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Love is Monumental
By Annalisa Daughety
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2010 Annalisa Daughety
All rights reserved.
It was going to be a perfect night. The apartment was spotless, the aroma of pot roast filled the air, and both cats were behaving. Vickie Harris peeked into the oven and couldn't help but smile. The crust on the homemade apple pie was browning evenly. Just like Gram's. She glanced at her watch. Nearly time. She grabbed a pair of her good plates from the cabinet and set them out on the counter.
She scanned the dining room to make sure everything was in place. Her gaze landed on the lone candle in the center of her cherrywood dining table. It had never been lit. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Vickie could hear her mother's voice: "My interior decorator says that having new candles in the house is tacky. Makes you look like a bad hostess. The wick should always be burned as soon as you set them out." Although she hated to heed her mother's advice, she still struck a match and lit the candle. As a born-and-bred Southern belle, even the appearance of tacky was to be avoided like the plague.
The buzzing of the doorbell sent the cats scurrying to the bedroom. Even on a good day, they weren't the most hospitable of animals. Vickie pulled her vintage apron over her head and hung it on the hook next to the oven.
She peeked through the peephole and opened the door. "Come in."
Dawn Andrews stepped through the door. Her tousled dark blond waves with their buttery highlights made her look like she'd just stepped out of a salon. "Thank you so much for doing this," she exclaimed, her blue eyes wide. She flung her designer bag onto the couch and walked through the living room to the kitchen.
Vickie closed the door and followed after Dawn. "You know how much I like to cook. It isn't a problem at all." She smiled. "Isn't he going to think it's weird that you're having him come to someone else's apartment for dinner though?"
Dawn smiled, her small white teeth gleaming. "I guess that's a chance I'll have to take. I'm redoing my guest bedroom, and my winter clothes are everywhere." She paused as she lifted the lid to the slow cooker and inhaled. "Yum," she said, beaming. "Besides, if he were to experience my cooking skills on a first date, the relationship would end before it began."
Vickie giggled. "It can't be that bad."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "There's a reason the hostess at the Chinese place around the corner knows me by name." She paused. "And the pizza delivery guy is practically on my Christmas-card list." She grinned. Dawn had moved into the apartment building a week after Vickie, and despite their differences, they had become fast friends. Back when they were both newcomers to the city, a love of expensive clothes and old movies had cemented their friendship.
"So who's this new guy, anyway?" Vickie asked, leaning against the counter.
Dawn grimaced. "I hate to admit it, but this one is a setup."
Vickie's eyes widened. "You? A setup? Surely not." Dawn was one of the most vivacious people Vickie had ever met. She had men of all ages clamoring for her attention. During the five years they'd known each other, Vickie had lost count of the interesting dates she'd gotten to hear about. There was the doctor who'd flown Dawn in a private plane to see U2 somewhere out West. The lawyer who'd arranged for jewelry on loan for a red-carpet event at the Kennedy Center. The artist who'd painted her portrait and included it in his show at a local gallery. And Vickie had lived vicariously, relishing the stories.
"I know. Not really my style. But I've been so busy with work lately. One of my clients found out I was single and insisted she pass my e-mail address along to her nephew." She shrugged. "Normally I would've just said 'no thanks,' but this lady was a real spitfire. I helped her plan a charity gala, and she took charge like a general." Dawn laughed. "I figured it would be easier to agree to at least let the guy e-mail me than to fight her."
"So? What's his story?" Vickie asked.
Dawn dusted an invisible speck from her red silk sleeveless sweater. "He's a detective. And he's a little younger than me."
Vickie raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow. Dawn was one of those ageless women. They'd never discussed it, but Vickie's best guess was that her friend was in her late thirties. "The detective part sounds good. How young?"
A slow smile spread across Dawn's face. "Don't look like that. I'm not robbing the cradle or anything. He's thirty-three."
Vickie held her tongue. This would be the perfect opportunity to ask Dawn her actual age. In the past, Dawn had only referenced being "in her thirties" but hadn't specified. Yet wasn't directly asking someone their age a little tacky? "Thirty-three is a good age. Old enough to be a grown-up about things, but still young enough to be adventurous."
Dawn laughed. "I suppose. His e-mails have been quite funny. And we've been speaking on the phone a lot this past week. He seems very sure of himself. But not too sure. You know?"
Vickie nodded that she did, in fact, know. Although she wasn't totally sure she did. "Are you nervous?"
An incredulous expression flashed across Dawn's flawless face. She shook her head. "Not at all. Why?"
"If it were me, having a guy over for dinner and meeting for the first time..." Vickie trailed off. "I'd be a wreck."
"Normally I wouldn't have invited him for dinner. I would've just suggested coffee or something. But we've been having this conversation about hating those normal setup kind of dates. Coffee, drinks, dessert. You know. The normal stuff." Dawn glanced at her watch. "Then he mentioned a home-cooked meal, and it sounded so nice."
