ford was not someone who was accustomed to being nervous. he didn’t get nervous often, and when he did, he absolutely hated it. and that was why he was almost relieved to think that the past few hellish hours were over. then again, he was facing the mother of all nerve wrackers at that moment, and it made it seem like everything leading up to it child’s play. “i guess i can fess up that we didn’t really have a dinner to go to tonight.” that had gone well. he hadn’t thrown up.
the alarm shattered the silence that had occupied ford and ryan’s room only moments earlier (silence being relative to the fact that ford tended to breathe loudly). ford shot awake, sitting up like he’d been shocked before he swung his hand to the bed side table and fumbled awkwardly with his phone. once he’d gotten the thing to shut off, he pawed at his eyes with the back of his hands, stopping suddenly when it hit him what today was.
“why’d you set that thing so early?”
it took him a moment to collect himself before he answered her with a simple, “busy day, go back to sleep,” a kiss on the forehead, and a squeeze on her exposed shoulder. he slid off the bed and made his way (which was not the most quiet way possible, since this was ford, after all) to their bathroom.
he turned on the water and looked at himself in the mirror. what in the hell was he doing? there was no way any of this… this plan he’d put together was going to work. there was no way. but, he’d planned it and of all people, tommy and landon knew the truth about it, so he couldn’t exactly back out now. groaning, ford stepped into the shower.
ryan drummed her fingers on the counter, staring at the note. her cup of coffee was in her other hand, warm and half empty already. she didn’t know what the point of being his secretary was when he made changes to his plans willy-nilly like it was his job.
“well, sugar, if you’re so set on doin’ my job, i’m givin’ myself a three day weekend.”
smiling to herself at the thought of an extra day leading into the weekend, ryan turned on her heel. there had to be something she could do.
“she what?” ford asked, running his hand raggedly through his hair. “she just… didn’t show up?” he shut his eyes, hitting his head repeatedly against the headrest in his truck. “alright. i’ll just… let me call her. do you have any more openings?” without thinking, he crossed his middle finger over his index, holding it up in the air. he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding when he heard the answer. “alright, thanks. i’ll… figure something out. yeah… ‘bye.” he ended the call and immediately dialed ryan’s cell.
“you didn’t go into work today,” he stated, not bothering to waste any time getting to the point. besides, he was a little stressed by the fact that ryan was inadvertently putting his plan in jeopardy. if she would have gone in, she would have seen his other note and would have made her original appointment he’d set up for her.
there was a slight pause on the other end.
“i didn’t exactly see the point, sugar, when you seemed awful eager t’do my job for me.”
ford clenched his jaw and hit the the roof silently with the side of his fist. “sorry. i left-“ but he stopped himself, figuring there was a better way he could go about this. “landon called, he’s got this girl that he’s takin’ out again.”
“we on babysittin’ duty again?”
ford wasn’t good at making things up on the spot. which is why he had had a plan. “not this time. he wants us to go with him, or somethin’. i didn’t ask much. i’ve been a little busy, since my secretary called off.” he took a deep breath. “anyway, it’s at some fancy restaurant. i can text you the details later. but i booked you a pedicure and manicure appointment.”
it was the only thing he was absolutely sure she wouldn’t turn down, and wouldn’t be in a hurry to get home. and he needed her out of the house. “yeah, anyway. i’ve gotta go. text me if you’ve got any questions. love you, babe.” and he hadn’t wasted any time in hanging up the phone.
so things seemed to be back on track, now.
“are you nervous? you seem nervous. i bet you’re nervous. i didn’t think you could get ner—”
ford turned and looked at him, his eyebrows raised. “really? really? you think you’re helpin’?” ford stopped, setting the salad bowl back down on the counter. “just… go set up the tables in the back yard, alright?”
as soon as his little helper disappeared, ford leaned against the counter and pulled the ring out his pocket. “damn straight, i’m nervous,” he mumbled to himself.
