“Feel like deep-cleaning the fridge and the pantry and scrubbing behind the oven with me?”
Might as well get some housekeeping done.
Marty lifts his coffee mug. “Lead the way, girlfriend.”
I send Marty home at noon. A state of emergency is declared at one—only official vehicles are allowed on the road. Ellie bursts through the shop like a whirlwind at two, elated that school closed early, then twirls immediately back out to spend the storm at her friend’s apartment. A few random customers stop in during the afternoon, stocking up for their pie fix while hibernating during the storm.
At six, I work on the bills—which means spreading papers, ledgers, and bank notices out at one of the tables in front and staring at them. The cost of sugar is up—shitheads. Coffee is up—bastards. I refuse to scrimp on fruit. I send Marty on regular weekly runs upstate to Maxwell Farms—they grow the best produce in the state.
By nine thirty, my eyes start doing that closing-without-realizing-it thing and I decide to call it a night.
I’m in the back, in the kitchen, sliding a plastic-wrapped pie into the fridge, when I hear the bell above the door jingle and voices—two distinct voices—come in, arguing in that ball-busting way men do.
“My fingertips are frozen, you know. Can’t have frostbite—my fingers are Franny’s third-favorite part of me.”
“Your bank account is Franny’s first-, second-, and third-favorite part of you. And you sound like an old woman. We weren’t even walking that long.”
It’s the second guy’s voice that catches my attention. They both have an accent—but his voice is deeper, smoother. The sound of it feels like slipping into a warm bath after a long day, soothing and blissful.
I step through the swinging kitchen door. And I think my tongue falls out of my mouth.
He’s wearing a tuxedo, the black tie hanging haphazardly around his neck, and the top two buttons of his pristine white shirt are open, teasing a glimpse of bronze chest. The tux hugs him in a way that says there are hard, rippling muscles and taut, heated skin beneath it. His jaw is chiseled—fucking chiseled—like it’s made of warm marble. His chin is strong, beneath the planes of prominent cheekbones that a GQ cover model would kill for. His nose is straight, his mouth full and perfectly made to whisper dark, dirty things. Masculine eyebrows sit above gray-green eyes—the color of sea glass in the sun—framed by sooty, long lashes. His hair is dark and thick—a few strands fall over his forehead, giving him an effortless, edgy, I-don’t-give-a-fuck kind of look.
“Well…hello.” The corner of his mouth inches up. And it feels…naughty.
The man next to him—redheaded, kind of pudgy, with light sparkling blue eyes—says, “Tell me you have hot tea and my fortune is yours.”
“Yes, we have tea—and it’ll only cost you $2.25.”
“You are officially my favorite person.”
They pick a table along the wall and the dark-haired one moves with confidence—like he owns the place, like he owns the whole world. He sits in the chair, leaning back, knees spread, his eyes dragging over me the way a guy with X-ray vision would.
“Are you going to sit down too?” I ask the two men in dark suits who stand on either side of the door. And I’d bet my tip jar they’re bodyguards—I’ve seen enough rich, famous people around the city to spot them—though these two are on the young side.
“No, it’ll just be us,” the dark-haired one tells me.
I wonder who he is. The son of some rich overseas investor, maybe? Or an actor—he’s got the body and the face for it. And…the presence. That nameless quality that says, “Pay attention—you’re gonna want to remember me.”
“You guys are pretty brave to be out in this weather.” I put two menus on the table.
“Or stupid,” the redhead grumbles.
“I dragged him out,” the dark-haired one says, his words slurring the tiniest bit. “The streets are empty, so I can walk around.” His voice lowers conspiratorially. “They only let me out of the cage a few times a year.”
I have no clue what that means, but hearing him say it may be the most exciting thing that’s happened to me all day. Fuck, that’s pathetic.
The redhead scans the menu. “What’s the specialty here?”
I tap my pencil against my pad. “I make them myself. Best in the city.”
The dark-haired one hums. “Tell me more about your magnificent pie. Is it delicious?”
I roll my eyes. “Save it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you can save the pie innuendos.” My tone drops, imitating the creepy lines I’ve heard one too many times. “‘Do you serve hair-pie, I’d eat your pie all night, baby’—I get it.”
He chuckles, and his laugh sounds even better than his voice.
“What about your lips?”
My eyes snap to his. “What about them?”
“They’re the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Do they taste as good as they look? I bet they do.”
My mouth goes dry—and my witty-comeback reflex flatlines.
“Pay no attention to this sorry mess,” the redhead says. “He’s been smashed for three days straight.”