Lance sat down next to him on the window seat. “She’s having a good time.”
Max turned to him. “Thanks to you. It was kind of you to arrange this trip for her, and to allow her the freedom to visit whenever she wants.”
“I believe that she’s only beginning to discover the strength of her powers. Unless I miss my guess, she’s going to prove to be an invaluable asset to Trans Global Security. So keeping Neely Rafferty happy in 2128 is important. I hope you’re on board with that.”
“Absolutely.” Keeping Neely happy was Max’s lifelong goal. Which was why he’d had special plans for this evening, and he was anxious to get back to them.
“Ironically,” Lance continued, “Neely is Thomas Renquist’s final legacy to us.”
“Does Deirdre enjoy working with her?”
Lance grinned at him. “She finds it a challenge.”
Max nodded. “She’s a very interesting woman.”
“I agree.” But when the director rose, Max saw that it wasn’t Neely that Lance was looking at. It was Deirdre Mason, who was distributing champagne flutes.
Sam cleared his throat, then sent a cork flying toward the ceiling. “Mabel and I have an announcement to make. We’re going to be married.”
The blunt statement was followed by a round of applause, and Max joined the group to extend his congratulations and join in the toasts.
“When?” Neely asked as soon as there was a lull in the conversation.
“We’re thinking of Thanksgiving,” Mabel said. “Do you suppose you could come back?”
Neely threw her arms around Mabel. “Director Shaw says I can come back whenever I want.”
THIRTY MINUTES LATER, Neely was just where she wanted to be—finally sitting next to Max on the window seat. Linc had moved furniture out of the way and the sound system in the store was playing slow dance tunes. Everyone else was dancing—Lance and Deirdre, Linc and Mark, Sally and her friend the architect and Sam and Mabel.
Nerves knotted in Neely’s stomach. All evening, even before they’d left 2128, she’d been aware of the tension in Max, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on the cause.
“They make a nice-looking couple,” Max said in a tone only Neely could hear.
“Linc told me that Sam and Mabel haven’t had a fight since the night of the fire.”
“I was talking about Lance and Deirdre. I had no idea they were together.”
Neely frowned. “Deirdre isn’t quite sure that they are. She’d like for them to be. He seems to have a personal rule about avoiding workplace relationships. I told her that perhaps she should convince him to bend the rules.”
Max smiled, then after a pause, continued, “I had something entirely different planned for this evening.”
Neely smiled back at him. “I know. That’s why I bought the dress. Want to play hooky?”
Max turned to her. “Not yet.” He rose, ran his hands through his hair, then sat back down. “I was going to wait until we got back. I had the evening all planned. But I can’t wait any longer. It’s not just because of Sam and Mabel. I have to know.” He took the ring out of his pocket.
Neely stared down at it, felt her stomach go into a freefall. The center stone was a diamond and it was surrounded by smaller stones in varying shades of blue.
“I was trying to capture the color of your eyes.”
If she hadn’t already been sitting, she might have melted right to the floor.
“Well?” Max asked.
“It’s a ring.”
“Right.” Impatience and frustration shimmered in his voice. “Look, I want to build a life with you, Neely, for the rest of the time that we have left. But I need to know if that’s what you want, too.”
When Neely met his eyes, she was blinking back tears.
“My timing’s off, isn’t it?” Now it was fear she heard in his tone. “I should have waited. You’re here with your friends, and I know you’ve been missing them terribly. I can understand if you’re questioning your decision to stay with me.”
“No.” Suddenly finding her voice, Neely took the ring and slipped it onto her finger. Then she gripped both of his hands in hers. “I told you before, I know what I want. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Looking into her eyes, Max saw all he wanted. All he’d ever need. For the first time since he’d bought the ring, he felt his nerves settle. Rising, he pulled her into his arms and began to sway to the music. In whatever time, this was where he wanted to be.
Can we play hooky now?
The thought sprang from both of them, followed by silent laughter.
Just as soon as I get you out of that dress, Max thought.
It’s gone. Just like that, it vanished, and what she wore beneath it nearly buckled Max’s knees. They continued to sway in each other’s arms, but in their minds, they were in a dark, quiet place, their bodies joined and moving to an entirely different rhythm.