Kayla no longer visited the park. It was too cold and she was too occupied with Drake. She saw him several times a week and sometimes Marcie’s name didn’t even enter their conversations.
Kayla put herself on a strict budget and saved every dime she could in preparation for the February mortgage payment. Her job didn’t allow overtime, so there was no way to make extra money unless she got a second job. That prospect was beginning to look more attractive. The idea of losing her home wasn’t nearly as upsetting as the idea that she would be letting Mrs. Langley down in the process. She mentioned that to Drake one evening while they were saying goodbye over a cup of coffee in her kitchen.
He took her hand in his. “You are the kindest person I think I have ever met. Your only fault is in letting other people take advantage of you.”
Boy, was that a wild exaggeration. “I’m sure you know that isn’t true. After all, I accepted Marcie’s derogatory description of you without questioning it.” She winked at him. “Of course, she did paint a colorful character.”
He still held her hand captive. Actually, it was no captive. It was right where it wanted to be – in a warm exciting environment.
For a moment he silently held her gaze with an intensity that cause her heart to flutter. Drake wasn’t merely another handsome man. He had become a close friend. That gave her an idea.
“I’m going to meet my parents at church Sunday. Would you like to come with me?”
His brows shot up in surprise. “Oh, I get to meet your parents? That sounds promising. Sure. What time?”
She laughed. “If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to feel obliged so you won’t hurt my feelings.”
He tipped his head to the side and lifted one brow. “Was I supposed to turn that invitation down? It’s too late to retract it, you know.”
She squeezed his hand. “They’re going to like you.”
She was right. Her parents did like him, and Mom gave her the OK sign when he had his back to them, talking to Dad. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to introduce him. Mom would be hoping for more than friendship between them.
Drake looked at her and smiled in that warm way he did more often now. Then again, maybe she wouldn’t disappoint Mom this time.
After church, Drake took them all to lunch at a little family restaurant. While they were waiting for their orders, Dad started the inquisition she had thought meeting at church might prevent.
“So, Drake; what do you do for a living?”
“He’s a writer,” Kayla supplied, hoping to interest him in something else.
Drake leaned an arm on the table and directed the first part of his answer to her. “Very few people can make a living at writing fiction. I’m not one of them.” He turned his attention to Dad. “I’m an architect. I run my business from my home. In addition, I manage rental properties that I inherited from my parents when they died in a car wreck.”
Mom caught her breath. “Oh, you’re the….” She paused and looked at Kayla. “landlord,” she finished in a timid voice.
Drake’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Yes. I’m the draconian landlord.”
Dad chuckled. “I imagine some tenants give you a difficult time. I’m glad I never got into that line of work. I’m afraid I might wind up in jail.”
Drake’s brows drew together in an expression that was more perplexed than anything else. “What is your occupation?”
His question caught Kayla as she was sipping her glass of water and she choked. He had certainly turned the conversation around.
Dad looked at her with concern. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, using her napkin to cover her mouth. Between coughs, she finally got a few words out. “Wrong pipe.”
Dad turned back to Drake. “I work at a machine shop, but my other occupation is farming…more or less. We have some cattle and chickens, but mostly it’s agricultural. I grow corn and soy beans.”
Drake nodded and looked at Mom. “Fresh eggs and milk – and a vegetable garden, I’m guessing. Sounds delightful.”
Mom sat up straight, her attention completely on Drake. “Fresh baked rolls, home grown grass-fed beef pot roast – why don’t you come to dinner with us next Sunday afternoon?”
Woah, Mom. Don’t scare him off. Kayla gave her mother a warning look and she fumbled.
“I don’t want to impose….”
When Kayla looked at Drake, he was watching her with an uncertain expression. Unless she read his expression wrong, he wanted to go. She lifted her brows in invitation.
His gaze turned back to Mom. “It sounds irresistible.”
Mom smiled. “Great. We’ll plan on that.”
Kayla rolled her eyes at her mother. “Am I invited too?”
She laughed. “You know you are always welcome.”
Dad chuckled and turned to Drake. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to get your input on a project I’m doing, while you’re there.”
“Now, Tom,” Mom said in a stern voice. “He isn’t coming out to work. He’s a guest.”
Drake grinned. “I don’t think looking at a project could be considered work.”
Thankfully, Dad never got back to his interrogation. Either he was satisfied with what he had learned, or he figured he could ask the rest of his questions next Sunday.
On the way home, she watched Drake’s face while he drove. “I didn’t know you were an architect.”
“Yep.” He was silent a moment. “Was that what made you choke?”
She smiled. “No. I was just surprised at the way you turned his question around.”
He glanced at her, his expression sober. “He’s a good father, looking out for his daughter. I didn’t mind the question. I was merely curious about him. Your parents seem like especially nice people.” He drove in silence for a while before adding. “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, either.”
What a sweet thing to say. She sighed. “Using that theory, your parents must have been super-duper nice.”
He laughed. “They were, but in my case, I think the squirrels picked up the nut and buried it a long way from the tree.”
She grinned. “Are you saying your parents were nut trees?”
He sobered and sighed. “Yes, they were – exotic and delightful nuts. I miss them more than you can imagine.”
“You were an only child?”
He nodded. “They were good parents. They held me accountable for my deeds and they encouraged me to find my own direction. When I failed, they comforted me, and when I succeeded, they praised me. They were proud of me and they didn’t mind saying so.” He sighed again. “I wasn’t always so cross and bitter.”
“Oh, Drake. I don’t think of you that way.”
He glanced at her. “No? I don’t think I’ll ever forget the expression on your face when I told you I was all out of dead-beat renters.”
She nodded. “That was a tough moment, but that’s all it was, Drake. You apologized and I forgave you. I caught you at the wrong time.”
He shook his head. “It wasn’t so much that.” He was silent a little longer. “I was still smarting from the way you snubbed me in the parking lot that day. I had hoped to see you for weeks, and when I finally did, you acted like you couldn’t wait to get away from me.”
He wasn’t far off the mark. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t decide how I felt about you.”
He reached out and took her hand. “And now?”
She squeezed his hand. “I don’t think I need to answer that, do I?”
A warm gray gaze settled on hers. “I guess not.” He was silent. “I hope I didn’t create an uncomfortable situation by accepting your mother’s invitation. You looked at her like you didn’t approve.”
Kayla smiled. “No, I had no objection to her inviting you – except that I was afraid she might scare you off.”
He glanced at her. “Why would you think that?”
She shrugged. “My mother thinks of everyone I date as being a prospective husband.”
He was silent for a few minutes. “So you’re saying that I’m not husband material?”
This conversation was getting worse by the minute. She certainly did consider him husband material, but she didn’t want her answer to give him the idea she was husband shopping. She decided to lighten the mood with humor. She winked at him. “Of course you are. Why do you think I didn’t want her to scare you off?”
He gave her a wry smile. “Yeah.”