Keeping It Simple
"One week until the big day." Doug plopped a steaming mug of brew on Tom's desk. He then pulled up a chair and planted his hiking boots covered feet on the edge.
"Off!" Tom grabbed the coffee mug and sniffed. The coffee hadn't tasted right in days. Every time he drank some, his stomach twisted into knots. Or maybe it wasn't the coffee. Maybe worry about Judy's new case with Ioki had his guts twisted out of shape. Since they "outed" their relationship at the New Year's Eve party, Fuller had taken great pains to keep them on separate cases. Not having her back was starting to take its toll.
Doug frowned as he lowered his size thirteens to the floor. Then, he shrugged as if nothing had happened. "Well?"
"Well what?" Tom glanced at his watch. He and Doug had a drug buy scheduled for after school. If all went according to plan, they'd nail Taft High's smack supplier. And later that night, he and Judy would celebrate. "What are you talking about? You know our bust is this afternoon. Not next week."
"I'm not talking about work! Geez, man. Come on. Valentine's Day! What are you getting Hoffs? I promise I won't tell."
Tom laughed. "Yeah, right."
"No seriously. I can't get over you two."
His laughter faded. Tom cringed. He'd heard this before. "Doug..."
"You're working together. You're attracted to each other, but you can't act on it because of the job."
Tom's jaw tightened. "Doug."
"Then like an explosion, you combust. Your jobs be damned. You want each other and nothing else matters."
"The flames of passion—"
"Douglas!" Tom grabbed his magic eight ball and threw it hard into Doug's chest. "Enough."
"But I was just getting to the good part."
"No, you were just about to get dead."
Doug's mouth turned into a sheepish smile. "I can't help being curious."
"Don't let your curiosity cross the line," Tom advised.
"It's not like I'd ask you how she's in bed."
Tom gave him a hard stare. If looks could kill, Penhall would have died right then and there.
"What?" Doug exclaimed. "I didn't ask." Off Tom's unwavering stare, Doug hurriedly added, "I wouldn't ask something like that!"
"Why all the questions?" Tom folded his arms across his chest. Doug's interest in his relationship annoyed him. At first, he tolerated the questions. After two months, Doug should have moved on, especially since he was dating someone new. "What's going on with you and that girl in the DA's office? What's her name? Jackie?"
"Yeah, Jackie." Doug smiled. "She's okay. A little high strung."
"I thought you liked them high strung. Dorothy definitely wasn't low key."
Doug shuddered at the mention of his ex. "No, I like them with spunk."
"So what are you doing for Valentine's Day?"
"I dunno... Hey! That was my question!"
Tom shrugged. "If you must know, I have a surprise planned, and no, you can't know what it is."
- - -
"We need a break on this case," Judy groaned. Nothing interesting had happened in two days. She needed a distraction. For the past week, Tom had been unusually tight-lipped about any and everything. Something big was planned for Valentine's Day, but she couldn't figure out what. The mystery threatened to drive her nuts. Focusing on their case should have kept her mind off her boyfriend's antics, but so far, looking for the kid who was selling designer sneakers wasn't doing it for her.
"You're not usually this antsy," Ioki said. He walked her to his car. They dumped their books and headed back to the hangout on the south end of the student parking lot. "What's up?"
"It's silly," she said, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
"Try me. You haven't been yourself in the last few days." He nudged her arm. "Out with it."
"Valentine's Day is next week."
Harry grinned. "Oh."
"See!" She laughed. "I told you it was silly."
"Valentine's Day is a big deal for people in love. That's not silly."
She stopped a few feet from the kids lounging near a suspicious F-150. "Penhall's been hounding Tom like crazy since he found out about us. You haven't. Why?"
"Because it didn't come as a surprise—"
"Excuse me?" Her eyes widened in shock. "You knew?"
Harry gave her a smug smile. "I wasn't a hundred per cent sure, but I had my suspicions. When you went on that double date with me...your mind was someplace else. I knew a guy was involved. Then, I noticed little things between you and Hanson. How you looked at each other when you thought no one was looking." Dots of red colored his cheeks. "It was nice."
The threat of a blush warmed her face. "Aw, Harry."
"Penhall's been bugging me like crazy, too," he confided. "I told him if he asks me anything else, I'm giving him amnesia!"
"Ha!" She got caught in a fit of laughter. When the chuckles faded, she said, "Do I want to know what he's asking?"
"He just wants reassurance that he wasn't the only one in the dark." Harry draped an arm around her shoulder. "You don't have to worry. I don't tell him anything. You shouldn't worry about Valentine's Day either. Hanson's hooked. Whatever he's got planned will be something special."
"I hope so." Doubts crept in to her voice.
"Valentine's can make or break a couple. We've been so happy that I'm a little worried that something will change that."
Harry shook his head. "Don't worry. Just trust each other."
- - -
The next seven days passed like a dream. Arrests were made. Their airtight cases made the DA very happy. That happiness passed down to Fuller who gave his officers a night off.
Tom arrived at Judy's apartment promptly at eight. He carried a large, fragrant bouquet of red roses in one hand and a huge heart-shaped box of chocolates in the other.
