Time changes everything.
A year ago, if he'd been so inclined to feel the freedom of the open road, Shawn would have hopped on his magnificent Norton and just taken off.
Okay, maybe two or three years ago.
Actually, he couldn't remember exactly when that urge to take off on his own had up and disappeared. If he had to pick a day or event to mark the occasion, it would have to be the moment that a certain blonde stole his seat at his favorite diner. Since then, he had been perfectly happy to stay put in Santa Barbara.
Now, more than six years later, even with a few wrong turns and speed bumps along the way, he knew that moment had changed his life.
Shawn looked over at the other occupant of his not-quite-new-but-perfect-for-two car and smiled. Jules. Her long golden curls streamed behind her, flowing in waves on the wind as they drove. With her eyes closed, head tilted back, and lips upturned ever so slightly she reminded him of a Greek statue he remembered seeing in an art history book, only this was way better. She was here, with him. His very own living, breathing goddess of sunshine to look at and touch as often as possible.
Riding the bike meant he couldn't look at her at all. Even if it was safe to do so, the helmets they wore pretty much blocked the view. And kissing. Very hard to kiss through the faceplate. Not that they hadn't tried.
The little roadster was not that different from the motorcycle. It was very zippy with its 1.8 liter four cylinder engine, small enough to park practically anywhere, and completely impractical for providing relocation services. Unless of course, someone needed to move a small family of gerbils, or something like that. While it didn't offer the purity of freedom that the Norton delivered, it had many other equally liberating advantages. It was much drier in rainstorms, when the top cooperated, and it afforded just enough room in the back for totally hot make-out sessions.
Definitely a change for the better.
Since getting the car, he'd been formulating a plan to abscond with Jules for a lovers' retreat, but the timing was never right.
The plan was to take a little drive up the coast, just because. Then inland to a secluded resort inn and spa overlooking miles of wine country - the pièce de résistance of their two-day excursion, to be sure. It had to be sheer serendipitous-ness that his planning happened to coincide with the grand opening weekend of Central California's first-ever tropical farmers' market and bazaar, just outside of Solvang.
As luck would have it, Jules had finally managed to get a weekend off, with most of Friday thrown in for 'time served' finishing Lassiter's reports. Having no other demands on their time, it had been an easy sell. She needed a break. They needed a romantic getaway, with lots of quality alone time. He needed pineapple.
Yes, the stars had truly aligned...all four hundred or so of them.
"Shawn, how much further do we have to go for this 'ultimate pineapple experience'? I need a little girls' room, soon."
"Wait for it." He scanned the road up ahead. "Wait for iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit - aha! See the sign?"
Juliet held a hand over the top of her sunglasses to cut the glare. Squinting in spite of the aviators, she realized the futility of trying to match his eagle-eyesight and shook her head. "No, but that's okay, you're driving, and this is wonderful."
She sighed and angled herself toward him in her seat, holding back a few errant strands of hair that kept blowing into her face. "No paperwork. No Lassiter or Chief. Just the two of us..."
He felt her hand run down his right arm as he shifted into the turn. The tingling it left in its wake was a little difficult to ignore.
"I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but, no distracting the driver please. I'm still getting used to a manual transmission again. Stripping you - very good thing. Stripping one of these gears - bad, really bad."
After executing a successful downshift, he captured her hand and brought it to his lips for a quick kiss, finding it very difficult to keep his eyes on the road and its snake-like curves. Especially when he'd much rather focus on her curves.
"Oooh, look down there..." He pointed to the left where the hill sloped down toward a flat green valley. "Sweet!"
Juliet strained upward to take in the view. She nodded in agreement. "You're right, it is beautiful. Hard to believe all this is so close to Santa Barbara. It's almost too good to be true." She sat back down, fidgeting and squirming in search of a comfortable position, to no avail.
"Uh, Shawn? Bathroom?"
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here we are!" As they pulled into the gravel lot outside the entrance to the market, Shawn pointed to a row of blue porta-potties.
"Will that -"
No sooner had he parked the car than she bolted for the nearest available unit.
" - work?"
Chuckling to himself, he got out and leaned against the hood of the little roadster to wait while she took care of business. Several minutes later, Juliet emerged, rubbing her hands vigorously with sanitizer, but looking greatly relieved.
"Yes, but those things really make you appreciate indoor plumbing. Plus, there's no water to wash up with. Ick."
She was so adorable when she wrinkled her nose like that. It reminded him of the old re-runs of Bewitched he and Gus used to watch when they were little. Jules might not be able to make things appear or disappear, but she certainly had him under her spell...
Shawn reached out and took her slightly damp, but oh-so-sanitary hand in his, and squeezed.
