Before long they made another turn, this time onto what looked like a country road at the end of which stood a majestic mansion nestled among huge trees which had begun to sport the colors of autumn – yellows, golds and reds among the green leaves. Storm pulled up in front of it and hopped out to come around and open the door for her. Then, as if he knew she needed the support, he took her hand and they walked up the steps together.
Storm pushed the door open and as they entered the foyer he called out, “Mom, we’re here.”
“Finally. How are you, Storm? You need to come home more often.”
Dani turned to see a tiny woman with short-cropped black hair coming down the hallway, her arms open wide. Storm stepped away from her and walked right into his mother’s hug. “How are you doing, Mom?" He towered over the petite woman and had to bend over to hug her.
“Always better when I see you. You need to visit more often." She gave him a playfully accusing look. "Are you trying to avoid me for some reason?”
“Aw, come on, Mom,” Storm said, looking almost guilty. "I come when I can.”
Mrs. Hunter’s hrumph told him what she thought of that. She did not respond to her son’s defense. Instead she turned to look at Dani. “And who do we have here? Aren’t you going to introduce me, Storm?”
“Of course.” Storm took Dani’s hand and pulled her forward. “Mom, I’d like you to meet Danielle Swift, my best kept secret.”
“Secret is right,” Mrs. Hunter said softly as she stared up at Dani. “Welcome to Hunter’s Lodge, Dani.”
“Thank you,” Dani replied, almost feeling like she should do a curtsy. Although small, Mrs. Hunter was intimidating with her piercing gray eyes and regal posture. She looked like she should be sitting on a throne in England rather than presiding over a house on American soil.
“Mrs. Johnson has prepared a special meal to celebrate your spending the afternoon with us.” She gave Storm a pointed look. “It’s been such a long time.”
Storms lips tightened but he said nothing. He simply put his hand under Dani’s elbow and directed her down the hall after his mother.
Dani was beginning to understand the challenge Storm faced. Just by observing his mother who was obviously a strong woman she could sense that a lot was being demanded of him and he was expected to deliver. She could almost imagine Mrs. Hunter as a matchmaker-mother intent on selecting the perfect bride for him.
As tiny as she was, if Mrs. Hunter was such a powerful force what was her husband like?
Dani found out soon enough. Before she even got to the end of the hallway a booming voice shattered the cool quiet of the house.
“Storm, my boy, what breeze finally blew you our way?”
Edgar Hunter was a big man, both in size and personality, and when he came up to them and wrapped Storm in a huge bear hug Dani almost feared for his safety. As tall and muscled as Storm was, he was about half the size of his father. The man looked like he could easily snap his son’s spine with that hug.
When they parted both men were smiling so Dani relaxed and smiled too, then Storm turned to her.
“Dad, this is Dani, the friend I told you about, the woman who’s stolen my heart.”
“Ah, ha. So this is the special girl you’ve been hiding all this time." His blue eyes twinkled in his weathered face and he opened his arms wide. “Welcome, my child.”
Dani’s eyes widened as she stared at the smiling man. There was no way she was going to step into that hug. He’d crush her like a bug.
Unfortunately, that decision was taken out of her hands when he took one step forward and gathered her into his arms. He released her a second later but she could honestly say that for that moment in time he had her fearing for her life. Okay, maybe she was being dramatic but goodness, how did a pixie like Janet Hunter manage with a giant of a husband like him?
“Now come, let’s have dinner and get to know one another.” Edgar led the way until they came to a majestic dining room with a table that looked large enough to seat forty. The room reminded her of the great halls in the castles of medieval times, it was so huge. Unlike those great halls, though, this room was bright and airy and the table was decorated with vases filled with a variety of flowers that graced the room with their fragrance.
To Dani’s surprise dinner was not the elegant fare she was expecting – poached salmon or beef tenderloin in wine, caviar, and other foods of that nature. Instead, and much to her delight, they were served a salad with barbecued chicken, string beans, cornbread and macaroni salad. Dessert was her favorite – strawberry shortcake.
“How did you know?” Dani asked when the dessert tray was brought to the table. She looked over at Janet, as she’d now come to think of her. After the light banter during dinner she was no longer intimidated by the diminutive queen of Hunter’s Lodge. “Can you read minds or something?”
Janet laughed. “Not at all, dear. When Storm told us he was bringing a special friend to meet us he demanded that we have strawberry shortcake for dessert.”
Dani turned to Storm, still confused. “But how did you-”
“Our quilting session, remember? We talked about our favorite things.” He shot her a warning glance.
“Oh, yes, that’s right.” She reached for her glass and pretended to take a sip of water, but she’d done it to hide her face which might be turning pink right at that very moment. She’d almost given the game away. They were supposed to know each other intimately so her expression of surprise would raise questions, to say the least. Thankfully, the Hunters didn’t seem to notice her blunder.
By the time tea and coffee were served Dani was a bit more at ease, feeling like she’d passed the worst. The conversation was flowing and she was actually enjoying the company of Storm’s parents. Edgar was so unlike her mental image of a billionaire. Somehow she had expected stuffy and serious, someone who might even look down his nose at her. He was the total opposite of that. Talkative and jovial, at one point he had her laughing so hard there were tears in her eyes. Janet, too, seemed to have softened toward her and they were soon engaged in an animated discussion about quilting techniques. Storm sat watching them, his lips curling in obvious amusement. He must be thinking what she was thinking – who would have known she’d find something in common with his mother?
The tea things cleared away, Storm reached over and took Dani’s hand in his. “Mom and Dad, there is something I…Dani and I would like to tell you.”