Silence greeted Reed’s answer and he could almost see the man’s doubtful expression, even through the blindfold. He smiled, knowing the man probably thought him crazy, but nodded in an attempt to reassure him.
“Are you sure?” the man asked. “You’re about to—”
“Don’t tell him,” Kate protested for the hundredth time. “You’ll ruin the surprise.”
“You really trust your girl this much?” the man asked, dubious. “To sign a waiver with no idea what you’re signing?”
“Yes,” he said. “Now can we get on with it?”
Someone behind them called out. “Just let him sign already!”
The man blew out his breath and muttered to himself, and a moment later a pen was shoved into Reed’s hand. Kate caught his hand and directed him where to sign, and he scribbled his name. Then she led him out of the line.
Reed stumbled as his foot caught and he almost reached up to remove the blindfold. His girlfriend—a term he was still getting used to using—had asked him to put it on a mile before they arrived at their destination, and he had no idea what lay in store.
They were outside, but that was all he knew. Under the August sun, sweat trickled down his neck, the Colorado heat baking his skin through his shorts and t-shirt. His vision was blocked, but he could make out shapes.
They were in a small crowd of people. Some laughed and talked, and a young man whined, impatiently waiting for his turn. Reed smelled cotton candy and corn dogs, and would have thought it was a fair if there had been carnival music. Instead there was only the hot wind and a faint crashing of water. Then Kate brought him to a halt.
“I didn’t expect him to be so resistant,” she said, lowering her voice. “It’s not like you were signing your life away.”
“I wouldn’t know,” he said.
Kate’s hand touched his, her soft fingers threading into his own. He smiled, pleased to find that even after two weeks, the power of her touch had yet to diminish. Her lips brushed against his, commanding his attention until she retreated.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she said, her voice a shade uncertain. “You really trust me this much?”
“It was your turn to plan the date,” he said.
There was a distant click, and then voices screamed, the sound mounting as they approached and then sped away. The terror of the screamers was evident, but a moment later laughter mingled with the fear.
He grinned as he listened to what he could only assume lay in store for him. “Just remember that whatever you do to me, I get to do to you.”
“Perhaps I’ve gone too far,” Kate said with a laugh.
“Can’t back out now,” Reed protested. “I want free reign on our next date.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I may be new to the whole boyfriend thing,” he said, “but isn’t trust a prerequisite?”
“Trust, yes,” she said. “But this is a lot of trust.”
Reed’s arm was still around her back from the previous kiss, so he pulled her close. “Your invite mentioned something about falling for each other? How can I refuse that?”
Her smile was evident in her tone. “The falling part is easy,” she said. “I promise.”
He smiled, and pictured her in his mind. Her dark hair hung about her shoulders, her green eyes sparkling. She was beautiful and witty, her subtle courage— a power that had almost been hidden when they’d first met—seeming to grow with every date.
“What’s that smile for?”
“Just thinking about how all this started,” he said.
“The blondes set us up on a blind date,” she said, “on Valentine’s Day.”
He grinned at her nickname for her three roommates—only one of whom was actually blonde. Reed had gotten to know the trio of girls over the last few months and found them to be smart, loyal, and on occasion, devious.
“Does that mean they get credit for bringing us together?” he asked.
She snorted and shook her head, the motion just visible through the blindfold. “I get the credit. They set us up, but I’m the one who issued the challenge.”
“You think you deserve the credit?” he teased. “It was my date that made you want to ask me out in the first place.”
“Perhaps you get some credit,” she allowed.
He leaned in and took her hand, wishing he could see her expression. “You deserve the credit,” he said softly. “Without you, we never would have come this far.”
“We both had a past to resolve,” she said. “I had Jason and you had Aura.”
He thought of Aura, the girl he’d once loved. Her accident was still seared into his memory, her voice on the phone, fading, as he waited the agonizing minutes for the ambulance to arrive. Yet Kate had helped heal the open wound of that moment, and the scar had finally faded.
“And now we have each other,” Reed said.
“That we do,” she said, leaning up to kiss him again.
Six months ago, the dating challenge had started out as a game, but they had brought their challenge to culmination in their date at the Festival of Lanterns, where he’d finally kissed her beneath a celestial tapestry of floating lights. Even after two weeks, every kiss sent lightning through his body, robbing him of breath and scattering his thoughts. The contact was temporary, the impact was lasting.
“It’s not fair that your kisses do that to me,” he said.
“You hadn’t kissed a girl in three years,” she said. “Kissing any girl would have been powerful.”
He was holding her hand, so he used the contact to pull her in, trapping her in his arms. “Only you,” he said softly.
She made no move to escape. “Is that why you agreed to be blindfolded? Because I kissed you?”
“It’s possible,” he admitted.
She leaned up, her lips caressing his, a tease that revealed her smile. “I like having this power,” she said with a laugh.
Once again the click echoed and the crowd hushed as another three voices expressed their terror, the sound rising and falling before returning again. He turned toward the sound. By this point he was confident Kate had brought him to a ride, probably a giant swing. The prospect of doing it with a blindfold instilled a spark of nervousness.
“It’s our first challenge date as a real couple,” he said. “So you’ve decided to test my limits? Isn’t that for the third date?”
“We passed the third date months ago,” she said.
“We hadn’t even held hands,” he said, recalling the St. Patrick’s Date.
“True,” she said. “But we both know what we felt.”
“Then why the blindfold?” He motioned to the cloth tied over his face.
“Actually, this was Ember’s idea,” she said.
“Of course it was,” Reed said with a sigh.
Reed liked Ember, but he knew that if the diminutive redhead ever fought a marine, it would be the marine that went home crying for his mother. Despite her temper, Ember’s loyalty to her friends could not be questioned, and Reed counted himself lucky to call her one of his own.
“Reed Thompson and Kate Williams!” a voice called. “You’re next!”
“It’s our turn,” Kate said.
Her voice was bright but shaky. If she felt nervous—when she had the advantage of seeing what was coming—how much more should he be afraid? Her hand caught his elbow and guided him forward.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
She laughed, sounding amused and a little afraid. “Isn’t it obvious? I want you to fall for me.”