The conversation continued to haunt Shawn. It had been nearly two weeks since Belle told him that their meetings would have to end. She didn’t go into much detail only that someone saw them one evening and thought it was inappropriate. Without consulting him, she felt it would be wise to keep some distance so others did not misconstrue the true nature of their relationship.
The decision had been so abrupt, he had a feeling there was more to it but he didn’t know what it could be. No matter how hard he tried, he missed her. He missed her laugh and smile, the way she made him feel like he could do anything. He wanted that feeling back.
Race day was always exciting. It was early in the season and this was Shawn’s first race in Atlanta. The only thing that was missing for him was the usual pep talk he received from Belle. Speaking with JJ, the crew chief, Shawn tried to get his head into the game. They went over the game plan and were deep in discussion when Max came by to offer his advice and wish Shawn luck.
“You’ll be great,” he encouraged.
“Thanks man,” Shawn said a bit distractedly as he spotted Belle in the distance. He felt relieved when he saw her. He couldn’t help but smile as she reached them. “I didn’t think you were going to make it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she said. She spoke guardedly as she became aware of Max’s stare. “How are you doing? Are you ready?”
“I think so.”
“We should get moving Shawn,” Max stated.
“Yeah, yeah just a second,” he said with a dismissive wave in Max’s direction. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Shawn, come on,” Max insisted.
“Give me a minute,” he snapped. He stared at Max long and hard, urging him to walk away and give him space.
“Fine,” Max muttered and left with JJ.
Shawn watched them create some distance before he looked at Belle. His eyes softened the moment he saw her face. “Are you alright?”
“I should be asking you that,” she told him with a forced smile. She felt uneasy and as her gaze shifted over Shawn’s shoulder she could see Max staring accusingly.
Shawn noticed her uncomfortable and anxious behavior. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine Shawn. You should get going.”
“Belle, I don’t know what happened but I wish you hadn’t made this decision without me. I mean, I’ve come to depend on you in a lot of ways. You’ve been a good friend. Who cares if people think it’s something different than it actually is?”
“Shawn it’s complicated.”
“It shouldn’t be. Stop caring what other people think.”
“I can’t get into this with you Shawn. Not now.”
“Then later?” he asked wishfully.
“Shawn,” she sighed. “Don’t do this. You need to focus on the race.”
“I wish I could but I can’t get over you treating me like crap.”
“I never meant to Shawn. I’m sorry, I wish I could explain but I really can’t and you really need to go. Please don’t make a bigger deal out of this.”
“Belle I –“
“Bye Shawn,” she murmured and proceeded to walk away.
He stood there dumbfounded and grew more furious at the situation. There was something more going on and he was upset Belle wasn’t being completely honest with him. A part of him understood that their friendship could potentially jeopardize things for them both but his feelings for her overshadowed all rational thought. He wanted her in his life and didn’t know how to make that happen.
Hours later JJ watched as his driver refused to listen to him on the track. “You need to slow down around three Shawn. You can’t handle it at that speed.”
The sound of the speed was thunderous but Shawn was in tune with every little thing about his car and the drivers around him. “I can handle it.”
“Shawn, listen to me.”
“I have a chance JJ.”
“You’ve got to pit Shawn.”
“No, I’ve got this.”
JJ watched anxiously as Shawn defied him. The black car continued to lap, taking dangerous chances along the steep turns. “Shawn you need to pit,” he repeated more sternly. “The tires aren’t going to last.”
There was silence in his headset but he was relieved to see Shawn finally pull onto pit road. The crew moved at a frantic pace – taking off and putting on a fresh set of tires.
“Take it easy Shawn,” JJ warned before Shawn sped off once again. “Drive with some control.”
“I’ve got this,” Shawn stated.
“He’s bringing stubbornness to a whole new level,” JJ commented to another member of the crew. He turned the radio back on. “Shawn, rub against 19 and push off to pass him on the inside.”
“I can take him on the outside.”
“No, you can’t. Not on this track.”
“No, you trust me. Shawn it’s too dangerous,” he warned. “Rub him and push off to the inside.” There was no response. “Push off to the inside!” His dark eyes stared at the race, watching the black car closely. “Push off!” he insisted. “Damn it Shawn, go to the inside.”
