Not My Type: Adele Ch. 08byfirstkiss©
"Lilly, honey... I'm not cheating on you... I want to marry you," Adam said after he knelt before her.
In all the years I've known Lilly I'd never seen her at a loss for words. Her mouth fell open and she stared at Adam. At my side Nate shook with pent-up laughter.
With a gasp, Lilly fell to her knees and threw her arms around Adam.
"I'm so sorry," she cried into his neck—big, loud, heaving sobs. "I'm so, so, so sorry! I'm an idiot. I'm such an idiot!"
Adam's arms came around her, dark with tattoos yet still so gentle.
"You're not an idiot," he whispered into her auburn hair. "Prone to over-reaction perhaps, but not an idiot."
They laughed and kissed, still on their knees in the middle of Rhiannon's livingroom while the Tanner clan loomed above them. Matt, Chuck, and Joe were all grinning while tears streamed down Violet's freckled cheeks. Rhiannon leaned against the back of the sofa and I could have sworn her cheeks were damp too. Sophie remained still in my arms as her big blue eyes took in the unbelievable scene.
"Think she's going to say yes?" Nate asked me in a mock whisper. I laughed as I wiped my own tears with my free hand.
Lilly's head shot up and she sent us a horrified, tear-stained look.
"Omigod!" She squealed and then glanced back at Adam. "I didn't answer you!"
Adam chuckled his warm, easy-going laugh. "Should I ask again?"
He presented her with the bright blue box and the bright blue sapphire ring. "Lilly Frances Tanner... You are beautiful. You are smart. You are crazy." Adam laughed to himself. "You are the best thing that's ever happened to me and every day you make me a better man. Will you marry me?"
She looked up at him with a radiant smile on her beautiful face. "Yes," Lilly whispered in awe.
We cheered as Adam and Lilly sealed their engagement with a kiss. When the kiss deepened, several of us shifted an uncomfortably because we were privy to a private moment. Still, I couldn't think of a better place for the proposal to happen than where it did, surrounded by the people most important to Lilly—her family.
Joe cast a rueful look our way. "Hey Rev! Get us a glass of cold water to throw over them?"
Nate, who stood at the bottom of the stairs and closest to the kitchen, chuckled. Lilly and Adam broke apart—she wearing a guilty blush, he a prideful smile.
"'Bout freakin' time you proposed," Rhiannon muttered with good-natured annoyance. Adam rose to his feet and helped his fiancée do the same before he reached into his pocket and pulled out a battered piece of paper. He opened it and handed it to Lilly.
"I was waiting for this."
Only Nate and I knew the contents of the letter. Lilly's cobalt eyes widened as she read it. Then she threw her arms around Adam again. He lifted her off her feet and swung her about as best as the open space in the room allowed. The remaining Tanners and Rhiannon exchanged confused looks.
"It's a pardon!" Lilly shouted from over Adam's shoulder. "How? Why?"
"For that," Adam drawled as he stopped spinning and put Lilly down. "You'll have to ask my lawyer." He glanced over at me and winked.
I still stood on the bottom step of the staircase, half-hidden behind Nate who stepped aside, took my elbow, and ushered me fully into the livingroom. Sophie adjusted herself and laid her head against my chest and closed her eyes.
"Well it's a rather simple process," I began. "If a convict has been successfully paroled, can prove that the crime which precipitated his incarceration was a one-time occurrence or that he has been fully rehabilitated and therefore is in no danger of re-offending, he can apply for a pardon once a specific amount of time has elapsed since the offence. Basically its a few forms to fill out, a few character testimonials to collect, and a fee to pay and his incarceration is stricken from his record."
"It's like it never happened!" Violet said.
I gave her a patient smile. "Probably not to Adam, but in the eyes of law he is given another chance. It means his full rights under the law are restored to him. No further recriminations will affect him as a result of what he once did."
Joe clapped Adam on the back. "Welcome to the family."
Lilly and I dropped by Rhiannon's shop the following Saturday. Mrs. Nichol was there holding state. Since her stroke she'd passed the running of the store on to Rhi, but I got the impression she still liked to spend a lot of time there. I guess she missed it. The customers certainly liked to see her there, snug in one of the armchairs, usually with her namesake in her arms. Little Sophie was the princess of Nichol's Ladies Wear, patiently silent as she was fussed over by every customer who came in the door.
