Ross brushed his hand down the length of his silk tie, thinking how appropriate its smooth texture was for the occasion.
He heard his front door open. David, he knew. Only his older brother would have the audacity to walk into his house uninvited.
“Yo.” David gave Ross the once over. “Thought you had casual day Fridays.”
“I’m not going to work. I’m flying to Denver.”
“Ah.” David grinned. “Finally going to meet the mysterious Stephanie.”
“She’s not a mystery.” Ross smiled. “And I’m more than meeting her.” He pulled the ring box out of his pocket. “I’m proposing.”
David’s eyes widened. “Marriage?”
“Is there really any other kind of proposal?” Ross’s smile brightened. “Yes, marriage.”
“Are you out of your mind?” David rushed toward him, arms flapping in agitation. “You haven’t even met her in person.”
Ross shrugged. “Don’t have to. I love her. She’s the one.”
“Ross, people don’t fall in love over the phone!”
Ross let out a grieved sigh. His friend Carlos had the same reaction to the news. Ross refused to justify his actions to Carlos, but David was his brother. And he’d become Stephanie’s brother-in-law if she accepted his proposal.
Ross fought to keep annoyance out of his voice. “How many times have you told me you married Linda because she’s your best friend?”
David fell onto the couch as if weighted by bewilderment. “Ross, this is crazy.”
“Answer my question,” Ross demanded. “How many times?”
“I don’t know. A dozen.”
“More like dozens. My point is Stephanie’s my best friend.”
“And you know this from talking to her on the phone?” he groaned. “Come on.”
“Yes! We’ve talked every day for a year. For hours every night.”
“Over the phone, though!”
“Yes, but so what? I don’t see what difference that makes. I know I’ve shared more of myself with her than with any other woman. I know I’m in love.”
Ross put his hand on his chest to feel the joyous beat of his heart. “I feel it here.”
“Indigestion. Dude, chew some antacids.” David’s chuckle broke the tension between them.
Ross smiled. “No, it’s love.”
“Okay,” David said, calmer. “But why the rush to propose? Why not meet and make sure you’re compatible? Get to know each other?”
“I already know we’re compatible, and I already know everything about her. I know she’s brilliant. I know she’s compassionate. I know she’s independent. I know she laughs at ‘knock knock’ jokes. I know she cries at the opera. I know she loves her dog. I know--”
“Fair enough, but, bro, what if she’s… ” David gulped. “What if she’s fat? What if she’s toothless? What if--?”
“Looks don’t matter.”
David cocked an accusing eyebrow. “To you? Since when?”
Ross had to admit David had him there. Blessed with good looks, Ross’s handsome face had attracted a good many fashion models, and he’d once dated a beauty pageant contestant. When she was named first-runner up rather than winner, Ross lost interest. Such conceit he once had. But that was then, this was now. His love for Stephanie had made him a different man. A better man. He knew it without doubt, but he’d miss his plane if he explained it in detail to David. “Trust me, our looks don’t matter to each other.”
David shook his head, doubt still etched in his face. “Then if I can’t talk you out of this, I hope she’s sensible enough to say no.”
Ross’s heart thumped. David had pinpointed Ross’s one fear. Ross didn’t care if David thought he was crazy, but he cared if Stephanie did. He hadn’t told her he was coming. He wanted to surprise her. What if she thought his actions irrational?
Ross calmed himself on the plane by replaying all their phone conversations in his head. She worked at the same brokerage firm as his friend, and when Ross dialed the wrong extension one day Stephanie answered. Something about her voice enchanted Ross. The way she enunciated words so properly. The calm, yet not overly soft, tone of her voice. The way he could tell she was smiling. And, mostly, the joyous beat of his heart each time they spoke. I feel it here. Ross placed his hand over his heart.
Once in Denver, Ross rented a car and drove directly to a florist so he could present Stephanie with a bouquet of her favorite flowers--peonies. He held the pink bundle to his nose and knew instantly why Stephanie held such affection for them. Ross smiled and whispered to himself. “Say yes, Stephanie, and I promise I’ll fill each of your days with flowers.”
Mustering all the courage his twenty-seven years had awarded, he walked into the brokerage firm.
“Hello.” The receptionist smiled and nodded toward the bouquet. “I don’t suppose those are for me?”
Ross grinned. “No, sorry.”
The receptionist inhaled. “They smell heavenly. Who’s the lucky woman?”
“Stephanie. Stephanie Raymond.”
“Oh my gosh.” She jumped to her feet. “Are you her Ross?”
Ross smiled. Her Ross. He liked the sound of that. “Yes.”
“Oh, she’s going to be thrilled. I’ll call her out.” She dialed. “Stephanie. There’s a client out here for you.” She winked at Ross.
Tears touched Ross’s eyes as Stephanie approached. She looked as lovely as Ross imagined she would. Strawberry-blonde curls graced a heart-shaped face. A soft smile played on kissable lips. Thin, but with sensual curves, her gait was steady and sure--as aided by the seeing-eye dog Ross knew was ever-present at her left side. Ross wanted nothing more than to be the companion at her right.
Her smile brightened. “Ross? Is it you?” She held out her hand.
Ross grasped her hand, knew by the loving touch of her fingers she would say yes. “How did you know it was me? The smell of the peonies?”
She placed her hand over her heart. “No, I feel it here.”
Ross pulled her into his embrace. His love. His life. His Stephanie.