PublicBookshelf Book Club
Weekly tips on great novels to read.
It felt like dejà vu as Maddy stood in the middle of her walk-in closet, contemplating her choice of attire for the special evening ahead-that
is, with one notable exception. Sixteen years after her first date with
Kenny, she'd finally achieved the figure she'd always dreamed of, thanks
to functional training, a year-round outdoor lifestyle, natural therapies
and, perhaps the most influential factor of all, her newfound ability to
harness the power of her God-given imagination.
Unlike that faraway evening in Ocean City, her only problem tonight
was making an ultimate decision between equally flattering styles, ranging
from halter dresses with A-line skirts to sexy, strapless sheaths with
accompanying bolero jackets. Fresh from a hot shower, she'd blow-dried
her hair and it fell in gradual waves far beyond her shoulders, barely
reaching the strap of her ivory lace bra. Madeline patted her tummy now
in admiration of its hard-earned muscle tone, which was evident from
beneath her matching lace panties.
From the mysterious nature of Ken's earlier conversation, she sensed
that this night had significant implications for their future. But it hadn't
been that long since they'd reunited. Would he really ask her to marry him so
soon? After all, she hardly even knew his children, though they certainly
appeared to be well-adjusted, judging from the little bit of time she'd
spent with them. And now that she was-gasp!-41 years old, it wasn't as
if she felt compelled to wait for too much longer. If she and Ken had
been strangers who'd just met, suddenly rushing to the altar based on
nothing more than pure physical attraction that would be one thing;
knowing each other for most of their adult lives was quite another.
"C'mon, Maddy, you've got a closet full of beautiful dresses that all fit
you perfectly. Pick something already!" she admonished herself out loud.
Just then the phone rang.
"Please tell me you're wearing something sexy that I would approve
of," Elyse ordered in a playful, yet serious tone.
"Ugh! I haven't decided and he's going to be here any minute!"
"Madeline, get it together girlfriend! I say you go with the gorgeous
aquamarine halter dress with the rhinestone clasp and the short, flouncy
hem. The gathers in the top make you look bigger where you need it and
the skirt shows off your nice legs. It's vixen-ish in a tasteful sort of way."
"You really think so?"
"Yes. Now what are you doing with your hair?"
"Um, I was planning to wear it down. Debbie shaped it up a few days
ago, so the layers are falling in perfectly."
"Sounds good. Oh and Maddy? Wear those strappy silver sandals and
use your rhinestone clutch." Maddy cracked up.
"Why don't you just come over and dress me, Mom?"
"Hey, just tryin' to help, girlfriend! You know how excited I am for
ya!" The effervescence in her tone supported the truth of her statement.
"I know, Elyse. You're an awesome friend and I really appreciate
"You just make sure you call me if something interesting takes place!"
"Like what? You know something I don't?"
"No, just a feelin' I have. And you know me, I am clairvoyant!
Remember our night in Savannah?"
"How could I forget?" Maddy laughed at the memory of their
"haunted" vacation a few years back.
"Ok, Mads, well hurry up and get dressed. This is going to be a huge
night for you and Ken. I feel it in the air."
* * *
Ken buttoned his crisp, white shirt as he stood staring into the mirror.
It had been such a long time since he'd experienced this welcome mix of
internal sensations-nervousness, excitement, arousal and of course-
authentic love and affection. As a much younger man about to pop the
question to another woman, he couldn't quite recall the same energetic
rush, though at the time, Erin had occupied a very special place in his
heart. But now with Madeline, things were dramatically different-more
mature, yet somehow more exuberant and fresh than they'd been back in
their Jersey Shore days. The passage of time had only fueled greater desire
and appreciation. Apparently, life really did begin after 40.
He studied his reflection for a moment, briefly entertaining the
worrisome notion of Madeline somehow rejecting him this evening.
Although older and wiser, Ken's natural ebullience had only grown
stronger, recent trauma notwithstanding. There were still too many things
that merited his gratitude, particularly being presented now with a second
chance to get it right with her.
And as he checked himself out in his navy suit, perhaps a few pounds
heavier than in his post-Military stage, he was more than satisfied with his
overall appearance. Besides, he noticed the smoldering look in Madeline's
eyes when they first saw each other at the Samba Room on Las Olas that
afternoon-it was the very same one that used to drive him mad back in
Ocean City. Only this time she seemed much more relaxed and at-ease.
Striding over to the dresser, he picked up the blue velvet box
containing the sparkling symbol of the next beautiful phase of their
relationship. Lifting its lid, he stared at the breathtaking platinum,
emerald-cut diamond ring with its braided design and complementing
smaller stones. He couldn't exactly explain why he knew this was the ring
for her, but when the jeweler presented it to him, something inside just
spurred him on to make the purchase right then and there. As he gazed at
it, he visualized the perfect scenario in which he'd proclaim his undying
love and fidelity, prompting Madeline to jump into his arms and respond
with a resounding "yes."
Slipping the box carefully into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, Ken
grabbed his car keys and headed for the front door. He was halfway
through the foyer when the phone rang. After a quick glance at the Caller
ID, he decided to pick up.
