Risa stood to one side Saturday morning, idly studying the display cases as the salesman fawned over Phillip. She stifled a yawn, assuring herself she wasn’t bored, merely tired from last night’s benefit gala.
"Clarise, I think we may have found a winner." Phillip tossed her an endearing smile. "This one’s a beauty. Want to see how it fits?"
She walked closer, taking a look at the platinum two band set that fit around a large square diamond, surrounded by small pale blue stones.
Oops. He looked so pleased that she hated to correct him, but some time over the next fifty or sixty years, he was bound to find out when her birthday was.
"It’s lovely Phillip, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness, my birthstone’s an amethyst. B-But you were close. They—"
"I’m sorry." Almost compulsively successful, Phillip did not take mistakes, even small ones, well. He took the ring from her before she had a chance to slide it on. "You must think I’m an idiot."
"Of course not." She put her hand on his arm. "It’s the thought that counts."
His smile returned, though diffident. "Really? The thought that counts? So we’ll take this one? Unless you see one that does have amethysts."
"No, that one’s fine. Lovely." Big, but beautiful. And she didn’t really have strong feelings about what the piece of jewelry should look like.
Was that a bad sign? Cut it out. This must be cold feet, or something. Be rational. If she’d had strong feelings otherwise, she might have argued, but she was surprised at how little she cared one way or the other. Maggie had fallen madly in love with a man who had walked out when he found out he was going to be a father—rejecting Risa before even meeting her. Then Maggie had fallen so madly in love with the Judge that she’d never allowed herself to see that he hadn’t truly wanted Risa, either.
Why on earth would Risa walk away from Phillip if he did want her? He was successful, a humanitarian, the sort who would never ever abandon his families or responsibilities. Plus, she’d never have that family she’d always longed for without a husband.
"So would you like to try it on now, darling?"
"Of course." She smiled as he slid the ring over her knuckle. Lord, it seemed heavy.
Janine unlocked the doors of her minivan, quickly finishing the last of the ice cream cone Risa had insisted on buying. "So, how was brunch with the Judge? Did he like the ring? That diamond is really something. I mean, you could put an eye out."
Risa shook her head, slurping a chocolate milkshake through a straw. "No, the Judge didn’t have much to say about the ring—his area is really constitutional law, not gemstones. But he’s thrilled about Phillip and I. Really seems…proud of me."
"That’s, um, great. But it’s not what you like about Phillip, right?"
"What?" Risa opened her door, but froze, too stunned to get in. "No! Are you asking if I’m using Phillip to get my step-father’s approval?"
"I’m a bad friend, forget I said anything."
"You’re not a bad friend. I won’t deny that this new relationship with the Judge has been nice—really nice." The man had been almost warm yesterday, fatherly when he’d talked about walking her down the aisle. Maggie must be smiling down on them from heaven. "But Phillip has a lot going for him.
"Of course he does." Janine turned her keys in the ignition. "I’m just tired."
"About that. I had some good news I—hey, should we be worried that the engine light is flashing?"
Janine laughed. "No. There’s nothing wrong with the engine, just the light."
"Ah. So…how would we know if something was wrong with the engine, then?"
"Off the top of my head, I’d say the van not starting, loud knocking noises, or smoke and flames billowing out from under the hood would all be dead giveaways."
Risa laughed. "As long as you have a system for figuring this stuff out."
It was a quick drive back to the office—since it had been such a slow day, Risa had volunteered to go along on the bank run so they could take an ice cream break afterward—and she spotted Phillip’s car immediately as they turned into the parking lot.
"Looks like Phillip dropped by," she said, wondering if she’d forgotten an appointment with him. "I hope everything’s all right."
"Probably just missed his bride-to-be," Janine said. "You should try being more romantic some time."
Risa shrugged. "Romance isn’t exactly my style. Luckily, I found a man who prioritizes relationships the same way I do. That doesn’t make us any less of a couple."
"Hey, I didn’t say anything!"
When they got inside the office building, they found Risa’s betrothed leaning against the door of their locked suite, his expression quizzical.
"Do you normally shut down the office during business hours?" he asked by way of greeting.
"No, we just snuck out for a quick ice cream break," Risa said. In addition to herself and Janine, there were two part-time workers, but neither of them came in on Mondays. "What brings you to this side of town?"
"Early dinner with a client and his wife. I thought I’d swing by and see if you wanted to join us. Also, I had some papers I’m taking by another client’s office for signatures."
"Dinner, huh?" At the moment, she was a little full from that ice cream, but marrying an aspiring politician was going to create lots of social obligations. She was game. "Sounds good to me."
"Wonderful." That settled, he smiled absently at Janine. "Nice to see you again. Have a good weekend?"
She nodded. "The kids and I hung out. Nothing as glamorous as diamond shopping, but not bad."
