A collaboration between me and Katelyn Devaney. We would love to hear your constructive criticism.

Warning: Some chapters contain language and adult themes.

Against All Odds

Chapter 1

Seventeen-year-old Cara Brighten walked past the quad as she did every day. The fall breeze whipped through her long, chestnut hair. It brought the smell of rain, ensuring a storm later on. She smiled and tipped her face to the sun, allowing it to warm her skin. A familiar laugh caught her attention and she turned to find her best friend, Andy Monroe with a group of guys.

"Typical Andy," Cara said to herself. Her best friend was athletic, outgoing and preferred comfort to fashion. Cara had been Andy's only real female friend their whole lives.

Andy was sitting with Jude and two guys she recognized as the "private school" crowd. In the small town of Albemarle there were only two high schools: Albemarle High and Redwood Academy, the kindergarten through twelve preparatory school. Most kids in Albemarle mingled even though there was a slight stigma towards the private schools kids. But Cara was quiet. Her reputation, unbeknownst to her, was that of the mysterious beauty.

Cara paused to quietly observe her best friend. There was something different about her laughter that puzzled Cara. Then it dawned on her. 'She's flirting! That must be Andrew Greene and his brother Darian! How could I forget?!' Andy had been crushing on Andrew since the 10th grade when she went to the interschool dance. Cara avoided such activities like the plague.

Cara sat on a bench near a tree to be as inconspicuous as possible as she observed the quartet. They sat on the grass beneath a massive oak tree. Jude leaned against the trunk with an arm propped casually on his knee. Andy sat beside him, legs crossed, animatedly talking to a leanly muscular guy with a smile as quick as hers: Andrew Greene. A guitar case lay behind him. He was infamous for his creativity. Cara smiled as they leaned closer to trade a secret. It quickly disappeared as she noticed the twitch on Jude's face. She knew that Jude had loved Andy almost as long as they'd been friends. What was not to love? The 5'6 athletic girl had a lithe body with curves in just the right places, a ready smile, warm brown eyes, and most of all, a keen intelligent mind geared towards the humorous. She was pre-med, working to be a pediatrician who spent most of her free time studying or with horses.

The last member of the quartet, Andrew's younger brother Darian Greene, sat with his back to her. One leg was crossed under the other as he listened to the conversation adding a few words here and there. Something about him caught her interest in a way it never had before. It wasn't just the curling wisps of dark chestnut hair that caressed his strong neck, or the way his shoulders tapered to a trim waist. There was something about his energy, quiet but assertive. Even when silent, Darian made his presence known. A paper flew off a clipboard in front of Andrew and Darian turned to grab it.

Cara's heart stopped. Darian was smiling and shaking his head and it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. A flush rose from her neck, up her ears and then spread to her cheeks.

At that moment, Andy glanced up and smiled when she saw where Cara had been looking. Normally, Andy never tried to get Cara to join her social group. Cara was more of a one on one kind of person. But today, with her sudden interest in Darian Greene, she thought she'd make an exception.

Cara jumped up, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear and started speedily down the path.

"Cara!"

'I'm going to kill you Andrea Monroe,' Cara thought before turning with a straight face.

"Cara! Over here!" Andy waved at her friend and saw the murderous look in her eyes.

"I'm coming," she said. Her soft voice barely carried but her manner of speech always drew attention.

"You know Andrew and Darian Greene, right?" Andy asked and Cara shot her a dirty look. She smiled at Jude and then turned her smile on the brothers.

"Cara Brighton," she said, standing awkwardly amongst the quartet seated comfortably under the oak. First she glanced at Andrew. Then her eyes met Darian's and only then did she notice that they were the color of honey. She also noticed how straight his nose was and how his full mouth was perfectly kissable. Her heart lodged rather uncomfortably in her throat and words could not bypass the roadblock.

"Hey Cara," Jude greeted with a smile, thankful for the distraction. He began to rise from his seat beside Andy so she could sit by her friend.

"So you're the infamous Cara," Andrew said with a grin. "You're all this one ever talks about." He nudged Andy's shoulder playfully before extending a hand/ "Andrew Greene, and the silent one is my brother Darian."

