Authors: Laura Jardine
But it was sensible to wait. That’s what he’d been telling himself. Though, he admitted, part of the reason he hadn’t said anything yet was because it scared the shit out of him. Even though he wasn’t the shy boy he used to be, there was something about Maya that made him revert to uncool-teenager mode.
How much would waiting longer really accomplish, though?
Screw the show-don’t-tell crap. She already knew who he was. He would conquer his nerves and do it next weekend. Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to admit his feelings for her. And he wouldn’t do it anonymously this time.
But for now, he tried reverting to friend-who-doesn’t-have-a-crush-on-you mode.
“Well,” he said, “you’re trying to change the parts of your life that you don’t like.”
“Yeah.” She snorted. “By going on a date with a guy who makes microwave-and-rotten-chicken art.”
“You didn’t know that.”
She had a gulp of beer. “Of course, when one meets a financial analyst, one does not assume he’ll leave his job within the next week to become a pretentious douchebag of an artist.”
“I doubt that’ll happen to you again.”
“Probably not. But it makes me wonder what else my dating life has in store for me.”
Well, he had some ideas there.
He looked around the bar and noticed a man in the back corner staring in their direction. Suddenly feeling possessive, he put his arm around Maya and kissed her cheek.
“What was that for?” she asked.
“There’s a guy checking you out. He looks like a jerk, so I wanted to discourage him.”
Maya followed his gaze. “Yeah, he does. Mind you, I have a lot of trouble picking out the good guys. It might work out better if I date the guys who look like assholes to me.”
“But would you really want to go out with someone who you think looks like an asshole?”
She smiled faintly, and something in him clenched.
How had it taken him so long to realize how he felt?
* * * *
It must be because they were tipsy. That’s what Maya blamed it on.
After stumbling out of the bar, they found themselves in the alley behind it. Kissing. She was against the brick wall of the building, and his hands were on the wall on either side of her head. Was Liam the one who’d got them here, or had she started it? She didn’t think it was her, but she wasn’t sure. Everything was a little hazy.
That wasn’t all because of the alcohol; part of it was because of the kiss.
Only their lips were touching. Nothing else. Something about that was particularly thrilling. And they were in an alley.
She felt naughty, and she liked that.
That’s why she’d dated bad boys when she was younger. But apparently she could feel this way with a sweet high school math teacher as well. Who would have thought?
His mouth closed over hers again and again, the angle changing slightly each time. And every time, he tasted different. This time it was beer; the next it was salt. Then ketchup—they’d ordered duck fat fries. Then strawberry jam.
Strawberry jam? She was losing it. She was really losing it. That’s what this kiss was doing to her.
She kept kissing him, not wanting to break contact.
It was a chilly day in early February, the temperature well below freezing. They were both wearing down jackets and toques and gloves. Icy snow crunched beneath their feet.
But she was focused on the one place where they were joined. It was all okay when he kissed her. She dimly remembered that she had some problems, that she’d felt the need to do a shot when she walked into the bar, but that didn’t matter anymore.
After a long time of just their lips and tongues touching, he cupped her ass and brought her toward him. Although he was wearing a lot of clothing, she could tell he was hard.
He began to kiss her in other places. Her cheeks, which were quite cold. Her throat, the base of her neck. He didn’t go any further than that; the rest of her was bundled up. And everywhere he kissed, she was colder afterward as the wind touched her wet skin. But that was okay. Maya didn’t mind. Her eyes were closed, and it was just the two of them that mattered.
Until she heard laughter. The sound pierced her ears, it was like a goddamn hyena. Her eyes flew open, and she tilted her head, trying to look past Liam.
There was a young couple, intruding on their moment. Damn teenagers. Liam turned his head and muttered a curse as the kids fell against the wall, only a few feet away.
She couldn’t go back to tasting strawberry jam and salt and beer and thinking the combination was delicious.
