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“You look beautiful.” I’m trying my best not to be affected by the kiss snub.
“Thank you,” she says softly, and there it is—that look of innocence that sets my body ablaze. Okay, I’ll let the snub pass. Who knows? Maybe she has some crazy role-playing game cooking in her head.
I extend my hand and she places hers softly in my palm so that I can bring her hand to my lips and kiss it. Her smile is wide and bright as I let her hand go.
“Madam,” I say as I pull out her chair. Maybe I could be the maître d’ and she could be a demanding patron?
She sits and sets her phone on the table and her purse on the floor. When she sits back up, I breathe in her scent as I take her napkin and place it on her lap. Leaning down, I let my warm breath caress her neck. “In case you want to add it to your collection before it gets dirty.”
She looks up at me. “Very funny.”
“I try to be.”
“Oh, I think you try to be more than that.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Please explain.”
“Kelsie told me how charming you are.”
There must be a puzzled look on my face. “The hostess,” she clarifies.
I shake my head. “Ah yes. She was very . . . helpful.”
Her mouth tilts with the beginning of a smile.
I lean even closer, hovering just above her lips. “I can be . . . very helpful too. Especially to damsels in distress and failing students.”
A slight pink blush colors her skin, and it’s such a turn-on that she can play dirty but gets embarrassed talking about it.
Our eyes lock for a few intense moments until I break the spell. “So, how was your Sunday?” Just like that the night begins like a real date. The funny conversation leads into discussions about our day, and when the waitress approaches to take our order, we both ask for sparkling water with lemon and peppered beef skewers.
S’belle looks over toward me when the waters are placed in front of us. “You don’t drink?”
I cast her a tentative look. “I do. Well, I don’t.”
She scrunches her eyebrows in confusion.
I laugh. “That sounded moronic. What I mean is I don’t have a problem or anything. I just think it’s healthier for me to abstain.”
She doesn’t laugh or question why, but instead she says, “I get it. Same here. I had fallen into a rut where I was drinking more than I should and I found I wasn’t moving forward in my life.”
I nod and swallow the lump in my throat at how much what she just said mimics my life over the past three years. I look at her and raise my glass. “Perfectly said.”
We end the topic there, but that short conversation tells me we might have more in common than either of us realizes. I look across the table at her. The glow of the candle, the intimacy of the small space, the seductive outfit she’s wearing—everything makes me want to get closer to her.
Her phone buzzes and I can see the name Tate Wyatt flash across the screen. She silences it and switches her phone to vibrate. “Sorry. We have a big wedding next weekend and I’m sure Tate is already pondering the to-do list.”
I try to read her. She seems nervous or maybe just uncomfortable. “Well, that only proves my point—he’s an ass**le.”
“Ben. You don’t even know him.”
“I’ve seen and heard enough.”
She shakes her head. “Tell me something about your job.”
“Well, I got awesome news today. My buddy Beck finally found someone to run his father’s bar and is coming to work for me full-time this week.” I lower my voice as I finish the sentence. It’s a casual move. Almost too smooth. With the overhead music providing ambience and the bar so close to us, it is loud and I’m keeping my voice softer than I normally speak.
She leans forward. “I’m so sorry, but I can’t hear you very well.”
I slide into the empty chair next to her and repeat myself. “My buddy Beck finally found someone to run his father’s bar and is coming to work for me full-time next week.” This time I speak directly into her ear and savor the closeness. I’m supposed to be flirting with her, in charge here, but her scent overwhelms me and the thumping in my heart seems to have spread throughout my body. She’s turning me on beyond control.
She inches away from me, but I can see her pulse beating in her neck. “What does he do?” she asks a little hoarsely. I’ve heard that tone before.
Her hands are on her glass gripping it tightly. One slides to the table.
I grab my water and our hands graze but don’t fully touch. The heat of her hand seeps down my arm—electric. “He’s a whiz at social media. He’s just what I need to push forward and embrace the technology side of journalism.”
Her breathing picks up and her green eyes bore into me. “You mean like apps, Twitter, and Facebook—social media?”
“Yes. Both Surfer’s End and Sound Music are so behind they don’t even have issues available online or apps to accompany them.”
“Oh, you don’t know how to do that yourself?”
Our salads arrive. I take my fork in my hand. “No, I have no idea how to do something like that.”
She stabs her fork into a cherry tomato. “I do. I taught myself. It’s really fun. Last week I created one for my event-planning company,” she says, and this surprises me for some reason.