This is the third story in the series Love Is Blooming by five White Rose authors.
Kenzie Kinkaid shifted on the white-cushioned posing couch. The scent of artist’s oils, turpenoid, and drying canvases filled the small studio. Though she tired of holding her back straight and trying to appear relaxed, she never tired of gazing at the artist.
His dark chocolate eyes seemed to look right into her soul and enjoy what they found. And the way his wavy black hair fell over his forehead each time he bent to dip his brush into his palette made her toes tingle. She wanted to jump up and run her fingers through that wavy hair, then smooth it back out of his eyes. The feeling had grown stronger during the five weeks they’d been working together.
“This is the last sitting, Kenzie, and I think your parents will find the portrait worth waiting for.”
The deep timbre of his voice sent delicious shivers to Kenzie’s stomach. She blinked. She hadn’t experienced that delightful tingle once in the two years since her fiancé died in a sky-diving accident just a week before their wedding. “Did they tell you this was to be my bridal portrait, and that I wanted them to cancel?”
“Yes. But I was glad to extend you all the time you needed.” He stepped back and chose a new brush. “You’re a remarkable model. Usually I only ask for one sitting and then complete the portrait from photographs I take, but…you’re so stunning, I wanted to make certain I caught the real person beneath the beauty.”
Heat flooded her face. “You’ve been sniffing turpenoid, Jeffrey Gordon. I’m not beautiful.”
He propped a foot on the nearby stool, leaned an elbow on his knee, and dangled the brush from his fingers. “I got the impression from your parents they wanted me to get to know you.” The cleft in his chin stood out when he smiled.
“Please don’t feel obligated. Mom and Dad have been matchmaking for the past year. I’ve resisted, but they’ve thrown every eligible bachelor they know at me. And they made no secret of the fact that you are single.” Her ears burned. She ducked her head and smoothed the yellow silk dress where it clung to her thighs and then flared to the floor.
“Don’t be too tough on them.” A twinkle lit his eyes. “I named this portrait Daffodils.”
“Because of my dress.”
“Partially. But mostly because you have an inner glow that lights the studio. Would you go out with me?”
This was too much. Though she’d dreamed about him, she wasn’t ready to date. It was just too soon. Her knees trembled when she stood. “Please. You can finish the portrait from the pictures you took of me.”
Jeff dropped his palette on his shirt, leaving splotches of color on the black material. “I’m sorry. Don’t get upset.” He grabbed the palette off the floor. “I thought enough time had passed and you might be ready.” He placed the palette back in his left hand. “But I should have waited.”
Kenzie settled back down on the couch. “I don’t mind your asking.” She managed a smile. “I didn’t accept any of the dates my parents arranged.” Instead, she’d dived headlong into her marine biology work using all her energy and loving what she did. When she was ready to date again, God would let her know. She didn’t need matchmakers. And, of course, her parents had insisted she sit for this particular artist.
“Almost finished,” Jeffrey mumbled around the brush handle in his mouth.
She would miss the concentrated expression that changed his face from being merely attractive to being a man with purpose and drive and vision. She’d loved watching him work. Loved seeing the magic his hands created. Loved talking with him. Up until a few minutes ago they’d had a comfortable, relaxed relationship. And that’s all she wanted.
“All finished. You can view the portrait now.” He stood back, his usually direct gaze guarded.
Did he think she wouldn’t like his work? She shot up, almost afraid to look. Her stilettos tapping on the hardwood floor, she glided over to the easel.
“It takes my breath away. It’s like looking into a mirror. I…I love the way you captured my skin tones.” She fingered the edge of the wet canvas. “Do I really look like that?” Heat flooded her from her scalp to her ears. “I’m sure my parents will be happy with it.”
The following Saturday morning, Kenzie paced in the tiny garden behind her rented house. The sun shone, the air smelled sweet, and a hummingbird flashed around the nectar of a scarlet bougainvillea bush. She should be happy or at least content. But, now that the portrait hung in her parent’s living room over their mantle, she missed her Saturday mornings spent with Jeff. Missed their casual conversations. Missed their spirited discussions about God, and how He worked in a believer’s life.
She probably just missed him because spring had come to Southern California in a burst of sunshine and blooming flowers. And probably because daffodils’ ranged up and down her short walkway. And probably because a Blue Jay darted down to lure her away from its nest full of new born chicks. Well, she’d get over him. Her bare feet slid over the smooth stones between the waving daffodils as she sauntered around the house to the front.
