“I’ll tell her you called, but I’m not giving you her address.” Danny Fortunato disconnected the call and turned to see his son, Rhett, staring at him from across the greenhouse. “Trouble?”
Danny shrugged. “Not yet. Jen’s brother is looking for her. He probably wants to guilt her into going back to Ohio with him.”
Rhett scowled as he finished straightening the seedlings. “God, not this again. You really need to get a girlfriend with some staying power.”
“C’mon, Son. Jen and I have been together for four years. Do you really think she’s going somewhere?”
Rhett scoffed. “You’ve had her in a holding pattern for those four years, Dad. How long would you wait for you?”
Danny shook his head and chuckled. “About six minutes.”
“Way to model confidence, Dad.” Rhett squeezed his father’s shoulder. “Are we doing Chinese tonight?”
“Nope. Jen’s going to meet us here to grab some herbs and hot peppers. She’s cooking for us toni —”
“Where’s my sister?” A voice boomed from the front of the store. Aaron Reed stood in front of the doorway, legs apart, arms crossed over his chest. He headed toward Danny and Rhett, who stood shoulder to shoulder. Aaron’s face was as red as his hair, and his fists were balled.
At the same moment, Danny and Rhett spotted Jen marching up behind him.
“What the hell are you doing here, Aaron."
Aaron spun around to face her. “You need to come with me.”
Jen glared at him. “You don’t get to tell me what I need.” When she tried to walk around him, he reached to grab her arm.
Before he made contact, Danny pushed him sideways. “I don’t think so.” Rhett put his hand on Aaron’s shoulder and moved him toward the door. “Out you go.”
“Wait!” Jen stood in front of Aaron.
Aaron assumed she had a change of heart. “Can we talk privately?”
Jen poked her finger into his chest. “We are not talking.” She poked again. “You’re going, I’m staying.” This time she punched his chest. “I will have you arrested if I see you again.” She stepped back and put her hands on her hips. “Do you understand?” After a moment of silence, Aaron nodded and Rhett let him go. Aaron shoved his hands in his pockets. Eyes cast downward, he retreated.
Danny pulled Jen in for a hug. “Babe, that was sexy as hell.”
Rhett groaned. “Geez, Dad, not in front of the kids.” Rhett started for the door. “I’ll see you guys back at the house.” As he walked past them, he kissed Jen on the cheek. “You were awesome. I hope I never piss you off.”
When Rhett left, Jen turned back to Danny. “You guys were like a well-oiled machine. Nothing rattles you, does it?”
Danny scoffed. “Are you kidding me? Inside, I’m still shaking like a chihuahua.”
“It’s the adrenaline.” Jen pulled him down for a kiss. “You’ll right yourself within the hour. Let’s go for a walk. You can burn off some of that excess energy. Show me what you did with the trails.”
Hand in hand they walked to the wooded area behind the nursery. Danny led her to the beginning of a path. A wooden arrow sign with Witch Walk burned into it was nailed to a wooden pole. "It will be finished in time for pumpkin season." Jen admired the Danny’s work. He had smoothed the path, placed solar lights at intervals, and strung tiny orange lights in the trees. When they came to a clearing, Danny led her to a bench. “I thought this would be a nice spot for photo ops. I’ll load it with hay and pumpkins. We’ll be needing a cute witch. Naturally, I thought of you.”
She chuckled. “Did the herbs and candles give me away?”
“Nope. It was the naked moon dance, oh, and the best-selling series about witchery.”
Jen laughed. “There is that.” Then she became serious. “Can we sit and talk for a few minutes?” Danny’s stomach lurched, but he nodded and looked into her eyes in anticipation.
“What are you searching for in my eyes, Danny?”
Danny looked down. He rubbed his hands on his jeans. “Reassurance. I’m afraid of what you are going to say. You’ve been so quiet that I thought you were going back to Ohio.”
Jen answered past the lump in her throat. “Hearing from my brother put me in a bad space. He’s been trying to see me all week. I swear my mother inhabits him sometimes. Fortunately, he’s terrified of her, so all I have to do to back him down is become her.” She put her head on his shoulder. “Sorry I kept all that from you. It hurts my heart that you thought I might go with him.”
“It hurts my heart to admit it. I have been left behind a lot, Jen. Rhett’s mom was just icing on a bitter cake.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for as long as you’ll have me.”
He kissed the top of her head. “That would be forever.”
She raised her head and looked up at him. “And yet, in four years, you’ve never talked about getting married.”
Danny shook his head. “That’s not true. I talked to myself about it a lot.”
Jen raised her brows in challenge. “Why didn’t you talk to me about it?”
“I was afraid of what you were going to say.”
“I’m sensing a pattern here. Tell me about your inner dialogue.”
“Well, I start out almost every day thinking this will be the day I pop the question. Then I think you will say no, I’ll be devastated, and it will be weird between us. Then you’ll tell me it’s better to break it off because I’m pathetic and you feel pressured.”
She took his hand. “Danny, really? How long have you been having this recurring chat with yourself?”
“Since I bought the ring…when we went to Italy.”
She perched on his lap and put her hands on his shoulders. “You bought a ring in Italy? That was almost three years ago.” She gave his shoulders a shake. “Do you think your almost every day conversation might have gone a little better for you if I chose my own words?”
“What would you have said?”
“Yes, you’ll marry me?”
“Yes, I thought you’d never ask.”
He pulled her against him and kissed her until passion threatened to swallow both of them. “Let’s harvest the groceries and get home. I can hear Rhett’s stomach growling from here.”
On the ride home Danny asked, “Will you hyphenate me into your name?”
“I’d rather just take your name.”
He reached for her hand and kissed it. “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I thought I might become Mr. Jen, the tagalong husband.”
“Do you feel like a tagalong?”
“Sometimes. I mean, I met you trying to get your autograph. You are a rock star and I’m the happiest roadie alive.”
Jen scoffed. “You saved me, Danny. I was in a work frenzy when I met you – running from myself. You brought me into your home. You and Rhett treat me like I matter. You're my family.
“You always know what to say when my teetering self-regard is starting to topple over.”
“Well, my regard for you has never teetered. You are the best man I ever met."
Rhett noticed the ring on Jen’s finger as soon he walked in the door. He nudged his father playfully. “Finally got out of your head, huh?” He pulled Danny into a hearty man hug. “Congratulations, Dad.” When he hugged Jen, he said, “I’m happy for you, happy for Dad, and happy for me. You make us better, Jen.”
At dinner Rhett looked at Danny, chuckled and shook his head. “So, Dad, what got you unstuck? Did you shake something loose when went after Aaron?”
Danny smiled. “Nope.”
Rhett looked at Jen. “Did you do a little mojo thing on him?
Jen smiled and slowly shook her head.
Rhett looked back and forth between them. Palms up, he jokingly demanded, “Then, what?”
Danny took Jen’s hand and looked at her for a long moment before he turned to his son.
“We went for a walk.”