the same person.
She took a deep breath, enjoying the feel of the cool air in
her lungs. The air was fresh and clean up here. She heard a
movement from a squirrel as it ran up a tree. The sunlight made
the snow glisten brightly but she had gotten used to it and no
longer needed sunglasses to shield her eyes from the glare it
produced. There were a couple of puffy white clouds in the blue
sky. The hum of the generator reached her ears. She hadn t
realized she was close enough to the cabin to notice that detail.
She leaned over to pick up a few small rocks along the
river s bank and tossed them, one at a time, into the river. She
laughed when one rock spooked a fish which automatically turned
to swim the other way. That was an accident but still funny to
watch. She frowned. When was the last time she laughed? She
often chuckled with her friends, but she couldn t recall when she
had a good hearty laugh that lifted her spirits.
Did I really become so
serious that I forgot the simple pleasures in life?
What exactly did the
world up here entail?
***
When Kenneth arrived on April 1
, she was relieved to
s t
find out what was going on in Omaha. She ran out to the cabin to
meet him. Kenneth smiled at her as he stepped out of the
seaplane. “Hi, Beth. How has it been?”
“Long and boring,” she replied. “I don t know how I can
survive the next three months. Did you bring any books or
magazines?”
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“I did bring some books and magazines that you requested
from last time. Has it really been that bad here?”
“Ryan and I have worked out a system where we don t
have to see each other for longer than a couple of seconds.”
“Your dad had hoped by now you two would have worked
out your differences but it s apparently going to take more time.”
She sighed. “That is doubtful.”
“Your parents remain optimistic.”
“I m surprised my mom is going along with this scheme.”
He shrugged. “She wants to see you happy. A career
can t take the place of love.”
She shook her head. “Anyway, how is my proposal for
improving work conditions going?”
“They are in place and seem to be satisfactory.”
Her eyes lit up at her accomplishment. It was nice to
know she could do something worthwhile. “Is there anything else
I can do for work while I am here?”
“No. Everything is fine.”
She sighed. Things would only continue in their boredom.
Another man emerged from the seaplane.
“Oh, I brought Jeff Cummins to take care of the septic
tank. Are there any other things that need attention while I am
here?”
“No.”
She said hi to Jeff before he went to take care of the septic
tank.
“I will bring more gasoline to the shed and bring in the
grocery items.” Kenneth paused. “I know you re not going to
like this but your parents packed you a care package, of sorts.”
She wondered why he said she wouldn t like it. He
handed her a large rectangular box that was light in weight.
“Should I accept it?”
“You never know. You might be in the mood for
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romance in the next three months.”
“Is this a dress?”
“If it helps you feel better, Mr. Jackson sent Ryan a suit.”
“I m not going to wear it but I ll take it anyway just so they
don t send something else next time.”
“I ll bring in the groceries soon.”
She nodded and went back into the cabin.
Ryan came out of the shower. He was drying his wet hair
with a towel.
“Kenneth is here. It s a good thing you re out of the
shower because he brought someone to work on the septic
system,” she told him.
“Oh good. I have a couple of things to give my dad.” He
threw the towel on the couch and grabbed a letter and a manila
folder. Then he raced out of the cabin.
Curious, she went to the door and watched as he ran up to
Kenneth who had a box in his arms. Kenneth set the box down
and took the envelope and folder from him and took it back to
the seaplane. He brought Ryan a box similar to the one he gave
her. As Kenneth talked to him, probably telling him he wouldn t
like it, Ryan opened the box. Even from the distance she was at,
she could tell he was upset by the contents in the box. He threw
it on the ground and stomped on it. Then he ran back to the
cabin and ripped a piece of paper from his drawing pad.
“Did you open your box?” he asked her, his face red.
“No. Not yet.” Was it that bad? Maybe she shouldn t
open it.
“I can t take it anymore. Aren t you tired of being
controlled by our parents? Do they honestly think this is going to
work?” He angrily wrote something on the paper. “They didn t
even bring any kind of junk food or soda. What I wouldn t give
for some chocolate! Instead, they re giving us things that we don t
need.”
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She didn t see that they needed junk food. Apparently,
Ryan didn t agree. “I m sorry, Ryan. I told my dad not to send
that stuff up.”
“Why?”
“Because of my weight.”
He stared at her as if she was crazy.
She sighed. “I just lost twenty pounds. I don t need to
gain it back.”
“What was wrong with the way you looked before?
Personally, I thought you looked better.” He folded up the paper.
“Well, I need to eat something good for a change. I haven t ha d
anything to eat in two days because if I have to make another
peanut butter sandwich or bowl of cereal, I ll go nuts. And I can t
cook anything else.”
He didn t wait for her reply. He ran back over to Kenneth
who had put the ruined box with its contents back into the
seaplane. Ryan gave him the letter he had just written.
Did he really mean it? Was he content with the way I looked before
I lost the weight?
She assumed that men only liked women with
model thin bodies. She had been on the chubby side, though not
overweight.
She went to the bedroom and looked at the box in her
hands. After a moment s hesitation, she opened it, not knowing
whether to be appalled or embarrassed to see make-up, jewelry, a
dress, shoes, perfume and birth control pills. She reluctantly
picked up the note and read it.
“By now, we are assuming you have found that Ryan isn t as bad as
you feared. We have included some items you might find to enhance your
honeymoon. And in case you don t want children right away, we added
something practical. Love, Mom and Dad.”
She immediately threw the note back into the box and
shoved the box under the bed. She could understand why Ryan
threw a fit when he looked in his box. She figured his box held
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similar items. She shuddered at the thought of her parents taking
Like it s any of their business!
such an active interest in her sex life.
She decided she wouldn t mention the box to Ryan, and she
hoped he wouldn t bring it up either.
She went back to the living room and helped Kenneth put
the boxes into the kitchen. To her surprise, Ryan joined them.
“Is there anything decent to eat here?” he asked Kenneth.
“Just the same kind of items I brought last month,”
Kenneth replied.
She opened the boxes and started sorting through them.
“There are some good foods here.”
“But I can t cook any of this. The only things I know how
to make are sandwiches, and there isn t any meat. There are just
peanut butter jars.” Ryan groaned. “I ll never do another peanut
butter commercial for as long as I live. Peanut butter, it sticks to
you better than glue.”
She laughed. When he looked at her, she explained, “I
thought it was funny. I just got a mental image of kids using
peanut butter for glue in their schools. Can t you picture peanut
butter coming out of the glue bottles?”
“Since when do you like anything I think up?”
She blinked in surprise. Why was he upset with her? “I
always thought you had clever ideas for the commercials you
worked on.”
“Yeah right.” He clearly didn t believe her.
Now she was upset. “I don t know what you re talking
about. My dad updates me on your ideas.”
“You only like the commercials because of Jacob.”
“No. I like your stuff too. Both of you are very talented.”
“Oh really? Then why did you tell Ben and Zack that the
only reason I have a job is because my dad owns the company?”
“I didn t tell them that.”
“Yes, you did. It was at the Henderson party.”
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“I told them that they only have a job because they re
friends with you and your dad owns the company. I didn t tell
them I don t like your work. I don t remember my exact words
but I did say you had talent. I may not like you but that doesn t
mean I don t appreciate clever commercials that actually treat
women with respect. I m tired of watching commercials where
women are barely wearing anything. You and Jacob show good
taste. I m sure that even when you re doing your own work, you ll
continue along that line of thought.”
He looked at her as if trying to determine whether to
believe her or not.
“It s true, Ryan. She s often complimented your work,”
Kenneth added.
He glanced back and forth between them.
She looked over at Kenneth who shrugged.
Ryan gritted his teeth and stomped out of the cabin.
She rolled her eyes. “What have I been telling you,
Kenneth? He s impossible. You can t even compliment him
without him going ballistic. Be sure to tell my parents that this is
who I ve had to deal with for the past month.”
“Maybe the lack of junk food and soda have done some
damage. I ll see if I can come back in the next day or two with
some stuff he ll want to eat.”
That was probably a good idea, though she hated the
thought of that stuff being in her sight. She turned her attention
back to the food and toilet items so she could put them away.
***
Later that evening, she decided to make Ryan two
cheeseburgers and potato salad. She couldn t bring herself to
make french fries since her own cheeseburger was fattening
enough. She didn t realize he had nothing to eat but peanut butter
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sandwiches and cereal for a month. Even if she didn t like him,
she couldn t cook a meal while he suffered. She would hate to
confine herself to the same meals every single day.
When she realized he was sitting on his favorite rock by
the river, she finished preparing the meal and went outside to talk
to him. She wasn t sure what she should say. She walked over to
him, aware that he was still upset.
What did I say that was so wrong?
She cleared her throat, suddenly feeling awkward. “I made
two cheeseburgers and some potato salad for you. Dinner s ready
if you want to eat it.”
He looked up from the river. “You made me something
to eat?”
Why did he seem surprised? “Well, you said you had
trouble cooking, so I thought I d make something for you. I
usually make too many things to eat and thought you might want
to help me eat dinner.”
“Thank you,” he replied.
She shrugged. “It s no big deal. Do you want me to bring
the food out here?”
“No. I ll come into the cabin.” He stood up. “After
dinner, would you mind talking to me?”
She wondered what he wanted to discuss after not talking
to her for nearly a month. “Okay,” she finally replied. She led
him to the cabin and asked him if he wanted to eat in the kitchen
or living room.
“Am I going to make a mess in the living room?” he asked
uncertainly. “I want to make a list before I talk to you and it
would be easier to do that out there since the coffee table is bigger
than the kitchen table.”
“Just try to stay over the plate and use a napkin, okay?”
He nodded.
She handed him his plate and a glass of juice. She didn t
know what he wanted to talk about and she wasn t sure she
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wanted to know. She slowly ate her meal before she rinsed off
her plate and glass and put them into the dishwasher. She walked
out to the living room and offered to take his empty plate and
glass in for him since he was busy writing out his list.
Startled, he jerked up.
“That must be some list,” she commented as she took his
plate and glass.
“Unfortunately, it is,” he softly replied. Turning back to
her, he said, “I do appreciate you sharing your dinner with me.
You re a great cook.”
She smiled. “I took some cooking classes while in college.
It was nice to cook for someone besides myself for a change. I ll
share my meals with you for now on.” She stepped toward the
kitchen. “Oh, before I forget, Kenneth said he will come back in
a day or two to bring you some junk food and soda. I don t know
what you said to him out there but it made a big impression on
him.”
“I lost it. I think being stuck out here for a month hasn t
been good for me. I never would have smashed a box and yelled
at him like that under ordinary circumstances.”
“It was a long month.” She took a deep breath. “Well,
when you re ready to talk, let me know.”
She returned to the kitchen and started the dishwasher.
She wasn t sure if she should go to her bedroom or not since he
wanted to speak with her, so she sat at the kitchen table and
waited for him to tell her he was ready. She was afraid and
anxious about talking to him. She missed having someone to talk
to, but she would have chosen someone other than him if she was
given the choice. Finally, he came to the kitchen and sat across
from her at the table. She tried to relax but couldn t.
“I wouldn t ask you all these questions if I had someone
else to go to about this,” he quietly spoke. “They may not seem
relevant and some will bring up parts of the past neither one of us
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want to dwell on, but I have to find out the truth because it has
suddenly occurred to me that those who I thought were my
friends may not be my friends after all.”
She had no idea who he was talking about but realized that
this wasn t going to be a pleasant conversation. She was ready to
say that she wouldn t have any part in it when the sad look in his
eyes stopped her. She cautiously nodded.
“All right.” He took a deep breath and looked down at the
paper. “I m going to start at the beginning and work my way
forward. Shortly after you started going to St. Mark High School,
Ben was supposed to give you a note I wrote asking if you wanted
to go to the Homecoming dance with me. Did he actually do
that?”
“What are you talking about?”
He anxiously tapped the pencil on the table. “Did Ben
give you anything from me?”
“Yes, he did.” She struggled to force aside her bitterness.
Did they really have to go through this? “But it wasn t what you
said it was. He gave me a note with a dog bone attached to it.
The message in the note told me to go back to the kennels where
I belonged.” She stood up. “I can t go through this again. Do
you really want to make me relive this?”
Before she could leave, he grabbed her wrist. “Wait.
Please.”
She paused but refused to look at him.
“I never sent that. I would never have sent something like
that. I was too shy to approach you so I was going to leave my
note in your locker. I was going to ask you to the Homecoming
dance, but Ben said you didn t know me so he would give you the
note and tell you who I was so you d know who was asking you to
the dance. I was never good with girls, and Ben was so confident
that I let him talk me into it. When he came back to me, he said
that you laughed and said you d never consider going out with
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someone as pathetic as me.”
She wasn t sure what to think or how to feel, so she just
sat back down. He released his hold on her.
He looked back at his list. “Do you remember the church
fair your first year at the school?”
This is going to be a long night. He s actually going to check off that
long list of events in his life.
He had already checked off the first
question he asked her.
“Yes,” she replied, resigned to the task ahead of her.
“Do you remember the charcoal drawing I did?”
“That was twelve years ago. I don t remember details
from that far back.”
“It was a drawing of a tree. I used the white from the
paper to represent the snow on the bare branches, and there was a
squirrel in the hole of the tree.”
“I remember it. I liked it.”
“You thought it was good?” He seemed pleased.
“You were gifted in that area. Look, I may not have liked
the way you and your friends acted but I tried to be fair in making
judgments on your work.”
He crossed that item off his list.
“What is the significance of all of this?” she asked.
“Zack said you called that exhibit unimaginative and
boring.”
“I didn t say anything like that.”
“Do you see my point? I didn t send you a dog bone and
a cruel note. I don t know why, but my so-called friends made a
decision to lie to you and me about what the other one has been
saying all these years. And I m sure if I go through everything on
here, I ll discover that what I thought happened didn t really
happen. The last one being that comment Ben and Zack made
about how you said that if it weren t for Jacob Hackman, I
wouldn t be successful because I have no talent.”
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“I do see what you re getting at, but you didn t have to
join them in making fun of me.”
“I know. And I m sorry.” He went to his next item.
She didn t share his enthusiasm for this but fi gured he
needed to do it. This was something he had to work through in
his mind and it wasn t going to be easy for him. Why was she
going through this with him? Because she was tired of being
alone all the time. Even if they went back to their schedule the
next day, it was nice to have someone to talk to for that night.
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Chapter Twelve
A
fter Ryan finished working through the list with Elizabeth, she
went to bed. He spent the rest of the night unable to cool his
anger. He wrote Ben and Zack each a letter telling them exactly
what he thought of them for lying to him and Elizabeth. He
didn t understand why they did it.
And why are they still doing it?
What did they have to gain by doing it? He was certain it wasn t
confined to Elizabeth. He felt like such an idiot. How much of
his life was dictated by what they did?
Zack had fixed him up with Carmen. Obviously, there
was an underlying reason for it, though he couldn t imagine what
it might be. Perhaps it was because Carmen was devastatingly
beautiful. Elizabeth wasn t drop dead gorgeous, but she was
pretty. But not pretty enough for them. It wasn t their business
who he wanted to date in high school. If Elizabeth had been
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doing drugs, he could understand why they would have a problem
with him going out with her. Even now she irked them.
Because
she stands up to them. She doesn t let them control her like I let them control
me.
Well, the control was over. He was going to start taking
responsibility for his own life instead of following what others
wanted him to do.
He didn t fall asleep until six in the morni ng, and even
then, he dropped on the couch, fully dressed and managed a fitful
sleep. When he got up, it was ten. He sat up and rubbed his eyes.
He saw that Elizabeth was taking another walk. She went out
every morning at this time. Now that the air was warmer, she
stayed out for longer periods of time. He didn t feel like taking a
shower or shaving but did as a force of habit.
Once he was dressed, he was surprised to find a note for
him on the kitchen table. She had saved him some eggs and ham
she made for breakfast that morning. Considering all the grief he
and his “friends” caused her, he was surprised she would cook
anything for him. She was right. He didn t have to be mean to
her, because the fact he thought she rejected him didn t validate
his ill treatment of her. She didn t deserve what he put her
through. He had felt bad about it five years ago, which was why
he stopped doing it. But after finding out she wasn t who he
thought she was, he felt even worse.
He wasn t sure if she wanted to go back to the schedule
they had agreed on the previous month. He was tired of not
having someone to talk to, so he didn t want to go back to it. He
had already told his father off in the letter he wrote to him. His
father had received it by now. He let his father know that he was
miserable up in Alaska and that he had no right to send him
somewhere he didn t want to be with someone he didn t want to
be with. He worked hard to get to the position he was at in the
company. It wasn t right for his father to fire him just because he
didn t want to marry someone his father wanted him to be with.
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He was more than happy to send that letter to him via Kenneth.
He would have enjoyed it more if he could ve told his father what
he thought in person but a letter was sufficient.
When Kenneth gave him that ridiculous package from his
parents that included a suit, a bottle of wine, wine glasses and
condoms–of all things!, he lost it. He hoped he destroyed
everything in that package. He decided that two could play this
game, so he wrote his parents a quick note telling them that if they
pulled anything as sneaky and underhanded as that again, he
would make it a point to never let them see the grandchildren they
were so concerned about having. Really, if they wanted to play
dirty, he could meet the challenge. He wasn t going to idly sit by
and take it anymore. And that included not taking anymore
manipulation from Zack or Ben.
When Elizabeth returned from her walk, he noticed that
she had pulled her hair back into a ponytail. He hadn t realized
her hair had gotten long enough to do that. She looked cute. He
She s as
watched as she hung up her coat and put her boots away.
clean and neat as ever.
Instead of being annoyed by it, he found that
it was a funny kind of quirky behavior. He wondered what she
would do if he dropped a piece of lint on the floor. She d
probably race on over with a vacuum cleaner to pick it up. He
chuckled, despite his effort not to.
She turned around and looked apprehensively at him.
“I m not laughing at you,” he quickly assured her. “I was
just recalling the time when you vacuumed my shirt. Looking
back on it, it was funny.”
She relaxed. “I guess it was.”
She headed for the bedroom.
“Do we have to go back to the schedule?” he asked.
She paused and looked at him. “I thought it would be
appropriate.”
He sighed.
She really doesn t like me. And who can blame her?
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“To be honest, I would like to have someone to talk to. It gets
lonely here after awhile.” It wasn t easy for him to admit that to
her but he figured he couldn t make her hate him anymore than
she already did, so what did he have to lose by opening up to her?
She nodded. “It does get lonely.”
He moved over to the other side of the couch and offered
her a seat on the opposite end of it. When she sat down, he
breathed a sigh of relief.
She stared ahead at the television.
His mind drew a blank. What would she be interested in
talking about? He tapped the letters against his right leg and
glanced around the room.
“Are those more lists?” she asked.
He turned to her. “No. They re letters to Ben and Zack.
I m calling them on their lies.”
Her eyes grew wide. “You didn t mention me, did you?”
“Of course, I did. I m really pissed off at them about all
the things they said you told them that didn t actually happen.”
“I would rather you didn t say anything about me.”
“Why?”
“Because I worked hard to act like what they say doesn t
bother me, and if they find out that they can get to me, then
they ll make my life worse than it was in high school and college.
At least now they don t think their words have any effect on me
and I m able to preserve my ego.”
He understood her point. “Then what I am supposed to
do with my anger? If I can t tell them off, then wha t can I do? I
don t want them to think that when I get back to Omaha, I m
going to put up with it anymore. I don t even plan on talking to
them after all of this.”
“You re looking to put closure on the past.”
He wasn t sure what she meant but figured it was
something she learned about in her psychology courses.
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“You can tell them off if you want,” she said. “All I ask is
that you leave me out of it.”
“But they re bound to think you had something to do with
my attitude change since you re the only person up here with me.”
“Just don t tell them anything I said. I don t want them to
know how much they hurt me. It was a painful time in my life,
and I really don t want to go through that again.”
“I can t let them manipulate me anymore.”
“Then don t. Just follow your heart and do what you want
to do regardless of what they think. It s your life. You re the one
who has to live with the consequences of your decisions.”
He knew she was right, but years of following others
weren t that easy to dismiss. However, he was beginning to find
the strength to do that, wasn t he? He did send his father a letter
letting him know what he thought of this joke of a marriage.
Then he included his ideas for the commercials he had spent his
first two weeks working on. He wondered if his father would
consider those ideas after he read the letter.
She spoke up, interrupting his thoughts. “Personally, I m
relieved to find out things happened the way they did.”
“Why?”
“Now I know that all the teasing and ridicule I endured
wasn t my fault. I spent years wondering what was wrong with me
because people didn t like me. I tried changing my personality to
be who others wanted me to be. I knew I couldn t do much
about the way I looked, so I went through a lot of diets to look
like the popular girls. But no matter what I did, I was still
unpopular.”
“You had friends who backed you up when you weren t
around.”
“That s nice to know. Deep down, I feared that they were
laughing at me behind my back.”
He sighed. “Some of them did, but there were a few that
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didn t.”
“A few is better than none.”
“But you aren t afraid to be yourself now.”
“No, I m not. In my third year of college, I decided that if
people didn t like who I was, then I was better off having no
friends instead of trying to be someone I wasn t.”
“Did you compromise your beliefs to win people s
approval?”
She nodded. “I did their papers, their homewor k, and
bought them things they wanted.”
“Did you have sex in order to get a date?”
“No.” She looked shocked that he would even suggest
such a thing.
He shrugged. “Sorry. Some girls did. Some probably still
do.”
“I thought everyone knew I was a virgin. Ben and Zack
broadcasted it enough.”
“Who knows if anything they say is true or not?”
“I should probably thank them because if it weren t for
them, I wouldn t have applied myself at school. When I lived in
Georgia, my best grade was a B, and I got that in music class.
When I moved to Omaha, I didn t have much else to do besides
school work, so I began to study and my grades improved. If I
was busy having fun with friends, I wouldn t have taken school
seriously and I might not be where I am today.”
“I m glad you didn t let us ruin your life,” he softly stated.
“It was either let you bring me down or rise above my
circumstances and do the best I could.”
“Well, you succeeded. I heard you graduated from
undergraduate school with a 3.97 grade point average, and you got
a 4.0 with your master s degree. You scare Ben and Zack now.”
“I guess turnabout is fair play. Maybe they were insecure
the entire time and I just didn t realize it.”
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He didn t know about Ben or Zack, but he knew that her
analysis applied to him.
“Anyway,” she continued, “now that you know what
they re about, you can make your decisions with your facts in
place.”
“I haven t had much in common with them since I got my
bachelor s degree.”
“So why do you continue to associate with them?”
“I ve been asking myself the same question.”
“And?”
“I don t know.”
“You ve been asking yourself the same question for five
years and you don t know the answer?”
He didn t like the way that sounded. Though she seemed
to be sincere in her desire to help him, her words bothered him.
Did she honestly think he was a moron?
“Maybe if you reversed the question,” she began, “you
would have an easier time answering it. Why do they associate
with you?”
She struck a nerve without realizing it, and it disturbed
him. He wanted to forget about talking to her, but he knew she
wasn t trying to hurt his feelings so he stayed seated. He
reluctantly answered, “All of my life, I ve gone along with people
like Ben and Zack because I was afraid if I didn t, they would
criticize me. It s hard not to be liked.”
“It is hard.”
She knew this from experience and since he had a part in
that, it was even more difficult to hear.
“But it s still easier than not liking yourself for going
against your values,” she said.
He nodded. “Yes. I know. That s why I m putting a stop
to it. That s what these letters are all about. I ll rewrite them and
leave you out of it.”
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“Thank you.”
“You do a great job of hiding the fact that they can get to
you.” He sighed. “If I didn t like my job at Jackson Advertising so
much, I would have refused to go on this crazy trip.”
“My job is the only reason I went along with it too.”
“Are you mad at your parents for doing this?”
“No. I know they think they re doing something good for
me, but I m not going to let them choose my husband for me.
I m not even sure I want to get married.”
“I know I want to get married.”
“Well, we aren t going to let them make the decision on
who to marry. We ll go back, get the annulment and make it clear
that they won t be putting us in a similar situation with someone
else in the future.”
“I couldn t agree more.”
“We have three more months. Maybe those will go
quicker than last month. You know, Kenneth is coming back
soon with goodies for you to eat and drink. So that should make
part of this ordeal easier.”
He smiled. “I can t wait for that.”
“I m going to make lunch. Is there anything you want to
eat?”
“Anything that doesn t have peanut butter in it.”
She smiled back. “You got it.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth. I guess you re not so bad after
all.”
“Maybe you aren t either.”
He grinned.
“You can call me Beth if you want. It s easier to say than
the whole name.”
He watched her as she went into the kitchen. Beth. He
liked that name.
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Chapter Thirteen
T
he next day when Kenneth arrived, Ryan gave him the letters he
rewrote to Ben and Zack letting them know he discovered that
they had lied to him in the past and that he wouldn t tolerate being
manipulated anymore. He wasn t even sure he wanted to see
them again but refrained from ending their friendship altogether
though deep down, he felt it was inevitable as long as they stayed
on their course and he continued along his. He knew one thing
for sure, he was tired of going from one date to another. He
wanted to settle down with a good woman and have children. He
decided when he got back to Omaha, he was going to get serious
about looking for that woman. He certainly wasn t going to let
Ben or Zack or his father make that decision for him. In fact, he
wasn t going to ask for their input on anything. Jacob might be a
good judge of character though. Jacob had good sense and never
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tried to dictate how he did anything.
Jacob s a good friend. If there s
someone I need to listen to, it s him.
