The corner of his lips quirked up. “I’ll take ‘very cute’ as a good sign. So do you have a name? Or shall I just call you Girl Who Likes Huckleberry Pie?”
I smiled, and looked at the ocean so he couldn’t see my face. “I do have a name. And truthfully, I don’t really like pie.”
“Not any kind?”
“No. Not any kind,” I said, lying because I didn’t want him to know the truth. That I’d once loved pie too much. That when my carefully controlled world had spun out of control back in high school, I’d turned to pie, or ice cream, or cookies for a once-a-week binge and purge. I’d never been heavy, but only because I never let myself get heavy. I’d been the poster child for secret bulimia—the kind so manageable and mild that hardly anyone knew my struggles. Thadd never knew that the shock of my shitty grades when we went out had sent me back to the cake tin. I’d kept it all well-hidden, until I finally managed to kick the habit shortly after him, thanks to Anaka and her encouragement. Now, I kept tempting food and tempting men at a distance. Which meant I had to walk away from Tempting William. No matter how sexy and adorable he was.
“I should go.”
“I’m sorry if I rubbed you the wrong way.”
“You didn’t rub me any way at all,” I said hastily, then instructed my brain to remove all thoughts of rubbing—the right way, of course, because he’d do it the right way. I was sure he’d do everything the absolute, toe-curling, mind-blowing way.
Could American accents be any more endearing?
The answer was no, and no, and no.
It was simply impossible, and this whole damn country was rife with them, like a fucking paradise. God, I loved America, and California was a slice of heaven. No, wait. It was manna from heaven, and that’s even better, right?
I shook off the queries, though, because who cared about matters of divinity when right in front of me the hot girl was doing her absolute Olympic best to rein in a smile. As if she were fighting every instinct that told her to curve up her lips. She pursed them together, then brushed a few loose strands of blond hair from her cheek and glanced away. She wanted to dislike me, which only made her more intriguing. I turned on my best gentlemanly charm.
“Well, it was a pleasure to meet you, and I’ll just have to imagine then that you have an equally lovely name,” I said, and there it was again. That smile when I said lovely. Ah, perhaps she was an Anglophile. Certain words said in an accent simply undid the walls in American women—lovely was one of them. I was not above using it. Besides, it had the added benefit of being true.
She was lovely.
Translation—everything I liked best.
“Jess,” she breathed out in a low voice, as if it cost her something to give me this little nugget.
“Jess,” I repeated, liking the way her name sounded. I could tell for her even sharing a small detail was hard. But I loved little details—they told you the things you wanted to know about people, they were clues you could assemble into a whole puzzle. I held up my index finger as if making a pronouncement. “And I bet it’s just Jess. I bet it’s not even short for Jessica. Because I don’t think you’d use a nickname.”
She shook her head, as if she was trying to suppress a laugh. “It’s just Jess,” she said in acknowledgment, and I wanted to pump a fist in victory. I’d read her right. Now the question was how to keep reading her because maybe she wasn’t interested in backing off. Sure, I had a job to do, and hell, she was part of it, but jobs were infinitely more fun when they included one hot, blond California girl. American girls were my kryptonite. British chicks had nothing on ladies in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“Just Jess,” I said playfully.
Then I felt a quick rush of wind, and heard the sound of tires spinning wildly. “Coming by,” a voice called out. Jess quickly moved to the left.
The voice turned frantic. “Right! On your right!”
What the bloody hell? Cyclists were supposed to ride on the left but this guy was barreling down the path pedaling like the chain had sprung free. Right at Jess. Instinct took over as I lunged forward, wrapping my hands around her arm, and yanked her out of the path of the careening cyclist who must have been dead-set on catching up to his pack. I tugged her to the sand to make sure she was safe.
Then, a loud smack rang in my skull, and my forehead throbbed.