The sound of the kitchen timer filled the room. Vickie grabbed a pot holder and pulled the piping hot apple pie from the oven. She set it carefully on the stove. Gram would be proud.
"Wow. You went all out. You didn't have to do that," Dawn said. "And don't worry. I'm giving you full credit." She grinned. "I've finally learned not to date under false pretenses." She shrugged. "This is who I am. I like take-out and consider popcorn a food group. He'll either like me or not."
Vickie gave a small grin. "My guess is he will. They all do," she said thoughtfully.
Dawn regarded Vickie seriously. "Don't start that again. You are gorgeous. I wish you'd get out there and have a little fun. I think you should take that coworker of yours up on his offer to set you up with his cousin."
Vickie felt the blush creeping over her face. She concentrated on straightening the kitchen towels, racking her brain for a way out of the conversation.
Dawn leaned forward, peering at Vickie's red face. "Is there something you're not telling me?"
"I'm meeting him for coffee tonight." She refused to meet Dawn's gaze.
Dawn let out a squeal. "Yea! I'm so excited. So have you talked to him? E-mailed him? Do tell."
"I'm no good over the phone. So that was out of the question. I guess I could've done the e-mail back and forth thing, but it seemed to me like a very impersonal way to get to know someone."
"You and your rules. So what? You're meeting him blindly?"
Vickie shrugged. "You make it sound crazy. Yes. But Chris promises me his cousin is a great guy. He's thirty-one. Never been married." She sighed. "I'm sure he's nice."
"It's been awhile since you've gone out with anyone," Dawn said.
"I know. I hate this kind of thing. I wish I could just marry some guy I've known forever and skip the awkwardness of dating."
Dawn laughed. "You've been skipping the awkwardness of dating by refusing to do it. It's about time you got back out there. Don't be nervous though. It'll be fine."
Vickie wasn't so sure. But last week she'd looked at the calendar and had been sad to realize it had been six months since she'd so much as had coffee with a man. The fact that she had an upcoming birthday had prompted her into action. "I'm sure you're right." She motioned around the kitchen. "I think you're all set here. Have a good time."
"We won't stay long. It's a nice evening. I'm thinking maybe we'll go for a walk after dinner. I'll lock up when we leave."
"Thanks." Vickie smoothed the blue wrap dress she was wearing. "Does this look okay? It isn't too dressy, is it?"
"You look fantastic. Very Jackie O."
Vickie managed a smile. "Don't let Jake and Lloyd bother you. Shut them up in the bedroom if they decide to come out of hiding to terrorize you or anything." The cats could be a handful at times, but Vickie couldn't imagine life without them.
"Don't worry. We'll get along fine." Dawn walked her to the door. "Thanks again for cooking and for letting me use your place. I owe you big-time. And I'll swing by tomorrow for a report on your coffee date."
"It's really just a meeting. Not a date."
Dawn shook her head. "Call it whatever you have to call it, as long as you show up."
Vickie closed the door behind her, her heels clicking against the wooden floor. She hoped courage would kick in somewhere between the apartment and the coffee shop. Because she needed it.CHAPTER 2
Thatcher Torrey leaned back in his weathered leather chair and sighed. His day had quickly gone from bad to worse when he'd walked into the faculty meeting a few minutes late only to be called out in front of the entire history department. He'd been aware of the decline in history majors in recent years, but he hadn't realized how upset the higher-ups at the university were. Since he was one of the professors who'd been around the longest and the one everyone assumed was a shoo-in for the department chair position that should be opening up soon, he supposed it was only logical that they might hold him partially responsible.
"Dr. Torrey, thanks for finally joining us," Roger White, the dean of academic services, had said as Thatcher slid into a chair. From the tone of his voice, Thatcher had known better than to share the story of the flat tire he'd had that morning on his way back to DC. Even a valid excuse wouldn't hold up in this particular courtroom. "You've been here for several years. Perhaps you'd care to offer a theory on the decline of our history majors. You know, we were once considered one of the premiere programs in the country. Any thoughts, Dr. Torrey?"
Thatcher couldn't remember a time when he'd felt more ambushed. Even worse, he'd spotted the smirk on Clark Langston's face from across the room. Thatcher and Clark's rivalry went back twenty-plus years to high school. So when Clark had joined the history department last year, he had become a daily thorn in Thatcher's side.
Thatcher had cleared his throat and plunged ahead with an answer. "I think we're still considered one of the premiere programs in the country, sir. I'm sure just as with enrollment numbers, the number of students who choose a particular major ebbs and flows as well. I feel sure our numbers will be back up soon." He'd quickly taken his seat before any other questions could be asked of him.
"Tough one, buddy," his friend and colleague John Reynolds had whispered from behind him.
