Title: The Summer Proposal
Author: Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 10, 2022
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The Summer Proposal?
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“What can I get you?” The bartender set a napkin down in front of me.
“Ummm… I’m meeting someone, so maybe I should wait.”
He rapped his knuckles against the bar. “Good enough. I’ll keep my eye out and stop back over when I see someone join you.”
But as he started to walk away, I reconsidered. “Actually!” I raised my hand like I was in school.
He turned around with a smile and arched a brow. “Change your mind?”
I nodded. “I’m about to meet a blind date, so I wanted to be polite, but I think I could use something to take the edge off.”
“Probably a good idea. What are you drinking?”
“A pinot grigio would be great. Thank you.”
He came back a few minutes later with a hefty pour and leaned his elbow on the bar. “So, blind date, huh?”
I sipped my wine and let out a sigh as I nodded. “I let my mom’s seventy-four-year-old friend Frannie set me up with her grandnephew to make my mom happy. She described him as ‘a smidge ordinary, but nice’. We’re supposed to meet here at five thirty. I’m a few minutes early.”
“First time letting someone fix you up?”
“Second, actually. The first was seven years ago. It took me this long to recover from it, if that tells you anything.”
The bartender laughed. “That bad?”
“I was told he was a comedian. So I figured, how terrible could it be going out with someone who makes people laugh for a living? The guy showed up with a puppet. Apparently his comedy act was as a ventriloquist. He refused to speak to me directly—wanted me to talk only to his dummy. Who, by the way, was named Dirty Dave, and every other comment out of its mouth was obscene. Oh, and my date’s mouth moved the entire time, so he wasn’t even a very good ventriloquist.”
“Damn.” The bartender chuckled. “Not sure I’d give another blind date a chance after that, even after a few years.”
I sighed. “I’m sort of regretting it already.”
“Well, if anyone comes in with a puppet, I got you covered.” He gestured toward a hallway behind him. “I know where all the emergency exits are, and I can sneak you out.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
A couple sat down on the other end of the bar, so the bartender went to help them while I continued to stare at the entrance. I’d purposely taken a seat in the back corner so I could watch the front door, hoping to get a look at my date before he saw me. Not that I planned to ditch if he wasn’t handsome, but I didn’t want him to read disappointment on my face if I felt any. I’d always been terrible at masking my feelings.
A few minutes later, the restaurant’s door opened and a drop-dead gorgeous guy walked in. He looked like he belonged on a men’s cologne ad, probably emerging from crystal blue Caribbean water. I got excited, until I realized he couldn’t be my date.
Frannie had described Adam as a computer nerd. And pretty much any question I’d asked her about him, she’d answered, “About average.”
How tall is he? About average.
Is he handsome? About average.
Body type? About average.
This guy was tall, with broad shoulders, big, blue bedroom eyes, a chiseled jawline, dark hair that was sort of messy, but totally worked for him, and even though he was wearing a simple dress shirt and slacks, I could tell he was buff underneath. Frannie would have to be crazy to think anything about him was average.
Well, she was a little…different. Last time I went to Florida to see Mom, we went to lunch with Frannie, and she’d glowed orange from an excessive amount of self-tanner she’d bought on the Home Shopping Network. She also spent all afternoon telling us about her recent road trip to New Mexico to attend a UFO convention in Roswell.
But even with that factored in, this guy didn’t look like a computer nerd. Nevertheless, his eyes scanned the room, and when they met mine, he smiled.
Oh, Lord. My heart did a little pitter-patter.
Could I be this lucky?
Apparently it was possible. Because the guy headed right toward me. I probably should’ve played it cool and looked away, but it was impossible not to stare.
He shrugged. “Sure.”
I thought that was a bit of an odd response, but his smile widened, and those cavernous dimples seemed to turn my brain to mush.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Frannie. My mom is friends with Georgia.” I shook my head. “Sorry. I mean, I’m Georgia. My mom is friends with Frannie.”
“Nice to meet you, Georgia.”
He extended his hand, and when I placed mine in it, mine felt really…small.
“I have to say, you are definitely not what I was expecting. Frannie didn’t describe you very accurately.”
“Better or worse?”
Was he joking? “She may have described you as a nerd.”
He sat down on the stool next to me. “I usually don’t admit this when I first meet a woman, but I do have a Star Wars action figure collection.” He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. “In fact, I almost always have one on me. I’m a bit superstitious, and they bring me luck.”
Adam unfolded his big hand to reveal a tiny Yoda. He leaned over and set it on the bar in front of me, and a hint of cologne wafted through the air. Smells as good as he looks. There had to be something majorly wrong with him.
“Women tend to not like Star Wars for some reason,” he said. “Or a grown man carrying around an action figure.”
