*An excerpt from The Writer’s Desire.
I picked up the coffee and thanked her. Just as I turned around, the man behind me inched too close. Before I knew it, the freshly brewed coffee ended up all over my shirt as I collided with his wall of chest. It was ridiculous, but my first instinct compelled me to check the cup to see if there was some coffee to salvage.
Then the immense discomfort of wearing my freshly brewed coffee literally sunk in. “Oh, shhhiiii-ooot! I didn’t realize anyone was behind me,” I said as I frantically grabbed napkins.
“Isabelle, grab one of the coffee t-shirts, will ya?” I heard the rich voice of the man I’d bumped into ask. She tossed one over my head and he caught it. Mesmerized by my inept use of the napkins, I hadn’t even glanced up.
When I finally did, my eyes set upon pretty much the most handsome man on the planet. And tall. Are you kidding me? My composure forsaken, I stood there transfixed on his face, cheekbones, dark hair, and beautifully shaped mouth. Now was when I needed to be drenched in coffee? Way to go, Universe. I adjusted my glasses to be sure I wasn’t imagining things. My five foot two inches of frame nearly suffered a neck kink to get a view.
His brown eyes bore through me with a degree of humor. Was his smirk because I became the sole contestant of coffee-wet-t-shirt contest, or because my eyes scanned his features bypassing the memo that it’s rude to stare?
He took the coffee from my hold and placed it on the counter, saying to Isabelle, “Please re-fill it.”
He focused on me and said, “Let’s get you out of that sweater.”
“Excuse me?” I blinked as if that could clarify his meaning.
“Do you have anything on underneath?” He shrugged off his suit coat and laid it on the counter.
“Yes, but just a—”
I desperately wanted to hide in the corner of the café and pretend this hadn’t happened. Slightly frustrated by my silence, he reached for my hand and guided me to the bathroom. Locking the door, he closed the space between us. He lifted my arms and abruptly said, “Up.”
Before I could muster a protest, he pulled the coffee-laden sweater over my head. He ran some warm water with soap over the stain. My hair spilled out of its bun onto my shoulders and back, offering me a semblance of cover.
Regardless, I stood there in my snug white tank top feeling exposed. My heart beat so fast I feared it could create an echo bouncing off the tiled walls. I folded my arms across myself, wondering why the universe was punishing me.
He turned around from the sink and held out the café tee for me to put on. For a moment, he hesitated. His eyes settled on my waist and scanned upward a little too slowly. Once his dark gaze met mine, he smiled.
I yanked the shirt out of his hand and put it on quickly.
“I’m afraid the sweater needs to be dry-cleaned. My efforts here won’t do. I’ll take it for you,” he said.
“Thanks, but that’s not necessary. How much do I owe you for the shirt?” I unlocked the door and began walking out. I felt suffocated. He was behind me in a moment, holding the door wider for me with his arm just a few inches above my head.
“Forget the shirt. It’s nothing. My brother owns this café,” he said.
“Oh. I’ve never seen you here before.”
“You never look up from your laptop, Simone,” he quipped.
I stopped dead in my tracks. He knew my name, but I hadn’t a clue about him. Before I could respond, he passed by me and picked up his coat and coffee from the counter. He was still carrying my sweater. “See you, Isabelle.” Then he looked over his shoulder where I remained standing and shot me a devious wink as he exited.
I closed my mouth, realizing it had been hanging open.