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"That same old sense of adoration I felt for him was stirring awake, when I had thought it was expired, not dormant."

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24 – Invitation

It was a very pleasant evening:  warm and breezy.  We had eaten our dinner outside and just finished clearing off the table.  I was loading the dishes into the dishwasher when the doorbell rang.  Mom and Hoyt were still out on the deck, so I wiped off my hands and headed around to the front door.  I didn’t recognize the car in the driveway, but it looked like the tags were from out of state.

I pulled the door open to a vision standing on the porch, backlit with the glowing sunset.  My mind was stuck because I just couldn’t process what I was seeing.  It was a familiar sight, but totally out of context, and therefore very confusing.  It was incredibly rude to just stand and stare, but that was the best I could do.

My visitor—there was no doubt about it, he was there to visit me—was dressed like he’d stepped out of a Banana Republic advertisement.  I wondered if he would be able to keep topping himself like this every time I encountered him; it might be fun to find out.  Wearing brown cargo shorts and a red v-neck t-shirt, his tan skin was darker than I’d ever seen it.  He was handsome casualness incarnate with tousled sandy blonde hair and comfortable looking leather flip flops on his feet.  Was he heading to the beach after this?  Could I come, too?

He had a big smile for me as he reached up and took my hands in his.

“Remember me?”  

You bet.  How could I forget?

He had a way of showing up at just the right time to prevent that.  I had to remind myself that my affections were already engaged…

“You seem familiar.  Have we met?”


I actually came up with a marginally cool reply!  It balanced out my foolish open mouthed gawking.

“Not as many times as I would have liked,” he said with a wicked grin.


That sounded a lot like flirting to me.  Not so long ago I would have been thrilled out of my mind.  I was still flattered, but not flattened like I would have been before.  Still, that same old sense of adoration I felt for him was stirring awake, when I had thought it was expired, not dormant.

“It’s nice to see you again, but…what are you doing here, Gray?”

I was far more composed than I would have expected me to be.

“Well, I came to visit you, and to extend an invitation for a job offer,” he said, a little tentatively—it seemed I was more composed than he’d been expecting me to be as well.

“Would you like to come in?” I asked, my manners finally rising to the surface.

“More than anything.”

He flashed another big smile.  I couldn’t help myself, I had to smile back.

He didn’t let go of my hands right away so I pulled him through the threshold.  He released one hand so that I could shut the door behind him, but he held on to the other one tightly enough that it would have been very awkward to get free, if I tried.  It was easier on so many levels to just go with it, so we walked hand in hand back through the kitchen and out to the patio to join my very surprised folks.

“Mom, Hoyt, this is Grayson.  He works for GGR.  He was friends with Grandpa,” I explained.

But, mostly with me.

They rose to greet him and he shook hands with them both.

“It’s nice to see you again, Grayson.  I didn’t get to meet you…before,” said my mom, trying to be sensitive to my feelings about the occasion we’d all been together last.

“Thank you.  It’s a pleasure seeing you again, too.  I was hoping to have a visit with Ellie this evening.  May I have your permission to take her out for some ice cream?”

He remembered my weakness, well, one of many, I supposed.  But he was also asking my mom like I was five years old, and that was embarrassing; though she seemed to be eating it up.

“Well, that sounds very nice.  Why don’t you go to Graeter’s?  I bet he’ll like that.”

She was all for the plan, making suggestions, even.  This was truly surreal.  In another life I couldn’t have imagined a happier moment.  Now I just felt irritated.  The cosmically bad timing at work here just wasn’t fair.  One minute I had been slopping through dirty dishes, looking forward to midnight, the next I was going on a date…except Gray wasn’t my boyfriend, though it was sure adding up to look like he thought he might be.   Plus, my real boyfriend wasn’t going to like this.  And I’d be worrying about that the entire time…while he watched us.

“Sure.  That sounds nice.  We won’t be out too late,” Gray replied in smooth assurance.

He snagged my hand again and gently, but irresistibly guided me back through the kitchen, out the front door and on out to his car, a black Porsche convertible with black leather interior.  He walked me around to my side, only then releasing my hand as he opened the door for me.  I got in after shooting a wary glance at the house on the cul-de-sac behind us.  It was getting too dark for me to see, but I could feel the eyes, and the upset.

We drove off to Graeter’s, my very favorite ice cream shop, about three miles away.  It was a short trip in the car, but I decided that it wasn’t my responsibility to make conversation.  He came to see me.  He would have to do the work.  Besides, there was nothing new or exciting or wonderful going on in my life…that I could talk about.  He would probably mistake my silent petulance for shyness—and that made me feel even more petulant.

