"Ma, they’ve been dating for two years. How is that rushing?"
He reached his office, and as he curled his fingers around the doorknob, Jillian bolted around the corner behind him. He pushed open the door as he glanced over his shoulder, and the phone slid away from his ear at her wide-eyed panicked look.
"We have a runner," Jillian said in a stage whisper.
Daniel sighed and tried to hold up one finger, but nearly dropped his phone in the process. He bumped the office door with his hip, hoping to get inside and put down his papers before they scattered.
And stopped short when he saw a young woman, probably no older than him at thirty, dressed in a mid-calf cream silk dress, standing at the corner of his desk. Her cheeks were flushed and damp, her eyes red and wide. Rich brown hair framed her cheeks to fall around her mostly bare shoulders in a style reminiscent of a golden age Hollywood starlet. She even wore rich red lipstick and her eyes were lined to draw attention to thick lashes and upswept corners.
Their gazes met, and she shook her head, the tiniest of movements.
"Daniel, are you listening?"
Keeping his eyes on the woman, Daniel placed the papers on the couch by his door and stepped back out of the office, closing the door almost completely behind him, enough so the "runner" wouldn’t be seen. He shifted his phone to his other hand so he could keep his left hand on the door.
"I’m sorry, Ma. One of those interesting stories seems to have come up. I’ll be there as soon as I can after six, I promise."
Not waiting for her response, he tapped off the call, pocketed the phone and turned to face Jillian. She bolted to him, standing close enough to whisper, glancing up and down the hall. "You haven’t seen her, have you?"
"So, it’s the bride this time?" he asked, hoping to sound convincing. As he kept his focus on Jillian, he pushed his hand into his pocket and pinched between his fingers the linen handkerchief he always carried.
“The couple who booked chapel four last week. Spalaris and Jackson.”
Daniel nodded and shifted his weight to cover hooking his hand around the door. To Jillian, it would appear he leaned on the open door. Hopefully, Ms. Spalaris – whom he assumed was the woman hiding in his office – would see his hand. Moments later, with a small tug, the handkerchief left his fingers.
Jillian crossed her arms and huffed. "Though, I think she only beat the groom by minutes. I swear, he almost seemed relieved when I said I couldn’t find her."
"You told him?" Daniel scolded. "Jillian--"
"I know, I know..." she said, shaking her head and holding up her hands in defense. "I didn’t want to, but he pushed. But, I don’t think she’s gone gone. Her purse, luggage, and even her phone is still in the bride’s ready room. I think she’s just... hiding."
"Well, keep looking. If you need help, let me know. Otherwise..." He hooked his thumb over his shoulder toward his office door.
Jillian nodded, hands set at her slender waist. She huffed to blow some auburn hair off her forehead, then turned on her heels and headed back the way she came. Daniel slid his fingers into his front pockets, leaving his thumbs hanging out, and waited until she reached the hallway corner. She glanced back at him and offered a comical salute, and he smiled. As soon as she was out of side, he let the smile go and turned back to his office door. They had at least one runner a week, but this had to be the first time he’d found said runner in his office.
Usually, they ran right out the front door.
As long as he had the non-refundable ceremony deposit, he figured it was for the best. Clearly, if they felt the need to run out on their often quickie Vegas wedding, they weren’t ready to get married.
Daniel curled his hand around the knob, took in a deep breath and puffed it out, then pushed open the door and stepped inside. His visitor had moved back to the corner of his desk, but had turned to face his window and spun around with a gasp when he came inside. He held her gaze as he eased the door closed again. Even then, she jumped when the latch clicked. As skittish as a newborn colt.
And beautiful. He’d noticed before, but had been too shocked to let it register. She really was beautiful. Not gorgeous. Not pretty. Not stunning. Beautiful. Gorgeous made you pause. Pretty made you smile. Beautiful bloomed in your chest. Odd, there was a distinct delineation in his head.
He pushed his hands into his pockets again, his thumbs hanging out, and took two steps toward her. "First time I’ve found a runaway bride in my office," he said, hoping his smile helped. He tried a few more steps toward her, and while she was still wide eyed, she didn’t move. Her skittishness concerned him; he tried to maintain his smile and fought the apprehension in his chest. "Miss, do you need help? Are you afraid of whoever it is waiting out there for you?"
His final step brought him close enough to her he could touch her, but he wouldn’t. Cardinal rule. Well, one of the cardinal rules. This close, he put her at probably five-four, since she had on good three-inch heels, and she was still at least four or five inches shorter than him. Her eyes were a rich chocolate brown, shining with tears as she stared up at him. Daniel pressed his lips together and released air through his nose.
"Miss, I need you to answer--"
She didn’t say a word, but her face twisted in despair and she turned into his chest, her shoulders shaking. He had no choice but to embrace her, or they both would topple over. At a loss as to what else to do, he circled one arm across her shoulders, smoothed his other hand over her hair, and stood silent while her tears soaked his tee shirt.