Scarlet stared at the empty seat before her, wondering why the fuck she agreed to this. Oh yeah, one of her friends had insisted on having someone to share her foray into online hook-ups. At first, Scarlet was horrified, then curious, and when she matched with a six-foot-two, made-of-abs, flannel-clad Adonis who worked at the local sawmill, she had to admit the ego boost was nice. Plus, he was a first-class skilled flirt. At least online. Scarlet wondered what G-ma, who was forever trying to match make for her, would say if she knew she was now meeting boys from a phone app.
If only Mr. Lumberjack would show up and prove that he wasn’t catfishing.
Right now, him ghosting seemed a more likely possibility. Her date was late, and he wasn’t replying to any of her messages. Scarlet glanced at the clock, then at the door, before taking a sip of her all-too-expensive chai latte. At least she had the foresight to treat herself.
The jingle of bells by the door announced another customer and when Scarlet turned, her heart skipped a beat.
If her date was the sun with his fair colouring of blonde hair and baby blues, then this man was of the night. Dishevelled jet-black hair accompanied even darker eyes set in a face chiselled with high cheekbones and tanned skin. He wore a black t-shirt despite the cooling weather, one that only accentuated the rippling muscles beneath though he was far from a bulky build. Every movement spoke of a predator’s grace but rather than fear, it evoked something else within her.
She grew warmer between her legs and wished that he was her Tinder date instead.
He turned and she caught the full impact of his focus. She stiffened, her cheeks warming with embarrassment as she realized he had caught her checking him out. But the intensity of his gaze held hers, making it impossible to look away. Something else tugged at her from the inside, something beyond the lust he first inspired when he walked in the door.
Her real date, fifteen minutes late, walked right into her line of sight, forcing her to look up instead.
Oh, fuck. He was the real deal. Her eyes widened and her lips parted in a small O.
When he returned her stare with an amused quick of his lips, she swallowed to rehydrate her suddenly dry throat and stood up too fast, jostling the table, almost spilling her drink. She made a grab to steady it only to brush her hand against his as he had reached out with the same idea. With an awkward laugh and a mumbled thanks, Scarlet withdrew her hand quick enough. “Yeah. Derrick, right?”
The smile he gave her was every bit as charming as she discerned from the photos, a mix of warmth with a hint of charm tugging at the corners. She forced herself to relax a smidge and tried to remind herself that if he was here, the attraction was mutual. Scarlet dug deep for confidence and reassured herself that she had outgrown that awkward gangly nerd persona that had plagued her when she was younger.
“I’m glad we finally get to meet in person.” Without waiting for a response, he stepped closer to her and drew her in for a hug.
Scarlet stiffened, enveloped with sudden warmth. She could hear his heartbeat and reddened, confusion clouding her mind. It was a level of intimacy she had not expected and her breathing shortened in response.
“And you’re even more adorable in person.” His lips brushed by the tip of her ear as he whispered.
Her own heart pounded like thunder in her ears. Part of her melted into a little puddle. Another part wondered if he was being too presumptuous with his invasion of her personal space and whether she should be protesting.
Before she could decide, however, he stepped back. “I’m going to go grab a drink. Be right back.”
“Sure.” She wasn’t sure if he heard her as he stepped away without waiting for her reply. Was this confidence on his part or arrogance?
Scarlet’s mind wandered from the question, leaving it unanswered. Instead, she found herself scanning the rest of the coffee shop for the dark-haired man she saw earlier. No luck. He had disappeared as if he was no more than a figment of her imagination. And maybe he was? An unsettling pang of regret settled in the pit of her stomach. Perhaps it was for the best. She sat once more, returning to the drink in front of her more for lack of anything better to do.
“Sorry about being late.” Derrick eased himself into the chair in front of her. “Traffic was hell.”
“It’s okay. How was work today?”
“It was interesting. The big bosses came by for a visit and it’s always pretty funny watching the suits trek through trying to avoid getting dusty.” Derrick launched into more details that soon had her in stitches, the hug already forgotten.
The date ended with the promise of another, which led to another until before she knew it, they were dating regularly. Neither of them, however, had brought up topics of exclusivity or even sex. Yet.
Hey pretty girl. Checking in. We’re still on for tonight?
Scarlet smiled as she read the text message. He had taken to calling her that since their first date. She swept her gaze across the office to make sure no one had caught the smile and returned to her phone to type back.
Yeah, tonight’s good.
Dress warm. Weather’s supposed to stay clear so I’m thinking picnic as early dinner, a bottle of wine, followed by a night walk.
Who knew a lumberjack could be such a romantic?
Sounds wonderful. Where should I meet you?
Text me your address and I’ll come pick you up. Don’t want you to have to worry about driving or finding parking.
Smooth. Real smooth. Scarlet grinned. She wasn’t about to make this so easy for him.
What if I want to keep where I live a secret?
For a paused moment, no text reply came, and Scarlet held her breath, wondering if she had gone too far.
I’d get it out of you sooner or later. I have my ways, even if it’s bending you over my knees.
Her cheeks heated. Scarlet was sure she was turning as red as her namesake and her hands trembled. Until now, their flirting had rather been benign, but he had been dropping subtle hints that he was into things beyond vanilla. Sometimes it’d be about letting him take care of her, or other times, the way he would make decisions about their dates reminded her of a Dominant/submissive relationship. This was, on the other hand, the first overt gesture. Was this a test? How did he know to test? She was pretty sure she had put nothing in her profile that would hint at her old submissive streak.
