This week, it is my pleasure to welcome my friend and fellow Pelican Book Group author, Marianne Evans, to A Year with Mary Manners and Friends. I know you'll enjoy reading the first chapter of her Pure Amore title, Date Night. Pure Amore is a wonderful book-of-the-month subscription service with a focus on purity before marriage. Find out all about it here, or click on the book cover below.
Natalie Gibbs swept a wool beret from her head and fingered her hair into place. Boot heels clicked against cream colored marble as she strolled through the entryway of a Georgian-style estate freshly purchased by Theodore Owens Pierce and his bride Beverly.
“Antique Waterford crystal chandelier. I want that to stay right where it is. It’s a showstopper. We also have phenomenal, airy space…cathedral ceilings in need of warmth and maybe a few character touches—a buttery yellow accent wall perhaps, or maybe a bold piece of art. Gorgeous, new marble flooring that extends straight through to the kitchen. No need for modification there, either.”
She listed observations while her assistant, Peggy March, followed close behind, clipboard in hand, pen scratching as she composed action items and bullet points.
Natalie sighed, contentment riding through her system while her gaze continued to sweep and absorb her surroundings. Friends affectionately referred to her as quirky, but to Natalie, homes that protected couples as they bloomed into families, walls that captured laughter and tears, prayers, celebrations, and tribulations, were much more than mere wood or brick-and-mortar. The structures breathed with a type of soul all their own, an ordained spot from God for the purpose of His grandest design ever. Life.
She unwound a fringed scarf from her neck, drawing the silk fabric through her fingertips as she wandered and lost herself in her surroundings. “First impressions? This place is fantastic, but the best part is it’s bare. It’s like a beautiful blank canvas.”
“Oh, sure. A beautiful blank canvas with twenty-foot foot ceilings, high-end finishes and an incredible location.” Peggy joshed, reading from a property specification sheet completed during the interview process with their prospective clients. “The entryway floor is crafted of Italian Carrara in crème with subtle lines of gray. Evidently, the wow factor they want spotlighted comes in at the living room. Just to the right.”
They moved forward. Un-belting and peeling away her coat, Natalie cantered down a trio of steps into a sunken living space with a double-tray ceiling, recessed lighting, and expansive windows that framed—
“Wow.” Peggy froze, and whistled.
“Ah, yeah.” Natalie stopped in her tracks as well, savoring the view of sloping land and thick, well-manicured grass of deep green. The grounds were dotted by towering old maples and pines. A sweeping panorama of the Hudson River was highlighted by ancient trees with thick, craggy trunks and leaves presently transforming into every fiery autumn hue imaginable. Naturally, her gaze was enticed to travel the length of at least an acre of verdant land. “The view is outstanding. Plus, we have more blank space to play with. Hard to believe all this tranquil greenery is located just fifteen minutes from Manhattan.”
“I know, right? I can’t wait to get to work on color schemes, furnishings, and fabrics.”
Next came the kitchen. Natalie walked through the arched entryway, silent, breathing in, absorbing nuance, and searching for all those mysterious yet powerful vibrations produced in her own soul—that unique response to a room that told her whether the place would be homey or cold. Once again, the space struck her as a masterpiece just waiting for the final brushstrokes of a creative and luxurious touch. She swept through the center of the room. “Oh, Peg, can’t you just see a peninsula right here for intimate gatherings? Picture black and white granite countertops, chrome seating. Plus, we can blow out that wall between the kitchen and family room and extend. It’ll open up the entire space and improve site lines and flow for their family.” Natalie’s imagination took flight. “I’d like to place a large, half-moon window over the backyard entrance.”
She gestured toward a simple sliding door that allowed access to the backyard and a large patio shaped by brick pavers. Beyond that, there wasn’t much in the way of natural light in the kitchen, so Natalie continued to express ideas. “We could position a glass panel beneath it, with small, squared panes, then wide, uninterrupted glass on each side that’ll bathe this space with incredible afternoon sunlight. Just look at the grounds. The play of shadows and colors is amazing. We need to bring all that beauty indoors.”
The house tour continued, and Natalie reviewed the task ahead. In competition with two other companies, the interior design firm she worked for, Mathers and Mathers, had been invited to bid on this hefty assignment. Winning the project would be a coup; the close knit design world in New York City had been buzzing about the opportunity for weeks. This space cried out for upgrades in a major way, but the bones of the house were perfect, and she loved the idea of bringing a sleek, modern vision from concept to reality.
The chime of an incoming text message came from the cellphone perpetually glued to her hand. Checking the illuminated face of the device made her cringe.
MingleInFaith.com looks forward to welcoming Natalie Gibbs to Date Night at the Renaissance Hotel. Get ready to mix and speed date in the relaxed, chic atmosphere of the R Lounge overlooking Times Square tomorrow evening from seven until nine. See you then, and always remember to mingle…in faith.
