Two days later, I was sitting at the coffee shop waiting for Vincent. I had chosen my usual corner table and was settled into the seat with our drinks. I stared out the window, watching the rain drizzle lightly on the ground, and doing my best to ignore all of the patrons around me. I really preferred the coffee shop in the winter; there were fewer people. When the bell on the door jingled, I looked over, hoping Vincent was actually on time for once.
Instead, it was Hunter who strolled in, his hair and shoulders damp from the rain. He went straight to the counter where Carol pointed him to my table. They exchanged a few words quietly, as Carol nodded, then he turned to me. I watched him approach, staring as drips of water traced from his hair down his neck.
“Hey, beautiful.” He stopped in front of me. The corner of his mouth turned up in a smile as he caught me watching him. He reached out and handed me a pink rose he’d pulled out of nowhere. Or maybe he’d been carrying it blatantly in front of him the entire time, and I was too busy admiring his damp skin. Maybe.
Narrowing my eyes at him suspiciously, I asked, “What is that?”
“I believe it’s called a flower.”
I screwed my face up at it. “Why are you handing it to me?”
“I was hoping it would make you smile.”
He stood there for a minute, the offering outreached to me. When I didn’t take it, he sat it down on my table. “Why are you always so difficult?” he asked.
“Natural talent,” I responded, eyeing the flower. “How did you know I was here?”
“A little birdie told me you’re a caffeine addict.” He smiled as I stared at him for the point of his statement, adding, “I bribed Carol to text me next time you were here.”
Well, that isn’t creepy at all. I looked accusingly at Carol who stood across the room, where she had been watching the entire exchange like some romance channel special. When she saw the look on my face, she quickly spun around and busied herself cleaning something.
I was going to have to find a new coffee shop. While I was grimacing up at Hunter, Vincent finally approached. He popped a brightly colored umbrella closed with his right hand. In his other hand was a large pastry box, bearing the logo for the bakery across the street. Vincent had expertly styled black hair and dark brown eyes, although they were currently hidden under a pair of sunglasses. The sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up, showing part of his tattoos. The dark lines hinted at the full images, but no one besides me would have recognized the angel and demon on each of his forearms. Not without the full images exposed. They were morose and disturbing, a complete contrast to their host. Always the paradox, my Vincent.
“Hey, love.” He walked right past Hunter without so much as a glance, placing the box on the table. “Aww, you brought me a rose. How thoughtful,” he said, as he pulled the strap from his leather laptop bag over his head.
I laughed and stood to accept a hug. As Vincent released me and moved to take a chair at the table, I caught sight of Hunter watching him intently. His posture had changed. No longer relaxed and fluid, he stood completely still. His jaw was tight as he looked Vincent up and down, weighing the other man. I smirked at the jealousy rolling off him. Vincent always had a natural talent of making other guys feel inadequate. I hadn’t expected Hunter to be that susceptible to it, however. Not with how arrogant he was.
“I didn’t realize you were seeing someone,” he said curtly.
“She’s not,” Vincent piped in. I glared at him before looking back at Hunter.
Hunter gave Vincent a confused look. When he caught me watching, he shook off his expression, his usual flirtatious guise settling back in place. “Then why does he get a hug and I don’t?” he asked.
I snorted. “For starters, he brought me food. Not dying vegetation.”
Hunter smiled then. “If you wanted me to take you to dinner, you just had to say so.”
“Not what I meant,” I said, as I sat back down.
Vincent was watching us both quietly as he sipped the drink that had been waiting for him, the sunglasses now hanging from the front of his shirt.
Hunter leaned on the table, his hands inches away from where I held my cup. I looked up into his eyes, which held no teasing now. “Look, all you have to do is say you’re not interested. Tell me you don’t want me to take you out. I’ll walk away and never bother you again.”
As I opened my mouth to tell him to get lost, he interrupted me. “I mean it, Senlis. Say no, and I’m not asking again.”
