"There you are! She will be right out! I'm Gwenn, by the way. Thank you so much for keeping our Marin safe. She's been through a lot, and we don't know what we would do without her." Not sure how to respond, I simply nod.
Footsteps sound from behind me and thank God, because I'm not sure I want to stand here and interact with Gwenn anymore.
"Dalton! Hi! I see that you have met Gwenn," she says with a side look.
I take her all in from head to toe and hope I'm not too obvious. But she's a beautiful woman, and I can't help it. She has her short dark hair pinned back on one side, providing some control to her unruly but stunning curls. If it wasn't for the light hitting it a certain way, I would be convinced that it's as black as the night. Her brown coffee eyes sparkle like rare gems that haven't been discovered yet and hold an unknown sadness. Her creamy skin the color of a ripe peach in summer.
Jesus Christ, what's wrong with me?
I shake my head, ridding it of all the thoughts I definitely shouldn't be thinking.
"Thanks, Gwenn. If there isn't anyone left in the store you can head home."
"You sure?" Gwenn asks, giving me an unsure look. Marin looks at me and smiles and looks back to her.
"Yep, I'm sure."
"Okie dokie. But if you need me for anything give me a call." She leans in and give Marin a quick hug. "Nice meeting you, Dalton."
Being polite, I reply, "Yeah, you too."
She walks back to the front, and I'm left with Marin alone.
When I walked out of the office and spotted Dalton standing exactly where I expected him to be—the automotive section. I couldn't stop the smile from creeping across my lips. Gwenn was definitely right. He's hot. With his weathered, dark-blue jeans, charcoal-colored long-sleeve undershirt and worn leather jacket thrown over it, he is owning the bad boy look. I have to stop myself from fanning myself because he definitely makes the temperature rise a few degrees when he’s in the room.
We make small talk for the few minutes it takes Gwenn to gather her things. Chatting about the weather and filling him in on some information about the store. After hearing Gwenn leave, I decided to close the store for the night. It's only thirty minutes before closing, so it won't be that big of a deal.
"Let’s walk up front. I want to lock up."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were closing early." He looks somewhat bashful, and it's cute.
"No, it's fine. I didn't plan on it, but I wanted to be able to give you my undivided attention," I say, looking up at him. "You know, you are very tall." He seems to tower over me. It would be scary if I didn't see the kindness hidden in his lush green eyes.
"No, you are just very small," he replies with a wink. I can't help but swoon a little and feel a little guilty at the same time. I mean, I have never even looked twice at another guy other than Benji. Sure, I have found other guys attractive but none of them gave me butterflies in my gut like I'm experiencing right now.
"So this is a pretty cool place you have here. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve never stepped foot in a bookstore before the other night when I brought you back here," he says as I am locking the door and flipping the sign from OPEN to CLOSED.
"Well, it looks like I will have to get you acclimated to the world of books then. And thanks. I'm proud of it." I glance around wondering where would be best to sit down and what we should start with. "So, Dalton, what do you want to start with? Accounting? Spreadsheets?"
He looks at me with that deer in the headlights look that so many get when they have no idea what you are talking about. "I really have no idea. I fix cars; that's all I know. Once I get everything up and running more and get the business back on a good track then maybe I can hire someone to do all the office work. I don't really know what to do."
We walk together toward the two comfy chairs in the front of the store. I have them situated kind of as a centerpiece in the lobby. They are a dark, charcoal-grey with lime green swirls on them. A black, round coffee table sits between them. "Do you want anything to drink? I made a fresh pot of a coffee not too long ago, and I have some bottled water and Diet Coke in the back."
"Um, yeah, coffee. Black. Thanks."
"Go ahead and have a seat, and I'll grab it for you." I need to get some space from him even for a minute. He has such an overwhelming aura about him it's taking my breath away. I pour his coffee into a solid black mug and grab a water for myself. No coffee for me this time of day or I won’t get any sleep—I have a hard enough time sleeping to begin with.
