The last morning at Lake Somewhere dawned exceptionally early for Andee. She slipped out of Dansby’s bed to prepare a sunrise breakfast on the lakeshore, a twist on his preparing breakfast for her daily during the past month. Seven days since he presented her with a ring and the request that she become his girlfriend, Andee had not answered, opting for casual, fun time spent with him.

This morning, she had an answer. Orange County and Portland, a thousand miles apart. She, age 22, entered the reality love search contest for a dash of adventure and spontaneity. Dansby, age 31 and an established entrepreneur, came here because he believed there was someone who was supposed to be in his life at this point.

Dawn looked dimly golden. Andee donned a fancy black swimsuit, spread a sheet on the sand set with homemade croissants (Dan had shown her how to make them one morn in the kitchen), and waited. She lifted onto her elbows when she heard his steps. Her heart did a funny little thing. Was it the looks of him or what she planned to say?

“Good morning. I found your clues in the kitchen. This is nice.” Subdued, he seemed, although a very handsome morning man. “You’re particularly pretty at sunrise, An.” Dansby sat.

“Good morning.” Andee fed him a croissant. She nibbled one, too, no appetite. He sipped chilled fruit juice from a wineglass. The sun came up as a big orange ball. Soon, the shore would feel sweltering. “Well, Dan…” Andee patted the top of his hand. Crap, she was going to cry. “I thought I’d have more to say, but…I can’t.” Her return flight to LA, leaving in three hours. His to Portland, same terminal departure area, in four hours. “I left you a note and I can’t thank you enough for our time here.” Andee scampered from their picnic like a scolded animal.

Dansby found the promise ring he gave her atop a note on the sheet.

Dear Dan,

You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. In my defense, at 22, never having really left Orange County, California, that wouldn’t take much… Still, you’re a lot to remember always, everything good and fun and right in this world. I have loved our breakfasts, I’m a killer chef now (kind of), the hot air balloon date night will probably never be topped (no matter who or where), and my favorite is when we picked the lock to the loft hideaway and danced and shared our first night together. With my whole heart, I wish you the best. An ~

Wilder lounged in a hammock near the lake. If a man could have butterflies in the belly, he did. Crazy to have that feeling since he knew he loved Paige. Any second now, she would appear and their final date at Lake Somewhere would begin. The butterflies, no doubt, born of an undeniable fact staring back at him.

He had gone all out.

 He came here to find a soulmate and hoped someone would ‘surprise the hell out of him.’ He tapped his fingers on his torso. Well, he got what he came after. The irony, Paige was indeed the type he had been set up with back home unsuccessfully. Wasn’t that just dandy? His mom, dad, siblings and close friends would get a kick out of it: That he signed up for a reality contest, traveled across the country, left the farm for a month, and came home with a music teacher from Kansas. Hopefully.

“Hello, Mr. Wisconsin.”

Wilder flipped in the hammock and barely got his feet under him. His hands went through his hair as he stood erect. “It’s about damn time, Miss Paige.” He hauled her into his arms. “You officially knocked me off my feet.” Their laughter interlaced with their tight hug. Paige’s dark hair fell away from her face as she tilted her head. “Clever.” He kissed her cleverly.

Paige skipped a breath and recovered by stepping in the direction of the paddle boat tied to a post at the dock. “I’m guessing this is next.”  Wilder roped the boat in and held the metal edge with one hand. “Good guess.” They stepped in; she sat close beside him. He glanced. “You know, you’re different.”

“That’s not what you said on our first date.” Paige took a stab at surprising the hell out of Wilder, her blue-eyed, soft-talking, superhero-size man. “I’m going to last. I fully intend to check you out in Wisconsin a month or so from now.” He grinned. She had no idea. He laughed. He took his time spreading cheese on a cracker. The cracker and cheese slid in her mouth with Wilder’s body leaning close. “My dairy farmer, you have proven you are good with your hands.”

