“How’s your mouth feeling?”
I wet my burning lips and his gaze follows, his expression darkening, and every nerve ending I own tingles in reply. “Fine,” I comment, “but no thanks to you. You should have warned me how hot it was.”
“I distinctly remember warning you.”
“You should have tried harder. You knew I was starving.”
“You say that past tense. Are you saying you’re not anymore?”
“My tongue is raw and may never be the same, but actually, yes, I’m still starving.”
“Me too,” he says softly. “Ravenous, in fact.”
My throat goes dry. Really dry. More dry than the other ten or so times he’s caused such a reaction in me. There is a charge in the air, crackling all around us, to the point I almost think sparks must be evident. I can feel this man in every part of my body and he has not even touched me. I don’t remember ever feeling this aware of a man in my life. I don’t want this to be my imagination but I’m not sure I am confident enough in myself to be with this man. I thought I was past all my self-doubt, but I’m not sure I am.
Desperate for a reprieve from whatever this thing between us is that threatens to consume me, I reach for a distraction. “You should eat before your food gets cold.”
“Señora.” Diego appears by my side and takes my plate. “Are you okay? Our fire is real fire.” He casts Chris a disapproving look. “I thought Señor would have warned you.”
Chris holds up his hands. “Hey, hey. I did warn her.”
“After I took a bite,” I counter, enjoying my opportunity to join in with Diego and give him a hard time. In some small way, it takes just a bit of the edge from my embarrassment.
“Before you took the bite,” he corrects.
Diego says something in Spanish that sounds like frustration directed at Chris, and then looks at me. “He should have told you before you took a bite. I am sorry, Señora.”
“Don’t worry about me or keep apologizing,” I plead. “Really. I’m more than fine, or I will be, when you two men stop watching me like I’m about to go up in flames.”
A waiter appears and sets a new plate in front of me before taking my old plate from Diego and disappearing with it.
“I had them include two sauces on the side for you to try,” Diego explains. “The green is mild. The red is medium. Neither will burn your mouth.”
I give him an appreciative nod. “Gracias, Diego. I should have tested the sauce before I took a big bite but the food just looked and smelled so good I couldn’t resist digging in.”
His face colors with the compliment, but it doesn’t stop him from mercilessly worrying over me a full extra minute before he rushes off. I am now left under the amused scrutiny of this brilliant, too sexy, artist who hasn’t eaten a bite because of me.
“Please eat,” I urge him softly. “Your food is even colder now than before.”
“Try your food first and make sure it’s okay.”
“Oh no,” I scoff. “I’m not going to try it while you watch me do something else ridiculously clumsy.”
Mischief dances across his features. “I like watching you. You spark my creative side.”
My stomach flip flops at the reference to the sketch. “You can’t watch me and eat.”
“I could argue that, but in the interest of getting you to eat, let’s dig in together.” The final word rasps with an underlying meaning, or maybe, I simply want it to.
“Fine,” I agree. “Together.”
His lips quirk and so do mine. Without breaking eye contact, we both reach for a taco, and only look away when we each take a bite. This time spicy, delicious flavors explode in my mouth, and I moan with pleasure. Either this is great food or I am too hungry to know better.
Chris swallows his mouthful of fire without so much as a blink and stares at me with a look that I can only call ‘hungry’. “I take it that’s a sound of satisfaction?”
I find my own fire again but this time it’s in the form of blood flooding various inappropriate parts of my body considering our public location. “What can I say?” I manage. “The end of starvation is quite delicious.” I use the spoon by my plate to taste the green sauce. “And so is that. I like it.”
He holds out his beer to offer me another swallow, and I am all but certain he is purposely reminding me of our intimate act of sharing. I stare at the beer, remembering his mouth, where my mouth had been, before I force my gaze to his. “No. Thank you.”
He considers me a moment, his expression unreadable, and then slowly lifts the bottle to his mouth and takes a deep swallow. Again, I watch the powerful muscles in his throat bob, feeling my muscles, the ones low in my belly, tighten. What is this man doing to me?
He lowers the beer and I quickly, guiltily, reach for my taco and dig in. Chris does the same and I begin thinking about all the questions I yearn to ask him. When does he paint? Where does he paint? What’s his inspiration? His favorite brush? Questions I know he has heard a million times and probably doesn’t want to answer so I hold back.
“This is the perfect corner for watching people,” he comments.
I follow his lead, searching beyond the glass to the activity on the street, thinking about how black and white I’ve let life become, when I want to live it in color. We fall into a surprisingly comfortable silence, both of us watching the people scurry by on the street. A man and woman arm and arm. A woman struggling to get a little boy to put his coat on. Another woman who pulls her coat close to her and seems to be crying.