Authors: T. K. Leigh
“See,” he said, snapping me back to reality and away from mentally undressing him in my mind. I had read my fair share of romance novels. All the leading men seemed to have a six-pack and a V that disappeared below their shorts. I imagined this man was endowed with such a physique. That was how I pictured him in my mind, anyway.
Removing the tissues from his face, he continued, “It stops as soon as it starts.”
I studied his nose. Just moments ago, a gush of blood was running down his face. Now there was nothing, other than a few streaks of dried blood. My gaze roamed from his nose to his gray-blue eyes that seemed to dance with amusement. My uncle always said you could tell a lot about a person from their eyes. I didn’t know if that were true or not, but I got the feeling this was a man who didn’t take anything in life too seriously, who was just along for the ride, letting the journey take him where it should.
“This was certainly an unexpected way to wake me up before I’ve even had my morning coffee,” he added when I remained silent. If I were him, I would have questioned my ability to form a basic sentence. Raising his eyebrows, he crossed his arms in front of his chest.
Tearing my eyes from his, my face burned with embarrassment. “I don’t know which is worse,” I began, trying to act like the twenty-eight-year-old woman I was, and not the thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who was drooling all over Logan Benson, the new kid who had just moved to our small town from Atlanta. All the girls seemed to lose half their brain cells whenever he was near, myself included. “My dog humping yours, me breaking your nose, or all of this happening before you’ve even had a chance to have your morning coffee.”
A playful smile crossed his face and I couldn’t help but stare. Truthfully, it was more like gawking with a hint of drooling. A bit of scruff covered his chin and upper lip. The combination of the cargo shorts and olive-colored t-shirt brought forward all sorts of fantasies of this man having been deployed on a secret mission for the past week, just now returning to civilization. My imagination ran wild with various scenarios involving loaded weapons, zip ties, and rope.
That was what six months without getting laid can do to a girl.
“I think it’s the combination of all three that really makes this a day I’ll not soon forget,” he commented.
“Grenade launcher,” I mumbled, still lost in my fantasy world.
“Nothing,” I answered quickly, cringing that my internal thoughts didn’t stay that way. “Why don’t you let me buy you a coffee? It’s the least I can do for assaulting you.”
“You don’t have to,” he insisted. “Really. It’s no big deal.”
“Well, if you won’t let me buy you a coffee, how about you point me in the direction of the nearest Starbucks? I just moved and all my stuff is still in boxes, coffee maker included.”
“I’ll do you one better. I’ll show you myself. I’m a bit jet-lagged from getting in late last night and could use the caffeine.”
I opened my mouth to protest.
“This way,” he directed before I could say anything, heading south.
Frozen in place, I was dumbfounded as to why a man I had given a bloody nose to would go out of his way to walk with me to the closest coffee shop. Was he a serial killer? Would he abduct me and take me to his secret lair? He didn’t exactly look like a mass murderer. Then again, neither did Ted Bundy.
“Are you coming?” He glanced over his shoulder, winking.
His wink was like pancakes on a Saturday morning.
His wink was like watermelon on a hot summer day.
His wink was like sniffing your dog’s paws… Okay, that one may not sound too enticing, but trust me. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
His wink made me forget all about him being a potential serial killer.
“Not yet, but there’s still time for that,” I muttered as I caught up to him, tugging Sport with me. We walked along the ocean for a while, then the Santa Monica Pier came into view. A lightness ran through my chest at the idea that I was here, that I set out to do something and I actually followed through. No one had talked me out of it. No one had given me a guilt trip about being selfish. I was in charge of my own destiny for the first time since I could remember.
“What kind of dog is she?” I asked, breaking the silence. It seemed awkward to me. Silence always had that effect on me. It made me nervous.
“She’s a labrador-boxer mix. She’s probably got some other stuff mixed in, but that’s what they figured at the shelter when I adopted Gidget.”
“Gidget?” I stopped abruptly. “Is that seriously your dog’s name?”
He faced me and shrugged, running his fingers through his light brown hair. “What can I say? I’m a sucker for old beach movies and Sandra Dee.”