Shawn made his move.
“OK, now go!” JJ commanded. He watched Shawn push forward but the driver was far more seasoned.
“It’s alright Shawn. Fake him out.”
“He’s not going to expect you to try the same stunt twice. Do it again.”
“He’s going to cut me off.”
Once again, Shawn made his move. He tried to go to the inside and then in a flash pushed off to the outside.
“I got it.”
“Shawn, get out of there.”
“I got it!”
All eyes were on the black car as it slammed into the wall on turn three and spun out, wiping out two other cars.
Belle’s heart stopped as she saw as the emergency vehicles rushed out to the track.
“Shawn, talk to me!” JJ urged. “Shawn!”
“Shit,” Shawn finally grumbled.
“You got that right buddy.” He looked at the others on the crew. “He’ll be alright.”
Belle walked into the emergency department with a clear purpose. She immediately saw JJ in the waiting area. “Where is he?” she asked with obvious concern.
“He’s fine. A couple of scrapes and bruises but he’ll live. He’s back there in room 5.”
Without any hesitation Belle went inside and found Shawn sitting up on the gurney, obviously wanting to leave.
“That was quite a stunt you pulled out there!” Belle snapped. She couldn’t hide her disapproval of his behavior.
Shawn simply stared at her.
“You have nothing to say?”
“You mean you actually want to talk to me now?” he asked mockingly.
She looked around before pulling the curtain to a close and proceeded to sit on the edge of the narrow mattress. “Please tell me you didn’t do this as a way to get my attention.”
“I may be mad but I’m not stupid.”
“Shawn, I’m sorry,” she said softly and boldly took his hands in hers.
“I am, too. I didn’t want to make you worry about me. I wish you would talk to me though.”
Belle took a deep breath. She didn’t want to keep this from him any longer. “Max confronted me. He saw us that night in the garage, having dinner together with Jacob. He claimed, well he assumed that there was something going on between us. He threatened to leave the team if I didn’t create some distance with you.”
Shawn pulled his hands away from her. “You chose work over our friendship?” he asked accusingly.
“It’s not like that Shawn. It’s complicated.”
“No it seems pretty simple to me.”
The sound of the curtain being pulled back caused Belle to quickly stand up. She turned to see the physician looking down at the clipboard standing in the area. With a surprised look, the doctor noticed Belle and smiled. “Hello, are you family?”
“No, she was just leaving,” Shawn stated sternly.
Belle felt hurt by his tone and when he avoided her gaze her shoulders slumped before she walked away. I’ve got to make this right.
Though a little sore from his accident, Shawn was feeling fine and looking forward to getting back on the track. It distracted him from his ever present thoughts of Belle. Now as he sat in his hotel room he watched the highlights of the day’s race on the news. His crash had been featured a number of times and he couldn’t help but think how Belle would put a spin on that. Her work consumed her and since her work was often focused on him, he didn’t usually mind.
The knock at the door jolted him out of his thoughts. It was getting late and he assumed it was JJ checking on him. Slowly, he got up and opened the door ready to say something smart to his crew chief, but his grin quickly faded as he saw Belle standing in front of him. He didn’t say anything, only moved out of the way so she could come inside.
He dropped back down on his bed and stared at the television, hearing the door close but not looking to see if Belle came inside or not. He sensed her presence though. His eyes unable to resist taking in the sight of her landed on her petite frame and watched her closely. She carried a small white paper bag that she soon placed on the bedside table next to him. He looked at it and then at her.
His silence was bothering her tremendously. “I brought you some peach cobbler.”
“Because they were selling it at the hotel restaurant and I thought of you.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
“Not the only reason. I brought it as a peace offering.”
“Is that right?” he asked, unimpressed by what she had to say so far.
Unfazed by his obvious attitude towards her, she turned off the television.
“I was watching that.”
“Well, I need to talk to you and I can’t do that with that on.”
Shawn took in a deep breath and got comfortable on the bed, sitting up against the headboard with his legs outstretched, crossed at the ankles. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at her as she stood in front of the bed.
“I can’t apologize enough for how I’ve treated you but please believe me when I tell you this was not an easy decision. I regret it everyday but at times I have to put my personal needs aside and do what is best for everyone.”
