Kate woke to the sound of someone rummaging around in the kitchen. She felt Joe warm on her back, his body spooned around hers. She could hear the patter of rain on the roof and wanted nothing more than to burrow deep under the covers and pretend there wasn’t a world out there, or two lives on different paths.
She twisted in Joe’s arms to face him, kissed his chest. Last night had been magical. Surreal, even. She hated when authors described sex as surreal, because she could never imagine how it could be so. To her, sex had always been very concrete. But last night, she’d existed outside herself, had ridden along on an enormous wave of pleasure Joe gave her. He was an excellent lover, a man of many talents, and thinking about them made her smile. She kissed his lips gently and eased off the cot.
“Hey,” he said groggily, reaching for her.
“Shh,” she reminded him, and touched her fingers to his lips before scurrying across the library. She opened the door, listened for the sound of anyone coming her way, and stepped out.
By the time Joe appeared—showered and dressed—Kate’s extended family was present and accounted for, grazing on the leftovers from the bridal banquet.
“Honey, leave your dress,” Mom was saying as Joe sauntered in, clean-shaven and impossibly handsome. “Good morning, Joe! Did you sleep well?”
He glanced at Kate. “I slept great,” he said, and Kate almost laughed.
“There’s coffee,” Kate’s mother said, pointing to the pot. “Anyway,” she continued in Kate’s direction, “I’m going to have it cleaned and boxed.”
“Why, Mom?” Kate asked. “I’m never wearing it again.”
“Never say ‘never.’ There may come some event where you need a fancy evening gown.”
“You could get married in it,” Cassidy offered, wiggling her eyebrows at Kate.
“Mom,” Kate said wearily.
“Cassidy, leave your sister alone. She is very sensitive about peach dresses.”
Kate rolled her eyes at her little sister.
“Hey, did you hear the news this morning?” Colton asked. “They say the strike will be settled today, the blizzard is about done, and air traffic should be almost normal by Tuesday. Airports are finally opening back up.”
“I guess that means no trains or cars to New York this time, Katie-Kate,” her father said with a chuckle. “So, Joe, when do you start work?”
“Ah… tomorrow,” he said.
“Joe, have some beef filet,” Kate’s mother said, steering him in the direction of the buffet where the food had been laid out. “Never accuse the Prestons of being predictable in their breakfast choices.”
“Thank you,” Joe said uncertainly, and peered into the big aluminum pan.
“He doesn’t have to eat that,” Kate tried, but her mother was already waving her away.
“He doesn’t mind, do you, Joe? Live on the edge, I say.”
“So life goes back to normal for you two, I guess,” Kate’s father said from behind the morning paper.
“Oh, but Joe will come for dinner now and then, won’t you, Joe?” Kate’s mother chimed in.
Joe smiled, but Kate could see he wasn’t feeling it. She wasn’t either. What would be the point? “I’ll sure try,” he said, and thank God, that seemed to satisfy Kate’s mom.
“It’s such a shitty day,” Cassidy complained.
“Language!” Kate’s mother said sternly.
“Hey, Joe, do you play cards?” Colton asked. “We like to play Spades on days like this.”
Kate expected him to say no, that he had to go, but Joe surprised her. With a plate laden with filet of beef and twice-baked potato, he said, “Sure!”
They spent the day with Kate’s family playing cards, then working on an enormous puzzle her father had started in the dining room, and occasionally glanced at the big picture window and the rain rivulets racing down the glass.
The air felt heavy. Kate had felt a weight pressing on her all day. She knew what it was—it was the sense of an impending loss.
Late in the afternoon, as her family buzzed around the kitchen and the living area, Joe looked at Kate with sorrow in his eyes, and she knew the moment of loss had come. “I should go,” he said.
Her heart sank. This was it, then, the end to the most wildly adventurous, sexy, fabulous few days she’d ever spent. “I don’t want to say good-bye,” she muttered helplessly.
“Then don’t say it,” he said, and intertwined his fingers with hers. “It’s not good-bye, Kate. We’ll talk, right?”
“What’s going on?” Cassidy asked, her insanely accurate radar honing in on Joe and Kate. “Are you taking off, Joe?”
“Yeah,” he said, coming to his feet. “I have an early day tomorrow.” He walked away from Kate to say his good-byes to her family.
There was a lot of promising to get together, to include Joe in family gatherings in the weeks to come. But Kate didn’t believe it. Her family meant well, as did Joe. But people were busy, and she could picture her family gathered here on a Sunday afternoon, and someone would mention Joe, and someone else would say, “Oh yeah, I meant to give him a call,” and that would be followed by, “Let’s Skype with Kate later.”
And as the days and weeks went on, they would forget about him entirely. But Kate would never forget him. Never.
The rain had let up when she walked him outside. A cab was waiting at the bottom of the drive. Kate stood with her hands on her back, Joe with his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans.
She looked at the cab, then at him. “Do you believe in fate, yet?”
He smiled wryly.
“Me either,” she said. “Because if this is fate, fate sucks.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” He shifted forward, putting his arms around her.
“Will you call me when you’re in New York?” she asked in almost a whisper.
“Yes. And you’ll call me when you’re in Seattle, right?”
Joe leaned back and cupped her face. He peered into her eyes, and it felt to Kate as if he was trying to commit her to memory somehow. She reached up and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. “How can I miss you so much already when I hardly know you?”
He sighed, lowered his head, and kissed her. It was a tender, emotional kiss, and when he lifted his head, Kate dabbed at the lone tear that fell from the corner of one eye.
“I’ll talk to you soon. Tomorrow, maybe.” He dropped his arms from her. “Kate… I’ve never met anyone like you before. Thanks for… this,” he said, gesturing to the two of them. “Seems so inadequate to say, but I mean it.”
She knew exactly what he meant. She’d known him for all of four days now, and yet she felt like she was losing her very best friend. She shoved her hands into the back pockets of her pants to keep from grabbing on to him and holding him here. She willed herself not to get girly and teary. “Good-bye, Joe Firretti.”
“Good-bye, Kate Preston.”
She watched him walk down to the end of the drive. He opened the cab door and paused. He looked back at her before he got in.
Kate lifted her hand and waved.
She didn’t know if he waved back because she couldn’t see much through the tears that had filled her eyes.