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Authors: Noelle Adams

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BOOK: Chasing Jane
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I’ve never forgotten him doing that for me, though.

I’m actually thinking about that day again, so many years
ago now, as I step off the bus and walk the few steps to where Nate is waiting
for me. He looks tired and wrinkled, and he takes my leather tote and puts it
on his shoulder to carry it with his own backpack.

I suddenly reach over to hug him.

I’ve obviously taken him by surprise, but after a few
seconds, he wraps his arms around me too. I bury my face in his shirt, against
his shoulder, and I squeeze him as hard as I can.

“What’s this for?” he asks, a little thickly. He hasn’t let
go of me yet.

I pull away enough to look up at his face. “This is because
I love you.”

He smiles—just a little smile, and strangely bittersweet.
“Do you?”

“You know I do.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“You should have been my stepbrother.”

Nate’s expression changes just slightly. “That would have
been weird.”

My dad walked out before I was even born, and his mom was an
alcoholic who could never get it together, so both of our custody parents were
single as we grew up. His dad finally remarried a few year ago.

“I guess so.” I giggle softly as I imagine how that scenario
would have worked. “We would have had to fight over the bathroom.”

“Definitely weird.”

I give him one more little hug, and then I straighten up and
reach for the handle of my roller case. “I can carry my bag,” I tell him,
reaching for my tote.

He shakes his head and moves his roller case into position
for him to pull. “I’ve got it. We have to walk for a while to get to the
cottage.”

“I’m no weakling,” I’m actually grateful that I don’t have
to lug the heavy bag, but I feel guilty about making Nate carry it.

“Neither am I.”

I fall in step with him and check his expression to make
sure he isn’t feeling offended. He’s usually really easy-going, but
occasionally I manage to hit a nerve in him that’s surprisingly sensitive.
Since he’s giving me this trip, I’m trying to be more careful than usual, as a
gesture of my appreciation.

Nate is definitely not a weakling. He’s in good shape, and
he ran track in school, but he’s never been a really big guy. He’s about three
inches taller than my five-seven. He used to be skinny, and he’s still on the
lean side, but he’s got great shoulders and an adorably tight ass.

Not that I think a lot about his ass, but occasionally it’s
impossible not to notice.

Nettleton is a charming village, but I’m too tired to do
much gushing about it. We stop to pick up the key to the cottage from the
owner, and then we stop at a shop to get some groceries. Finally, we’re on our
way out of the village, and I don’t feel like walking at all.

What I really want to do is get to the cottage so I can
check my messages and then go to bed.

Rochester has probably sent me a note, and it’s desperately
hard not to check my phone every few minutes to see if he has. I don’t want to
let Nate think I’d rather be talking to Rochester than to be here with him, so
I promised myself I wouldn’t check until I reach the cottage.

I guess the time has come to explain about Rochester.

A few months ago, I joined an online dating site that’s
designed for “old-fashioned” types who want a “deep and meaningful connection”
with someone, rather than superficial, modern dating. A friend told me about
it, and I was curious, so I tried it out. I actually found the whole thing a
little silly until Rochester sent me a “flower,” which is the opening step to
communication.

How could a girl named Jane resist a guy named Rochester?
It’s probably not his real name, but still…

So the way this site works is, after the preliminary
questions and responses, you have to communicate for two months before you get
to see each other’s pictures. That’s how the “deep and meaningful connection” is
supposed to be formed—absent of superficial distractions.

I originally found this idea appealing, since I always look
terrible in pictures, and I’ve never gotten much interest from guys on regular
dating sites. But it’s also a little unnerving, getting to know someone without
having the least idea what he looks like.

I’ve been communicating with Rochester daily for five weeks
now—writing long, juicy notes back and forth. I’m well on my way to falling in
love with him. I’ve never known anyone who seems to “get” me as well as he does.
He’s so intelligent and romantic and expressive, and he has such deep insight
into the world.

At the risk of sounding foolish, he reminds me of a Jane
Austen hero.

Every time I get a note from him, I thrill with excitement.
I’m far more invested in him than anyone I’ve ever dated in real life. When I
get back from this trip, the two months will be up, and I’ll finally be able to
see him, meet him.

I’m not sure if I’m more excited or terrified by this
possibility.

He might be hideously unattractive. Or, even worse, he might
be really disappointed in me.

I’m medium-sized and have blond hair and hazel eyes and skin
that never tans. In the last couple of months, I’ve been so wrapped up in
Rochester that I’ve lost ten pounds, so I’ve gone down a size in clothes, which
is nice. But nothing about me is particularly distinct or beautiful. I’m just
average looking. I’ve gone out with plenty of guys, but so far no one I’ve been
really excited about. And, as far as I know, no guy has ever been blown away by
my appearance.