“What about what’s best for me?” Shawn asked seriously.
“In the long run –“
“In the long run I need you in my life,” he interjected.
“Shawn this is difficult enough for me.”
“Why is it so difficult Belle?” he asked. His tone suddenly became soothing and she felt at ease by the gentle nature that made its presence known.
Belle looked away from him, unsure of how he would react to what she had to say. She was tired of pushing her feelings aside and wanted to do something for herself for once.
“For as long as I can remember, I have always been driven to succeed. I have always been competitive. My work has always been my number one priority. Even when I was engaged, as long ago as that was, I was more concerned about climbing the corporate ladder. Now, I’ve climbed it. I’m the youngest senior executive at Basic Black and I am so proud of that, but something has always been missing my life. I’ve pushed people out of my life who have wanted to know me beyond my work. I have never allowed myself to trust my heart, only my head and what I did to you – what I have been doing to you is a direct result of that. Shawn, I care about you more than I ever expected to.”
“I care about you, too Belle. Very much,” he added. He shifted over and patted the space next to him. “Come here.”
Belle didn’t know what to expect but she wanted to be close to him. Though a bit apprehensive, she eventually overcame it and made her way to him.
Shawn smiled as she sat next to him and he immediately took her hand in his. He loved the feel of her fingers mingled with his. “Belle, there is something going on between us that I don’t think we can ignore anymore. When you shut me out, that was the worst feeling for me. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” she said as she innocently put her head on his shoulder. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Why not?” he asked curiously. “It’s not unusual for friends to fall in–“
“Well,” she interrupted, not ready to hear those words just yet. “Part of me feels I’m all wrong for you.”
“Or did you really mean I’m all wrong for you?”
“I would never say that.”
“Really?” he asked in surprise.
“Of course not,” she defended. “Shawn, you are the most amazing person I have ever felt privileged to know. It’s been about a year and a half since we first met, right?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“You have always struck me as a passionate person. Your love for your son,” she sighed dreamily. “That was enough to make me fall – I mean, it’s very touching.”
“It has been great getting to know you better.” He started to laugh to himself.
“What’s so funny?”
“I was thinking about our first meeting.”
Belle couldn’t help but laugh along with him as the memory resurfaced. “How did we ever get here from there?”
“You could call it fate, how about that?”
“Would you like some cobbler?”
“No thanks. You enjoy because I know you can’t wait to eat it.”
Shawn chuckled lightly. “You’re right.” He grabbed the nearby bag and quickly took out the small container holding the slice along with the plastic fork. “Do you know why I like peach cobbler so much?”
“Because my dad did,” he explained. “I know that sounds weird but it’s true.”
“You’ve never really talked about your parents before.”
“I think I’m pretty protective of my parents’ memory that I don’t talk about them much, especially with people who might not appreciate my memories of them. But I know you would respect my feelings. I trust you completely.”
“I’m not sure if I’m completely worthy of that trust. I’ve hurt you a number of times.”
“We’ve both made mistakes. It’s OK.”
Belle smiled at how understanding he was. “So tell me more about your parents.”
“I don’t know why I remember this so clearly but my dad had a sweet tooth. He loved dessert and I remember my mom had bought a peach cobbler. It was his favorite and I remember him getting excited over it. That’s one of my last memories of my dad. It’s funny but I still find myself wanting to be like him and he’s been gone for nearly twenty years now. He made such a lasting impression on me in the ten years I had with him, I realize how impressionable I was and it makes me work harder at setting the right example for Jacob.”
“You are setting the right example for him Shawn. Sounds like your father is still teaching you lessons.”
“I guess so.” He paused a moment as he reflected. “I love my grandparents and I am grateful to them for raising me but I wish I had more time with my parents. I grew up with a huge chip on my shoulder and it wasn’t until Jacob was born did that chip start to fade away. You helped to crumble the last few pieces. I owe you so much. You have always believed in me, even when I didn’t give you a good reason to – you never stopped.”
“I never will, now eat your cobbler.”
Shawn let out an easy chuckle in response. “OK sweetheart, I will after I ask you this. Do you think you could ever be happy with a guy like me?”
“Without a doubt,” she replied.
