Fields of the Wood had been a favorite of his when he was a child. Then it had just been a fun place to visit, to sit by the pond and feed the ducks or take the challenge of seeing how quickly he could climb the 326 steps to the top of Ten Commandment Mountain.
Now the place meant something, each monument representative of his faith. A faith that was shared by Lacey.
His heart swelled with gratitude. So much had happened over the past six months, all of it good. His mom was through her chemo treatments and doing well. Ivan and Ruben had been tried for attempted murder and were serving long sentences. And Lacey was moving past the trauma of those dark weeks.
She let her camera dangle from its strap around her neck. “Are you ready to tackle this thing?”
They’d already hiked up Prayer Mountain, on the opposite ridge. They began the trek, Lacey’s hand still in his, their pace steady. Regular trips to the wellness center kept them both in decent shape.
Fast footsteps and male voices advanced on them from behind. A few seconds later, three hulking guys wearing heavy backpacks squeezed past them with a nod of greeting, taking the steps at a slow jog.
One of the men was Bryce Caldwell, Jason’s partner at Cherokee County sheriff’s office where Jason had landed a job three months ago. The other two were friends of Bryce’s, whom Jason and Lacey had met just that morning. Tanner and Colton, if he remembered right.
Early tomorrow morning, the three of them were flying to Colorado for a two-week wilderness backpacking trip through the Rockies. According to Bryce, today finished weeks of preparation for the strenuous hikes they’d be doing in air thinner than any of them were used to.
Lacey watched Jason’s partner and his friends for several moments, then looked up at him. “Do you wish you were going with them?”
His gaze settled on their backs, the packs they carried, the sturdy hiking boots. It was the ultimate guys’ trip. If he’d had vacation time accumulated, they’d have issued the invitation. It would have been tempting.
“I have mixed feelings. What they’re doing sounds like fun—” he stopped and pulled Lacey into his arms “—but there’s more holding me here than my job.”
She grinned up at him. “And what might that be?”
“Not what. Who.”
He planted a quick kiss on her waiting lips, then patted the square lump in his pocket. His heart was already pounding from the strenuous climb, but his pulse kicked into the next gear.
He’d been thinking about it for the past month, trying to work up the courage. Three weeks ago, he’d bought the ring.
Today was the day. He was going to do it. He just hadn’t decided exactly where or when.
When he looked up the steep slope, Bryce and his buddies had neared the top. The path forked to curve around each side of a towering wall, an excerpt from Matthew 22 painted on its surface.
Soon, all three men were lined up at the top, fists raised in triumphant He-Man poses.
Lacey giggled, and he snapped a picture with his phone. He’d text it to Bryce later.
They continued their climb, and Bryce and his friends passed them on their way back down. Ten minutes later, he and Lacey stood in the same place the guys had posed earlier.
The entire park rolled out before them, trees brushing a blue sky. Nature had always stirred him. Standing next to the woman that God had brought into his life so many years ago, it stirred him even more. When he looked at Lacey, her mouth was parted in a soft smile, her expression serene.
And he knew. This was the place and the time.
He took her hands and turned her to face him. “Over the past six months, you’ve made me the happiest man alive. But there’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”
Lacey didn’t respond, just stood quietly looking up at him.
“I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life making you as happy as you’ve made me.”
He dropped to one knee. “Will you marry me?”
Silence met his proposal, then “Yes,” so softly he wasn’t sure he’d heard it right. When she repeated it, confidence filled her voice.
Jason rose, wrapped her in his arms and spun her around. When he lowered his lips to hers, a whistle and some hollering came from below. He looked down the long row of steps to see Bryce, Tanner and Colton staring up at them, clapping. He lifted his hand in a thumbs-up.
Lacey laughed. “I’m glad they approve.”
Jason picked up the kiss where he’d left off. The applause faded and everything around him retreated into the distance. Nothing mattered except the woman in his arms.
Way back then, she’d been just what he needed.
His perfect match.
And she still was.
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