After I have our drinks in hand, I walk back over and place his coffee in front of him on the table and sit in the chair across from him with my water in hand.
"Wow, real mugs. That's fancy," he says with a lift of his eyebrow.
"I hate paper cups. We have a dishwasher in the back that we run a few times a day. People love having the coffee available, and, honestly, I think that is the only reason some of our regulars come in so often. So, it makes me happy to be able to make them happy.”
He leans forward a bit and grabs his coffee. But he looks at me sincerely. "How are you, Marin? Since … well, you know.” He pauses to take a sip of his coffee, steam still billowing from the mug. “I have thought about you and worried that I should have called someone for help instead of bringing you back here."
"I'm fine, really. This crazy cut is healing fine and I'm not feeling as sore as I was. We called the police and filed a report." He startles a bit at the word police which confuses me. "Don't worry, though, I didn't say anything about you. We just said a passerby scared the guy off."
"Well, if you need me to talk to the police I can. Actually, I would like to do whatever I can to help out." He runs his hand through his dark hair, and I notice the edge of a dark tattoo peeking out from underneath his jacket.
"Thank you. I will give you the detectives information and you can contact him when you have a chance."
We sit in silence, sipping our drinks like two people on a blind date.
It seems like hours pass before I decide to speak, but in all reality it has only been seconds.
"So, Dalton, tell me a little more about your garage. I guess that will give me the best idea on what I can pull for you and help you with." I smile awkwardly at him and tuck my legs up underneath me, thankful that I wore jeans today and not a skirt.
He shifts around uncomfortably in his seat. "Well, I guess I sort of inherited the garage from my uncle who isn't in the greatest health anymore. He thought it would be a good way to focus my energy on something useful. I was a bit of a troublemaker when I was younger, and he wanted me to get away from that life."
"He sounds like a smart man," I comment before taking another sip of my water.
"Yeah, I guess he is. I was hanging around some people I should have stayed away from. I'm way too old now to be doing the kinds of things I did when I was a teenager. You gotta grow up sometime. Right?"
"Hey, everyone has a little rebellious streak in them, and most people grow out of it, so I'm sure you are fine. It's nice that you are doing this for your uncle.”
“Do you have a rebellious streak, Marin?” he asks in a low voice. It almost seems as if he didn’t mean to ask that question and the words came tumbling out of his mouth on their own accord.
I clear my throat and change the subject. “Let's go see what we can find that can help the business side of everything."
As he follows me to the back of the store where I keep the reference books and the few textbooks that come in handy in everyday life, I can feel his eyes burning holes through my back. He's silent but I feel the heat radiating off him and know he is only a step behind me. I take a deep but discreet breath because he smells incredible and I want to remember it when he’s gone.
Squatting down when I reach the shelf I was looking for I pull off the book I had in mind. "Ah, this is the one I was looking for. I read this when I started the bookstore, and it really came in handy." I stand back up and hand him the book.
Small Businesses for Dummies,"
he reads. Looking up at me, he smirks that devilish smirk. "So I'm a dummy, huh?"
A laugh bubbles up from me. A real laugh. I haven't had one of those in a while. "Well, if you are, I'm calling myself one as well." I grab it back from him. "There are a few chapters in here I want to mark for you, though. Do you have a computer?"
"Yeah, there is one in the little office off of the garage. It's an old one, but I think it works OK."
An idea pops into my head. Probably not the best idea I have ever had considering that I just met this guy, but hey, you only live once, and I did promise myself that I was going to start living for me again—do things differently and focus on things that don't focus on Benji's death.
"How about you give me directions to the garage and I stop out this weekend and take a look? I can give you a mini crash course on anything you need to know to start out." By the way his eyes squint a little and the slight frown he now has on his face, I'm sure he's going to say no.
"Um, yeah. OK," he says after a second.
"Great! Let me get your number, and I will call or message you on Saturday morning to let you know when I will be on my way. You can text me the address, and I will pop it into my GPS."