“Can I ask you something else?” He smirked when she nodded. His deep, intense gaze locked on hers. “Are you willing to find out what we can become?”
“I think so.”
“I guess I can live with that. Alright, let me see if this compares to back home,” he said as he opened the container. He took a big bite and immediately moaned. “Oh my God that’s good. Here,” he easily offered and raised a fork full to her mouth.
“You sure?” he asked as he waved in front of her, in an attempt to entice.
“I’m positive. You enjoy.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice.”
Belle watched as Shawn devoured the cobbler. “It must have really been good.”
“It was, thank you sweetheart.” He put the container down and took her hands in his. “Do you mind if I call you that?” He smiled as Belle shook her head in response. “Good. Belle, listen I want to make things perfectly clear here. I’m not trying to pressure you into anything. I’m not even asking you to make a decision. All I want is for you to consider the possibility of how good we could be together. I will be as patient as I need to be. I’ll work off of your timeline, but we need to be clear on one thing in particular.”
“What do we need to be clear about?”
Shawn looked at her seriously and brushed his fingers against the silkiness of her cheek. “I don’t ever plan on letting you go.”
Belle was amazed by his words and sincerity. “I never knew a man like you could exist.”
“Well, I don’t know about all that. I’m far from perfect but there’s something about you Belle that makes me want to be perfect for you. I don’t want to rush you – I would never do that. You don’t have to feel like you have to tell me how you feel. I will go at your pace. However, fast or slow I will follow your lead.”
“I don’t know Shawn.”
“No pressure and no decision has to be made, OK?” he reassured.
“OK,” she nodded and proceeded to snuggle up next to him. Her head landed on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her. “This is nice,” she murmured.
Shawn easily agreed. “It’s perfect.”
The sunshine filtered into the hotel room and Belle moaned lightly as she realized the new day had dawned. She stretched and her eyes fluttered open to view Shawn sleeping soundly next to her. An arm was draped around her, keeping her close to him.
It was difficult for her to remember what had happened last night. She thought back to how sweet he had been, telling her how he wanted them to be together and move on the obvious feelings they had for each other. Eventually, they had gotten more comfortable on the hotel bed, settled to watch a movie and just be close to each other. Belle was amazed that he hadn’t made any moves on her. There hadn’t been a roaming hand or wandering eye, his focus was only on her and making her comfortable.
Slowly she began to ease out of his hold, but he seemed to sense her movement and he held onto her. She couldn’t help but smile at the attention he paid her even in his sleep. Once again, she took her time and slipped out of his hold, this time successfully. She went into the bathroom and splashed some water on her face in an attempt to look and feel awake.
In time she eventually emerged from the bathroom and was pleasantly surprised to see Shawn sitting up in the bed. He was stretching, obviously trying to wake up and work out any kinks. She couldn’t help but watch him. He was certainly a rough and tumble kind of man but he was also sweet and sincere, and that aspect of his personality was one she appreciated and had grown to cherish. She seemed to freeze when he turned and looked at her. His piercing eyes locked on hers with an intensity she could not shake, but it was then accompanied by the warmest smile that made her melt.
“Good morning beautiful,” he said in a scratchy voice. He smiled as he saw her blush.
“I hardly look beautiful, especially first thing in the morning.”
“Are you kidding me? I’ve never seen anything as amazing as you.”
“You are more than welcome.” He stretched once more before making his way out of the bed. He scratched his head then ran his hand along his stubble filled face. “Did you sleep well?” he asked as he walked towards her.
Belle nodded. “I did. Did you?”
“Like a baby,” he responded as he reached her. “It was nice having you close to me last night. That was a good feeling. I know that wasn’t planned so I hope you’re OK with what happened. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“I wasn’t uncomfortable – far from it actually.”
Shawn ran his hands along her arms. “Good. I would never want you to feel that way around me.”
“I don’t think that is possible.”
He was relieved and looked at her seriously. “All I want to do is take care of you Belle. That might sound a little weird, I don’t know but you have taken care of me, my career and you do so much for others that you don’t take care of yourself. I want to do that for you, if you’ll let me.”
“No one has ever said that to me before.”
“I consider myself rather unique,” he grinned as his hands skimmed upward to her shoulders and eventually her neck then cheek. He held her face gently. “What do you say we get some breakfast? Maybe go to that diner down the street,” he suggested.