After he handed Kenneth the letters, Kenneth told him,
“Your father got your letters and said this trip up here has already
been good for you. He said it s about time you stood up for
yourself.”
That wasn t quite the response he was expecting, so he
didn t know what to think. “Okay,” he slowly said.
“He likes your ideas on the potato chip account but says
you need more work on the jewelry and camping accounts. For
jewelry, he said to ask for Elizabeth s advice since you could use a
woman s opinion on what is romant ic. For camping, he
recommended you think of family time. You know, imagine what
it would be like if you had a wife and children out here in the
wilderness.”
He shook his head in disgust.
“You will note that he didn t say that the wife was
Elizabeth,” Kenneth reassured him. “I think he got your message
loud and clear.”
That made him feel better.
“I did explain your reaction to the package he and your
mother sent,” Kenneth added. “I figured your action spoke
volumes as to what you think of this arrangement.”
“Did it do any good? Is he going to let go of this
ridiculous charade?”
“No. He thinks that you are showing individual growth
which will make you an excellent vice president. Anyway, he is
looking forward to your ideas on the jewelry and camping
accounts next month.”
“This isn t funny, Kenneth,” he grumbled, noting the
older man s amusement.
“For you, I m sure it s not.” He turned back to the
seaplane and said, “I have several boxes of fattening and delicious
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foods and drinks. Would you like to help me carry them in?”
His mood brightened. “I sure would!”
Once the four boxes were in the kitchen and Kenneth left,
he quickly opened them and almost jumped up and down when
he saw bags of potato chips, pretzels, beef jerky, pepperoni and
sausage with cheese, chocolate bars and soda. He eagerly filled a
large bowl with candy bars and potato chips. Then he took a six
pack of soda and ran over to the couch where he turned the
television on.
Elizabeth came back from her walk along the river ten
minutes later. “I didn t mean to miss Kenneth,” she said when
she walked over to the couch.
“He brought good stuff this time,” he grinned, his mouth
full of food. He took a gulp of soda to help swallow the food and
patted the cushion next to him. “S it down and share this with me.
I m even watching Max Newell.”
She glanced at the TV. “Don t you think it s ironic that
he s talking about losing weight?”
He shrugged. “We haven t had anything this good to eat
since we got here. A few days of pigging out isn t going to do any
damage.”
“I don t think so.” She turned to her bedroom.
“Oh come on! It s Max Newell. You never miss his
show.”
She stopped and turned around. “Yes, but I can t watch
him with all that junk food in front of me.”
“Why not? This stuff is great.” He shoved a handful of
potato chips in his mouth.
“It took me a long time to get over my cravings for those
kinds of foods. If I start eating that again, I ll gain the weight
back.”
“So?”
She groaned as if she couldn t believe he would even say
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that. “You really want to know why I need to keep the weight
off?”
He was about to eat a candy bar when he saw her walk
She s getting ready to tell
over to him and put her hands on her hips.
me off, isn t she?
This seemed to be one of those moments where
he wouldn t get the answer right no matter what his response was.
He had a couple of similar arguments with Carmen so he knew
that this wasn t going to go well. Except with Carmen, it had been
related to her animal rights group or her five stray cats that she
occasionally took in his car when he took her to the park.
She glanced at the television and pointed to it. “Would
you date her?”
He looked at the brunette on the screen. “No.”
“Why not?”
“Because she s married.”
She huffed and then pointed to a redhead on the screen.
“How about her?”
He cringed. “No, I wouldn t date her either.”
Looking satisfied, she asked, “Why not?”
“Because she s twice my age.”
She grunted.
“I wouldn t date the other woman either because she s too
young. What is she? Sixteen or something?” He didn t
Once again, she s making a big deal
understand what her problem was.
out of nothing.
“Okay,” she began, uncrossing her arms. “Take away the
fact that one woman is married, the other is too old and the other
is too young. Let s say they are all single and your age. Would
you date them then?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“The married one lives in Akron, Ohio. The old one lives
in Seattle, Washington, and the young one lives in Jackson,
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Mississippi. I have no desire to go to any of those places.”
“You are impossible!”
Why is she getting upset?
“Okay. Fine. I d go out with them.
Happy?”
“Why would you go out with them?”
“Because it s pissing you off that I won t go out with
them.”
She gritted her teeth and sat next to him.
“Great. Have a candy bar.” He offered her the candy bar
he had been holding. “The soda is warm but I have more in the
refrigerator.”
“No.” She shoved his hand away.
“Aren t you interested in eating this?”
“Of course, I am.”
“There are boxes of this stuff in the kitchen. We can have
a whole bunch and still eat more for the rest of the month. So
you don t have to worry about eating so much that there won t be
any left over.”
“Putting candy and chips in front of a person who s
struggled to lose weight is insensitive.”
His eyes widened. He wasn t expecting this. “Are you on
that weight thing again?”
“Did you not notice that those women are overweight?”
“Yeah. I did get the point of the show when I saw the
words „wanting to lose weight across the screen.”
“Why haven t I ever seen you date anyone who wore a size
bigger than a six?”
He sighed and set the bowl on the table. He picked up the
soda and drank some of it before answering her. “I don t know
what size six means.”
“It s the pant size. I consider a size six to be thin.”
“What size are you?”
She gasped. “That s none of your business.”
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“If I know what size you are, then I can make an accurate
comparison of what a size six means.”
“Fine. I m a size twelve. Carmen was a size six.”
“Okay. Now I have an idea of what you re talking about.”
“Yes and all the women you date are thinner than her.”
“They are also models. They have to be that way or they
won t get photo shoots. Ben and Zack are really big into swimsuit
models.”
“Why did you go out with those models?”
“Most of the time, I had no idea who I was going to date
until I met her. I was fixed up on a lot of blind dates. I don t
exactly have an easy time meeting women.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Well, it s true. But I m going to force myself to get over
my shyness around women when I get back to Omaha. I ll have
to take more risks.”
“So you have been fixed up with everyone you ever went
out with?”
“Pretty much. Carmen was the only one who could
manage to have a real conversation with me. She obsessed a little
too much over animals and her acting career, but she could get
her mind on other things.”
“So the fact that she was a gorgeous blond had nothing to
do with you wanting to marry her?”
“I see what you re getting at. Alright, I ll tell you the truth.
Yes, I like attractive women. What man doesn t? Don t you
check out good looking men? How many overweight men have
you gone out with?”
“None have asked me.”
“Hmm…” He looked back at the TV. “Would you date
him?” He pointed to the overweight middle-aged man on the
screen.
“No.”
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“Why not?” He imitated her voice.
“Because he has a mustache.”
“That s lame. Why don t you just admit that you are just
as shallow as I am?”
“I really don t like mustaches.”
“Uh huh.” He didn t believe her for a second.
“It s true. They look suspicious to me. It s as if the men
who are wearing them are ready to commit a crime or something.
I couldn t trust a man who wore one.”
He laughed. “You are a hypocrite. You can t even admit
that you like attractive men. Look, if I met an overweight woman
who was good looking and had a great personality, I would date
her. My mom is overweight, in case you didn t notice, and I
happen to think she s a terrific woman.”
She cooled down. “You win.”
“I didn t realize we were having a contest.” He picked the
bowl back up and handed her an unopened soda can. “Go for it.
You could stand to gain some weight.”
“Excuse me?”
“When you lost weight, you lost weight in some areas you
should have more weight. I like a woman with curves, and I m
sure there are other men out there who do too.”
She looked disgusted.
“Are you terrified of being sexually appealing? Is that why
you wear baggy clothes and try to look like the stereotypical
librarian by pulling your hair back and wearing glasses?”
“I only wear glasses when I watch TV or read. I wear
these clothes to remind myself of how I don t want to go back to
the way I was. I pull my hair back to keep it out of my face.”
“Since you can t fit into those clothes properly, go ahead
and eat some junk food. There was nothing wrong with the way
you looked before.” He raised an eyebrow. “Do you know what
happens when the librarian lets her hair down? She turns into a
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sexy goddess.”
She rolled her eyes.
He set the bowl between them on the couch and changed
the channel to a comedy. “You need to lighten up. Life doesn t
have to be serious all the time. You don t have to eat or drink any
of these wonderful and delicious foods, but if you want to, help
yourself. There s more in the kitchen too.”
She settled into the couch and relaxed. He was pleased to
note she finally drank one can of soda and had one candy bar
before she went to her bedroom to read.
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Chapter Fourteen
E
lizabeth found that she was beginning to enjoy talking to Ryan
now that they had moved from hating each other to being friends.
The next two weeks passed and she gradually came out of her
bedroom more often and sat on the couch with him to watch TV
or talk. It was also more fun to cook for someone who
appreciated her meals. He was easy to please, and he was easy to
influence, which explained why Ben and Zack were able to get by
with so much in the past. He was eager to please people and went
out of his way to help her if she needed something.
I guess men
want to be accepted as much as women do.
When she went out for her walks and listened to her ipod,
he would sit on his large rock and draw something on his drawing
pad. He said he was working on several ideas for some possible
commercials. He was serious when he worked. He examined his
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surroundings with intense scrutiny for awhile, draw and look
around again. She wondered what he was working on but he
seemed unusually protective of his work. “I don t like to share my
ideas until I ve settled on the right one.” She accepted his
reasoning and left him alone with his drawing pad and his
thoughts. When he wasn t working, he seemed to be a pretty laid
back and easy going person. She had no clue he had that serious
side to him.
The weather was getting up in the 30s and 40s, and since
she had adjusted to the colder climate, she felt more comfortable
staying outside in her coat. She didn t mind turning off her ipod
once in awhile to dwell on her thoughts. Her past no longer
haunted her. It felt strange to be grateful for the way things had
turned out. She liked the independent and hard working person
she had become. She still wouldn t choose to associate with Ben
or Zack but realized that they lost their ability to intimidate her.
After watching television with Ryan for a week, she began
to realize that he talked about the commercials they saw, and it
dawned on her that he was looking for her viewpoint since she
was a woman. One afternoon, a commerci al for a diamond
necklace came on the screen.
“What do you think of this commercial?” he asked her.
“I think it s okay,” she replied. “It s the same as any other
jewelry commercial.”
“It doesn t grab your interest?”
“Not really. I mean, a diamond necklace is nice but all of
these commercials show the man or a child giving the woman the
gift. I realize that the advertisers are looking for a way to portray
romance, and it is romantic, but it s also predictable.”
“What would make it more appealing to you?”
She paused to think about it. “It would be nice to see
some humor in it. It would certainly catch my attention if I could
link it with something funny or unexpected.”
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He grinned. “You are so serious. I didn t even think you
enjoyed comedies.”
“I see your point. I don t take time to laugh like I did
when I was a kid. I guess I let high school and college push that
part of me down.” She looked over at him. He seemed sad
whenever she mentioned the past. “You need to forgive yourself.
There s no sense in mulling over something you can t do anything
about.”
“You re right.”
It was nice to know that he did care about the fact that he
had hurt her, though she didn t want to tell him that. She turned
his attention back to the television. “You see that commercial?”
She motioned to the ad for a seafood restaurant. “The mother is
chasing her children around all day and cleaning up after them.
It s funny to watch because it happens in real life to all mothers. I
especially like the part where her seven year old son dumps a
bottle of baby powder all over his little brother s head. When her
husband comes home from work, he takes her out on a date to
the restaurant so she can unwind. The reason why this is
romantic is because he sees the stress she s been under during the
day and attempts to make her life easier, even if it s for one night.
Romance isn t just jewelry and holding hands or kissing. It is in
the little details of every day life. Women want to be cared for
and loved. Simple actions like helping with a chore means that
her man loves her. I can t tell you how many women I ve talked
to whose husbands come home from work and expect her to take
care of everything. It s disgusting. What woman is going to be
honestly happy with a man who gives her a diamond necklace one
day out of the entire year but doesn t lift a finger to help her with
the daily housework?”
“So if you were to find a necklace in a load of laundry your
husband just folded, that would be romantic?”
She shrugged. “That would be okay. But I was thinking
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along the lines of something with humor too. It doesn t have to
involve housework. I was just giving an example of what I think
is romantic. There are other things that are romantic too.
Animals are cute.”
“You like animals?”
“I don t have a pet but I think they re cute to watch on
commercials.”
“Carmen said you had no compassion for animals.”
She rolled her eyes. “She wanted me to donate money to
her animal rescue fund so a certain bird could be protected in the
environment.”
“I remember that.”
“Well, I didn t have a lot of money at the time and decided
to give it to the abused women s shelter instead. I thought taking
care of people was more important than an endangered bird. She
didn t care much for me after that, but I m still glad I made the
choice I did.”
“She never did tell me the details of that event and I didn t
care to ask. Why do you think she and Preston tried to get us to
be friends?”
She considered his question. “I think that was an excuse
they used to see each other. I suspect that they wanted to be with
each other as soon as they met.”
“They met in October and she said they didn t develop an
attachment until Christmas.”
“That s probably when they realized they shared romantic
feelings for each other. In a way, I think they did care about us.”
“They should have had the decency to break things off as
soon as they realized they liked each other that way.”
“I suspect that they got a thrill out of sleeping with each
other behind our backs.”
“You think they were having sex?”
She nodded. “It didn t cross your mind?”
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“No, it didn t. I didn t think she was interested in sex until
marriage.”
“Well, I caught him with a package of condoms in his car.
He said it was for a friend but I didn t believe him. I thought he
was waiting for me to be ready for sex but he never even
approached me about it. When I found out about him and
Carmen, it made sense.”
“But she told me she was waiting until her wedding night.”
“She was lying. I saw her picking up condoms at the
pharmacy. I assumed you two were doing it.”
He looked upset. “No. Not that I would do it until I
married her anyway. I took that abstinence program in high
school. I ve heard enough horror stories of unwed pregnancies
and pictures of sexually transmitted diseases to scare me for a
lifetime. Condoms aren t 100% effective.”
“I m surprised. From the way you and Ben and Zack
acted, no one would suspect you were still a virgin.”
“That s because I didn t want them to make fun of me. It
was hard enough going through their ridicule in high school and
my first year of college. Finally, I lied about having sex just to get
them to stop.”
“Were you facing sexual harassment at work?”
“I don t want you telling this to anyone. I would ra ther be
sexually harassed than have them find out the truth. It s hard to
be a thirty year old male virgin. People would assume that I m
either weird or impotent.”
She sighed. “I understand how you feel. I think it s
human nature to worry about what other people think of us.
Your secret is safe with me, though it s hard to watch the
harassment continue.”
He seemed to be relieved.
“Ryan, part of romance is waiting. I think it s wonderful
that you re committed to your values. At least, you know that is
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one area of your life that no one else has been able to control.
You might think that Ben and Zack are secure but they aren t. I
wouldn t worry about their opinion. Besides, no decent woman
would be with them. She d rather have someone like you.”
“I hope she thinks that when she meets me.”
She smiled. “Just be yourself. You don t need anyone else
to show her that you re a good guy. I know that this arrangement
has been difficult for both of us, but I am glad I got to know you.
That wouldn t have been possible in Omaha.”
“I d like to keep in touch after we get back. I don t care
what Ben or Zack think about it. I m not going to let them dictate
who I talk to anymore.”
“Do you even see them much?”
“Not really. We hang out in different circles now.”
“So they probably won t be able to mess with you too
much.”
“If they even keep their jobs. My dad hinted that he was
going to fire them because they aren t doing their work.”
“That would only be fair. Who knows? Maybe that s the
motivation they need to shape up.”
He nodded. “Maybe.”
***
One morning after breakfast, he asked, “Can you cook a
fish if I catch it?”
“My mom caught some fish when we were up here, and
she and I cooked those,” she replied.
“Ever since we talked about seafood, I ve been wanting
some fish.”
“I would like to eat some too,” she admitted as she
collected their plates and put them in the sink. “The fish in this
river taste better than the ones in restaurants. Do you know how
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to fish?”
“No but I watched your dad s video on how to do it. It
doesn t look that hard.”
“His fishing clothes are in the bedroom closet.” She rinsed
off the dishes and put them in the dishwasher while he wiped up
the table. After she finished, she dried her hands on the dishtowel
and turned to him. “Would you like to fish now?”
“I thought I d go for a walk with you first. I m getting
tired of the songs on my ipod.”
“Do you want to switch ipods for awhile? I d like to listen
to some new music too.”
“Can we still take a walk together?”
She laughed. “Sure. We can try to find a good fishing
spot for you while we re out.”
After they took their walk and returned, they exchanged
ipods and she showed him where the fishing outfit was in the
closet. When he came out of the bathroom, she grinned at the
sight of him.
“Do I look ridiculous?”
“You look cute,” she replied. “You re taller than my dad.”
“I know it doesn t fit very well.”
“It ll work. All you have to do is catch some fish. At least
the weather is warm enough to sit down and be comfortable
outside.”
There was about two inches of snow left on the ground
and the river was no longer icy. The sky was cloudy but there
wasn t supposed to be any new snow for the day so it was a good
time to fish. While he went to the river to fish, she decided to
clean up the cabin. She was relieved that he was getting better
about putting his clean clothes in the night stand. He was laying
them on top of it for awhile. Cleaning didn t take too long now
that she got a routine down with it. She noticed that it was early
afternoon and went out to see how he was getting along with the
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fishing. He was in the boat and staring blankly ahead. He was too
far out for her to call out to so she went back inside. She sat
down on the couch and watched some television.
Two hours later, she decided to lie down on the bed and
listen to some of his music. He didn t have any audio books. He
had a wide variety of playlists. Among his playlists were “Foods,”
“Travel,” “Historical,” “Body Fragrances,” “Jewelry,” and
“Automobiles.” She clicked on the “Foods” playlist and saw a
variety of songs that had themes involving either eating or
drinking something. She chuckled.
These must be the songs he listens
to when he works on his advertising ideas.
Obviously, the technique was
working for him.
After an hour, she got tired of listening to his music, so
she watched TV. Halfway through the movie, Ryan came into the
cabin with a cooler. She winced when he kept his muddy boots
on and put the cooler in kitchen. She hopped off the couch and
ran over to him, carefully avoiding the muddy footprints.
“Take your boots off!”
He set the cooler on the counter and looked at her. “I
will. I just want to put this down first. It s heavy. I caught three
fish today and two were pretty big.” He bent down and pulled one
of his boots off. She cringed as he put his muddy hand on the
counter to steady himself as he took off his other boot.
“I just cleaned the cabin today,” she told him. “And you
come in here and dirty everything up.”
He shook his head. “Are you on that cleaning kick
again?”
“If you had just cleaned everything and I came in getting
mud all over the place, you would get upset too.”
“Fine. I ll clean it up once I take a shower.”
“What?”
“I got river water a ll over my pants from when I took the
boat out to the river and brought it back to the shore. I feel
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gross.”
He walked past her, carrying the boots. She sighed. “If
you don t clean the mud up right away, it ll dry and be more
difficult to get up.”
He started to set the boots on the rug she just washed.
“Don t! Please put those outside the door until I have a chance to
wash them. I need to wash your clothes first.”
“I can throw them all in together.”
“No way. You can t put boots in with your clothes.”
“Why not?” He rolled his eyes and stared at her in
disbelief.
“Because they re completely different items. It s like
trying to wash reds with whites. It doesn t work.”
“Is that why my underwear is pink?”
She hid her disgust at his lack of knowledge. Who didn t
know to do something that simple this day in age?
“Okay. Just to humor you, I ll put the boots outside.” He
reached out to touch the doorknob with his muddy hand.
“Stop! You re going to get that dirty. Here, let me open
the door.”
“I m starting to get annoyed.”
She opened the door for him. “I m sorry, but I m trying
to minimize how much cleaning I have to do. I wish I had known
you were going to be so messy. Then I would have waited to
clean the cabin.”
“Is there anywhere in particular you want me to put these
boots?”
“Over by the welcome mat.”
He put them down and entered the house. “Is there
anything else I need to do or not do before I take off my clothes,
put them in the washer and take a shower?”
“No. I ll take care of everything. Just don t touch
anything with your left hand until you wash it.”
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“Okay,” he grumbled.
She quickly cleaned up after him and got the fish ready to
cook.
When he came back, he was clean. He chuckled.
“What s so funny?” she asked as she put the fish into the
oven.
“You need to relax. A little dirt isn t going to hurt
anything.”
“It s hard work to keep a place clean.”
“And it s hard work to catch fish.”
“All you did was sit in a boat and reel in three fish. I had
to clean the cabin, skin the fish, remove the bones and cook them.
That s a lot more work.”
“I didn t just sit in a boat and catch the fish. I had to drag
the boat out of the shed and over to the river. Then I had to row
out to a spot deep enough to fish. It was hard to put the anchor
in while trying to stay in my spot. It s not as easy to reel a fish in
as it looks. Then I had to fight the fish and put them in the
cooler, drag the boat back into the shed and bring the cooler in.
I m exhausted.”
“I m exhausted too. I cleaned the kitchen and entryway
twice today before I took care of the fish.”
“How hard can it be to run a wet rag over things and clean
some fish off?”
“Care to find out?” She crossed her arms and waited for
him to respond.
“You mean, you ll actually go out there and catch fish?”
He laughed. “You couldn t handle it. You can t even fill up the
generator with gas because the gas container is too heavy.”
“I could if I wanted to. I just don t want to.”
“Because it s heavy. That boat isn t easy to push either.”
“Well, I don t see you in a hurry to clean anything around
here.”
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“I bet I could clean this cabin and make you lunch before
you can catch a single fish and put everything back to where it
belongs.”
“You want to make this a bet?”
“Sure. It ll make things interesting.”
“Okay. If I win, you have to mop the floors one time a
week for a month.” She hated mopping more than any of the
other tasks.
“And if I win, I get to give you a shower when you come
in all dirty. I wouldn t want you to sit on the couch unless you re
all clean.”
She shot him a “get serious” look.
“What? You ll need a shower after being out there.”
“Is sex all you men think about?”
He seemed to consider her question. “Pretty much.”
“But since we re not in a real marriage, you ll have to make
do with something else.”
He grinned. “I was teasing anyway. All right. If I win,
you have to do my laundry for a month.”
“I accept the challenge. When do you want to do this?”
“Next week. Same time, same place.”
“Like we have anywhere else to go.” She turned her
attention to the oven and opened the door. “The fish are coming
along nicely.”
“I can t wait to eat them. Do you want me to help make a
salad?”
“You ve given up on having junk food for a side dish?”
“I ve eaten my f ill of bad food and need something
healthy again. I notice you re eating more candy and chips.” He
took some vegetables and lettuce out of the refrigerator. “I m
going to make a salad for the side of the lunch next week. I don t
suppose you ll accept peanut butter sandwiches for the main
course?”
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“No. It has to involve actual cooking. You have to use
the stove or oven. You should make steak and mashed potatoes.
I mean real mashed potatoes. Not the instant kind.”
“You re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
“I wouldn t ask you to make anything I wouldn t make.”
He seemed hesitant.
“Do you want to forfeit and start mopping floors now?”
“No. I ll do it. But I need instructions.”
“That s fair.” Smiling, she rinsed off the vegetables. He
was turning out to be more fun to hang out with than she
imagined he would be.
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Chapter Fifteen
T
hree days later, Elizabeth sat in front of the television while
Ryan was burning the trash. She found a movie that was
interesting enough to grab her attention. She flipped through a
magazine while the commercials played on the screen. She heard
a familiar song and looked at the TV. She watched the
commercial and grinned when she recognized that it was the
Intensity account that Ryan and Jacob recently completed. He
played the song used in that commercial a lot. It made the Top 25
Most Played Playlist in his ipod. She had to admit that it was a
good commercial. The one following it was of a woman wearing a
tight t-shirt and a pair of shorts that were too short. She was, of
course, a gorgeous tall blond, and she sung a happy tune and held
a can of soda.
Elizabeth snorted in disgust. “I bet all the men are
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running out to the store to buy that soda now that they saw her.”
Ryan chuckled. “Have a problem with the commercial?”
She gasped and turned around.
He was smiling while he put his coat and boots away.
She frowned. “You men are so typical. As soon as you
see a scantily clad beautiful woman, you will do anything she
wants.”
He sat next to her. “That s not true. We can see such a
woman and resist the product.”
“Oh really?”
“Really.”
An idea came to her. “Can I have a piece of paper and a
pencil?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to write a list of
things that you hate about men?”
“No. I m going to conduct an informal experiment.”
“Am I the test subject?”
“You re the only one here.”
“What are you going to write?”
“I m not saying until after I m done. I don t want to
influence the results.”
He laughed. “Okay. This sounds like it might be fun.” He
went over to the night stand and pulled out his drawing pad. He
flipped through the pad until he came to an unused page.
“When am I going to see what you re working on?” she
asked.
“When I m ready for you to.” He handed the pad and
pencil to her. “What do you want me to do?”
“All you have to do is watch the commercials I tell you to
watch.” She muted the TV. She wrote:
Thesis: Men are more
influenced by commercials featuring scantily clad women than commercials
featuring fully dressed women.
“You have to close your eyes. When I
see a commercial I want you to watch, I ll tell you to open them.
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When the commercial is over, you have to close them. The
volume on the TV is muted so that the sound won t affect this
experiment.”
“Is this what you did in college?”
“Kind of. I did things similar to this but the topic was
different.” She glanced at him. “Are you ready?”
“Anytime you are.”
She nodded. “Now you can t peek.”
“I won t.” He closed his eyes.
She waved her hand in front of him to make sure he
wasn t cheating. Satisfied, she flipped through some channels
until she came across a commercial that suited her study. She
labeled it “FD” for „fully dressed woman. “Okay. You can
look.”
