If they were really going out to dinner, although it appeared by the looks of the food he’d purchased from Spencer’s they’d eat in, she’d need to go back to Val’s to pick up other clothes.
Noises from the kitchen got her attention. Luke was at the island again, chopping vegetables for a salad. The steaks he bought were on a tray off to the side.
“I guess when you invited me to dinner it was here.”
When he heard her voice, he looked up from the chopping board, grinning. “How was your shower?”
“Lovely. Thank you for the supplies,” she said with a grin.
“There are a couple of great places to eat close to Cypress Cove. The only problem is everyone we saw today at Bayou Cottage will probably be there having dinner, too. Unless you want to go out, I thought we’d eat in.”
“Ha! Like my uncle?”
“Your uncle among others.”
“Okay, I gotcha. I’m fine staying in.”
“We’ll eat in back. My tenants have their own little courtyards. The backyard is mine.”
“They don’t use the pool?”
“In the summer, Monday thru Friday, nine to five. The rest of the time, it’s for my guests only.”
“And how often do you have guests?” she asked.
“In the past couple of months, never. And before that, rarely. You could say I’ve been waiting for the right person to come along.”
It was an innocent statement, but it made her heart speed up a little bit. Did he say that to everyone who came for dinner?
Their time together had ended. For Bridget, it was difficult but not earth-shattering; she didn’t love Luke and although she thought he was wonderful, she was a realist.
“I’m going to be gone almost a full year. I can’t ask you to wait for me and I’m not sure I can maintain a relationship long distance. It’s not that I would cheat, but I get focused. To have to email and text and Facetime constantly isn’t for me. I’m so sorry.”
For Luke, though, it was much more complicated. He was smitten with her and he told her. But it didn’t sway her.
“Luke, I like you, too. It’s not that. My decision has nothing to do with how I feel about you right now.”
“I understand,” he replied. “I can’t even imagine having to go to a place where my life is going to be endangered while trying to pacify a boyfriend.”
She laughed out loud at that, and he grabbed her hand, grinning at her. “Come here.” Pulling her close, they stood together, rocking back and forth. “Can we at least be friends? Will you get in touch from time to time? I won’t expect anything from you.”
“I will absolutely stay in touch. When I get there, I might need to talk to you every day. I just don’t know what to expect.”
So that was that. Luke helped her pack up her few things that had made their way from her Uncle Val’s house and at noon, he took her to the train station to take the train to New Orleans. Pulling up to the station stirred so many emotions in Luke. His pride fought and lost a battle with the heartbreak of watching her walk away from him.
“Don’t come inside and wait,” she said. “It’ll make it too hard for me.”
So that was the last word. She denied him even the last goodbye. Instead of going inside, he waited in his truck out at the curb. The train whistle blew as it came over the creek bridge into the village. Luke climbed out of the truck once more and waited on the corner, hoping to get a last glimpse of Bridget.
Sure enough, when it passed by, she was on the side facing the street and saw him waving and she waved back, crying.
The train trip into New Orleans took twice as long as driving would have, but she wanted the time alone to process everything and decompress. Once she was out of Cypress Cove, she quickly recovered and didn’t think of the emotional journey she’d just experienced, meeting her cousins and most of all, spending ten wonderful days with Luke Esprit.
Luke wasn’t exaggerating; hewaskind of boring. In the ten days they were together, he never got annoyed or exhibited one moment of frustration. He was possibly the most good-natured man she’d ever met.
But when they had sex,made love, Luke was a different man. And once she let him know she was ready to take that step, he took advantage of it every opportunity they had. Aggressive, expressive, and uninhibited, it was like Luke saved up all his social energy for sex, leaving her breathless and a little stunned after every encounter. He let her know what he wanted, and the result was always exhilarating.