Hi shippers/readers. I've heard each and every one of your comments about another chapter in 'Becoming Rachel Farmer' Well, I hope you could tell from the title of this series that I'm rooting for them, too! LOL. So let's get to reading. I call this one 'Fearless.'
Somewhere in a forested, mountainous area of China, a little over six months after Frank and Rachel have broken up …
Rachel hasn't prayed this hard in years. This is a more urgent plea than when her labor pains with Fletcher hit full throttle and filled her with confused terror, a more desperate supplication than the morning she and Nikki sat by the phone awaiting news of their missing parents, who failed to check in as planned during a road trip to Scottsdale.
How in the world could I let him make love to me like this again? Why did I even answer his note? I know how this is going to end; there are always tears! Please God! I need to be strong against this man! I can't take another hit.
She curled her body tighter, pulling the sleeping bag around her, and gazed at the ridges of the dome tent that she had shared with Frank the night before. A spider, a grasshopper, and an inchworm crept through the very top. Dry pine needles rain down on the outside, sounding like sprays of rainwater ahead of a storm.
That's when Rachel heard Frank's boots approach the tent. Her heart raced at the sound of him pulling them off, one by one, and resting them just outside. Her palms sweat as he unzips the flap and steps inside.
A few days earlier, Rachel is strutting down a long hallway. Two bodyguards, a personal assistant, and a Chinese translator surround her. She stretches her neck and pulls off a pair of gold gloves, handing them to the assistant. Then she pushes the hood of a lush terrycloth robe back off of her head. They stop at the double-door entrance to a suite, and the assistant lets them in.
The room is large, airy and gleams with modern updates on Eastern décor. It's night and the drapes are wide open, showing off the twinkling lights of downtown Shanghai. Once inside, Rachel and her assistant break away from the rest of the entourage. Bill picks up a large white envelope and hands it to Rachel.
"Something for you, Rachel. How was the show?"
"I did my best. Knocked 'em dead as usual."
Rachel opens the envelope and loosens her robe. She pulls out a plain card with an elaborate hand-drawn cover. It depicts the statue of a woman in a long skirt holding a bowl over her head.
Hi Rachel. I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to read another note in your life. But I promise this one has your happiness in mind, especially if you can guess what the lady on the cover is all about. Frank.
Rachel closes the card and examines the front intently for several minutes. Then she turns the card to get a closer look at the corner. It's signed F Farmer.
"Bill, do you know what this is all about? And did Frank draw this?"
"I don't know anything about the picture, Rachel. He wants you to figure it out on your own. But yeah, he told me what was basically in the envelope, and that he drew that picture on the front."
"He gave me homework, Bill?"
"Not just homework. There's also an invitation to go camping."
Rachel raises her eyebrows and scoffs.
As Frank steps inside the tent, Rachel begrudgingly stretches her legs into the colder half of the sleeping bag and waits for him to climb in.
"Hurry up, you!" She says. "Mornings are still cool out here."
"Sorry!" Frank slides into the bag and turns toward Rachel, pulling her close. Frank presses his face into the side of Rachel's neck and begins to kiss her slowly and sweetly. "What do you think about camping so far?"
"I love it. People don't bother you for any reason. Some of the boots are cute. And if you hiss at beavers hard enough, they will back down," Rachel says between breaths. Frank pulls back.
"You're going around rural China confronting forest animals now? I would think your last concert was enough of a hell-raising experience. Haven't you started enough trouble at their arenas?"
"That wasn't any trouble I couldn't handle. Boys always try to get on stage and French me."
"How do you know that's what he wanted?"
"I could just tell. And the crowd loved it when I pushed him back. You have to give them their money's worth, Frank."
Frank laughs and tells Rachel to remind him to track down that kid and kick his ss later.
"Did you figure out what the drawing meant?" He asks, between kisses.
"No, I haven't. I asked the useless staff at my management company, including my new publicist. Bill wouldn't help me either. And I know he knows. He got a bachelors' in anthropology before getting his MBA," Rachel pushes Frank back to rant a little. "I hate it when smart people keep it all to themselves."
"What about beautiful people, Rachel? You keep a lot of your trade secrets to yourself," But then seeing Rachel's hair tussled around her fresh-faced country beauty again makes him lose his train of thought. Frank moves his hands lower down Rachel's body, then kisses her harder and rolls her on her back.
A little while later, Frank and Rachel are standing up and pulling on basic clothes before heading outside to make breakfast.
"We have to break camp today. It was only going to be an overnighter, right? Because we both have to leave the country in a couple of days. Go our separate ways?"