I eyed him suspiciously. Part of me wondered if Will had bribed this guy to spy on me, but I knew he wouldn’t care enough to do so. All he cared about after I left was getting his dog back, and I had already put my foot down on that matter. He was an unfit parent.
“What?” he pushed when I remained silent. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Sorry,” I responded, continuing down the path once more. “You just seem too young to like that movie. I remember watching it with my dad when I was a little girl and dreaming of having my own surf shack on the beach, although I doubt I’d have the coordination to surf.”
“I may have dressed up as
Big Kahuna for Halloween when I was ten.”
I laughed. “I wanted to be Gidget one year, but she was blonde,” I admitted, gesturing to my red hair. “So I was relegated to being Annie. You seem to be more like Moondoggie, if you ask me.”
He stopped walking and stared at me, his lips turned up at the corners, a small, but heartwarming smile drawn on his mouth. “Who
you? I didn’t think anyone else liked that movie. At least no one our age.”
“Hey!” I punched him playfully. “Don’t assume we’re the same age.”
“Fine. How old are you?”
I gasped in faux shock. “Didn’t your mother teach you it’s rude to ask a lady her age?” I played up my southern accent and bat my eyelashes. “Especially a complete stranger?”
“Oh, she raised me to be a perfect gentleman,” he responded as we came to a stop at a crosswalk by the pier. “But there’s a time and a place for everything.” He took a step closer.
My entire body flamed from the way he was gazing at me, as if I were a meal and he had gone hungry for days. “Don’t you think?” He raised his eyebrows and licked his lips, surveying my petite frame. I would have given anything to know what he was thinking at that moment. I was pretty sure it wasn’t about the upcoming Presidential election.
“Yes.” I swallowed hard, backing against a metal pole. I had nowhere to go as he drew closer and closer. My heart thumped in my chest, and I couldn’t help but think that LA was a
friendly town. Or maybe my original gut instinct was right and he
Ted Bundy’s protégé. His breath whispered against my neck as he leaned toward me, his arm reaching for my waist. He pressed the WALK request button on the pole and stepped back.
I took a deep breath, trying to get my raging hormones under control. I had no idea if this guy was flirting with me or if I was so sexually deprived, I was making it all up in my head. I was starting to lean toward the latter.
“So you just moved to town?” he inquired as if nothing had just almost transpired between us. “Where were you living before then?”
“North Carolina,” I squeaked out, questioning my sanity.
“Why the change of scenery? New job?”
He smiled. “Nice. I like that.”
The crosswalk signal changed and we walked across the street, the background noise of cars honking and crashing ocean waves filling in the silence. Approaching our destination, he turned to me. “Why don’t you wait out here with the dogs while I run in to clean up and grab our coffees?” He handed me Gidget’s leash and led me toward a small table on the sidewalk.
“I offered to buy
a coffee and now you’re getting
one?” I placed my hand on my hip and gave him an incredulous, albeit playful look. “Doesn’t seem fair, if you ask me.”
ask you,” he responded slyly, turning from me and heading into the small shop.
I lowered myself to the chair, fighting back my smile, and turned my eyes to the street, soaking in everything about my new hometown. The Santa Monica Pier was visible just a block or so away, tourists already beginning their day as they strolled along the boardwalk. Men and women in business attire entered and exited the coffee shop like a revolving door, obviously needing their caffeine fix to start their day. Sport and Gidget simply curled up at my feet, sniffing each other. Dogs were such basic creatures. A simple butt sniff was all it took.
“Hope you like Americanos,” a voice interrupted. “That’s what I got.”
“I’m not picky when it comes to caffeine.” I turned my attention to see my new friend take the seat opposite me. “And after driving across the country, I’ve sworn to never take a good, strong cup of coffee for granted again.”
Taking a sip, he then placed his cup on the table between us and leaned back into the chair, crossing his arms over his chest. His muscles stretched the fabric of his shirt slightly. It wasn’t in such a way that I thought he was about to rip his shirt off and announce to the world that he was the Incredible Hulk. It was just enough so I knew he cared about his body.
“You drove across the country?” he asked, cutting through my thoughts about whether the Hulk was green all over…including you know where.