The commercial showed an attractive mother who was
cooking her family a chicken dinner. She wrote “chicken” so she
would remember what the commercial was about. When the
commercial was over, she told him to close his eyes. She smiled
when she realized he was enjoying the experiment.
It s right up his
alley.
He does commercial advertisements for a living.
The second commercial she let him watch fit in under the
“SC” category for „scantily clad woman. The woman was selling
soda, so she wrote “soda” next to it. The third and fourth
commercials fit under the “FD” category. One was for clean
drinking water so she wr ote “water” and the other one was for
“coffee.”
“Let me guess,” he said after the fourth commercial was
over. “You want me to get thirsty and hungry?”
“You ll see,” she replied.
The fifth and sixth commercials went under the “SC”
column. The first one was for pizza so she wrote “pizza” and the
second one was for beer so she wrote “beer.”
To throw him off track, she let him watch a commercial
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with a couple of men playing sports.
“What does this have to do with food?” he asked.
“I m not saying yet. Stop asking questions.”
“I love it when you take charge.”
She rolled her eyes but had to admit he was a good sport
about playing along.
The seventh commercial was of a fully dressed woman
buying orange juice. The eighth and ninth commercials were of
scantily dressed women. One was of an energy drink and the
other one was for a healthy cereal. Then she had him watch a
commercial of children using hand soap. The tenth commercial
was of a fully dressed woman eating tacos.
She turned the TV off. “Okay. Now we ll go for a walk.”
He opened his eyes. “What? Is that it?”
“I m not done yet but I can t explain what I m doing or
why until we come back. Okay?”
He shrugged. “You re the one with the Psychology
degree.” He followed her outside. “What are we supposed to talk
about? I m guessing discussing those commercials is out of the
question.”
“We can discuss the Intensity commercial I saw right
before you came back.”
He groaned. “I missed it? I haven t seen it yet.”
“It was very well done.”
“What did you like best about it?”
“I liked the fact that the women were fully dressed.”
“So the product itself or the music had no affect on you?”
“It was a catchy beat. I recognized it from one of your
playlists, so it caught my attention when I heard it. I was looking
through a magazine when it came on. If I hadn t heard the song, I
wouldn t have stopped to look at the TV.”
“At least I know the song did its job.”
“Did you come up with the dance number or was that
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Jacob s idea?”
“I did the dance number. That was actually my favorite
part of the commercial.”
She noted the light cool afternoon breeze that tugged at
her ponytail as they walked along the river bank. “I heard you re a
good dancer.”
“I d rather come up with the choreography than dance.
That was a fun number to work with.”
“The men and women worked well together in it. There s
something appealing about men wearing tuxedos and dancing.”
“I knew it! You re just as interested in how a man looks as
I am in how a woman looks.”
She shrugged. “Well, that s true to a point, but men and
women view love differently. I can look at a good looking man
and not think about sex. Considering that men think of sex most
of the time, I think it s important for a woman to watch what
she s wearing. That s why I had to mention it at the sexual
harassment seminar. I don t think men have any excuse to harass
a woman but the woman has to do her part too. I try to be fair to
both sides.”
“Well, Darlene isn t wearing anything seductive anymore.”
“Good. Maybe she ll find a decent man now.” She
stopped and glanced at her watch. “I think it s time to head
back.”
They turned around and continued walking.
“I notice it s staying lighter out later,” he commented.
“Pretty soon it will be light all the time.”
“So it s true that there are days in the summer that never
end?”
“Well, in Barrow, Alaska, there are a couple of months
where it s daylight all the time in the summer, but we re farther
south, so June is the month where it won t get dark. There will be
some twilight around two in the morning, but the sun will quickly
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rise again.”
“That s hard to imagine.”
“Once you see it for yourself, you ll understand. It is
more difficult to sleep but you don t feel so tired because your
mind is stuck in daytime mode. It helps if you have something to
cover your eyes at night.”
“I didn t think to bring anything like that. I better ask
.”
Kenneth for it when he comes on May 1
s t
“That s only a week and a half away. This month has gone
by faster than last month. Before we know it, we can get back to
Omaha and put this whole thing behind us. All right. We re back.
Are you ready to conclude the experiment?”
“Sure.”
After they sat back down, she picked up the drawing pad
and reviewed the commercials and said, “I was thinking of making
dinner. Is there anything in particular that you would like to eat
and drink?”
“I knew you were trying to get me hungry and thirsty.”
“Well, what are you in the mood for?
“We don t have pizza, do we? I miss pizza.”
She grinned. “And to drink?”
He shrugged. “We have some more soda in the kitchen.
I ll have that. But since we don t have pizza, I ll settle for some
more fish.”
“You just proved my point.” She handed him the piece of
paper.
“I thought you were trying to get me interested in food. I
didn t realize this was really an experiment about sex appeal in
advertising.”
“I told you that men are easy to figure out. If a woman
shows a little leg or cleavage, he s going to be more interested in
her product because men are visual.”
“I already knew that, but it s interesting to see how I can
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be pulled into the subtleties of advertising even though I do this
for a living.”
“That s just one aspect of selling a commercial. There are
other factors that can sell a product. This was a simple
experiment geared directly at men.”
“What best attracts a woman to a product? I m guessing
it s not a scantily clad man selling something.”
“Women are emotion based. If you can gear the
commercial towards humor, love, family or friendship, then
they re more likely to remember it. That is one thing the Intensity
commercial has going for it. Obviously, it attracts men but
women like formal dances because they re romantic. A man
dressing up and dancing with her speaks of love.”
“Jacob was right about that then. It was his idea.”
“Don t be so modest. Y ou designed the dance. The men
are respectful in the way they touch the women.”
He smiled. “Thanks.”
“Since I got you all bothered over pizza, I ll go ahead and
make it. I do have the ingredients to make a homemade pizza.”
“Really?”
She nodded. “It seemed more humane to show you things
we had. Well, minus the gorgeous, scantily clad women.”
“They re not that great. You re better looking than them.”
She shook her head as she stood up and walked to the
kitchen.
“You re real. They aren t,” he called after her.
She grinned, finding his statement pleasing.
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Chapter Sixteen
T
he next day, the sun was shining brightly outside and the
temperature was in the 50s, so Ryan decided to go outside and
spend half the day listening to Elizabeth s ipod and drawing on his
drawing pad. He had worked on several ideas for the jewelry and
camping accounts, but nothing seemed to click just right. He
started drawing his surroundings. Sometimes that simple act
inspired his best work. He drew the trees at the base of the
mountains across the river. Then he expanded the picture to
include the mountains.
What better place is there to camp than in an environment like this?
He sighed. Something was missing. He wasn t sure what he
needed to add to it. He thought about the cabin, turned around
and started another drawing. Unfortunately, the cabin didn t seem
to qualify as roughing it in the wilderness, which was what the
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advertisement was for. He was trying to sell tents and camping
gear. What would it be like to sleep in a tent outdoors? He had
no desire to try it but wondered if it would spark an idea he could
use.
When Elizabeth came out with a blanket and a book, he
called out to her. She glanced over at him and walked towards
him. “What is it?”
“Did your parents bring a tent up here?”
She looked at him curiously. “Why?”
“I m having trouble coming up with an idea for selling
camping gear. I thought if I went camping, then I would get
inspired.”
“I ll check the shed and see if there s something there.”
She set her blanket and book on the ground beside him and went
to the shed. When she ca me back, she nodded. “Believe it or not,
there is a tent in there. It s still in its original box. I think it s
never been used.”
“Great! Tonight, I m going to go camping. Do you want
to join me?”
“What?”
“We cou ld have a campfire and roast marshmallows and
hot dogs. Then we could tell ghost stories and get all spooked.
It ll be fun.”
“I don t know. I like the comforts in the cabin.”
“We ll camp right by the cabin. We can still use the
bathroom. Even I don t want to pee outdoors.”
She thought about it.
“Have you ever been camping?”
“No, and I don t have the desire to,” she replied.
“Me neither. But there s a first time for everything, right?
If it turns out we don t like it, we can go back into the cabin.”
She shrugged. “Okay. I ll do it. We ll be using separate
sleeping bags though. There are a couple of new sleeping bags in
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the cabin. Those sleeping bags are made especially for cold
Alaskan nights.”
“We ll have a good time. I ll even bring a gun in case a
moose or bear comes near the tent. I wouldn t want to go
camping out here without protection.”
“Who s going to protect me from you?” she joked.
“Ha, ha.”
She chuckled, picked up her blanket and book and went to
a dry spot on the grass where she neatly spread out the blanket.
She laid on her stomach and opened her book.
He considered the scene before him. He turned to a clean
page in his drawing pad and drew her on the blanket with the trees
in the background. He was surprised that he enjoyed drawing her
as much as he did. She was pretty with her wavy hair resting
softly against her face. She looked natural.
That s because everything
about her is real.
She was completely different from the women he
was used to dating. He smiled. She looked content to lie there,
reading a book.
A thought came to him out of nowhere but he quickly
developed it before it slipped his mind. What if there was a
friendly, cuddly dog in front of her and that dog was carrying a
small box around his collar? In that box could be an engagement
ring with a proposal. Women had a hard time resi sting cute
animals. Perhaps the man who intended to propose had thought
up a million ways to pop the question. Too nervous to go to her
in person to ask it, he got his dog to do it for him. She could be
wearing a white dress. It would be symbolic of a wedding.
Women found weddings romantic since it was the joining of two
people who loved each other and the dog would be cute and
funny. He wrote his thoughts down on the paper before he lost
his creative edge. When he was finished, he went back to the
cabin and put the paper with his idea on it in an envelope that he
addressed to his father. He considered showing it to Elizabeth
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but didn t want her to find out that she was the one who inspired
the thought.
***
That evening, he set up the tent which was easy since it
automatically popped out. Then he and Elizabeth set up their
sleeping bags. Afterwards, he got a small campfire started while
she found some small tree branches to use for roasting the
marshmallows and hot dogs.
“I haven t had hot dogs in a long time,” she admitted as
she sat a couple of feet away from him.
“They taste great, especially over a campfire.”
“I thought you didn t go camping.”
“I didn t but I did join my friends at some campfires,
especially on Halloween night.”
Though it wasn t completely dark out, he could see that
the stars were beginning to come out. The sunset filled the sky
with shades of pinks and yellows. He had to admit, the scenery
was spectacular.
“So, do you know any good scary stories?” she asked as
she finished setting up the hot dog buns and napkins between
them. She neatly set out the condiments, a box of hand wipes and
a plastic bag which would be their trash bag.
“I wondered if you could go camping without bringing
something to clean the stuff up,” he teased.
“I don t want to litter. Besides, what s wrong with napkins
and sanitary hand wipes?”
“Nothing.” He tried not to laugh but lost the battle.
She sighed and put a hot dog on her stick.
“I think it s adorable,” he finally admitted.
“Well, it s nice that I can be entertaining.” By the tone in
her voice, he knew she wasn t offended. “Like I asked earlier, do
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you know any good scary stories?”
“I know a few. How scared do you want to get?”
“Do your worst.”
“That sounds like a challenge.” If there was something he
enjoyed, it was a good challenge. “All right. Here s one I made
up when I was a sophomore in college. It s called „Running on
Empty. ”
The story took a total of ten minutes to tell, and he varied
the voices of the characters to make it more interesting. She
seemed captivated by it and even jumped a little, so he knew he
was succeeding in spooking her.
After Ryan finished the story, he examined her. “Now,
will you be able to sleep tonight or will you hear and see things
that aren t really there?”
“Of course, I ll be able to sleep. I m twenty-seven. It
takes more than a scary story to frighten me.” She grinned. “That
was pretty good, by the way.”
He put some mustard and sweet relish on his hot dog. “I
made it up. We ll see how you do as the night progresses. In the
meantime, do you know any good stories?”
“Just ones I ve read. I haven t created one.”
“Go ahead. Even if I ve heard it before, I ll enjoy hearing
it again.”
After they spent the next hour and a half telling scary
stories, they cleaned up the campsite and took the trash into the
cabin. Once they settled into their sleeping bags around midnight,
he turned his attention to the camping account. He considered
everything that he had done that evening. That was the whole
camping experience. People hung around a campfire to eat and
talk. Then they settled into their tents to sleep. The next
morning, they would get up to enjoy a variety of outdoor
adventures like canoeing or fishing. So camping meant adventure.
Next to him, he grinned when he realized Elizabeth had
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the sleeping bag completely wrapped around her. Even her head
was covered. She was definitely spooked. He knew it was wrong
but couldn t resist the temptation to mess with her. He lightly
tapped the side of the tent with his finger. He forced aside his
laughter as she stiffened. He waited until she relaxed before he
slowly sat up and tugged on the zipper of the tent. When she
remained safely under her sleeping bag, he quietly unzipped the
zipper enough so he could grab a few pebbles from outside the
tent. Then he softly zipped the tent back up. He flung the
pebbles against the wall of the tent. He suppressed another wave
of laughter when he noticed her shiver inside the sleeping bag.
She s too proud to ask for any comfort from me.
Her
determination to face her fears on her own made the situation that
much more hilarious. How much would it take to make her
crack?
He pressed his hand against the side of the tent and shook
it.
His eyes widened when she suddenly bolted up and looked
out of her safe cocoon. She grunted when she realized he had
caused the noises. “You just wait, Ryan. I m going to find a way
to get even with you for this!”
He allowed himself to laugh aloud. “For what?”
“Telling me all those horrible stories and then making all
these scary sounds.”
“I m just having fun with you.” He knew he wouldn t get
away with anything else, so he went back into his sleeping bag and
laid down. “You are pretty when you re scared.”
“I don t see what s so great about terrifying people.” She
settled down and looked over at him.
“You try so hard to be tough but, deep down, you re really
not.”
She groaned.
“It s okay to need someone to hold you.” He moved
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closer to her.
“Is that why you brought me out here?”
“No. I wanted to get the full camping experience so I can
do a good job on the camping commercial I m trying to create.”
“Oh, I get it. You were too afraid to spend the night out
here by yourself so you wanted me to join you.”
“You re the one shaking with fear inside the sleeping bag.”
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Ridding you of your fears. I ll protect you from all the
creepy sounds out there in the mysterious forest.”
She sighed but didn t pull away from him.
He shook his head in amusement. She was delightful in
her own way. Though she could manage well on her own, she
had a soft heart. Her feminine qualities intrigued him and made
him feel protective of her.
“Okay,” he continued. “So just imagine that we have a
couple of kids.” When she began to protest, he quickly said, “This
is for the commercial.” She relaxed, so he said, “People typically
take their kids camping, right?”
“I guess that s a fair statement.”
“It s also fair to say that a family might spend the day
fishing or boating. In the evening, they sit around the campfire
and enjoy eating and telling stories. Then they settle down in their
Outdoor Adventure camping gear.”
“That would work. I think the emphasis needs to be on
the fact that the family spent time together.”
“Right. With the busy pace we live in, it s hard to find
time to spend with loved ones. So camping is really about
spending time with those we care about and creating good
memories. That will work. I ll have to write it down tomorrow.”
“I feel so used.”
“Don t. You make a great camping partner.”
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He felt her shrug inside the sleeping bag. It wasn t too
much longer before she drifted off to sleep. He stayed awake for
another hour as he mulled over the details for the camping
commercial.
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Chapter Seventeen
O
n the day of the bet, Ryan was shocked when Elizabeth gave
him a sheet of instructions on how to clean the cabin.
“I want you to do a thorough job if you are going to
appreciate all the work I do here,” she explained. “Think you can
still handle it?”
He wasn t going to enjoy all the work it entailed but
decided a bet was a bet, and he didn t want to say he lost to a
woman. “How hard can it be? You do it.”
“You sound pretty sure of yourself.”
“That s because I am. Let the games begin!”
While she went out to fish in her mother s fishing clothes,
he dragged out a pile of cleaners and did more scrubbing than he
thought necessary. She already kept the cabin in immaculate
condition. Did she honestly think one more spray of the bleach in
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the tub was going to make a difference? But he was determined
not to cheat. He wanted to win this bet fair and square. It would
be worth it if she would take over the laundry detail for him.
Why
didn t I ever appreciate my maid before?
She did all the boring and hard
work for me.
Suddenly, his job at the office seemed like an
amusement park. He had a newfound appreciation for his job.
He enjoyed it before, but now it was twice as fun.
While he was cleaning the living room, he had the TV on
so he could listen to something other than the ipod.
Unfortunately, the only shows on during this time of day were talk
shows. He reluctantly picked one at random. Picking up the dust
rag, he sprayed the furniture polish on the coffee table.
The talk show host was a petite redhead who spoke to a
panel of women and their husbands. The host spoke into her
microphone, “These women here today are afraid the sizzle has
gone out of their marriage. They say their husbands aren t
romantic anymore.”
He shuddered. He would hate it if his wife dr agged him to
one of those shows.
How embarrassing that must be for those guys.
“Gayle, why don t you tell us what your husband got you
for your birthday,” the host instructed.
The first woman on stage was a slightly overweight blond
with a nice pink sweater on. “First of all, he didn t even
remember it was my birthday.”
The audience gasped.
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Then you should have reminded
him a couple of days beforehand.” Really, did men have to
remember such minute details when they had clients to deal with?
Gayle nodded. “And when our son reminded him, he ran
out to the store and got me a cookbook and some new pots and
pans.”
The brunette woman sitting next to them on stage shook
her head. “What is she, your maid?” she asked the woman s
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husband.
Gayle s husband looked flustered. “I thought she would
like those things. She was saying she needed them.”
Gayle started tearing up. “But those aren t the kind of
gifts you give on a special day like my birthday.”
Ryan couldn t understand why it was horrible enough to
make her cry.
At least he got her something.
“You know what would have been romantic?” Gayle
dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “It would have been nice if you had
used that cookbook and pots and pans to make me a candlelight
dinner.”
The audience applauded.
“I m sorry,” the man replied. “In the future, I ll know.”
“But it won t be the same, Stan,” the host told him. “You
see, she had to tell you what to do. Part of romance is being
surprised.”
The women on stage nodded.
Ryan shook his head.
I am glad I work during this time of day
so I don t have to watch this all the time.
The brunette, Wilma, who sat next to Gayle and Stan,
turned to the host. “My husband, Walter, said he was going to let
me have a night out with my friends so I could relax while he took
care of the kids. Well, when I got home, the house was in
complete chaos. The baby s diaper hadn t been changed, the five
year old had food in his hair and on his clothes, and the rooms
looked like a tornado blew through them. My night of relaxation
turned into a night of cleaning up after everyone, including my
husband. Walter s idea of watching the kids was to watch TV and
hope the kids took care of themselves.”
“Wow,” Gayle replied in sympathy. “This makes what
Stan did look small in comparison.”
“Oh, it gets worse,” Wilma continued. “After I was done
cleaning and put the kids to bed, Walter asked me if I was in the
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mood to have sex.”
“What a pig!” a woman in the audience yelled out.
The host ran over to the woman and asked her to stand
up. “You have a comment.”
“I sure do,” the African American woman nodded. “She
spends all day taking care of the house and kids, and when she
gets one night off in a year, she comes home to more work and
then is expected to take care of him? Please! Women need help
around the house. Then they have the energy to satisfy their
men.”
The women agreed. One woman slapped her husband on
the arm and said something to him.
Oh my gosh. They re going to form an angry mob!
Ryan put the
rag down and watched the show with interest.
The skinny brunette, Paula, who was sitting next to Wilma
and Walter, said, “You think that s bad? Mike didn t want to miss
Super Bowl Sunday, so he asked me if I could schedule a c-section
for the Friday before Sunday so he wouldn t have to be at the
hospital if I went into labor during the game.”
“But I had tickets that I bought months in advance so I
could go to it,” Mike argued.
The women in the audience murmured their disapproval.
“We are talking about the birth of your child,” Gayle
reminded him. “That s more important than a stupid football
game.”
“It s not a stupid game,” one man in the audience shouted
out. “It s
the
game of the year!”
“After him!” A little old lady in the audience pointed at
him. The women followed her to the back of the audience where
they picked him up and threw him out the door.
“Please, everyone, please sit down,” the host anxiously
pleaded. Turning to the camera, she said, “We ll ba ck after these
commercials.”
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Ryan glanced at his watch and realized he spent more time
watching TV than he planned, so he turned it off and finished
cleaning.
When it came time to cook the lunch, he was tired.
I
can t let her see me be weak.
He had no idea what her progress was so
he was glad to see that he a perfect view of her in the boat from
the kitchen. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that she
hadn t caught any fish yet. He marveled that she had succeeded in
getting the boat into the river.
She sure does have a lot of willpower to
do things by herself.
He pulled the recipes from a recipe box so he could make
mashed potatoes and steak. He placed the pan and pot on the
stove. He cut up potatoes and watched Elizabeth while she sat in
the boat. She still hadn t caught the fish yet.
Good. I might win this
bet!
He put the potatoes in the pot of water and turned the heat
up to high. Then he threw the steaks in the pan. Afterwards, he
got the salad ready.
While he was cutting carrots, he looked up and saw that
she had caught a fish. She was struggling to maintain her balance
in the boat while she tried to reel it in. To his surprise, the fish
swam off with the fishing pole and she fell into the river. He
burst out laughing. Since she had a life jacket on, he knew she
would be okay. He shook his head, still chuckling. She was
always a little clumsy.
He glanced over at the stove and saw that the pot of
potatoes was boiling over. The boiling water ran down into the
burner.
Oh my gosh!
He ran over to the stove with the pot holder
and grabbed the handle. He didn t know what to do with the pot
so he dumped it in the sink. He glanced back at the stove and
groaned. He didn t feel like cleaning the stove again. He turned
off the burner and opened the window to get rid of the smoky
smell that filled the kitchen.
He saw Elizabeth pull the boat back to the river s shore.
He felt sorry for her since she was obviously having a tough time.
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He sighed and turned down the heat on the other burner so the
steaks wouldn t burn. He went outside to help her with the boat.
“I can do this by myself,” she insisted.
He shook his head in disbelief. “Why won t you let me
help you?”
She stared at him for a moment. “I m not used to
receiving help.”
“I want to help you.”
She thought about it.
He couldn t believe she had to debate whether or not to
let him help her put the boat into the shed for her.
She nodded. “It would be nice to have some help for a
change.”
“I like to be useful. It s the least I can do for the tasty
meals you make for me.”
Once he put the boat and fishing gear away for her, she
thanked him. She seemed to have a difficult time even saying a
simple thank you.
She really isn t used to men being nice to her,
he realized. “I have
to confess that cleaning and cooking are a lot of work. I m glad
you take care of those chores around here.”
She smiled. “It s nice to be appreciated.”
“I do appreciate you.” He gave her a good, long look.
Though she was dripping wet from head to toe, she was still
attractive. Pushing the unusual thought aside, he said, “Well,
there s no way I m letting you walk through the cabin. You ll
mess up my clean floors. So I m going to carry you to the
shower.” He took off his wet shoes and left them by the front
door.
“I can take my shoes and socks off. Really, you don t
need to go through all that trouble.”
“Your pants are wet and they reach past your ankles. Do
you plan to take those off too?”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You d like me to do that,
wouldn t you?”
He grinned. “It would be nice to see more of you.”
Really
nice.
She rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Okay. You can carry
me to the shower. I can understand your desire to keep things
clean.” She took off her socks and shoes.
He picked her up and raised an eyebrow at her. “Hey,
what do you know? I m carrying you over the threshold.” Then
he took her inside.
***
Since she lost the bet, she started doing his laundry. She
didn t mind losing the bet since he became more helpful around
the cabin. The day before Kenneth was due to arrive with more
supplies, he asked her what women liked to get for their birthdays.
She shrugged as she finished wiping the kitchen counters.
“It depends on the woman. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I was watching a program on television and there
was a woman who complained because her husband gave her a
cookbook and pots and pans for her birthday.”
She cringed. “I can understand why she got upset.”
“Why? She told him she needed new pots and pans.”
“He might as well have told her to get into the kitchen and
make him something to eat.”
“Oh. Do women find it demeaning to do things for their
husbands?”
“You don t ask easy questions.” She put her towel aside
and went to the living room so they could continue their
conversation sitting down. After they sat on the couch, she
replied, “I don t think that the woman should do all the work. I
understand that s how our grandparents did things, but times have
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changed. Women are in the workplace and they re just as tired as
men are when they come home. It s not fair to expect them to do
all the work. If he gets to sit around while she takes care of
everything, then I do think he s demeaning her.”
“So what do women want to get for their birthdays?”
“Are you working on another commercial idea?”
“No. I just want to know what it is that women want.”
“It depends on the woman. What are her interests? What
kinds of things does she usually buy?”
“It would be easier if the woman would just come out and
tell him what she wants.”
“But then it wouldn t be his idea. His gift shows her that
he is thinking about her.”
“You know, this is setting things up for a huge problem.
Men don t mind telling women what they want. In fact, if we do,
then at least we know we re getting something we want.”
“You asked me a couple of weeks ago what romance is.
Well, part of romance is being surprised. Women like to be
surprised with gifts that their husbands take the time to think
about. It s not so much the gi ft but the fact that he took the time
and effort to come up with the gift. She feels appreciated and
loved. That s what women want.”
“And if he thinks buying her pots and pans is the best he
can do, what then?”
“I think he forgot her birthday until the last minute and
ran out to buy something without giving it serious thought.”
“Which means she doesn t feel important since he can
remember other important dates except her birthday. I got it.”
