After Brooke changed into a lavender sundress and slipped into sandals, she gave herself a brief once over. While the dress showed no cleavage, it accentuated curves the NPS uniform hid. She freed her hair from the ponytail and put the elastic holder in her purse. In this heat, she might have to put it up again.
Brooke checked her makeup. She rarely wore anything other than pink gloss. Thick lashes framed her eyes and the sun had deepened her olive skin to a nice tan. Brooke wasn't sure where she got her darker complexion and hair since her mom and sister, and even her dad, were fair and blonde, but she wasn't complaining.
Tonight she wanted something more and added a shimmering gloss to her lips. Then she took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. Didn't do much good with her heart still thudding in her chest.
Why was Jeremy pursuing 'her'? The women usually seen on his arm were ones who could mix and mingle with the rich and famous. Women who could further his career. Jeremy was a Mississippi state senator with his sights set on Washington like his daddy, while she was a National Park Service ranger who didn't care one thing about leaving Natchez.
Her heart kicked into high gear. Had the M word just crossed her thoughts? Impossible. It wasn't only that she wasn't his type, he definitely wasn't hers. She was a simple girl with a simple lifestyle—nothing like the Steeles.
In the 1850s, half the millionaires in the United States lived in Natchez, and the Steeles were among them. A hundred and seventy years later, the family's holdings had increased substantially, not to mention the Steele men had a long history of public service.
Jeremy's dad was the retiring US senator and his son was poised to take his place in the next election. His photo appeared regularly in the Natchez Democrat, often with a beautiful woman on his arm. And never the same one.
She sighed. If they lived in England, he would be royalty, and she would be the commoner who ended up with a broken heart.
Brooke chided herself about being melodramatic and hurried to her mom's studio. "Jeremy and I are grabbing something to eat," she said.
Her mom laid her brush down. "What about your ride along?"
"I'll catch up to Gary later," she said.
When she rejoined Jeremy, his eyes widened, and he whistled. "Nice," he said.
Jeremy Steele knew how to make a woman feel special. As they stepped out of the house, she immediately noticed the ten-degree drop in temperature from when Jeremy first arrived and nodded at the thunderheads that had rolled in. "Guess that means we won't leave the top down."
"I think we can make it to the tavern before it starts."
Ten minutes later Jeremy escorted her into King's Tavern, where the original brick walls and dark wooden beams added to the mystique of the inn that had been rumored to have a ghost. The tantalizing aroma of steak drew her gaze to the open grill, but she had her heart set on one of their wood- fired flatbreads.
"Inside or out?" Jeremy asked.
"The backyard, if you don't think it'll rain," she said.
"If it does, we'll simply come in." He gave the waitress their drink order, sweet tea for both of them, and let her know where to find them. They had their choice of picnic tables and chose the one on the hill. Once they were seated, Jeremy reached across, taking her hand. His touch and the intensity in his brown eyes almost took her breath away. "I'm glad you came."
"Me too," Brooke said, trying not to sound breathy. The question worrying around in her head wouldn't wait any longer. "Why me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why are you interested in dating me? We don't travel in the same circles."
"But we do. We've gone to church together since we were kids."
"And you sit in your family's pew clear across the sanctuary."
His eyes twinkled. "We don't have a family pew."
She laughed. "I'd hate to be the one who sat in your mom's seat some Sunday."