Darian chuckled. "Don't listen to him. I'm forced to silence when these two are together. Can't get a word in edgewise."

Cara blushed deeply. "That is not true, this guy is always talking about this artistic venture and that," Andy said, noticing how affected Cara was by Darian. She'd never seen it happen before. Was Cara actually crushing?

Darian smirked at Andy. "And you're so eager with your questions. Really he's not that interesting," he said turning a conspiratory wink on Cara. H was sure she was well aware of her friend's crush on his brother.

Cara giggled and Andy pulled her down to join them. She bumped into Darian and blushed again. "Sorry. MY friend's...enthusiastic." Her blue eyes twinkled with humor and her burgeoning emotions.

Darian scooted over so she could sit on the grass beside him. "No harm done," he said with a reassuring smile. "We all know how Andy gets."

Cara smiled. He made her feel at ease. "Since we were born," she agreed.

"Hey! You're supposed to be on my side," Andy protested.

Darian shook his head. "Not a chance. You already got Jude and Andrew." He slung an arm around Cara's shoulder. "I gotta have someone to conspire with."

Cara felt a tingle every place he touched. "And I know her dirty little secrets," she added surprising herself with her boldness. Her body began to relax into his.

Darian chuckled raising an eyebrow in overexaggerated interest. "Really now? That's good 'cause I know his."

Andrew glanced at Andy. "You called her over here why?"

Cara blushed. "She is always trying to get me to join things." Andy leaned over to Andrew. "I say she's digging your brother" Andrew quirked a brow, "you think?" he asked with a teasing grin. Darian dropped his arm from around her shoulders seeing she looked kind of uncomfortable. "So why don't you?" he asked.

Cara bit her lower lip and glanced at Andy and Jude. "I don't know really. I just never know what to say and ..."

Andy cut her off. "She is just shy. She has plenty to say."

"Why is that, Jude?" Andrew leaned over to tease his friend.

"Can Cara not get a word in when you're with Andy too?"

Jude had to force a smile. "Naw man. I can't get a word in with them." Andy wasn't half as talkative with him as she was with Andrew.

"We can read her like a book," Cara pitched in, enjoying the banter.

Darian chuckled. "I'm sure she says the same about you."

Andrew shook his head. "No way. Andy says this one is known around here as what was that term..."

"Mysterious Beauty," Jude finished.

Cara blushed. She had heard that several times. Although not a social butterfly she took care of herself and dressed well.

"'Cause she is," Andy said. "She is the most beautiful woman I know." The two women shared a smile.

Darian took a moment to peruse her while she was distracted. She was rather attractive with a blush that came easily to her cheeks. It was refreshing. Most the girls and the private school he and Andrew went to were spoiled rich kids who were stuck up, bitches or sluts. Not all were, just the majority he'd come into contact with. "Mysterious beauty..." he finally spoke. "I get the beauty thing. I'll just have to find out if you live up to the mysterious part."

Cara flushed with pleasure at his words. "Well, since I didn't make up this..."saying", you're just gonna have to do just that," she said and then mentally chided herself. 'Are YOU flirting? You don't flirt. You don't even know how to flirt!' Andy was staring at her too.

Darian chuckled. "Fine by me, i'll look forward to uncovering the mystery" Andrew shook his head, "One problem...we don't go to their school. How do you expect to figure her out if she avoids the social events that would bring her around you so you can figure her out?"

Andy smirked. "Well, I can think of one way," she said and Cara shot her a warning glance.

Andrew glanced at Andy. "And what's that?"

Jude shook his head. "Ever nosy, Andy."

"You got to invite her. She won't say no if you ask," Andy said, winking at Jude and avoiding Cara's gaze.

"You don't have to do that," she protested.

"Then what? Oh! Exchanging digits," Andy said, on a roll now.

"Andy!" Cara said and met Darian's gaze. She felt her insides turn to mush. "I'm sorry, she's crazy."

Darian shook his head. "Not really," he said offering a piece of paper he'd taken from his backpack when she'd been trying to silently warn Andy not to say anything. He'd written his name and number on it. "I already had the digit idea."