“I’ve always wanted to do it, and I knew I may never get the opportunity again. Since I’m all about having a new adventure, I figured starting with a cross-country drive was perfect. Sure, I could have just as easily flown and had my car shipped, but that sounded boring. I even spray-painted my name on a car at the Cadillac Ranch in Texas.”
“You’re definitely not like a lot of people I know, Dixie,” he commented, taking another sip of his coffee.
“Yeah. That accent of yours… It’s cute.” He beamed the most amazing smile at me, his lips full, his eyes brimming with amusement.
Heat flamed my face and my heart fluttered uncontrollably, all because of a knee-weakening look from an attractive man. Taking a deep breath, I once more tried to calm the hormones raging inside me from my lack of intimacy over the past six months. Of course, it had been at least five years since I really felt fulfilled from sex. I had relied on myself to take the edge off when needed. Life with Will was all about Will…in his job and in the bedroom. Now that I was completely unattached and in a brand new place, I was like a lioness in heat, ready to pounce on the first attractive man who so much as looked at me in any way that might indicate a modicum of interest.
“So what’s your deal?” I asked, focusing the conversation on him instead. “You mentioned you were jet-lagged from flying in late last night. Work or pleasure?”
“I was out of town on a shoot.”
“You’re, like, an actor or something, aren’t you? You’re too pretty not to be.”
He laughed, the sound warm and comforting. “No, I’m not an actor, but thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Then what do you do?”
“I’m a producer.”
I put my hands up. “Please don’t say you’re an associate producer because I’ve seen
State and Main
and I know all about how an associate producer credit is something you give to someone instead of a raise.”
He scrunched his eyebrows. “You’ve seen
State and Main
“Of course! One of my favorite last lines of any movie.”
He laughed even louder. “We are oddly similar.” Our eyes met, an awkward silence stretching between us.
Out of nowhere, my phone began ringing, the sound of Kenny Loggins’ “Mr. Night” blaring.
“Big fan of
?” He raised his eyebrows.
I smiled. “A little.” I grabbed my phone out of my bag, scowling when Will’s face appeared on the screen. I knew he was only calling to convince me to bring Sport back to him once again. One thing was certain. He was a persistent bastard.
“Don’t let me keep you.”
“You’re not keeping—”
“I need to get my day started anyway.” He got up from the chair and grabbed his dog’s leash. Holding his free hand out to me, I placed mine in his. I held my breath when his skin met mine. “It was great having you ‘bump’ into me, Dixie. It’s truly a meeting I’ll never forget.” His gentle touch was everything I imagined it would be. Soft. Comforting. Warm. Inviting. Then he winked and walked away.
“Goodbye, Moondoggie,” I mumbled, slumping into my chair, enjoying the view of his breathtaking backside. It was better than any glimmering ocean view I’d ever seen.
I bolted upright. “Shit! I never even found out his name!” Sport cocked his head at me. “I guess you don’t have those kinds of problems, do you, buddy? As long as her butt smells good, you couldn’t care less about whether she has a name or not, do you?”
He leaned his head on my leg, allowing me to pet him. Part of me was upset I didn’t find out more information about my mystery man. For the briefest of moments, I felt a connection to this complete stranger…one stronger than I thought possible after a fleeting encounter. Or maybe I simply imagined it. Even before my marriage ended, I had been alone. It was entirely reasonable that my mind was playing tricks on me, wasn’t it?
Alone at my table, an emptiness seeped in. I glanced around, envious of couples and friends laughing over their morning cups of coffee. I knew absolutely no one in this town, aside from a stranger with gray-blue eyes whom I assaulted and then never found out his name. The doubt I had kept at bay over the past month was returning and I needed to hear some encouraging words about how to start a brand new life.
Picking up my phone, I called my uncle, the only family I really had left, desperate to hear him tell me how proud he was of me, how he knew it was time for me to finally spread my wings and fly. Instead, all I got was his secretary telling me he was in court all day. Sighing, I threw my phone into my bag, stopping when my eyes fell on a leather-bound journal. I was reminded of the day I left North Carolina and the conversation I had with my uncle.