By Design – Chapter 22

Eli jogged around the back of his car to the passenger side to open the door for his guest. He could feel the sweat forming on his forehead, and he hoped Gracie didn’t notice it. It was nerves—first date nerves—but he didn’t understand what had brought them out, making him feel like a teenager all over again. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been on dates in the last ten years since he had left high school. But none of those dates had ever been very serious. He was always too busy with work to spend a serious amount of time and effort on girls. That wasn’t to say that this date was serious. In fact, they hadn’t ever really established that it was a date. It was just dinner. He tried to remind himself of this as he opened the door and Gracie stepped out.

“I’m a big girl, you know. I can get my own door,” Gracie jibed as she got out of the car.

“Perhaps,” Eli conceded, knowing that she was playing with him, trying to measure his reaction. “But I was also raised to be a gentleman.” He gave her an easy smile, showing that he also knew how to play this game.

Gracie tried to conceal her own smile in response by lowering her head, allowing her hair to come down over her face. But it was no use. He had already seen her reaction and was pleased with it.

As Gracie followed Eli into the restaurant and the host led them to their table, she hated to admit she felt charmed by Eli Walker. She didn’t know what had come over her. Why was she acting shy and giddy like a child? There was something about him tonight that was so different from what she had grown used to when dealing with him. He seemed to be a completely different person, the opposite of what she expected of him. He was being polite, charming, fun. Perhaps it was the lighting in the restaurant, or the general atmosphere, but she couldn’t remember Eli being quite so good looking. He had never been hard on the eyes, but tonight it was something different, an attraction she had never felt toward him before. She had to remember to keep her head about her or she could see this evening getting way out of hand very quickly.

After they were seated and the waiter had taken their orders, Eli turned his attention to Gracie. “Since this isn’t exactly a work related dinner, I want to ask you about yourself. Where did you grow up?”

Gracie wasn’t quite sure she was ready to talk to Eli in such a familiar way, but she had agreed to go to dinner with him, so she supposed she had to play by his rules.

Eli sensed her hesitation and immediately feared that he had overstepped his bounds. “I’m sorry. Was that too personal?” Perhaps she had some horrible childhood she didn’t want to talk about. He should have been more considerate.

But Gracie just shook her head. “It’s not that,” she said. “I’m just not very good at talking about myself. I grew up just outside of town. My folks still live there.”

“How do they feel about you moving to the city to be a journalist?”

“They’re very supportive,” Gracie told him. “They are both professionals who work in the city as well, so they see nothing wrong with it. Sometimes they think I should come home more often, but I make it out there when I can, and they respect my decision to live in the city.”

“Wow.” Eli was impressed that her parents were so accepting of her choices. “It must be nice to have family like that.”

Gracie furrowed her brow, confusion on her face. “Your parents don’t support your business?”

Eli had to keep himself from laughing aloud. “That would be a big ‘no,’” he informed her.

Gracie was thoroughly shocked to hear that from him. “But you’ve been so successful,” she said.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been successful in the area my father believes I should have been,” Eli informed her.

Gracie wrinkled her nose in response. “That’s awful,” she said.

Eli shrugged and changed the subject. His family issues weren’t something he wanted to dwell on at the moment. He would much rather spend his attention elsewhere, like on Gracie, and the amazing food this place had to offer.

Their meal, as it turned out, was fantastic. Gracie was glad she had taken Eli up on his offer of dinner simply because it meant she finally got to eat here. And it was totally worth it. Eli played the gentleman and paid for everything without a single complaint. Gracie hated to admit that the whole evening was beginning to feel like a real date.

Perhaps it was because of this feeling that when Eli drove her home that night, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do. Neither did Eli. The two of them sat in his car outside her building; an awkward silence had settled between them, the first of the entire evening.

“I had a nice time,” Gracie said at last, trying to break the silence. It sounded so lame once it was out, rehearsed, insincere. Eli’s expression suggested he felt the same way. However, his words weren’t much better.

“Yeah. Me too,” he said.

The silence settled again.

“Well, good night,” Gracie said after a few moments of waiting to see if Eli would add anything else. She opened the door and let herself out of the car.

“Good night,” Eli called after her. He watched her as she walked up the steps of her building and let herself in. Eli let his head fall back against his seat. What was all that? He couldn’t help but be embarrassed by how poorly he had let such a wonderful evening end. Still, it had been a wonderful evening, and that was something to be happy about.

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