Just like our time together in Iceland, Gray insisted on ordering for me—without consulting me about what I wanted—though to my never ending amazement and chagrin, he always chose correctly.  This time he ordered me a scoop of double chocolate mousse on a sugar cone (which was spot on) and some butter pecan in a waffle cone for himself.

The store was busy but there were still some seats to choose from; some inside and a few outside, as well.

With our treats in hand, he followed me outside, to the most visible table available, an automatic move on my part to accommodate my ever present safety detail.  Though not knowing what liberties Gray might take with me, I regretted the choice instantly and wished I’d opted for a more obscure inside seat instead, like in the restroom.

“Still a chocoholic, I see,” he said, grinning with satisfaction as he bit into his ice cream.

“Still a nut, I see,” I answered right back, with a glance at his cone.

But my smile didn’t feel as happy as his looked.

WowThat sounded amazingly self-possessed.

He laughed once at my joke.  It seemed funnier to him than I’d expected, or intended.  I worked on my ice cream very carefully, wary of the danger of getting dark chocolate on my face or shirt.  These things mattered to me now that I was always on display, and especially at this moment, which felt very much like being on a date.

He finally broke into the silence.

“So you’re a high school graduate now.  That’s big.”

“I am…it is, I suppose,” I nodded, careful to curb my enthusiasm.

“So what’s next?” he asked, and I wondered if he meant what was next for me, or for us.

“I’m still narrowing my choices.  It’s been a trick finding a school with decent Earth Science studies, and a good Russian program.”

And a good Journalism program.

The Russian bit was something new I’d been toying with recently.  It didn’t hurt that it sounded ambitious.

“A double major.  That’s impressive.  Still doing things the hard way, I see,” he said with a wry smile.

Then as my announcement really sunk in, his expression became inquisitive.


He was genuinely surprised.

“Vy govorite russkiĭ?”  (You speak Russian?), he asked.

I didn’t realize that he did.  It was just one more reason to be impressed with him.

“Net (no).  Pok a ne. (Not yet).  But I’m working on it.”

I looked away, hoping he wouldn’t try to engage me any further in Russian.  The interest I had in the language greatly outpaced my actual ability to speak it.  My skills were better suited for note passing, with a translation dictionary in hand.

“That’s an interesting choice.  If geology doesn’t work out for you, then I’m sure the CIA will want to talk to you,” he said, sounding very amused.

Thinking of myself as a spy or working in some dark government program was funny, I had to admit.  Then he rolled something off very quickly, testing my skills.

“Vy ochen’ spetsial’noe, i YA v vas vlyublen.  V samom dele, ya planiruyu imet’ vas kak mozhno skoryee.”

He smiled angelically at me after saying this, but made his eyebrows dance up and down in punctuation.  This meant he wasn’t testing me; he was teasing me.

I only understood a few words, I think:  special, plan, and soon.  Trying to be cool, I played it off with a short answer involving the one word I was pretty sure I’d understood.

Nodding, I replied “Horoshiĭ plan” (Good plan).

He laughed with feeling and reached out to tousle my hair.  He was definitely teasing me and I had to wonder what I’d just affirmed.

“So let’s hear about this invitation,” I said, trying to hurry things along before he could tease me some more or offer to tutor me in Russian, or espionage.

“Well, you get right to the point.  Are you in a hurry?”

There was the slightest edge of irritation in his voice, though his handsome features revealed no hint of affront.

“I’m sorry, no.  It’s just that I’m so surprised to see you, and I’m really curious about what brings you here.  It’s been so long, I’d nearly forgotten what you look like.”

All true.

“Were you trying to remember?”

He seemed enthused by my admission.  I shouldn’t have put it like that.

“I have some nice memories from Iceland.  I didn’t want to forget them,” I replied, shrugging.

True and false.

“I was hoping to make some new memories together…” he said, wistfully, and my heart jumped a little, despite myself.

“We’re going to do some survey work in the Canadian Rockies this summer.  It was on the slate for last year, but….well any way, my dad asked me to come here and invite you personally.  We’ll actually have to work this time, though, no goofing off; well, not as much.”

He half smiled, with one eyebrow raised—it was my very favorite expression of his—at least, when I used to keep track of things like that.

I thought about how important it was that from now on I be more careful what I wished for.  Sometimes I got what I wanted.  It just happened way after the fact, when it wasn’t what I wanted anymore, and had the potential to ruin the thing that I wanted currently.  I concentrated my thoughts for a moment on Ash’s incomparable face—comparing.

“Are you up for some back country hiking?”

Again, it was another fantasy of mine unfolding way past its expiration date.

“Where are you going, exactly?” I asked.

