Laurie ingram sibley
Making dinner for a woman on Valentine’s Day was cliche. If that woman had no idea you were in love with her, did that make it more cliche? Or just pathetic?
Either way, Jonathan St. Clare was determined that tonight would be perfect. Even if it was just a platonic dinner with Lyssa—and Parker, her 14-year-old son with autism.
Fragrant spaghetti sauce simmered on the stove. Garlic bread was heating in the oven. Was garlic a bad idea? Too late now. Jonathan sliced fresh tomatoes into the salad bowl. He nicked his fingertip with the serrated edge of the blade. Clearly he was too nervous to be trusted with a knife.
Lyssa probably saw this invitation as a friendly gesture, more “business” than “date.” After all, Jonathan worked for her—or more accurately, for Parker, serving as his shadow and accompanying him at school. Parker was brilliant, but he struggled with communication and social skills. Jonathan was there to help him bridge the gap.
If only he could bridge the gap from friend zone to romance with Lyssa.
A knock sounded at the door and Jonathan went to welcome them. “Hiya, Parker. Lyssa.”
“Hi, Mr. St. Clare,” Parker said. “It’s illegal to own just one guinea pig in Switzerland.”
Parker loved facts and tended to communicate through them. He shared his thoughts by scripting instead of coming up with his own original sentences.
“And why is that?”
“Guinea pigs are very social creatures. They get lonely if there’s only one.”
“Ah. Well, me, too. I’m glad you guys are here.” He gave Lyssa a wink. “Let me take your coat.” As he helped her slide it off her shoulders, his thumb grazed the soft skin of her neck. She shivered and his own pulse jumped in response. Was it possible she felt—but no, she was probably just chilly.
“It smells divine in here,” she said.
“The noodles should be just about ready. Parker, I printed out some Valentine’s Day facts for you. They’re by your chair. Lyssa, do you want to help me serve plates?”
Parker found his place and picked up his list of facts. Lyssa squeezed around the table to the tiny kitchen area of his cramped apartment.
“It’s cute in here,” she said, looking around curiously.
Jonathan winced. “Cute?”
She laughed. “Small and cozy. And very manly.”
“Nice save,” he said, draining the pasta over the sink.
“Thanks for having us over for dinner.” Lyssa held out plates for him to scoop noodles onto. “You and Parker get to spend so much time together. Sometimes I’m a little jealous.”
Jonathan glanced at her, but she seemed very focused on the spaghetti.
They loaded the table with food. He almost forgot to light the candles waiting on the table, but caught sight of the matchbook at the last second. Candlelight signaled romance, right?
He was moving to hold Lyssa’s chair for her when Parker looked up from his list of facts. “This says that men find women more attractive when they’re wearing red.” He studied his mom for a minute. “Mom is wearing red. Do you find her attractive?”
Lyssa gasped in astonishment, and Jonathan knew she was reacting to how her son had spoken, not what he’d said.
Jonathan had worked with Parker for three years now, and a major goal had always been for the boy to initiate conversation using his own words. And darned if he hadn’t just done it… as well as given Jonathan the opportunity he’d been waiting for.
He gulped. If Parker was going to start bridging his own gaps, Jonathan needed to do the same.
His gaze swept over Lyssa’s fuzzy red sweater and up to her face now turning a matching shade as Parker’s comment sank in.
“Yes,” he said, staring steadily into her eyes. “I am attracted to your mom. But it’s not just the red sweater.”
“Jonathan?” she breathed, taking a step toward him.
Was that a bridge or was he sinking? Well, he had jumped now.
“It’s the way you advocate fiercely for Parker. The way you chew on the corner of your mouth when you’re thinking. The way you remember everyone’s birthday. Your beautiful smile.” That smile was beaming now, and he reached for Lyssa’s waist. “Every time our eyes meet over something amusing, I fall a little more in love with you.”
She rested her hands on his shoulders. “And I fell in love with you because you really listen when people speak. Because you’re always optimistic. Because I get butterflies in my stomach when you wink at me.” She shrugged helplessly.
“Good to know,” Jonathan murmured. He bent his head and met Lyssa’s lips in a kiss that felt like coming home and a wild adventure all at the same time.
Parker’s voice interrupted. “A ten-second French kiss can spread eighty million bacteria between mouths.”
Lyssa pulled away and buried her face in Jonathan’s neck.
“That’s okay, Parker,” he said, wrapping his arms more securely around her. “That just builds up the immune system.”
She leaned back to shoot him a mischievous grin. “I wonder how much immunity comes from a twenty-second kiss?”
Parker rattled his silverware. “Hunger is the cause of forty-five percent of all children’s deaths.”
Lyssa burst out laughing. “Then let’s eat!”
As Jonathan leaned over to help her with her chair, he whispered, “We’ll save that twenty-second kiss for dessert.”
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