A happy gasp sounded from just behind Natalie’s shoulder. She jumped, turning her phone into a mini projectile as it launched from her hand and clattered to the floor—uninjured, thank goodness for plush aubusson rugs…
Peggy added a brief squeal to her reaction. “You did it! I’m so proud of you!”
“Fire me later. For now, I’m seriously stoked. You’re going to be awesome! I’m so glad you followed through and decided to get out there and enter the dating arena.”
Natalie groaned and rolled her eyes. “Be calm, little flower. Trust me; this random act of insanity is a one-time only thing.”
Natalie fluttered her lashes in an exaggerated display of sweetness. “Oh, but it will be, because you see, I’m going to meet the man of my dreams, and my whole world will be changed forever.” She gave a snort and trounced to the sliding doors, ignoring romantic intrigue in favor of the more practical and comfortable aspect of her life: her job.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” she muttered to her petite, Asian-featured friend. “Ding-dong, desperation calling.”
“It is not! Lots of folks have great success with Mingle in Faith. Furthermore, you better be careful, Nat. You’re throwing down the gauntlet of challenge before God himself.”
“Umm-hmm. Come on. We need to focus.” Before her, stretched sumptuous outdoor living space accented by abundant seating and an entertainment area covered by a pergola. A brick, built-in fire pit crowned the center of the patio.
Natalie homed in on the project rather than the lonesome ache of her heart. “What’s set aside in the budget for the installation of an outdoor kitchen? And how about fairy lights strung throughout the wooden slats and along the columns? I’d love to place ground-level illumination along the border of the patio. I can see just enough light to create a saffron glow…”
“Excuse me. You did what?” Eyes wide, jaw clenched while he waited, Ethan Miller stared across the dining room table at his brother and sister-in-law.
“You heard me. We made an executive decision about your life.”
Jeff’s spare response carried more than enough impact to curdle Ethan’s blood. Jeff, on the other hand, stretched back in his chair and grinned. Meanwhile, his wife Marilyn sipped from a glass of orange juice and smiled at the scene. Ethan tossed his napkin along the side of his plate. This moment should have been a perfect conclusion to the dinner they had just shared of fettuccini alfredo, Caesar salad, and garlic bread. Instead, Ethan’s stomach rolled.
“Since you won’t do it yourself, Mar and I took matters into our own hands. We’ve put you out there.”
“Put me out there?”
“Ah…meaning what, exactly? Could you be a bit more specific?”
“Sure he could, if he wasn’t afraid of finding himself flattened by his baby brother.” Marilyn snickered at her quip, gaze bouncing gleefully between Ethan and Jeff.
“We created a page for you at this great Christian dating site called Mingle In Faith.”
“Jeff created the page, Ethan. All I did was watch.”
Aghast, Ethan’s mouth dropped open. “Internet dating? Have you two lost your minds?”
Ethan leaned away from his plate, the remainder of the meal forgotten. He growled and Jeff hastened to interject.
“You should see the results. You’ve gotten so many hits. Lots of nice-sounding ladies would really like to meet you.”
Ethan expelled a long, unsteady breath; his nerves zipped and sizzled. “Oh, please, for the love of everything I hold dear, please tell me you’re joking.”
“Can’t do that, bro. This is for real, and it’s going to be great. Want to see your profile? It’s awesome, if I do say.”
“My fingers literally itch to wring your neck. If you and Marilyn weren’t going to be making me an uncle in a few more months…” The words dangled into an obvious and ominous warning.
“Hold that thought. I’ll be right back.” Visibly enjoying the moment, Jeff excused himself from the table and dashed out of the room.
Ethan stared at Marilyn and did nothing more than heft a brow and shake his head.
Marilyn held out her hands in surrender, but her lips twitched. “In his defense, this is for your own good. You need to break away from the job and focus on building a life. You have the best heart, and so much to offer—”
“But this is ridiculous. I’m not comfortable meeting a woman via on-line connections. I’ll find someone. Someday. I don’t need or want—”
“Ah-ah-ah…no squabbling, kids.” Jeff trotted into the room carrying his electronic tablet. “Take a look at this before you jump down our throats. I think we did an outstanding job.”
Jeff booted up his device; his fingers danced across the keypad. Marilyn tucked next to her husband. “There you go with the whole we thing again. Don’t go throwing me under the bus. This was your brainchild, babe. I disavow.”
Ethan growled once more and scooted his chair closer to the end of the table. He needed to find out what kind of nightmare had been hatched behind his back. “You’re safe, Marilyn. I’d never hurt a woman—especially a pregnant one. Your husband, on the other hand—”
Still unrepentant, Jeff tilted the computer in Ethan’s direction. The Internet was up and running. On the screen appeared his profile and what he saw, what he began to read, left him aghast. This was worse than he thought.
“I’m not a fan of chick flicks!”
“You watched “Casablanca” with me and Marilyn once.”
“That was a war movie.”
“Oh, then by all means I stand corrected.” Jeff clucked his tongue and issued a long-suffering moan. “Keep going. This is good stuff.”