She chuckled. “Well, I m glad I could help you figure out
a piece of the mysterious puzzle that is womankind.”
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Chapter Eighteen
T
he next day, Kenneth showed up. “I made sure to include junk
food,” he told Ryan. “I don t want to upset you by not bringing
it.”
“Great!” Ryan exclaimed. “Here are my proposals for the
jewelry and camping accounts. I think my dad will like these.”
Kenneth took the two envelopes from him.
Elizabeth wondered why he didn t share his proposals
with her. She wanted to see what he came up with and he had
told her she could see them but she hadn t. She forced aside her
hurt feelings and focused on helping Kenneth with the boxes.
Kenneth turned to Ryan. “Before I forget, you have
letters from Ben and Zack.”
Ryan opened the envelopes.
Elizabeth and Kenneth took two boxes of groceries to the
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kitchen.
“Things seemed to have improved,” he noted as he set his
box on the counter.
“Yes. We decided talking to each other was better than
dying of boredom. There s only so much alone time people can
take before they go crazy.”
He smiled at her. “Perhaps your parents plan will work
after all.”
“Kenneth,” she warned him.
He shrugged. “You two look pretty happy.”
“We re friends. We re not going to let our parents dictate
our love lives. We have agreed that we re not right for each
other.”
“All right.”
As they walked back to the seaplane to gather more boxes,
she was shocked to see Ryan looking angry as he read the letters.
“Do you have a pen on you?” he asked Kenneth as soon as they
reached the plane.
“Yes, I do. Here you go.” He handed him the pen.
Ryan stomped over to his rock and sat down. He wrote
on the back of the letters.
“Do you have any idea what he s upset about?” she
whispered to Kenneth as he handed her another box.
“No. And I don t want to know,” he qu ietly replied.
“Ben and Zack were laughing when they gave me the letters. I
assumed it was going to be good news for Ryan but obviously I
was wrong.”
She wondered what they wrote but decided she didn t
want to know. She didn t care for their opinion on any matter.
She finished helping Kenneth with the remaining boxes. While
Kenneth went back to the seaplane, she opened the boxes in the
kitchen and sorted through the items. She glanced up at the
kitchen window and saw Ryan give the letters back to Kenneth.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
From there, Ryan went back to the rock and sat on it, crossed his
arms and stared at the mountains. After Kenneth left, Ryan stood
up, found a tree branch and used it as a bat to strike rocks into the
river.
Wow. I can t remember ever seeing him that mad.
She didn t
know what to do, so she stayed inside and let him burn off his
anger. She chose to make him one of his favorite meals.
If he even
feels like eating.
When she was upset, she ate, but not everyone
handled their emotions that way. He, apparently, was one of
those people who didn t eat when he got upset, for he stayed out
there past dinner. She was ready to ask him if he wanted her to
put his food in the refrigerator, but he had taken off running
down the riverbank.
What can possibly be going through his mind?
She finally saved his food in a container and left a note to
let him know she put it in the refrigerator. She watched some
television before going to her bedroom to read. She fell asleep
after she read two chapters in one of the new books Kenneth had
brought for her.
When she woke up the next morning, she rolled over in
her bed, still fully clothed and saw that it was around seven. She
rubbed her eyes and sat up. She gathered her clothes to get ready
for the day. On her way to the bathroom, she noticed that Ryan
was fast asleep on the couch. He hadn t even bothered to take
out the sleeper bed. He was snoring, and when he snored like
that, he could sleep through anything.
After she took a shower and got dressed, she went to the
kitchen and noted that he hadn t eaten his dinner. She ate some
cereal and headed outside to go for a nice, long walk. She listened
to her ipod and studied the fish in the river as they swam around.
When she bent down to touch the cold water, she smiled as she
recalled falling out of the boat. It hadn t been funny at the time
but she had to admit that it must have been a hilarious sight,
though she didn t wish to repeat it. She stood up and took in her
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surroundings. The snow had melted off the trees, leaving a row
of evergreens displaying a rich shade of green around the river and
behind the cabin. May was a good time of year. The air was still
cool but the bright sun warmed things up so that she could wear a
jacket.
When she returned to the cabin, Ryan had already
showered and dressed. He sat in front of the television but he
was drawing on his drawing pad.
“Aren t you going to have breakfast?” she asked as she
hung up her jacket and took off her shoes.
“No. I m not hungry,” he replied, not looking up from his
work.
She walked over to him. “Do you want something to
drink?”
“No thanks.”
She sat on the other side of the couch and watched him.
He was concentrating so hard on his work that he didn t even
seem to notice anything else in his environment. She decided not
to interrupt him. She turned her attention to the news program
on the television.
The news anchor reported, “The two bank robbers who
stole $760,000 in Fairbanks are still at large. Here are the most
recent pictures we have of the two men. One, Rick Jenkins is
forty-two years old. He has light blond hair and brown eyes. He
is 5’9″ and weighs 300 pounds. The second man, Seth Powers, is
thirty-nine years old. He has black hair and brown eyes. He is
6’3” and weighs 220 pounds. A $10,000 reward is available to
anyone who has information leading to their capture.”
“They need to add the mustaches,” she commented to
herself.
“What is that?”
Startled, she glanced at Ryan who had looked up from his
drawing pad to look at her. She didn t think he would listen to
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her. “Well, I think that mustaches make men look creepy, so it
fits that criminals would have mustaches.”
He chuckled. “What if I grew a mustache?”
She cringed. “You wouldn t really do that, would you?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Maybe.”
“Well, if you did, I would find you so repulsive that I
wouldn t even go near you.”
“Oh, that wouldn t be good. I ll keep shaving then.”
She chose to change the subject. “How are you doing?”
“I m fine.”
Was he? “You were pretty upset yesterday when Kenneth
gave you those letters.”
“Oh those. Well, I figure that you re right. I mean, what s
the point of stressing over things I can t do anything about?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. I d rather move on with my life. By dwelling on
Ben and Zack, I m only letting them control me. I m taking over
my own life for now on.”
“Good for you.”
“It feels good not to worry about other people s
opinions.”
She was glad for him. Whatever he went through, it was
worth it. She hadn t seen him so confident before. “Am I ever
going to get a chance to look at your work before it makes it to
the television?”
He seemed hesitant.
“Is it something bad that I wouldn t want to see? Do you
have scantily clad women in them?”
He smiled. “No. But I d rather not share what I m doing.
It s hard to explain.”
She sighed and turned back to the television.
“Beth, you really are pretty,” he whispered.
She glanced over at him, surprised.
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“I hope you don t let anyone else tell you otherwise.” He
went back to his drawing pad and continued his work.
That s odd. Why would he just say that out of the blue like that?
She suspected that he had a reason for doing so but knew he
wouldn t share that reason with her, so she turned her attention
back to the TV.
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Chapter Nineteen
D
uring the next week, he was back to his normal happy self. She
couldn t image what disturbed him but was glad it was over. She
found that she looked forward to doing things with him. She
could understand why he was popular in school. He had a good
sense of humor and seemed to seek out the well-being of others.
He was extremely loyal to people he cared about, so she came to
understand why he insisted on hanging around Ben and Zack for
as long as he did. It took something drastic for him to end any
relationship once he developed an attachment to the person.
She had no doubt that when he did marry the woman he
wanted to be with, he would be faithful to her. The woman
would have to do something like cheat on him in order for him
ever leave her. Elizabeth didn t even realize men like that existed
anymore. Perhaps all marriages weren t doomed to end in a
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divorce. She knew the culture they lived in made it more difficult
for people to stay married when things got rough, but it could still
work out.
Now that the temperature hovered in the 60s, she spent a
lot of time reading on a blanket by the river so she could enjoy the
outdoor environment. Being cooped up due to the cold weather
made her eager for the warmth of the sun. She noticed that Ryan
sat on his favorite rock and spent a lot of time drawing. She
wondered what he drew but knew he wouldn t share that
information with her.
One day, he came out with a picnic basket. “Look what I
found in the kitchen: a picnic basket. I made lunch. Do you mind
if I join you on the blanket?”
She looked up from her book and smiled at him. “Did
you make peanut butter sandwiches?”
He grimaced. “I still can t eat those. I made pepperoni,
salami and bologna sandwiches with tomatoes, lettuce, cheddar
cheese, miracle whip and mustard. For the side dishes, I brought
potato chips and even made a salad. The soda is nice and chilled
too. What do you say? Do you want to have lunch with me?”
She laughed. “It would be a shame to waste good food.
Okay.” She sat up and smoothed out the blanket so he could sit
across from her.
“I even included the sanitary hand wipes, napkins and a
trash bag. I didn t want you to have to run back into the cabin to
grab those things. I want you to sit back and relax. I ll take care
of everything.”
“Why are you going through all this work?”
He shrugged. “After all the meals you made for me, I
figured it was the least I could do to say thank you.”
“Oh. Well, I appreciate it.” She watched as he set the
plates and food out. “You really thought of everything.”
“I like to be prepared.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“Are you doing this for commercial research?”
“No. I don t have anything to work on for commercials
except for the Henderson account.”
“I forgot about Barry Henderson and the hotels. Am I
allowed to ask what you are thinking of doing for that
commercial?”
“I know I ve been unusually secretive about what I ve
been doing.” He handed her the portion of her meal before taking
his own food out of the basket. “I ve been thinking of what
would appeal to the female audience. That s my weakness at
work. I have a hard time discerning what women want.”
“Hence all your questions to me about women and
advertising methods.”
He nodded. “You re the only one I have to go on until I
get back to Omaha.”
“And I thought you wanted to talk to me because you
liked me.” She grinned to show him she was joking. She took a
bite of her sandwich. “You did a good job, Ryan.”
“Thanks. I figure it s hard to mess up a sandwich.”
“So, what did you come up with for the Henderson
account?”
“Are you really interested in my work?” He seemed
pleased.
“Of course, I am.”
“Well, I m going to have the commercial set in sepia color,
to denote the old-fashioned theme of the hotels. The background
music will feature a popular tune from the 19
century. Naturally,
th
the video will include pictures of one of the rooms and the hotel
staff wearing 19
century clothes so the audience will get a feel for
th
the atmosphere of the hotel. But a hotel is more than a place to
sleep. Anything from conferences to birthday parties can occur
there as well, so I want to include shots of those events but with
the guests wearing clothes from that time period. It would be
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more fun if the guests had the option of dressing up to fit in with
the hotel. Guests can have their business meetings or weddings
there too. The restaurant in the hotels will feature menus and
dishes from that time period, so I will add a shot of a family eating
there. The more authentic the feel, the greater the experience.”
“You mixed in a lot of elements for men and women.”
“The hard part will be condensing it into a commercial.”
“Have you seen the Intensity cologne commercial on TV
yet?”
“I finally did last night. I was beginning to think I
wouldn t ever see it.”
“And I see it all the time. I ve had that song you picked
for it in my head for a couple days now.”
“Then my ploy worked. Never underestimate the power
of song in a commercial.” After a few minutes, he said, “I have to
admit that camping was fun.”
“Speak for yourself. Those awful stories you told me that
night made it hard for me to sleep for the next three nights. I
kept thinking I heard noises and seeing things that weren t there.”
“Why didn t you ask me come to bed with you? I would
have protected you.”
“Oh, I m sure.” She rolled her eyes. “You would have
kept me up by telling me more spooky tales.”
“I might have kept you up but it wouldn t have been to
scare you.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
“Keep your mind out of the gutter.” She good-naturedly
threw a tomato at him.
He caught the tomato before it landed on his shirt. “I
have no idea what you re talking about.”
“Do you know that the only reason you would even
consider it is because we re stuck here. I call it the „Stranded Love
Syndrome. ”
“You made that up.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“Yes, I did. Anytime you get a man and a woman stuck
somewhere for a period of time, they end up falling in love. It s
what our parents were thinking when they forced us here. But
they underestimate us. We know better than to let them win.”
“So this is a contest of wills?”
“We have a little less than two months and then we can
show them that we aren t so easily manipulated. I fully intend to
prove them wrong.”
“Am I that bad to be around?”
“No. You re a good friend. This last month flew by. I m
sure the next two will pass just as quickly.”
“You re a good friend too. I know it sounds weird, but
it s nice being here. Alaska is a beautiful place. It s a great place
to get inspired. So some good did come out of being up here.
But for someone who s stuck on being clean, I m shocked you
would fling food carelessly around.” He threw the tomato into the
trash bag. “I can honestly say that you re the first person I d pick
to be stranded somewhere with.”
She secretly felt the same way but chose not to say it.
***
A week later, she went for her usual morning walk.
Sometimes Ryan would join her but sometimes he would stay in
the cabin. On this particular morning, it started to rain so she
quickly returned to the cabin. She softly opened the door so he
didn t hear her come in. She closed the door and turned around
to say hi when she realized he was watching a talk show. She hid
her laughter. Since when did he watch a man-bashing program?
She quietly took off her jacket and shoes and tiptoed closer to him
so she could watch him without being seen. He seemed to be
unusually involved in the program.
“So,” the redheaded female host said into her microphone,
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“why do you think you and your wife argue all the time?”
The middle-aged man with a balding head shook his head.
“How do I know? She doesn t tell me.”
His wife, a middle-aged skinny Asian woman, sighed. “Do
you see what I am getting at? Larry isn t listening to me. I keep
saying that I want more quality time with him but he doesn t
listen. He goes grocery shopping with me and calls that „quality
time. ”
“I hate going to the store and she s always nagging me to
go. I figure I d kill two birds with one stone. I d get her to stop
whining about me not picking out what I want to eat and I d
spend time with her while doing it. So there you go. It s quality
time.”
“Quality time isn t about doing chores together,” his wife
angrily replied.
“When was the last time you listened to her talk about her
feelings?” the woman next to him asked him.
“I m listening now,” he said. “She s angry all the time.
I m aware that I upset her.”
“Shut up before they kick you off the stage,” Ryan
commented.
“What do you do when your wife is angry?” the host asked
Larry.
He shrugged. “I give her space so she can vent.”
The audience booed at him.
“Hey, it s what I would want her to do for me,” Larry
remarked. “Except when I m angry, she follows me all over the
house and wants me to start crying about my feelings. I m not
holding onto any past hurts. All I want is some peace and quiet
when I come home.”
“Do you consider your wife to be an inconvenience?” a
woman in the audience yelled.
“When she drags me to shows like this, I do.”
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Three women from the audience ran up to him and started
hitting him with their purses.
The host turned to the camera. “We ll be back after these
commercials.”
Ryan was shaking his head as he wrote something on his
drawing pad. “There was no way that was going to end well. He
just couldn t stop talking.”
Elizabeth quietly walked up to the couch and glanced over
his shoulder. Her eyes widened when she realized he was writing
a list on things to do when dealing with women. He was currently
writing,
Quality time is about listening to her feelings, not doing chores like
grocery shopping with her.
She carefully leaned over and whispered in
his ear, “Don t forget to add that quality time is also about telling
her your feelings.”
He yelled and jumped off the couch.
She giggled. “Sorry. It was too good to resist.”
He laughed. “You got me good.”
“What are you working on?”
He sat back down and patted the spot next to him.
“Come over and find out.”
She did and was surprised when he moved close enough
so that their arms were touching.
“I m working on a „How to Understand Women list so
that it will help me make better commercials. The women on this
show are very blunt about what men do to piss them off, so I take
that and apply it to how men should do things.”
“Is having a picnic on the list?”
“Would you be mad if it was?”
“No. You still had to put forth the effort into getting it
together.” She read through the list. “You got all of these ideas
off of that man-bashing talk show?”
“For the most part. Once we get back to Omaha, I won t
be stuck in front of the TV during the day, so I have to take
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advantage of my unique research skills while I can. What do you
think? Are these pretty much what women want?”
“It sounds good,” she admitted. “But what is this one
about never missing the birth of the child for a sporting event?”
“There was a man who chose to go to the Super Bowl
instead of the delivery room with his wife.”
“And he s still married?”
“The women in the show threw him out of the studio
after they threw out a man who stood up to defend him. Those
women can get vicious. I would never go on that show.”
“Is there any reason a man should miss the birth of his
child?”
“Well, I ve come to the conclusion that being deployed
overseas, being in a car accident and being dead are reasonable
excuses.”
“At least you have your priorities in order. Just make sure
your dad doesn t decide when you re going to have kids. It s bad
enough he s done this crazy marriage idea.”
“Oh, I sent my dad a pretty strongly worded letter. I
guess I could always head back next month and quit and find a job
somewhere else. The thought of venturing out into the unknown
used to frighten me but it doesn t anymore. I ve discovered that I
don t have the job I do because of who my father is. I have it
because I earned it.”
“Do you think your dad considered the possibility you
might actually do that?”
“No, I don t think he did.”
“Well, whatever you decide, I ll support your decision.”
She handed him the drawing pad. “I ll leave you to your
research.”
As she stood up, he asked, “Do you want kids?”
“I guess. But not with a man who would rather be at a
sporting event. The women on that show had the right idea to
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toss him out.”
He chuckled as she went to the kitchen to make lunch.
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Chapter Twenty
T
wo days later, she went into the kitchen and saw that he was
attempting to make cake from scratch. He had a recipe book out
in front of him and was carefully reading it. She cringed at the
sight of flour covering the counters and the egg white that dripped
from the side of the large bowl. He was holding a measuring cup
in one hand and a package of sugar in another.
“You re making a mess,” she said as she dared to walk into
the room.
He finished reading the instructions and poured some
sugar into the measuring cup before he poured the sugar into the
bowl.
She tried not to scream at him as some sugar spilled on the
counter next to the bowl. She just cleaned the kitchen the day
before and she already knew she would be cleaning it again when
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he was finished.
“Don t worry your pretty little head about it. I ll clean up
when I m done,” he assured her. “I ve been craving some cake
since I saw the birthday episode on that talk show.”
“I think you re addicted to that show.” She frowned as he
added a stick of butter to the mixture. “Are you sure all that fat is
a good idea?”
“I know the recipe calls for less butter and sugar but I m
in the mood for a fattening dessert.”
She rolled her eyes. “How do you manage to keep all the
weight off?”
He shrugged. “I must have a high metabolism.”
She envied his ability to eat anything he wanted without
gaining weight. She was still careful to watch what she ate.
“Want to help me?” he asked.
“What do you need?” She didn t want to get too close to
the mess.
“Will you turn the oven to 350?”
She nodded and did so.
He reached up to get a cake pan from the cabinet and
sprayed the pan with cooking spray.
She felt her skin crawl as he sprayed half the kitchen sink
in the process. How could an adult be so reckless in the kitchen?
“I ll take over. I can t take this anymore.”
He glanced at her. “What are you talking about? I have
everything under control.”
“I d feel better if I did it.”
He stopped mixing the ingredients in the bowl and looked
at her in wonder. “Is this bothering you?”
“A little.”
He grinned at her. “This bothers you a lot.”
“It s not funny.”
“It s hilarious. You can t stand to have anything even
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slightly messy in your world. You should experience getting dirty
for a change. You might find that it s not as bad as you fear.”
“I was dirty when I fell into the river, and that wasn t any
fun.”
“Oh, that was a riot. I saw you from here. You were so
cute.”
“You saw me?” She didn t like the idea that someone had
watched her fall off the boat. It made her feel self-conscious.
“Why do you think I ran out to help you?”
“I thought you were going to tell me lunch was ready.”
Great. So he knows I m clumsy.
She realized he probably knew that
already. It wasn t like she didn t have her share of bumping into
walls or end tables.
He poured the mixture into the pan.
She rolled up her sleeves and picked up the sugar package
to make sure it was clean on the outside so she could put it back
in the cabinet. If sugar wasn t properly contained, she would have
to deal a swarm of ants later on.
“It s okay. I can clean everything up and put it away
myself,” he said.
“No. I d feel better if I was in charge of this part.”
Actually, she would have preferred to be in charge of all of it but
hadn t had a choice in the matter. She could at least be sure that
things were put away correctly.
“That s it. You need to have some fun with food.” He
handed her the large spoon that was covered with the chocolate
sugary mixture. “Have you ever sampled a cake before it s been
cooked?”
“When I was a kid.”
“So you know it tastes good. Go ahead and relive some of
those carefree childhood moments.”
“No thanks.” She pushed the spoon away.
He shoved it in her face. “It ll be good for the librarian to
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take down her hair and have some fun for a change. You re way
too serious all the time.”
“I don t need to have fun. I am doing fine.”
“But you could be doing better.”
She pushed the spoon away but used too much force and
it flew out of his hand and bounced off the kitchen window and
into the sink.
“You re strong for a woman,” he commented, his eyes
wide.
She grimaced at the sticky chocolate mess on her hand.
She turned on the water in the sink and started to wash her hands.
He dabbed his fingers in the flour and flung it at her.
She blinked away the flour from her eyelashes. “I can t
believe you did that.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
She couldn t believe he was laughing. She picked up the
big spoon and used it to smear the remaining chocolate in his hair.
Then she quickly grabbed the sprayer and aimed it at him. “If you
throw one more item of food at me, I ll hose you down.”
“Really? Okay.” He picked up the flour container and
threw the flour at her.
I can t believe he actually did it!
She gasped.
She angrily
picked up an egg and threw it at him.
He dodged it and the egg landed on the wall behind him.
“Is that the best you got?”
Why is he enjoying this?
She picked up another egg and made
sure it landed on his shirt. “Ha! I got you.” Then she sprayed
him with the water before he could retaliate.
He held up his hands to protect his face as he walked
towards her.
She threw two more eggs at him, but they flew by him and
landed on the floor. “Stay back!”
“You re having fun.”
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“I am not!” she fibbed.
“I see a smile forming on your lips. You like getting
messy.”
“Are you crazy? I have to clean myself and the kitchen
up.”
“I told you I have the kitchen covered. And I ll be happy
to take care of you too.”
She knew she couldn t hold onto the sprayer once he
grabbed it. He was too strong for her. She shrieked as he sprayed
water all over her.
He stopped and stared at her. “Aren t you going to run
out of the kitchen?”
She hesitated. If she did that, she would get the living
room messy.
As if he could read her mind, he asked, “Can I do anything
I want to you in this kitchen because you refuse to get the rest of
the cabin dirty?”
She struggled to make her wet feet move but her mind
refused to go. She was covered in wet flour. It felt like paste.
How could she leave a trail of this awful stuff on the floor so she
could get to the shower?
“I m getting closer,” he warned her, stepping towards her.
She anxiously looked at the doorway. She turned to the
eggs and threw one at his chest. Before she could throw another
one at him, he took her in his arms and kissed her. She was so
surprised that she couldn t respond right away but as he deepened
the kiss, she melted in his arms and kissed him back. Her body
tingled in excitement. He had to be the most exciting man she d
ever known, and he was an incredible kisser.
“So, when are we going to have sex?” he asked when he
pulled away from her.
Her eyes widened in shock. “What?”
“Well, we are married and I was enjoying the kiss. I
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figured we could keep going after we take a shower. I wouldn t
want to get the bed sheets all messy.” He grinned mischievously at
her.
“It s working,” she said. She had to put a stop to their
parents madness before it got out of control. “Our parents put
us here for this specific reason.”
“Okay,” he slowly acknowledged.
“Don t you see? Under ordinary circumstances, we would
never do this. We couldn t even stand each other two months
ago. It s the Stranded Love Syndrome. They planned all of this
and if we re not careful, they ll win.”
He laughed. “Oh come on.”
“I am not joking. Any two people cooped up in a cabin
for a couple of months will naturally be attracted to each other
because there isn t anyone else around. But as soon as we return
home, we ll end up regretting this because we ll remember why we
didn t get along. Then it will be too late to get an annulment.”
He hesitated. Finally, he shrugged and moved closer to
her. “I m willing to take the risk.”
“Seriously, Ryan.” She put her hand up to stop him. “You
would not find me appealing if we were in Omaha. You never
dated anyone like me. You always went out with gorgeous
models.”
“Well, you look pretty good, even if you are covered in
flour.”
“No, I don t. I m wearing a baggy t-shirt.”
He grinned. “Which is wet.”
She ignored him. “I m wearing a ponytail.”
“You don t have your glasses on. Part of your librarian
facade is gone. And you have great legs. You really need to be
careful about what you wear. You know how visual men are.”
She looked down. “There s nothing indecent about what
I m wearing.” Her shorts went down to the top of her knees and
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her shirt was a regular t-shirt.
“You amuse me. You think that men only get turned on
when they see a scantily clad woman, but you re wrong. Part of
attraction is physical but there are emotional and intellectual
components to it as well. I think we go well together.”
She sighed. He was crazy.
“You are incredibly stubborn. Do you really have your
mind set on us getting that annulment?” he seriously asked.
“I m trying to protect you from yourself. You re a man.
You have no control over yourself.”
“I don t?”
“No. You don t realize what you re saying or doing.
Isolation from the rest of the world has warped your thinking.”
He looked at her as if she were nuts.
She rested a hand on his arm. “You ll have to trust me.
When we get back to Omaha, you ll thank me.”
“How lucky I am to be in good hands.”
“This is for your own good.” She decided she would have
to brave getting the floor in the living room and bathroom dirty.
She could clean it up after her shower.
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Chapter Twenty-One
R
yan couldn t believe Elizabeth was so determined to never get
married, or stay married, that she resisted him as much as she did.
But he suspected that she was interested in him. There was no
way she could fake kissing him the way she did. She possessed a
lot of passion under her cool exterior. Deciding to act like
nothing happened after she came out of the shower, he cleaned
the kitchen so that it sparkled as if she had just cleaned it.
