After several minutes of deep breathing and repeated counts to ten, the delicious smell of freshly roasted coffee and pastries wafted in through the half-open window and permeated his angry fog. Jamie opened his eyes and looked around. He’d somehow ended up across the street from Amy’s Book Shoppe.
He could see her through the window, moving behind the counter, little more than a flash of chestnut hair as she took care of her customers. He remembered her easy smile, sympathetic eyes, and that way she had of making people feel welcome.
Before he realized what he was doing, a trio of little bells over the entrance was heralding his arrival.
The interior was reminiscent of a sidewalk café in France: airy, cozy, and subtly romantic. Not crowded, but about half of the small, round tables were occupied. A woman in a power suit sipped a frothy concoction while reviewing some kind of document, occasionally jotting a note in the margins. Two teenagers, dressed in black, sat across from each other, intent on their iPhones. In the corner, an elderly man sat with a massive black Labrador at his feet, reading the paper (the man, not the dog).
There was only one person at the counter: a guy about his age, dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved t-shirt that looked two sizes too small. The tight fit emphasized his broad shoulders and a muscular upper body, which was obviously his intent.
Jamie’s first impression was that the guy didn’t seem to be the type who would frequent a book shop café. Comprehension dawned when Amy turned around to get a fresh carafe and the guy’s eyes fixed on her shapely behind.
The guy’s gaze flicked upwards when she turned around again, but not before Amy caught him ogling. Judging by the way her lips curled down at the corners, his interest was neither welcome nor appreciated.
Strangely enough, Jamie didn’t care for it much, either.
“Jamie!” Amy called in greeting when she spotted him. Her mouth curved into a genuine smile. Was that relief he saw in her eyes?
“Hi Amy,” he said, taking a seat at the counter. He felt the scowl shot his way by Joey Pecs (as he’d mentally dubbed too-small-t-shirt-guy), but didn’t bother acknowledging it. Jamie was used to dealing with Kyle, and Kyle was a hell of a lot more intimidating than some protein-loading gym rat.
“The usual?” Amy asked brightly.
Since he’d only been in the shop twice – one brief visit with Kyle and then a solo stop later to get some answers — her question surprised him. She met his eyes and waited expectantly until the light bulb in his head finally flicked on.
He gave her what he hoped was a believable smile in return. “Yeah, that would be great, thanks.”
Amy busied herself with the impressive-looking machine behind her, then placed a cup in front of him.
“I added an extra shot of espresso, so you don’t nod off halfway through the movie this time,” she told him with a grin.
He chuckled, playing along. “Yeah, sorry about that.”
“No worries.” Amy hovered close to him. “That shirt looks awesome on you, by the way. I knew it would the moment I saw it in the store.”
Jamie nearly choked on his drink, but thankfully, kept it together. He could feel Joey Pecs’s scowl darken before the guy threw a couple of bills down on the table and walked out.
“Thank you. Have a nice day!” she called out cheerfully.
The smile faded from Amy’s face. “Thank you,” she told him earnestly, her shoulders sagging in relief. “That guy just didn’t want to take no for an answer.”
“Glad I could help.” Jamie nodded. Help. That’s what nice guys did, right?
She slid a small ceramic plate in front of him. He looked down into a delicious looking cream cheese and pineapple Danish. “On the house.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“I know it’s not necessary. It’s a thank you, okay? Just go with it.”
Until then he hadn’t had much of an appetite. His stomach had been twisted in knots. Apparently playing the hero loosened up a few of them, and it did smell awfully good. Normally, he didn’t indulge in sweets, but he didn’t want to offend her. He broke off a piece with his fork and brought it to his lips. The flaky pastry melted in his mouth. As good as it smelled, it tasted even better.
“I take it you heard the news, huh?” she asked, not unkindly.
Was he? He felt betrayed. Blindsided. His male ego wasn’t just in bruised, it had been shredded and tossed in the toilet. Self-doubt reared its ugly head again, bringing with it a litany of the same questions he’d been asking himself ad nauseum: Where had he gone wrong? What could he have said or done differently?
Warmth seeped in where her small hand rested over his. “It’s nothing you did, Jamie,” she said quietly as if reading his mind. “Those two were meant to be together.”
He snorted softly and broke off another piece of the Danish. He didn’t want to hear any more about insta-love or croies or any of that other crap. Solid, lasting relationships were not based on a flare of lust or a flash of black leather and the rumble of a Harley. They took time and effort, and God knew, he’d put a hell of a lot more time and effort into his relationship with Celina than Kyle had.
Jamie opened his mouth to say so but changed his mind when he looked into Amy’s clear hazel eyes. Flecks of gold sparkled with the ridiculous notion of romantic fantasy. Hey, if she wanted to believe in all that fated soul-mate stuff, he wasn’t going to be the insensitive dick who burst her bubble.
He couldn’t completely withhold his scowl, though. Amy pulled her hand away with an apologetic look and went to ring up a customer.
Shit. Had she thought he was angry with her? He was really batting a thousand today, wasn’t he?
He needed to tone down the glower. Amy didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of his bad attitude; she’d been nothing but kind to him.
He watched her out of his peripheral vision as she moved with an easy grace behind the counter. She had a quiet confidence about her. A smile and a nice word for everyone – even the tool who’d been hitting on her. Because of that, these last five minutes had been the best part of his rotten day. He wasn’t particularly anxious to leave, either.
“So, what are we seeing tonight?” he asked on a sudden impulse when she returned with a fresh cup of coffee. He wasn’t sure what kind it was, but it was rich and bold, just as he liked it.
She blinked in confusion, then a pretty, rose-colored blush tinted her cheeks. “Oh, I didn’t mean…” she grinned shyly, revealing a hint of a dimple. It was kind of adorable, really. “It was a clutch call on my part.”
Yeah, he knew. But the thought of seeing a movie with her seemed a hell of a lot better than going back to his place alone and sharing his sorrow with a bottle of Southern Comfort. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but if he left now, that was exactly what was going to happen.
“So you don’t want to see a movie with me?”
The blush deepened. “I didn’t say that.”
“So you do want to see a movie with me.”
“That’s not what I said!”
“Then what exactly are you saying, Amy?”
She inhaled deeply, then let her breath out in a carefully controlled exhale. As she leaned in and lowered her voice, he caught the subtle whiff of vanilla.
“I’m saying that I appreciate the save, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to follow thru on what was clearly a desperate attempt to stop that guy from coming on to me.”
“Oh.” Jamie took a drink from his cup, then broke off another forkful of heaven and chewed thoughtfully, dissecting her words. She hadn’t come right out and said she didn’t want to go to the movies with him. Maybe she was just being kind, but at the moment, he’d take a bit of kindness.
“I mean, if you actually did want to, I wouldn’t say no,” she added, avoiding his eyes. “I’m just saying, you don’t have to. Go to the movies, I mean. With me.”
If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was nervous, but he dismissed that possibility as quickly as it came. More likely, she was worried about saying the wrong thing and earning another scowl. Either way, he still didn’t know if she was interested in seeing a movie or simply too kind to deny him outright.
At this point, he wasn’t above a pity date.
Copyright © 2016 – 2018 Abbie Zanders.
Written by Abbie Zanders.
All rights reserved.