“Sounds good, let me go back to my room to get myself ready. We can meet up in about an hour.”
“An hour?” he questioned in obvious surprise.
“Yes, an hour.”
“OK. I will be knocking on your door in exactly one hour.” The close proximity to her was beginning to affect his senses. His eyes locked on hers lovingly and as he continued to hold her face, his thumbs caressed her silken skin gently. His eyes drifted to her lips and he wanted so badly to taste her but resisted every urge. He could tell such an act would push her away. There was something in her eyes though, that much he could tell. He knew that her feelings for him were as deep as his feelings for her, but she was afraid. However, he couldn’t help it and as he moved closer he was relieved when she did not resist his advances. He leaned in, feeling her breath as their lips came dangerously close and he then raised his head, pressing a gentle kiss against her forehead. “One hour,” he repeated and let her go. He watched her look at him in confusion but didn’t hesitate to walk away.
Shawn watched her leave. As the door closed, he took in a deep breath, closing his eyes as he inhaled. Upon exhalation his eyes slowly opened. He was so in love with her he didn’t know what to do with himself and the level of patience he had surprised him. He took another deep breath and proceeded into the bathroom, turning on the faucet in the bathtub he set it directly to cold.
An hour later the two arrived at the diner. They were about to walk inside when Shawn’s phone rang and as he looked at it he urged her to go inside. “I’ll be right there. It’s my grandmother.”
“Positive sweetheart,” he assured. “It’s our usual check-in, that’s all. Get us a table, I’ll be there in a minute,” he told her and boldly touched her cheek. “Go on.” He watched Belle go inside and he answered his phone.
Mimi’s jaw dropped as she looked out the window of the diner and witnessed the obvious affection between Shawn and Belle. They had been keeping their distance from each other which had pleased her, but now, the scene that was recently before her filled her with anger. She watched Belle walk inside and quickly find a booth. Without hesitation, Mimi got up from her seat and was soon sliding into the bench seat across from Belle.
“What are you doing here?” Belle asked in surprise.
“This is the closest restaurant to the hotel. Practically everyone eats here.”
“I didn’t mean why you were at the diner. I am asking: why are you sitting across from me as an uninvited guest?”
“Belle, maybe you have forgotten about your little talk with Max not too long ago. Imagine my surprise when I saw you and Shawn walking here together, appearing so cozy. Imagine how disgusted I felt at seeing him caress your face.”
“Mimi, this is none of your business.”
“The hell it isn’t. Belle, you were told very plainly and very simply that if you continued to see Shawn, that Max would leave Basic Black. You had at one time agreed, but now I see you had no intention of keeping that promise. You have deceived me and Max and now you have lost your star. Was it worth it? Was Shawn Brady really worth all of this?”
“Mimi, what are you doing?”
Both Belle and Mimi looked up to see Shawn staring angrily.
“I was having a talk with your girlfriend.”
“Belle is my friend and that is all, not that it is any of your business. Leave us alone.”
“Don’t try to fool me Shawn. It’s so obvious what is going on here.”
“Let me use small words so you’ll understand – get up and out of my seat,” he said slowly and deliberately.
“Awfully testy, aren’t we?” Mimi said mockingly.
“Look Mimi, you and Max made an assumption about Belle and me, one that isn’t true. Belle has been a good friend to me and that’s all. Don’t try to create something out of that, it’s not worth it.”
“Shawn, I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing.”
“There’s no game here,” he insisted. “Now, would you please leave so we can enjoy our breakfast?”
Mimi sighed, but got up from the seat. “Fine,” she muttered. “I’m going to figure out what’s going on here.”
“You have fun with that,” Shawn replied sarcastically and took his seat across from Belle. He was relieved when Mimi decided to no longer linger and finally walked away. He looked at Belle seriously and could see the concern on her face. “Sweetheart, don’t let her get to you,” he told her.
“She is a piece of work, but she didn’t rattle me if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ve dealt with tougher people than Mimi Lockhart.”
“Are you afraid Max is going to leave?”
“He can’t leave. He’s under contract and he knows he can’t leave right now.”
