Conflict of Interest

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Grace slid into the chair across from Casey in the Bistro. Casey was firing her fingers across her laptop keys and didn’t stop typing when she looked up and grunted.

“Ugh, you have it, too.”

“Did you just ugh?”

“Yes, I ugh’d.”

“What for? And what do I have?” Grace chuckled, confused.

“One and the same. You have sex appeal.”

“As a matter of fact,” Grace leaned in and whispered. “It’s because I’ve been sexed.”

The keys fell silent, and Casey gave a sly smile. She slowly repeated the words.

“You’ve been sexed.”

“I’ve been sexed,” Grace confirmed, keeping her volume low.

“You’ve been sexed!” Casey exclaimed loud enough to reach across the room and get a cheer from Aimeé who was behind the espresso bar.

“Oh, my God. And now, I’m mortified.” Grace covered her face as some of the surrounding tables cheered along in laugher and others smiled politely and pretended they didn’t hear. She hoped, seeing as most were older, they didn’t.

“I want to know everything.” Casey ignored Grace’s embarrassment.

Jimmy walked up to the table with a steaming white mug and plate full of thick, flakey, pastries. He sat them in front of Grace with a way-to-go shoulder-nudge.

“I’m going to kill you,” Grace said across the table.

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Jimmy said as he looked from Casey to Grace. “Proud of you, Grace.”

They watched Jimmy saunter off, Grace wide-eyed and Casey smug.

“An eleven-year-old is proud of me,” Grace said dully.

“He’s a twenty-year-old college student in a relationship. He’s getting laid more than this entire room combined.” Casey paused briefly before adding, “If you don’t include Aimeé.”

“You have a point. He’s certified to be proud of me. That’s depressing. But this,” Grace inhaled the latte, “is not. What is this?”

“I had one, too. You’ll never be the same.”

“It’s a molasses and candied ginger latte.” Aimeé slid into the chair next to Grace. “It’s sophisticated and Fall.” Her hand motioned out the window.

“It’s to die for.” Grace sipped and relished the full sweet, smoky, and just a bit bitter, flavor hitting her taste buds.

“Your Luke thinks so as well,” Aimeé said with a grin.

Grace’s eyes went soft with adoration. “He came here?”

“He did. Asked if you’d been in. He must know you’re an early-riser, seeing as it was close to six when he came,” Aimeé said, propping her chin on a fist.

The sigh wasn’t exaggerated. “I’m swooning.” Grace decided on her mom’s word, after all.

“As you should be. I’m fond of him.”

“Hold on there, sister, I ran into him first.”

Aimeé laughed at Grace’s fictive jealousy. “I’m fond of him because he is causing you to swoon – and contributing to business. He seems equally as fond of you.”

“Isn’t he amazing,” Grace said. A statement, not a question. She couldn’t deny she felt a bit spoiled by his initial wooing and attention. “I’m sure after time it will fade a little, but oh, it’s so nice to be a little sought after.”

“Did you say, ‘after time?’ As in, you’re making a run at this?” Aimeé prodded.

Grace didn’t need to pause, but she did. She leaned back, absently tracing the sides of her mug with her fingers, and thought about the cute guy she’d run into. The thoughtful man who’d bought her a coffee. The funnyman who had her laughing through a three-hour lunch date. The sexy man that nearly had her begging in the kitchen and, well, other places. The caring and sentimental man who’d asked about her dad. And the same man who couldn’t entirely slip from her mind.

“Yes,” she said finally. “For the first time in – oh my gosh – years, I want a man. I constantly want to see him. I always want to know where he is, what he’s doing, what he’s thinking. Even when we are together, I want more. His voice, his touch. Even if it’s just sitting close to him on the couch, I want him to take my hand. It’s insane.” Now that she said it out loud, she knew she sounded a bit over-the-top, but continued on, “I can see myself with him. More than that, I want to see myself with him. I want to be with him.”

Aimeé smiled over her own latte and thought, that’s good because you’re going to need all the want in the world to get through what he has in store for you. But she couldn’t deny the happiness she held for her dear friend. It might get a bit messy on the business end, but she was excited. She had a good feeling.

“I’m sure,” Grace continued, “eventually something about him will bug me. Maybe he’ll leave his razor out on the counter or his socks on the floor. But even then, right now, at this moment, I want that.”

“Oh, no doubt there will be disappointment,” Casey said knowingly and received a kick from Aimeé along with a look of disapproval. “I mean, you know, eventually.” Casey rubbed her shin.

“Disappointment is a strong word.” Grace defended Luke. “I honestly don’t believe that could happen. Not knowing what I know so far.” She thought of his beautiful dark eyes, how they crinkled at the edges when he smiled at her that night after their collision in the street.

Casey simply raised her eyebrows and took a sip of coffee. She might be a pessimist, but she’d seen first-hand the fallout and disappointment her parents had caused for each other. That and she was starting to rethink this matchmaking idea. Grace was well on her way to falling in love, and Luke, from what Travis Mavens had mentioned, was already there.

Shit, Casey thought.

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