“I m a grown man. I can handle a little mess,” he told her
when she stood in the kitchen with a bewildered look on her face.
The timer went off. “Oh good. The cake is ready. Do you want
some?” He took it out of the oven and set it on the stove.
“No. I m going for a walk.”
“Suit yourself.”
Since there wasn t any cake mix in the cabin, he had to
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make it from scratch, which wasn t as intimidating as he originally
thought it would be. He was relieved to see that it turned out well
because he didn t want to go through the process of measuring
everything out again. He had made the icing earlier and set it
aside before he made the cake. His mouth watered in anticipation.
He was going to enjoy this special treat. It was too bad she
wouldn t be enjoying it with him. He liked sharing things with
her.
He watched her as she walked along the river. Her auburn
hair hung loosely around her shoulders. Whether she wore it in a
ponytail or not didn t matter. He found both styles appealing.
She was a lot more attractive than any woman he had gone out
with. She had curves where a woman was supposed to have
curves. It was a nice change to hold a woman and feel a soft
feminine form against him. The models were too thin to
adequately enjoy. He meant what he told her. Attraction was
more than how a woman looked, though he thought she was good
looking. But even with Carmen, he didn t feel the connection that
he did with Elizabeth. He could talk to Elizabeth about anything,
and even if she didn t agree with him, she didn t try to change his
thinking, except in the case of how he felt about her.
Once he finished eating, he went outside with his drawing
pad and pencil. There was no way he was going to tell her that he
often went out there to draw her. He enjoyed examining her with
close scrutiny. He had drawn her in the ad for jewelry and
discovered that it was more fun to draw someone in front of him
than to draw someone he had to imagine in his mind. From there,
he drew her for the camping ad and continued to draw her on a
regular basis. He wasn t sure if he wanted her to know what he
was doing or not. Considering her reaction to his kiss, he decided
it was better to hold off on that information until a later date.
Even if he did succeed in winning her over, he would
never tell her what Ben and Zack wrote in their letters. They
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thought they were funny but they disgusted him. Now that he
understood the kind of friends they had been all along, it was easy
to discern their intention. They accused Elizabeth of putting ideas
in his head, saying that she was trying to turn him against them.
The final straw came when they wrote, “What s next? Are you
going to have a litter of puppies with her?” He quickly wrote his
reply: “Until you apologize for that comment, I have nothing to
say to you.” He spent the night fuming. He was mad at them and
himself. He hadn t realized how bad he must have seemed to her
until that moment. He marveled that she could even forgive him
for his past behavior.
Even if I didn t like her, she didn t deserve to be
talked about that way.
Do I even deserve Beth?
He wasn t sure if Elizabeth would
want to stay married after the four months were up, but he was
going to do his best to show her that he really did love her. And
how could he resist such a tempting challenge as Elizabeth
Jackson?
***
Two days after their kiss, he decided to pick out a chick
flick. He had written on his „what women want list that women
liked to watch those types of movies with their boyfriends and
husbands. On the talk show, the women seemed to be upset that
their significant others only wanted to watch action and suspense
movies.
“We want more romance,” one wife told her husband.
“Would it kill you to watch a drama about two people finding out
they re soul mates?”
The husband, of course, had said, “Yes, it actually would.”
This resulted in the usual chaos from women telling him
off.
So Ryan decided he would watch a boring, sentimental
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movie with Elizabeth to show her that he could be sensitive. It
was something the women said they wanted their men to be. It
was either that or reveal his feelings about some traumatic
childhood event. His childhood had been great, so there was no
reason to complain. That left the movie.
After scanning the DVDs, he picked out the movie he
knew would be a sappy tear jerker. He took the kettle corn and
vegetables and dip to the coffee table in the living room. Then he
set aside some soda and bottled water. He wasn t sure if she
would be in the mood to eat and drink the good stuff or the
health stuff, so he wanted to be prepared. He brought out some
napkins for her sake and waited for her to come back to the cabin.
“Did you have a nice walk?” he asked her as she walked
through the front door.
“Yes. I always do. Even though it s eight, it feels like it s
four in the afternoon. The long daylight hours throw me off my
regular schedule.”
He noticed that she wore pants instead of shorts. With
the temperatures steadily climbing so that the highs were reaching
the 70s during the day, she had begun wearing shorts, but since
her mission was to turn him off, she had taken to wearing pants
again. He wished he hadn t made the comment about her legs
because he did enjoy looking at them, and now he couldn t.
“Would you like to watch a movie tonight?” he wondered,
turning his attention back to his plan.
She smiled when she saw the food and drinks on the
coffee table. “Do I have a choice?”
“Of course, you do. I could watch this movie alone while
you run off to do whatever it is you would rather do. I ll be all by
myself. I might get lonely but I ll make do.”
She laughed. “I don t mind watching a movie with you.”
“Oh good. Sit down next to me and I ll put in the movie I
selected.”
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She sat on the cushion next to him. He noted that she sat
closer than she used to.
“Would you like popcorn or veggies?” he inquir ed.
“Both.”
“Good for you, Beth. You used to only pick the boring
vegetables.”
“Well, I decided you were right. I need to enjoy life a little
more.”
He started the movie. He was glad he had some food out
so he was distracted enough to not fall asleep. He gave up trying
to follow the long drawn out plot and thought of what the
Henderson commercial would look like.
Elizabeth cleared her throat and crossed her ar ms. She
stared at the screen.
Does she know I m not paying attention?
He forced his
thoughts back to the movie.
The mother in the movie was counseling her two
daughters who were at odds with each other.
“Can I help it if I ve always been prettier than Molly?”
daughter #1 angrily asked.
“I m prettier than you,” daughter #2 cried, sobbing loudly
into her tissue.
“Girls, girls,” the mother anxiously began. “You re both
very pretty. You two are just so competitive. I thought you
would grow out of this but here you are in your thirties, and
you re still trying to outdo each other. Where did I go wrong?”
She started crying.
Oh brother.
Ryan tried not to roll his eyes. Carmen used to
get upset whenever he showed any disinterest in these kinds of
movies.
“Mom is right. We are both pretty. I guess I just don t
understand why we can t get along,” daughter #2 wept.
Daughter #1 s lower lip quivered. “Ever since Bruce
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picked you over me, my insecurities have been overwhelming. I
wasn t even aware of how inferior I felt until you announced your
wedding date. I am sorry, Molly. Can we put aside our
differences and get along?”
“I would like that very much.”
“You re the prettier one.”
“No, you are.”
“You are.”
The sisters hugged each other, crying the entire time.
“You know who the prettiest one is,” daughter #1 told
daughter #2.
They looked at their mother. “Mom!”
“My girls are finally friends again!” The mother joined
them in a big hug.
Ryan glanced at his watch. There was still another forty
minutes left in the movie. How much more sappiness could he
endure?
Elizabeth sighed. Finally, she turned to him. “Why did
you pick this movie?”
He blinked. “I thought you might enjoy it.”
“So you didn t want to see this?”
“I wanted to do something for you.” He knew if he said
„This movie is boring me too death, she would take offense to it.
“This is my mom s movie. She loves this stuff but I have
a hard time watching it. Do you mind if I pick out something
else?”
How bad could another chick flick get? “No. Go for it.”
To his surprise, she picked out a suspense movie. “This is
one of my favorites.”
“Don t you like romantic movies?”
“Yes but if it s a romance, I prefer it to be a romantic
comedy or a romance with some mystery or suspense involved in
it. I don t really care for sad romantic movies. My favorite
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movies, however, are psychological thrillers.”
Wonders will never cease.
He was relieved that she picked the
movie she did. At least now he wouldn t have to feign interest in
it. “We should go camping again,” he said. “Then I can tell you a
couple more of those scary stories.”
And I can hold you when you get
scared.
“I ha ve to admit that it was fun. Okay. Do you want to
do it tomorrow night?”
“You got yourself a date.”
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Chapter Twenty-Two
T
he next day, Elizabeth didn t hide her surprise when she saw
Ryan packing in the kitchen.
“I thought it would be fun to take the boat to the other
side of the river. We can hike and camp over there,” he explained.
He had a stack of food items lying on the table.
“Why do you want to be that far from the cabin?” She
slowly entered the kitchen, watching all the junk food he was
stuffing into his backpack.
He shrugged. “I thought it might be adventurous to
rough it for a night. Besides, aren t you curious to see what s over
on that side?”
She shifted uneasily from one foot to the other . “But
there aren t any bathrooms.”
He grinned. “I ll bring toilet paper, and we can wash our
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hands in the river.”
That thought didn t appeal to her at all.
As if he picked up on her thoughts, he stopped what he
was doing and approached her. Resting his hands on her
shoulders, he smiled. “Think of this as the chance to experience
what our forefathers did. You know, before we had electricity and
plumbing.”
“I never had any desire to go back to that time period.”
Though she protested, she felt her resolve weaken beneath his
warm hands. He was too charming for his own good. Or maybe
he was too charming for
her
own good.
“Take a risk. Do something new. I ll be with you.”
Putting his arm around her shoulders, he drew her against his side
and led her to the window. “Just look at how beautiful it is over
there. Don t you want to check it out? See what it s like up
close?”
His enthusiasm was infectious. She went to her bedroom
and added her clothes to the items he packed.
Once he was ready, she wanted to help him with the boat,
but he insisted on taking it out of the shed himself. “I know it
sounds archaic, but men do like to be the ones to do the more
demanding tasks. It makes us feel strong.”
“Anyone can tell by looking at you that you re strong.”
He glanced at her as he raised the side of the aluminum
boat. “Really?”
“Your shirt isn t that loose.”
He glanced at his light blue t-shirt which strained against
his muscles as he worked to get the boat out of the shed. His
smile grew wider. “You like the way I look?”
Realizing the course his thoughts had taken, her cheeks
flushed. Determined not to further embarrass herself, she
grabbed the gun from the middle shelf. “We should take this in
case we run into a wild animal.”
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“I like the way you look.”
Choosing to ignore him, she exited the shed and waited
for him to drag the boat to the river s bank. To her relief, he
didn t ask if she liked the way he looked. Yes, she found him
good looking. Actually, the term „good looking was tame. He
was gorgeous. Every fiber of her being wanted to reach out and
touch him, or have him touch her. Shaking her head to clear her
inappropriate thoughts, she hopped in the boat when he held it
still for her.
The river s calm current made their journey easy, and once
he docked it, he took her hand to help her out.
“I can get out myself,” she told him, even as she almost
tripped on her way out of it. Heat filled her face. She knew she
was clumsy, but being this close to him and nearly falling into his
arms wasn t a situation she relished. It made her feel like a damsel
in distress.
He sighed. “Besides wanting to be strong, men do like to
take care of women. Call it our protective instinct.”
“Is that why you dated Carmen?” If there was anyone who
needed a man to step in and save the day, it was his ex-girlfriend.
“This has nothing to do with her. I m just saying that it s
all right for you to be vulnerable. I won t laugh at you.”
Being vulnerable was something she didn t like. She
yanked her hand out of his and grabbed the gun from the seat of
the boat. “Where do you want to hike?” she asked him.
“Did I upset you?” He refused to budge from his spot.
Instead, he stared at her and repeated the question.
Aggravated because she didn t want to think about
Preston, she spun around. “No. I m remembering someone else.
I don t care to think of him either. Can we go on this hike now?”
Picking up the backpack, he nodded and swung it over his
shoulder. “We ll come back later and set up the tent.” He
examined his options and finally pointed to the narrow path on
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their left. “Let s go that way. I think it leads to a waterfall. At
least, that s what it looks like from the cabin.”
“How can you see that far away?”
“Your parents left a pair of binoculars in the shed.”
Apparently, he took the time to explore the shed more
than she did. She followed him as he made a path through the
thick evergreens which provided ample shade from the bright sun.
She had to admit that the hike exhilarated her. The smell of fresh
spring air filled her lungs. Birds twittered above them, and she
chuckled at the sight of two squirrels playing peek-a-boo around
one of the trees. To her surprise, a waterfall did lay ahead of
them. How he managed to find it among all the trees, she didn t
know, but he impressed her.
They had lunch by the waterfall.
“I m sorry I was testy earlier,” she said as she ate the
strawberries he packed for her. “I don t think you ll laugh at me.
It s just that the last time I was vulnerable, it was to Preston. And
we know how that turned out. It s just safer to help myself.”
His eyes twinkled. “We ll see how brave you are tonight
after I tell you some more scary stories. I didn t even tell you the
worst of them last time.”
Relieved that he hadn t criticized her, she relaxed. “Oh
yeah? Well, I heard a pretty good one on the TV the other day, so
you better watch out.”
He laughed. “I look forward to the challenge.”
The mood brightened between them, so they were able to
enjoy the rest of the day, joking and laughing. When it was time
to set up the tent, she realized that she had fun discovering
something new. She hadn t ever taken the time to hike through
unfamiliar territory with the possibility of running into a bear or
moose. There was an element of danger but they had the gun for
protection. She mused that he would insist on using the gun if
necessary since he was determined to be her knight in shining
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armor.
However, when he told her tales more ghastly than the
ones he offered during their last camping trip, she began to
question whether he really was a knight in shining armor after all.
He struck her as a villain who toyed with his captives since he
took an unusual delight in spooking her. She gave up on trying to
be brave after she screamed from a sound behind her. Jerking up
from the campfire, she spun around to see a squirrel race up a
tree.
“What s wrong?” Though Ryan appeared concerned, she
recognized the mirth in his eyes.
“You are a horrible, horrible man,” she spat before she
retired to the tent.
She wiggled into her sleeping bag and zipped it over her
head. Headless horsemen, telltale hearts, haunted houses and
vacant graveyards…Really, did he need to go into detail with all of
those creepy stories? She heard him enter the tent but refused to
acknowledge him, even when she heard his chuckles.
A hand gently touched her shoulder. She stiffened.
“It s just me,” he replied.
“I won t be able to sleep for a week now. Thanks a lot.”
“Sure you will. I ll keep you safe.” He wrapped his arms
around her and pulled her close to him. “I won t let any of the
undead feed on your flesh.”
“Oh, you are gross. I m shocked that you find these
stories…” The correct word evaded her.
“They re just stories. Sometimes it s fun to tell a good
spooky story. You didn t seem to mind it when I began telling
them.”
“Okay. You got me. I m a big coward.”
“You re not a coward. You re a woman. Women typically
freak out and need comforting after a dose of scary stuff.
Fortunately for you, I m here.”
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“It s because of you that I m in this predicament.”
He started to unzip her sleeping bag.
She gasped and sat up. Peeking out of it, she demanded,
“What are you doing?”
His eyes were wide. “I can comfort you better if I get in
that sleeping bag with you.”
She glared at him. “You re a scrupulous, scheming man,
Ryan Jackson. You brought me out here to have your way with
me.”
“Can t a man comfort his wife without a sleeping bag
coming between them?”
“I m not stupid. I know exactly what s on your mind.”
Despite the thrill that coursed through her, she determined to
stand her ground. After all, who knew if he would regret going all
the way with her once they returned to Omaha? It was easy to get
carried away in the moment, but actions had consequences. She
turned her attention back to his charming smile and said, “I
thought you were a virgin.”
“I am.”
“You re not acting like one.”
“Well, I m tired of being one. Wouldn t you like to lose
your virginity too?”
She loudly sighed. “Ryan, you need to remember who I
am and why we don t make a good match.”
He groaned. “Yes, we are. I like being with you. Don t
you like being with me?”
“We re friends. Of course, I like being with you. Let s not
ruin it.”
“You honestly believe that I m going to drop you as soon
as another woman walks by, don t you? Well, I m not.”
She decided not to answer. He spent half his life dating
the best looking women on the planet, and he wondered why she
might suspect that he d forget all about her once they returned
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home? Preston hadn t been able to keep his word. Why should
she expect Ryan to keep his? Men were weak, and beauty was
their undoing. She didn t wish to dwell on any romantic feelings
she might be harboring for Ryan. It was best to let sleeping dogs
lie.
“I didn t scare you at all,” she noted, hoping to change the
topic.
The corners of his mouth curved up. “No, you didn t.”
“Does anything scare you?”
He puffed his chest out. “I am a formidable wall made of
steel. That s why you need me to protect you.”
She smiled. “Men like to be fearless then?”
“Yes.” Turning to her, he grinned, “Men also like to be
useful. Now, since I scared you witless, can I at least hold you in
my arms tonight? You wouldn t want the one eyed fiend to steal
you away in the middle of the night, would you?”
She shivered as she recalled the horrible tale of the body
snatcher who assumed the identity of his victims. “Did I mention
that you re a horrible man?”
He laughed under his breath. “You might have said
something to that effect.” He eased her closer to him. “Now, I ll
keep you safe and redeem myself.”
She did feel better about closing her eyes with him right
next to her, so she snuggled against him and listened to the
soothing flow of the river as she gradually fell asleep.
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Chapter Twenty-Three
T
wo days later, Ryan decided he would give „romancing
Elizabeth another chance. He checked his list and decided that it
was time to spend some quality time outdoors with her. One
woman on the show said she always wanted her boyfriend to lie
down on a blanket with her so they could tell each other what
shapes they saw in the clouds. So when he saw Elizabeth outside,
reading another book on a blanket, he decided to leave his
drawing pad and join her. She had her hair pulled back into the
cute ponytail again.
“Why are you still wearing pants?” he asked as he came up
to her.
She looked up at him. Her glasses slid down her nose.
“You know why.”
“Oh right. You re trying to make sure I don t find you
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attractive.” How long was she going to go through her crazy idea?
“Mind if I join you?”
“No. Did you want to read a romance book?”
“Sure.” It would be a good excuse to be close to her.
She chuckled. “I didn t expect you to say yes. I know
guys find these boring.”
“Can we act out the romantic scenes?”
“Ryan,” she warned.
He knew that meant it was time to back off. “You can t
blame a man for trying.” He shook his head as he sat next to her.
“Why do you like to read those books when you don t want to
watch the romantic dramas?”
“The dramas usually get sad. I don t want to feel
depressed when I watch a movie or read a book. I like a happily
ever after ending.”
“So you are a romantic.”
She shrugged. “I have my moments.” She set the book
down. “What brings you out here without your drawing pad?”
“I thought we could lie down on the blanket and tell each
other what shapes we see in the clouds.”
“Why?”
He thought of a good response. He knew he couldn t say,
Because I want you to fall in love with me. Then you ll want to stay married
and we can finally do what married couples do.
Instead, he said, “It ll
take me back to my childhood days when I used to watch Charlie
Brown movies and the Peanut characters would see shapes in the
clouds. Don t you ever miss the freedom and adventure of being
a kid? You didn t have to worry about what anyone thought. You
just did whatever you wanted and if someone didn t like it, that
was their problem. It was a stress free time.”
She rolled onto her back and stared at the sky as he settled
next to her. “What I miss most about childhood is that I didn t
have to pay any bills. I didn t have to worry about paying rent,
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buying food or clothes. All of that was provided for me and I
even got some great toys for doing nothing.”
He laughed. “Those were the days.”
“Okay. I ll play this game with you. I see a bell in the
cloud right over there.” She pointed to it.
“I see a sports car. It s sleek and red. It goes from zero to
sixty in six seconds. Look, it even drives fast as a cloud.”
She grinned. Then she studied the sky. “Hmm…I see a
bunny eating a carrot.”
“I see a sharp black speed boat. It s on the ocean and it s
cruising around the Caribbean islands.”
She looked over at him. “Okay. I see a chair.”
“I see a midnight blue motorcycle speeding down the
California ocean coast. It s at sunset and the weather is just right
and the wind feels great against my skin.”
She sat up and turned to him. “You have fast vehicles and
boats on your mind today.”
He glanced at her. “You were with me in each cloud I
saw.” When he saw her shake her head, he asked, “Will you let me
see you with your hair down?”
She touched her ponytail. “I didn t realize I wore
ponytails so often.”
“Let your hair down and enjoy the sun.”
“Okay.”
He was surprised she agreed to it. He thought for sure she
would say no in her pursuit to keep him from falling in love with
her. She removed her rubber band and let her shoulder-length
hair fall around her shoulders in gentle waves. He never saw a
more lovely sight, but he was afraid to tell her that in case she
immediately put her hair back up. “You look nice. You re pretty
no matter how you wear your hair.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
He decided to press his luck. “Do you remember the
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Henderson party?”
“Of course, I do. It wasn t that long ago.”
“You don t know this but when I was getting soda for my
date, I saw you standing by yourself on the patio and thought you
were the best looking woman in the place.”
“Weren t you with a model?”
He cringed. “She had no substance. I was glad to see that
date end.” He hesitated before saying, “My dad said that Barry
Henderson was impressed with you. Apparently, he thought you
were one of the best people he got a chance to meet that night.”
“I only talked to him for five minutes.”
“Those must have been a good five minutes. Didn t he
say he d ask you out if he wasn t already engaged?”
“Yes but he was just being polite. I m sure he told several
other women that.”
“No, he didn t. You were the only one. My dad made
sure to tell me about it.”
“Well, he also got the idea for this arranged marriage from
my conversation with Barry because Barry told me that he is
engaged to a woman that his parents picked for him.”
“It s too bad that we didn t get over our differences in
Omaha because then you would know that my feelings for you are
sincere instead of blaming it on the Stranded Love Syndrome.”
“I doubt we would have worked things out unless we were
forced to spend time alone in the middle of nowhere. I hate to
admit it but our parents knew what they were doing in that
regard.”
“Do you think we ll still talk to each other when we return
to civilization?”
“I m sure we will. We re bound to run into each other
while our companies are working on the Henderson account.”
He didn t like the sound of this. She really assumed that
there was no possibility of them staying together. Deciding it was
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Ruth Ann Nordin
time to turn things up a notch, he grabbed her book and flipped
to the place she had been reading.
“Is this a good book?” he asked.
“Ryan, give that back,” she protested, reaching for it.
He turned on his side, sheltering the book so she couldn t
take it away from him. “Is this the kind of stuff you find
romantic?”
“This isn t a guy book.” She struggled to grab it from him
but he was too strong.
“I already understand men. I need to understand
women.” Specifically, her. Maybe he could figure her out better if
he read something she was interested in.
“I thought you were getting that information from the
man-bashing talk show.”
“The man on this cover looks like a male version of the
models I used to date. Is this what your dream man looks like?”
“It s just a drawing.”
“And a good one too.” He opened the book to the page
she had been reading. “Let s see what tall, dark and handsome is
like.” He read,
“Devon gazed longingly into Brianna s light green eyes, his
heart flowing with the love he felt for her. „I ve looked for someone like you all
of my life, he whispered, his voice a warm caress against her cool fair skin.
„You are the sun that shines by day and the moon that glows by night. You
are my north star that guides me safely to the welcoming home of your arms. ”
Unable to stop himself, he burst out laughing. “This is
ridiculous!”
She groaned, mortified. “Fine. So I like mushy, ridiculous
books. Can I have it back before I suffer further humiliation?”
“What guy says stuff like this?”
“Just ones in those books. I know men aren t romantic by
nature. Why do you think a woman wrote the story?”
“Is this what women want to hear?” He fought her off of
him as she grabbed for the book. “If I told you this, would you
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fall in love with me?”
“Get real, Ryan.”
He raised an eyebrow as he glanced back at her. “I could
think up cheesy stuff like this to tell you.”
She shot him a look of disgust. “No thanks.”
“What s the difference between having this guy say it or
me say it? Is it because he s better looking?”
“There s nothing wrong with the way you look.”
He grinned at her. “So you find me to your liking?”
She didn t answer him.
“Come on. Why won t you answer the question? I find
you to my liking. In fact, I often daydream about you. Do you
want to know what we re doing in those daydreams?” He wiggled
his eyebrows at her.
She grimaced. “No, not really.”
“It s pretty good stuff. In one fantasy, we finished what
we started in the kitchen.”
“I ve heard enough. Please, stop.”
He reluctantly did so. He turned his attention back to the
book. “I don t see how this is different from the dramas you
claim to hate.”
“He s saying he loves her. It s a happy moment.”
“Oh. Got it.” Though he really didn t, he decided to
humor her. “Okay. Let s see what happens next.” He resumed
his reading.
“Eyes glistening with tears, Brianna softly confessed, „For
many nights I hoped for those words to fall from your lips. Now that I have
heard them, I can believe in love again. ”
He gagged. “This is almost
sickening. I m going to need a barf bag.”
“Which is exactly why you should give it back!”
“But you love these books, so there must be some
redeeming quality in them. Obviously, you wouldn t wast e your
time if all of this sentimental mumbo jumbo filled all the pages.”
“I happen to like that sentimental mumbo jumbo.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“Really?”
“You ve done commercials for greeting cards. Why do
you think they sell?”
He thought over her comment for a moment. “You re
right. Jacob had to come up with a lot of crap to sell those
campaigns.”
“Crap?”
He started to nod and then stopped himself. “I m as bad
as those guys on that talk show, aren t I?”
She shrugged. “Romance doesn t come naturally to men.”
“Which is why your books can show me the error of my
ways. I bet if I read some of these, I d know what to say to sweep
you off your feet.”
And into bed.
He didn t dare say the last part.
“„You no longer detest your wife?
Instead, he continued reading,
Brianna asked. „No, I do not, and I am sorry I ever did, he replied, his
words a soothing balm on her heart.”
He looked at Elizabeth. “Why
did he hate her?”
“Because she killed his brother, but she killed him in self-
defense. He didn t realize it when he was forced to marry her, so
their marriage starts out rocky.”
“Hmm… Misunderstandings, forced marriages, falling in
love… Doesn t that remind you of another couple?” he pointed
out.