"What matters is that you are no longer distracted by pesky potty problems and can focus your full attention on our search for the perfect pineapple."
She rewarded him with a dazzlingly radiant smile, sending his heart racing into overdrive.
First, the tingly arm thing in the car, then the nose, and now this. He had a sneaking suspicion that the woman was deliberately inflaming his passions, as if they needed any help. Or maybe this was some new torturous style of foreplay. Only one way to be sure...
When she retreated from his advance upon her mouth, dropping his hand in the process and leaving him all puckered up with no lips to nuzzle, he had his answer.
"Jules..." He gave her his best whiney pout, using the lower lip to maximum advantage. He had to do something to defend against the onslaught of her tantalizing behavior. Knowing she preferred to avoid public displays of affection beyond an innocent kiss or hug, Shawn decided that he needed to resolve this before they took a single step away from the car. She never teased him like this, unless she had a hidden agenda. Ulterior motives. He definitely liked those better than interior, exterior, or posterior motives.
Maintaining this position - his lips poised for some attention and arms hanging limp at his side - was not terribly comfortable, but with her focus on getting into 'shopping mode,' Shawn had the perfect vantage point for gathering clues. Putting his freelance spy skills to good use, he observed her actions ever so stealthily. His eyes followed along as she first removed her aviators and tucked them into a belt loop on her jeans. Then she reached into her wristlet and pulled out a grey scrunchie, thinking he wouldn't notice her hastily unfolding and refolding the tiny piece of paper tucked inside in the process. In that flash of exposure, he saw 'two pm' scrawled in her handwriting. A quick downward glance at his watch revealed that it was already close to that time.
Shawn waited as impatiently as possible while Juliet proceeded to gather her flowing locks into a fetching ponytail, employing his most effective whimper when it looked like she was going to let him stay unrequited.
"You're incorrigible," she whispered as she leaned up for a quick smooch and reclaimed his hand. Not quite the result he'd hoped for, but just as she had her ways, he had his. He would play along, and enjoy every minute of it.
"The call of the pineapple cannot be denied much longer, Jules. Shall we?"
As they walked through the lot, rockiness gradually changing over to soft soil mixed with fine gravel and even softer pillows of grass. He led her down the path into the forest, following the steady stream of marketers ahead of them, to a tall wooden guidepost at the entrance with signs pointing in every direction. There seemed to be a sign for almost anything one could possibly imagine, not just every fruit or vegetable known to exist.
"Jules, look! There's all kinds of stuff! A tannery? Wonder if it's like that spray on stuff at the salon? Textiles, pottery, wood carving, blacksmith - a blacksmith? Really? We should have brought your pet llama so we could get it shoed, shodden? - and they even have a glass blower..."
It didn't escape his attention that her eyes darted to the sign when he mentioned that last item.
Shawn kept reading until he found what he was looking for. "Berries, apples, peaches, cherries all that-a-way. Coconut, bananas, papayas, and pineapples - yes! We go this-a-way!"
Strolling beneath the shade canopy of the towering pines, his eyes swept the panorama while keeping her fixed in his periphery. The way she bit the corner of her lip gave was a dead giveaway. She always did that when she was nervous or thinking too hard. The further they walked, the more he sensed that his Jules was indeed up to something. When he caught her checking her watch for the third time since their arrival, Shawn knew he'd nailed it. If she wanted to play the part of a mysterious siren, he would let her. Maybe.
"Now, pay attention, Jules. Pineapple selection is an art form that takes many years to perfect. The most important thing to keep in mind when looking is to carefully grab one of the spikey leaves near the top and give it a gentle tug. If it comes right out, it's ripe - possibly too ripe, and that could be bad, unless you want to rush home and whip up a fresh smoothie. As appealing as that sounds, I have something more delectably delicious in mind..." He winked at her, pleased to see her cheeks turn slightly pink.
"What we need today, my little Tinkle-berry, is one perfectly ripe specimen, for later, and several to take home. They'll have to ride in the rumble seat I'm afraid. Rumbling while driving is probably one of those moving violations anyway..."
At that, Juliet broke free from his grasp, turned, and stopped directly in front of him, looking a little distracted. "How about you look for your pineapples and I'll go look for mangoes and...other things?" Her hands captured his face and drew him to her for a long, passionate kiss that left him dazed and breathless.
"I love you, Mister Spencer, but do not ever call me 'Tinkle-berry' again," she said sweetly. "Come and find me when you've fulfilled your quest, Sir Talks-A-Lot..."
Quest? What quest?
Shawn watched as she walked back the way they had come, disappearing into the trees and the throng of people. All of his insightful observation and smugness over having figured her out vanished into thin air, leaving him befuddled and bemused in the middle of the fruit-filled forest.
* * * End Chapter One * * *