Kristen Hogrefe Parnell
She hadn’t expected Gooney Madres takeout and a background check on her third date. But then, anything was better than being stood up.
Lily tapped her car door closed in the seafood restaurant’s parking lot, tugged the baseball cap through her long ponytail, and greeted Dave with a wave. Their first two dates had been dinner at the San Antonio Riverwalk, followed by a picnic lunch at Canyon Lake. Both delightful.
For date three, Dave asked her to dress for “getting dirty.” This was either a trust exercise, or she was about to be murdered. But her heart wanted to hope again, so she said, “Sure.”
“Ever had Gooney Madres before?” Her lanky date stood a foot taller than her. With a Texas-sized grin, he opened the passenger door. She’d missed old-fashioned courtesy, plus the way his brown eyes crinkled sent goosebumps up her arms.
“Nope, this is a first.” She glanced at the take-out bag on the console. “Smells good.”
“Their shrimp tacos are the best.” He rounded the truck and hopped in the driver’s seat. “You look great, by the way. Green brings out your eyes.”
“Thanks.” Her gaze dropped to her favorite tank top. He had noticed, but— “Do you always run background checks on your dates?”
“Only when I bring them on base. No worries, you passed.”
Her fingers stilled on her denim shorts. “You’re taking me to work?”
“Yes and no. You like fish?”
“In my tacos.”
“Those are shrimp tacos. We’re catching the fish.”
Minutes later, they reached the base’s security checkpoint. Once he obtained her guest badge, Dave guided the truck up a hilly road.
She fiddled with the plastic pass. “You fish a lot?”
“Yeah, perks of living here.”
He drove off-road toward a thick canopy of trees, with a lake and small metal dock just beyond. She hadn’t seen another soul since they passed security.
Relax. They both went to the same church. He would have to answer to God if he murdered her.
Dave shifted to reverse. “Looks like the water level’s high. Don’t worry. We can jump out of the truck’s bed onto the ramp.”
Lily glanced in the side mirror as Dave backed the truck onto the submerged ramp. He popped open his door and climbed onto the wheel-well and then into the bed. “Follow me!”
“You forgot our lunch.” She snatched the plastic bag and started climbing out her door. Just then, the plastic handle snapped.
“No!” She grabbed for the lunch containers but caught only one. The other splashed into the water.
“Whoa!” From inside the bed, Dave grasped her arm to keep her from falling.
Lily’s face flamed as he tugged her next to him. “So sorry. That can be mine.”
He shook his head and winked at her. “Nah, we’ll just split—and catch some fish to make up for it.”
Her heart flip-flopped. Her ex-boyfriend would have railed on her. Now if she only knew how to fish.
As she set the lone lunch carton on the dock, Dave retrieved the gear and then joined her. “I’ll pray.”
Heat from his touch surged through her. His prayer matched his hands—a little calloused but sincere. Maybe this Texan was worth date number four. If he didn’t vote her off the dock or ditch her without a goodbye.
At least there were two crunchy tacos, stuffed with shrimp and slaw. “Good, right?” Dave finished his in seconds.
“Yeah.” But good food came easy. Good men were harder to find. “What made you join the military?”
“Well, I wanted to see the world.”
Her breath hitched. She didn’t want to be another man’s pitstop.
“But after ten years in Europe, I took this position. Now, I want to settle down—though it’s hard to put down roots since I’ll get transferred in three years.” He swallowed as if uncomfortable with so many words. “But I figure starting a family is putting down roots. If we move, we’re still together.”
Together. Wherever together was, it sounded lovely to her. “Yeah, I agree.”
Dave cleared his throat and rose. “Wanna fish?”
“Sure.” Lily sighed in relief when he handed her a pole, complete with hook, line, and lure. She wouldn’t have to drown any worms today.
But thirty minutes later, neither had caught anything. Time to confess.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m awful at—” Her line jerked.
Dave didn’t miss a beat. “Got something?”
“I don’t know.” She tugged at the line, then waited. “I think it was a hit and run.”
But her lure didn’t surface. Was the fish still on the hook? She reeled harder, and her pole bent. “I’ve got him!”
Dave pulled in his line and hurried beside her. The bass broke the surface and darted under the dock.
“Don’t give him any slack.”
“Here, you want my pole?”
“No, you’ve got this.”
The rod looked about to snap in half, but finally, the fish splashed at the surface. Dave reached for the line and hauled him in. “Woohoo, nice one!” He showed her how to hold it and snapped a picture on his phone.
She blushed with pleasure. That was the first picture he’d taken of her.
“He’s a keeper—if we were fishing for keeps.” Dave removed the hook from the bass’ mouth.
Lily quirked an eyebrow. “Aren’t you fishing for keeps?”
He tossed the fish in the water and grinned. “That depends who’s asking—the fish or the girl.”
Settling onto the dock, she dangled her legs above the water. “The girl’s asking.”
He slid next to her and reached for her hand. “For keeps then.”
“But aren’t you hungry since I drowned your tacos?”
Dave laughed. “I was thinking I’d grill us some steaks at my place for dinner. Sound good?”
Lily leaned into his shoulder and smiled at the hope rising in her chest. “Very good.” Fishing on a military base wasn’t so bad with the Texan who was reeling in her heart.
Her young adult dystopian novels, The Revisionary and The Reactionary, both won the Selah Award for speculative fiction, and her first romantic suspense novel with Mountain Brook Ink releases December 2022. Kristen and her husband live in Florida and enjoy sharing their lake home with family and friends.
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