After heading to the front desk and making idle chitchat with Amanda and a few of the other staff members, I barely contain the urge to help a customer. Amanda warns me off the action with a promise of Mark’s wrath, and I quickly head to the coffee shop again. I scan the empty tables and there is no denying my disappointment to find Chris nowhere in sight.
Choosing the same table I’d worked at yesterday is an easy decision. Habits, things that feel normal—these are things I crave, just as I do the coffee I am about to order.
By two o’clock, neither Ava nor Chris have appeared in the shop. I’ve thirstily downed two White Mochas and switched to black coffee. There is no denying I am shaky and need food. Waiting to eat in hopes of sharing lunch with Ava has not paid off. The good news, though, in the hazy tunnel that is my caffeinated high, is that my knowledge of the featured wines for the tasting Friday night is rapidly expanding.
The kid from behind the counter approaches my table and refills my coffee without me asking and grins. “Mr. Compton says to keep your cup full.”
Right. Mr. Compton says. I manage a tight-lipped smile and a “thank you”, but I am uneasy with my new boss having my drinks monitored. It is as if he is trying to…hmm what? The answer comes to me immediately. Control me. A variety of emotions flash inside me and slowly expand. There is something very sexy about a man like Mark Compton in control, but sexy or not, it’s also quite uncomfortable for all kinds of reasons I’ve found better left under the rug.
Comfortable is overrated, a voice in the back of my head screams and I know that inner voice is my subconscious mind demanding to finally be heard. The truth of the matter is, I’ve spent every day since college graduation wallowing in boring predictability. Except when you were with Michael. I grind my teeth. Predictable is far better than what I was with him.
I remind myself there are ways out of predictable ruts that do not include men like Michael…or Mark. Right. Other ways. It had taken me reading someone else’s words, stepping into their life, to find excitement. How sad am I? I squeeze my eyes shut and reprimand myself. This is not her life. It’s yours.
Resolve forms. I am determined to get to work, to make today count toward a new career. I force my eyes open and reach for my book, effectively knocking the coffee from the table. Fabulous. Just fabulous. Coffee is on my table, the floor, and yes, my only pair of good black heels that match my staple black skirt. My cheeks are no doubt, as rosy as my silk blouse.
I snatch up the few napkins I have beside me and wipe the table to salvage my computer before it becomes a victim of my shaky hands. Task complete, I squat to attend my dripping wet shoe and the floor.
“Looks like you need these.”
The familiar voice tingles along my nerve endings and blood rushes to my cheeks. No. Please. Do not let this be happening. He squats in front of me, and my gaze locks on his powerful thighs where his hands rest. Strong, artistic hands that are holding napkins for my spill. Slowly, my gaze lifts to find a set of alluringly green eyes belonging to Chris Merit staring into mine. Once again, this famous, gorgeous man is squatting on the ground in an effort to help me recover from a mishap.
“You have the most amazing knack for showing up to witness my acts of clumsiness,” I accuse.
His lips curve and his green eyes twinkle with specks of yellow. No. More like light flecks of gold shimmer. “I prefer to think of it as a knack for coming to your rescue,” he declares huskily and winks, before he proceeds to wipe up my mess. Oh good God. I’ve made Chris Merit my janitor. And, he winked at me. I can barely breathe.
He stands up and heads to the trash, moving with a confident male grace that is momentarily spellbinding. I’m frozen in place. I can only stare at him in wonder. Which, I realize, snapping to my senses, is not a good thing when I am in a skirt and squatting on the ground.
I pop to my feet and then have to lift my foot and swipe a remaining wet spot off my shoe. I’ve just dropped the used napkins inside the empty cup when he returns and stands by my table. Close to me. Really close. A spicy, wonderful scent teases my nostrils, and stirs longing inside me. I love how this man smells and I have a new found liking for faded jeans and biker boots I doubt I will ever lose. And try as I might, I cannot help but remember him holding the leather jacket he’s wearing today around me the other night.
“Ah, thanks,” I manage to say, sounding as frazzled as I feel. “I’m embarrassed.”
“Don’t be.” His eyes are warm, and remind me of summer green grass, his voice rich with sincerity. “I think you’re adorable.”
“Adorable,” I repeat, my tone deadpan. “Not what a girl wants to be.” It’s what a man calls a kid sister, or the girl he doesn’t want to date. Not that I thought he wanted to date me. I don’t know what I thought, what I think now.
“Then what does a girl want to be?” There is a teasing tone to his words that matches his expression.
Beautiful. Sexy. I want to be either or both to this man, but I wouldn’t dare to say such things so I settle on, “Not clumsy.”
“Interesting?” I query. What is it with him and Mr. Compton and the whole interesting thing? It has to be an artsy thing I’m out of touch with. “I…well. I guess that’s better than clumsy.” I’m not sure it’s better than adorable. I just don’t know.
“You still don’t like that choice of word.”