She sighed. “This has nothing to do with us. The people
in this book don t exist.”
“All right. So what happens next?” He picked up the
book to begin reading again.
“You don t need to read anymore. You ve already seen
how boring it can be.”
“Not to you. You love this stuff.” He held her at bay
while he read,
“Wrapping his strong, sweaty arms around her luscious,
slender body…”
He paused. “Why is he sweaty?”
She shook her head, staring at the clouds. “Because he
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just returned from battle. Can we please do something else?”
What didn t she want him to read? Now he had to know
what caused her embarrassment. He read,
“Wrapping his strong,
sweaty arms around her luscious, slender body, he brought his lips to her full
ones and kissed her. He kissed her with all the passion that built up in him
since their last coming together as husband and wife. Desire flooding through
him, his mouth descended to her…”
He sat up. “Whoa!”
Glancing at her, he realized that she intentionally ignored
him.
His interest peaked, he read the rest of the chapter in
silence while Elizabeth plucked blades of grass. When he was
done, he said, “I had no idea romance books include sex scenes.”
By the way she muttered, “Some do, some don t,” he
knew she was mortified.
He set the book down and gave her a good look. “Are
you ashamed to have a sex drive?”
“No. I m ashamed you know what I m reading.”
“Why? This is good stuff.”
She hid her face in her hands.
“Come on, Beth. I mean, if you can t read this with your
husband, who can you read it with? Hey, I got a great idea! Let s
act it out.”
Her head shot up and she shot him a „you can t be serious
look.
“What?” He shrugged. “It would be more fun than
watching clouds or reading about it. Besides, we re married.
Aren t you curious to know if it s like what the author wrote? I,
for one, would like to know if page 267 is possible.” He motioned
to the book as he handed it back to her.
She reluctantly took it.
“Don t be embarrassed. You have great taste in
literature.” Who knew what kind of inspiration she would bring
to the bedroom with the material she read? The possibilities
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Ruth Ann Nordin
excited him.
She rolled her eyes but didn t say anything.
He decided to back off from saying anything else about it.
“Come on. Lie back down and look at the clouds with me.”
Setting the book aside, she did as he asked.
Hoping to ease her discomfort, he laid next to her and
pointed to another cloud. “I see a butterfly.”
“You didn t see another mode of transportation?” Humor
returned to her voice.
“No. I see rebirth. Just because something was a certain
way in the past, it doesn t mean it has to be that way forever.
Sometimes, when a situation seems bad, it can turn out good.”
“That s nice. I like it.” She smiled. Pointing to the sky,
she said, “I see a jet ski passing the sharp black speed boat.”
Don t lose heart,
he told himself.
There s still a month and a half
left.
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Chapter Twenty-Four
F
our days later during breakfast, he was shocked to discover a
dark patch of hair over her upper lip.
“Are you one of those women who have mustaches?” he
asked as they were eating breakfast.
She nodded. “I usually wax it off, but I thought I should
let it grow out so that you can be properly disgusted by me.”
He almost burst out laughing. Instead, he coughed.
Shaking his head, he asked, “Why are you so intent on fighting
what s going on between us?”
She sighed, as if she couldn t believe he was even asking
the question. “I already explained it to you. The only reason we
find each other remotely interesting is because our parents
dumped us here.”
“„We ?” Now that sounded promising.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“I meant „you .”
He didn t believe her for a minute. Rather than press the
issue, he wondered, “Since you have a mustache now, will you
turn to a life of crime?”
“That theory only applies to men with mustaches.”
“What other gross things do you plan to do to push me
away from you?” He took a bite of his ham and cheese omelet.
“I m not shaving my legs. I thought since you mentioned
them, I should do what I can to take your focus off of them.”
“I ll tell you what. Since you re being so thoughtful in
trying to protect me from making the worst decision of my life, I ll
return the favor. I ll grow a mustache and refuse to bathe. I can
even stop helping you around the cabin if it ll support the cause.”
“But I m not the one who s having trouble keeping a clear
head.”
“And you shouldn t have to, so I m preventing that from
happening. You ll thank me when you re back in Omaha and
single again.” He finished his omelet and stood up to the leave the
room. “I d love to help you clean up, but I wouldn t want you to
find me attractive. I know how much it turns a woman on when
her husband pitches in around the house.”
“Don t you think you re taking this a little too far?”
He shrugged. “Nope.” Then he left the room, grinning.
Two can play this game.
Trying to romance her wasn t working as
well as he hoped, so he had to try something different.
***
He spent the rest of the week trying to be as unattractive
as possible. It wasn t easy since he was used to bathing and
shaving every day. Whenever Elizabeth complained that he wasn t
picking up after himself or putting the toilet seat down anymore,
he claimed it was to fight off the Stranded Love Syndrome.
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One morning before breakfast, he decided to leave a trail
of dirty clothes from the couch to the laundry room. He shaved
enough hair off of his face to leave the mustache that was starting
to grow in. Then he wiped his face with a towel and threw it on
the bathroom floor. He made sure to leave his shaving cream and
razor on the counter by the sink for good measure. He hated to
admit he was having fun watching her squirm as she struggled to
not mess with his things. She had sworn she wouldn t pick up
after him or clean up the place. She was having difficulty keeping
her word on that since he would catch her trying to clean
something or throw a couple of his shirts in with her laundry
when she thought he wasn t looking.
She s such a nice woman beneath
her hard exterior.
It made him love her even more.
He heard her emerge from her bedroom. He shut the
door enough so he could watch her. She inspected his clothes
that were thrown carelessly on the floor. To his surprise, she was
wearing a tank top and a pair of shorts.
She meant it when she said
she wasn t going to shave anymore.
If she thought that was going to
deter him, she was wrong. He held in his laughter as she cringed.
She took a couple of steps, stopped, looked at the floor, loudly
sighed, took another step and stopped again. He could tell she
was having an internal dialogue on the consequences of picking up
the clothes. She glanced at the bathroom door. He quickly
ducked out of sight. Did she see him? He cautiously peered
around the slightly opened door and breathed a sigh of relief when
he realized she hadn t seen him.
“He is taking this whole thing way too far,” she muttered
as she kicked his clothes under the couch.
As soon as she was safely out of sight, he left the
bathroom and grabbed his clothes from under the couch and
threw it in the washer. If he didn t do it now, he would forget
where they were. He walked into the kitchen and smiled at her.
“Good morning, sexy.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She looked at him like he was crazy as she scrambled the
eggs in the pan.
“I haven t seen you in a tank top before,” he said as he
grabbed two cans of juice and put them on the kitchen table.
“Well, I thought wearing it would help make a point.”
“I think you re making two excellent points.” He chuckled
as she scowled at him. “It s nice to see that you gained some of
that weight back, especially in the tank top area.”
“You are relentless, Ryan. Does nothing disgust you?”
“I m sick. It s the Stranded Love Syndrome. I can t be
held accountable for anything I say or do.”
“Maybe I should put on a regular t-shirt.”
“No! There s no need to hide that horrible body odor.”
He didn t want to sacrifice the nice view he had of her chest.
“We both stink.”
“I know.” He sniffed his arm pit and coughed. “That s
bad.”
She grimaced before walking to the refrigerator. “Do you
want ham, bacon or sausage?”
“Bacon.”
She nodded and grabbed it. As she went back to the
stove, he lightly tapped her on the behind. She gasped and turned
to stare at him.
His eyes grew wide. “Sorry. I have no control over
myself.”
She put the bacon in another skillet and started cooking it.
“Uh oh. I m losing control again.” He pretended to try to
reach for the plates but wrapped his arms around her waist and
started kissing her ear instead.
“Stop it.” She laughed. “Your mustache tickles.”
“Why don t you kiss my ear and I ll tell you whether your
mustache tickles or not.”
“I don t understand you at all. You should be completely
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repulsed by me. I don t even want to be near me.”
“It takes more than a foul smelling and hairy woman to
turn me off. You need to be a brainless model whose favorite
topic of conversation is herself.”
“Is that what they re like?”
“The ones I went out with were. It was rough. I couldn t
wait for the date to end. I have a lot more fun being with you.”
“Breakfast is ready.” She gently pushed him away so she
could grab the plates and put the food on them.
“So am I,” he suggestively stated.
After she put the plates on the table, she put her foot on
the chair. “Take a good look at my hairy leg. This ought to have
you running away from me.”
“Maybe if I touch it, I ll be adequately mortified.” Before
she had time to think of a proper response, he slowly ran his hand
from her ankle to her thigh, enjoying the curves in her leg, even if
it was prickly. “If the hair bothers you, I could shave your legs for
you.” His hand stopped at her shorts, his fingers massaging her
skin.
She stood still.
He took her hesitation as his chance and kissed her, this
kiss longer and more demanding than the one they shared before.
She, in turn, surprised him when she slid her arms around him and
kissed him back. Her response greatly encouraged him. He
parted his lips so he could trace his tongue along her lower lip.
He groaned in appreciation when she opened her mouth to invite
him in. His desire for her slowly spread through him, heating his
body.
He continued to kiss her as he gently lifted her up on the
table, pushing aside the plates to give them room. She didn’t resist
the movement of his hands as they slid in her shorts and slowly
worked their way up her thighs, taking his time to enjoy the warm
skin beneath his finger s. Having her intimately against him was
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even better than he imagined it would be after reading her
romance books.
She brought her hands to his head and ran her fingers
through his unkempt hair. She moaned. Her passion for him had
become as urgent as his passion was for her. His hands slid
behind her bottom and he leaned forward so she had to lie down
on the table. He wrapped her legs around his waist and bent over
to kiss her neck. The suggestion in the position he chose was
enough to set him on fire. He pressed his erection firmly between
her legs, making him eager for more. He left a trail of kisses from
her neck to her cleavage. In the position she was in, he had a
generous amount of access to her. He heard another moan and
wasn’t sure if it came from him or her but it didn’t matter. She
had the most amazing body in the world. He was hungry for her.
He desperately wanted to make love to her, to be one with her.
Lifting his head so he could look at her, he asked in a
husky voice, “Do you believe me now?”
The moment she gasped, he realized his mistake. He
shouldn t have said anything, since in doing so, he broke the spell
that had fallen between them.
She cleared her throat, gently pushed him away from her
and stood up, her hands trembling. “We have to stop before we
go too far.” She straightened her clothes.
“Come on. Let s just do it. I don t want an annulment.”
“You will once we re back in Omaha.”
He grumbled, letting his agitation show. “No, I won t. I ll
still want you.”
“We ve been alone for too long. Neither one of us is
thinking straight. We need to clear our heads.” She took a deep
breath, an action that only served to excite him even more since it
pronounced the roundness of her breasts. She moved their plates
in front of their chairs. “Eat before your meal gets cold.”
Realizing that arguing with her would be pointless, he
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obeyed her, though he was tempted to ring her neck for being
downright stubborn. Why was she tormenting him? After a
couple of bites, he asked, “Is it my mustache?”
She glanced at him, her eyes wide. “What?”
“Does my mustache turn you off?”
Twirling the fork with her thumb and index finger, she
softly admitted, “I forgot you had it. I guess I got used to seeing
it.”
“So, are men with mustaches still criminals?”
“I concede. Not all of them are.”
He leaned forward and replied, “And not a ll women have
to be models to be beautiful.” He chose to let the subject drop for
the time being and silently ate the rest of his meal.
He couldn t be sure, but he thought she was pleased that
he was still attracted to her.
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Chapter Twenty-Five
T
he next day when she left her bedroom, she gasped when she
saw him reading one of her romance novels.
“What are you doing with my book?” she demanded, her
voice sounding incredulous.
He glanced up at her. “I m reading it.”
She looked like she was trying not to laugh. She was
wearing a t-shirt and pants again, he sadly noted.
“These books aren t too bad,” he admitted. “Some even
have a plot.”
And great sex scenes.
He was getting some great ideas
on what to do with her once she came to her senses. If the
previous day s activity in the kitchen was an indicator of what was
to come, he couldn t wait to try out some of the scenes in her
books.
“You are strange. I can t imagine any other man enjoying
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romances, even if the plot is doable.”
“I think more men would be interested if they knew there
was more to these books than sappy sentiment, which I have to
skip over. Sometimes the author goes overboard in the way the
characters express their love for one another.”
“I happen to think it can be sweet.”
“Of course, you would. You re a woman.”
“My point exactly. No man in his right mind would read
those books.”
“Good. Then you won t unwittingly fall in love with me.”
She huffed. “That is not a problem for me.”
Apparently not.
And that was starting to upset him to no
end. How could she resist the bond they developed over their
time in Alaska? The attraction seemed to grow each day. Here he
was, alone with his wife, and unable to do anything about
satisfying his desire for her. The last thing he wanted to do was
end their marriage
.
Considering her remarkable willpower, he was going to
end up bathing, shaving and helping her around the cabin sooner
than it would take for her to break and admit that she did care for
him after all. He could hardly tolerate his nasty, sticky, stinky self.
Determined not to let her see how her words bothered
him, he opted for another course of action. Pointing to the
commercial with a woman in a bikini waxing a car, he said, “Hey,
do you remember that red sports car I saw in the cloud that day?
That woman is waxing the same exact car.”
“Is that where you got the idea for that particular car?”
“Maybe. I probably recalled it but was unaware of where
the thought came from. You know how us men are. We are so
visual that any woman showing off her body will overwhelm us
until we have absolutely no control of ourselves and have to do
whatever she wants.”
She frowned. “If this happened at work, it would be
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sexual harassment.”
“Can t you see that men are the real victims here? I can t
help what I do. I have no control over my thoughts or actions.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don t. There s no possible way I could want to stay
married to you. I m being victimized by our parents. The only
reason I want you is because there s no one else here. If we were
in Omaha, I d drop you and pursue the first model that walked up
to me.”
“You are making fun of the Stranded Love Syndrome.”
“I ve just come to the conclusion that you re right. I
originally thought that I chose to be in love with you, but you ve
shown me the error of my ways. The truth is, I m being
manipulated to want you, and I need you to protect me from
myself.”
“That doesn t make any sense.”
“Doesn t it? It s what you ve been telling me.”
Her eyebrows furrowed and she stood quietly as she
processed what he was saying.
“Boy, I hope July 1
gets here fast because I don t know
s t
how much longer I can hold off my desire to make love to you.”
“What?” She clearly hadn t expected this.
“Your plan is seriously flawed. You re still considerate.
You need to be rude. Stop making me something to eat. Don t
clean up after me. Stop talking to me unless it s to nag me about
something. And you re going to have to do something about the
way you look. Though you have the awkward mustache and hairy
armpits and legs, you re still attractive. You haven t done nearly
enough to repulse me. It takes more than the extra hair to be
ugly.”
“You re impossible.”
“You re probably right. Thank goodness you have no
inclination to be my wife. I have to hand it to you. You re really
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good at this „not falling in love thing. You have much better
control over your emotions than I do.”
She started to say something but stopped herself. She
looked confused.
He hoped that was a good sign.
Finally, she sighed. “It s okay, Ryan. We only have a little
over four weeks left. I don t want to jeopardize your future with a
woman you ll choose instead of having your parents choose her
for you.”
Was she serious? He watched her as she left the cabin to
go on another walk. He thought he was getting through to her.
Why is she that determined to fight this?
He rubbed his eyes. He
wanted to bang the book on the coffee table and run after her.
And say what?
This method clearly wasn t working. He smelled
his shirt and shuddered. Before he could come up with another
plan, he was going to clean up.
While he took a shower, he contemplated the situation he
was trapped in. There had to be a way to get through Elizabeth s
thick skull. He couldn t recall a time when she frustrated him as
much as she did at that moment. Working the shampoo into his
grimy hair, he thought over everything he learned about her since
coming to Alaska. She prided herself on being independent, and
he admitted that it was a quality he had always admired about her.
But she read romance books for a reason. One thing he did get
out of those books, besides ideas on what to do in bed, was that
the heroine wanted to be appreciated for who she was. Deep
down, even the most self-reliant woman wanted to be cared for.
Rinsing his hair with the hot, soothing water, he decided
that he didn t have it in him to speak corny love lines like
comparing Elizabeth to the sun and moon. Whether it was
because he was a man or because of his personality, he lacked the
suave vocabulary to sway her with words. Besides, if he tried to
quote one of those heroes, he d probably start laughing and that
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would only ruin the moment. After all, he did botch things up
during breakfast in the kitchen the other day. If he had kept his
trap shut, they d probably be in bed enjoying each other rather
than going in circles with their relationship.
He washed the layers of sweat and dirt off his body,
relieved to be clean. He doubted he would ever take showers for
granted again. Turning his attention back to the matter at hand,
he realized that he would have to do something other than
whisper poetic words in her ear. One thing he was good at was
action. He was a doer, and since that was his strength, he would
show her that he cared for her. He recalled the talk show. Several
women on there expressed their wish for the man to make them a
candlelight dinner. Well, he learned how to make some edible
foods since watching Elizabeth cook.
He smiled as he thought of how surprised she would be to
find that he made her dinner. She did say that a man helping
around the house was romantic. He turned off the water and
grabbed a blue towel so he could dry off. Encouraged by the
image of her happy expression when she saw that he cared enough
to cook a real meal, he quickly picked up his razor and shaved the
mustache off his face. He was glad to be rid of it. Though he
wouldn t admit it to her, it had been driving him crazy ever since it
grew in.
I still have a month left. In three months, we ve gone from hating
each other to being friends to falling in love. Certainly, the fourth month will
be the one where she realizes it too.
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Chapter Twenty-Six
E
lizabeth wanted to believe Ryan, that he did want to stay
married to her. She didn t imagine she could feel anything but
animosity for him when they first came to Alaska, but she
discovered that he wasn t the same person he was back in high
school and college. She didn t know what motivated the change,
but he was a better person for it. She forced aside her turbulent
emotions as she walked along the river for the next half hour.
The sound of footsteps interrupted her thoughts. She
thought it was Ryan so she turned from the river to greet him.
Instead of Ryan, however, she saw two men she recognized from
the local and national news channels. They were Rick Jenkins and
Seth Powers, the two bank robbers who escaped the police in
Fairbanks. They had successfully managed to hide out in the
Alaskan wilderness. And now they were there
.
Rick, who had
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blond hair and brown eyes was overweight. She marveled that he
had the energy for such a long trek to her parents cabin, but the
aluminum motor boat at the river bank almost a mile downstream
told her how they got as far as they did. The police expected
them to be driving a car, not a boat. The other man, Seth, had
black hair and was a skinny tall man. Both men were either forty
or close to being that age. She took a deep breath to calm her
anxiety when she saw their guns.
“Is this your cabin?” Rick asked her.
She slowly nodded, unable to speak. Were they going to
shoot her?
“We re hungry. Do you have any food?”
Again, she nodded.
“Good. Take us into the cabin and mak e us something to
eat.”
She hesitated. What if eating wasn t the only thing they
had in mind? She contemplated swimming down the river but
remembered that Ryan was in the cabin and would deter the men
from any thoughts they might have regarding her. Besides, they
would probably swim after her, and though it didn t look like Rick
could catch up with her, Seth probably could. She realized her
safest choice was to go to the cabin, so she quietly led them to it.
When she opened the front door, she almost gasped when she
saw that Ryan had shaved his face and showered. He had made
steak and mashed potatoes and was lighting two candles at the
kitchen table.
When he saw them, his eyes grew wide. “Oh, hi honey. I
see you brought company.”
How can he act so nonchalant about this?
She had never been
so terrified in her entire life.
Am I going to survive this ordeal?
She
never imagined that the robbers would show up on her doorstep.
“Is there enough for us?” Rick asked.
“If we divide everything in half and add junk food, there
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is,” Ryan cautiously replied.
“Good. We re starving. Since you two planned this nice
meal, we ll take our stuff out to the living room. And if anyone
tries to pull something funny, we got guns.”
Ryan simply nodded and took out two extra plates to put
food on. Elizabeth felt like she was going to start screaming at
any moment, but fear held her in place. Being so close to
criminals made her muscles tense up so that it was hard to walk.
“Come on, Beth,” Ryan softly said as he took her hand
and led her to one of the kitchen chairs.
After he handed them their plates and sodas, they went to
the living room.
Returning to her, he whispered, “How did they get here?”
“By boat.” She put her face in her hands. She was
trembling. What were they going to do after they ate? “I didn t
know what to do so I brought them in here.”
“It s okay. At least I m here to protect you.” He put his
arms around her. “So much for my romantic dinner.”
“You gave up on grossing me out?”
He shrugged. “I couldn t take being around myself so I
had to clean up. Besides, I like helping you around the cabin.
There s no sense in fighting the inevitable, though they did a good
job of killing the mood.” He paused. “Did you notice something
about them?”
“They re the bank robbers from Fairbanks.”
“Yes but I was talking about their mustaches. You called
it. They re crooks and they have mustaches.” He laughed.
“How can you laugh at a time like this?”
“If I didn t laugh, I d panic.”
She envied him for his ability to do that.
“We might as well eat. I would hate for my meal to go to
waste.”
Considering the amount of stress they were under, she had
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an increased appetite. Once they finished eating, he helped her
clean up while Rick and Seth watched the television.
When there was nothing else to do, Rick told them to
come out to the living room and join them. She cringed. She
hated the thought of doing that.
“I ll be with you,” Ryan reassured her.
She reluctantly followed him out to the room where she
and Ryan sat on the empty couch.
“We re on the news,” Seth said.
Seth sat on the chair to their left and Rick sat in the chair
on their right. They had put their guns on the arms of the chairs.
“Will you turn it up?” Rick asked Ryan.
Ryan nodded and did as requested. He settled close to her
and put his arm around her shoulders.
“The bank robbers who stole $760,000, Rick Jenkins and
Seth Powers are still at large,” the female anchor reported. “The
police are searching diligently for them. They suspect that the
robbers have found their way on a plane and are on their way to
the lower forty-eight.”
“Get a load of that, Rick,” Seth said. “They think we re
out of Alaska. We might get away with this after all.”
“We outsmarted them all right,” Rick repl ied.
She closed her eyes and willed for them to hop back on
their boat and leave now that they had been fed. To her dismay,
Rick put his muddy shoes on the edge of the coffee table and
He didn t even wash his hands.
wiped his dirty hands on the chair.
She didn t know what was worse: being stuck with two bank
robbers or watching them soil the cabin.
“So,” Seth began, “are you two married?”
“Uh yes,” Ryan replied, glancing from Rick to Seth.
“How long?”
.”
“Since March 1
s t
“Aw, isn t that sweet? Newlyweds,” Rick commented. “I
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remember when I had just married Tiffany. She was such a doll.
She had the funniest laugh but I didn t care. She had such a good
heart.”
“Tiffany s my sister,” Seth added.
“Enjoy your honeymoon stage. There s nothing quite like
it.”
“Well, we re bored. Have you got any games to play?”
She couldn t believe they were talking about playing games
at a time like this.
Why don t you just leave? Play a game called swim
down the river.
“What do we have in this cabin for games, sweetheart?”
Ryan asked her.
“Do you have Monopoly? I haven t played that one in
years,” Rick said.
“You got to be careful with that game or you ll get sent to
jail,” Seth joked.
He and Rick laughed.
I wish I could eat something else.
The stress was beginning to
feel unbearable.
“So, do you have Monopoly?” Rick asked her.
She nervously cleared her throat. “Yes. It s in the
bedroom closet.”
“Go ahead and get it. Then we ll all sit around the coffee
table and play.”
Was he serious? She had no desire to play the game,
especially with them.
“Do you want me to get it?” Ryan offered.
“No. I ll get it.” She didn t want to be alone with either of
the two men. She stood up on her wobbly legs and walked to the
bedroom door. Unfortunately, she took a moment to glance back
to make sure no one was following her and ran into the
doorframe just as she reached the doorway.
“She s a graceful little bird, isn t she?” Rick chuckled.
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Seth didn t hide his laughter. She gritted her teeth with
newfound determination. She went to the closet and opened the
door.
This is ridiculous. Here I am, practically a hostage, and I m getting a
game for the criminals to play with.
What was going to happen next?
They d start playing charades? She wished the men would get
back on their boat and leave.
She sighed when she realized the game was on the top
shelf. She didn t know how she was going to reach it. She looked
at the night stand by the bed. If she moved it over to the closet,
she could step up on it and get the game. She breathed a sigh of
relief when she realized the night stand was easy to move to the
closet. She got on the edge of the night stand and leaned against
the open closet door so she could get the game. As she grabbed
it, the door swung in and she fell off the night stand and onto the
pile of blankets on the closet floor. Monopoly
and three other
board games fell on top of her.
Ryan and Seth ran into the room.
“It s a ll right, Rick. She didn t try to run away,” Seth
called out. “She just fell in the closet.”
Rick burst out laughing.
Ryan pushed the night stand away and helped her collect
the game pieces and put them back into the right boxes.
“Hey! You have Pictionary. I love that game. Bring it out
when you re done,” Seth told them before he went back to the
living room.
“I take it they intend to stay for awhile,” Ryan whispered.
She didn t know whether to be annoyed, scared or
embarrassed by everything that was going on. She quickly wiped
the tears that formed in her eyes.
“I don t think they re going to hurt us,” he assured her. “I
think they re taking a break from their running.”
She prayed he was right. She moved over to him and
hugged him. It was the first time she could remember asking for
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someone besides her parents to hold her. She longed to feel safe
again.
He sighed and held her tightly to him. “It s okay, Beth.
We ll get out of this. I just need time to make a plan.”
She was struck by the fact that he seemed to genuinely
care for her.