"Hi honey! I know you must be on your way out, but I just wanted to
call and wish you luck-not that I think you'll need it." He laughed.
"I hope not, but thanks for the good wishes!"
"Ken, Madeline really is an amazing girl. Your dad and I liked her
"I knew you would."
"Are you nervous?"
"A little, I guess."
"Don't worry, honey. She'll say yes-a woman knows these sorts of
things. Besides, I saw the way she looks at you. She loves you truly. And
from what I can tell, Bonnie and Brian are crazy about her, too."
"Well, she feels the same way about them. I just hope she can handle
having to deal with Erin. You know what that's like."
"Ken, as long as you remember your priorities, you have nothing to
worry about. Not even Erin will be able to ruin your happiness. Besides,
she's too preoccupied with her millionaire sugar daddy to cause too many
"I hope you're right, Mom," he said with resignation.
"Hey! You just focus this evening on you and Madeline. Don't worry
about the kids; we're taking them to Guppy's for dinner and then over to
Boomers to play miniature golf. And after Mass tomorrow, we'll take
them out for breakfast. They love that. Just don't forget about the
barbeque tomorrow afternoon."
"Oh, Maddy and I will be there, Mom. Hopefully as a newly engaged
* * *
"Hello handsome!" Maddy enthused, opening her front door to find
her beloved outfitted in his Sunday best. But it was her favorite
accessory-his signature, radiant smile-that took her breath away, in
spite of the huge arrangement of fresh roses he held in his arms.
"Hey beautiful!" As soon as she closed the door behind him, he
gathered her into his big, strong embrace. How was it possible that every time
he saw her, she was even more desirable?
"Mmm, those flowers smell wonderful!" she exclaimed as she
accepted the bouquet.
"You look gorgeous, sweetheart," he remarked joyfully, taking in her
appearance. Her sexy dancer's legs were set off nicely by the filmy,
ethereal hem of her halter dress, which also showcased her porcelain
smooth back and elegant neck.
"Thank you," she whispered, before reaching up to join his lips in a
sweet kiss. As always, time seemed to stand still.
"Uh, baby," Maddy giggled, extricating herself long enough to speak,
"I'd better get these into some water."
She took him by the hand and led him into the kitchen where she
quickly scurried around for just the right vase. A moment later, the
crimson blooms stood proudly on her glass dining room table, adding a
contrasting splash of color to the French vanilla walls and pastel décor.
"Perfect!" she declared with satisfaction.
"Like you," he added softly, taking her hands in his. Gazing up at
him, she saw an extra twinkle in his eye.
"Kenny, what's going on? I'm getting the distinct feeling there's
something you're not telling me."
"Who me?" His tone was playful as he silently looked forward to the
moment they'd both been anticipating for what felt like an eternity.
"You're not even going to give me a hint are you?" She teasingly
poked him in the chest until he suddenly pulled her close to him.
Kissing the top of her head, he promised, "All things in good time,
sweetheart. Trust me."
* * *
Ken and Maddy settled into their private corner table in Arturo's
Tuscan Room. The award-winning restaurant had long been on her list of
South Florida places to experience someday, though she hadn't dreamed
she'd ever share her first meal here with Ken. The romantic sounds of
distinctively Italian music filled the air, along with the mouthwatering
aromas of familiar cuisine. Glancing around the room, Maddy noticed
some of the city's most well known citizens sampling everything from
flavorful veal scaloppini to creamy tiramisu, dressed in their finest
While she relished the opportunity to dabble in some rare decadence,
she couldn't help but suspect this was no ordinary evening. And when
Ken asked their server to bring them a bottle of Asti Spumante, her
curiosity was further piqued.
"So what are we celebrating? I mean, beside you and me." A slow
smile spread across her face.
"Sweetheart, isn't that enough?" He pretended to be insulted.
"C'mon, you know it is Kenny. But there's something else going on
that you're not telling me. I can feel it!"
"You're right, I'm not telling you-yet." He winked at her.
"Ugh! You are such a tease!" He just smiled before shifting his
attention to the establishment's impressive menu.
* * *
"Baby, that was delicious. Now I know what all the fuss is about,"
Maddy commented as they waited arm-in-arm for the valet under the
canopy of the building's entrance. "My gosh, I am so full!"
"You are? You hardly ate anything," he replied. "I practically finished
your entire meal, Madeline Rose. I hope you're still not worrying about
food. You look absolutely incredible but I don't want you starving
yourself. You know you always looked beautiful to me, from the day I
met you." He squeezed her shoulder as he spoke.
"I know, Kenny. And I appreciate that. I don't know why, but I just
had butterflies in my stomach tonight for some reason. Possibly because
you're keeping me in suspense?" She looked up at him with a hopeful
expression, but he refused to take the bait.
"Nice try," he laughed. "But I'm not budging 'til it's time." With that,
he took her hand and led her to the waiting white Lexus.
