"Two kisses, Yankee gal," he said "and your debt's about to grow."
"You'll have to deliver that pecan pie before you get any kisses from me." My words were stern, but I was hard pressed not to laugh at his cock-sure confidence.
"I'll deliver. You have my word on it."
And then he threw his head back and laughed. "All you Yankee gals so darn sure of yourselves or just the pretty ones like you who drive foreign cars?"
"It's a Chevrolet!" I exclaimed for the second time. "And... Oh you!" I sputtered at a man I'd met mere moments ago. "And... and I suppose Southern men think they have to drive a Ford pickup truck to feel manly? Yankee men don't..."
"Hold on there, little gal!" Barry said much too softly. "Trust me when I say you don't want to go there. I don't care what Yankee men do but let me make this perfectly clear. A Southern gentleman... *this* Southern gentleman doesn't need a set of wheels to feel like a man. And now you owe me two kisses plus..." He chuckled low in his throat, the sound wicked and sexy at the same time.
"Barry," he murmured, squeezing my hand again. "Call me Barry."
"And what do I get to call you?" he asked in the same soft husky tone.
A wicked grin split his face. "Hope as in I hope to kiss you or...?"
I laughed, the wicked expression on my face matching his. "My name is Hope and yes, you'll need more than hope to kiss me."
The gauntlet had been thrown down...
Barry Adams, Southern man extraordinaire, had every intention of picking it up and winning my kisses.
He gave me the 25-cent tour of Mountain View, Georgia. It was comprised of main street, a barbershop, general store and the post office/police station. An ice cream shop was next to the general store and there was a tavern he warned me to stay out of.
"Some not-so-nice Southern gentlemen frequent that place and you being a Yankee wouldn't sit right with them if you went in there."
"Where do I get a beer if I want one?"
"You shouldn't be drinkin beer, but if you're desperate for one, get it in the general store when you get your other groceries. Don't go in that tavern! Are we clear on that?"
"Are you laying down the law, Mr. Adams?" I snapped but couldn't help smiling just a little. Taverns didn't appeal to me, but this bossy Southern man who had decided how I was going to behave didn't have to know what I was thinking.
"Yeah," he said and squeezed my hand. "I'm laying down the law. I like you Hope and I want to keep you safe. Trust me on this, please," he urged.
"I will," I responded, but not sure why I was so willing to take his advice.
Because it was a gathering place for the local Ku Klux Klan, I remembered; hence, the warning.
"Ya fixin t' share supper with me?" my mother-in-law asked. "There's plenty an I could use a bit of company a'fore Barry gets home."
"I'd love some supper," I assured her and gave her a warm smile.
For an instant I thought I saw her blink back a tear. I might have been mistaken. My mother-in-law didn't show a lot of affection.
"Want t' give ya a stray piece of advice," she said the way parents talk when they expect you to pay attention. "A stray piece of advice," she repeated the words. "Jus like a stray. Feed it an it sticks around; ignore it an it'll go off t' bother some other poor soul. Ya need more gravy on them potatoes, girl," she pointed, pushing the gravy boat closer to my hand. "Ya listenin'?"
"Yes, ma'am," I answered properly as if I had been Southern bred.
"You an Barry," she began. "No secret I wasn't dancin a jig 'bout that happenin' but what's done is done. No use agrievin' over it. Make the best of what life throws yore way. That's what Mr. Adams always said. So I'm goin' t' do jus that. I don't 'pologize 'bout the way I treated ya but turnin' over a new leaf an if'n you an Barry gave me a granbaby t' love... well, I'd say that'd make ya get both yore feet firmly in the door, not jus one that's a'slippin' and slidin'. How's that set with you?"
How did that sit with me? The love of my life had suffered a serious accident and had been in a coma for too many weeks and his mother wanted us to have a baby? I kept my eyes down and poured brown gravy over my mashed potatoes.
"A man don't need much to keep hisself happy," she continued without missing a beat. "A dog, a beer an a good woman jus 'bout does it. But a baby? Well, a baby means family an family means takin' care of what's 'portant in this life. That's what the preacher calls responsibility an that's what makes a wild man settle a bit an do what the good Lord intended for him when the earth begun. Y'all should know these things," she paused, pursing her lips while she gave me the skeptical look I was used to seeing on her face. "Ya'd know these things if'n ya read yore Bible regularly."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, wondering if mashed potatoes could drown from too much gravy.
"Soon as Barry gets hisself home, you an him needs to get this done. No sense being married if ya ain't got no one there when ya get old. A child makes ya grow up an the good Lord knows both of y'all could use a bit of that. Don't be gittin me wrong now!" she cautioned and pointed her fork at me. "All of us gots to grow up some day. I jus be tellin ya it's time you an my son face whatever Jesus has in mind for ya. Ya be listenin?" she asked sharply.
"Yes, ma'am," I answered, lifting my head from my plate and once again wondered how Jesus got involved in all this. I had poured too much gravy... it was dripping over the sides. God forgive me. I hate mashed potatoes swimming in brown gravy.
"Don't forget you owe me two kisses," Barry reminded me when I grabbed one of my suitcases. He had followed me back from town, the engine of his pickup still idling behind my car.
"I won't forget. How about a hand here?" I pointed to the rest of the things I had brought to get me through the summer.
"You plannin' to move in permanently?" He shook his head when he saw how much I'd brought. "That would be nice," he added as an afterthought, his eyes lingering on my mouth.
I felt my face heat with the intensity of his stare and I turned away in embarrassment.
"Hope..." he whispered. "I want those kisses... now."
"Barry," he insisted.
"Barry," I echoed, the air suddenly filled with unresolved tension, my legs beginning to melt. If he kissed me... oh Lord! And then I remembered he was taking me to dinner.
"Pie, Mister?" I arched a brow, pretending I was cool as a cucumber. "Didn't you promise me pie?"
"I did," he agreed, his cocky grin making me grin in return. "And when you get that pecan pie, I'll collect an extra kiss 'cause you made me wait."
"What?" I sputtered.
"Three kisses, Hope," he murmured, taking the suitcase from my hand, his face so close to mine I felt his breath in my ear. "Three kisses and maybe somethin more."
"Damn!" I muttered as I turned to unlock the cabin door.
"You keep a'cussin, Yankee woman, and the something more stuff's gonna happen a lot quicker than you think."