“I can’t wait to hear what the two of you came up with,” she said.
At which point Jack brushed the hair away from one ear and began to whisper his own incredibly naughty plans for the two of them…in perfect Italian.
Jack always felt like a kid again on his birthday. For weeks beforehand, whenever he talked about the big day, Mary smiled in a secretive way and zipped her lips shut with her fingers. Or, if she’d been on the phone with his mother and he’d walked into the room, she’d abruptly say goodbye and hang up.
“You’re planning something for my birthday, aren’t you?” he’d asked.
“Yes,” she’d replied, instead of denying it, “your mother was telling me how to make your favorite cake.”
He’d tried to get the other details out of her in the best way he knew how, but even his seductive powers of persuasion couldn’t get her to spill the beans.
Finally, on the morning of his birthday, she gave him the tickets to Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, a world-class track only ninety minutes from their house.
Most people were surprised when they found out about Jack’s love of race cars but not Mary. She’d simply nodded as if the final puzzle piece had slipped into place, saying, “I always knew there was something dangerous about you.”
Jack loved everything about the racetrack. The smell of fresh burning rubber in the hot summer sun. The thrill of watching the cars zip by in the blink of an eye. The amazing skill of the drivers going more than two hundred miles an hour.
He’d never thought to share his love of racing with his wife, but as soon as she’d given him the tickets, he found out she’d practically grown up at the Italian Grand Prix with her father, who had taught her to love the sport.
“Speed. Danger. The thrill of victory.” She was clearly as excited as he was to get to the track. “What’s not to love about it?”
He was walking proudly with his beautiful wife past the gates into the stands, when Mary surprised him yet again by steering them in the opposite direction.
“You didn’t think watching the race was going to be your birthday surprise, did you?”
Wait a minute. Mary couldn’t have possibly arranged for him to—
“Mary! It’s been too long.”
One of racing’s greats, Alvin Rusker, gave Mary a kiss on each cheek.
“I’d like to introduce my husband, Jack Sullivan. Jack, this is Alvin.”
“Ah,” Alvin said as they shook hands, “so you’re the lucky man who managed to steal Mary’s heart.” He grinned at Jack. “Ready to get behind the wheel?”
“Surprise!” Mary said, clearly thrilled with herself for having managed to keep him in the dark about her amazing gift.
Jack barely stopped himself from jumping up and down like a little boy. But before he gave Alvin his answer, Jack had to pull his wife into his arms to kiss her breathless.
Finally, he turned back to Alvin. “Now I’m ready.”
* * *
The track was fast, the car even faster. Every last one of Jack’s boyhood dreams came true as he took lap after lap in one of Alvin’s race cars.
It was the best birthday he’d ever had. One full of speed. Danger.
And the thrill of being in love with the most incredible woman he’d ever known.
Mary handed Yvette, Susan and Janeen thick towels to wrap up in during their break out on the beach in San Francisco. “You are doing a fantastic job today. I’m very proud of all of you.”
The girls beamed at her. “Thanks, Mary. And thanks for thinking of us for this commercial.” Janeen was the most excited of all of them as she said, “I can’t believe I’m going to be on TV!”
Georgina called Mary over to take a look at some of the film they’d shot. “How’s this look, boss?”
Mary grinned after she looked the film over. “Fantastic, as always.”
“Well, the way you directed the girls a few minutes ago in the surf was great. This is going to be a top-notch commercial. I take it you’re enjoying consulting with the ad agency?”
“It’s been a really nice challenge,” Mary told her friend. “At first I wondered if I was in over my head, but Jack kept reminding me of the times when I was hired to model and the ad agencies ended up using my conceptual ideas instead of sticking to the storyboards.”
“You definitely married the right guy,” Georgina said. Her eyes lit up as she spotted something over Mary’s shoulder. “He’s not too hard on the eyes, either.”
Mary turned, surprised to see Jack walking across the sand toward them. After the secrecy of their courtship, Mary loved the way he always kissed her hello now, no matter where they were or who they were with.
Her knees were weak by the time he turned to smile at Georgina.
The director gave him a mock glare. “You’re not here to distract my advertising genius, are you, Jack?”
He grinned unrepentantly but promised, “If you let me stay on set, I’ll sit in the background and won’t cause any trouble.”
Of course, when Yvette, Susan and Janeen saw him, they all gathered around for hugs and to pepper him with their recent dating and career news. Mary loved how he’d become so much of a father figure to them.
“Nothing but trouble,” Georgina muttered as she tried to hide her grin, clearly as deep under his spell as the rest of them. “Back to work, everyone, before we lose the light. And you,” she said, pointing at Jack, “sit over there and be good. Or else.”