He took Risa’s left hand, raising it so that the light played across the diamond. "It’s really something isn’t it?"
Janine smothered a laugh. "That’s exactly what I said."
Risa unlocked the door, shooting her friend a warning glance as they all stepped inside the suite.
Getting the message, Janine replaced the grin on her face with an expression of polite interest. "So have the two of you started making all the plans yet? Picked a honeymoon spot?"
Phillip frowned as if he hadn’t considered it, and Risa wasn’t entirely comfortable thinking about it herself. Bridal nerves. After all, growing up sheltered and conservative, she didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with sex. There had been her college sweetheart, but their encounters had been characterized more by good-natured enthusiasm than sensual technique. As a result, she’d convinced herself afterward that sex just wasn’t that important to her. It was one of the reasons she so appreciated Phillip being an old-fashioned gentleman. He was serious about developing an enduring partnership, not just following lust.
Still, she’d had a sense of restless longing lately….
Squashing down the thought, she beamed at Janine. "Since you brought up going away, now’s as good a time as any to tell you I have a surprise for you." She reached into her purse and retrieved the glossy brochure. Handing it to her friend, she watched in happy anticipation as Janine scanned the note and the travel information about Kiawah Island.
"And," Risa added, "since I’m also your boss, I made sure you got the days off, starting one week from tomorrow."
Phillip stared at her as though she were crazy.
Janine stared at her as though she were crazy.
Okay, one thing at a time. "Janine? You don’t like it? I know it’s a little early for your birthday, but I knew you’d want to be back in time to spend your actual birthday with the kids. The guy on the phone gave me a great rate for now, since school is still in session and his busy season starts in June. If you’re worried about the money, he gave me a killer deal."
"It’s…" Janine’s lower lip trembled. "Risa, this is a very generous offer, but I can’t go."
"Of course you can!"
Phillip cleared his throat. "She can’t just pick up and leave at a moment’s notice with three kids."
Janine nodded. "Even if my regular sitter could watch the kids at night—and I doubt she’d agree to that—she’s already raising her prices on me."
"Give her the week off and put the money toward that van of yours," Risa advised. "I’ll take care of the kids while you’re gone. Sorry, I guess I should have said that right away.
Phillip laughed. "You? You and Janine can’t both take vacation at the same time!"
"He’s right," Janine agreed miserably.
"Nonsense. My computer at home allows me to access the one here. Jason and Natalie will be in school during the day, so I’ll only have baby Grace. I can work from home while watching her."
"Oh, Clarise" Phillip’s sigh somehow conveyed both his affection for her and a conviction that she was hopelessly naïve. "I’m sure that if you think this over, you’ll realize you’re not up to that."
Her eyebrows flew up. Stubborn and in some ways self-made, she’d never been one to back down from a challenge. "If you doubt my ability to take care of kids, why do you want me to be the mother of yours?"
He raised his palms in front of his chest. "First, we’ll have them one at a time, not suddenly three at once—"
"Think of this as practice for if we have triplets."
Janine snorted in her attempts not to laugh, and Phillip just rolled his eyes. "Secondly," he continued, "when we have children, you’ll have a full-time nanny to help you, just as my mother had. How else would you continue to run this company that’s so important to you?"
A nanny? The thought turned her blood cold, although she knew many people employed the help of able caregivers who were just like one of the family. Since her mother had died when she was young, however, the thought of her children being virtually raised by a substitute was unappealing.
"Unless you want to be a stay-at-home mom," he suggested, looking pleased by the idea. "After all, being a senator’s wife is practically a job in itself."
"And give up Perfect Placement?" she demanded.
"Uh…" Janine took a few steps toward her desk. "I can see the two of you have a lot to discuss so I’ll just—"
Risa swiveled her gaze back to her friend. "Wait. Phillip and I can talk later, but I want to get this settled or I know I’ll never get you to agree to the vacation. You know the kids love me, and you need this time for yourself. I can do it."
Janine bit her lip, clearly on the verge of wavering. "You’re sure?"
"You’ve heard me say how often I want to be a mother. I could use the practice. You’d be doing me a favor," Risa said.
"Well, when you put it that way…done. But if you come to your senses between now and next Tuesday, call me. I’ll understand completely if you want out of this."
"Not gonna happen," Risa assured her. "Besides, if I need backup, I can always call Phillip, right?"
Now it was his turn to stammer. "Um, darling, you know I’d love to help, but—"
"Right, big cases, important meetings." And how was he planning to handle all of that once he became a father? They really had a lot more to discuss than wedding colors and reception seating. "Don’t worry. I can get through a few days by myself. The children will be excited about the adventure of staying at Aunt Risa’s. You’ll see, it’ll be a piece of cake!"