Lilly and I were on the hunt to find something to wear for her engagement party. Adam had announced only a few days following his proposal that his bosses at La Langoustine Fâchéee wanted to host the event. It was to be small and intimate—only the Tanner family and Nate and I were invited—yet I was just as anxious about it as Lilly was. I'd never had the chance to get dressed up for Nate before.
Lilly sank into the armchair opposite Mrs. Nichol and let out a weary sigh. "I have tried on everything in this shop!" Oblivious to the crowd of shoppers she kicked off her shoes. "At this point I think I'm going to have to go to this thing naked!"
Mrs. Nichol gifted her with an understanding grin. "If you think this is a process, just wait until you try to find a wedding dress."
I laughed from my position browsing a nearby rack of dresses as Lilly groaned again; in her mind shopping came in a close second behind having a root canal.
"I still vote for the blue dress," I put in. I had said dress slung over my arm—a pretty thing of sapphire blue, short and simple enough not to overwhelm Lilly's petite frame.
"You don't think it's too sexy?" Lilly asked with her trademark modesty.
"No such thing," said Rhiannon as she floated by with her arms full of clothes.
"Adam will like it," I said with a wink. Mrs. Nichol sent her a knowing smile.
Lilly chewed at her bottom lip. "Yeah, but my dad is going to be there. And Joe."
"Joe's gotta learn sometime that his little sister is actually a woman," Rhi muttered as she passed by again on her way to help another customer. "You have tits and hips—he can't go on pretending that you don't."
Both Mrs. Nichol and I dropped our jaws before we laughed.
I moved to hand Lilly the hanger with the blue dress on it. "Take this one, Lil. It's not as low-cut as the black one you liked and you looked great in it."
Snap decisions were certainly not Lilly Tanner's style. She studied the sapphire silk sheath apprehensively and then peeked at the price tag. Her eyes widened.
"It's free," Rhiannon murmured under her breath as she passed by yet again on the way to the register to ring in a sale. "So don't worry about that."
"It's three hundred dollars!" Lilly hissed at me when Rhi was out of earshot. "I've never owned anything so expensive in my life! I can't wear this!"
"You can," I assured her. "And you will. It would hurt Rhi's feelings if you didn't accept it."
"Besides," Mrs. Nichol added. "You'll only have one engagement party in your life, only one wedding. You've got to make it count."
I felt Lilly's eyes me but I kept my chin up to avoid her gaze. Mrs. Nichol didn't know me very well; and likely didn't realize how hurtful her statement came off to someone who'd already had an engagement and wedding. And a divorce.
"People get married more than once," Lilly reminded Mrs. Nichol gently. Her protective loyalty dulled the sting of being reminded of my marriage to Harry.
Mrs. Nichol waved the bony hand not holding Sophie. "That may be," she said. "But I think everyone knows when they've met the right person—the person who truly makes them feel alive. That may not be the first person they marry, but it's always the last."
My knees felt like they'd snap at any second, so I sank onto the arm of the chair Lilly occupied.
"Sometimes we make mistakes," Mrs Nichol continued in her soft, wise voice. "And we owe it ourselves to learn from them, otherwise they've meant nothing."
Nate's sermon about fear and how it often held us back came rushing back to me. He had spoken of how we'd never be able to fully trust another person if we weren't able to trust ourselves. I knew in my heart that I trusted him completely... it was me who stood in the way of total happiness with him.
"He loves me," I whispered, more to myself than the women sitting beside me. "He told me the other day that he loves me."
Mrs. Nichol's chuckle was dry, but kind.
"When?" Lilly barely contained her excitement as she clasped my hand.
"The other day at Rhi's, before Adam proposed to you. I was upstairs, changing Sophie. He asked me why Harry and I didn't have children and I told him about my miscarriages. He said he was sorry and I knew in my heart that he truly, truly was." I paused and looked down at Lilly whose eyes brimmed with unshed tears. She squeezed my fingers in encouragement.
"Then he said he loved me. It was almost like he didn't care that I maybe I couldn't have children."
"You don't know for sure that you can't," Lilly reminded me again. "And if he loves you, then he loves everything about you. He'll ask you to marry him. And you'll say yes because you love him too and you deserve a second chance at happiness."