My heart was starting to race from the closeness of him. I stared into his face for a moment, admiring him leaning over the table. Then said, “No.”
He lowered his head for a second, then pushed off the table. “Fine,” he said softly, and without another word he turned and walked away. I watched him walk out the door, my pulse filling my eardrums.
As the door closed behind him, I heard, “Are you stupid?”
I turned to see Vincent leaning back in his seat, his drink cradled in his hands. “What?” I asked.
“Did I just watch you tell that guy no?”
I blew air out of my mouth and ran my fingers through my hair. “Don’t start, Vincent.”
He touched my arm. His skin was warm and comforting, but I had years of practice blocking his energy, so it was just that. “You looked at that guy like you were going to drink him down. If you don’t go after him and tell him you were delusional and to take you now, I’m going to do it for you.”
“You aren’t seriously suggesting this?” I hoped my voice only held shock, and not the extreme amount of embarrassment I felt at his ability to read me. I waved my hand toward the door. “You saw what he’s like. I don’t have enough patience to keep putting him in his place.”
“I have never known you to be interested in anyone. This is not the time to be prude, Sen.”
I stared into his serious eyes for a second. Debating what a terrible idea this was.
“Go!” He nudged my arm.
Nervously, I got up and walked out the door, heading in the direction Hunter had gone. Luckily, the rain had almost stopped at this point. I turned the corner around the shops, berating myself for listening to Vincent, when I saw Hunter in the parking lot. He was standing next to a parked motorcycle, one hand gripping the throttle and the other on the seat. His shoulders were hunched as he stood there, thrumming with frustration.
“Hunter?” I said his name quietly as I approached.
He turned, a look of surprise on his face. Then he furrowed his eyebrows. “Yes?”
I stared at my feet for a second, trying to figure out how to restart the conversation. Finally, closing my eyes and letting out a heavy breath, I said, “Actually, dinner would be nice.”
He paused, cautiously. “Really? You’re going to let me take you out for a meal?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “If you still want to. I know you said in there if I my answer was no, that was it, so…” I trailed off.
He took a step toward me, smiling. “Yeah, I said that… but I was hoping you wouldn’t test my resolve.”
I smiled back, then nodded at the motorcycle behind him. “Definitely not a pick-up.”
He let out a deep laugh. “No, definitely not. You want a ride?” He held his hand out to me, smiling flirtatiously, as if he was offering more than a seat on his vehicle.
I scoffed. “No, thanks. I’m not getting on that death trap.”
“I take it you want to pick me up tonight then?”
“Tonight?” I stammered.
“Yes, I know what you meant. I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so soon.” I chewed on my bottom lip. “Alright.” Pulling out my phone I asked, “Can you text me the address?”
We exchanged numbers and his address. “I’ll pick you up at six?” I asked.
He nodded then gave me another big smile “How about a hug before I get on my death trap? You never know what could happen.”
Shaking my head, I turned and walked away, leaving him laughing behind me. Part of me was excited I had taken Vincent’s advice. The sane part of me thought this was a terrible idea. I should not have let myself be swayed into this so easily. He was awful pretty to look at, though. At least, if I sat across from him at a table for dinner, I could admire him all I wanted without having to worry about constantly avoiding his overt attempts to touch me. If I could keep a safe enough distance, I didn’t even really mind the flirting. The way one side of his mouth quirked up every time he said something teasing made a flutter in my chest. Did I really just think the word “flutter”? Heaven help me, this was definitely a terrible idea.
Lost in my thoughts, I turned toward the front of the coffee shop. As I took the sharp corner, I collided into someone. The body in front of me was tall enough I had face planted into his chest. Luckily, he had instinctively moved his coffee cup out and away from us, to keep from spilling it. Startled, I looked up into an equally surprised face. Blue eyes looked down at me from under raised eyebrows, and he put a hand up to steady me.
“You okay?” he asked.
Embarrassed, I felt a rush of anxiety spread through me. “I’m so sorry,” I gushed, looking down to avoid his face. I pulled away, side stepping him. “Really, sorry,” I added as I walked around him, carefully this time.