“I actually like Star Wars.”
He put his hand over his heart. “A beautiful woman who likes Star Wars? Should we skip the formalities and just grab a flight to Vegas to get married?”
I laughed. “Maybe, but first promise me you aren’t into ventriloquism.”
He crossed his heart. “Star Wars is as bad as it gets.”
The bartender came over to take Adam’s drink order. I was surprised when he asked for a Diet Coke.
“You’re not going to join me for a cocktail or a glass of wine?”
He shook his head. “Wish I could, but I have to work later.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I wish I didn’t. But I actually need to get out of here in a little while.”
I’d thought we were meeting for drinks and dinner, but perhaps Frannie had gotten that wrong.
“Oh, okay.” I forced a smile.
Apparently Adam saw right through it.
“I swear I’m not making that up. I do have to work. But I definitely would love to stay. Since I can’t, is it too early to say I’d love to see you again?”
I sipped my wine. “Hmmm… I’m not sure about that. Normally, I get to know someone on a first date, so I can weed out the serial killers and nutjobs. How am I supposed to know you’re not the next Ted Bundy if you’re running out of here?”
Adam stroked the scruff on his chin and looked at his watch. “I have about fifteen minutes. Why don’t we cut the small talk and you can ask me anything?”
He shrugged. “I’m an open book. Take your best shot.”
I gulped my wine and turned in my seat to face him. “Alright. But I want to watch your face as I grill you. I’m terrible at hiding lies on mine but great at reading others.”
He smiled and turned, giving me his full attention. “Go for it.”
“Okay. Do you live with your mother?”
“No, ma’am. She doesn’t even live in the same state. But I do call home every Sunday.”
“Have you ever been arrested?”
“Public indecency in college. I was pledging a fraternity, and me and a bunch of other guys had to walk through the center of town naked. A group of girls stopped us and asked if any of us could hula hoop. Everyone else kept walking. I figured they were all too chicken, so I stopped. Apparently, the guys weren’t afraid; I was just the only one who didn’t see the cop coming out of a store a couple of doors down.”
I laughed. “Can you actually hula hoop?”
He winked. “Only naked. You wanna see?”
The smile on my face widened. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“When was the last time you had sex?”
For the first time, the smile on his face wilted. “Two weeks ago. Are you gonna hold that against me?”
I shook my head. “Not necessarily. I appreciate the honesty. You could have lied and said a while ago.”
“Okay, good. What else you got?”
“Have you ever been in a relationship?”
“Twice. Once in college for a year, and then I dated a woman for eighteen months, and that ended two years ago.”
“Why did they end?”
“College, because I was twenty and…it was a crazy time in my life. And the woman I dated a few years back, because she wanted to get married and start a family, and I wasn’t ready.”
I tapped my pointer to my bottom lip. “Hmm… Yet you just asked me to go to Vegas and marry you.”
He grinned. “She didn’t like Star Wars.”
We were both too busy laughing to notice a guy walk up to us. I figured he must have known Adam, so I politely smiled and looked to him. But the guy spoke to me.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you Georgia Delaney?”
He smiled. “I’m Adam Foster. Frannie showed me a picture of you, but it was from a costume party.” He motioned to the side of his head, twirling his hand around in a circle. “You were dressed as Princess Leia, with your hair all pinned up on the sides, so you looked a little different than you do now.”
I furrowed my brow. “You’re…Adam?”
The guy seemed just as confused as I was. “Yes.”
Now this man looked like what I’d been expecting: worn, brown tweed jacket, cropped hair parted to one side—sort of the average Joe that worked in the IT department at your office. But…
If he was Adam, then who was this?
I looked at the guy sitting next to me for an answer. Though that’s not what I got.
“Did you really dress as Princess Leia for a Halloween party?”
Adam, or whoever the hell the guy sitting next to me was, put his finger over my lips and turned to the man who was apparently my date. “Can you just give us a minute?” he asked.
As soon as average Adam walked away, I laid into hot Adam. “Who the hell are you?”
“Sorry. My name is Max.”
“Do you make a habit of pretending to be someone else?”
He shook his head. “I just…I saw you sitting at the bar through the window when I was passing by, and you had such a pretty smile. I came over to introduce myself, and it was clear you were here to meet someone else. I guess I sort of panicked that you weren’t going to talk to me since I wasn’t Adam. So I went with it.”
“And what if my date hadn’t showed up? Would you have pretended to be Adam on a second date?”
Max dragged a hand through his hair. “I didn’t think that far ahead.”
Normally catching a date in a lie would make me angry, but finding out Max wasn’t Adam was more disappointing than anything. We’d had great chemistry, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much meeting someone new.