Disappointment surges through Rachel. Shit! He did it again! She vows inwardly to sit down and write a song about why she repeatedly falls for his constant hitting it and quitting it. The thing is, Rachel thinks, she can't inwardly or outwardly vow to swear of Frank for good. They're both firebrands who often clash, and he smiles at her as if he couldn't care less if she smiles back. But he's always such a considerate and thorough lover. If only he could bring that bedside manner, as it were, out into the open as a boyfriend.
"I guess we do have to face that. Again," Rachel says, finding her socks.
"Yeah. Well, look let's not think about it for the next few hours. We can just enjoy the place and then pack up and get going."
"Sure, Frank. Not a problem."
They talk about Frank's assignment during a morning hike, until they come to a totally natural undeveloped hot spring. There, Rachel pulls off her boots and tests the water. Then she returns to her backpack, retrieves a huge block of French-milled soap and turns to Frank.
"Are they going to arrest me if I take my bath here?"
"I don't think so, Rachel. It's private property and a little dense forest back there. In fact, I'd bet if anyone sees you, they'll be selling tickets," Frank laughs. And then he has the nerve to wink one of his hot- ss blue eyes at her.
Soon Rachel is undressed and waist-deep in the water, which is very comfortable. She has her back toward Frank, who is sitting on a rock with a sketchbook casually drawing her. He holds it up to get it closer to some light coming through the trees.
Rachel suddenly turns to face Frank, saying:
"I need help with my hair!"
Frank looks down and fumbles his book, before saving it from falling.
"Sorry," Rachel says, and holds the soap out to him.
Frank undresses except for his shorts, then walks down to the edge of the water and slides in. But he doesn't walk too far away from the edge. Instead, he waves Rachel over and she is standing in front of him instantly.
She hands him the soap and he uses it to lather her hair. Rachel's hair has grown almost past her shoulders since he last saw her, so he ends up gathering the strands and twisting them like a rope around his hand.
"You want to rinse it out, or should I?"
Rachel ignores every protective instinct, every smart-girl rule, and puts more of herself in Frank's hands.
"Go ahead. I trust you," she shrugs.
So Frank guides her close to the bank, where he sits down. Luckily, there is a huge rock between his feet, where Rachel sits down, with her back to him. Then he lowers her hair into the water between his knees.
Frank rinses her hair, at first forcing himself to watch her face most of the time, and not let his eyes travel past her throat.
"Are you going to tell me about that picture you drew for me?" Rachel asks looking at him. His blunt fingertips are heaven on her scalp.
Frank smiles very broadly, thinking about the artifact, and then feeling entitled, he looks entirely at Rachel stretched in front of him in the water. But he doesn't answer her.
"Or is this going to be another Brooding Frank Farmer Mystery?"
Frank doesn't answer that right away, either, just tell Rachel that she's done. So she sits up and stretches her back side to side.
"Yeah, Rachel. I'll tell you in a couple of hours, back at the cabin," then he holds her close for a few long, firm kisses and lays her on the smooth bank of the water. Rachel starts thinking of song lyrics.
At the cabin, Rachel sits at a table pouring herself a little more wine after lunch. Their bags are packed and piled neatly near the door. Frank is over there rifling through one until he pulls out a rectangular box.
"Here it is," he smiles and walks it over to the table. "I'll get right to the point, because we don't have all the time in the world, and my New Year's resolution is to stop lecturing you."
Rachel smiles and raises her eyebrows at him.
"This is an old German artifact. The Nuremburg bridal cup. It actually belonged to my maternal grandmother when she emigrated here from … somewhere north, outside of Munich. And there's a story."
"Is it a love story?"
"Oh yeah, and the very best one," Frank says. As he speaks, Frank undoes the box and slides a gleaming chalice out of its packing. It looks exactly like the image that was on the front of the card he sent Rachel.
"There was a wealthy, powerful nobleman who had a beautiful daughter, and she fell in love with a smart, ambitious goldsmith. He wasn't one of these lordly ssholes who thought they were God's gift to the girl, you know?"
Rachel nods and giggles.
"The nobleman didn't like it at all, so he throws the young goldsmith into prison, which sends the girl into some starving, waifish un-Rachel-like tailspin of grief," Franks smiles.
"Yeah, you know I would have had words with Mr. Marron if he tried to throw you into prison," Rachel wags her finger at Frank. "Continue."
"He can't stand to see his daughter waste away. So he goes to the guy and makes a deal. He says 'if you can design a chalice that two people can drink from at the same time and not spill any wine at all, then you can marry my daughter,'" Frank says.
"Wow, Frank!" Rachel fiddles with the bowl, which swing from two pivots that the woman is holding over her head. Then Rachel picks up the whole thing and realizes that the upside down skirt is actually the second and deepest part of the double chalice.
"Should we try it? If we get it right, this piece of my family history is yours, Rachel. Forever, and I promise that."
"Mine? But don't you want to save it for a cousin or someone?"
