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“Are you hurt?” the paramedic asked, glancing from Amy to Matt.
“I’m fine,” Matt said. “Please, help her.”
“I’m okay,” Amy insisted. For the first time, in full light, she looked into her protector’s eyes and was overwhelmed with gratitude. “If it hadn’t been for this man’s courage and quick thinking, I hate to think what might have happened.”
Amy stammered over the last words, and the tears that she’d been too frightened to cry began a slow descent down her cheeks.
With a gentle flick, Matt wiped the tears away, then pulled her close. With his arms around her tightly, he felt as if order had once again been returned to his world.
As if it were the most natural thing to do, he kissed the top of her head, and he would have been happy to never let go. She felt so right in his arms. She felt like the woman he’d been searching for. The woman who would bring an end to his lonely life and fill his dreams once again with hope.
Reluctantly, he let go of her so the paramedic could check her physical condition. Whether it was by chance or God’s design, this woman had suddenly come into his life, and he didn’t want to let her walk away. He wanted a chance to get to know her, to discover if she was everything he believed her to be.
The officer in charge waited until the paramedic finished examining both of them, then said, “I’m going to need your statements.”
Amy and Matt both nodded.
“And Hank?” Matt asked, anxious to know if the clerk had survived.
“He’s going to be okay. He had a heart attack during the robbery, but he’s on the way to the hospital,” the officer explained.
Matt’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my gosh. I had no idea. So what happened out there?”
“At this point, we can’t be certain, but Hank’s heart attack probably saved his life. The best I can figure, he had the attack about the same time they pointed a gun at him.”
“But why didn’t they just shoot him and run?”
“We may never know the answer to that.” The officer shook his head, raising his brows over perplexed eyes. “These two men are wanted in other states for similar robberies. And they’re not stupid. Being convicted of robbery is a far cry from murder or manslaughter. Regardless, they’ll both be going away for a long time.”
Matt still didn’t understand. “You’d think when things got botched, they would have taken the money and run.”
“It’s called greed. Hank was in so much distress he couldn’t open the safe. One of the guys had seen a commercial that claimed aspirin could save a heart attack victim, so he forced Hank to take aspirin. However, by the time Hank responded you’d already made your call and the store was surrounded.”
“And so they panicked and argued about how they were going to get out of this mess.”
“You could say that. The one guy went berserk and in a rage destroyed everything in the store. Listen, if you’ll have a seat, I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your statement.” The officer went into the retail area.
Matt met Amy’s gaze and for the first time realized he didn’t even know her name.
“I’m Matt Wynn,” he said, extending his hand.
“I’m Amy Jenkins,” she answered, grasping the hand that had been her lifeline for the last hour. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you. I owe you so much. You saved my life.”
Matt shook his head. “I didn’t do that much.”
“You saw what was happening and you reacted quickly. If those men had seen us, there’s no telling what would have happened to us.”
The thought of anything happening to Amy distressed Matt. Though he’d only known this woman an hour, he couldn’t bear the thought of harm befalling her angelic face.
“I want to try to make this up to you. You have to let me find a way to repay your courage and kindness.” Amy’s eyes pleaded for him to accept her offer.
Once the crazy idea popped into his head, Matt pushed it aside. However, he wasn’t prepared to let Amy walk out of his life, either.
“There is something you can do for me,” Matt finally said.
“What?” Amy asked, her eyes brimming with gratitude.
“Assuming you live here in Lexington, you can be my date…to three family weddings this summer.”
“Your date to a wedding?” Amy repeated as if it were the most outrageous idea she’d ever heard.
Matt looked away, anticipating her rejection. And if she did, he wouldn’t embarrass himself further by trying to persuade her.
“Yeah.” He tried to explain as if it were no big deal. “I’ve got three cousins getting married this summer, and there are few things worse than going to a family wedding without a date.”
Amy looked at him for a second, emotions he couldn’t read flickering in her wide brown eyes. He was certain she was going to say no.
“You did save my life.” She swallowed hard, as if this was the hardest thing she’d ever said in her life. “I suppose it is the least I can do.”
