By Design – Chapter 21

It had been a long day, so Gracie was more than ready to clock out when 6 o’clock rolled around and head home. She didn’t have anything planned for the evening; she was just looking forward to a night of relaxing on her sofa and watching TV. After such a busy day, she welcomed the chance to chill out a bit.

Her work finished, she stepped out of the elevator on the first floor. She could almost taste the freedom that awaited her outside the building, and what a sweet taste it was. What she wasn’t expecting to find awaiting her on the other side of the door was Eli Walker. She pushed through the door and stopped in her tracks at the sight of him, staring at him in disbelief. Not this again, she thought.

To her surprise, Eli spoke before she had the chance to. “I hope I am not out of line coming here like this,” he said. She couldn’t quite tell if it was an apology or not.

“I guess it depends on the reason for your visit,” Gracie responded.

A shy smile flashed across Walker’s face and he lowered his head. Was he embarrassed? Or did he think she might be flirting with him? Wait! Was it possible that he was flirting with her?

Eli stepped toward her. “As it turns out, I have a dinner reservation for tonight and am looking for a dinner partner. Would you be interested?”

He was flirting! This really was a new side of Eli Walker for Gracie. All of his desperate awkwardness seemed to have disappeared since the last time they spoke. She couldn’t help but be intrigued by his smooth, confident demeanor. She wondered if this was the Eli Walker women always seemed to be cooing over. If so, she could finally understand why he was such a big deal among the women she knew. This man was much different than the man she had been interacting with over the last few months.

Still, she didn’t want him to think she was taking to him so easily. She wasn’t about to give in so readily. “And why should I go to dinner with you?” she asked.

Eli smiled again. Man, what a smile! Where had that been for the last several months when she had been meeting with him? Gracie shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. There was no reason to get carried away. She was still convinced not to like this guy.

Apparently Eli could read her hesitation. “Listen,” he said, “I know our…er…relationship got off to a rough start. And I recognize that might have been my fault.”

Gracie raised her eyebrows. “Might have been?”

Eli laughed, shaking his head. “Don’t pretend you didn’t play a part in all this as well,” he said. Ok, now he really was flirting with her. “Anyway, as difficult as it’s been, there’s something interesting about you Gracie Parker. For some reason, I just can’t get you out of my mind. As professionals, we don’t seem to get along very well, but I was hoping that instead of continuing to torture myself with that relationship we might be able to start over again and get to know each other on a personal level.”

Gracie found herself taken aback by his words. It definitely wasn’t something she had expected out of him. Where had this suddenly well-spoken and flattering man come from? He definitely wasn’t the same desperate Eli Walker she had left in the café after their last meeting.

“You mean you really want to get dinner? No tricks?”

“No tricks,” Eli assured her.

Gracie hesitated, thinking. Then, “Where did you want to go?”

“There is a new Italian place that just opened up.”

Gracie’s eyes widened. “I’ve been wanting to go there!” she said.

Eli held out his hand. “Then let me treat you,” he said.

Gracie eyed him once more, trying to decide if she should trust him. Why shouldn’t she? After all, he hadn’t done anything harmful so far. Surely she could trust him to behave himself for one evening. Gracie placed her hand in Eli’s, and he closed his fingers around hers.

The two of them walked toward his car, both a bit hesitant but excited at the same time, neither of them even noticing that they walked right past Jeff who was still waiting to take Gracie out himself.


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