I chew my fingernails to the quick as I wait for the afternoon to come. I’m not sure why I was so nervous. I suppose it was because I hadn’t been out with a man in over five years and I didn’t remembered how to talk to the opposite sex without making a complete fool out of myself.
I had to keep reminding myself that it was just coffee, not a date. Besides, I had bigger things to be concerned about right now, like the fact that I was homeless and only had a handful of possessions to my name. Yet the only thing I can think about is seeing Jake.
The hours passed slowly as I checked and rechecked my reflection in the mirror. The white sun dress that I settled on wasn’t the most flattering, though it did complement my tan skin well, I suppose. But like it or not, this was the nicest thing I owned. I didn’t have a lot of options considering my entire wardrobe was now a pile of ash.
As I pull into the Starbucks parking lot, Jake was already waiting for me. He greets me with a brilliant, pearly white grin, distracting me so much that I nearly walk in front of a moving car. I hide my scarlet face and hoped that Jake didn’t see my near accident but judging by the humor dancing in his eyes, it was safe to say he did.
Jake holds the door of the building open for me as we go inside to wait in the long line. Despite his refusal, I insist on paying for his drink.
“Coffee was my idea. My way of repaying you, remember?” I remind him as I hand the cashier my credit card. Jake looks like he wants to argue, but I glare at him and he immediately bites his tongue.
We grab our iced macchiatos and settle into a small table in the corner of the café. I take a sip of the delicious drink, the caffeine a welcome sensation in my exhausted body.
“How bad was the damage to your house?” Jake asks as he takes a sip of his own drink.
I shake my head. “It was beyond saving.”
“I’m so sorry. I know it’s hard to lose a home,” he says softly.
“Thank you, but it’s not been so bad. I mean, yeah, the place was sort of my baby because I designed it from the ground up, but it never really felt like home. It was really just a place where I stored my things,” I admit.
“You designed your own home?” He was impressed.
“Yes. It was one of my very first architectural projects after I graduated.” I smile fondly as I think about the excitement I felt putting the design together, something I haven’t experienced in a long time. I’m not sure when I lost the spark, but I feel like the old Cat would be disappointed to see me now. I glance up to see Jake staring at me, his eyes measuring my reaction.
“But the house doesn’t really matter,” I say, coming back to reality. “What really matters is that Harley and I are safe, and we have you to thank for that.”
“Harley?” he asks, furrowing his eyebrows.
“My dog. You know, the one I was clutching to for dear life as you carried us to safety,” I smile.
“Oh, right. I’m glad Harley is okay. Send him my regards,” he teases.
I laugh. “I’ll tell him when I get back to the Buemont.”
“You’re staying in a hotel?” I can tell he was bothered by the idea.
“Yeah. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go,” I confess. “But it’s a really nice place. It has lots of privacy and a great bed. Better than my college dorm by far. ”
My tense shoulders relax, and all of my qualms disappear. I typically struggle to make small talk, being the socially awkward introvert that I was, but Jake was surprisingly easy to talk to.
“Great bed,” he repeats softly. “But how have you been sleeping?”
“Fine,” I lie, putting on the most courageous smile I can manage.
Jake watches me skeptically, a knowing look on his face. I wonder idly if the dark circles that encased my eyes were that prominent, or if he’d just been through enough fires to understand what I was going through. I realize that there was no point lying to him, or to myself for that matter.
“Well, it has been a little…difficult.” That was an understatement. “I’m nervous to go to bed, and usually spend most of the night staring at my ceiling, wide awake. Every little noise reminds me of the fire. The few hours of sleep that I manage are haunted with nightmares,” I admit.
“What you’re going through, that’s completely normal. Most of the people I speak with have some form of PTSD when they escape a fire. Hell, even I have it,” he mumbles so low that I can barely hear him.
I realize that what I’m feeling must be amplified ten-fold for Jake. He’s been in countless burning buildings, and has lost who knows how many people to the fires. He’s even had near death experiences himself, one of which was just a couple of weeks ago. I could only imagine the nightmares that must plague him.
“How do you do it day in and day out?” I ask, my voice barely above a whisper.
“It’s a challenge,” he says, his forehead creasing. “But then I come across one of the people I helped save, and it puts things in perspective. They are the motivation that keeps me going. The rest of it I can deal with. The dreams are the worst of it, but they will get better with time,” he assures me. “You just have to be patient. You went through a very traumatic experiences and even though your body may have pulled through unscathed, that doesn’t mean that your mind has.”
