When I finally head toward my first table, any comfort I’ve talked myself into ends when another whiff of bacon hits me and my stomach knots. Not pregnant, I repeat in my head. I’m not. It’s impossible. Right? Just like the reality of me being in a roadside diner on the run isn’t possible and yet it’s happening. That’s enough to make me decide I’ll go take a test at my dinner break. Until then, I hope for a busy crowd to keep my mind off of the moment I look for that little pink line.
Almost four hours later, I head toward the window behind the counter area that is open to the kitchen to pick up my last order before my break. Thankfully, whatever had affected my stomach is long past, but I still want to take a test to put my mind at ease. Most likely, my lack of sleep, worry, and the incessant flashbacks I can’t control without the acupuncture that travel and my budget do not allow, have made me this way. But I’ll fix that. I’m working on a plan that lets me get settled in Texas, pull myself together, and be on top of my game when I address the past.
“I think every drunk this town has come here tonight,” Katy complains, joining me to wait for her next ticket to come up. “I’ve been groped and hit on all night and that was just the women.”
“Right there with you on that one,” I say, and for some reason I feel the need to promise myself this job, this life, is not my forever. It’s just a means to an end. It’s smart. It’s me staying off the radar and building resources.
Katy pats her apron pocket. “At least the tips have been good.”
“Oh yes,” I agree. “I’m close to my best night ever. And I can use every dime I earn.”
“Can’t we all.” Her gaze flickers over my shoulder and her lips quirk. “And honey, I have a feeling your tips are about to get better. A guy who looks real expensive and good enough to lick asked to be seated in your section as I was headed over here, and sorry, no offense, but I tried to get him for me.” She glances down at her ample cle**age. “The girls failed me. I guess he likes them au naturel.”
I go still at her words, and a familiar, too often repeated, memory of me telling Liam I want to lick his tattoo flashes through my mind. He is not here. It can’t be him. It just...can’t. But isn’t that what I said when he’d shown up at the airport? “Can’t” isn’t a word Liam likes. Can’t never applies to him.
“Order up,” George shouts and shoves two plates inside the pass-through window.
Staring at the plates, I will myself not to overreact. Not to create a Godzilla that doesn’t exist when I have plenty of problems before me that do. Liam is not here. I’ve moved around and paid cash for everything. I’ve found small diners to work for that accept my pitiful little girl with a lost wallet excuse during the paperwork. I promise to replace my ID right away and then write down random socials. Even the phone calls I’ve made to Texas to research my past were done on disposable phones that I ordered with Texas numbers and a pre-paid gift card. I’ve been smart. I am not traceable.
“You daydreaming or doing your job?” George demands, snapping me back to the moment to realize Katy is chatting with the other waitress.
Grabbing my order, I whirl around, pinpointing the table my plates are for, and any chance I have to scan for this lickable man Katy has mentioned is killed when several people walk in the door and block my view of the rest of the room.
Quickly, I set the orders on my customer’s table and the sensation of being watched comes over me. No. The sensation of being watched by him comes over me. Liam. Liam is here. No. No. No. He’s not here. No Godzilla, Amy. No Godzilla.
“Can I get ketchup?” My customer asks.
I manage a choppy nod and turn away, taking a few steps before I stop dead in my tracks, my attention riveted to the corner booth at the back of the diner. To where he lounges, looking as cool and confident as ever in jeans and a charcoal-gray pullover with the sleeves tugged to his elbows, as refined as a tailored suit.
This isn’t happening. It’s not supposed to happen, at least not now, not like this. Not when I am no more certain than when I left Denver if he is good for me and I for him. Not when he could be the hunter and me the prey. And yet there is no urge to run. There is only the urge to go to him, to touch him, and lose myself in this man as I had months before. Illogically, there is relief that he is here and somehow I am not alone, when my running from him says there should be fear. And maybe my reaction is what should scare me the most. Liam is my weakness, not the strength I’d once seen him as being.
Swallowing hard, I start walking toward him, certain he will have a plan to prevent me running anyway. He tracks my approach with those intense aqua-blue eyes of his, his neatly trimmed goatee somehow giving him a worldly, dangerous air, his cool stare turning hotter the closer I get to him. And terrifyingly, just as easily, my body burns in reaction, warning me I cannot touch him without losing myself in the process. That is the power of this man over me and knowing this, accepting it, is my only defense.
But my plan, like the one to stay off the radar, is lost on Liam. The instant I stop at Liam’s table, he angles toward me, gently shackling my wrist, pulling me to him, my bare legs pressing to his jean-clad knees. The heat of moments before becomes downright fire and I am weak and aching for this man as I have never ached for another.
“How did you find me?” I demand, and somehow my hand is on his shoulder, but I do not push him away. Why am I not pushing him away?