“Can you go along with what they want to do?” he asked.
“If not, I could make up some excuse and tell them you re not
feeling well. If I say you have cramps, they ll leave you alone. No
man wants to hear about that.”
She grinned despite herself. “I ll be fine. Just…”
“Just what?”
She hesitated. This wasn t easy for her. She wasn t used
to asking for help. “Please don t leave me alone with either one of
them. I m not sure what they ll do.”
He nodded. “I promise I won t let them alone with you.”
She knew he meant it. She gathered enough strength from
this knowledge so she could stop crying. She turned her attention
back to the games and finished helping him put the pieces back
where they belonged. He put two of the games back on the top
shelf and carried Monopoly and
Pictionary
out to the living room.
She followed close behind, taking comfort in his presence.
“You know what would go great with these games?” Rick
asked Seth.
“Some good old-fashioned root beer floats,” Seth
answered. “Do you two have ice cream and root beer?”
“We do,” Ryan replied as he set the games on the coffee
table.
“I ll make them,” she softly said as she walked to the
kitchen.
“Are you sure that s wise?” Rick asked. “You re not going
to drop some glasses are you? Maybe you should help her, Seth.”
“I ll do that,” Ryan interrupted. “Get the game set up and
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we ll be back soon.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. She was so tense she
probably would drop the glasses, which was why she opted for
plastic cups. When they were finished, they returned to the living
room.
“Those look delicious,” Rick complimented. “It s nice to
see that you re safe to leave in the kitchen.”
She sat next to Ryan on the floor in front of the coffee
table. The Monopoly game was neatly laid out.
This is crazy that
I m playing a game with criminals.
Rick and Seth cheered whenever
they avoided the jail as they made their way around the board.
She had a hard time concentrating on the game but Ryan helped
her keep up with the rest of the players.
Once in awhile, Rick or Seth would stop the game so they
could watch anything the local or national news reporters said
about them. The police were looking anywhere from Fairbanks to
Anchorage to Seattle in hopes of finding the wanted men. She
couldn t tell for sure, but she suspected they were flattered to
catch so much national attention.
After the game, Ryan said he had to pour gas into the
generator. “I need Beth to come with me to help me know when
to stop pouring gas.”
That was a lie but she realized he was saying it so that she
wouldn t have to be left alone with them and she appreciated it.
“How do we know you re not going to make a phone
call?” Rick wondered. “We re worth $20,000 if you turn us in.”
“Come with us,” Ryan replied. “If I don t add more gas,
we ll be out of power by early morning.”
“It would be nice to get some fresh air,” Seth reasoned.
“All right. But no one pulls anything funny or we shoot,”
Rick said, pointing his gun at him.
Seth pointed his gun at them as well.
“We ll just fill up the generator,” Ryan emphasized.
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They went outside. While Ryan grabbed the container of
gasoline from the shed, Elizabeth stood a few feet away from Rick
and Seth. She took comfort in the serenity of the Alaskan
wilderness. The sun was still bright though it was already nine in
the evening. The air was a little cool but warm enough to go
outside without a jacket.
“How often do you come up here?” Rick asked them.
“Not often,” Ryan vaguely replied. “It s not even our
cabin. It belongs to someone we know. They let us stay here as a
wedding gift to us.”
She realized what he was doing. Since they were obviously
motivated by money, they might want to steal their money as well.
The last thing they needed was to be robbed. She silently thanked
him for his quick thinking.
“Just how long are they letting you stay here for?” Rick
wondered.
“Well, a group of people will be by in a seaplane to take us
out of here in two days. One of them is a cop. He won t be on
duty, but he s a fr iend of the family and wants to congratulate us
since he couldn t be at the wedding.”
He was telling more lies, and she hoped they would
motivate the robbers to leave.
“Oh. That does put a perspective on things,” Rick said.
“We ll have to discuss this later,” Seth told Rick. “But for
now, let s play Pictionary.”
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Chapter Twenty-Seven
W
hen Rick announced it was time for them to sleep, Ryan went
to the bedroom with Elizabeth. It wasn t quite the way he
imagined joining her in the room, but he felt better knowing he
would be with her so Rick and Seth wouldn t harm her, though he
didn t honestly think they would. They didn t seem to be mean,
but he couldn t afford to take his chances. He was glad to lock
the bedroom door. It was nice to have a barrier between them.
He went to the bed, laid down on it and patted the spot
next to him. “We might as well try to sleep. It won t do any good
to stress out all night.”
She eyed him.
He rolled his eyes. “Sex has been the furthest thing from
my mind since our unwelcome guests walked through the door.”
Really, was the idea that repulsive to her?
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She nodded and settled next to him. “At least they aren t
in this room. I don t even know how I m expected to sleep.”
“If you can t sleep, at least get some rest.” He stared at the
ceiling. “Doesn t lying side by side remind you of the day we
pointed out shapes in the clouds?”
She smiled. “That was fun.”
“You see? I m not so bad to be with after all.”
“No, you re not.”
“Do you think you might find me remotely interesting
when we get back to Omaha?”
“Yes, unless you change your personality.”
“No, I won t change that, but there is one thing I m
changing.”
“What s that?”
“I m going to be more assertive. I won t let my dad tell
me what to do anymore, except if it s in relation to my job.
However, if he threatens to fire me if I don t do something, then
I ll let him do it. I don t regret being here with you, but there s no
way he s going to make any other personal decisions for me. I
made that clear in my letter to him and he d better remember it.”
“You are different. You seem to be more confident.”
“So, when are you going to get rid of your mustache? I
got rid of mine.”
“I ll get rid of it when Rick and Seth leave. I m hoping it s
a motivator to get their focus off of me.”
“I don t know, Beth. I find you sexy whether you have it
or not.” He looked at her and grinned. He reached for her and
nuzzled her neck.
She giggled. “I thought sex was the furthest thing from
your mind.”
He shrugged. “I can probably be convinced to think
about it.” His hands traced the curves of her body.
She shook her head. “We could possibly say the wrong
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thing to those crooks out there and they d shoot us.”
He stopped what he was doing and looked at her. “That
brings me to a very important point. Do you really want to die a
virgin?”
She threw her pillow at him. “You are so full of crap.”
She laughed. “I don t understand how you can joke at a time like
this. I can hardly think straight.”
“It s how I cope.” Sadly, he wasn t joking. He hadn t been
thinking of sex until they were in bed together.
Turning serious, she said, “I m glad you told them that we
have a cop coming when Kenneth gets here. That was good
thinking on your part.”
Realizing the possibility of sex was nil, he put his hands
under his head and stared at the ceiling. “I m hoping it will make
them want to leave soon.”
“You ll do well at your vice president position. You can
accept a lot of responsibility under a good deal of pressure.”
She didn t realize how much her confession meant to him.
He had been unsure of himself in that role but was starting to feel
like he could do it, and her words added to his newfound
confidence. “Can I hold you?”
“I stink.”
“So?”
“Well, you took a shower today.”
“And?”
“You smell and look nice.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You like the way I look?”
“Yes, I do,” she softly replied.
“Then cuddle up with me.” He learned that women liked
lots of nonsexual touching, and cuddling qualified as such an
activity.
She snuggled against him and he wrapped his arms around
her. He smiled. He liked the way she felt next to him. It felt
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natural. While she drifted off to sleep, he tried to think of a way
to get the men to leave.
Around four, he went to the bathroom. Upon returning,
he saw that she was still asleep. The stress must have worn her
out. He glanced out the open window as the sun rose for the day.
A thought occurred to him. Of course! There were guns in the
shed. Why didn t he think of it when he was in there earlier to get
gasoline for the generator? He excitedly went over to the window
and quietly lifted the screen. He frowned. He was too big to fit
through it. He looked over at Elizabeth. She could fit through it.
Since he knew that neither one of them were in any immediate
danger, he walked by the bed to go to his side. His foot hit
something. He knelt down and lifted the blanket to see what it
was. He blinked when he saw a white rectangular box. He had
wondered what Elizabeth had done with the “gift” from her
parents after he had destroyed his.
Out of curiosity, he pulled it out and took off the lid. He
saw an expensive dress, shoes, perfume, make-up, and birth
control pills. He shook his head. He should have known she got
something similar to what he had gotten. In the future, this kind
of thing would never happen again. As he was ready to put the lid
back on the box, it occurred to him that there were supposed to
be three packs of pills but one was empty and she had just started
the second one. A smile spread across his face and he put the box
back under the bed.
Why you sneaky, sneaky woman.
You do love me
after all.
***
Ryan laid on his side, watching his wife and smiling, so
when she opened her eyes at seven, she was startled.
“I didn t mean to scare you,” he said. “You are so
adorable first thing in the morning.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“How long have you been watching me?”
He shrugged. “Probably for hours.”
She blinked as she struggled to wake up. “Why didn t you
wake me up? I would have kept you company.”
“No. It was much more fun to watch you drool on your
pillow and snore.”
“Thanks for noticing,” she huffed as she sat up.
“Hey, it s no big deal. I like seeing the real you.”
By the look she gave him, she obviously didn t believe
him.
He reached for her and pulled her back down so she was
cuddling with him. “I think you want to be married to me as
much as I want to be married to you.”
She remained silent. Since she didn t argue, he took that
as a yes.
“So,” he continued, “pack your bags because we re leaving
with Kenneth tomorrow.”
“Why?” She tried to sit up but he stopped her.
“Because I have a couple of points to make. One is to our
parents. Another is to you. You seem to think that once we
return to Omaha, I ll „come to my senses and abandon you. Well,
you re wrong. And the only way I can prove you wrong is to go
back there and show you.”
“So where do Rick and Seth fit into all of this?”
She was as practical as he expected her to be. “That
brings me to my plan. I know how to get rid of them. I need you
go to the shed and get the gun on the bottom shelf by the door.
It has bullets in it. Then when you come back with it, I want you
to stay safely hidden in the shed while I let them know that we
won t tolerate their staying here anymore.”
“What if one of them goes outside and sees me?”
“I ll distract them while you re getting the gun. If I shut
the bedroom door, you can climb back into the room and knock
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on the door. That will let me know you re ready, and I ll slip back
in here.”
She nodded. “That s a good plan.” She stood up and went
to the window. As she opened the screen, he heard Rick say
something to Seth.
“They re up. I better get out there. Can you get out by
yourself?” he asked.
“Yes. I m doing fine.”
He stopped her by putting his hand on her back. “In case
I don t make it, I want you to know I do love you.”
“Don t talk like that. Keep a positive attitude. If you give
yourself negative thoughts, it will hinder your ability to succeed.”
“Okay. Okay. I ll think positive.”
As she climbed out the window, he opened the bedroom
door and quickly closed it. Rick and Seth were watching the
television again. “Good morning,” he called out.
They nodded in his direction and continued to watch the
TV. When he didn t move, Rick looked over at him. “Do you
need something?”
“No. Beth said she needs a maxi pad right away. She said
something about her flow being heavy, so I came out to get one
for her.”
Rick and Seth cringed.
“Say no more,” Seth said.
Ryan nodded and pretended to search for it so he could
keep an eye on them.
“Vicky is a good woman,” Rick told Seth. “Tiffany said
that Vicky didn t want to break up with you. You should give
your relationship another try.”
Seth sighed. “You re right. I mean, how stupid is it to put
a computer game before her?” He shook his head. “Being on the
run has taught me what is and what is not important. You can t
replace people. Of course, you know that better than anyone else,
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what with Dallas and all.”
Ryan turned his attention to their conversation, noting the
sorrow in their voices.
“I do miss Tiffany and our boy Dallas,” Rick said.
“Maybe we should get honest with the cops. It would be
nice to stop running,” Seth replied.
“Do you think Tiffany will forgive me?”
“My sister has a good heart. I think she will if you
confess. I hope Vicky hasn t given up on me. She always said she
didn t care how much money I made as long as we were together.
I don t know how things will work out, but we might be teaching
Dallas the wrong lesson.”
“Let s go to the cops.”
Ryan was shocked, but relieved, by this development. He
also wondered what was taking Elizabeth so long. He ventured to
open the bedroom door and saw that she hadn t returned yet.
Since Rick and Seth didn t notice what he was doing, he walked
into the room and looked out the window. As soon as he saw the
moose, he understood why she hadn t left the shed.
All this time I
haven t seen a moose up close, and now there s one right outside the cabin.
What were the chances?
He ran back to the living room where Rick and Seth were
still talking.
“There s a moose right outside the cabin,” he interrupted
them. “Can I use one of your guns to shoot it if it attacks me on
my way to get Beth out of the shed?”
“What s your wife doing there?” Rick wondered.
He sighed. “She was going to get a gun so we could get
you two to leave.”
“Oh. We didn t intend to scare you. We just didn t want
you notifying the cops that we re here. But you don t have any
way of doing that.”
“Well, do you mind if I borrow your gun and get Beth out
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of the shed?”
“That s the funny thing,” Seth slowly replied. “Our guns
aren t loaded.”
“They aren t?”
“Nope. They never were. Shoot, we couldn t go around
hurting people. We just wanted the money.”
Ryan hid his aggravation. “How am I supposed to get her
out of there?”
“Wait until the moose is gone.”
“What if she s panicking in there?”
“As long as she doesn t bump into something and spook
the moose, she should be okay,” Rick said.
“Let s go see the moose,” Seth finally suggested.
They went to the bedroom window and saw the moose
sniffing around the shed door.
“Does anyone see a baby moose nearby?” Seth asked.
Ryan stuck his head out the window and examined the
surroundings. “No. I don t see any other moose.”
“Good. That means the moose won t be trying to protect
its young. It should leave us alone if we are able to lure it away
from the shed long enough to get her out.”
“We could throw something in that direction.” Ryan
pointed to the forest behind the shed. What would be a good
item to throw? He saw a round paperweight sitting on the dresser
and grabbed it.
“I can throw far,” Seth offered. “I used to be a pitcher for
softball in high school.”
Ryan handed him the paperweight and backed up so Seth
could lean out of the window and throw it into the trees.
The moose glanced at the forest.
“Do you have anything else?” Seth asked.
Ryan found a couple of her books and handed them to
him.
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“I don t know how far these will go, but they re better
than nothing.” Seth chucked a book at the trees but it landed a
few feet from the forest.
The moose stood still and waited for the next disturbance.
Seth threw another book.
The moose turned to them and started walking to the
window.
Seth quickly slammed the window shut. “That didn t go
as planned.”
The moose stood right outside the window.
They slowly backed up.
“That is a little bit spooky,” Rick admitted. “I can see why
your wife would be scared in the shed with a moose hanging
around the door.”
Ryan shook his head. How were they supposed to get
her? The moose was too close to the front door for him to make
it to the shed without being noticed.
“Hands up!”
The three men held their hands up.
“Not you, Ryan,” she said.
Ryan turned around and saw her with the rifle from the
shed. He breathed a sigh of relief. “It s okay. It s just Beth.” He
went over to her and took the gun from her. “Their guns aren t
loaded.”
She looked disappointed and relieved. “Oh.”
“It s a long story but they re going to confess to the
police.”
“We ll be heading to McGrath when the moose leaves,”
Rick added. “We ve seen the error of our ways.”
“How did you get in here?” Ryan asked her.
“I got the gun before the moose showed up but saw it on
my way to the cabin. It started walking to me. I thought running
to the window would make it mad, so I climbed the large tree a
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couple of meters from the cabin, crawled along a tree branch and
got on the roof. There s a ladder on the other side of the cabin. I
used that to climb back down and entered through the door.”
“For a clumsy girl, you sure did handle yourself well,” Rick
complimented.
“I have my moments,” she replied.
“You really are self -reliant,” Ryan marveled.
“You can thank the trust exercises I have to set up at my
work for that. Part of my job description is to set up obstacles
courses for co-workers to go through as a team, and there s
climbing involved in a lot of those.” She turned to Rick and Seth.
“Well, since it doesn t look like you two are a threat anymore, I ll
make you some sandwiches for your trip to McGrath.”
“That s generous of you,” Rick called out.
She stumbled on a pair of shoes on her way to the kitchen.
Ryan noticed how Rick struggled not to laugh. “At least
she s graceful when it counts,” he whispered to Seth who was
quietly chuckling into his hand.
“She s not usually like this,” Ryan softly said. “It must be
the stress she s under from having you here.”
“Shoot, we weren t trying to upset her,” Rick replied. “We
simply wanted something to eat and a place to sleep for the night.
We ll be out of your hair as soon as that moose leaves.”
Ryan was glad to see them fulfill that promise.
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Chapter Twenty-Eight
T
hat afternoon after Rick and Seth left, Elizabeth took a long
shower. It felt good to be clean again. She shaved her armpits
and legs and waxed her mustache. She decided to wear her hair
down, and she put on a white blouse and navy blue shorts. She
didn t feel like trying to repel Ryan anymore. If he was sincere
about his intention toward her, she would know soon enough.
For the time being, she decided that she would at least enjoy her
last night in the cabin. She was very happy to see Rick and Seth
leave. Fortunately, they hadn t been a mean couple of criminals.
She got lucky.
Wait until my parents and Lucinda hear that I actually
met the Fairbanks robbers.
When she left the bathroom, she saw that Ryan was
packing his suitcases. She knew she should have expected it, but
she was surprised to realize she was going miss being alone with
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him.
He glanced over at her and smiled. “I knew the librarian
would be sexy if she had her hair down and glasses off.”
She decided to ignore how pleased she was by his words.
“So, you really intend to go back to Omaha tomorrow?”
“Yes. Are you coming with me?”
She nodded. “There s no point in sticking around if you
won t be here.”
He grinned as she went to her bedroom to pack.
After packing, they cleaned up the cabin so it looked like it
did when they arrived there. The laundry was the task that took
the longest but it was nice to get it done. They walked along the
river. He reached for her hand and smiled when she didn t pull
away from him.
“Now when we get back, you ll see that your theory that I
only love you because we re stuck here is wrong,” he told her.
“And I m going to have a serious talk to our dads at the country
club. Since going back was my idea, I ll handle them. I m not
going to let them dictate what we want to do with our lives.
Because if they insisted we get married, what else will they try to
tell us? When we can have kids? How many kids to have?
Whether or not we get a pet? The list could go on.”
“We need to take things one day at a time,” she replied.
Who knew how things would change when they returned home?
He sighed. “We can t get back there soon enough. I need
to show you that I m being sincere. I know you re probably going
to assume the worst when I say this, but I want to do this right.
Since women like romance, I want to give you a week where I can
do the things for you that I have learned that women enjoy. I
don t want to ruin the surprises because I know that women like
those.”
“Only if they re pleasant,” she added.
“Of course. So, I think we should start out in our separate
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apartments.”
She hid her disappointment. This didn t sound very
promising.
“You ll have to trust me. I have some phone calls to make
and things to do before we actually live together.”
“Okay.” She was still on guard.
He stopped and turned to her. “I understand that I hurt
you in the past. But I want to be with you more than anyone else.
I know you will only believe what I actually do, so I m going to let
my actions speak for me. There s a time and a place for
everything. You ll have to be patient with me. I want to give you
some wonderful memories.”
“I ll keep an open mind.” That was all she could offer.
She didn t feel like admitting her fears to him when she didn t
even want to acknowledge them herself. She worked hard to be
strong.
“Of course,” he continued as he started walking again.
She followed him.
“As a married couple, we re bound to do things to annoy
and hurt each other. It comes with the territory. No one is
perfect.”
“That s logical,” she agreed.
“However, I m not going to screw up so badly that you ll
have to divorce me. I m in this for keeps.”
If you are for real, I am too.
Instead of saying the words, she
simply nodded.
***
The next day when Kenneth arrived and saw them with
their luggage, he frowned. “I thought you two were getting
along.”
Ryan helped him with the suitcases while Elizabeth
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watched. “We are. I just have a couple of things to settle before
we make it official.”
“So it isn t bad news?”
“No. We re staying married, but we re going to do this the
right way. It will be our decision.”
He smiled. “Good for you.”
The ride back was awkward for her. She had her glasses
on while she read a book. Ryan drew in his drawing pad. She had
a hard time concentrating on the mystery in front of her. She
frequently looked out the window as the scenery below them
changed. She thought she would be thrilled to return to Omaha,
but she missed the cabin in Alaska. It may have been far from the
conveniences she was used to but it was warm and cozy. She
sighed. She knew it was a memorable place because Ryan had
been with her.
Don t fall in love. It s not worth it. Things will go back to
normal once we re back.
Ryan was doing her a favor by returning a
month sooner. She didn t know how much longer she could have
resisted him. He was too charming and believable.
When they arrived in Omaha, Ryan told her that he would
We ll see,
call her later that evening to set up a date with her.
she
thought as she nodded. She returned to her apartment and set her
suitcases down. She did miss her computer. It had been three
months since she had touched it, so that was the first place she
went to. She turned it on and checked her emails. Some of it was
junk, which she quickly deleted. Most of it was work-related. She
was glad to focus on work again.
Tomorrow is Monday. I can go back
to work!
She did like her job.
The phone rang after she ate dinner. She shoved aside her
disappointment when her caller ID told her the person on the
other end was her mother. Determined to sound upbeat, she
answered the phone.
“Hi, Mom,” she greeted.
“So you really are home,” her mother replied.
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“Yes, I m back.”
“It didn t go as planned?”
“It was fine. We didn t get along at first but we do now.”
“I suppose your father and I shouldn t have expected the
plan to actually work. We should be glad that you can at least be
in the same room without wanting to strangle each other.”
Elizabeth forced herself to laugh as if nothing was
bothering her. “Well, it s over now and it s time to get back to
reality.”
Her mother softly sighed. “Have you had dinner yet?”
“I did but it wasn t very filling. Did you want to meet up
somewhere and have something good to eat?”
“I would. How about the seafood place we usually go
to?”
“No. I d rather have Mexican food tonight.” Fish would
only remind her of Alaska, and she wanted to put that far from
her mind. She had a tough enough time keeping her thoughts on
other things. Even her ipod and the television weren t good
distractions since she used those items so much over the past
three months.
By the time she parked at the restaurant, her stomach was
growling. Her soup and cracker dinner hadn t been filling. She
entered the place and waved to her mother as soon as she saw her
waiting in a chair by the front door.
“I hope you didn t have to wait too long,” she told her
mother.
“No. I just got here.” Her mother hugged her. “You look
good. It s nice to see you wearing clothes that actually fit you, and
your hair is down. You are such a pretty young woman.”
“You say that no matter what I m wearing.”
They waited for the hostess to seat them before they
continued their conversation.
“How has the company been since I ve been gone?” she
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asked her mother as they browsed through their menus.
“It s been fine. Barry Henderson approved all the ideas
for remodeling his hotel chain. Lucinda is heading the work on
that.”
“That s great! She s worked hard to get to where she is
today. I wonder how Nick is taking it.”
“I m not sure. You ll have to ask her when you return to
work tomorrow.”
“It will be good to get back to the office.”
“May I ask what happened with you and Ryan?”
She was dreading this conversation with her mother but
It s best to just get it
knew she would have to tell her sooner or later.
over with.
“Not much. We didn t get along at first, which was to
be expected, but since there was no one else around and we got
tired of avoiding each other, we began to talk. We became friends
and had some good times. Then he decided to come back a
month early so he could talk to his dad and my dad. He said he s
tired of being controlled and won t take it anymore.”
“So you two will be going through with an annulment?”
“I don t know. He said he was going to call me when we
got back to our apartments, but I haven t heard from him yet. I m
not holding my breath. I mean, now that we re back, it s easy to
remember how things were before.”
“You just got back a couple of hours ago. You need to
give him time to wind down.”
“Mom, you ve seen the women he likes to go out with.”
“From what his mother tells me, he was never serious
about any of them because they bored him. Looks only carry a
woman so far. A man wants a wife he can be friends with.
Marriage is more than sex. There has to be companionship and
love if it is to last.”
Elizabeth was glad when the server showed up to take
their order. She decided to change the subject. “Did you get the
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kitchen remodeled?”
Her mother sighed. “I can take a hint. Just know I m
here if you want to talk.”
She nodded, glad the awkward conversation was over.
When she returned to her apartment, she went to the
kitchen to grab a glass of water. She noticed her answering
machine light was blinking.
Don t get your hopes up. It could be
Lucinda or Dad calling.
She drank her water as she listened to her
messages.
The first one was from Lucinda. “Hi Beth. I hea rd you
got back today and wanted to see how things went. If you want to
talk, I m at home. If not, then I ll see you tomorrow.”
The second one was from Ryan. “Where are you? I ve
been calling and calling but you don t answer. I hate answering
machines but I don t have a choice. I hope you don t mind that I
made reservations tomorrow evening for seven at Casablanca. I
was going to ask you about it first but since you re not there, I had
to do it before they closed. I know you ll be at work so I will see
you at the restaurant. I miss you. And yes, I still love you even
though I m surrounded by lots of other people. I hope you re still
taking those birth control pills, but if not, I can always use
condoms, unless you want to start a family right away. I ll let you
make that call since you re the one who has to deal with the
pregnancy.”
She almost choked on the water she was drinking. How
did find out she was taking birth control pills?
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Chapter Twenty-Nine
T
he next day, she showed up early to work. She decided to pull
her hair back with a headband and wore a sensible pantsuit that
wasn t baggy. She had to admit that it was nice to be in her office
again. She settled in the chair behind her desk and checked her
office email. It took her a good hour to sort through everything.
She was relieved when it was over.
Someone knocked on her open door. She looked up from
the computer and saw Lucinda. “Hi!” Elizabeth ran over to her
friend and gave her a big hug. “I missed going to lunch with
you.”