He studied his hands. “They’re getting the job done very, very slowly.”

“Is that a complaint?”

“An observation.” With that, Wilder rowed them into a replica of date number two. “Besides ‘being good with our hands,’ we country boys know a thing or two about pastures and moonlight, walks in the woods and quilts in the grass, truck beds and homemade wine, you remember.”

Paige saw a most romantic, familiar display. Flowers and wine and fruit and a guitar and a quilt.

Wilder guided her to the quilt, sat facing her when she sat, picked up his guitar, took a deep breath, and The Beatles “Love Me Do” showed up again. With one big difference! Wilder had placed the quilt and himself directly beside a tree stump. Atop it, an open jewelry box. Afternoon light splintering through treetops revealed a shiny diamond ring. Her dairy farmer kept singing. Paige kept staring, back and forth, Wilder and The Ring. “You can get it out and try it on,” he stated during the guitar interlude. Tentatively, she reached. She modeled the ring on her hand. Perfect style, perfect fit. He set the guitar aside, face glowing. “You know I love you. I’ve told you a thousand times this week.” Both on their knees, he took her hands. “Will you be my wife, Paige Elizabeth?”

She glowed. She glanced at the ring. Perfect style, perfect fit. “I will, Wilder Luke.”

All the encouragement that Wilder needed, he kissed his future wife. Her fingers played in his hair as their lips twisted. It was an urgent kiss. “It’s going to be so much harder to leave you now, Wilder.”

“Yeah, good thing, we get an extra night.” He winked. “I mean, day.” She made a curious face. He shrugged. “And night.”

“But our flights leave…” “Tomorrow, my deal with the producers, if you said yes.” Paige beamed at her ring. “I’m glad I said yes, then.” “Me too.” They popped open a midday bottle of champagne, ate fruit, and discussed life in the real world for a few minutes. “Sounds like we’ve made the first steps toward a real-life plan.” Wilder rubbed his palms together. “I’ll be nervous as hell meeting your dad two weekends from now…”

Paige laughed softly. “I’ll set it up well. He’s gonna love you.”

Wilder stood. “Paige, there’s more.” He took her hand. “We farm boys know a little something about walks in the woods.”

“Mm, probably so.” She looked around as Wilder crouched under tree limbs and led her through a lovely forest canopy. They came out on the other side, a circular clearing fenced by more trees. “Forget being nervous in two weeks. I’m nervous now.” Wilder’s smile looked shaky. Paige stopped in her tracks. Well, my, her future hubby had gone all out. Front and center of their grassy patch tree circle was a bed plus two nightstands. Like a bedroom in the woods. Oh my.

“This will be a better date at night. It’ll be awesome how many stars we can see from this vantage point, Paige.”  Good-looking Wilder did indeed look very nervous. “I’ve put my heart, and my pride, on the line here.” He put his hands on her hips and slid them up her sides as he pulled her closer. Her heart thudded, a good thud. Everything was real; everything was right. “Spend the night with me, my fiancé?”

Paige took it in. Breath, the scent of wild things growing, the taste of champagne and fruit on her tongue, the deep emotion in Wilder’s face.  Her hands squeezed his shoulders. She nodded. “I’m all yours.” ~

The honeymoon came first, by agreement. Yes, Leo and Jace were getting married in Costa Rica in five days! The details of that, thankfully, the producers or LOVESCENE 2020 handled.

That left the lovebirds to enjoy the country’s fascinating terrain. Jace fell more in love with Leo. The hiker/kayaker/tour guide from New Mexico glided her through lush forests, intriguing and sometimes scary wildlife (monkeys, lizards, frogs, snakes, roaming free, yikes), and sunning and swimming on tropical beaches. They ziplined, they sailed and fished, they made love in their tree house suite, they crossed a narrow swinging bridge to make love again on a wooden plank positioned between two treetops, high above land, high on each other.