Cara nervously traced her lower lip with her tongue and accepted the slip of paper as though it were a treasure. "T-thank you," she said before realizing herself and ripping a slip of paper from her notebook.

"Check this out. Her handwriting looks like it's from a typewriter."

Cara glared at her friend and carefully printed her name and number.

Darian chuckled at Andy's comment accepting the slip of paper while reaching into his pocket for his cell phone, programming the number in so he didn't lose it. Before she could protest he snapped a picture on his camera phone and set it as caller ID.

Cara's eyebrows shot upwards. Instead of protesting, she quickly programmed her phone, called his name and did the same. Andy watched her friend carefully. This was very unusual behavior. She'd expected Cara to have bolted any moment.

Andrew chuckled quietly, reaching out to place is index finger beneath her jaw and pushing up. "Stop gawking," he teased.

Andy felt butterflies when he touched her. He was back on break from his first year at Columbia. She grabbed his hand between both of hers. "Tell me you never expected to see that," she asked softly, leaning in close.

Jude sighed quietly and rose, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. He'd seen enough.

Andrew shrugged. "I think you're more surprised than anyone since you know her best," he said turning his hand in hers so he could lace his fingers through the hand beneath his. They'd been good friends since that interschool dance her sophomore year and had always flirted with a mutual attraction. She was an attractive girl with a lot of spirit. They'd texted constantly that first semester he'd had away from the small town to attend Columbia.

Andy nodded. "You're probably right," she agreed and glanced up at Jude. "Where you going?" Cara frowned. Andy was clueless.

"Gotta help dad with the horses," Jude lied. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye," Andy said and then shrugged it off, concentrating on Andrew's warm hand around hers. "I help him every morning with the horses for as long as I can remember."

Cara turned to Darian, not wanting to interrupt the flirting session. "As you can see, that's been an awkward scene for...quite some time now."

Darian nodded. "I'm well aware of it." He and Jude had been best friends growing up.

"I'm surprised we don't know each other better," she said and then blushed. "Um, I mean, with our best friends being friends and all."

"I know what you mean. I blame you. Andy has always came around to hang out. I'm sure she'd passed along an invitation or two," he teased her. "You're just gonna have to start coming to interschool events or join Jude and Andy when they come over."

Cara smiled widely. "I think...I think I'd like that," she said. She'd volunteered down at the animal shelter and for as long as she could remember and it took up most of her free time. That and accompanying the local veterinarian on his trip to all the ranches.

"Great," he said. "However, next time you don't show up I'm coming to kidnap you and drag you there myself."

Cara laughed. It was a bubbling sound that grew from deep within. "Maybe I'll just make it easy on you and show up."

Darian shrugged his shoulders. "You could...but then you'd lose the mystery."

"Okay, I'll make you find me." Cara studied him a minute and then smiled slowly. "I'll take you to dinner if you can figure out where I work by tonight." She would make sure Jude and Andy didn't tell. "Clue: I want to be like my dad, but I don't like people." Quickly texting Jude and Andy, she told them her plan and hoped they would play along.

Darian smiled. "It's a deal," he replied holding out a hand to shake on it.

Cara glanced down at the large hand and took it. A slight gasp escaped her pink lips and she met his eyes. "Deal," she said.

Andrew shook his head. He'd seen the pleasant look of surprise cross her features.

Darian held her hand a second longer than necessary to shake on a deal and then dropped his hand back to his side and rose to get to an accounting class he took at the community college. "Dual Enrollment," he explained. "Bye Andy, Andrew," he said then turned to smile at Cara. "See ya later, Cara," he said and strode off to the parking lot.

"See ya," she said and then glanced at Andy. "I won't say a thing and neither will Jude...or Andrew, will you?" She gave Andrew a mock stern look.

Andrew chuckled. "You're making me choose between my blood and the wrath of two beautiful girls...either way I lose."

"Just until tonight," Cara promised him.

"I'm sure he'll figure it out. You're the prize," Andy assured her and Cara blushed.

Andrew chuckled. "He's pretty intelligent that brother of mine," he said lifting the guitar from its case playing it softly. No particular song, just something he'd made up while away. "But I won't say a word," he promised Cara.

"Thanks," Cara said.

"That's pretty. What is that?" Andy asked.