I did love him, I realized with a start. I loved the man who committed himself entirely to his vocation without fear because he could trust. I loved the man who could play any song without ever having to look at a note of music. I loved the man who befriended an inmate because he saw the best in him when no one else could. I loved the man who always saw the bright side of things; who had patience for busy-body old ladies and excited little children. I loved the man who looked at me and saw more than someone who'd been damaged. He saw someone aching to be whole again and made me feel as if I was.
"Omigod, I love him."
"Well, duh," drawled a dry voice from over my shoulder. I looked up to see Rhiannon standing there, arms crossed over her ample bosom, a big smile on her beautiful face.
I blinked, trying to grasp the billion thoughts crowding my head. "I love him. I have to tell him."
Rhiannon and Lilly shared a look. My purse lay on the floor beside Mrs. Nichol. Rhi scooped it up and held it out to me. "Go and tell him. Don't wait."
I rose to my feet, still feeling stunned at the revelation. "I love him," I repeated in a voice that sounded dazed even to my own ears.
Mrs. Nichol patted my hand as I strode past her. "We know."
I paused at the door and looked back the three of them. Mrs. Nichol smiled while Lilly wiped her dampened cheeks. Rhiannon wore a wry, I-told-you-so look. I couldn't help but shake my head. She was never going to let me live this one down.
The drive out to the manse took forever. I kept going over in my head what I thought I should tell Nate. There was so much to say and I had to rehearse it all a few times before I felt confident enough to successfully plead my case.
The peninsula road was quiet. The rough sea and blazing sun possessed so much raw beauty that it distracted me from the chaos in my head. I loved this forgotten corner of the Island Nate called home—the place that no one visited except on Sundays. It had felt like home for a long time, I just wasn't able to recognize it right away.
I didn't even knock on the front door, I just burst into the manse like a wild thing. I found Nate at his desk in his study, with Esther napping at his feet. Both looked shocked to see me.
"Adele!" Nate stood. His handsome face creased with worry. "Is everything okay?"
"I love you," I blurted out before I lost my courage. "And I'm not just saying it because you said it the other day, or because it's expected of me. I love you and I didn't think I'd ever love anyone ever again."
Nate sank back into his chair and watched me pace in front of his desk. Once the words started I couldn't hold them back.
"I didn't know I was happy, you see... because I hadn't been in so long. I forgot what it felt like to know that there was someone else watching out for you, someone who wouldn't hurt you, someone who thought about you before they thought about themselves. In fact, I didn't ever have that. I didn't think it was possible that anyone ever would feel that way about me, that they ever could and so I convinced myself I'd never feel that way about anyone in return. That I couldn't be hurt again if I didn't allow myself to be... but in shutting away the pain I also shut away the happiness too..."
I stopped pacing and looked down at Nate.
"How could I forget that there were good things in life?" I asked.
Nate's mouth formed a gentle smile. "How can you be expected to appreciate the good things if you don't also experience the bad?"
I wrapped my arms around myself and smiled down at the man I loved.
"I'm sorry if I've taken advantage of you over the past few months. You've been so kind to me and I've been rather miserable in return."
Nate chuckled. "In the beginning perhaps, you might have been a little bit of a challenge. But it's been a pleasure to watch you emerge from that despair. You shine now. You have for a while, even if you didn't realize it."
He rose again and came around the desk, careful not to step on Esther, who eyed us both warily. I'm certain the golden retriever thought we were both insane with our human dramatics and all.
"You fixed me."
Nate pulled me into his embrace. "You weren't broken," he murmured against my temple.
He felt warm and smelled like fresh air and soap. I nestled into him, completely happy.
"Well I wasn't whole."
His lips brushed against my forehead. "Without love none of us are."
I closed my eyes, content to let that lesson sink in. The good Reverend was so, so right.
"I rather barged in here, didn't I?" I said after the silence had lengthened for a considerable amount of time.
"You did," Nate agreed with a chuckle.
I raised my head and noticed the ream of papers littering Nate's desktop. "I interrupted your work, I'm sorry."
He grinned at me. "It was well worth the interruption, so don't feel you need apologize. I was just tweaking my sermon for tomorrow."
I took a step back, my hands on Nate's upper arms. He wrapped his fingers around my elbows so I couldn't escape too far.
"And what's your sermon about this week Reverend?"
Nate's smile grew. "Love, actually."
