â€śIs this seat taken?â€ť
Her head snapped up at the low, cultured voice with just a hint of foreign accent. The man standing next to her was…the same man with the amazing black eyes, black hair, and incredibly sexy goatee sheâ€™d run into outside Dinner and a Date. She got another whiff of his expensive cologne, and her eyelids drooped in appreciation. Now this was a man sheâ€™d love to get into her bed. He dressed in an expensive, tailored, double-breasted suit. He was tall, lean, gorgeous, and carried himself with an air of sophistication that made her melt.
Yeah. Keep dreaming, Wend.
She waved her hand toward the chair. â€śItâ€™s free. Help yourself.â€ť She expected him to take the other chair to another table, but instead he pulled it out and sat down. Her lips parted in surprise, and her coffee sloshed onto the table and the back of her hand as she set her mug down with a thud.
The man reached for the napkin dispenser, withdrew a couple, and dabbed at her hand. â€śSlippery, arenâ€™t they?â€ť He finished wiping up the spilled latte then neatly folded the napkins into quarters before setting them at the edge of the table.
She licked her lips, but her brain seemed to have disconnected itself from her tongue. What the hell was wrong with this guy? He was youngâ€”couldnâ€™t be over thirtyâ€”dashing, debonair, and had just sat down at her table? Was this a joke? Was she on Candid Camera? Trick the middle-aged frump? Was she being Punked?
She glanced around the almost empty coffee shop. A couple of college students took up two tables, happily clicking away at their laptop keys. Another table held an older couple who talked in subdued tones. Only one guy worked the counter, and a waitress stood off to the side with a bored expression on her face.
â€śCan I…um…help you with something?â€ť she finally asked after ungluing her tongue from the roof of her mouth.
The hunkâ€™s smile was just as sexy as the rest of him, and he held out his hand. He had beautifully straight, white teeth. â€śDante Rainaldi. I was passing by on my way down to the wharf and saw you in here. Since we met earlier and hadnâ€™t been properly introduced, I thought it only fitting.â€ť
She placed her hand in his. Warmth andâ€”oh, dear Lordâ€”lust shot through her. She squeezed her thighs together and bit her bottom lip. Heâ€™s so out of your league! Donâ€™t even think about it. She cleared her throat. â€śWendy Schumacher. And Iâ€™m sorry about earlier.â€ť
He kept the smile on his lips as he tilted his head slightly. â€śYou seemed to be in a hurry. I was surprised to find you here.â€ť
The waitress saved her from having to answer the unspoken question as to why sheâ€™d been in such a hurry.
Dante ordered a mocha then turned back to her as the waitress left, seemingly unmoved by the womanâ€™s obvious eyelash batting and flirting techniques. â€śSo,â€ť he said, his voice low and so sexy tingles raced down her spine. â€śWhatâ€™s a pretty lady such as yourself doing all alone on a Friday night?â€ť
He could have done much better than that lame line. Then again, with the slight European accent, even trite come-ons sounded awful sexy.
She grinned, because if she didnâ€™t sheâ€™d probably make a fool of herself by bursting into tears. â€śCelebrating my birthday.â€ť Shit, it still sounded pathetic.
His smile faded, and his brow drew together. â€śAlone?â€ť
She broke eye contact and looked down at her cinnamon roll. She didnâ€™t want this stranger to know how badly she hurt inside. Candice had really crossed the never-do line tonight. Ditching her on her birthday…that was just plain mean. Especially when Candice could get any guy any night of the week. She didnâ€™t have to choose this night.
A warm, gentle finger touched her chin, and she jerked in surprise to meet the strangerâ€™s gaze.
â€śI am sorry, Wendy. Forgive me if Iâ€™ve made you uncomfortable. That was not my intent.â€ť
He looked so earnest. As if he really…cared.
She closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. She would not read anything into his kindness. Maybe heâ€™d been ditched, too. Hadnâ€™t he been with a short, stocky fellow when she ran into him?