Andrew shrugged. "Nothing really. Just kinda made it up as I went along lying in bed one night."

Cara hummed along, improvising a harmony. She couldn't play any instruments and couldn't read a note, but she had a pretty voice and a good ear. "I like it," Andy said, nodding her approval.

"Not bad," Andrew complimented Cara before glancing over at Andy. "And I hope so. You were kinda my inspiration for this one." He'd made it up after hanging up with her one night.

Andy beamed. "I'm impressed," she said. "You have words yet?" Cara was still humming along, lost in her thoughts. Later, she would realize Andrew had complimented her, when she wasn't lost in her own world.

Andrew chuckled. "Kinda sorta."

Andy leaned back against the tree. "Let's hear," she said, smiling at him.

Andrew sighed. "Alright. But it's a work in progress," he warned. The night he'd made it up she'd called him near tears, venting about how much she hated the small town and had seemed like the small town walls were closing in on her, how nothing seemed like it was going right, she was stressed over finals and she missed him. By the time they'd hung up he'd mostly succeeded in cheering her up. After they'd said goodbye, he picked up his guitar and his fingers picked out a tune that was both sad and hopeful. The words spoke of a young girl in a similar situation with words of 'love' and encouragement.

Andy held her breath for what seemed like the entire song. Even Cara was drawn from her thoughts. When he was through Andy sat speechless.

Andrew set the guitar back down and shrugged. "Something like that," he said with a smile.

Andy's lips turned upwards first at one corner and then the other. Then she leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thank you," she said, knowing exactly when he'd written it.

Andrew chuckled. "You're welcome."

Cara checked her watch. "Oh no! I have anatomy. I have to go. Bye!" She jumped up and hurried away. Andy laughed. "That girl is never late and her teachers love her. She could come in at the last minute of class and they'd still pass her."

"Some people have the gift," Andrew replied. "So what are you leaving me for?"

Andy checked her watch. "Microbio," she said with a sigh. She didn't come off as a math and science geek, but both were her passions. "Test prep today. Spent the last week preparing this damn study guide. Let's see if its right."

Andrew rose, slinging the guitar case over his shoulder. "Good luck with that. Not that you need it or anything."

Andy tossed her hair over her shoulder. "'Cause I'm such a wiz and all," she said. "Where you off to, Johnny Cash?"

"Well my bro's off to learn how to become a millionaire. Jude left to play rancher. And you're abandoning me for your textbooks. I guess I'm just off to paint the next Mona Lisa or write the next award winning song," he quipped.

"Or direct the lifetime story of Andy Monroe," she said, bowing before taking a few steps backwards. "Call me, okay?"

Andrew nodded. "Will do," he promised.

Andy turned and smiled to herself. 'That was very successful,' she thought and knew it would be a very good day.

…...

Later that night, around 7:30, Darian strolled into the local animal hospital. His eyes located Cara talking to the man who had been the town's vet for the past fifteen years. Her back was to him. When Dr. Earnhardt headed into an adjoining room Darian stepped closer tapping her on the shoulder. "Found you."

Cara jumped slightly and then turned. Her smile was luminous. She'd been counting down the minutes, hoping he'd find her, scared that he would, scared that he wouldn't. "I guess I owe you dinner now, huh?" she said, leaning against the counter. "Unless...you'd like a tour?"

Darian held out a single pink rose. "Actually, I figured I'd treat you to dinner. I prefer to do things the old fashioned way."

Cara gasped quietly and froze a moment before taking the rose from him. "I...uh..."

"You say 'yes'," Dr. Earnhardt said, walking up with a chart. "Good to see you, son," he said to Darian before walking out. He was friends with Darian's father.

Cara bit her lower lip and then quickly slipped out of her white coat. "Let me just wash my hands and get my things." she quickly hurried away and then popped her head through the door again. "Don't leave," she said, holding up her hand. Then she smiled and disappeared.

Darian chuckled. Why would he have gone through the trouble of finding her if he was just going to leave? He found a seat and patiently waited.