It was getting harder to hold down the enthusiasm.

“We’ll fly into Calgary, then head west.  It’s in the vicinity of Lake Louise,” he explained.

“Glacier work?”  I asked apprehensively.

Hiking in the cold didn’t sound as good.

“No, lower elevations.  It’s an initial survey, sponsored by the park service. I’m not really supposed to talk about it, actually.”

He finished off the last of his waffle cone.  I was a slow eater, still working on the mound of ice cream atop my sugar cone.

I didn’t know what else to ask if he wasn’t supposed to talk about it.  So I just waited for him to continue while I ate some more of my ice cream, trying to catch up.

“You haven’t been to that part of Canada, have you?” he asked, but he already knew the answer.

“No, I’ve only been as far as Niagara Falls,” I confirmed.

“Well I’d really like to take you there.  It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.  When we’re not working I want to show you Lake Louise, and Lake O’Hara, and take you to dinner at The Fairmont in Banff.  What do you say to that?”

“Gray, I don’t think I can afford to—” he cut me off.

“You won’t have to pay your own way.  It’s company business, expenses paid,” he said with a disapproving look, like he thought I should know better.

I did.  But he didn’t realize that I wasn’t speaking in monetary terms.  Taking advantage of that misunderstanding, though, was my only caviling (raising trivial objections) excuse to say no.   Or I could just say I didn’t want to go—but he’d never buy that, and it wasn’t quite true any way.

“Well, I’ll have to ask my mom.”

Ugh!  I hated saying that.

“Would you like me to ask her for you?” he proposed, with a wicked look in his eyes.

He knew I’d hate that even more.

“Sure.  Be certain to explain how many different planes and helicopters we’ll be riding in; she’ll be very interested in that.”

My annoyance was turned up full strength.

Gray picked up a napkin and dipped the edge in his cup of ice water.  Then he leaned forward with it, aiming toward the corner of my mouth.

Great.  How long had he let me go with chocolate on my face?

Only until he needed to reign me in with a little embarrassment, while at the same time providing an object lesson in dependence.

I held very still as he cleaned the chocolate off my chin, taking far longer than my dignity could stand.  It never paid to resist him.  I remembered that now.

“So it’s settled.  You’ll go…if you have permission?” he asked after he’d fixed my face.

His own face looked very satisfied, with no misplaced ice cream anywhere.  I could only imagine what Ash must have been thinking.  I glanced around the parking lot repeatedly, but I hadn’t been able to pick him out.

“You came all the way from…where did you come from?”  I asked.

“Raleigh.  I got back from Cambridge…recently,” he answered, lost in thought for a moment.

“You came all the way from North Carolina to ask me this?  Why didn’t you just call?”

It was a valid question, and the answer was important to me.

He seemed to sense that and chose his words carefully.

“Last summer was a huge disappointment, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t turn out that way again.”

He was very sincere and I smiled and blushed in response, despite myself.  I could say the same for my summer, though calling it a ‘disappointment’ wasn’t accurate enough—the way describing a great white shark as a fish wouldn’t be accurate enough.

Just as I expected, after he made the pitch to her, my mom was ready to hand me over to Gray on the spot, perhaps even transferring legal custody, if that’s what he required.  She actually seemed a little disappointed that he didn’t want me for another few weeks.  Before he left that evening, Gray had promised to send a detailed itinerary, with dates, addresses and phone numbers.  He made definite plans to pick me up himself on the morning of our departure, the third week in June, some twenty-odd days away, but who was counting?

If I was being truthful with myself, I had to admit that I was kind of excited.  This was the trip I had been looking forward to taking last summer, though I’d had no advance dinner date plans at The Fairmont Banff Springs by this point.  I was keyed up, but I knew it wasn’t just about going to such an awesome place.  It had more to do with trying to understand why I was invited.  But I was also nervous about who I’d be leaving behind…and explaining myself and my plans to him…shortly.

Ash met me in the tree house around midnight, as had been our plan before my evening had been commandeered.  He was there first, waiting for me for who knows how long.  I felt completely guilty, but what was I supposed to have done?  Besides say no to going on a trip with my former heart-throb, that is?

“Are you mad at me?” I asked, very sheepishly, as I came to rest on the floor of the structure, my back pressed up against the opposite wall, mirroring his pose, my bare toes touching his, which were also uncharacteristically bare as well.

“Should I be?”

His voice was calm, with no accusation flavoring his tone, to my great relief.  It was very dark and my eyes hadn’t adjusted yet, but I wished I could see his face more clearly, to gauge his mood.  The batteries had died in my little lantern style flashlight, and I hadn’t gotten around to replacing them.