What if Rochester doesn’t like how I look? Even with a “deep
and meaningful connection,” that does sometimes matter.

“Hello?” Nate is saying, his voice a little louder than
normal.

I turn to blink at him, realizing he must have been talking
to me and I was too distracted to hear him. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

We’ve been walking for a few minutes now, and we’ve left the
village and taken a little road into the countryside.

“You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?” Nate asks, rolling
his eyes.

I frown. “Why do you ask that like it’s a bad thing?”

“Because you don’t even know the guy.”

Naturally, I’ve told Nate about Rochester. I tell Nate
everything. Unsurprisingly, Nate isn’t particularly enthusiastic about this
mystery man.

“I do too know him. You know, in the past, people got to
know each other through letters. They didn’t have all this weird, awkward,
casual dating stuff.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I know him really well,” I insist, feeling defensive but
trying not to sound that way. “And he knows me too.”

“I’m not sure a lot of silly, poetic babble about nature and
feelings and roses is really a sign that he knows you.”

“He doesn’t write to me about roses!”

“I thought you said last week he was saying that your spirit
is like a pale pink rose—”

“Oh, shut up!” I stiffen my shoulders and try (unsuccessfully)
not to blush. What seems perfectly natural and moving when written down can
sound incredibly silly when spoken out loud.

Nate doesn’t understand. He’s the best guy ever, but he’s
not expressive that way. He’s more practical and straightforward—with a
wonderful dry sense of humor. He doesn’t think deeply and emotionally the way
Rochester does.

And that’s just fine. Nate is my friend—my best friend. But
Rochester might be even more.

Two

 

The cottage is like an image out of
my daydreams. It’s made of lovely old stone and surrounded by foliage and
encompassed by an adorable little fence. There’s a garden in the back, and the
east side offers a view of a wide pasture that slopes down toward a little
lake.

It’s just the beginning of May, so not all the flowers are
blooming yet, but some of them are. I can’t wait until the morning when I can
see everything better.

I’m so excited about the cottage as we arrive that I
actually forget to check for messages from Rochester. Nate and I go from room
to room and examine every nook and cranny. The kitchen is small but has been
beautifully updated with custom cherry cabinets and marble countertops, and the
living room area is perfect, with a big stone fireplace, a huge window onto the
garden, and cozy furniture that looks like it could have been around for
centuries. There are two bedrooms. The big one has a lovely four-poster bed and
a huge luxurious bathroom with a claw-foot tub and a roomy walk-in shower. The
other bedroom is much smaller, with a tiny bed and a clean but unimpressive
bathroom.

“I’ll take the small room,” I say, as I recognize the
difference between them.

“You will not,” Nate says.

“But you’re paying for all of this.”

“And it’s your present. So you get the big room.”

I sigh and scan his face, realizing there’s no reason for me
to argue anymore. No one is as stubborn as Nate is, when he’s made up his mind
about something. “Well, you can use my bathroom if you want.”

He chuckles dryly and shakes his head at me.

Overwhelmed with another surge of affection, I lean over to
kiss him on the left side of his jaw, my spot. “Thank you for all this, Nate.”

“You’re welcome,” he mutters.

He puts his stuff down in the small room, and then he goes
to drag my luggage into the big room. “Do you want to go right to bed?” he
asks, looking over at the tall bed with thick white covers on it.

“No. I’m starving. I want to eat something first. And then I
was thinking about that hot tub.”

There’s a fantastic hot tub in the garden, and I figure it’s
just the thing to help me relax after the trip. I’m exhausted but emotionally
wired, so I’m not going to be able to sleep quite yet.

“Sounds like a good idea,” Nate says with a smile.

“I’m going to the bathroom. Then I’ll work on getting supper
together.”

When I come out of my room, Nate has turned on the gas
fireplace. Since it’s a chilly evening, the heat is welcome and the ambiance
pleasant. We cut pieces of bread from the loaf we bought in the village, and
set them with cheese, roast beef, and grapes on a big plate. Nate pours some
red wine, and we bring our meal out to eat in front of the fire.

We don’t talk much, but I have a wonderful time. I think
Nate does too.

I close my eyes when I’m done eating, thinking that I’m
perfectly comfortable and content for the first time in hours.

“Are you going to sleep?” Nate asks.

“No. Just enjoying myself.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

There’s an odd note to his tone that makes me open my eyes
to check his expression, but I can’t read anything on his face.

He’s on the floor, leaning against the sofa, just like I am,
and his hair looks more rumpled than usual. I’m tempted to reach over to smooth
down the kink at his right temple, but I know it’s a futile effort.