Cara found her favorite pet, a chocolate lab named Noodles who was in for his annual and scratched him. "I have a date! My very first date," she whispered to him. Noodles yapped at her and licked her fingers. "I know. Does this look okay?" She turned for the dog and then rolled her eyes. "I'm talking to a dog." She quickly washed up and grabbed her purse. Then she checked her appearance in the mirror. Her long hair hung to the middle of her back in chestnut waves. Blue eyes stared back at her from almond eyes and her lips shone with a touch of lipgloss. "It'll have to do." Then she walked out, holding her purse in front of her with both hands. "I had to say goodbye to Noodles."

Darian shook his head. "I never did understand why Mrs. Murphy would let her 3-year-old name a dog Noodles."

Cara laughed and it dispelled some of the tension she was feeling. "I have no idea," she agreed. "But if he is unfortunate in name, at least he is very fortunate in looks. That is one gorgeous dog."

Darian nodded, "True enough. So what are you in the mood for?"

"Italian," she said. "My sister teases me and says I love garlic like an Italian even though we're all Irish and English."

He shrugged. "What does heritage matter? Good food is good food."

"And old Mrs. Gabrielli does make the best," Cara said, following him out to his car.

"This is very true," he said, opening the passenger door for her.

Cara smiled at the act of chivalry. She was about to climb in and then paused, putting her hand on his arm. "I'm glad you found me," she said and then ducked into the car, embarrassed by her boldness.

Darian smiled and walked around the car to climb into the driver's seat. "Me too," he replied glancing over at her before he started the car and drove them to the little Italian restaurant, which wasn't really a restaurant. Mrs. Gabrielli was an older widower who had opened up her home Thursday through Saturday from four to eight, turning it into an Italian restaurant with the best home-made Italian for miles around.

"Ciao Signora," Cara said as they walked in. "Cara! E Darian," Mrs. Gabrielle greeted, ushering them to a table. "Don't tell me what you want. I know! Two red wines coming up!" There was never any arguing with Mrs. Gabrielli. She didn't understand what drinking age or 'choosing from the menu' meant.

Cara laughed. "I think this might be my favorite part of this place."

Darian nodded. "For sure." He always let her decide what to serve him instead of choosing. She always surprised him with some delicious entree. "Aside from that garlic parm bread she makes."

As he said it, she bustled out with the bread and two plates of gnocchi. A tall gangly guy came out with a bottle of wine and two glasses. "Um," Cara began to protest. Her rap sheet was as white as snow. She followed rules. Then she glanced at Darian. She had the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen sitting across from her on her very first date. What better to compliment that than some fine wine? She held out her glass.

"Technically in Italy there is no drinking age," he teased her stopping the man pouring when he had about half a glass. He'd only have a few sips. He didn't want to make a bad first impression that he would drink and then drive her home.

Cara grinned at him. It seemed he'd made her smile in half an hour more than she ever had. "This is true. To..." she trailed off as she lifted her glass. She wanted to say, "to us" but she didn't know if it was appropriate.

"To mystery" he finished, winking playfully before bringing the glass to his lips.

Cara echoed him and brought the fermented drink to her lips. It was strong, fruity and a bit honey-like. "I've...never had wine before," she admitted. Most 17-year-olds she knew were out partying at keggers and having sex. Not her.

"I've only had it here once before on my dad's birthday. It's stronger here than if you buy it in a bottle from the store," he warned.

"My mom says it's the best here. Here and Italy," she said with a laugh. It was difficult for her to drink more than a bit at a time anyway.

"I've only had it here. I would love to go to Italy though," he replied.

"If I could get there in a boat I would love to," she said. She was terrified of planes. She was on a plane that crashed when she was younger and since then she'd not been on one again.

Darian chuckled. "What's wrong with flying?"

Cara's smile faded. "I was flying to Chicago to visit my aunt on my mother's side," she said, glancing at her hands. "I was ten and had all the flight attendant's fawning over me." She met his gaze again. "Suddenly there was engine trouble and they said nothing big was wrong and we'd land shortly in an open field. The next thing, I remember is my stomach flying into my throat, people screaming, the oxygen masks coming down..." She squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered. "I woke up in a hospital with my parents and baby sister staring at me. The crash came to me in bits and pieces over the years." She forced a smile and shook the memory away. "Anyway, I prefer driving. That's how I visited the east coast, Montreal, Mexico."