* * *
They cruised over the Spanish River drawbridge, heading east towards
the beach. The blue velvet box rested against his chest, still snug and
secure in its hiding place. Ken smiled to himself, imagining what was
about to occur; from the speakers, the classic dance and love songs he'd
recently burned onto a CD enhanced the scenery unfolding before them.
And as they passed by hedges of tropical foliage, city parks and
quintessential condos, his heart began to race. Seemingly oblivious, Maddy
softly sang along to The One, remembering fondly their first slow dance as
she rested her hand on top of his, which was occupying its usual place on
"Hey," he said with sudden urgency, prompting her to turn her head
to look at him. "I love you," he reminded her.
"I love you, too," she replied as he lifted her hand to his lips. "Are
"Never better, sweetheart. Why?"
"You just seem so nervous. That used to be my role, if you recall.
Now I'm the calm one? That's quite a turnaround!" They both laughed
"I guess I'm just seriously thankful to have another chance with you,"
he stated with sober conviction.
"Me too, Kenny," she reminded him. "I'd say we both have plenty of
awesome reasons to be grateful, starting with this beautiful night."
"The best is yet to come, baby," he promised, pulling the car into a
waiting space at the South Beach Pavilion on Palmetto Park Road and
A1A-his chosen location for finally fulfilling a long ago promise.
* * *
The luminous full moon cast its shimmering beams on the calm,
expansive sea as Ken and Madeline sat down on the wooden ledge that
wrapped around the entire beachside structure. Though normally a
densely crowded spot, given the late hour on a Saturday night-when
most of the area's young adult population was busy bar-hopping either on
Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach or in downtown Fort Lauderdale-they
found themselves blissfully alone.
A light, balmy wind enveloped them as she rested her head in the
crook of his arm and delighted in the warmth of his body. "I could stay
here like this all night," she sighed.
"Me too, baby," he agreed, holding her even closer. Beneath the
fabric of his shirt, she felt the intense pounding of his heart.
Sitting up to face him, she asked, "Kenny, are you sure you're ok?"
She took his face lightly in her hands as she spoke. "You're so
preoccupied; is something wrong?"
"No, sweetheart," he whispered huskily. "That's just it-for the first
time in forever, everything's right and I don't want to blow it. I guess I was
waiting for the perfect moment, but I think it's here." With that, he
abruptly stood up and, turning to face her, knelt down on one knee as
shivers of excitement ran up and down her spine.
Taking her hands in his, he stared at her adoringly as he began.
"Madeline, from the moment I first saw you sixteen years ago, I knew you
were the one for me. Actually, from that night in the Key Largo parking
lot when you absolutely refused to come back to my place three times-that
was when I knew I wanted to marry you."
Maddy smiled at the memory. He stroked her hair as he continued.
"No other woman comes close to you, sweetheart-no one else has
ever demonstrated your innate sweetness, your incredible intelligence and
your stubborn determination. Over all of these years we spent apart, I
thought of you so much. Oh, I tried to forget you, but I just couldn't. I've
never known anyone as beautiful as you, Madeline, inside and out. And I
know I don't really deserve a chance to make it up to you, but I'm hoping
you'll let me anyway. Because if you agree to be my wife, I promise I will
spend the rest of my days making sure you are happy, safe and loved."
He pulled the velvet box out of his jacket and opened its lid to reveal
the identical ring from her treasure map, in all of its timeless, platinum
glory; she gasped in awe at the sight of it.
"Madeline Rose, will you marry me?"
Completely at a loss for words, her brown eyes glistened with joyful
tears as she watched this fervently desired miracle take place before her.
There he was at last-her perfect match, her one, true love, pledging his
eternal commitment with all of his heart and soul, along with the
engagement ring she'd always wanted. Not something like it, but the actual
one whose photo was glued to a montage of images on her bathroom
mirror! How could this be? Yes, she believed in the Unity principles she'd
learned, but to have created everything exactly to her specifications? God
sure was good.
And no matter how many times she'd envisioned this moment in her
mind during regular intervals of tranquil meditation, the real thing far
exceeded every detail of her highly advanced prayer time. Ken softly
interrupted her internal reverie.
"Madeline?" he whispered, bringing his face close to hers.
"Sweetheart, will you marry me?"
"H-how? How did you know that is the exact ring I've always
"I know you," he replied simply. "But if you want to keep it you have
to agree to marry me. Will you, sweetheart?" His blue eyes searched hers
for an answer. Brought back to this wonderful reality, Madeline
ecstatically threw her arms around him.
"Yes! Yes, I'll marry you Kenny!" She felt like heaven in his embrace
as he buried his head in her hair. "I love you so much!" she added.
"I love you, too, Madeline Rose."
Then remembering himself, he broke away to face her again. "So why
don't we make it official?" He slid the dazzling stone onto her slender left
finger, where it rested comfortably.
"Perfect!" she marveled, unable to stop staring at it until he stood up
and lifted her off the ground. He twirled her around boisterously for a few
seconds before they melted into a passionate kiss-the first of many
they'd share as a blissfully engaged and soon-to-be married, couple.