Jake’s eyes are full of compassion, and I’m filled with a sense of relief. Here he was helping me again, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He gives me a reassuring smile as he places his hand consolingly on mine.
Though I had been exhausted moments before, I was wide awake now. I can’t miss the electricity that shoots through me at Jake’s touch. I feel my heart rate quicken and my stomach twists with some unknown desire as his brown eyes stare into mine. One look at Jake tells me he’s experiencing the same thing.
The feeling startles me so much I jerk my hand away, causing my macchiato to tumble off of the table. The brown liquid spills onto my white dress as it falls to the floor with a clatter. I mutter a frazzled apology to the barista who rushes over to help. I can feel my cheeks ablaze as everyone in the café turns to look at me.
I curse when I see that my dress was ruined. A pile of ice had fallen into my lap, and I could feel the trickle of the cool liquid as if traveled down my clavicle and between my breasts, causing my cleavage to glisten in the fluorescent lights. My lace bra was showing through the damp material, and I could just make out the top of my full breasts pouring over the cup of the bra.
With am embarrassed gasp I start dabbing my dress with napkins, hoping to soak up as much of the liquid as possible. But it was futile, as the coffee seemed to now be a permanent stain,
Jake sees my struggle and grabs a handful of paper towel. He reaches over and starts patting the stain in an attempt to help. I freeze at his touch, my abdomen tightening as his hands caresses my breasts ever so gently. It takes him a moment to realize where exactly he’s touching me but when he does, his hand pauses and I hear him let out a deep hiss. I blush and Jake pulls his hand away apologetically. I avert my eyes, trying to think of something to say to break the awkward silence.
When I peak through my lashes I can see Jake staring at my curves, thirsting for something more than the coffee that had spilled. The way his eyes fumed made my groin tighten with longing. It was all I could do not to reach out and touch his rippling bicep. I barely knew this man but the way his face smoldered as he stared made me feel sexy. It ignited a desire in me, awakening a sexual goddess who had been suppressed for a long time. I wasn’t a promiscuous woman but if Jake Lucero asked me to go home with him right now, I would jump in his car without question.
Jake’s eyes meet mine and his cheeks turn deep scarlet. He looked appalled, almost like he was a child who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He shakes his head, silently reprimanding himself.
“I’m sorry. I… I have to go now.” He stands up abruptly.
“But we just got here,” I say, an unmistakable whine in my voice as I follow him into the parking lot.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I just realized there was somewhere else I needed to be. But I had a nice time with you, Cat. Thank you for the coffee,” he says as he walks me to my car.
I didn’t want him to leave, especially not after seeing the desire I had stirred in him. Even now his eyes seemed to be burning, though he hadn’t looked at me since his fingers had accidently caressed me.
But his wanting to leave couldn’t tame the wild beast that had been provoked inside of me. My hormones run wild as I stare at his full, rouge lips and wonder what it would be like to have them on every inch of my body. In the heat of the moment, I find myself longing to kiss them.
I shake my head. I can’t just kiss someone I don’t know, the angel on one shoulder reminds me. But the devil on the other asks why not? With a very uncharacteristic bout of courageousness, I say to hell with it and lean towards him.
Jake’s eyes widen when he realizes what was happening. His face looks torn, seemingly undergoing an internal battle. For a moment it seems like he might be into it too as he leans in to meet me, our faces growing closer and closer. But at the very last minute, Jake turns his face to the side and takes a step away from me. I can feel the deep scarlet blush that warms my cheeks as I stand in the parking lot, mortified by his rejection.
“I hope we can talk again soon, Cat. As friends,” he says with emphasis on the last word. He gives me a kind, but uncomfortable smile. I return the gesture, but inside I want to hide in a cave and never show my face again.
Jake gets into his silver Corolla and pulls out of the parking lot. I smile and wave until he is out of sight, but he never looks back. I climb into my black SUV and bury my face in my hands, letting out a deep sigh.
How presumptuous was I to think he might be interested in me? For all I know he has a wife or a girlfriend. Hell for all I knew, he could be gay. Here I am trying to kiss him and I don’t even know the first thing about him.
I couldn’t help the hurt that fills me at his rebuff. I try to convince myself that it was for the best, that maybe I wasn’t even attracted to him. Perhaps it was just the heat of the moment making me feel that way and that my feelings were just the result of his heroic actions when he saved my life.
Even as I thought the words, I know they aren’t true. There was an unmistakable chemistry between the two of us. I had never experienced anything like what I felt when Jake’s eyes were on me. Of all the men I could have fallen for, it figures that it would be someone who wasn’t into me. With a sigh, I start my car and head back to the hotel, alone.
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