He whistled low. "That's crazy. I'm sure you know that's not the norm though. More people die in car accidents than plane crashes."

Cara nodded. "I know. I'm stilling working up the will to get back on a plane. I almost did last year but at the last minute I couldn't." She couldn't explain the fear that had seized her. She knew, if there was a dire enough reason one day, she could get on a plane. But for now, she had no incentive.

"Understandable," Darian replied after swallowing a forkful of gnocchi. "God, that woman is an amazing cook."

"I know. It melts in your mouth. Never knew you could do this to a potato!" she said, forking one and holding it up. "Little potato balls." She giggled at how bizarre that sounded.

Darian chuckled. "You are definitely a friend of Andy's."

Cara blushed scarlet. "I usually don't let my mouth run away with me like that," she said, popping a potato ball into her mouth to shut herself up.

He chuckled. "Don't stop on my account."

Her smile was hesitant before it reappeared in all its glory. "You know, since...I'm letting my mouth control me. I'm going to tell you this is my first date...ever."

Darian raised his brows in genuine amazement. "Stop lying."

"No! Really. I've never been on one," she said, putting her fork down. "Andy says that lots of guys want to ask me and a few have...I just never felt...it was right." For all that she was beautiful, Cara was modest. Even though she dressed very well and wore a bit of make-up, she did it more as a sign of maturity and confidence than to attract men. She liked to be well put together and organized.

Darian shook his head with a smile. "Well, next time I'll give you the chance to say "no". Tonight though I'm glad I have the good fortune to have dinner with the towns 'Mysterious Beauty'."

Cara shoved his shoulder. "Stop," she ordered with mock seriousness and a playful smile. "I don't know why we've never really spoken before. It's Albemarle. Everyone knows everyone."

Darian shrugged, "Don't really know. You know how some kids are about school cliques. Private versus public. They see people around but identify by school rather than...whatever else."

"Personality, being a human being, you know, whatever," Cara said in a valley-girl's voice. "But not you. You're not like that. I bet that you get good grades in school, you're good at sports but you really like..." She leaned her elbows on the table and her chin in her palms. "...you like the way things work. Especially between people. Maybe...finance?" Cara loved to guess about people. Darian's way of speaking told her he was educated, his physique told her he had regular physical activity and intuition told her the rest.

He chuckled. "Not bad. International Business is the field I'm looking to get into. What about yourself? There's a lot of aspects to your interests. There's vet technician, veterinarian, uh...medicine." He shrugged "I'm out of ideas."

"Veterinarian," she said, happy she was so close his. "I love animals even though I don't own any. My parents are allergic. But I want to care mainly for horses, and dogs. Cats too. Animals in the area. I used to bring home rabbits with cuts and squirrels with broken limbs and baby birds. My mom actually made me a room in the shed out back."

Darian laughed. "A regular old softie."

His laugh made her want to kiss him. "I just like cuddly things with fur," she said. "They're nicer and easier to understand than people."

"I have to agree with you there," he replied as their main entree came. Penne pasta in a vodka cream sauce with fresh mozz balls melting in the hot sauce with chunks of grilled chicken topped with pesto, basil and parmesan cheese.

Cara's eyes widened. "That looks almost too good to eat," she said and picked up her fork. "Almost."

Darian glanced up at Mrs. Gabrielli. "This looks incredible. You've outdone yourself again."

"Grazie, my friend," she said in her mellifluous accented English. "It smells divine," Cara agreed and the older woman puffed up like a proud peacock. "I be back with parmesan."

Cara took a bite. "Oh my gosh. You have to try this!"

Darian took a large forkful making sure he got mozzarella, chicken and pesto in the same bite. "Oh my god," he said after swallowing. "That's divine."

Cara laughed. "Signora! Molto bene!" she shouted to the old woman who came back in with the parmesan. She rattled off some Italian as she set the bowl on the table. "Ah, amor!" Then she left to tend to her kitchen.

Darian raised a brow. "Not bad for the veterinarian country girl."

Cara blushed. "I studied a little online," she said. "I like languages. I heard from Andy you know fluent Italian."