Eyes narrowed, Ethan continued to peer at the screen, and he tried hard not to cringe. Front page center was a sunset shot of him sitting on Jeff’s deck out back. It was a picture Marilyn had taken this past summer. The image wasn’t half bad, but the entire profile cried out for attention, as though he were broadcasting the message: Hey, ladies, look at me…
This kind of entrée to dating wasn’t part of his wheelhouse—at all.
Sucked in in spite of himself, Ethan continued to read. “Oh, come on. Seriously. My eyes are brown, not amber with flecks of gold.”
“The description is accurate, plus, doesn’t it make you sound romantic?” Marilyn shot him a sweet, eager look.
Ethan busted out a glare for his sister-in-law. “So, all you did was watch, huh?”
She delivered a glance chock full of innocence that he didn’t buy for even a nanosecond.
Ethan leaned in once more and reviewed the two-paragraph bio of his life. Ophthalmologist—check. Single and twenty eight—check, check. Athletic build, muscular, six feet tall, fan of hiking, softball, chick-flicks and romantic dinners by candlelight.
“What?” Ethan couldn’t take a single word more. Romantic dinners by candlelight? This was impossible. “You make me sound like some kind of fantasy character. My hikes involve the mountains around Honduras. My softball games take place with kids at the school in Texiguat.” He jabbed a finger at his brother. “And I refuse to dignify romantic dinners by candlelight with a comment.”
“You don’t like candlelight dinners?” Marilyn pouted.
“They’re great, but—”
“But nothing.” Jeff sliced a hand through the air. “There are no qualifiers in the dating game, bro. Accuracy is accuracy. Now, check this out.” He directed Ethan’s attention to a sidebar against the right side of the screen. “There’s a thing going on tomorrow night that you’re expected to attend.”
“A thing.” Ethan felt a tsunami brewing.
“Yeah. A cool thing. Sounds like a lot of fun. It’s called Date Night, and it’s taking place at a gathering spot located not far from your practice.”
Complications increased. Up to now this development wasn’t much more than an annoyance. He could log on to the site, contact anyone who had pinged his profile, and craft a very polite but very definitive ‘No, thank you,’ note. Not any longer. According to the site, he was already scheduled to ‘connect’ with four attendees at a speed dating event happening tomorrow night. Too late to bow out now. Hmm, maybe he could be sick tomorrow night.
He snorted. His conscience and common courtesy forbade him from the deceit of calling in with some kind of feigned illness. Tempting though the idea might be…
Thoroughly trapped, Ethan dropped his head back and groaned. No way was this actually happening. “Oh, Jeffrey, how sad it is that I have to kill you now.”
“After tomorrow night, feel free. I won’t even allow Marilyn or Aunt Sheila and Uncle Kurt to press charges. They’re all for this, by the way.”
Perfect. Even Aunt Sheila and Uncle Kurt were in on this ambush. Life couldn’t get much better.
Jeff plowed on. “Here’s the drill. You arrive at the Renaissance Hotel at seven o’clock. You check in at the R Lounge, mix and mingle with everyone in attendance then the scheduled dater—that would be you—breaks off into a series of private, pre-arranged speedy meetings with potential datees—those would be the lovely ladies we’ve already pre-screened for you. Check out Valerie, Belinda, Jessica, and Ann.” Jeff touched his way through photos and profiles that Ethan needed to explore in greater depth before tomorrow night. “These interviews—sorry, speed dates—only last ten minutes. It’s quick and painless and you’ll be home a few hours later. Who knows? You might even end up being surprised.”
“Sure, I will.” Ethan’s stomach twisted and pulled. Curse it all. Why couldn’t well-meaning friends and relatives let him exist in peace? So what if he wasn’t married yet? So what if he wasn’t in the thick of a long-term relationship? He was only twenty-eight for heaven’s sake.
“If I were single, and if I weren’t already married to the most fantastic woman in the world, I’d join you in a heartbeat.”
Marilyn snickered. “Way to dodge a bullet, hon.”
Jeff lifted his wife’s hand from the table top and kissed her fingertips. The gesture won Ethan’s brother a sexy wink and a grin. Lucky guy. Sure, Ethan avoided the world of dating. No time, and no inclination. He was one of three ophthalmologists in charge of a thriving practice in Midtown Manhattan. But that was only half of Ethan’s life and heart. The rest of his soul resided half the world away, in a tiny, destitute village of Central America.
“You’ve got me right where you want me, don’t you?” He sighed, authentically bemused and uncertain. All kidding aside, this was uncomfortable.
For the first time since they sprung their trap, Jeff and Marilyn had the good grace to share disquieted glances.
“You’ll be great.” Marilyn issued the assurance, resting her hand on top of his. “Jeff’s right. Open yourself a little beyond work and missions. This whole exercise just might take you by surprise.”
Purchase Date Night (Join the Pure Amore Book Club)
Leave a comment below for a chance to win this week's giveaway.
Purchase Date Night (Join the Pure Amore Book Club)
Leave a comment below for a chance to win this week's giveaway.