â€śMy friend dragged me to this stupid…â€ť She wasnâ€™t going to lay her problems on this poor guyâ€™s doorstep. She licked her lips and tried again. â€śShe thought it would be fun to try out that Dinner and a Date place. Only she got the date, and I didnâ€™t.â€ť She shrugged, hoping it came off as nonchalance. â€śI just decided to stop in here before going home. How about you? Why are you all alone tonight?â€ť
Good. Get him talking about himself. Guys loved that.
â€śYour friend left you alone on your birthday because of a man?â€ť
She almost rolled her eyes but caught herself. â€śYeah. Thatâ€™s just the way Candice is. Iâ€™ve learned to roll with it.â€ť
Danteâ€™s eyebrows drew closer together, and his lips turned down in a disapproving frown.
â€śItâ€™s okay, really. Iâ€™m used to her being a little flaky.â€ť
The waitress returned and set the coffee in front of him. He nodded his thanks, picked it up, and sipped. With a sigh, he seemed to relax, which made her realize how tense heâ€™d been.
â€śI do adore a good cup of coffee,â€ť he said with a small tilt to his sexy lips.
â€śSeattleâ€™s the place for it.â€ť She was horrible at small talk and didnâ€™t know what to say next. The mundane usually worked. â€śWhere are you from? Originally, I mean.â€ť
His smile returned. â€śI am originally from a small village on the Italian coast near Naples.â€ť He waived his hand in dismissal. â€śBut that seems several lifetimes ago. I am a U.S. citizen and claim Seattle as my home now. You?â€ť
Why did he keep turning it around to her? Sheâ€™d rather sit and listen to him speak. â€śBorn and raised right here in Seattle.â€ť
He sipped his drink and settled more fully into his chair, watching her over the rim of his mug, which made her want to fiddle with something. His gaze was so intense, as if he were looking into her soul. But she couldnâ€™t seem to bring herself to look away, either.
â€śYou have beautiful hair,â€ť he said in that wonderfully rich voice. â€śYou are much more suited to wearing it down than piled on top of your head.â€ť
She chuckled. â€śTell that to Candice. Sheâ€™s the one who did that…thing with it.â€ť Shaking her head, she turned her cinnamon roll plate with her fingertips. â€śIâ€™m much more casual than this normally.â€ť
He arched one perfect eyebrow. â€śAnd what do you call casual?â€ť
She shrugged. How did she tell a man who wore a suit that cost more than her mortgage payment that she normally wore whatever was most comfortable? She loved her sweatshirts and loose, comfortable jeans. This guy was so far out of her league they might as well not be on the same planet.
Which again begged the question, what the hell was he doing sitting here with her?
â€śMy friend told me about that place you went tonight. Did you enjoy it?â€ť
She scrunched her nose and shook her head. â€śIf I were to take a real cooking class, it wouldnâ€™t be with some woman who only knew how to stir fry vegetables.â€ť
He chuckled. Goose bumps raised on her arms.Â
â€śDid you meet anyone…interesting?â€ť
Her humor fled. He was the most interesting person sheâ€™d met in ages. With a shake of her head, she lifted her latte. â€śNo. I didnâ€™t.â€ť
She sipped, but the drink was now cold, and it took supreme effort not to wince. She took another swallow
â€śYou are single, then?â€ť
She choked. More coffee sloshed from the mug and out of her mouth.
Dante was right there with more napkins, first blotting her chin, then her hand.
Please let me die right now! Right now, God. If you care about me at all! Her cheeks heated with embarrassment as he once again cleaned up the table.
â€śYour coffee is cold. Let me get you another.â€ť
Before she could respond, he had her mug and was walking up to the counter. She had the urge to make a run for it while his back was turned. She could get out the door and down a block before he ever knew she was gone. Heâ€™d never find her.
Leaning against the counter with a sophisticated nonchalance she could only dream of possessing, he turned and winked at her.
Good Lord, the man was lethal. When he stuck his hand in his slacks, his jacket lifted just enough for her to get a great view of his ass. His perfect, round, tight buns. She licked her lips, hoping she didnâ€™t salivate.