"I want someone I really, deeply respect to have it. Let's try it out!"
Frank grabs the chalice and brings it to the sink to rinse it. He comes back to the table and positions it so that the long goblet is for him and the bowl is for Rachel. Then he pours wine into both sections, and stands in front of Rachel. She'll take the lower chalice.
"Now remember, if we spill, the deal is off," Frank says. "I go to oblivion and you live in your gilded palace in Hollywood Hills with some rich, educated asshole that your siddity New Jersey cousins find for you, OK?"
Rachel laughs and frowns a little at the comparison. They start to drink. Frank watches as Rachel carefully purses her lips over the rim of her bowl and carefully takes down the wine. After she turns the bowl almost upside down, she starts to blink furiously. She catches something in her mouth and stands up.
Frank finishes his, and sets the chalice down on a plate.
"I didn't spill any, did you?" Rachel shakes her head no. And then she pulls a ring out of her mouth. It's a stunner. A sizeable princess-cut ruby flanked by two equal carat weight diamonds, also princess cut. They are set in what could be 14k white gold with a half eternity band of diamonds.
Rachel can't speak for a few moments. Her smile is too wide, and a huge, booming laugh is about to erupt from her chest.
"Frank! Frank! Is this what I think it is?!"
"If you're thinking that I want to marry you, then yes. That's what it is," Frank says. He takes the ring from Rachel and lifts her to sit on the table. Rachel's so excited that she almost misses the proposal.
"Rachel, I usually have everything about my life figured out," Frank says. "Except for this. The only thing I know about a future with you is that you're an incredible lady."
"Have you figured out that I love you? And every time you leave I die a little?"
"I'll try to put a stop to that, I promise," Frank says. "So do you want to get married, Rachel?"
"YES, I DO, Frank!"
"Do you want to come up with a system? And help me figure out how all this is going to work?"
"Hell yes, Frank!"
Frank slides the ring onto Rachel's finger and it fits. He heaves a sigh of relief. But he barely finishes that before Rachel is kissing him hungrily.
"Frank, how much time do we … ?"
"Eighty-two minutes. Seventy, really, before they come get our bags," Frank scoops up Rachel and races upstairs with her.
Forty-five minutes later, Rachel and Frank are wrapped in a tangle of sheets and sitting up facing each other. The rapidly approaching noon sun, coming through thin curtains, softly lights the room. They still can't stop kissing, but they are doing so tenderly now. Reluctantly, Rachel breaks away first.
"OK, Frank. I have to ask what triggered this transformation," Rachel says. She wraps her legs around his waist and rests her head on his chest. "I'm not sorry that it happened, believe me! I just want to know how you went from 'it won't work' to 'we've got to try.'"
"It was coming on pretty gradually until one day the security team and the main guys, you know, were all sitting around talking about this and that. I can understand some Mandarin, a little Cantonese, but the conversation was mainly in English."
"Wow. You draw and you're multi-lingual, too?"
"I used to have a lot of time on my hands, Rachel. Anyway, they talked about politics, travel, all the high-falutin' stuff you expect guys like them to discuss. And then they start talking about love. And they get all excited about the subject. They talk about all the things they do for the love of their wives, children, siblings and parents. And even the love they have for friends, Rachel!"
"Yeah, everyone should experience love in one way or another. Love is the food of life."
"And then one of them says, 'to fear love is to fear life!' That's when it hit me. I've been all over the world and protected all sorts of important people. Trekked through jungles, been on boats, been stabbed and shot. Well, I'm not afraid of anything, Rachel. But I realized I was running away from you, and for no reason." Frank holds Rachel by the shoulders and shakes her gently, not to scold her, but to convey how the moment impacted him.
"That's great news, because you don't scare me either," Rachel says, pushing a lock of hair away from her forehead.
"You're the only woman who could crush me into a million pieces, Rachel," Frank says. "But I doubt that will happen. We'll just have to make sure it doesn't."
Finally, a little while later, a black SUV is waiting outside the cabin as assistants place several matching pieces of upscale overnight luggage into the trunk. Frank emerges from the doorway of the cabin carrying one more bag that goes with the set. Rachel is wrapped around him tightly, slowing his gait a little. She ignores his pleas to let go and walk, and stays clamped around his body until he relents and crawls inside the backseat with her.
"Rachel, this is hardly the way to keep our engagement a secret until we tell Fletcher and my father," Frank says, leaning into the seat and prying her arms off of his neck.
"But I hate letting you go!" Rachel sighs as Frank straps her in. "And I don't care if it's not the nineties, bad-ass woman thing to say. It will be ages before we're back in L.A."
"More like four days, Rachel," Frank says, checking the belt and looking around the car. "You take care of that very expensive ring, but keep it out of sight. We'll figure out the rest later."