Neva’s fingers tightened on the book in her hands.
In her chest, she felt her heart do a funny flop, thumping unnecessarily hard. She almost frowned at its reaction.
This hadn’t happened since-
She instantly crushed the thought that threatened to form in her mind. No, she wasn’t going to think about it. She wasn’t going to think about him.
She stared at the man standing before her. For some unknown reason, his face had gone white. She couldn’t figure out why. He looked like he had seen a ghost.
“Hi,” she offered with a small smile.
He continued staring at her, but the color seemed to return to his face. Then, as though realizing what he had been doing, he cleared his throat and smiled back, “Hey, enjoying the party?”
Oh, so he was one of Alex’s friends.
Neva tilted her head and studied him for a second. He looked a tad bit older. And he was dressed in sweats. Surely, that wasn’t party attire?
She quickly stole a glance at her own clothes.
You’re one to talk, Neva.
Her sister had almost dragged her back home when she saw her dressed for the party. Neva couldn’t have helped it. She had just had an interview for the position of a waitress at the quaint little restaurant, two blocks from the apartment she had just moved into. It was a makeshift studio apartment, nothing fancy. She couldn’t afford fancy even if she wanted it. Her savings allowed her only that much.
The owner’s wife had been skeptical when she met Neva, eyeing her warily. But when they’d begun talking, her demeanor had changed entirely and she had given her the job.
Neva could almost kiss her.
She had been nervous, edgy and anxious the entire time. She desperately needed the job. And The Summer Diner was good for her. It was not far from where she lived, the hours were flexible and her sister had said that you could get tipped generously if you did well.
Neva was beyond grateful. She now had an income while she looked for a position in a company.
Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she nodded to the man before her and shrugged, “It’s alright. Are you?”
He looked at her quizzically and stepped in.
“I’m not much of a party animal.”
Neva felt her stomach roll at the deep timbre in his voice. She swallowed. This was fast becoming dangerous territory.
She let herself look at him a moment longer. He was insanely good-looking. His jet black hair looked slightly damp and his face was all sharp angles with a hint of stubble on his defined jaw. Although he was dressed so casually, Neva could see his defined physique. He was more than a foot taller than her.
He continued like he didn’t notice her ogling him. “What are you reading?”
To her surprise, he came up right to her and dropped down on the balls of his feet, tilting his head to look at the books in her hand.
Her heart sped up when she breathed in the scent of him.
Jesus Christ. What was that lovely flavor?
The blood rushed to her cheeks at the direction of her thoughts. She was halfway hung over a guy she had literally just met.
“It’s a novel by Khaled Hosseini.”
He looked up at her. Neva almost moved away from the force of those green eyes directed at her.
“Why aren’t you down with the others?”
She shrugged, gathering the book against her.
“I happened to see this place on my way to the bathroom, so I thought I’d check it out. It’s pretty amazing. Whoever designed it did a fantastic job.”
She saw a fleeting smile on his face and wasn’t sure if she imagined it.
He nodded, looking around the room, “Yeah, it does look great,”
Neva grabbed her phone and then stood up slowly. Before her, the gorgeous man stood up too. She wasn’t surprised when he towered over her.
“Are you Alex’s friend?” she asked as she headed over to the shelf from where she had picked the book.
There was a small pause before he answered, “Yeah, kind of,”
She nodded politely, setting the books down, taking care to place them in the order they had been in.
“Are you headed back to the party?” he asked her, taking a step in her direction.
Out of habit, Neva stepped behind.
He froze when he noticed it.
For a long second, they both stared at each other. She could feel the mortification rushing through her.
She hurried to make light of it, “I-I’m not. I’ll probably just head out. My sister dragged me here. I didn’t even want to come. I start my shift at the restaurant tomorrow and need to make sure I’m on time since I really need the job. And-“
She abruptly broke off when she realized she was rambling.
She looked down at the screen of her phone, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. She was making a fool of herself and all on her own.
“Well,” his deep voice made her insides tremble, “that’s too bad. I was hoping to ask your recommendation for a good read.”
Neva’s head shot up.
He was staring at her intently and she didn’t see a trace of amusement or humor on his face.
She swallowed, “Oh,”
He didn’t take his eyes off her.
She looked back at the shelf, “I’d love to do that,” she gave him a smile before she shifted. “What kind of books do you usually read? Do you have any favorite authors or genres?”
He ran his fingers through his hair, “I have a lot actually, Jeffrey Archer, Lee Child, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King-“
She looked up at him in surprise, “Do you enjoy horror?”
A pleasurable shock went through her when she saw his eyes flicker to her lips.
Then the corner of his mouth lifted and Neva’s heart stopped. He grinned at her, “I get the feeling that how I answer that question will affect your opinion of me.”
She laughed. She couldn’t help it.
Shaking her head, she picked out The Angel Experiment by James Patterson and offered it to him. “My sister is a Jeffrey Archer fan too, you might like this one,” she handed the book to him.
He took it from her, quickly reading through the synopsis on the back cover.
She looked at his hands. He had long fingers. For a second, she imagined how they’d feel against her skin. Her abdomen pulsed.
She quickly looked away, afraid that he might somehow read her thoughts.
“Thank you,” he smiled at her, “So what should I call you?”
She blushed, “My name is Neva,”
He stared at her for a second, “Neva,” he repeated. “That’s a beautiful name.”
She felt her ears get hot. “Thank you, what’s yours?”
He seemed to hesitate, “You can call me Grayson,” he offered his hand to her.
She took it tentatively, liking the warm, firm grip of his fingers on hers, “Pleasure to meet you, Grayson.”
Suddenly, he lifted her hand and brought it to his mouth, placing a soft kiss on the back of her palm.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he smiled at her.
Neva held on to the pleasure his action invoked, for longer than she knew she should.