Best-Laid Plans (Chapter Three, page 1 of 1)

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Brandon was right - almost, anyway. She was miserably sore - and from such a short ride. Still, that wasn't the only lingering side effect of her weekend with Brandon. Julia and Rachel never missed a chance to tease her about her nonexistent relationship with Brandon. They obviously sensed that it would be perilous to tease Brandon.
Brandon may have considered his problem "stupid" at the ranch, but it obviously wasn't behind him. At times he seemed on the verge of revealing it to Adrienne, only to draw back into himself and avoid her for days. If she only had a clue what was bothering him. His job seemed to be going well, and his grade point was high. Maybe his problem was a girlfriend. He did date occasionally, but he didn't appear to be serious about any of the girls. Come to think of it, he hadn't been out at all since they returned from his parent's house. Was something wrong there?
Her date with Michael had been uneventful and he hadn’t asked her out since. At least something was going right. In addition, all her planning and tenacity were paying off. In May she would receive her cap, and the hospital was already considering her application for a job in the nursery. She was close to realizing a lifetime goal.
In fact, things were going so well that she actually accepted an invitation to a valentine's party at Roxanne’s house. Julia and Rachel were looking forward to the event, and each had a boyfriend to drag along. They were disappointed when Adrienne didn’t invite Michael . . . or anyone else, for that matter. They exchanged knowing glances, and treated her like a lost dog. Obviously they thought she was upset by Michael’s interest in another girl. Some day Michael would grow up and realize there was something more in life than conquest. Maybe then he would notice Roxanne.
Roxanne’s house was within walking distance and the night was balmy. Still, Brandon insisted on driving her to the house. It probably looked better for him, anyway, as he didn’t have a date.
The smoke proved to be too much for Adrienne and two other girls, so they decided to walk each other home. Since they all lived in the same apartment complex, and the evening was early, Adrienne invited them to her apartment for a cup of coffee. They were all giggling over coffee when Brandon walked in. He scowled at Adrienne.
"We were looking all over the place for you. Why didn't you say something before you left?"
Chris and Donna eased away from the table, glancing apprehensively at Adrienne.
Adrienne shrugged. "I'm sorry. I didn't think about it. The smoke was bothering me and I didn't want to ruin the party for all of you, so I simply walked home."
He scowled at the other girls, and his voice had an unfamiliar edge. "Don't you girls know how dangerous it is to be walking at night around here?"
Adrienne glanced at Chris and sipped her coffee. "We were all together. There's no reason to get all worked up. It isn't like we're little kids, you know."
Chris glanced at Donna, and shrugged. “Did you know that the female gender had a guardian?”
Donna shook her head. “No, but I sure feel relieved, don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow at Adrienne.
Chris grinned and clutched her coffee cup. “If there’s one thing he can’t stand, it must be an independent female.”
Brandon stepped over to the stove and poured a cup of coffee. He straddled a chair and leaned his arms across the top of it while he sipped his coffee.
"It wasn't exactly a fun party, anyway,” he continued as if none of them had spoken. “I'd have been glad to drive you home." He sipped the hot liquid and grimaced. "I figured you walked home. I told Julia and Rachel that I'd come back if I didn't find you here." He took another sip. "They wanted to stay at the party."
Donna & Chris exchanged uncomfortable glances. Brandon was deliberately ignoring them. Finally Chris stood.
“Well, Donna. It’s getting late. We’d better get back to the apartment.” She glanced at Brandon. “Of course, we can go by ourselves. It’s only a few doors down. But then, if you think it’s not safe . . .
Brandon met her gaze, and his somber expression finally melted into a smile. “Do you want me to walk you home?”
Chris shook her head and smiled. “No way. I might meet some tall, dark, handsome man on the way, and you’d chase him off.” She motioned to Donna. “Come on, let’s skip on home.”
After they left, Adrienne gave Brandon a stern look.
"They didn't know what to think - you coming in here all huffy and chewing me out. What were you thinking?"
His gaze focused on her and he looked genuinely surprised. "I wasn't chewing you out."
"You weren't exactly friendly, either. What's got into you lately?"
He stared down at his cup and swirled the coffee around absently. "Have I been that bad?"
She sighed. "You haven't been good. Do you want to talk about what's bothering you?"
He nodded and she waited, but he never took his eyes off the coffee cup, and remained silent.
She rolled her eyes. "Tonight?" she asked dryly.
He glanced up and then smiled.
"Maybe not. Why don't I take you out to get something to eat?"
She sipped her coffee and eyed him suspiciously. "Are you trying to get on my good side now? You're not my entertainment committee, you know."
He stood and gulped the rest of his coffee.
“I'm asking you out. Do you want to go?"
She frowned. "You mean like a date?"
He took the cup from her hand. "Is the idea so deplorable?"
She shrugged. "No, I just thought . . ." She shrugged again. "You mean like a real date? Dinner and a movie . . . a good night kiss and all that stuff?"
His smile was sour. "You can forego the good night kiss, if you find it that objectionable."