“Are you going to try out the hot tub?” he asks, when he
notices me looking at him.

“Yes. I better do it now, or I won’t have the energy.” I
start to stand up, and I wince when I realize how sore my back and neck are.

“Okay.” Nate hasn’t moved.

I frown down at him. “Aren’t you coming too?”

“I can. I didn’t know if you’d want me to or not.”

“Well, why wouldn’t I?’

He gives a half-shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Of course, I want you. I’ll feel stupid in that big thing
by myself.”

“Okay.” He’s chuckling as he stands up. “I’ll go change
too.”

As I change into my suit, I suddenly remember that I still
haven’t checked for messages from Rochester. With a gasp, I reach for my phone
and pull up my email.

I’m having to pay extra to use my phone overseas, so I’ve vowed
to spend as little time as possible on the data usage. I won’t be able to read
his messages over and over again the way I usually do.

I droop as I look at my inbox and realize that there’s no
email from the dating site, telling me I have a new message.

Rochester hasn’t replied to the note I sent him just before
Nate picked me up to take me to the airport.

He’s never waited so long to reply to me before.

I try to be reasonable, but I feel irrationally crushed,
like it’s a rejection.

As I’m quickly moving through my other email, a message
suddenly pops up. It’s the dating site. Rochester has finally replied.

I read it quickly. It’s much shorter than usual. He
apologizes for the long delay and says he’s been tied up with family
obligations and hasn’t been able to sit down at the computer all day. He hopes
I’m having the time of my life in England, and he tells me to keep a journal,
recording all my impressions of the trip so I can share them with him
afterwards.

I think this is a lovely idea. I never keep a journal, but I
like the idea. Maybe I can borrow one of those little notebooks that Nate
always carries around with him. I’m sure he brought extra on the trip.

Feeling happy again, I fix the straps of my tankini swimsuit
and grab a towel before heading outside. I’m surprised when Nate is leaving his
room at the same time I am. It wouldn’t have taken so long for him to change,
since I stopped to check my email.

Maybe he took a minute to check email too.

“Is that new?” Nate asks, his eyes scanning my body.

I suddenly feel self-conscious, which is ridiculous, since
it’s just Nate. “Yeah. I had to get a new one, since I lost that weight. My old
suit didn’t fit.”

“You look good,” he says. His voice is casual, but his eyes
do another scan of my body.

“Thanks.” I feel myself blushing, and I have absolutely no
idea why.

I go right outside to the hot tub, while Nate makes a detour
to the kitchen. I’m slowly sinking into the hot water as he comes out with two
glasses of wine.

“Perfect,” I say, reaching for mine. “Look how gorgeous the
view is.”

Nate glances over as he lowers himself into the water beside
me. It is a beautiful view, the garden, sloping meadow, and picturesque lake
lit only by the bright moonlight. “Nice.”

That’s about as poetic as Nate gets.

I breathe deeply, sip my wine, enjoy the pleasing embrace of
the heated water, and gaze out at England in the moonlight. It’s all perfect.
Exactly as I’ve always dreamed.

Nate is the most incredible guy ever for doing all this for
me.

I look over at him and catch him staring at me. He glances
away almost immediately, and I can’t help but wonder what he was thinking.

I hope he’s having a good time. I hope he thinks that all
the time and money he’s spent on this trip is worth it.

“Would you rather have done this with a girlfriend?” I ask,
totally out of the blue, following the line of my thoughts.

He jerks slightly, almost slopping his wine. “What? I don’t
have a girlfriend.”

I have no idea why he doesn’t. He’s the best, cutest,
sweetest, smartest guy I’ve ever known. “I know. I was just thinking that this
is the kind of trip that you might have preferred to do with a girlfriend, if
you had one. Rather than me, I mean.”

His brows draw together, and his mouth turns down. “Why
wouldn’t I want to do this with you?”

I’m starting to feel flustered, for no good reason. “There’s
no reason why you wouldn’t. I was just thinking it might be more fun for you
with…I just want you to have a really good…Oh, forget it. It doesn’t matter.”
I’m sorry I even brought the stupid topic up.

Nate is watching me closely now, like he can see and read
every flicker of emotion on my face. “There’s no one else I’d rather go on this
trip with,” he says at last, sounding uncharacteristically sober.

I take a weird little breath that catches in my throat.
“Really?”

“Of course.” He’s still frowning. “Why would you think I’d
rather be with someone else?”

My feelings are all a tangle now of embarrassment, pleasure,
and affection. “I don’t know. I didn’t really. You’ve just spent so much on
this trip, and I know it’s not the same with just me.”

He’s silent for a long time, looking again at my face and
then out to the landscape. Finally, he murmurs, “There’s no
just
about
you, Jane.”