“Was every answer a lie? Do you even like Star Wars?”
He held up both hands. “I swear. The only thing that wasn’t the truth was my name.”
I sighed. “Well, Max, thanks for the entertainment. But I don’t want to keep my real date waiting.”
He frowned, but nodded and stood. “It was nice meeting you. I guess asking for your number would be stupid right about now?”
I gave him a look. “Yes, it would. Have a good night, Max.”
He looked at me for a few seconds, then slipped a bill out of his wallet and tossed a hundred on the counter. “You, too, Georgia. I really enjoyed meeting you.”
Max took a few steps away, but then stopped and walked back. He again took out his billfold, only this time he peeled off what looked like a ticket of some sort and placed it on the bar in front of me. “I’d really love to see you again. If your real date turns out to be a dud or you change your mind, I promise I will never tell you another lie.” He pointed to the ticket. “I’ll be at the hockey game over at the Garden at seven thirty, if you would consider giving me another shot.”
What he said seemed heartfelt, but I was here to meet another man. Not to mention, I was really disappointed. I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
With a sullen face, Max nodded one last time before walking away. I didn’t have time to process everything, but I felt a strange sense of loss when I watched him walk out the door. Though as soon as he disappeared from sight, my real date was next to me.
I had to force a smile. “Sorry about that. We, um, just had some business to wrap up.”
“No problem.” He smiled. “I’m just glad that guy wasn’t hitting on you, and I didn’t have to defend your honor. He was a tank.” Real Adam sat down. “Can I order you another wine?”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
“So…I take it you’re a big Star Wars fan?”
“Hmm? Oh, because of the costume.”
Adam pointed to the bar. “And the little Yoda.”
I looked down. Max had left his Yoda figurine behind. I guess he hadn’t been lying about being a Star Wars fan, considering he carried an action figure in his pocket. At least I hoped it wasn’t just a prop he used when he told strangers tall tales at bars and lied about his name.
Real Adam talked about artificial intelligence—a lot.
I tried to get my head back in the game after the Max letdown, but I knew before my actual date and I had finished a drink at the bar that this would be our only date. Adam was a nice-enough guy; there was just no connection, physical or mental. I wasn’t into computers or Bitcoin, which seemed to be a big thing for him, and he wasn’t into any of my hobbies, such as hiking, traveling, and watching old black-and-white movies. He didn’t even enjoy going to the movies. Who doesn’t love bingeing on popcorn and a gallon of soda while watching a big screen? Not to mention, when I told him about my work, he said he was allergic to flowers.
So when the waitress came by with a dessert menu, I politely declined.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a coffee or something?” Adam asked.
I shook my head. “I have to work in the morning. Having caffeine after noon keeps me up all night. But thank you.”
He nodded, though I could tell he was disappointed.
Outside the restaurant, he offered to share a cab, but I only lived eight blocks away. So I extended my hand to set the tone for the end of the evening.
“It was very nice to meet you, Adam.”
“You, too. Maybe we can…do this again sometime?”
It was so much easier to be upfront and tell a guy there wouldn’t be a second date when he was a jerk. But I always struggled with the nice ones. I shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. Take care, Adam.”
It was late April, but the cold weather just wouldn’t relent and allow spring to start this year, and a gust of wind blew while I waited at the intersection at the corner of the restaurant. I shoved my hands into my pockets for some warmth, and inside, something pointy pricked at my fingers. I slipped it out to see what it was.
His plastic ears were tapered to points, and there was a tiny chip on the left one. I’d forgotten I’d stuck him in my pocket when Adam and I had moved from the bar to a table. Looking down at him, I sighed. God, why couldn’t your owner have been my actual date tonight?
It had been a very long time since a man gave me the warm fuzzies in the pit of my belly—not since the day I’d met Gabriel. So maybe finding Yoda in my pocket was a sign? The light changed, and I walked a few more blocks, lost in thought.
Did it really matter that he’d pretended to be Adam? I mean, if he was telling the truth, he only did it so I’d talk to him. Let’s face it, if he had walked over and introduced himself as Max, I wouldn’t have invited him to sit down. I would have been polite and told him I was waiting for my date, no matter how gorgeous the man was. So, I couldn’t really say I blamed him…I guess.
I stopped for another red light at the crosswalk on 29th Street, this time at the corner of 7th as I made my way down to 2nd Avenue where I lived. While I waited, I looked to my right, and the neon lights of a sign hit me. Madison Square Garden. Now that was definitely a sign—quite literally. Between Yoda and walking right past the place Fake Adam had said he’d be…perhaps it was more than that.
I checked the time on my phone. Twenty after eight. He’d said he would be there at seven thirty, but I was sure the game took a few hours. Should I?