She rose from the table and retrieved her purse. "OK, if we both pay our way - and this isn't real a date. No hanky-panky, you know. House rules."
"Oh for . . .” he grabbed her arm. “Come on. Let's go get a hamburger or something." He led the way to the door, all the while muttering something under his breath about something being stupid. Probably the house rules. Hopefully he wasn't talking about her.
Dinner and a movie did nothing for his sullen mood - except maybe make it worse. Back at the apartment, he paused at the door, key in hand. Was he on the verge of divulging his troubles? He gazed down at her for a long time. She stared up at him, waiting.
Finally he sighed. "Well, do I get a good night kiss?"
She couldn't see his facial expression in the dark, so it was hard to tell if he was teasing her or not. She gave an exaggerated sigh. "If I must." She leaned forward and stood on her toes, gripping his shoulders as she kissed his cheek.
Instantly his hands came up to her elbows, forcing her arms around his neck. He grabbed her waist before she could back away, and pulled her into his arms. His lips found hers, warm and searching for a response.
For a moment she was too startled to do anything but stand there. This was no joke. He was actually kissing her - ardently, at that. She pushed away from him and caught her breath sharply.
He grabbed her arm, his breath warm against her cheek. "Was it so terrible, Adrienne?"
"No, it's just . . . Why?"
His chuckle was low and soft. "You have been keeping to yourself too long."
She waited. What now? Was she merely a female to hold for the evening - or was this what he had been trying to tell her for so long? Was this his problem? That he was feeling more than friendship for her? Dare she hope? Yet, wasn't it better if the issue didn't surface for a while? After all, her plans were going so well. That could be attributed greatly to the fact that she had avoided any relationships. No, she was reading too much into an innocent good night kiss. He was merely feeling lonely tonight and kissing would only arouse him.
She gently tugged her wrist from his hand, searching in her purse for the keys to the apartment. "We'd better get inside. It's late and I have to get up early tomorrow.”
"Sure, Adrienne. You're always busy. Working, studying . . . don't you have a minute you can set aside - for me?"
She caught her breath. "I don't know what you mean. We talk and . . ."
"And talk," he interrupted, tugging her away from the door. "Let's try a little of this."
He pulled her against him and claimed her lips hungrily. His warm hands slid under her jacket and explored her back through her T-shirt. Her heart was beating overtime when one of his hands slid to her neck. He pushed the hair from her neck and his lips sizzled a hot trail in its wake.
At first she was too stunned to respond, and then passion hit her like the fiery breath of a dragon. She slipped her arms around his neck and forced his lips down harder on her own. Then they were locked in a passionate embrace, seeking and finding the love they had been pushing aside for so long.
Finally, he lifted his head, and his voice was husky with emotion. "I love you, Adrienne.” He said against her cheek. “That's what I've been wanting to tell you."
The blood was pounding in her ears. Maybe she wasn't hearing him right. And yet, his lips had already told her in another way. She tried her voice once before she managed to speak, and even then the voice didn't sound like her own.
"We can't. What about house rules?"
He kissed her again, softly this time. "So? We're not in the apartment, are we? What goes on outside those doors is none of their business. Otherwise, what's so different from yesterday?" He punctuated his statement with another soft kiss on her lips.
She pulled away from him. "Because now we know."
He chuckled softly and tugged her close again. “Know what, Adrienne?” he spoke softly between kisses. “Say it.”
She squirmed from his arms; her breath coming in short gasps. “I didn't want to get emotionally involved with anyone. Not until after I graduated. I've planned most of my life to get where I am now. I'm too close to my goal to give up now. Don't you understand?"
In the moonlight, his expression was unreadable. “No, I don’t understand. There's nothing stopping you from finishing school. It's not like I'm asking you to run away with me. I have plans too, you know - and they don't include dropping out three months short of graduation."
"But finals are coming up, and we're likely to be distracted . . ."
He laughed shortly as he crammed his hands into his pockets.
"What do you think I've been going through lately . . . wanting to tell you, wanting to hold you in my arms - not knowing if you felt the way I did. Don't you think that was more than a little distracting?"
The apartment door opened and Rachel stared out at them. "There you two are. What are you doing standing out there in the snow?"
Adrienne glanced at her jacket. Sure enough. Why hadn't they noticed it was getting so much colder? How could they have missed feeling the light flakes that had been kissing their cheeks? She knew her face was getting red, and Brandon wasn't exactly pale.
Rachel rolled her eyes. "Never mind. I don't want to know. Get in here. We've got some hot chocolate on the stove." She stepped back and let them enter. "You missed a good party." She glanced at Adrienne and winked. "Then again, maybe you didn't miss anything at all."
Adrienne shucked her coat and tried to act nonchalant in spite of the warmth in her cheeks. "We decided to go see a movie."
Brandon shrugged out of his coat and hung it in the closet. If she hadn't been there in his arms only minutes ago, she never would have guessed he had been so aroused. No wonder he had kept his feelings hidden from her for so long. Now that the truth was out, maybe it wouldn't be so difficult to live in the same apartment now. Maybe his mood would improve, anyway. Only time would tell.

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