He chuckled. "You're going to laugh at me," he admitted. "For my 13th birthday I asked for Rosetta Stone Italian. I took online Italian courses through an online University my junior year through this semester...I've always had a thing for Italy; it's language, culture and of course the food."

Cara didn't think it was silly at all. "That's...amazing," she said. "You're dedication. Are you ever going to go?"

"I hope so," he replied. "My parents and my brother are all happy with the small town life. Andrew wants to at least travel a little to stroke his artistic muse and find some inspiration. I kinda wanna just escape this place. To see the Coliseum, the Louvre, the Ice Castles of Norway, The Great Wall of China..." he chuckled. "What about you?"

Cara smiled. "I want..." She blushed. "I want to find someone to love and live my life with them. I kind of wanted to root myself here. Take care of the town and then go exploring with whoever...that person is." Except for my fear of planes.

Darian smiled. "That's cool too."

Cara blushed. "I've never said that aloud before," she said with a laugh. "I just really want a home, a place I can feel totally safe and a man I can feel totally safe with."

Darian laughed. "See you aren't really so mysterious after all."

She shrugged with a smile. "No, small town girl wanting to fall in love and do something to help the world. Maybe see some of it...one day."

"So long as you can take a cruise ship too it," he teased her.

Cara laughed along with him. "I can drive a boat. Jude and Andy often go out to Tahoe to ride and I join them. We rent a boat and I drive. I can sail too. That's the most thrilling thing in the world!"

"That's impressive," he replied. "Sounds like fun."

Cara smiled and realized how much she'd been talking; she never talked this much. "What do you do for fun?"

Darian chuckled, "What does anyone do around here?" he replied. "Trail ride with Jude, head out for a weekend at Tahoe...there's not much"

"But it's everything," she said and her eyes sparkled. "Camping out and watching stars with friends, exploring nature, helping the animals, riding, games, dances, shows...In this town we make our own entertainment!" Her enthusiasm made her eyes glow almost violet.

Darian nodded. "True...but it kinda loses its excitement after awhile."

"Not with me," she said. "I'll take you camping and riding one day."

Darian smiled. "Why not?" he agreed.

She would borrow two horses from Jude and take him to Tahoe. However, her father knew the owner of the house deep in the woods, the castle like place. Perhaps she could get a visit. That would spice things up. Cara grinned back at him and dug back into her food.

They finished their meal with pleasant conversation getting to know each other with interesting conversation and laughter. He paid the bill and led her back to his car to drive her back to the animal hospital to her own car. He pulled up beside her car and shut off the engine.

Cara felt her heart beating in her ears. 'This is the part where...we kiss? Or we could. He might not want to kiss me. But he's so handsome and smart. We couldn't stop talking the whole night...' Her thoughts ran wild. She couldn't make herself look at him and stared at her hands that fidgeted in her lap.

Darian saw her looking rather nervous and reached over to tip her chin up. "Hey, you alright?"

"I've never done this part before...well, any part," she said, meeting his gaze. She got lost in his eyes. Her chest rose and fell quickly with her breath. She'd never even kissed a boy and she was 17. This was no boy though. This was a man; a smart, funny, considerate and very...very handsome man.

Darian smiled softly. "You know...I wasn't planning on kissing you tonight...in fact I didn't think I could ask you out again," he admitted. "We are both so...dissimilar in what we want in life. I didn't think it would be fair." He drew up a hand to rest on her cheek. "However, any travel is years out. Who knows what could happen in that time." He started to lean towards her. "So unless you say "no" now, I would like nothing better."

"I'm...not saying "no"," she whispered, leaning her head towards him and shutting her eyes. They were dissimilar in their travel aspirations, but the way they viewed the world was so similar. And they connected in a way she hadn't connected with anyone since Andy.

Darian thought the gesture was cute and slowly dipped his head the rest of the way to brush his lips gently over hers.

Cara felt electricity when he kissed her and immediately brought up her hand to touch his cheek. Her body was moving of its own accord.

Darian was tempted to deepen the kiss but kept it light and chaste. He didn't want to move too fast with her.