That was the problem with vanilla dating sites. You never know who was into what. But it had been years since Scarlet had left the scene. Even her Fetlife account had been inactive for some time. Well, in for a penny…
How do you know I wouldn’t like that too much?
Challenge accepted and answered. She was always a better flirt over text without all those pesky body reactions in the way.
Oh, you’re making it hard to stay a gentleman.
She adjusted herself in the seat and bit her tongue. Did she dare?
Oh yes, she did.
We’re going to have so much fun tonight.
A familiar thrum of excitement made her shiver in anticipation. It had been too long since-
“Hey Scar, can you look at my code changes before I submit it for review? I don’t want to get shredded by Blake like last time.” She picked up the sound of Jason, her cube-mate, pushing his chair back and although Scarlet was still sitting with her back towards him, certain that he couldn’t see her flushed face, she still stiffened as if he’d caught her and her texts.
She drew air deep into her lungs to compose herself, then turned around with a smile. “Sure, which branch is it in?”
“The advanced search filter one.”
For the rest of the Friday afternoon, Scarlet dove into the code with unholy glee and attention that made all thoughts of the upcoming date dissipate. It was the mark of a good developer to keep that level of focus for hours at a time and it was what helped Scarlet advance through her career.
“I’m heading out, Scar. Don’t stay too late.”
She looked up and blinked to refocus her vision away from the screen just in time as Jason waved goodbye before he walked out of the small office. Scarlet waved back on reflex but caught a glimpse of the clock by the wall. A quarter to five.
“Shit! Shit, shit, shit,” she muttered under her breath and grabbed her messenger bag to throw her stuff in with haste. She had meant to leave forty-five minutes ago to allow herself time to change. Her scuffed torn jeans, skater sneakers, printed t-shirt and old faded red hoodie wasn’t exactly date-ready fashion, even if they were her favourite things to wear.
Half running to where she parked, she threw her bag into the passenger side and slid into the small beat-up Beetle. The car, although used, was her latest indulgence but she now didn’t regret the purchase one bit. It let her speed down the street and gave her a glimmer of hope that she would still have enough time to clean herself up before Derrick arrived.
A sudden black streak of something crossed her path. Her eyes widened in surprise and she let out a loud yelp. Instincts kicked in and she swerved in an attempt to avoid whatever it was that darted in front of her. But whatever it was, was big, so large in fact, that even as she slammed on her brakes, she both heard and felt the heavy thud against the front of her car.
For a split second, she sat there, hands trembling as shock pumped adrenaline through her system until she swore again. She undid her seatbelt with haste and scrambled out of the car.
A massive dog with fur darker than midnight laid on its side. Something tugged at her heartstrings as she regarded its form and searched for signs of injury, although she knew very little about animals.
Shit, what have I done?
With trepidation, she inched forward. Any minute now, it could bounce back on its paws and attack her or run away. But instead, it opened its eyes and blinked. Her breath caught. Pain and warmth mingled in cocoa depths that showed more intelligence than she expected.
Certain for some odd reason that he would not attack her as a wounded animal might, she knelt by its side and laid a gentle hand on its back. Relief flooded her system when its body rose and fell under her hand repeatedly. It was breathing, strong and steady. But she grew sick again when her hand came away with blood.
“Oh no, oh no,” she muttered to herself and looked up to see if anyone could help. But on a quiet residential block, it appeared that no one was around.
Still, she had to get it help. It wasn’t like she could call 911 though.
Scarlet breathed deep to steady herself. In. Out. In. Out. Practicality took over and she rocked back to her feet in a crouch before she set her hands on the animal again. One heave. Two. Cripes, it was heavy. And big. She gritted her teeth as she half-carried, half-dragged the beast to the backseat of her car, hoping she didn’t aggravate its wounds any worse. By the time she got the creature into her car, she was panting with exertion as she wiped the sweat off her brow.
It also wasn’t until then did she realize she should have checked for a collar. When she found none, she stared at the hulk of fur while she chewed on her lower lip. A quick lookup on her phone showed that the local shelters were already closed. Home first, then she could call around to see if any vet would take him. That way, she could also assess the damage her car had taken too. For now, she was too afraid to find out.
Home. Crap. The date!
She pulled up Derrick’s number and hit the dial button, relieved when he picked up almost right away.
“Heya. Everything all right?”
“Derrick. Oh, thank God. I am so, so sorry, but I have to take a raincheck on the date tonight.”
“You okay? What happened?” His concern came through the line, loud and clear.
“I’m okay. I got into a bit of an accident just now and I’m going to need the evening to deal with it.”
“What? You sure you don’t want me to come over and help?”
Part of her wanted to say yes, if only to get him to haul this large mass of a dog around. But for some unfathomable reason, she didn’t want to mention the dog to him. Who wants to admit that they hit a dog with their car? At least that was how she reasoned it to herself.
“No, I’ll be okay. I’ll call you once I get everything sorted, okay? I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. We can reschedule. Call me if it gets too much and you want me over.”
“Any time, pretty girl.”
She hung up after that and stared once more at the liquid pools of deep dark that gazed back up at her with all the trust in the world. With a sigh of resignation, she reached out with one hand and ran her fingers along the fur on top of its head. “Okay, big boy. Let’s get you home and we’ll figure out how to get you patched up.”
So much for getting some tonight.