Waiting for You

By: Abigail Strom

Chapter One

Erin Shaw felt like she was in high school again. She was sitting at a table with her friend Beth, staring at Jake Landry from across the room and hoping she wasn’t being too obvious about it.

Of course back then it would have been the cafeteria, and Jake’s sister Allison would have been with them as they munched on sandwiches from home or worked their way through the school’s macaroni and cheese. Now they were in an elegant hotel ballroom in Des Moines, drinking champagne at Allison’s wedding.

A double wedding, in fact. Allison and her sister Jenna had both gotten married today, each of them looking so radiant—and their respective grooms so completely besotted—that it had been a little overwhelming to look at them up there at the altar. It wasn’t often that you got to see so much love and joy concentrated in one spot like that.

Allison’s marriage wasn’t the only change since their high school days. Beth was married, too, and living in California. Erin was a successful web designer with her own business. And Jake, who’d just gotten out of the Army a few months ago, had spent most of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But one thing was exactly the same. From the first moment she’d spotted Jake tonight, Erin’s whole body had taken notice.

Her heart was beating faster. Her cheeks felt warm. She was aware of every inch of her skin, of the air that touched her bare arms and the brush of her silk dress against her legs.

You’d think that eleven years would have knocked the stuffing out of her teenage crush, but apparently not. Her knees felt weak every time she caught a glimpse of his face.

“So are you going to go talk to him, or what?”

Erin tore her gaze from Jake with a guilty flush. “Talk to who?”

“Whoever you’ve been staring at,” Beth answered with a grin.

So much for not being obvious. Apparently her covert crush skills had gotten a little rusty over the years.

“Beth! Erin!”

She was saved from answering by Allison, who was descending on them in a cloud of ivory tulle and hugging them hard enough to crack ribs.

“I haven’t seen you two all night. Are you having a good time?”

“Yes,” Beth said, hugging her back. “Your first dance was amazing. Just like Fred and Ginger. And the ceremony was beautiful.”

Allison grabbed an empty chair from the next table and sat down, fluffing her short brown hair with her fingers. “I’m glad to hear it, because I don’t remember a thing. Seriously. It’s all a big blur until the moment I said I do.”

“Maybe Rick can fill you in on the rest,” Erin suggested with a smile. “He seemed pretty happy about the whole thing. It looked like he was paying attention, anyway.”

“I tried to pay attention, but I was in this sort of glow. A happy glow, but still. Beth, do you remember your wedding?”

“Yes, but I eloped to Vegas. It’s hard to forget being married by an Elvis impersonator.”

Allison laughed. “I’ll take your word for it.” Then she grinned at Erin. “First Beth took the plunge, and now me. I guess that means you’re next.”

Erin shook her head. “Don’t do that whole you’re next thing. I refuse to succumb to peer pressure. I’m very happy that you and Beth have found true love, but I have no intention of jumping on the marriage bandwagon.”

Beth looked at her skeptically. “Ever? You’re going to stay single for the rest of your life?”

“I wouldn’t mind. My mother’s on husband number six, did you know that? She’s had enough marriages for both of us. And I like being single,” she added, even as she remembered the twinge of wistfulness she’d felt watching Rick and Allison declare their love.

Beth rolled her eyes. “You haven’t seen your mother in years. You haven’t talked to her in years. Why is she any kind of factor in your life plans?”

“She’s not a factor. She’s just a cautionary tale.”

Allison shook her head. “You don’t need a cautionary tale, Erin. You’re nothing like your mother and you never will be. You’re loyal and kind and smart and hard-working—”

“You’ve just described a border collie.”

“—and you deserve a man who will worship the ground you walk on. We can start by finding you a dance partner,” she added, glancing around the room. “Does anyone here catch your eye?”

“No,” Erin said, even as her gaze strayed back to Jake.

He didn’t catch her eye—he captured it. He captured her, the way he always had…even after eleven years.

She’d wondered so often what it would be like to see him again. Would she find she’d outgrown her schoolgirl crush? That the mere sight of Jake Landry no longer had the power to set her heart racing and her bones quivering?

The answer was no. Seeing him, being in the same room with him, affected her just as much as it always had—even though she knew they weren’t the same people anymore.

She could see that Jake had changed. He had the same blue eyes and firm jaw, the same tall, broad-shouldered physique. But there was a new reserve in the way he carried himself, and a new hardness in his expression.

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