He walks back to the front without saying a word, and I wonder if he's changed his mind. I follow behind him until we are at the front desk and realize he is looking for a pen. He scribbles his number on an old receipt that a customer must have left sitting on the counter. "Here's my number," he says and hands me the slip of paper.
"Thanks." I look back up into his eyes. He's not smiling anymore, and I wonder if I made a mistake by offering to help him. "I'll bring the book with me Saturday, if that's OK?"
"OK," he says, still staring.
"OK," I whisper back.
"I guess I'll be going so you can close up and head home."
"Are you parked close? Will you be alright if I go?"
"OK." He smiles at me, and I realize I totally answered that question the wrong way. "I mean, yeah. Amelia is going to stop here in a few minutes. You better get going. She's an attorney so she will drill you with questions."
"OK," he says and walks toward the door. "Marin?"
"Thanks for your help." And he smiles. And I stop breathing. Then he walks out the door and swiftly down the sidewalk.
I'm counting the register for the third time, to make sure I'm accurate, when a knock on the front door startles me. Looking up, I see Amelia standing there mouthing, "Let me in, dammit!"
I lay the money down and head around the counter to the door. When I unlock it, she barrels through like a bull that was just let out of his stall.
"Jesus, Amelia. What the heck is your hurry?" I go back to organizing the money for the deposit.
"Well, how was it? Is he as hot as I remember?" She waggles her eyebrows like the perv she is sometimes. She flops down on the chair he was sitting on not too long ago.
“It was incredible. He screwed my brains out right there on that chair your ass is taking up space on.”
Her eyeballs about bug out of her head, and I don’t think I have ever seen her more shocked.
“Jesus, Amelia, everything was fine," I answer with a roll of my eyes.
“Wait. So you didn’t fuck him?”
. I don’t even know the guy yet. Besides, I’m not interested in a relationship like that. You know that.”
"So it was just fine."
"Yes, Amelia, it was fine." Trying to ignore her, I straighten out the desk a little more.
"Why are you acting weird?"
"I'm not acting weird. You’re being nosey."
"Well, do I have a reason to be nosey?
something happen? Oh, my god! Something happened."
No. I told you, nothing happened. Now you’re being crazy." She walks around the counter and grabs me by my arm, pulling me back to the chairs that Dalton and I occupied not so long ago.
"Now, talk to me. Be honest."
"I am being honest. It was fine. We chatted, I got him a book, made plans to meet up with him Saturday, and he left." I know she's going to freak so I jump out of my seat to try and get away.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back. Up. What do you mean, made plans? Like a date?"
"God, Amelia, don't be ridiculous. No not a date. I'm not ready for that." I shake my head "I'll never be ready for that."
"Oh, sweetie, don't say that. Benji wouldn't want you to be alone."
"Well, it doesn't really matter what Benji would want, does it?
He's not here
," I shout with venom in my voice.
Unable to handle her for a second longer, I walk back to the office and grab my coat. When I come back out, she has the money bag in her hand and a sad look on her face. Since she lives close to the bank, it's easier for her to drop it off for me.
"Please don't, Amelia. I can't talk about this anymore. I am going to try to move on. To be somewhat happy. But I don't know when or if I will ever be ready to care about another man like that." I flick out all the lights and walk with her to the door. "Dalton is a nice guy. That’s it. If nothing else, maybe I make a new friend. I'm meeting him at this garage on Saturday to help him set up his office computer with what he needs. Just the basics."
We walk out and lock up and head across the street where we are both parked. "Do you want me to come with you? Are you comfortable going there alone?"
Pausing at my car door I think about that for a second. After everything, am I?
"Yeah, I think I am," I tell her.
"OK, chica. Just keep me on speed dial. Call me when you get there and call me when you leave."
"Yes, Mom." She smiles that big, beautiful, Amelia smile.
"Get over here and give me a hug so I can get going. Joey's waiting for me at the apartment."
"Oh?" I grin.