“what was that? what did you say?”
ford looked at him, his eyes narrowed. apparently he’d come running back and peeked his head around the corner. “i said put the damn tables out before i kick you in the balls.”
“i guess i can fess up that we didn’t really have a dinner to go to tonight.” he was doing his best to ignore the fact that their close friends were all around them, watching them. and that he was the only one dressed in a suit, in the middle of august. but it was something his mother would have insisted on, that he be dressed for the occasion, even if no one else was.
“i think i got that part on my own.”
taking a deep and admittedly shaky breath, ford lowered himself to one knee. “ryan lee, when you hired yourself that first day i met you, even then i had no idea what just walked into my life.” he paused, looking up at her (though it wasn’t that far because even though he was on one knee, she was short and he was a viking). “i knew you were somethin’ else with your sass, but i didn’t know i’d just met the most carin’, kind, beautiful girl i’d ever want to meet. you make me the happiest man in the world, ry, and i love you and i want to spend the rest of my life with you.” he took another shaky breath. “ryan lee collins, would you do the honor of marryin’ me?” he reached into his pocket and held out the ring for her.
waiting for her to move, breathe, answer, or do anything felt like an eternity to him, and honestly, he wasn’t sure if it was seconds or minutes that he waited.
“well, when you put it that way, sugar, yes. i will.”
ford let out a satisfied sigh as he popped the cap off the dark colored bottle, pulling open the cabinet under the sink and tossing the cap into the recycle bin as he lifted his drink to his lips. if there was one thing that he enjoyed, it was a cold one in his hand after a long day at work.
he’d just crossed the hall on his way to the living room when ryan caught his eye. he stopped and walked backwards a few steps in time to catch her as she finished walking the rest of the way. for some reason, she was not wearing her normal ‘lounge around the house’ clothes. “where’re you goin’?” he asked before tipping his drink back to his lips.
“same place you are, sugar.”
she finished zipping up her jacket and walked around him, pressing her hands into his back and steering him down the hallway from where she came. he furrowed his eyebrows and took another drink. “and where’s that, babe?” at his question, she stopped pushing him down the hallway and he turned around to look at her.
“i signed us up for a dancin’ class. i didn’t tell you?”
from the look on her face and the tone of her voice, they both knew that she’d never told him anything about it. she pressed her hands against his chest and spun him, steering him to the steps. “and why are we goin’ dancin’?” he asked, unintentionally stomping up the staircase. she waited to call up an answer to him until he got to the top and turned to look at her.
“y’need to be lighter on your feet. ‘cause even though it’s your thing to fix and build, sugar, i’d like t’have the floors hold out a couple more years.”
he gave her a look. “bullshit.”
ford gave her another look as he walked to the the length of the upstairs hall, eyeing her over the balcony. “bullshit.” he said again, taking another drink and turning into their room.
somehow, ford ended up being the teacher’s guinea pig when she decided to give the class the quick instructions on the different samba steps they needed to try. he wasn’t sure how he ended up that way, but his hand was now set on this forty something’s waist while she explained to the other couples in the class how he was going to move his hips.
oh wait. he did remember. ryan had volunteered him.
and ford being ford, he played along, pasting a good natured smile on his face, nodding appropriately, tossing in some self-deprecation for good measure. all while knowing that ryan was absolutely eating it up.
little did she know.
“alright. now, i know that i threw a lot at you, but do you think you could handle it?”
the dark haired woman looked at him, waiting for an answer. “i guess we’ll find out soon enough,” he said, throwing in a grin before glancing quickly at ryan. the woman smiled and placed her hand on his shoulder, waving to the teenage boy in the corner to play the music.
next thing ford knew, the music was playing and he was moving his hips in ways he’d never imagined doing in public. the woman had them go through the moves a couple more times for demonstrative purposes, and when she seemed to feel they had demonstrated enough, ford looked over to ryan. the look on her face made him grin, and he could help but love surprising her in a way that she almost seemed to appreciate. catching her eyes, he shot her a wink.
eventually, when the couples all spread out and had enough room that they wouldn’t bump into each other, ryan asked ford the question he knew was coming.