Cara couldn't even think while their lips touched. As they pulled away, her eyes fluttered open. "That was...nice," she whispered hoarsely. "More than nice."

Darian chuckled brushing her bangs back. "You're not so bad yourself."

Cara put her hand on his shoulder and leaned in to brush her lips against his once more, lingering against his soft caress. "Thanks," she said with a flirty wink.

"Anytime," he said leaning over her to open the passenger side door. "Drive safe, Cara."

Cara smiled at him before exiting and walking to her car. She wished the night wouldn't end, but at the same time, she couldn't wait to call Andy.

Darian waited until he saw her get in and start up her car before he drove off towards home.

…………….

Cara hurried home and ran past her entire family at dinner to her room. She whipped out her cell phone and tried Andy but she didn't pick up. After three more attempts, she called Jude. She had to tell someone.

"What's up Cara?" Jude answered on the second ring.

"I think I'm in love!" Cara said and then clapped her hand over her mouth.

Cara laughed nervously. "Yes," she replied meekly but the way her heart still pounded urged her to speak. "We couldn't stop talking all night. About everything. I haven't found anyone like that since you and Andy!" She jumped up and began to pace, pulling her fingers through her long brown hair and catching on a knot. She yanked her fingers free, awaiting Jude's reply anxiously.

"I take it 'we' is the other Greene brother?" Jude asked. He wasn't going to comment on himself and Andy.

"Yes! He found me. Didn't I tell you?" Jude had never heard Cara this excited about anything as she recounted the events of her night. "And...I got my first kiss! How pathetic am I? I'm 17 and getting my first kiss. But it was from him..."

Jude chuckled. "No more pathetic than getting yours when you're ten just cause everyone in town seemed to think it would be cute if we wound up together," he replied. It was amusing. Andy had been his first kiss back when they were young, back when he still saw her as his best friend and nothing more.

"Hey! You said you wanted to just get it over with," Cara replied and laughed. It was a sound not many had heard in a very long time. Cara wanted to be a veterinarian and in order to do that, she knew she had a long and arduous journey through upper education ahead.

Jude shrugged. "I repeat. I was ten." He sighed. Although ridiculous as it was, at least he'd kissed her then. Now he'd never get the chance to with Andrew in the picture.

"Now should I call him first or wait for him to call me? I don't want to seem like a stalker. What do you do?" she asked, taking her questions very seriously.

"If he kissed you I think there's a good chance he'll call you first," Jude said. "Darian doesn't usually kiss a girl on the first date."

Cara swallowed hard. "I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight," she said. These sensations were new to her but she knew what they were. She'd heard about it all her life: the butterflies, weak knees, tingling at the point of contact, obsessive thoughts. "So you think he likes me then?"

Jude laughed. "I think there's a very good chance."

Cara checked her clock. "Okay, I'm gonna go and at least try to get ready for bed and to sleep. I wish I had a picture of him somewhere. Can someone that good looking be real?" She gasped. "When did I get so shallow?"

Jude chuckled. "You're not. You're just beyond your comfort zone and don't know the rules."

"From what I've heard, there don't seem to be many rules," Cara said with a laugh.

"There aren't. There's only one and I broke it." He sighed. "But I'll let you go. Call me if you can't sleep. I've known Darian a long time."

"Jude...thanks. And, uh, can you not mention the love thing to anyone?" Cara said, quite embarrassed.

"Sure thing, Cara. I owe you anyways," Jude replied. "Night." Once he hung up he found a recent picture he and Darian had taken down by the river and took a picture of it on his camera phone. He cut himself out of the picture and left Darian. With a smirk he sent the picture to Cara in a text.

Cara's phone beeped and she picked it up. 'What is it, Jude?' she wondered and her face split into a bright smile when she saw it was a picture of Darian. She quickly sent it to her computer and printed out a copy, putting it up on her neatly organized corkboard. "Hi Darian. I hope you ask me out again." She quickly sent a text of thanks to Jude.

Jude replied with "Sweet Dreams" and a winking smiley before he rolled over to try and sleep himself.

Cara readied herself for bed and crawled beneath the covers. She kept staring at his picture. She knew what she felt was love. But how could it have happened to her? She didn't know, but she considered herself lucky.