Dinner flew by quickly, Mac and Stella totally engrossed in the other, neither really aware of the many other people surrounding them.
Except for the interruption of the waiter when he brought their food, their conversation consumed them. They didn't talk about their romantic feelings; they remained on safe topics such as work and their friends. And gradually they progressed to making plans for future visits.
"Are we going to talk about us, or are we just going to pretend this isn't happening?" Stella stated softly as she enjoyed the first bite of her desert, a delicious chocolate mousse cake. She sent Mac a reassuring smile, his features suddenly very taut, trying to ease his tension.
"I would rather face a gun toting drug lord," Mac answered nervously, as he set his fork down leaving his cake untouched.
"I have no doubt," Stella chuckled, knowing Mac struggled so much with being able to show his feelings.
Mac watched Stella intently as she continued to eat her cake, "Stella, I just don't want to ruin this. I don't want to lose you. I lost Claire, I can't lose you too."
"Mac, we have been dancing around our feelings for years. Its' never been the right time, I was in your department. We were with significant others. Now is the time."
Stella chose this moment to reach across the table and place her hand on his. Mac's hand began to tingle at her touch, his eyes going from her long slender fingers up to her beautiful green eyes. Her face lit up in a smile. "You feel that?" He frowned for a second, not quite certain he understood. Sensing his confusion, she leaned in just a bit closer. "Mac, every time I touch you a bolt of electricity runs through my fingers. Our chemistry is so special, it can be palpated."
Mac placed his larger hand on top of hers; his piercing blue eyes remained glued to her green ones. "I thought that was just me," he commented quietly. He gently squeezed her hand; his eyes actually became moist as he disclosed the next words, "Something I haven't felt since Claire."
"Oh Mac," Stella's heart fluttered. She knew the depths of Mac's devotion to his wife. It nearly destroyed him after she died. "I'm not trying to replace Claire. She was someone special to me too."
"I know Stella. What if I can't give you what you need? You saw how broken I was after Claire's death; you helped me get myself back together. What if I'm too broken?"
"We have to take the plunge Mac. We have to decide if we want to pursue this or if we want to leave our relationship as it is." Stella removed her hand from his, leaning back in her chair. She gave him an encouraging smile, "Mac I know there is still so much love in you to give, but you have to realize that on your own."
Mac was quiet, his gaze far off and Stella could see the internal conversation being played in his brain. "Are you okay?" Stella asked concerned that perhaps she had that conversation too quickly. She wanted to get it out before she left, allow Mac the time to think over his answer.
He nodded, sending her a genuine Mac Taylor smile.
"Did I say too much?"36
"Not at all Stella, my brain is just trying to catch up to the fact you reciprocate my feelings."
Rising from his chair, he walked to Stella and held out his hand, indicating for her to follow. Smiling in response, she took a hold of his hand as Mac placed her shawl around her shoulders. "Where are we going now?" Stella inquired as he paid the waiter.
"Our night is not over yet."
"Oh…more surprises," Stella stated playfully. "I like this Mac Taylor." She wrapped her arm around his as they headed out of the restaurant.
"You said you wanted to see the city," Mac replied.
"Oh where are we going?" Stella asked excitedly.
As he opened the door for her to get into the avalanche, Mac shook his head. "You have to wait to see."
Stella playfully pouted, "Mac Taylor, you are surprise after surprise tonight."
He smiled again at her jest, he knew Stella hated waiting but loved the surprise element. He just hoped that he picked correctly. Mac made a mental note that he owed Jo a drink, even if he still thought her line of conversation had been bordering on meddling.
Mac's suspicions were quickly confirmed as they pulled up to Central Park, several horse and carriages for hire parked awaiting their next fare.
"Mac I didn't realize you were such a hopeless romantic," Stella announced as Mac helped her from the truck and guided her over to a beautiful white carriage being pulled by two handsome grey horses.
"I take it you approve then?"
"Of course, this is a wonderful idea. I have never been on a carriage ride before." Stella stopped before the large animal, not intimated by their size and patted the one closest to her on the muzzle. The horse leaned into her touch, apparently appreciative of the small gesture of kindness.
"Are you Taylor?" the young carriage driver asked, Mac nodded and the young man stepped down from the driver's seat.
He pulled out a small stool and indicated for them to climb aboard. Stella giggled as she climbed into the carriage, her eyes lit up like a little girl. Mac sat down beside her, wrapping his arm around her. She snuggled in close as the driver climbed into his seat and with a quick cluck the carriage jolted into motion.
"I always wanted to do this as a little girl," Stella confided as they cruised through central park in the grey dusk of evening. The gentle rocking of the carriage and the clop of the horse's feet on the pavement was endearing and romantic. She had watched the carriages with envy on the orphanages excursions to central park, looking at all the couples cruising around and hoping one could be her parents. She would see the vacationing families, laughing and joking as the carriages pulled them around and wished that she was with one of those families.
"I know. You told me," Mac answered simply, causing Stella's face to light up even more. The fact that Mac remembered that small piece of information from a conversation god knows how long ago was a testament to his feelings for her.
"I think I have under-estimated you Mac," Stella leaned in close and gave him a brief, chaste kiss on the lips. Mac's cheeks flushed, evident even in the dim light.
Mac pulled Stella even closer, as she leaned into him more resting her head in his shoulder. As they enjoyed the views trotting down the street, Mac couldn't help but feel that this was right. His lips still tingled from her kiss.
Maybe love was in the cards for him again.