“That was Grayson.  He’s an old friend, in town from North Carolina, just for the day.  He wanted to go out for ice cream, for old time’s sake,” I said as evenly as I could, fighting down the nerves.

“He seemed very….enthusiastic…about you,” Ash replied, after an uncomfortable pause.

Here it comes, I thought and braced myself.  Then my mind took a different tack, an offensive one.

“As enthusiastic as you are?”  I asked, trying to be coy.

“Something like that, yes.”

His voice was too smooth and low.  It made me nervous.  That was a first.  I’d never ever felt nervous around him before.  It seemed like something important to share.  I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around his bent knees.  He pulled back from me, slightly, but in such close quarters he couldn’t completely escape.

“You know, this is the first time I’ve ever felt nervous around you.  Normally, your presence relaxes me.”

He didn’t respond, so I continued.

“I had a feeling you’d be unhappy about the way I spent my evening.  I’m sorry.”

I dropped my hold around the top of his knees to find his hands.  They were loose and non-committal—they didn’t hold mine in return.

So a jealous Ash is a sulky Ash…but not an angry Ash.   That’s a good thing.  But how can I achieve an appeased Ash?

“Would you like to hear what we talked about?” I began.

“What is his last name?” he asked, rather abruptly, ignoring my offer.


That was rude.

He would have to ask nicely now before I’d let him in on my evening, and my upcoming plans.

“Do you have some romantic history with this boy, or was he just being incredibly forward with you?”

There was the accusation I’d been expecting.  I understood exactly how he felt, and the empathy helped to restrain the hackles that were trying to rise on my back.

I took a deep breath, composing myself and my thoughts.

“I met Gray two summers ago when I went with my grandpa on a trip to Iceland.  He was working on a survey with Gray’s dad there.  Gray was supposed to be helping with the survey too, but he was nice enough to baby-sit me while we were there so my grandpa could focus on work.”

My eyes were starting to adjust.  Ash was looking at the ceiling.  I pressed on.

“Gray’s a lot of fun, and I had a huge crush on him.  But I haven’t spoken to him since Iceland, until tonight.  I was surprised to see him.”

I’d seen Gray more recently than that, but the speaking to him part was the truth.  I paused again, trying to get the words just right in my head.

“Let me just be clear on a few things.  I don’t dream about him, and I don’t imagine being married to him, and I don’t hang out in tree houses at midnight with him, understand?”

I was abruptly turned around and in Ash’s lap, facing the wall I had been sitting against just a second ago, with his arms wrapped securely around me and his lips at my ear.

“I’m sorry.  That was unforgivable—pressing you like that.  It’s none of my business.  You should have told me so.”

I could feel his breath against my ear while he spoke.  My own breathing was uneven from the surprise and pleasure of such a bold move.  He was normally very careful about touching me.  Up to this point it had been strictly hand holding and the occasional hug and, of course, my numerous but thwarted experiments.

I laughed a little nervous laugh and said, “Are you kidding?  And miss out on this?”

Then I crossed my arms up over top of his and squeezed.  He sighed and I felt the air move across my neck.  It made me shiver with happy pleasure.  He squeezed a little tighter in response.

“Besides, I thought I was your business,” I added, pleased with my joke.

He chuckled lightly.  I didn’t want to ruin the moment, but he seemed appeased, for the moment, and I needed to get on with the news.  I sighed and moved forward with it.

“Mr. Gregory, his dad, offered me an internship position this summer on a survey project in Canada.  Gray came to extend the invitation in person.”

I let that hang out there, concentrating on analyzing his reaction.  He loosened his grip on me by a fraction.

“I really want to go.  It’s in Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies.  It’s always been a dream of mine to go there…but…I don’t know…”

I realized that I wasn’t playing fair now, framing things in this way, but at least I was being honest.

“What don’t you know?” he asked, squeezing the tops of my arms in his hands.

Being in his lap, feeling his warm shape around me and his hands on my body felt wonderful.  I had to regroup to concentrate on speaking again.

“Well, I don’t know if I can go that long without you.  It would be for a whole month.  Plus, I’m not sure you’ll say yes, so…”

It was more honesty on my part.  I wanted to reassure him that I wasn’t planning to make this decision independently, though I actually already had, technically.

He made a nervous one syllable laugh—I felt it in my hair.

“I’m flattered that you feel you need to ask my permission, but no matter what you decide—and Love, it is your decision—we won’t be apart.  Even if I wasn’t madly in love with you, I’d still be following you to Canada, or around Louisville this summer, either way.”

It sounded like a smile in his voice at the end.

I chuckled.