“where did you learn how t’do that, sugar?”
ford laughed softly and set his hands on her waist. “you aren’t the first one to drag me to a dance class, babe. jena lynn had a good eye for pickin’ partners that had a hard time makin’ it to class.” the music started in the background, and ford and ryan started repeating the moves that she’d just watched him do.
“and why did y’never tell me?”
she was slightly breathless which only made ford laugh more. “you never asked, ry.” he grinned as he pulled her waist (and by extension, her hips) closer to his. “i take it you’re gonna want me to show y’some more of my moves when we get home?”
“not only can y’dance, but you can mind read, too.”
ford sat in the middle of their new living room, picking through boxes of ryan’s things. usually, ford was able to keep his focus if that had been the case, the boxes would have all been moved and carried into their respective rooms to be unpacked. but the temptation of picking through ryan’s old pictures and the potential shit he could give her had been too much, much to her chagrin.
he shut the lid of one shoebox and pulled out another, opening it and fanning out the pictures in front of him. “babe, who is this? a cousin or something?” he furrowed his eyes, not recognizing the man in the picture. ryan looked like she was in high school, and the guy… didn’t, to put it frankly. he flipped through some more and his light blue eyes grew wide. maybe ryan’s family did things differently, but he definitely wouldn’t have been hanging on his cousin like that. “i really hope this isn’t your cousin,” he called, warily flipping through more. he stopped on one, though, when ryan and the guy were… ‘passionately embracing’ as his mother might have said. “is there something you need to tell me about you and your cousin?” an edge of panic slipped into his voice.
ryan picked her way through the boxes and looked over ford’s shoulder as he sat on the floor. a grin flicked across her face.
“babe, that’s not my cousin.”
“then who the hell is it?” he asked, flipping the picture over, looking for a name. owen inside a …heart?
“that’s my ex.”
again, a grin pulled at the corners of her lips.
“how do you have an ex-cousin?” he shifted through more of the pictures.
“sugar, this may be the south, but trust me, that’s not what we’re dealin’ with here.”
glanced over his shoulder at her, his eyebrows apparently stuck in their furrowed position. “ex-cousin? is that like a step-cousin whose parents got divorced?” he squinted and looked up and to the left, trying to figure out how she could have an ex-cousin, family wise. that was easier than accepting the fact that she was so obviously telling him, stupidly.
“what?” he asked, turning to look at her while she stood behind him. she had her hands planted firmly on her hips. ford knew that look, and it generally wasn’t one of his favorites of hers.
“he is not my cousin, my ex-cousin, or my step-cousin twice-removed. i dated him when i was in high school.”
“dated? as in, dated?”
“as in dated.”
she fixed him a stare, and he couldn’t figure out if she was amused or pissed at him for being what she’d consider dense. maybe both? he looked back to the picture, scrutinizing the guy in it. “how old is he now, forty?”
“thirty-five or so.”
she said it evenly, and for a split second, ford’s eyebrows shot up. that made him what, eight or nine years older than ryan? which made him what? mid-twenties when he dated ryan? but ford looked back to the picture, his eyebrows still up and the sides of his mouth turned down, sizing up ryan’s ex-whatever. “i could kick his ass,” he said finally.
“you could, sugar, but y’don’t need to.”
ford glanced from the picture to ryan, back to the picture, and then back to ryan, a ‘you’re kidding, right?’ look on his face. “trust me, babe. i know how a man thinks. and if he sees you again, now…? i’m going to have to kick his ass.”
“y’don’t need to worry, babe. ‘cause i’m just gonna’ be seein’ you.”
ford dropped the pictures and grinned, twisting around to wrap his arms around her thighs. he slung her over his shoulder and grinned, patting her ass soundly as he stood up and grinning more widely as he felt her hand land on his own. “o’ course, babe.”