It takes me a few seconds to figure out his words, and then
I’m overwhelmed by them. I want to hug him, but it won’t really work in the hot
tub like this, not when both of us are holding wine glasses. So I reach out
with my free hand until I find his under the water, and I squeeze it. “Same to
you.”

His eyes shoot back over to my face, searching for just a
moment. Then he smiles his old smile. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be here
with Rochester?”

I actually think about this for a minute, since I want to
make sure what I tell Nate is the truth. And I realize that I wouldn’t prefer
to be with Rochester, no matter how compelling and deep he is. It just wouldn’t
be right, to be here with anyone but Nate, now that my mother has died.

“I wouldn’t,” I tell Nate. “You’re definitely my first
choice.”

This seems to please him, and he squeezes my hand. After a
minute, I realize we’re still holding hands. It feels nice, but it’s a little
strange, so I gently pull my hand away.

I’m suddenly conscious that I’m in a very romantic setting
with Nate, who doesn’t have on a shirt. His chest is very nice—toned and lean
and masculine.

It must be the hot water and the wine going to my head
because I’m suddenly washed by a wave of attraction to him. I feel it
everywhere—all through my body.

For
Nate
.

That’s not at all the way things are supposed to be between
us. Not at all. I’m so rattled by the strange reaction that I’m tempted to
climb out of the hot tub, but since we just got in, Nate would recognize it as
strange and demand to know what’s wrong.

That would just make things worse, so I close my eyes and
talk myself out of it. After a few minutes, I feel normal again. Nate has
always been my friend—and nothing more.

When I open my eyes, I discover that he’s been watching me.
I smile, hoping he didn’t see anything untoward on my face.

“You all right?” he asks.

“Of course. What about you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Good. I’m fine too.”

He gives me a quizzical smile. “All right then. I’m glad
both of us are fine.”

I can’t help but laugh at his tone. I’m not sure why it’s
felt a little stilted between us recently. I feel like he’s acting differently,
but maybe I am too. It’s like we’re both being careful, but I’m not really sure
what we’re being careful about.

I’m relieved when, after laughing, I’m relaxed enough to
sink back into the water, sip my wine, and enjoy the evening.

We stay in the hot tub for about a half-hour, but then the
heat and the alcohol start to make me feel a little dizzy, so I decide to get
out. Nate gets out too, and we go to our separate rooms to dry off and get
ready for bed.

My whole body is buzzing, but it’s a pleasant feeling. I put
on my favorite camisole with the lacy straps and a pair of pale blue pajama
pants, and I braid my damp hair into one big rope down my back. I’m tempted to climb
into bed, but I don’t want to have a headache tomorrow from the wine and the
traveling, so I decide to get a bottle of water so I won’t get dehydrated.

Nate is in the kitchen, wearing a clean white t-shirt and
the bright red flannel pants with golf balls on them that I got him last
Christmas. His hair is standing up nearly on end now, and he’s leaning over the
counter, jotting something down on one of his little notepads.

He looks startled when he sees me, and he straightens up,
sliding the pad into his pocket. “I thought you were going to bed.”

“I was, but I decided I better get some water. What are you
doing?” I look at the outline of the pad in his pocket, feeling curious since
he almost looked guilty for a moment. He’s usually just writing out lists or
drafting work emails on those pads—certainly nothing very private.

“Just making notes for an email I need to send.”

“An email to your boss? Is he giving you problems?” I feel a
pang of worry, landing on an explanation for his demeanor. “Is he mad that you
took the time off?”

“I told you it’s fine,” he mutters coolly—far more coolly
than normal. “Don’t ask me again.”

“Okay. I’m sorry.” I try not to be hurt by his tone. We
occasionally snap at each other—although not as much as we did as kids. Anyone
who spends as much time together as we do will do that from time to time. But
it bothers me when he seems to be annoyed at me for no good reason. Especially
on this trip, since I need him to have a great time. He’s so good to me. I want
to be good to him too.

He sighs—so thickly it’s almost a groan. “I’m sorry. Don’t
be upset.”

“I’m not upset.” I smile at him to prove it.

He gives me a dubious look and reaches into the bag on the
counter and pulls out a chocolate bar. “You want some?” he asks.

I perk right up. “Yes. Thank you.”

He gets a bottle of water too, and we take our waters and
our chocolate into the living room. He turns the fireplace back on as we sit on
the couch together.

“So did you hear from Prince Charming?” he asks dryly.

I ignore the dryness—mostly because I’m shocked that
Rochester has completely slipped out of my mind for the last hour or so. “Yeah.
He sent a quick note. I guess he was really busy today.”

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