Love, like art, took on different forms with each creator. Rivers Sullivan quickened her pace to a skip, her ruffled skirt bouncing in the muggy Memphis breeze. People rushed down the city sidewalks, and cars raced by, but her thoughts rolled with wonder over the joy in her life. Her eyes captured the way the sun lowered on the western horizon, creating long shadows, the way wispy clouds layered below the indigo sky. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from mixing colors and feelings in her mind, making pictures from all she saw.
Sometimes love blurred, the shades and thin lines smudging like the dark blues and greens and purples of a bruise. Undefined. Her mother’s love had been that way—before the accident.
Other times, love’s colors shone clear and crisp like a beacon in the darkness, bright and steadfast. Her father’s love had always been strong and true, a light leading her home. Both her earthly father and her heavenly Father’s love had held her on course.
Then there was Jordan. His love burst with yellows and reds, excitement and delight, exploded with gentle blues of sincerity and commitment, a feeling she’d never expected to find. Jordan had been a lifeline thrown to a lonely girl drowning in a sea of men with no conviction.
But today, love was paperwork, lovely black-and-white paperwork that would soon bond her to the man she’d never imagined existed. A man strong in his faith, his sobriety, and his willingness to wait.
And the wait wouldn’t last much longer. Her face heated with the thought. Ten days. Just wearing the sparkling engagement ring still made her finger tingle after two months. She glanced at her hand, which was dotted with paint. She’d missed a few spots.
But her breath stalled at the sight of the ring.
Oh no. The diamond was missing.
She spun, retraced her steps along the sidewalk back to her Volkswagen bug, unlocked the doors, and ran her hands across the stained seats and carpet. Her head knocked the steering wheel, but she ignored the bump. In the back of the car, she lifted the canvases and paint containers lining every inch of space. Please let it be here.
Her fingers stretched under the seats, searching for something—anything solid. “Come on. I can’t have lost it already.” Maybe the stone had fallen out in the museum while she was at work. She’d never find it there.
Then her index finger rolled across a small, hard lump. She pinched the pebble-like matter and pulled it out from under the seat. “Let it be. Let it be.”
The diamond emerged in her fingers. Her neck and shoulders relaxed. “Thank you, Lord.”
After removing the ring, she placed both pieces into the front glove box for safekeeping. His grandmother’s ring had fit perfectly, but she and Jordan hadn’t thought to check the prongs to make sure the setting was still secure. At least she’d found the diamond. She breathed a sigh and stood up straight. A jeweler would fix the ring. Nothing could steal the joy she felt today.
“Hello?” Jordan’s voice warmed her ear, his breath tickling her cheek. His hands rested on her shoulders, and he leaned closer. “You’re not changing your mind about me, are you?”
Rivers whirled, her heart racing. His voice did that same thing in her chest every single time. She slipped her arms around his neck. This gorgeous man standing in front of her had to be kidding. “Never. You’re my heart.”
She gazed into those astounding rich brown eyes, which flawlessly matched his short dark hair. How did such perfection exist? As an artist, she’d studied colors and textures all her life, and she’d never seen such faultless coordination. Not to mention the cute angle of his nose, the dimples pressed in the center of his cheeks, and the contoured lips, which left a small shadow above his chin. She brushed a kiss across his mouth, sending butterflies to flight inside her. Still. After six months and a whirlwind courtship, she could barely wait to be Jordan’s wife.
“Whew. You had me worried when I saw you go back to your ugly green excuse for a vehicle.”
“Hey, don’t knock the Stink Bug. She’s a good car, sort of. Except for the smell. And the smallness. And the age.” A smile lifted her lips. “Were you spying on me again?”
“Always. That’s how we met, remember?”
“I’ll never forget.” That day at the museum when he’d followed her to the studio still made her smile.
Jordan’s gaze wandered to her lips. “We should go in before I forget why we came.”
“Right. We need the marriage license to be official. I almost lost the setting from the ring you gave me. I was locking it up until I can get it repaired.”
“As long as you don’t lose me.” His hands dropped to catch her fingers. “I’ll take care of it. You will be my lawful wife. I ran all over town to finalize adding you to my deeds, my car title, my bank account, and my will.”
“Don’t talk about wills. That’s depressing. Let’s go be happy.”
Jordan bowed and kissed her right palm. “After you.”
She offered a curtsy. “My Prince Charming. I knew it the first time I saw you.”
Inside the courthouse, her blue nail polish glinted as Rivers signed her name across the marriage license. Her fairy tale would be a reality soon. She giggled and danced a circle around her fiancé. “Your turn, sir.”
Jordan grinned and tweaked her chin. “I do love how you move. And that cute skirt you’re wearing. And your blue eyes. And your crazy blond hair. And your lips.” His gaze roamed her face.
