Chelsea lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she spends most of her time writing stories, painting murals, and avoiding housework at all costs. She’s ridiculously bad at doing dishes and claims to be allergic to laundry. Her obsessions include: superheroes, coffee, sleeping-in, and crazy socks. She lives with her husband and two children, who graciously tolerate her inability to resist teenage drama on TV and her complete lack of skill in the kitchen.
“So this is where you work?” She gestures at the closed kitchen door behind me as she approaches.
I step back so she can enter the courtyard then glance over my shoulder. “It’s more like the place where I help out in the kitchen, occasionally,” I say. “I like to cook so sometimes the owner, Jake, let’s me jump on the line.”
She tilts her head. “I wouldn’t have pegged you as the cooking type.”
“No?” I arch a brow. “What type am I?”
“Well the professional lover type, obviously.”
I grin. “That too.”
The teasing in her eyes along with the lightness of her smile does something soft to my insides. This is a different Kayla than the one I was sitting next to at the bar. That girl was stressed and burdened, but this girl… this girl is hopeful and happy.
The only reason I can think of for the change in her tone is the inheritance. Does the idea of getting money please her so much that she’s suddenly this cheerful person? Does it please me that much?
I remember Jake’s comment earlier, about my being happy, and realize with a sinking feeling that yes, the idea of an inheritance has made me happy. Money would alleviate some of my problems and, therefore, it gives me a security in my future that pleases me.
I’m not sure how I feel about money having so much control over my contentment. It makes me sound an awful lot like my dad.
“So what is this place?” she asks, nodding to the courtyard around us.
I look up at the small twinkle lights strung above the area. “Right now it’s just storage space. But Jake wants to make it into a dining patio. You know, so people can rent it out for private parties or whatever.”
“It’s cute.” She walks around, checking out the rose bushes that line the fence and the Tuscany-inspired mural painted against the back wall.
“So where you off to?” I step closer so we’re both beside the painted wall. “Back to your humble abode at the Quickie Stop?”
She scoffs. “Humble indeed. But yeah.”
I glance at the dark parking lot beyond the fence and the even darker streets that lead to the edge of town, and frown. “By yourself?”
She faces me with a cocked eyebrow. “Yeah. I’ve got my own driver’s license and everything.”
I smile at the ground. “Okay, that’s fair.” I glance at the dark streets again. “I’m just a concerned citizen that wanted to make sure you got home safely. That’s all.”
She nods. “How very kind of you, citizen. Would you rather I be going back to the Quickie Stop with someone?”
The idea of Kayla going home with someone—anyone, other than me—rakes down my spine like nails on a chalkboard. I don’t know when I got so possessive of this girl but holy hell. My veins are on fire.
How very unexpected. And somewhat annoying.
I don’t get possessive of women. Ever. Sure, I care about Amber and Pixie but that’s different. I care about them like sisters. I’m protective of them. I couldn’t really give a damn who they, or any other female in this town, go to bed with.
Hot jealousy darts through my veins.
How very annoyingly unexpected.
I set my shoulders back in a casual manner. “Not particularly,” I say coolly. “I just wasn’t sure if you had a ride or not.”
“Oh.” She runs a finger over her lips. “And what, you were going to offer me a ride?”
I watch the tip of her finger skim over the pink fullness of her bottom lip and my breath hitches. She can’t say things like “give me a ride” and touch her mouth at the same time. That’s just not fair.
“Well I might have offered you a ride,” I say, inwardly cursing as I remember sweet, precious Monique, “except I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to take rides from strangers. And since that’s what you and I are…” I sigh dramatically. “It would have just been a waste of time to ask you.”
She smiles behind her moving fingers and I start to wonder if she’d let me kiss her. My guess is, yes. Maybe.
I want to kiss Kayla. Badly. But the idea of kissing her, of touching her at all, also makes me a little nervous. And I’m never nervous when it comes to women.
Goddammit. Everything about this girl is unexpected.
“You’re so obsessed with us not being strangers,” she says, and her eyes shine. “That can’t be healthy.”
I probably shouldn’t kiss her. We have an inheritance to claim tomorrow. We have shit to follow through with. Kissing her is a bad idea. A very bad idea.
“No. Probably not.” I step closer so we’re only inches apart. “But I can’t seem to let it go.”
She doesn’t move away. She doesn’t break eye contact.
Yes. She’d definitely let me kiss her. I’m sure of it.
My heart pounds and it’s all I can do to keep my nonchalant demeanor in place.
“Is that what we are, Kayla?” I lower my voice with a crooked grin. “Strangers?”
She meets my crooked grin and raises me a tipped chin. Her eyes are steel and sure, not giving anything away, and I suddenly feel unsure.
I lean in.
She doesn’t react. But she also doesn’t back away.
Kissing her is a bad idea.
Her lips part, ever so slightly, a thin seam of wet flesh forming between the soft skin of her pretty lips, and all my reservations vanish.