Their first snag occurred three days before the wedding. Jacinta’s family did not approve. She didn’t know Leo well enough; they didn’t know Leo at all, they protested. If this wedding must take place, they insisted on attending…in Miami.

The lovebirds sat quietly on the shore at sunset and sulked. Finally, Leo offered, “We’ll just wait.”

Jace shook her head. “No, this is my decision. We have the most meaningful wedding planned here and I love you.” She huffed her breath out. “If they are so determined to check us out, they can put their money where their mouths are and fly here!”

“All ten of them?” Leo frowned. Jace had a huge family and they were part of a huge family business back home, he’d learned. Suddenly, Costa Rica didn’t look so fabulous. Or Miami. He and Jace had real lives, real people who cared, real pasts, just five weeks ago. “Please,” Jace enticed before he could reply. “I doubt they show up under those conditions and they’ll realize it’s my choice.”

“On the outside chance they agree to come, I’m paying for it.”

“What? No.”

“I’ll use the contest money. There’ll still be plenty leftover and I’ll get a job in Miami soon, I’m sure. It’s a pride thing, babe.”

The sun sank on blue water. “Okay…” Jace eventually conceded. “It’s a deal, my husband-to-be in three days.” It started with a kiss; the lovebirds took advantage of dusk on their private beach by giving each other a long, lustful night.

Wedding Day arrived. So did Jace’s family, all ten of them, eh, plus one extra, for brunch with Leo and Jace. Her father proved sternest. Upon introduction, he escorted Leo to a corner of the terrace and drilled him on a beautiful patio, set with artful food and yummy mimosas, like they were, instead, one-on-one in a conference room. Then he escorted Leo back to the chatty group and a tearful Jace.  “Jacinta, if you must proceed, then it’s only fitting we introduce Leo to Chale.” Two tall, dark strangers stood toe to toe with a grim father-of-the-bride at one side. “He works in our business. He was…Jacinta’s sweetheart for many years. Since age fourteen.”

“I don’t work there, Dad,” Jacinta inserted coolly.

Leo felt needles prick his skin. Jace’s bio to enter Lake Somewhere’s contest, he recalled that she admitted on the last question, I should’ve… Married my first boyfriend. He was a sweetheart, but I wasn’t ready.

“Jacinta, you know he is part of the family to us. From the look on Leo’s face, he did not know. Now, if you two want to proceed, you’ll have our blessings. Chale, of course, would like to attend.”

“We’ll proceed,” Jace said, eyes only for Leo. “Yes, we will,” Leo concurred. He shook hands with a tense Chale. Leo did not know if they should proceed or not. So close to making Jace his forever, he’d be damned if he’d lose her to her family’s demands, or another man, so easily.

They kissed and said ‘I love you’ in front of her family after a slough of introductions. The females seized the opportunity to doll up the bride before the ceremony.

The lovebirds met at the end of a beach aisle hours later. Her family and Chale stood and watched. Leo thought his heart would explode when their minister stated, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Tears dripped on Jace’s cheeks, his stunning bride. Leo did not know if they were happy or sad tears.

Moments later, they had a moment’s peace alone on the sand as man and wife before her family’s vulture-like descent. The first words out of his wife’s mouth after ‘I do’ were, “I’m sorry, Leo.”

The black rubber wedding ring on Leo’s hand felt odd; it’d take some getting used to. He thought of home, home being Taos, of days and nights spent on mountain trails, of carefree living. He had twenty-five thousand dollars left, no job, a plane ticket to Miami, and a new wife with a complicated life. “I’ll do my best,” he vowed. ~

The End, for now 😉

*** LOVESCENE 2020 has a been a quarantine bright spot for me! Faithful readers, I am pleased to announce there will be a novella coming out this year! Behind-the-scenes bonus excerpts from Lake Somewhere AND a final chapter apiece for Dansby & Andee, Wilder & Paige, and Leo & Jace- to reveal their lives in the real world. -Be safe. – CC

3 thoughts on “LOVESCENE 2020, Final Episode

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