“I see. So if we were to become involved all they have are empty threats.” He looked at her curiously as she looked away. “Did I say something wrong?”
“I don’t know, I guess it was hearing you say involved.”
“Remember, I told you I wasn’t going to pressure you.”
“I know and I appreciate it.”
“But I am curious, especially after last night and our talk, do you think there is a possibility of an ‘us’?”
“Shawn, I’ve chosen work over love so many times before that I don’t want to make the mistake again but –“
“It’s a little complicated, I know but hey I’ll quit the team if I have to.”
“Not an option,” she quickly told him.
“That’s good to know… or is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s nice to know I can’t quit the team because I really don’t want to but if it means by me staying that we can’t be together then something’s got to give. Belle, I can’t deny how I feel about you any more. Max and Mimi are just going to have to learn how to deal. You are too important to me. I can talk to Max and make him understand.”
“Understand what exactly?”
“That us being together won’t change anything with the business. Max will understand. It’s Mimi who gets him riled up. In case you couldn’t tell, she doesn’t trust me.”
“And why is that exactly? If you don’t mind me asking,” she added.
“You can ask me anything,” he assured and hesitated a moment before answering. “I kind of downplayed the situation before, but I made some terrible mistakes when Mimi and I were married,” he began. “Belle, I am no saint, far from it. When I was younger I had a lot of problems – I was angry and bitter about a lot of things after my parents died. I was young and stupid. I turned to alcohol time and time again. I was out of control and when I drank I was a different person. I was abusive. I never laid a hand on Mimi but I didn’t treat her right. I was a jerk, a real asshole and that’s why she hates me.”
“I thought you two had a pretty decent relationship?”
“We did. The first year was great but as the pressure of making rent and paying the bills hit, it started to go south. I used to work odd jobs at the pier, nothing too steady and once things started to dry up we were barely making it. I coped by taking a bottle or two of liquor from my grandparents’ pub. That’s how I got it. I was underage but I had access – I had a key. One night I remember I went into the pub after hours and drank myself silly. We had a loft off the pier so it was in walking distance and by the time I got home, Mimi was so concerned. I couldn’t understand why she was bugging me so much and we fought. It was a terrible fight… yelling and screaming – the whole bit. Our neighbors called the cops because of the noise. That was the pattern. I’d be out at all hours drinking or I’d drink all day so when she came home we started fighting. I called her terrible things. I made her feel like she was worthless and that’s why she can’t stand me. I can’t say I don’t blame her. We went through the motions for nearly a year before she finally left me for good.”
Shawn looked at Belle seriously, noticing how she barely reacted to his story. He worried she was thinking the worst from her silence.
“Belle, I swear I am a changed man. I would never – I mean never do that to you. Hell, I beat myself up when I think about that time. I can barely stomach it.” Her silence remained deafening. “Aren’t you going to say something?”
“I don’t think there’s much to say,” she finally said. She paused but continued as she saw the look of confusion and obvious nervousness. “Sweetie I know you’re not that man anymore,” she assured with a growing smile.
Shawn breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad to hear that. Belle, I’m not going to go back to those days ever again. I’ve got so many positive things in my life, my son, this great opportunity with the team, and…” His voice drifted off as he focused on her. “And you. I don’t want to ever disappoint you.”
“I have a feeling you won’t.”
Shawn walked into the garage to see Max working busily. It was a few days since they had been back from Atlanta and Max was on his way to Texas for his next race. He was grateful that the two of them were alone and after spending another private, yet innocent evening with Belle he knew he needed to speak with Max.
Max looked up from what he was doing. “Hey, check this out.”
Shawn walked towards him and paid attention to what Max wanted to show him. “What is this?”
“Something I’ve been working on for the race Saturday. It cuts down on the drag. I’ll have a smoother ride, especially at the track in Fort Worth.”
“This is good man.”
“Yeah, I’m excited. What do you say we try it out?”
“In a minute,” Shawn answered. “I need to talk to you first.”
“Sounds serious,” Max commented. “What’s up?”
Shawn hesitated a moment as he walked to the nearby desk and leaned against it. “I need to tell you something Max. You may or may not want to hear it and it may change things between us but I have to tell you this.”
“What the hell is it? Sounds serious.”
“It’s about Belle. Max, I’m in love her.”