With a screech of brakes, a delivery truck pulled into the horseshoe drive in front of her neighbor, Sara Hunter’s house. Kenzie rested her hands on her hips and watched Sara walk to the truck. The delivery man slid the side open. Because the truck obscured her view, Kenzie couldn’t see what else Sarah did, but her neighbor soon turned back toward her own front door. Then a Delectable Edible Arrangements truck pulled up behind the departing delivery truck. Wow, busy day on Daffodil Lane.
Another squeal of brakes distracted Kenzie from Sarah’s drive to her other neighbor, Paisley Robbins. Kenzie only had a nod and hello acquaintance with the two older ladies, but she liked them both. Paisley came outside and talked with the delivery driver. Kenzie glimpsed an antique cage with some tiny birds fluttering inside, and was about to walk across the street to talk with Paisley, when the delivery truck gunned out of her drive…and right up Kenzie’s.
Kenzie sucked in a breath. What? She hadn’t ordered anything online. Maybe the truck was simply turning around in her drive.
But the truck pulled up, stopped, and a teenager with spiked hair jumped down. “Kenzie Kinkaid?” The boy carried a clipboard.
He grinned. “Um, Miss. You got a delivery.”
“Are you sure? I’m not expecting anything.”
“Yep. Only problem is—um, we got a glitch in our computer. So, Gramps sent me out with these names on this clipboard, and I got packages. But I don’t know which deliveries go to which names.”
Kenzie chuckled. “Really?”
Untied sneakers flopping on the drive, he hurried to the side of the white van and Kenzie followed. “Can you look at these orders and pick out which one is yours?” He opened the slider.
“Well, yes, but I can’t imagine…” Kenzie let her words fade as the boy took out a huge box of chocolates in a gold package with a fancy pink ribbon. The thought that a man sent candy made her heart race. She remembered the expectation such gifts brought. And the love they expressed. “Is there no card?”
“No card, Miss. Do you think this is for you?”
She shook her head. “No. I wish they were, but I don’t think so.”
“These must be for you then.” He pointed to an emerald vase filled with a dozen long-stemmed red roses.
She bent inside the van, stuck her nose close to a velvet bloom, and inhaled the rich rose scent. How many bouquets had she received and taken for granted? How much caring went into such a gift? She touched the cool, glass vase. Why had she turned her back on love? She’d been too cautious to risk her heart again. And with that fear she’d lost the joy and excitement and deep satisfaction of caring about someone else more than about herself. She breathed in the sweet, rose fragrance again.
How strange these gifts getting their addresses tangled. Was God sending her a message? Was He telling her not to turn her back on love? She’d been too afraid to risk her heart these past two years. The pain had cut too deep. And, last week she’d totally discouraged the one man who’d caught her interest.
“I’ve got this one more,” the teenaged voice cracked. His expression looked so sympathetic Kenzie knew he must have sensed her regret. He handed her a vellum envelope.
The envelope felt smooth and rich in her hand. Spring-like yellow paper showed through the translucent material. She had to peek inside. “This looks as if it’s been opened.”
“Yes, Miss. Ms. Hunter and Ms. Robbins opened the letter to see if it was for them. But it wasn’t, and I only have two other addresses. And the two other packages. Do you think this one’s for you?”
She slipped the textured paper out of the envelope. Her heart fluttered. Beautiful inked calligraphy invited the reader to a dinner that evening at the Café Parisian. She knew that Café. It nestled just around the corner from Jeff’s studio. She’d thought some evening she might stop by and have dinner in the romantic spot. Tears pricked her eyelids. This couldn’t be for her either. The restaurant was for lovers. She was about to fold the note and return it to its envelope when she glimpsed a sort of signature in the corner—an artist’s palette.
“There’s daffodils embossed on the front of the envelope, Miss.”
Such a sweet invitation. But why hadn’t Jeff signed it? Could it be
that he feared being rejected again? That his artist’s heart wanted her to
catch the gentle suggestion behind his invitation? The puzzle intrigued
her. But not nearly as much as the man.
Kenzie couldn’t stop smiling. “Yes, thank you. This gift is mine.”
With a hitch of his drooping pants, a slapping of sneakers, and a squeal of burning rubber, the delivery truck drove away.
Kenzie clasped her hands and gazed at the glorious azure sky. “Thank You, Lord for these three messages. I hear what You are saying. My parents aren’t the only matchmakers.”
God had sent His own special message. She would no longer turn her back on the promise of love.
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