"Happy Valentine's Day," he said. His gaze locked on her dazzling white smile before taking in the rest of her. He'd seen almost her entire wardrobe, but the red, off the shoulder dress was brand new. The fabric molded to her slender curves like a second skin. The sparkling sequins that lined the bodice paled in comparison to the dancing lights of her brown eyes. She was breathtaking.
She waved him inside. "Happy Valentine's to you, too." She waved him inside. As soon as he crossed the threshold, she gently kissed his mouth. "You look great."
"So do you." His chest tightened. Just looking at her was starting to get to him. He drew in a deep breath. The oxygen flowed through him and gave him strength. "These are for you."
Smiling, she took the chocolate and flowers. "I hoped so. Ooh, these roses smell wonderful. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He followed her into the kitchen and watched as she filled a vase with water. "Have I told you how amazing you look tonight?"
"Not quite like that." She placed the filled vase on the counter and moved into his waiting arms. "You're getting that look in your eyes. You promised we'd go out first."
"First?" He grinned. "I like how there's a first, meaning there will be a second. I suppose we can't skip straight to second and go back to first."
She shook her head. "Nope."
"You can't blame a guy for trying." He pulled her deeper into his embrace. "Jude, this is the best. The night is just getting started and I don't want it to end."
- - -
After dinner at a fancy restaurant, they headed to a new dance club near the docks. They danced for hours. Judy's cute strappy heels started to cut into her feet and that was her queue to sit. She leaned on Tom's shoulder as he led her through the club and then outside to the curb.
"Where are we going?"
"I'm taking you home," he said. He gave his ticket to the valet. "Your feet hurt."
"I can handle it."
"But there's the matter of your surprise. Would you rather stay here or...get your surprise?"
She playfully slapped his arm. "Do you have to ask?"
"I'm not one to make assumptions." He laughed when she hit him again. "Ow!"
"Oh, that was just a love tap."
Smiling, he cocked his head to the side. "Did someone say spanking?"
His smile broadened into a sexy grin. "Is that my Valentine's gift? A spanking? Am I giving or receiving?"
Her heart soared. This side of him was so damned irresistible. "Does it matter?"
He lowered his head until his mouth lightly pressed against hers. "Nope."
The valet returned with the vintage Mustang. Tom helped Judy into the passenger side before giving his tip and sliding into the driver's side. The hum of the engine lulled her into a relaxed state. She rested her hand on his thigh and closed her eyes.
"I don't mind, but none of that punk stuff. I want to hear something nice and mellow."
"Barry Manilow?" She could hear the distaste in his tone.
"No, not Barry. Maybe Luther Vandross."
"Luther, huh?" He chuckled softly. "I know what's on your mind when you're asking for Luther. If I were a lesser man, I'd be jealous of your reaction to his music."
"Oh, don't I." He sighed. "Let me see what I can find."
The stations droned by rapid succession. Finally, he found a station playing "If Only for One Night."
"I love this song," she whispered. "It's so romantic and sexy. I could listen to it all night long."
"That could be arranged."
"You know what, Hanson?"
"No, what, Hoffs?"
She opened her eyes. He pulled into an empty space across the street from her apartment. Neither moved. She caressed his cheek. "You make a pretty damn good boyfriend."
"You haven't seen nothing, yet."
Less than ten minutes later, they were inside her apartment, reclining on the sofa with a Luther Vandross album playing in the background. Tom held her feet on his lap. His hands massaged the balls of her feet with expert precision. A deep purr of intense satisfaction erupted from her throat. Dammit all. Tom Hanson gave killer foot massages.
"I love you."
He ran a finger between her toes. "I love you, too. Have you had a happy Valentine's?"
"I can't imagine it being better than this."
"What if everyday was like this?" He paused and reached inside his jeans pocket.
She rested on her forearms to meet his gaze. "What dinner and dancing? That would be fun, but I like our quiet time. Heck, I even like the bowling."
"So, let's throw in quiet time and bowling with the dinner and dancing and listening to music. Would you like that?"
"With you, I like everything." She frowned. "Why the interrogation, Hanson? Would you like everyday like that?"
"I'd like to share my life with you." He pulled his hand from his pocket. A sparkling diamond ring rested on his palm. "I'm not sure of the right way to ask this. If I should get down on one knee or if that's too corny?"
Her heart lurched. Her mouth suddenly became dry. "Ask me? Are you asking me...?"
"Maybe this is happening too fast, but somehow it feels right to me. Judith Hoffs, would you marry me?
Sudden tears blurred her vision. She momentarily lost the ability to speak.
"Judy?" His voice cracked. "Do you need to think about it?"
"No!" She blurted out. "No! I don't need to think. Oh, my God, Tom. I never saw this coming. We're so good together."
Uncertainty registered on his face. "Yeah..."
"Yeah." She extended her left hand.
As he slid the ring on her finger, he smiled and said, "Yeah, the future Mrs. Tom Hanson."
"I like the sound of that."
7Keeping It Simple by Dominiqua Dickey (02132006)