“What?” Max asked with a growing laugh.
“It’s no joke. I am in love with Belle and as far as I can tell she feels the same way about me though we haven’t told each other. What can I say? You and Mimi were right. You suspected something was going on and we were always honest with you. Nothing was happening, other than friendship but in the course of that something happened. In Atlanta we got closer and we talked and we both want to see where this can go but we both know you and Mimi aren’t too wild about the idea.”
“So you’ve been sleeping with the boss,” Max stated more than asked.
“No. I’ve been spending time with her and getting to know her and wanting to be with her. In fact, she’s a little hesitant about us being together because of all the complexity. I told her I would talk to you and try to smooth things over. I don’t want this to cause a rift and I know you told her to stay away from me but –“
Max interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. “That was Mimi’s influence. You know if there is one thing I am sure of it’s how much Mimi hates you. She won’t let go and as a result she’s gotten me kind of wrapped up in all this but you know what, I don’t care if you and Belle hook up. Man, if you love her, you love her and I’m not going to come between you two. I’ll handle Mimi. It’s sort of like now that we got married I feel I have a little more pull – not a whole lot but a little more,” he joked.
“I appreciate that. Thank you.”
“No problem,” Max told him. “So, you and Belle,” he commented. “No offense, but it seems like a weird match to me. I mean, what do the two of you have in common.”
“More than you could probably imagine. We talk about everything.”
“How long ago did his miraculous friendship begin? If I remember correctly there was a time you couldn’t stand her.”
“When that article came out I was pissed but we moved past that. Besides that was over a year ago. Not much longer after that things changed between us and honestly I couldn’t be happier. She’s so amazing and she’s great with Jacob.”
“Sounds like you’re becoming a happy family.”
“I don’t know about all that. We enjoy spending time with each other and I do love her but I don’t know if she’d ever want to be with me, you know – for the long haul.”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
“One step at a time,” Shawn asserted.
“Whatever you say man,” Max said. “Anyway, let’s get back to work.”
Hours later, after working together, Max was ready to call it a night. “Shawn, let’s close up shop. It’s getting late and I’ve got to head out in the morning to Fort Worth.”
“I’m almost done.”
“Alright, well I’m going to grab a Coke, you want one?”
Max left Shawn as he went to the adjacent building to get some drinks.
Shawn’s focus on the task at hand was intense. That was how he always worked, and often as a result he was oblivious to what was going on around him. He stared at his work and his brow furrowed in confusion. His level of concentration was so high he didn’t hear the footsteps approaching him and his only reaction came as a set of petite hands eased around his waist from behind. He jumped, startled by the action and hit his head against the hood of the car.
“Damn it,” he grumbled as he turned around. His frown suddenly dissipated as his gaze landed on Belle standing before him. He smiled as he saw the look of concern on her face and felt her gentle caress against his head.
“I’m sorry,” she readily apologized as she tried to soothe the ache he was experiencing. “I didn’t mean…”
He touched her hand and his smile widened. “It’s OK sweetheart.”
“You hit your head pretty hard are you sure -?”
“Positive,” he assured. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her and his grin turned into a sly smirk as he watched her blush in reaction to his stare. “What are you doing here? I thought we were going to meet up later.”
“I thought I would surprise you. Is that alright?”
“You don’t even have to ask. I’ll take any excuse to see you,” he told her sincerely before pulling her closer for a hug.
“Alright there was only one Coke so I got a Mountain Dew. Which one do you -?” Max’s voice drifted off as he walked in to see Shawn and Belle in a tight embrace. He chuckled to himself as Belle moved quickly away from Shawn and tried to act as though nothing was happening. “It’s OK Belle, Shawn told me,” he told her.
“And what exactly did Shawn tell you?” she asked curiously.
Max developed a wily expression on his face. “He told me he’s in love with you.” He became more smug once he saw Belle’s eyes widen as if in surprise. “Anyway, Shawn I’m taking the Coke,” he announced while placing the other can of soda on a nearby desk. “I’m out of here. You two kids have fun!”
“Thanks man,” Shawn told him through clenched teeth. He certainly didn’t want Belle to hear that he loved her via Max. Shawn watched him leave and he walked to the desk to pick up the soda. With one swift motion he opened it and proceeded to chug it. In a matter of moments he placed the empty can down and took a deep breath before finally looking at Belle. “Are you alright?”