“Then you’ll be my date?”
Though Amy smiled as she nodded, Matt saw the terror in her eyes. The prospect of being his date at the weddings frightened her more than the morning’s ordeal had.
He instantly wished he could take back his invitation, but it was settled. Amy Jenkins, for better or worse, would be his date to three family weddings.
If she’d thought she’d had a choice, Amy would have said no. Definitely not. Going anywhere near a wedding ceremony was out of the question. The mere thought of bridal gowns, lace veils and cascading bouquets gave her the heebie-jeebies.
When he’d given her an out, she should have said she was from out of town, just passing through Lexington. It wouldn’t have been a lie. At this point, she didn’t know if she was going or staying.
But the man had saved her life, and in the fervor of the moment, she’d promised to do anything to repay his bravery. Why couldn’t he have asked her to do something simple, such as cooking his meals or washing his car for the next year? On top of everything else that had happened, a date to a wedding was one more headache she didn’t need.
Determined to back out of her promise before it became more complicated, Amy decided to tell Matt while she still had the nerve. After all they’d just been through, he couldn’t have been thinking clearly, either. He probably regretted acting on impulse as much as she did.
Touching Matt on the arm, she tried to get his attention, but failed. His body blocked the doorway between the storeroom and the retail area, preventing her from seeing whatever he stared at. Curious, Amy moved toward the door, only to have Matt stop her.
“Let’s stay in here a little longer,” he said.
While Amy appreciated his protectiveness, she wasn’t about to let him shield her from the truth. Though she couldn’t push past him, she did lean forward enough to see around him. She gasped. The convenience store looked like a tornado had ripped through it. Smashed bottles of soda, ketchup and pickles, as well as every other kind of food that came in a glass jar, speckled the beige tile floor. The white shelves and refrigerated units sat empty and exposed, their contents heaped in careless piles.
“Wow,” Amy said, realizing that the situation had been more volatile and dangerous than she’d imagined.
With her hand covering her mouth, she thanked God for sending Matt to save her. If Matt hadn’t been at her side… She couldn’t finish the thought. And she couldn’t tell him she wouldn’t be his date. She owed this man so much more than a few hours at a family wedding. This was a small price to pay for saving her life.
Having seen enough, Amy took a few steps backward. Matt quickly retrieved two chairs from the end of the room that served as an office area for the convenience store manager.
“Can I get you a glass of water or a soda?” he asked.
Amy shook her head, amazed he could remember to be so polite at a time like this. Then she noticed his nervous hands. As if it were beyond his means to control, he repeatedly clenched and unclenched the hands that had held her tightly. She understood then that his desire to attend to her needs was merely a way of covering his own distress.
“I guess we’re both still in shock,” Amy said.
Matt nodded. “Everything is just now sinking in.”
They lapsed into silence, neither able to put into words the intense feelings that surged through their hearts and minds.
Feeling too vulnerable to look at Matt, Amy focused on her trembling hands. Even pressed against her abdomen, they shook. Then his hands covered hers, bringing with them a warmth that made her feel safe.
Amy wasn’t certain how long they sat with their hands entwined. She just knew she wasn’t ready to let go of this stranger. She wanted to know more about this man who’d unselfishly helped her. Was he from Lexington? What did he do for a living? Had he ever suffered from a broken heart?
When the police officer cleared his throat, Amy glanced quickly at Matt, then suddenly felt foolish for the way she clung to him. Gently pushing his hands away, she concentrated on recreating the sequence of events in her mind.
“Let’s start from the beginning,” the officer suggested.
“I got here first, and I was the only one in the store besides the clerk. I picked up a newspaper and then made a cappuccino.” Amy’s voice quivered until she noticed the amusement in Matt’s eyes.
“And for the record,” she said, “it was the worst cappuccino I’ve ever tasted.” She ignored the officer’s impatient glare. The lighthearted comment relaxed her enough to continue. “The door buzzer sounded again, and that’s when Matt walked in.”
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