Page 48 of Tripping on a Halo

Uh… nope. Uh-uh. No thank you, Mr. Sexiest Man I’ve ever met. I am not interested in a “new” first date from you, or any repeat of what happened last weekend.

I thought it all. I just didn’t say any of it. Instead, I slowly chewed a chip, my brain stuck on the realization that Declan Moss knew little to nothing about me. While I could tell you almost every detail available through intensive background checks and snooping, his knowledge of me was… what? Glimpses of a woman screaming and waving a giant penis in the air? The dirty bottom of my downtown-trodden soles? Well… he did know a few of my more carnal details. The sound of my pleasure. How to kiss me into submission. The look on my face when I was about to…

I cleared my throat, a crumble stuck in an awkward place, and reached for my drink. “Yep. Born and raised here.” He’s from Los Angeles. I knew that, but guessed it would be odd of me to acknowledge it. I took the faux clueless path. “What about you?”

“LA.” He grinned. “My career as a surfer didn’t pan out.”

“Smart move.” I picked up another chip and bit it in half. “Anyone who tries to compete with Paul Brand is doomed for failure.”

He raised his brows, impressed. “You’re a surfing fan?”

I shrugged. “Not really. I worked in a surf shop in the mall during college. He was on all of the posters. And he looks reallllly good in a bathing suit.” I smiled, and it wasn’t too much of a confession. Anyone with two eyes could see that his ass and abs were built for board shorts and nothing else.

“Maybe we could go to a competition sometime. They have some over in Daytona Beach.” He nodded, as if he liked this idea, as if he and I would ever get into a car and travel the four hours east to attend a surfing competition.

I let out an awkward laugh. “You know… like a week ago, you were running from me like I had the plague.”

“Perfectly justified response. I thought you were crazy.” He took a beat, then amended the response. “Crazier.”

“Thanks,” I said dryly.

“Well, you did steal my trash,” he pointed out.

My sandwich, which had been creeping its way back up to my mouth, stalled, my hands tightening on it, half of the contents giving up their fight and free-falling to the plate. He knew about that? I tried my best carefree snort of innocence, and came out sounding as if I had a buzzsaw stuck in my nostril. I composed myself and tried again. “I didn’t steal your trash.”

“Uh… yeah, you did. Left about thirty pieces of evidence behind with your name on it. I still got the tampon boxes and energy drink cans if you want them.”

I grimaced. I knew I should have done a trash swap with Ansley but noooooo. She’d been all hoity-toity about that. As if Roger’s psychology magazines and bottles of Pedialyte had a dedicated space allotment in her trash bins. I’d broached the idea with Mrs. Robchek, but apparently, her wild ways stopped with walking by Declan’s house. Anything more and she wanted me to sign a confidentiality agreement with her. I’m not exactly sure what I was swearing confidentiality to, or what said agreement would protect her from, but the demand had caused me to give up on decoy trash and just cross my fingers that he never noticed the difference.

I made a mental note to remove “crossing my fingers” as a viable method of guarantee-ability.

He was waiting for a response, one brow raised, and I scrambled. “At least you know I’m not pregnant. I mean, with the tampon boxes. You wouldn’t want a pregnant girl protecting you.”

“I don’t really want anyone protecting me,” he said slowly.

“But, imagine,” I babbled on. “If I was waddling along behind you, trying to catch your attention, but too heavy with child to move fast enough. And then BLAM!” I clapped my hands together to stimulate a pancaked Declan, and the woman at the table beside us jumped. I winced at her in apology, then continued. “You are a splat of guts and bone, under a semitruck, and I’m going into labor from the stress of it all.”

“A semitruck? Am I wandering along the highway?” Declan bit his bottom lip and I swear on McDonalds, I think he was trying not to laugh. “Where exactly is this impromptu accident and labor delivery occurring?”

“It doesn’t have to be a semi,” I defended myself. “It could be a normal car.” Like the one that killed Mom. I felt a sharp pain in my heart and looked down at the sad remains of my sandwich. “People get killed by cars all the time.”

He reached out and grabbed my hand, threading his fingers through mine. “Hey.”