Dean: How did you know?
Dad: Friend. You called him a friend. Not a mate. Good luck on your date.
Dean: It’s official. I’m disowning you.
Dad: Too late. You’re stuck with me.
Dean: See if I make it to dinner this week, old man.
Dad: You’ll show, I have no doubt. You always do.
I look up from the phone to see the man of the hour walking toward me. He’s freshly showered by the look of it, the ends of his brown hair a little wet. He wears jeans and a T-shirt that’s just a notch above casual, revealing the tribal bands that wrap around his biceps and slide into sunbursts on his shoulders.
“Hey, you. Something funny?” Fitz nods at the phone.
“My dad. We were just texting.”
“Ahh,” Fitz says. “I nearly forgot to do this.” He clasps my cheeks and kisses me. It lasts all of two seconds, but it goes to my head.
When he breaks the kiss, he gestures toward my phone. “How’s your dad?”
“He’s good,” I say, smiling, tucking my mobile away in my pocket. “He was just giving me a hard time about tonight.”
“Because he’s the world’s most sarcastic person.”
Fitz’s eyes sparkle. “This explains so much about you.”
“Why, yes, I do get my good looks from him,” I say, deadpan.
He cracks up. “Exactly. So why was he giving you a hard time about tonight? Is he not supportive?”
It’s my turn to laugh. “He’s giving me a hard time because he called it a date before I did.”
Fitz grins, then sets a hand on my back. “I like your dad. Also, yes, this is a date. I’m calling it that too. And your dad is a smart man.”
“He’s brilliant,” I say, trying to rein in the grin that might reveal how much I want to be exactly where I am right now with the ice defender, the cocky athlete, the guy who walked into my bar.
He nods to the door. “Want some grub?”
“Since I suspect we’ll be working up an appetite, the answer is yes.”
We head into Sticks and Stones, a place I’ve been to a ton of times with Maeve, or with Naveen and Anya, my mates from cooking class who own an Indian restaurant over in Notting Hill. Or even with Taron, who runs one of the old furniture shops I haunt. They’re my people—the ones I meet for a drink or a laugh at the end of the day.
Sam’s behind the bar on the phone, and he gestures that he’ll find me soon.
As luck would have it, Naveen and his wife are here, and they wave their hellos from the bar. I give Fitz the quick download on the couple. “Those are some of my good mates. He was born in Mumbai; she grew up in Auckland. They met several years ago at a café in Covent Garden when the staff mixed up their orders.”
“That’s quite a meet-cute,” Fitz remarks.
“Just imagine if the server had given her the portobello mushroom sandwich and him the lentil soup like he was supposed to.”
“I guess you’ve heard the lentil-portobello story from them before.”
I give him a small grin. “Just a few times. But it’s sweet. Come on over and say hi.”
“Would love to.”
I head over, kissing Anya’s cheek and giving Naveen a clap on the back.
“Haven’t seen you in ages,” Naveen says.
“Yes, don’t be such a stranger,” Anya says with a flip of her blonde hair.
“I saw you just a week ago. But I get it— it feels like ages when you must miss me terribly.” I park a hand on Fitz’s shoulder. “This is Fitz. He’s in town from New York for a few days. He’s quite funny, he plays hockey, and if you see Taron around, you better tell him not to give Fitz so much as a second glance because he’s already spoken for during his stay.”
Naveen laughs. “I’ll pass on the word that you got your claws into the American first.” Then he extends a hand to my . . . date. Fitz shakes.
“Nice to meet you, Fitz,” Naveen says. “Don’t know how you put up with this cheeky fucker.”
“I’m guessing a few days is about all you can take of Dean anyway,” Anya weighs in.
“I can handle him for the short-term.” Fitz smiles then kisses her cheek, European-style. “Good to meet you.”
“Lovely to meet you too,” Anya says. “And how are you liking London?”
Fitz glances my way, a hungry look in his blue eyes. “So far, I’m enjoying the sights quite a bit.”
That sends Naveen and Anya into peals of laughter, and I roll my eyes as I move him along, heading down the bar to grab a couple of stools.
“I guess you come here a lot,” Fitz remarks.
“I do. Since so many of my mates are here.”
“And this Taron guy? Is he an ex?” There’s a flare of jealousy in his voice, and it’s endearing.