“Yeah, I guess that was dumb.  Like my taking a trip into the wilds of the Canadian Rockies wouldn’t require security.”

He dropped his hold on me completely and exhaled deeply.  I turned to face him, trying to get a better view of this extreme mood change.

“What is it?  What did I say?”

I was back to being nervous again.

“Will you be…camping?”

He said ‘camping’ like it was a dirty word.  Was he skenephobic (fearful of tents)?

“Yes?” I replied, tentatively.

I didn’t understand the issue here.  Geologic surveys were not conducted indoors.  He was infinitely smarter than me.  Surely he knew that much.

“Is that a problem?”

There was a long pause.  Finally he broke through the silence that was starting to get very loud to me.

“I’ve never…camped before.  It seems I have some preparations to make.”

I could tell it was hard for him to admit this.  But I was pleased.  If his problem was more about camping than about Gray, then this would be easier than I thought.

“Thank you,” I said, turning around to hug him chest to chest with my arms around his back, below where it was pressed into the wall of the tree house.  I squeezed him as hard as I could and tried to concentrate on how it felt having him inside my arms.  I still had him trapped when I announced, “Now I get everything I wished for.”

Then with a happy sigh I turned my face to listen to his heart—it was racing.  Always cautious and extremely gentle, as if I were a china doll, he rested his chin on my head softly and warned, “Be careful about that.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  All of my wishes, the old and the new, were on a collision course.  I only hoped that when the dust settled, Ash and I would be able to walk away from it–still holding hands.

Curious about Ash’s reaction to Ellery’s impromptu date with Gray?  Click on “Perspective Passport” below and find out…

Perspective Passport


Thanks for reading the first 24 chapters of “In The Spotlight”.   If you liked what you’ve read so far, you will love where it goes from here!   Poor, non-confrontational Ellery has a quite a summer in store for her!   The entire story is available for purchase in paperback or eBook on this site in the “Buy Now” section.    Be sure to check the ‘Deals du Jour” section on the home page for the current discount codes before you buy.    If you would like to be notified when ‘In The Smoke’ is released, please sign up for ‘Mayne Attraction’ updates via email, located on the home page of this site.  Thanks for your support!

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Chapter Index | 9 Comments

9 Comments (Leave a comment »)

  1. I am super curious about how it all plays out. I am thinking that Ellery really does stay with Ash because it is the last book, in the shadow. However who knows what twist and turns Ann might come up with. Maybe Ellery will wind up with either of them. I just know that the next two books will have me glued.

    Comment by rebeckah — February 23, 2013 at 10:58 pm

  2. I really loved Ash point of view in this chapter.
    To think he was indeed very jealous but reined it in for El’s sake showed the depth of his love for her…I really hope they make it to the end together

    Comment by Mona-Lisa Plaza — January 26, 2013 at 7:39 pm

  3. I loved Ash’s point of view on this one soooo much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    Comment by Kaylee Barnes — August 11, 2012 at 2:50 am

  4. I love this quote : “Vy ochen’ spetsial’noe, i YA v vas vlyublen. V samom dele, ya planiruyu imet’ vas kak mozhno skoryee.”

    “You are very special, and I’m in love with you. In truth, I’m planning to have you as soon as possible”

    :) Who knew knowing Russian would come in use reading this book! I love it :)

    Comment by Anastasia — March 10, 2012 at 6:10 pm

  5. I really enjoyed this book! I can’t wait to read the next one! I especially enjoyed the previews of the Ash perspective.

    Comment by LeeAnne — May 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm

  6. I’m itching to read the rest and extremely excited for El!
    “So a jealous Ash is a sulky Ash…but not an angry Ash. That’s a good thing. But how can I achieve an appeased Ash?” fave quote from this chapter :-) Jealous Ash is adorable!

    Comment by Danielle — May 27, 2010 at 2:19 am

  7. I am itching to buy this book! I’m really wondering what the private security detail is really about, and who is behind it. I’m interested in this Gray, and if Ash’s intentions are true. Overall, I feel as though everyone but her mother could be one of her security detail of some sort, even her best friend and her boyfriend. I need to read more of the story, because I have so many holes from reading these excerpts now lol. I am addicted!

    Comment by Mariea — May 8, 2010 at 10:27 pm

  8. This is a really good book. You did a great job in keeping my attention especially when I got to the part that involved Gray. Keep it up “you’re gonna go far kid Lol”!

    Comment by Devin Ford — May 7, 2010 at 12:14 pm

  9. The book looks from reading the first couple of pages that it will turn out great. Hope to read the rest of it. Please let me know when the next one comes out. Thanks for the online readable chapters.

    Comment by Branden Dale — May 7, 2010 at 12:12 pm

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