“Woo-hoo!” Helena shouted. “A hole in one!” She beamed at Joe, and he felt his stomach clench. What was it about her that did that to him?
“You’re killing me,” Joe said with a laugh. “I must be a lot rustier than I thought.”
Helena picked up her ball and headed toward the next hole. “I thought all doctors graduated from medical school with a certification in golf. Isn’t that a requirement for the job?”
Joe set his ball at the next hole and lined up his shot. He pulled back on the club ever so slightly and tapped the ball, sending it around the bend, past the frozen pond and through the legs of the reindeer. It bounced off the back bumper and came to a stop a few inches from the hole.
“Thanks. To be honest, I’m not much of a golfer. I played football in high school, like all good Texas boys, but I didn’t have time to do athletics of any kind beyond that.”
He watched her place her ball, size up her trajectory, and hit the ball. His gaze followed the ball’s path around the bend, watched as it just skirted past the pond, and blinked in disbelief as it rolled right through the middle of the deer’s legs and into the hole. He shook his head.
When he looked up at her, she was wearing the most peculiar look on her face, a blend of coyness and disbelief, and his breath caught in his throat. Magic. This pixie charmed him with her magic. What the heck was wrong with him?
“Beginner’s luck?” The tone of her voice had him shaking his head again, and the way she bit her bottom lip with her front, left incisor… Endearing was too innocent a word for what it did to his pulse rate. It was that childlike quality that made her so appealing and completely beguiled him.
“Somehow, I don’t think you’re a beginner.”
She flashed a guilty smile. “My friends and I might have played a game or two up in Branson during the off-season.”
He scoffed as he readied his club to tap the ball into the hole. “A game or two might be an understatement.” He tapped the ball and watched as it rolled into the hole, circled around the rim, and popped back out again. “Argh.” He threw his head back in frustration.
When he looked back at Helena, she was trying to suppress a grin.
“Oh, you think that’s funny?”
She slowly shook her head back and forth. “Of course not. I, um, I…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go ahead. Laugh at me. I’m a big boy. I can take it.”
“I would never laugh at you, Joe. I’m just enjoying myself.”
He shot an annoyed look at her before gently tapping the ball into the hole. He reached in and retrieved it. “I’ll bet you are. Next time we go out, we’re finding a place to play darts.”
“Oh, really? Next time? Who says there will be a next time?”
Joe stopped and stared at her back as she walked to toward the gingerbread house at hole fifteen. Did she mean that, or was she teasing him? He felt as though the tables had turned, and he had no idea how to respond. As if reading his mind, she turned back and gave him a broad grin.
“If you’re going to recover your dignity, I guess we’d better make Rick’s Place our destination for next weekend. There’s a dart board on the other side of the pool tables.”
With his heart beating wildly and his whole body reacting to the way she was smiling at him, Joe was beginning to wonder if another date was a good idea. Things were getting complicated. Still, he heard himself responding, “Then it’s a date. Or is it a rematch?”
Helena dropped her ball onto the artificial grass and looked at him with twinkling eyes. “Call it what you want, Dr. Blake. I’ll be there.”
Saved by the bell, or the buzz, Joe thought as he reached into his jeans pocket. He looked at the screen and shook his head before pocketing the phone.
“You really should start blocking those calls,” Helena said.
“I wish I could. I tried, but the number’s blocked, so it won’t work.”
Helena’s perky nose scrunched up, and she tilted her head to look at him with dismay. “All of them?”
“Yeah. It’s getting pretty annoying.”
“That’s really strange.”
“You’re telling me.” He gestured toward her golf club. “Nothing to worry about at the moment. Let’s see how you handle this hole.”
Helena shot Joe that impish grin, and he felt his insides curl into a knot. He never took his eyes off her as she teed up and sent the ball through the front door of the gingerbread house. He knew without looking that it would land right in the hole on the other side. Even a meaningless game of mini golf proved what he was beginning to realize more and more.
Everything about her was magical. Now, what was he going to do about it?