The corner of Nate's mouth quirked into the crooked smile I loved so much. "I told you He works in mysterious ways."
I smoothed my hands over Nate's shirt sleeves. The lean muscles underneath his crisp cotton flexed under my touch. There were times when I almost forgot about Nate the man, out of respect for Nate the minister, but then he'd move, or touch me, or smile in just the right way and I'd be reminded that he was very much a man.
The air between us thickened.
"I love you," I whispered.
Nate's arms banded around my spine to hold me in place against him.
"I love you too."
His kiss was a promise, one I felt in every cell of my body. I wound my arms around his neck and held on as the kiss deepened. The room fell away. Only Nate kept me anchored to the ground.
Ever since the night of the storm Nate and I had managed to keep ourselves reigned in tightly—our kisses had never gone too far, our touches had never strayed beyond the innocent. It had been difficult but I'd gotten so used to it that when his hand grazed the underside of my breast, I jumped with surprise.
He didn't apologize. He didn't even stop kissing me. I fell back into the kiss thinking that perhaps his touch had been accidental. Then he did it again.
I moaned into Nate's mouth, shocked at how good the glancing caress felt. My nipples pearled beneath my blouse and the ache branched to the rest of my body with shocking speed.
When his hand closed tentatively over my breast my knees actually buckled from the pleasure and the surprise of it. Nothing had ever felt so good.
"Perfect," Nate murmured as his mouth moved down over my chin and across my jaw to my cheek. "You are completely perfect."
I didn't possess the sort of bust line women envied and men ogled—it was optimistic to say I was a b-cup—but I was happy to take the compliment. Harry had always given me a hard time about my 'little handful', but under Nate's gentle touch I almost believed they were perfect.
Nate took a few steps backwards and I could feel the desk hit the back of my knees.
"I want to see you naked," he whispered as he laid kisses behind my ear.
"Yes," he said as he loomed over me with his hair a little mussed, his shirt a little rumpled. His brown eyes were dark and the placid Reverend's smile had disappeared. Every line in his face was etched with sexy intensity.
With an unlady-like thump, I landed on the desk behind me, putting a few inches between us.
"We're not married," I pointed out.
My heart soared in my chest. Once the thought of marriage had terrified me; it felt like bindings holding me down, like giving myself up and losing myself completely. But I knew marriage to Nate wouldn't be like that. Being with him freed me.
Nate leaned down and wrapped his hand around the back of my neck. He eased me down until I lay against the cool wood of his large desk.
"But that doesn't mean I can't see you," he said as he covered my aching body with his.
"D-do I get to see you too?" I found it hard to breathe with Nate on top of me. I'd forgotten how wonderful a sensation it was, how quintessentially female it made me feel to have the weight of a man pressing me down.
Nate used his free hand to tug his shirt from his waistband and undo the buttons. It fell open to reveal a toned chest dusted with light hair. I swallowed then forgot how to breathe altogether. He was...beautiful.
"We're not married," I repeated when his hand closed around my breast again. "We can't have sex." I didn't sound the least bit convinced as I said it. I could feel my insides literally quake with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. It had been a long time since I'd made love, if what existed between my ex-husband and I could ever have been termed 'love'. With Nate I knew it would be special and mind-blowing - a revelation.
I felt the heat of his hand through the thin layers of silk blouse and lace brassiere. My nipple was hard against his palm.
"I love you and soon you will be my wife," Nate promised in a rough, low voice. "We're not married right now, but that doesn't mean we can't be intimate in certain ways."
I wanted to fall into the moment, but the nagging, logical voice in the back of my head persisted.
"Are you sure you're not splitting hairs here?" I asked him. "I don't want you to do something you'll regret later."
Nate dropped his fair head and rained kisses behind my ear. His mouth trailed above my collar and with long, capable fingers Nate began to slide each button on my blouse from its hole. He kissed his way down the skin he revealed as it parted.
"I will never regret you."
His kisses halted below my breasts. The last few buttons fell to his nimble fingers and he took his time to push the blouse downwards off my body. The silken slide of the fabric felt so sensual. Nate growled in the back of his throat as he studied me.
"Don't you think God will be mad?" I asked as I held on to the last vestige of my sanity.
"He made you for me and me for you," Nate murmured. His breath fanned my skin, making me shiver. "He won't mind."