She looked at him as if with fresh eyes. “Yeah,” she finally answered. She watched him lean against the desk and fold his arms across his chest. He appeared embarrassed by what Max had said. She went to him and touched his arms, prying them apart until his hands were in hers. Her eyes examined his strong hands and saw the evidence of the oil and dirt under his fingernails and on his fingertips. “I’m going to have to give you a manicure one day.”
Shawn chuckled at her statement. “I do dirty work. Sometimes I can’t keep them clean,” he commented. “Is it alright if I touch you?” he asked softly. He smiled when she nodded her head. He framed her face gently in his hands. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me, too,” she told him, savoring the feel of his gentle caress. She took a step closer to him, while her hands gripped his shirt as they stood only centimeters apart. Her eyes gained a playful gleam. “So… you love me?”
Shawn looked at her with all the seriousness in the world. “I do. I was sort of expecting to be the first one to tell you that though.”
“It’s alright. Tell me now,” she urged.
His thumbs moved leisurely against her silken skin. “I love you Belle.” His eyes searched hers before he gradually leaned in closer. He hesitated a moment but continued as he felt her grip on his shirt tighten. His lips met hers tenderly for the most perfect kiss. Their lips continued to lock languidly and sweetly before finally parting with a short peck.
Their eyes locked on one another as they stayed close to each other. Shawn’s hands moved down the length of Belle’s body before settling on her waist.
“You are one amazing lady.” Shawn watched as Belle looked away and he sought out her gaze once again. “What happened? What did I say?”
“You flatter me Shawn.”
“I’m telling you the truth baby. What can I do to prove it to you?” he asked mischievously. Without waiting for a response he pressed his lips against hers once again. His tongue skimmed across her lips as his mouth parted. She easily complied with his silent wish and their tongues moved rhythmically against each other. He held her close as if he never wanted to let her go.
As their lips once again parted, Belle gazed helplessly into Shawn’s intense stare. He was everything she ever wanted in a man. Her hand wandered upward against his chest until reaching his cheek. Her fingertips danced across the stubble-filled skin, enjoying the feel of the prickly hairs. She looked at him as if she never wanted this moment to end.
“I love you Shawn.”
Shawn didn’t appear surprised by her confession but he was definitely relieved to hear it. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him for a tight embrace. “I’m not going to disappoint you. I’m going to take good care of you.”
“We’ll take care of each other.”
“I like that. You’re good for me Belle. I just want to be good for you, too.”
“You are Shawn. More than I could have imagined, you are so wonderful. I love everything about you.”
“You know, Max couldn’t understand what the two of us could possibly have in common.”
“I have a feeling we’ll come across that a lot but you know what, the two of us make a lot of sense as far as I’m concerned.”
“Me, too,” he agreed. “I need to ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“Do you want us to go public with this?”
“Well Max knows. Did you tell him not to tell anyone?”
“No, but if you want this to be kept secret I’ll tell him not to tell anyone. He owes me.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“No, but I realize that it may seem awkward, you being the boss and…”
“Shawn, technically I’m not your boss. My father is and really and truly, he’s not your boss either. When you get a sponsor, then you’ll have a real boss. We’re your manager.”
“I know but either way it may appear awkward. I know you’re sensitive about these types of things sometimes. Whatever you want to do is fine with me. In time people will know but for now –“
“We won’t hide,” Belle interrupted. “I’m not saying we shout it from the rooftops but we won’t keep it a secret.”
“I was so hoping you would say that,” he grinned. “Now what do you say we go get some dinner.”
“What are you in the mood for?”
“Hmm… why don’t we get Jacob and go get some pizza or something.”
“You really want to?”
“Of course,” Belle easily replied. “I love Jacob and I enjoy spending time with the two of you. It’ll be fun.”
“You really do amaze me.”
“That makes two of us. Now let’s get going.”
“Once I do one more thing.”
“Shawn, it’s time for you to call it quits for the evening.”
“I have. I’m not talking about work,” he said and without warning captured her lips with his own for a heated kiss. “That is what I needed to do. Let’s go.”