"Would anyone else like to speculate on the dismal numbers?" Dean White looked around the room.
Thatcher hadn't been surprised to see Clark raise his hand. "I have a theory," he'd said, rising to his feet. Even though it was a casual meeting, Clark was wearing a jacket and tie. "I think one of the biggest problems facing the program might be the archaic teaching methods used by some of our faculty." He looked pointedly at Thatcher. "Students today are used to being constantly stimulated. They want to have access to their class work on their iPhones or laptops. You can't expect them to be excited about a standard old-school lecture. I think that is a big problem."
Thatcher shifted uncomfortably in his seat. It was no secret that he resisted the technological advances some professors embraced. He much preferred the old-school style of teaching. He'd shared his opinion on the subject many times with his colleagues. Creating a Facebook group for his classes was not on his agenda, and it never would be. He was convinced there was another way of reaching the students without jumping through hoops. A history class was no place for some kind of dog and pony show. As far as Thatcher was concerned, any student who expected simply to be entertained should sign up for another professor. He'd earned a reputation as being a tough but fair teacher, and he didn't see any need to change his methods.
"Thank you, Dr. Langston. I can see you've put a good deal of thought into our problem." Dean White nodded in Clark's direction. "We're forming a committee to discuss implementing some new strategies in attracting students. I would like for you to join us if you're able."
Clark nodded solemnly and glanced at Thatcher out of the corner of his eye. "I'd be glad to. I want to do everything I can to make sure this program is the best it can be. Even if it means making some changes."
Thatcher had felt his blood boiling. The audacity of this man was unbelievable. Swooping in here and trying to take over. Thatcher had barely heard another word for the rest of the meeting. Now in the solitude of his office, he tried to pinpoint the moment where his career had taken a wrong turn. He was certain it was the day Clark was hired.
A tap on the door startled him. "Hey, man." John walked into the cramped office and took a seat in the wooden chair opposite Thatcher's desk. "That guy really has it in for you."
Although John was Thatcher's closest friend on campus, he didn't know the real story behind Thatcher and Clark's relationship. Thatcher didn't like to air his dirty laundry to anyone. It would be unprofessional.
"We've known each other for a long time. He's never been a fan of mine." That statement wasn't entirely true. Clark and Thatcher used to be friends. A long time ago. A fight that came to blows during their senior year of high school had effectively ended the friendship, and the fact that both had planned the same career path didn't help to mend things. Thatcher had kept up with Clark after college through alumni news, but their paths hadn't crossed—until Clark had interviewed for a position in Thatcher's department last fall and, much to Thatcher's chagrin, been offered the job. They'd spent the past year managing to be civil toward one another, but Thatcher had an idea those days were over.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but word around here is that Clark's after the department chair position. I guess that doesn't surprise you." John didn't meet Thatcher's eyes.
Thatcher let out a grunt. "Not exactly. Especially considering his recent golf outings with Dean White. Such a kiss up."
"You should also know that he's been saying some pretty bad stuff about you to anyone who'll listen. Mainly quoting some of your former students who say they feel like they didn't learn as much as they could have because you didn't utilize all the technology available." John picked up the paperweight from Thatcher's desk and turned it over in his hand. "I doubt the students actually said those things unprompted. I have a feeling he's been coaching some of the female students to say what he wants them to. What a nineteen-year-old sees in him is beyond me."
Thatcher raked his hands through his hair. "I don't understand why this is happening."
"Look, we all know that no one works harder than you. No one is more devoted to this job and these students. You practically live up here during the school year." John motioned toward the faded blue couch in the corner that often served as Thatcher's bed.
"It looks like dedication isn't enough anymore. Maybe it's time for me to move on and let Clark take over. But somehow, I doubt he's going to be happy until he's completely ruined me."
"About that ..." John trailed off. "Any chance you want to tell me the real story behind you two? Whatever happened was more than twenty years ago. Is it a grudge still worth holding on to?"
Thatcher met John's gaze. "The grudge is his, not mine. As far as I'm concerned, we could've moved past it. But he clearly isn't ready to let it go." That was Thatcher's way of saying he wasn't ready to share. Thankfully, his friend knew him well enough not to press the issue.
John nodded. "Guess not." He paused. "Thatch, there's one more thing."
Something in John's voice made Thatcher uneasy. "What's that?"
"You and I both know you should be the obvious choice for department chair once Dr. Gregory retires at the end of the year. But I think Clark is launching a full-out campaign. Not only is he becoming golf buddies with Dean White and calling you out every chance he gets, but now he's on some kind of mission to put himself on the national map."
Thatcher was confused. He knew of Clark's ambition at the university. But the national map? "What do you mean?"
Excerpted from Love is Monumental by Annalisa Daughety. Copyright © 2010 Annalisa Daughety. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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