The Surprise

 

Blurb: Patrick picks up Beth and drives her out to the country, promising a surprise. Will breaking his heart reward her with what she wants most?


 

Beth puckered her lips and glided the deep red color across the bottom and over the top, careful to stay within the lip line. She stepped back and smiled at her reflection.

Her smile brightened when a knock sounded at the door. Patrick always arrived on time. She darted down the hall, slowing as she stepped up to the door. It swung open.

Patrick flashed his lop-sided grin. “You get a little prettier every day.”

“Hello to you, too.”

“Ready to go?”

“Just let me grab my purse. Someone’s in a big hurry.”

“Got a surprise for you.” He didn’t have to repeat it for her to hurry her pace.

He opened the passenger side door and held out his hand to help her in. Chivalry in the little things she never took for granted. She loved that about him.

“Am I going to like this surprise?” She slid to the center of the bench seat and buckled in.

He shook his head, but his grin shouted about how much he liked her scooting up close. “Please explain what reason I’d have to surprise you with something you wouldn’t like. I hope you like it.”

“Where are we going?”

“A friend of mine has a place, couple acres, out southwest of town.”

“I’m not dressed for riding horses or hunting, or anything like that.”

“No, ma’am, you are not.” He patted her knee.

“It’s still early for dinner.”

“Figured we’d find ourselves a fancy restaurant later.”

The lack of useful information in his answers made the game more fun. She plotted her next question.

“Does anyone else know about it?”

“About what?”

“Is it in the bed of the truck?”

“Uh-huh.”

She glanced back and frowned at the tarp covering a small pile. “So it’s bigger than a bread box?”

“It’s not bread.”

“Why do you have to give it to me out here in the middle of nowhere?” She peered out at the landscape that looked so much like home.

“Said I had a surprise for you. Didn’t say I was going to give it to you.”

“How am I going to get it if you don’t give it to me?”

“You’ll have to wait and find out.” He turned off the road and stopped in front of a gate. “Be back in a sec.”

“Wait!”

“Yes?”

“Want me to get out and close it after you drive through?

“Nah, I don’t want you to lift a finger right now. Save your energy. You’ll need it in a bit.” He bounced his eyebrows up and down.

The first bit of helpful information only left her more curious.

He unlocked the gate and swung it open before climbing back into the truck. Once he’d driven through the gate, he stopped, got out, and closed it all back up.

He laughed as he got back in the driver’s seat. “Figure it out yet?”

She looped her arm around his. “I haven’t the slightest clue.”

The road past the gate was more of a path. As they rumbled along, she clung to his arm to avoid being jostled out of her seat.

“It’s a little rough, sorry.” He pulled off to the side near a massive live oak. “We’ll stop here. That tree is perfect.”

After he got out, she slid toward the passenger door.

“I need to set it up super quick. Promise me you won’t look.” His light brown eyes, warmer than an autumn sunset, pleaded with her. “Please.”

“Wouldn’t be much of a surprise if I came all this way to ruin it. Go set it up. I’ll be good.” She covered her face with her hands.

Not peeking required an immense amount of restraint. All she had to do was open her fingers the tiniest bit, and she’d see what he was up to. By sheer force of will, she adhered to her promise and waited until he opened her door.

“Beth, I’m ready. I mean, it’s ready. Don’t open your eyes yet. Keep ‘em closed until you’re out of the truck.”

She turned, letting her feet dangle out the door. He held her hands.

“It’s not far down, just slide out.”

Her feet on the ground, she scanned the scene in front of her. From the sturdy limb branching off the truck, hung a heart-shaped piñata. He handed her a stick wrapped in colorful tissue.

“Surprise.”

“You want me to hit it?” She stepped up to the heart.

“That’s the idea.”

“But it’ll break that heart. I don’t want to do that.”

“You can’t get to what’s inside unless you break the heart.”

“You going to blindfold me?”

“Nope. Love isn’t blind. Swing away.”

She swung the stick behind her, ready to give it a whap.

Patrick ducked just in time. “Whoa. I’ll be over there.” He moved farther away.

She walloped the heart. It spun, but no damage had been done. Again, she thumped the stick against the flat front of the heart. The tiniest crack appeared. Over and over, she pounded it in the same spot. The crooked line extended a bit with each hit.

“Need a break?”

“Nope.”

“Want help?”

“Absolutely not.” She twisted, the stick slung over her shoulder like she was an all-star batter.

When the stick connected with the heart, the bottom burst open and candy showered down to the ground below.

“Candy.” She dropped the stick. All her favorites—Rolos, Smarties, and Kisses—lay strewn on the ground with other candies.

He held out a bucket. “All for you, but I’d appreciate it if you’d share a piece or two.”

She hid her disappointment and smiled as she grabbed the bucket. She dropped to her knees and collected the candy. Patrick only watched as she picked up the pieces.

She hopped up off the ground and unwrapped a chocolate kiss as she strolled up to him. When he opened his mouth to say something, she popped it in his mouth.

“You’re going to help me pick them up.”

He pulled her up close, grinning as he swallowed down the chocolate. “You get that patch over there, then I’ll help with the rest.”

She rolled her eyes and sat back down next to the bucket. There in the grass, surrounded by sweet treats, lay a black velvet box.

She gasped and snatched it up.

When she whipped around, Patrick was on one knee. “Open it.”

She snapped open the lid. The small heart-shaped diamond glittered in the afternoon sun.

“Elizabeth Carson, will you marry me?”

“Yes.” She pulled him to his feet. “I can’t wait to be Mrs. Patrick Maddox.”

“Can’t tell you how happy I am that you liked my surprise.”