I nibbled on my lip as the light in front of me turned green. People on both sides of me started to walk…but I just stood there, staring down at Yoda.
What do I have to lose?
The worst that could happen was that our initial connection fizzled or it turned out lying was one of Fake Adam’s hobbies. Or…the spark we’d had might lead to just the distraction I was looking for. I wouldn’t know unless I tried.
For the most part, I was pretty conservative with my choices in men. And look where that had gotten me. I was a twenty-eight-year-old workaholic, going on blind dates with my mom’s friend’s relatives. So screw it—I was going.
Once I made the decision, I couldn’t wait to get there. I practically jogged to Madison Square Garden, even in my heels from work. Inside, I showed my ticket to an usher standing at the entrance to the section listed, and he showed me to my seat.
As I walked down the stadium stairs, I looked around and noticed I was pretty overdressed. Most of the people had on jerseys and jeans. There were even a few shirtless guys with their bodies painted, and here I was wearing a cream silk blouse, red pencil skirt, and my favorite Valentino pumps. At least Max had been pretty dressed up.
I hadn’t noticed the row number on the ticket before handing it over to the usher, but the seats must’ve been decent because we just kept walking down toward the ice. When we hit the very first row, the usher extended his hand. “Here you go. Seat two is the second one in.”
“Wow, first row, directly in the middle on the fifty-yard line.”
The guy smiled. “In hockey we call it center ice.”
“Oh…okay.” But the seat next to the one he’d shown me to was empty, and Max was nowhere in sight. “Did you happen to see the person sitting in the seat at the end?” I asked.
The usher shrugged. “I’m not positive, but I don’t think they’ve arrived yet. Enjoy the game, miss.”
After he walked away, I stood looking down at the two empty seats. This was one outcome I hadn’t thought about: I might get stood up. Actually, would it even be considered standing someone up if the other person didn’t know you were coming? I wasn’t sure. But I was here, so I might as well take a seat and see if Max showed. He’d said he had to work, so perhaps he was running late. Or maybe he was already here, just in the men’s room or in line for a beer.
A woman sat on the other side of me. She smiled as I settled in. “Hi. Are you here to watch Yearwood? He’s on fire tonight, already slashed two in the net. Too bad they’re probably not going to be able to hold onto him for next season.”
I shook my head. “Oh. No, I’m actually meeting someone. I’ve never been to a live hockey game before.” Just as I said it, two guys slammed into the glass wall directly in front of me. I jumped, and the woman next to me laughed as they skated away.
“That happens a lot. You’ll get used to it.” She reached out her hand. “I’m Jenna, by the way. I’m married to Tomasso.” She pointed to the rink. “Number twelve.”
“Oh, wow. I guess I’m sitting next to the right person for my first game.” I put my hand to my chest. “I’m Georgia.”
“Anything you want explained, Georgia, you just let me know.”
For the next twenty minutes, I tried to watch the game. But I kept looking around to see if Max was coming down the stairs. Unfortunately, he never did. By nine o’clock, it was pretty clear I’d wasted my time. Since I had early meetings tomorrow morning, I decided to call it a night. The game clock showed less than a minute until the end of the second period, so I figured I’d wait until then so I wouldn’t be blocking people’s views as I climbed the stairs back up to the exit. These hockey fans seemed pretty into the game.
When the clock hit nine seconds, one of the guys scored a goal, and the place went crazy again. Everyone jumped up, so I did the same, only I used it as an opportunity to slip on my jacket. I leaned to the woman next to me and yelled. “I don’t think my date’s coming, so I’m going to head out. Have a good night.”
But as I turned to leave, something caught my attention on the Jumbotron. The player who’d scored held his stick up in the air celebrating, and a bunch of the guys on his team were whacking him on the head. His helmet covered most of his face, but those eyes… I know those eyes. The player took out his mouth guard, waved it in the air, and smiled right at the camera.
My eyes went wide.
No…it couldn’t be.
I continued to stare at the screen with my mouth hanging open until the guy’s face was no longer on it.
The woman next to me finished cheering. “See? I told you he was on fire. If this is your first game, you’ve picked a good one to watch. You don’t see a lot of hat tricks in a single period. Yearwood is having his best season ever. Too bad the rest of his team isn’t.”
“Yearwood? That’s the name of the guy who just scored?”
Jenna laughed at my question. “Yup. Team captain and arguably the best player in the NHL these days. They call him Pretty Boy for obvious reasons.”
“What’s his first name?”
“Max. I figured you knew him, since those are his seats you’re sitting in.”
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Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles have appeared in over a hundred Bestseller lists and are currently translated in twenty-five languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.