“I missed you too,” her friend replied.
“You look happier than before I left. I take it that you
and Nick are doing better.”
“We are. He has finally come to terms with the fact that I
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make more money than he does. He said that we re a team and
when one person does well, then the other person does well too.
So both people are successful. He doesn t work as many hours as
I do since I got promoted to head up the Henderson account, but
he s been able to stay at home more with the children and they
have gotten close to him. It s good to see them laughing and
playing with him.”
“That is wonderful. I thought Nick was a good guy.”
“The second counselor we went to did wonders for him.
I m relieved that we went to her. Sometimes the right counselor
can make all the difference.”
She felt better knowing her friend s marriage was
improving.
“I learned that marriage isn t stagnant,” Lucinda
continued. “It s constantly changing and it requires effort to
maintain. I think it s because people are always changing.
Anyway, it s important to keep working at it. Sometimes things
look bad, but as long as you hang in there and give it your best
effort, there s a good chance you ll make it. If both spouses are
committed to making things work, then it will last.”
“Are you trying to tell me something?” Elizabeth raised an
eyebrow at her friend.
Lucinda shrugged. “You re back early. I m not sure if
that s a good thing or not.”
“Ryan has something planned. I don t know what it is but
he said he wanted to romance me.”
“That sounds good.”
“While we were up there, he spent a lot of time watching
the Lindsey Mulligan talk show, and he made a list of things
women want based on what he saw.”
“You re kidding?”
She shook her head. “He made an active study of it.”
“Lindsey Mulligan hates men. All of her topics are aimed
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at putting them down.”
“I know. If I were a man, I wouldn t watch it. I don t
even know why men go on it. Ryan used to predict when the
women would start condemning the men based on what the men
said. He said that the women were brutally honest and he learned
more from them than he did in his fifteen years of dating.”
“I doubt he would ever go on the show.”
“I don t want to be on it and I m a woman.”
“You do realize that three months ago, you wouldn t have
said that.” Her friend smiled at her. “You ve softened up. Men
aren t quite as bad as you thought they were.”
“Fine. So I ve changed.”
She turned to the sound of someone else knocking on her
door. Her eyes grew wide with surprise at the delivery boy who
was probably working during the summer before he had to go
back to high school. He was carrying a stuffed moose with two
red heart shaped balloons with her and Ryan s names on them.
“I have a delivery for Elizabeth Jackson,” he said.
She hadn t heard her name connected with Ryan s last
name since March 1
at the courthouse, so it was strange to hear
s t
it.
“You came to the right place,” Lucinda spoke for her. She
took the animal and balloons from him and tipped him. After he
left, she put it on Elizabeth s desk and gave her a knowing grin.
“Things in Alaska went better than you re letting on.”
“This was somewhere on that list.” She just couldn t
remember where it was.
“Who cares where he got the idea? He s obviously crazy
about you.”
She blushed.
“It s good to see you in love after what happened with
Preston.”
“Preston was never this good to me.”
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“He never gave you a stuffed animal and balloons?”
“Well, it s more than this.” She pointed to the gift. “When
we finally got over our differences, Ryan was good about listening
to me, helping me with the chores and being respectful to me.”
“Then you d better hang on to him.” She checked her
watch. “I better go see Claire Rosen about the different styles of
wallpaper we ll use in the Henderson hotels. I ll see you at lunch.”
Elizabeth waved to her as she left. She had been afraid of
feeling the thrill of being in love, but she was slowly opening up to
it. Halfway through the day, another delivery arrived. This time
an older woman handed her a rectangular present in purple
wrapping paper. Purple was her favorite color. She tipped the
woman and opened it. She was surprised to see Ryan s drawing
pad. She had wondered what he had been working on, and now
he was allowing her to see his drawings. She put her glasses on
and opened it. Her heart raced with excitement when she saw the
contents. He had been drawing her. Was that why he didn t want
her to see what he was working on all that time? Dates were
written at the bottom of each page.
He started drawing her when he was working on the
jewelry account in May. He had drawn a picture of her lying on
her stomach. She was on a blanket and a dog had come up to her
with a collar around his neck. She smiled at the f act that the dog
wore a tuxedo. It was funny in a cute way. She looked at the next
page and saw that the dog s collar held an engagement ring with a
written proposal on it.
“So that s the jewelry commercial idea,” she commented
aloud.
She turned the page to a picture Ryan had drawn of her
reading a book. There was another one of her face. Then she saw
the camping advertisement. They were in front of a campfire
roasting marshmallows and telling stories to their ten and seven
year old kids. There were more pictures of her. The last picture
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was of her on the plane heading back to Omaha. She was reading
a book again but she looked sad. It was almost spooky that he
could read her expression so well. He really noticed details. At
the bottom of the page, he wrote, “You ll see how I feel about
you.”
From the care he took in etching in the details, she
realized that he had cared for her longer than she imagined he did.
No wonder he didn t want to show me what he was doing. He was afrai d I
would reject him. And didn t I do tha t when he finally revealed his feelings
for me? I said there was no way he could feel the way he did about me. But I
was wrong.
***
That evening, she put on her best violet dress since she
knew that Casablanca was an expensive restaurant. She arrived a
little before seven and smiled when she saw Ryan dressed in a nice
dark blue suit and holding a pink rose.
“I wasn t sure if you were going to show up or not,” he
admitted when he saw her.
“I tried calling you at work but you weren t there,” she
replied.
“Since I called the trip to Alaska off a month early, I can
only assume I don t have a job there anymore.”
She didn t think he was serious when he told her that he
would have to look for another job when they got back to Omaha.
“Do you really think your dad is going to fire you?”
“I m calling his bluff. I will deal with him tomorrow at the
country club. I spent the day working on my résumé and getting
ready for our date. You look beautiful.”
She blushed. “Thank you.”
“Would you like to eat?”
She nodded and followed him to the host who seated
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them on the veranda overlooking the city. The air was warm and
pleasant. The sun lit the sky but it was further down than it was in
Alaska this time in the evening. She couldn t believe she actually
felt nervous. It had been a long time since she had been on an
actual date.
After they ordered, he turned his attention to her. “Did
you get the gifts I sent you?”
“Yes.” She grinned. “I got the moose, balloons a nd your
drawing pad.”
“Do you still doubt me?”
She took a deep breath. “No.”
“It s about time.” He smiled. “I tried so hard to get you to
believe me. It s nice I finally got through to you. You can be
stubborn when you want to be, but that can be a good thing too.
You re the kind of woman who can be depended on to be a
faithful wife.” He leaned forward, his expression unusually
serious. “Beth, if I do have to look for another job, I may not get
hired in Omaha. I might have to relocate. Would you be willing
to go with me?”
She thought through the implications of what he was
asking. She enjoyed her job and liked being close to her parents
and friends. She looked at Ryan. She loved him and he loved her.
She knew if she chose to get an annulment, she would maintain
control over her life. It would stay safe and predictable. If she
stayed married to him, the future was unknown and as much as
she feared the unknown, she hated the thought of being without
him even more. Love was worth the risk.
“I ll go wherever you go,” she replied.
“Well, that leads me to my next question.” He took a small
box out of his pocket and showed her a diamond ring.
“We re already married,” she said.
“I know but that wasn t our decision. I thought this time,
it would be what we wanted. I choose you to spend the rest of
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my life with. I love you, Beth. Will you marry me?”
She nodded. “Yes.” She wiped the tears from her eyes
and laughed.
He gently took her hand and slipped the ring on her
finger.
“How did you know my ring size?”
“I called your mom this morning and asked her what it
was. I also swore her to secrecy about my plans. Tomorrow I m
going to have a talk with your dad and my dad at the country club.
I have to let them know that they can t make any more decisions
regarding how we do or don t do things. We re adults and need to
be treated that way.”
The server brought them their meals.
Ryan continued, “So, I thought it would be appropr iate to
renew our wedding vows. What do you think?”
“I think that s a wonderful idea.”
They spent the rest of the dinner making plans for their
wedding. When it came time for them to go, he walked her to her
car.
“Will you be coming to my place or should I go to yours?”
she asked.
“I think it will be better if we wait until our official
wedding night. It will make our first time more romantic.”
“You ve spent a lot of time and energy in studying up on
romance, but how did you conclude I was even considering sex?”
“I guessed. Was I right?”
She shrugged. He was but she wasn t going to admit it.
He chuckled. “I may be patient, but I m not that patient.
Why do you think I m marrying you on Saturday? Any longer
than that and I ll be climbing the walls. I ll stop by and see you
tomorrow at work after I talk with our nutty dads.”
“Okay. I ll miss you.”
“Now, that is what I want to hear.” He kissed her. “I m
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looking forward to spending my life with you.”
“Me too.”
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Chapter Thirty
A
s Ryan got ready for his meeting with his dad and Elizabeth s
dad the next day, he rehearsed his speech for the millionth time.
He wanted to be sure he was firm so they would take him
seriously. By the time he got to the country club, they were
already waiting for him in the meeting room he reserved. He
thought it was only fitting that they sit in the same room they had
been in three months ago. He ignored the slight unease he felt in
his gut. He hadn t stood up to them in person before, so this
required him to step out of his comfort zone. He sat across from
them at the table, determined to appear brave.
“I came back a month early for a specific reason,” he
began. “Neither one of you have the right to tell me or Elizabeth
how to run our lives. If we want to marry other people, then that
is our decision. For the record, we didn t consummate the
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Ruth Ann Nordin
marriage, so we are free to go through with the annulment.” He
noted the disappointment on their faces but they remained silent.
“I understand that I no longer have a job at Jackson Advertising
and I accept that. I have already written up my résumé and will
apply for other jobs. I have a lot of talent and will be hired
quickly somewhere else. I don t mind being without your money
either. I can make my own. That is all I came here to say.” He
stood up to leave.
“Ryan, wait,” his father said.
He stood still.
Both men stood up and smiled at him before they shook
his hand.
“You have made me proud, son,” his father replied. “I
didn t imagine that the trip to Alaska would bring about such a
drastic change in you. You left a boy and came back a man. It is
my honor and privilege to have you as the vice president at
Jackson Advertising.”
“Really?” Ryan hadn t expected this.
“Of cou rse. I find your take charge attitude refreshing.
You are definitely ready to be vice president.”
“I want to work with Jacob Hackman.”
“That can be arranged.”
“And I want a raise.”
“You got it.”
“And I want to go back to Alaska for one month. I
proposed to Elizabeth last night and she said yes. We re getting
married on Saturday at the Henderson hotel. Afterwards, we ll
want to enjoy our honeymoon.”
Her father laughed. “That can be arranged too. I must
admit that you impress me. My girl is lucky to have you.”
Ryan nodded, feeling confident for the first time in his life.
“The invitations to the wedding will be informal but we re anxious
to tie the knot so you ll have to deal with it.”
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
“We ll help out, if you wish.”
“Ask her what she wants. I want it to be her day.”
“You got it.”
“So will you be at work this week?” his father asked.
“I suppose I can stop by the office,” Ryan responded.
Once he said good-bye to the two older men, he stopped
by his work, relieved he was going to be able to stay there after all.
The first place he went to was Jacob s office.
“I didn t expect you back until July,” Jacob greeted him as
Ryan walked into his office. “Are you here to collect your
things?”
“No. My dad is letting me keep my job despite my
rebellion. Even after I become vice president I want you to work
with me on the projects.”
“To be honest, I wasn t too crazy about working with
Kyle. He s nice but boring. It was more fun with you. You come
up with some pretty good jokes.”
“How did the accounts for the potato chips, jewelry and
camping commercials turn out? Did the clients accept the
proposals?”
“They all did. I confess that I was surprised you came up
with the jewelry and camping ideas. I don t recall you ever being
so dead on with the female perspective before. The clients for
those accounts were women and they loved the ideas. Kyle and I
didn t do much to alter them.”
“I got a chance to research what women want. I even
made up a list so I can refer to it in the future. It turns out that
they re not as complicated as I thought they were.”
“I m sorry things didn t work out with Elizabeth
Valentine. I know you didn t care much for her to begin with, but
I secretly hoped you two would make amends. She impressed me
with the way she handled herself at the sexual harassment
seminar.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“Oh, that reminds me. What will you and your family be
doing this Saturday?”
He shrugged. “Most likely, we ll go to the playground at
the park. Why?”
“Can you change those plans? I m getting married to
Elizabeth at ten, and I want you to be the best man.”
His jaw dropped.
“We re renewing our wedding vows to let everyone know
that we are choosing to get married.”
He smiled. “I take it your dad won t be making decisions
for you anymore.”
“Nope. Your invitation should arrive tomorrow.”
“Before you leave, did your dad tell you what happened
with Ben and Zack?”
Ryan hadn t even thought of them. “No, he didn t. Are
they still working here?”
“As janitors. Clyde Foxworth made a complaint that they
left him with all the work on the cell phone account, so your dad
told them to either clean toilets or find another place of
employment. We ll see how long that arrangement lasts.”
He decided not to tell Jacob about their letters. He knew
that his childhood friends were still as immature as they had been
in high school. “I can t say I m surprised. I m just glad I grew
up.”
“You don t need them anyway.”
“You re right. Well, I told Beth I d meet her for lunch.
Then I ll get to work.”
“Good becau se the videos for the commercials are due to
come in at three. We get to preview the finished product before it
goes to TV and the Internet.”
“I did miss that when I was in Alaska. It took me a long
time to see the Intensity commercial.”
“Welcome back, Ryan.”
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Ryan said good-bye and left. He was in a good mood. He
didn t think it was possible that standing up for what was
important to him could have such a positive effect on how he felt
about himself. It was nice to not feel like a wimp for a change.
***
The next day at ten in the morning, he went on the
Internet at work to check his email and saw a news story regarding
the confession of Rick Jenkins and Seth Powers. He immediately
called Elizabeth at her work number.
“Have you seen the news?” he asked her.
“No. I ve been working on improving the relationship
between employees and their supervisors. Why? What s up?”
“Well, our criminal friends turned themselves into the
local police at McGrath. They returned the money they stole.
Since they voluntarily came forward, they ll only have to serve two
years in prison.”
“I m glad they got honest.”
“You ll never guess what the money was for.”
“Are you going to tell me or am I going to have to stop
tallying up the results on my employee questionnaire to hop online
to find out?”
“I ll tell you. Rick s fourteen year old son, Dallas, needs a
kidney transplant and he doesn t have the health insurance to
cover it. Since Seth is Dallas uncle, he is a suitable match for the
operation. Anyway, the news of Dallas situation is all over the
Internet and is probably all over the TV too. People are starting
to send in donations to help pay for the boy s surgery.”
“We should probably donate some money too. They
really weren t too bad, even if they did have mustaches.”
He chuckled. “You see? Not all men with mustaches are
creepy people.”
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Ruth Ann Nordin
“I guess not.”
“I m going to call Barry about having the wedding at his
hotel in town. Is there anything you want me to pass onto him?”
“See if he d be willing to go with a 19
century theme. It
th
should be right up his alley.”
“I ll be sure to mention it. I can t wait to see you for
lunch.”
“I miss you too.”
He smiled. It was good to have someone he could finally
connect with. “You know, none of the other women come close
to you. You re still my first choice. I love you, Beth.”
“I love you too, Ryan.”
He hung up the phone and returned to work.
***
The next day before he signed off the computer so he
could go home, Ben and Zack showed up in his office. He hadn t
expected to see them, even though they still worked in the same
building. He sighed. He should have realized he would have to
confront them in person sooner or later.
“Are you here to apologize?” he stiffly asked them, still
sitting at his desk.
“You know we only joke around,” Ben easily replied as he
sat in the chair across from him.
Zack sat in the chair next to Ben.
“If you re not here to apologize for what you said about
Beth, I m not interested in talking to you.” To make his point, he
turned back to his computer and started typing an email to Barry
Henderson.
“Really, Ryan. You need to chill out.” Zack shook his
head in amazement. “I mean, you used to make fun of her too.”
He stopped typing and turned back to them. “I know I
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
did. Words hurt, guys. I already apologized to her. It would be
decent for you to do the same.”
“Apologize for what? Pointing out the obvious?”
“I don t understand either one of you. What did she do to
deserve the harassment we gave her in high school?”
Ben shrugged. “We just didn t like her. She wasn t cut
out for our circle. Some girls fit in with the popular guys and
some don t.”
“So you gave her a doggie treat and told her it was from
me?”
“Well, we couldn t have you embarrassing us by going out
with her. She was a chubby freshman.”
“She wasn t chubby. She just wasn t as skinny as a rail.
And so what if she had been chubby? Is that really a crime?”
“Wow. She really messed with your head up there in
Alaska. We warned you not to listen to her.”
“Because as soon as I did, I would discover the truth
about you. You ve been lying to me for most of my life. You
aren t my friends.”
“You were popular because of us. If you had gone out
with her, then you wouldn t have been able to hang around ou r
crowd. We did care enough to prevent that from happening.”
“If I would have been unpopular, then that was my choice
to make, not yours. You can t screw with someone s life. You
really did a lot of damage, and she wasn t the only one you hurt.
A lot of people got hurt with the things you did and are still
doing.”
“Are you marrying her to make up for the past?” Zack
wondered. “Is this a sympathy wedding?”
“No, it s not. I love her.”
“You could have a gorgeous woman but you choose Miss
Average.”
“She s not average to me. You don t see her the way I do,
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Ruth Ann Nordin
nor do I expect you to. I realize you ll continue to make fun of
her and me, but I don t care what you think anymore. I m not
going to let your opinion affect my decisions.”
“You can t just ditch us,” Ben argued. “We ve been
friends since kindergarten.”
Ryan shook his head. “Are you going to leave or do I
need to call security?”
He paled. “You can t be serious.”
He picked up his phone to dial security.
Ben and Zack stood up.
“Fine. Don t expect us to fix you up with any other
women when your marriage with Lassie doesn t work out,” Zack
scoffed.
Ryan bolted out of his chair and glared at them. “Get
out!” He angrily pointed to the door.
Their eyes widened in surprise.
“We re out,” Ben said.
Ryan forced himself to relax as they finally left. He was
glad it wasn t his decision to fire them because he would have, but
They re
he knew firing someone for personal reasons was wrong.
janitors now. I don t have to work with them again. They won t attend any
of the business dinners or parties.
He took a deep breath and notified
security not to allow Ben or Zack in his office when they made
their rounds to clean the offices. He would arrange for his own
janitor to clean his office at night. He didn t trust them around
his stuff. At least he did know they wouldn t dare talk to him
again.
With friends like those, who needs enemies?
He was more than
glad to have them out of his life once and for all.
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
Chapter Thirty-One
S
aturday came and Ryan got a chance to congratulate Barry on his
own marriage to Rachel Michael before the wedding. Rachel was
a lovely African American woman with short curly hair and a
perky smile. She was just as enthusiastic about life as Barry was.
They made a good match and were obviously in love.
“I wish I had thought to do a 19
century wedding,” Barry
th
admitted. “It would have made sense considering my interest in
that time period. I wish you and Elizabeth the best of luck.”
“Thank you,” Ryan replied.
“I think this will be perfect for the future commercial,”
Rachel said. “It was a good idea to tape parts of it.”
Ryan had come up with the idea to take a couple seconds
of video footage from his and Elizabeth s old-fashioned wedding
to incorporate into the Henderson Hotel commercial that was due
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Ruth Ann Nordin
to be completed in the next six months. He knew he was getting
ahead of himself with filming early, but he wanted to hurry up and
marry Elizabeth so that they could get to their honeymoon in
Alaska.
During the course of the week, he was glad to see
Elizabeth open her heart to him. She had been a challenge, but
she was well worth the effort. She was definitely the one he
wanted to be with. He glanced at his parents and her parents who
were talking to each other. Lucinda was her matron of honor and
Jacob was his best man. The wedding was simple because it was
thrown together at the last minute, but everyone had been good
sports about the timing of the event. He was self-conscious in
front of the cameras but forced them out of his mind so he could
concentrate on renewing his vows.
Lucinda walked into the large reception room and
whispered to Elizabeth s father and told everyone that the bride
was ready. Her father eagerly ran to the doors so he could escort
her down the aisle. Lucinda took her place next to Jacob as
people assembled in their proper places. Ryan stood by the
preacher and waited to see his bride. As soon as Jacob and
Lucinda walked down the aisle and took their positions in front of
the room, the wedding march began. Ryan smiled proudly at
Elizabeth as she and her father strolled toward him. The people
commented on how pretty she looked.
When her father handed her over to him, she accepted his
hand and smiled shyly at him. He smiled back at her.
Today is the
first day of the rest of my life, and I m glad you re going to be in it.
He
squeezed her hand as they turned to the preacher.
***
As soon as Ryan and Elizabeth arrived in Alaska and got
their things settled, he surprised her by leading her to the
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
bedroom.
“You sure are eager,” she chuckled, her heart racing in
anticipation.
“I ve been waiting forever for this,” he replied.
“It hasn t been forever.”
“Well, it sure seems that way, and I m not waiting a
minute longer.” He took her in his arms, the evening sun pouring
through the window and across the foot of the bed where they
stood.
He kissed her, his lips soft, undemanding, and she
accepted the invasion of his tongue, relishing the chills that
coursed through her, making her body tingle with awareness and
longing for the consummation of their marriage. He groaned as
his hands slid slowly down her back and caressed her bottom.
“How I ve longed to touch you like this,” he whispered in
her hair.
“There s no reason to wait anymore.” She led him onto
the bed and joined him as he laid down, her arms wrapped around
his shoulders as he settled on top of her, and though they were
fully dressed, the action seemed wonderfully intimate. This felt
right. She didn t have to wonder if he wanted her. She knew he
did, and that made all the difference.
He continued to kiss her while his hands ran the curve of
her body, gliding across her breasts, her waist and her hips. He
slid one hand up to the back of her head, gently tilting it to grant
his mouth access to the side of her neck. She moaned, enjoying
the delightful thrill his lips and tongue created along her flesh. His
other hand wound its way through her skirt and up her slip. He
shifted from on top of her so he could push aside her panties and
slide his fingers into her body which immediately clenched around
him. She arched her back, her body trembling with excitement.
Her flesh was eager for the stimulation he provided.
“Oh Ryan, don t stop.” The request, barely audible, earned
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Ruth Ann Nordin
her an appreciative groan as he brought his thumb to her sensitive
region. She gasped at the unexpected shock of sensual
gratification that he was giving her. “How did you learn to do
this?” She barely whispered the words for he was making her feel
amazing.
“From those romance books,” he softly replied, his voice
husky. “Have I been a good student?”
“Yes. Very good.”
Her breathing came heavy and she felt helpless to do
anything but close her eyes and allow him full access to her. The
throb within her continued to mount as his thumb increased the
rhythm of its circular motions. She cried out to him, gripping his
shirt and pulling him closer to her. Though she wished for their
clothes to be removed so she could feel his naked body on hers,
she couldn t bear to stop, and when her orgasm came, her body
tensed, her back arching and fingers clenching his arms.
He stilled his movements, allowing her to take her fill of
pleasure before he pulled his fingers out of her. He shoved his
pants and underwear to his ankles and removed her panties. Then
his arousal filled her void, the thickness of him sending a wave of
satisfaction inside of her. Her body was so relaxed and slick that
she felt no discomfort at losing her virginity. Wrapping her legs
around his waist, she lifted her hips to take him in more fully, his
groans telling her he appreciated the action. Still highly a roused
from her first wave of release, her body tightened around his
hardness.
He kept his thrusting slow and purposeful in stride,
prolonging the intensity of the sensations centering on the seat of
her need until she felt herself climaxing again, this orgasm more
gentle than the first but just as delightful. He let out a choking cry
as his body reared up and she felt him throb within her as he
spilled his seed into her. When he subsided wearily on top of her,
she accepted him, also spent and satisfied.
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With This Ring, I Thee Dread
They lay in each other s arms for a long time, him still
inside her, making her feel complete as one unit.
“Do you think next time we ll manage to get our clothes
off?” He raised himself with his elbows so his weight was no
longer pressing on her and studied the pants wound around his
ankles.
She laughed. “What? You didn t think this was
interesting enough?”
He gave her a lingering kiss. “No. I just got impatient to
lose my virginity.”
“Was it worth the wait?”
“Yes, though you nearly drove me insane.”
She chuckled. “Well, you won’t have to wait ever again.”
“Good.” He caressed her breasts. “I want to see what you
look like without your clothes on. The curiosity s been nagging at
me from the moment we got married.”
Her eyes grew wide. “You ve been undressing me with
your eyes for all those months?”
He offered a mischievous grin. “Oh, you have no idea
what I ve been doing with you in my mind.”
She couldn t help but be intrigued and thrilled he spent so
much time thinking of her in such intimate ways. “Are you going
to reveal all the deep, dark secrets of what we did in your fantasies
or do I have to guess?”
“Well, take your clothes off and I ll show you.”
She didn t need further prompting as she sat up to do as
he requested. Their lovemaking continued long into the night.
He spent time looking for ways to please her and savored every
square inch of her body. Having gotten over the immediate need
for release, his actions were slow and deliberate. He whispered
declarations of how she brought him joy and how glad he was that
they were married.
“I m going to love you forever, Beth,” he whispered
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Ruth Ann Nordin
afterwards, holding her in his arms.
She felt relaxed, her limbs and eyelids heavy. It was a
most wonderful feeling, she decided. The sound of his steady
breathing comforted her, and she marveled that she finally shared
this experience with a man who loved her as much as she loved
him.
She smiled. “And I ll love you.
250

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