He just chuckled, “No problem,” and shook his head at me as he continued on his way.
I scurried back to Vincent. I really hoped he hadn’t seen that through any of the windows.
As I walked back inside, Vincent was leaning forward on his elbows with his face in his hands. He grinned at me as I strode toward the table, shaking my head.
“What are you smiling about?” I asked him as I took my seat.
“Did you kiss and makeup?” His voice had a playful lilt to it. Oh good, he didn’t see me plow someone over on the sidewalk. The day was looking up.
“No,” I scowled at him.
“Oh, come on, Sen.” He let out a groan and leaned back in his chair. “You turned him down again?”
I shook my head. “We’re going to dinner, tonight,” I admitted.
“The boy works fast. I like it.”
“You have no idea,” I breathed. I wrapped my fingers protectively around my drink as Vincent pulled a delicious smelling cheese danish out of the box for me.
“How did the two of you meet?” he asked, as he surveyed his selection of sugary treats.
“Here, actually. Katie is infatuated with his younger brother. They were all congregating here when I came in.”
“Oh, the famous Katie!” Vincent exclaimed happily. “So, I have her to thank for this as well!”
“What else are you thanking her for?”
“Mmm.” He put a finger up at me as he chewed his pastry and reached down into his bag. “The plates were a hit.”
“What plates?” I asked.
“Uhm, your strip from this weekend?” He pulled his laptop out. “They’re blowing up. Everyone’s responded to the comments with pictures of the plates and their own captions. Do you even look at your site if I don’t force you?” he chastised me.
I side-eyed him. “No.”
Vincent shook his head and pulled up the page. Sure enough, there were hundreds of comments. “Wow.”
“I’m going to make t-shirts.” He made a few clicks with the track pad and pulled up a mock shirt design.
I shook my head in disbelief. “Well, okay then.”
“I’ll make sure Katie gets the first one,” he offered.
I smiled. “I think she’ll love that.”
“So, does Mr.-Just-Tell-Me-And-I’m-Out-Of-Here have a name?”
I rolled my eyes. “Hunter.”
“And Hunter became this enraptured from one coffee meeting?” Vincent eyed me doubtfully.
“The plot thickens.” He leaned forward on his elbows again.
I huffed. There was no way out of this conversation short of attempting to run out the door. And I was pretty sure Vincent could catch me. “I saw him again when I went with Katie to a small rager. He’s not great at minding his personal space.”
“Wait, what do you mean a rager?”
I took a big drink from my nearly empty cup. “It’s this crazy thing. They use some app to share location hints and everyone invited has to guess the location based on images. It’s like an adult version of a search and find book.”
“Sen, what are you doing going to something like that?” His voice was alarmed.
“I know it sounds really juvenile and believe me it is,” I shrugged. “But it’s mostly college students and I didn’t want Katie to go alone.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” He shook his head at me with a vexed look. “Have you still not watched my last stream?”
I wiggled in my seat. “No, sorry. What does that have to do with parties?”
“Girls are going missing from them.”
I sat up straight. “How do you know it’s the same party?”
“I don’t, but the set-up sounds the same. If you get invited again, you need to take me.”
“What? Why the hell would I go again?” I asked incredulously.
“Because, this would be a major story to leak, and you love me that much?”
I grimaced, “I may love you, but I don’t know if it’s enough to repeatedly subject myself to this.”
“Yes, you do,” he said, very matter of fact. “Just promise you won’t crash any more of them without me?” he asked.
I made a cross motion over my heart. “Easily done. I didn’t really want to go to the first one.”
He nodded, then pulled up a spreadsheet. Oh, no. He was going to make me look at numbers. Seeing my dismay, he shook his head. “Yes, you may get more caffeine before we start.” I kissed his cheek and waved at Carol as I headed to the counter. I did love Vincent, but I really hated budgets. Why did he insist on making me adult?
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