“I wasn’t traveling, Allen. I was closing my shop,” she argues, annoyance bleeding through her voice.
“You’re cute when you’re pissed off, Mouse.”
“Again with that nickname.”
“You really have something against it?”
“Women would rather be called sexy, babe, beautiful, heck, even sugar.”
“Sugar?” I ask, unable to keep the laughter out of my voice.
“That would be preferable to being called a rodent.”
“Some people love mice so much they keep them as pets.”
“And some feed them to snakes for dinner,” she huffs and that’s the moment I lose it.
I laugh, even when I try not to. Jessie couldn’t understand what a gift that is. She has no idea and I can see—even while laughing—that she doesn’t like it. She’s offended by it. She doesn’t understand the miracle she’s given me.
“Would you really prefer I call you sugar?”
Her nose scrunches up and that looks so cute I need to resist the urge to kiss her.
“Is that my only other option?” she grumbles and again… I laugh.
“Trouble,” I answer her, shaking my head.
“You are major trouble, Jessie.”
“That’s not nice,” she says.
“It’s still very true. Where are you parked?”
“At my house,” she answers.
“I live a few streets down, so I just walk to my shop.”
“You walk to work, alone.”
“I believe that’s what I said.”
“What happens if you’re attacked? If some whack-job jumps out of the shadows and grabs you?”
“This is Saint Augustine, Allen. That’s not likely to happen.”
“It’s a highly populated vacation area. It’s more likely to happen here than anywhere,” I growl, not believing that she could be so naïve.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and it hasn’t happened yet.” She says this while walking down the street. I take the few steps to catch up with her, grab her upper arm and pull her back around to face me.
“You’re not walking home, Jessie.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve had a long day and thanks to that idiot Troy and now you, a stressful one. I’m going home, I’m going to take a shower so hot my skin will melt, then I’m going to cuddle on my couch with Chloe.”
“Chloe?” I ask, wondering if I misread the signs and she’s into women, or maybe both. I’m not sure how I feel about that. If I give a woman my cock, I don’t want to worry about if she’d rather have pussy.
“My cat,” she mumbles, yanking her arm out of my hold and starting to walk away again.
I find myself falling into step beside her. I’m grinning, thinking at least if she’s cuddling up on the couch with a pussy, this is one I can compete with.
“Tell me about Troy.”
“Why are you smiling like that?” she asks, and it’s only then I realize the grin is still on my face.
“I was realizing that if you’re in love with pussy at least it’s one I can compete with.”
“I don’t understand…” she says, her face confused, wrinkles on her forehead as she replays my words in her head. I’ve never been around a woman so easy to read, but with Jessie, I know exactly what’s going on with one look. That’s confirmed when she blushes and comprehension dawns on her—shining like a flashlight in the black of night.
“Oh,” she gasps and I’m pretty sure she couldn’t say anything else, because she opens her mouth, then closes it. Opens it again and snaps it shut yet again. The look on her face makes me… laugh. “You weren’t this annoying the first time we met,” she huffs.
“What was I?”
“I wouldn’t go all cocky. I doubt you could compete with Chloe. She’s special,” Jessie answers, completely ignoring my question.
“I’ll make a note,” I tell her.
We walk for a bit without talking. It’s not an awkward silence. It’s actually kind of enjoyable, but I smile when I hear her voice again. It has a tone that makes me feel… alive.
“Why are you here?” she asks.
Isn’t that a million dollar question…
I push my fingers through my hair, completely serious now. I stop walking and she seems to catch the change in my mood and stops too. She stands there, looking up at me and that venom inside of me that stays deep inside—hidden—begins swirling. I beat it down, but in the face of Jessie’s innocence, it’s harder. I should stay away from her. I’ve tried for three days, but she’s been on my mind… teasing me… tempting me.
I should walk away. I need to. Jessie doesn’t need someone like me in her life. I’m not fit to touch her. I don’t know a fuck of a lot, but I know she deserves better than an ex-junkie. I’m clean. I’ve been clean for years, but that doesn’t erase my past…or what drove me to use the drugs.
“Allen?” she asks softly, her voice changing. That’s when I realize I am staring at her, but not really seeing her.