But the kiss had filled her with that strange thing called hope. She could find a guy who turned her on, whose kisses made her forget everything around her, and he could be a good person, too. It might be possible, even though her dating history would suggest otherwise.
Liam always made her feel better about things.
She thought he would ask her to come home with him, but he didn’t. He simply walked her to the subway and gave her a peck on the cheek before he departed.
She watched him head down the street, aching for more. Why hadn’t she suggested it? Maybe because, torturous as it was, she liked the anticipation she felt for Sunday afternoon.
Maya had told Allison that she didn’t miss dating, but that wasn’t true. She missed how everything seemed to glow after a wonderful first date. And she was feeling that way right now.
Oh, God. She was such a sap.
And this was
. She didn’t even want to date Liam.
But she couldn’t help liking the way he made her feel.
The staff shouted in greeting when Maya walked in. She suppressed a groan. Why had she let herself be talked into izakaya?
Ah, yes. Because it was Allison’s birthday, and this was where Allison wanted to go.
Maya didn’t know if it was just this particular place, or whether customers were greeted this way at all izakaya restaurants. Japanese food wasn’t her thing—especially the raw fish part—and this was the only izakaya restaurant she’d been to. She didn’t intend to change that.
Kristy waved to her from a table on the right, and Maya walked over to join her friends and their boyfriends, Grant and Sidney. She was the only one who was alone, as usual.
Right. She was going to try not to play the role of bitter sister/friend.
Too bad she was so good at it.
She sat down beside Kristy and after a couple of minutes of conversation, looked at her menu.
“We already ordered, since you were running late,” Allison said. “We’re sharing, right? So all you have to figure out is your drink. And yes, we took your fussy eating habits into account.”
“I’m not fussy,” Maya protested. “I just don’t like—”
“Fish. I know.”
“Hey, it’s not all fish I have a problem with.” The blackened catfish she’d had on her date with Tyler, for example—that had been delicious. Pity about the company. “Just when it’s served raw. I’m not the only person who doesn’t like raw fish.”
Allison glanced around the restaurant. “You’re a young woman in Toronto. There are probably more Japanese restaurants than Japanese people in this city. Come on. Everyone likes sushi.”
“I’m not sure I qualify as ‘young’ anymore,” Maya grumbled.
Time for some alcohol. She picked up the drinks menu, then picked up an edamame pod and slid the beans out with her teeth.
This wasn’t her favorite place, what with the awkward greeting you received when you walked in the door, plus the excessive amount of raw fish on the menu. But it was nice inside, all black and white. Simple but still classy. And lest anyone think she was all about appearances, the drinks were good too.
She’d just figured out what to order when someone cleared his throat behind her.
Maya jerked her head up. A waiter stood near the table, holding out a glass with light yellow liquid.
“Excuse me,” he said. “This is from the gentleman in the blue shirt at the bar.”
She looked at the man the waiter was pointing to. He waved.
Well, that was flattering. She couldn’t help but feel a little pleased. And surprised. This had never happened to her before.
“You have to go over there,” Kristy said.
to do anything.” Maya was seriously considering it, however.
“But you should. He had the waiter bring you a drink. It’s your move now.”
The man at the bar was a little far away. Although she couldn’t see him very well, he had potential. Tall, a little lanky. Blond hair. He raised his glass in her direction.
“He looks young,” said Sidney, who was sitting at the corner of the table closest to the bar.
“I guess I’ll have to find out.”
She felt a tremor of excitement, and some of the hope that had bubbled up after Liam’s kiss yesterday. But given her luck, the guy was probably a complete creep or an artist who worked exclusively with nail guns. At least she was surrounded by lots of people, and her friends weren’t too far away.
She walked toward the bar, drink in hand. As she got closer, she could see that Sidney was right. The guy
look quite young, and she was a little confused by his interest.
“Hey,” he said. “You like the drink?”
She had a sip. Something fruity, but she’d never been good at picking out flavors. It was certainly good, though. “Yes. I do.”