Not even the presence of the clerk could still the effect this man had on her. She took a deep breath and belted out, “I love you. I love you. I—”
“Oh, man.” Jordan pressed one finger over her mouth and laughed. “Not the singing. You’ll have every stray alley cat in Memphis gathering outside.”
The woman behind the counter cleared her throat and chuckled. “I’m still here.”
“Right. Paperwork.” Grinning, Jordan stepped to the laminate counter to sign his name. Jordan Alexander Barlow III.
And she would be Mrs. Jordan Alexander Barlow. How sweet was that?
Once they’d finished, she followed him out of the downtown Memphis government office and onto the sidewalk. The fierce heatwave that had shrouded the city for a week swarmed them. Late September meant the beginning of fall in some parts of the world, but not here. At least they’d waited until the end of the workday instead of the blistering lunch hour to get the license.
Near the car, Jordan’s hand slipped to the small of her back and nudged her around to face him. “Picnic in the park? I picked up your favorite barbeque and sweet tea, and put a new sketch pad in my car.”
What were the odds that she would find a man who loved her enough to know all her favorites and give them to her every chance he got? “I don’t deserve to be so happy.” His smoldering gaze did all kinds of crazy things to her brain. Breathing deeply beside his ear, she whispered, “Yes, we’d best move along.”
“Right. Wait here, and I’ll get everything.” His shaky exhale made her smile. At least he felt the same. Jordan unlocked the passenger door of his Mercedes and gathered their picnic basket, sketch pad, and a new pack of her favorite pencils.
He’d thought of everything. “Thank you.” She tucked the pad under one arm and the pencils into her handbag, leaving the food for him to carry.
Hand in hand, they walked toward the Mississippi. She’d painted the mighty river hundreds of times, from hundreds of viewpoints, during hundreds of sunrises and sunsets, but none moved her like the portrait she would present Jordan on their wedding day. She’d drawn him standing there, watching her work in the early morning, golden light frolicking on his coffee-colored curls and glittering in the deep pools and currents of his gaze.
“Tell me where we’re going on our honeymoon. Please.” Rivers squeezed his hand, made puppy-dog eyes, and batted her lashes. “I don’t know what clothes to bring.”
Mischief danced in his gaze. “Just bring yourself. Nothing else required.” His voice held a smile.
Heat seared her cheeks and churned up a laugh. “You. Come here.” She stopped, draped an arm around his neck, and planted another kiss on his lips. All her life, she’d prayed and waited for this man. She hung there for a moment, staring. Could she ask the other question again without upsetting the perfect moment? “Did you call Jay?”
A sigh worked its way through Jordan’s lips. “Tonight. I’m calling him tonight. I got his number from my step-uncle.”
“Really? You’re asking him to the wedding?”
His gaze dropped as he shook his head. “I can’t do that to Mom and Dad.”
“I would never want to upset your mom and dad. Brooklyn has been so wonderful to help plan the wedding.”
“But you’re right. I need to let him know I’ve forgiven him, leave the past in the past. Start a new kind of relationship with him.” His chin rested on her forehead. “You make me a better man.”
His stomach rumbled, and she pulled away.
“Or a hungry man.” She smiled up at him.
“I worked through lunch again so maybe the office will leave us alone during our honeymoon.”
“They’d better. Vast River Architecture cannot have you that week. You’re all mine.” They passed under a cluster of trees and shrubs, and movement caught her attention. “Did you see that?”
“What?” Jordan glanced back and forth.
A shiver crept across her shoulders. Homeless people and addicts tottered around downtown areas in most cities, and Memphis was no exception. Despite the fact that she’d been in this spot often, she stopped and scanned the scene again. Something in her spirit warned of danger. “There’s someone behind those bushes. Maybe in a hoodie…”
Jordan took a step and craned his neck. “I don’t see—”
An explosion like fireworks popped and rung in her ears. Another blast, this with impact, hard and swift as a kick in the chest. A red-hot burning sensation pierced her shoulder and back. Time slowed, and a scream ripped from her throat.
Jordan dropped to his knees clutching his chest. Red spread around his fingers, contrasting sharply against his pale blue shirt.
Hot liquid poured all around her, and her vision tunneled white. A fountain of blood. But she had to get to him. “Jordan…” She stumbled forward and fell to her knees beside him, clutched his face. Spots danced in front of her eyes as the throbbing in her shoulder pulsed. Then darkness dragged her into its abyss.
About the Author:
Janet W. Ferguson grew up in Mississippi and received a degree in Banking and Finance from the University of Mississippi. She has served as a children’s minister and a youth volunteer. An avid reader, she worked as a librarian at a large public high school. Janet and her husband have two grown children, one really smart dog, and a cat that allows them to share the space.
Connect with Janet through her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.