“That one’s my favorite.” He smiled at her. He had the kind of winning smile that probably helped him get away with anything. “Here. You can sit down.”
He stood and she took his seat, glad to get off her feet since she was wearing boots with a not-insignificant heel.
“I’m Caiden.” He extended his hand.
She shook it. “I’m Maya.”
“Maya,” he repeated.
“You going to say it’s a pretty name?”
One side of his mouth kicked up. “Actually, I was.”
She laughed. “Go ahead and say it.”
“I won’t bother now. But I’ll say that I noticed you as soon as you walked in the door. You look even more beautiful up close, without the big winter jacket.”
It was nice to be charmed by a guy.
“You’re here with friends?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She tilted her head in the direction of their table. “It’s my friend Allison’s birthday.”
This was followed by several seconds of awkward silence. Well, silence between the two of them. There was still the sound of glasses clinking, of people talking all around them.
Caiden raked a hand through his hair. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Bought a drink for a woman and asked the waiter to send it over, you mean?”
“Yeah. But when I saw you, I couldn’t help it. I thought this way, I’d give you the choice of whether you wanted to come over. Maybe you have a boyfriend or husband.” He lifted a shoulder and shrugged.
Okay, he was kind of adorable. She wasn’t sure how old he was, but he looked about the age of her brother Max, and Max was twenty-five. Young, but not unreasonably so.
“No,” she said. “I’m single.”
Now do something stupid. If you’re hitting on me, there’s got to be something wrong with you. Show me what it is sooner rather than later.
Shouldn’t she try to keep an open mind, though? She’d known Caiden all of two minutes. She shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
“Are you here by yourself?” she asked.
“I’m waiting for a friend, but he texted me to say he’ll be late. You been here before?”
“I really like this place.”
“It’s not bad.” She had a sip of her drink then set it down on the bar. “I’d like it better if I didn’t hate sashimi.”
“You hate sashimi?” He put a hand to his heart and opened his mouth, as though offended. She laughed. “There’s nothing quite like raw tuna.”
“I agree. There’s nothing like raw tuna. Unfortunately, coming from me, that’s not a compliment.”
There was an uncomfortable pause after that, but her heart melted—just a teeny tiny bit—when he looked at her from under his too-long hair and smiled.
“What do you do?” he said. “As a job, I mean.”
“I’m an accountant.”
He leaned toward her as though quite taken with her answer, which made no goddamn sense. “That’s fascinating.”
“Really? Or are you going to ask me to do your taxes for free?”
“Do people ask you that a lot?”
“All the time. It gets old.”
“Lucky for you—and for me, I guess—I have no intention of asking you to do my taxes. My father always does them for me.”
“So you actually find accounting fascinating?”
He looked a little sheepish. “No. I just find people with real careers interesting. I’m still in school. Most of the people I know are students.”
She had the sudden fear that he was younger than twenty-five. “What are you studying?” she asked.
“Are you a grad student?”
Caiden laughed. “No, I’m in second year.”
And she doubted he’d taken a few years off to “find himself” before going to university. “Are you even old enough to drink?” She nodded at the glass in his hand.
He pulled out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license.
Yes, he was old enough to drink. Barely. He was nineteen, and that was the legal drinking age in Ontario.
. A teenage boy was hitting on her.
This hadn’t happened in over a decade.
And that killed any attraction she felt for Caiden. He was way too young. She preferred men her own age. A little younger was fine. But she couldn’t imagine dating someone who was still in undergrad, who was twelve years younger than her. Who’d been a small child when she was his age.
Yeah, not happening.
She couldn’t help but be curious, though. Why was he into her?
She handed back his driver’s license. “What do you plan to do after you graduate?”
He shrugged. “Not sure. Possibly law school. How long have you been an accountant?”
“Almost ten years.”
“Wow. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that. Ten years of doing one thing. That’s cool.”
“Caiden, why did you buy me a drink?”