Finding a Hart

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Chapter 3

Stephanie

I woke up to my alarm blaring a few hours later and it felt like I had just fallen asleep. That wasn’t anything new, though. Getting more than six hours of sleep had become a luxury.

The chill of the house hit me the moment I crawled out from under my covers. Although we lived in Arizona, home of the triple-digit summers, we had a few weeks out of the year where the high temperatures liked to drop below sixty which led to chilly nights. My poor desert acclimated body couldn’t handle it.

The house was quiet when I walked across the hall to the bathroom and I knew that Alyssa was already gone for the day. She was a field reporter at a local news station and worked early to have her stories ready for the day. It was hard to keep up with her since she slept the most random hours but my peppy friend never seemed fatigued.

After my shower, I sat on my bed so I could watch the six o’clock news- a habit I had been in since college. Every now and then Alyssa would appear but not as often as I felt she deserved to. She was a great reporter but generally got stuck with the less serious segments. She had a theory that it was because she was so young and a woman. She was sure her producers didn’t feel she would be taken seriously with the harder hitting stories

Thirty minutes later, I was dressed in a pink blouse, black a-line skirt that went to my knees, and black heels that I knew would be kicked off at every available moment. I had also dried my hair and left it hanging straight in a very boring way. My pale blue eyes had been lined with enough make-up to hide most of my exhaustion but a look in the mirror told me I wasn’t fooling anyone.

I was in my car by seven and had a moment of panic when I realized I was going to be cutting it close. I drove as fast as I could in the early commuter traffic and when I pulled into the parking lot of Java Express shortly after seven-thirty, I felt nervous anticipation run through me.

The bell above the door chimed but no one in the packed coffee house seemed to notice. The line was about five deep and my eyes darted around as I walked to the end of it. When they caught sight of someone leaning against a stand-up table, a smile hit my lips automatically. I wasn’t too late.

The man was wearing a suit, the same thing he always was, and it was a light grey color. A sky-blue dress shirt was under his jacket and a maroon tie hung at his neck. His shaggy blonde hair was lighter than mine and never seemed to have any order to it. In fact, it looked like he had already run his hands through it once or twice that morning.

Two cups of coffee were on the table in front of him along with two pastries and he glanced at his watch with his eyebrows knit together. I stepped towards him and as if he felt me there, he looked up quickly.

His light green eyes met mine and a smile hit his face like he couldn’t help it either. He straightened up and nudged a coffee cup towards me when I made it to the table.

“Vanilla Latte. You’re late.”

I picked up my coffee and took a quick sip before giving him an apologetic look. “Sorry, City Roast. I’m moving a bit slower this morning.”

The man, whose actual name I didn’t know, had been my morning coffee partner for about three weeks. I had noticed him long before that, though. We always seemed to hit Java Express at the same time and had shared a few looks over time. It wasn’t until one morning when I was told the apple fritters were gone that we spoke.

“You know,” he had said as I stood off to the side waiting for my drink and the chocolate croissant I’d ordered instead. “I’d be willing to split this delicious apple fritter with you if you want to share that croissant.”

I looked up at him and narrowed my eyes playfully. “You ordered the last apple fritter? I’ve never seen you order any sort of pastry.”

“Paying attention to my order then, huh?” He grinned and I felt my cheeks go red.

“Maybe.”

The barista called out that his city roast was ready and he stepped forward to grab his coffee. Once he had it in hand, he gestured to a table off to the side.

“I’ll be right over there if you decide you want to go halfsies.”

“Halfsies,” I repeated with a snicker and he just shrugged one shoulder before walking away. A minute later, my vanilla latte was called out and I grabbed it from the counter. It took me about two seconds to make my decision and I headed to the table where he was.

“So, City Roast, what made you want an apple fritter today?”

He grinned and pushed the pastry towards me. “You make it sound good when you order it, Vanilla Latte. I’m not sure how you’re not in a sugar coma, though.”

We both laughed and I gave him a run through of my eating habits. Before I knew it, both of our breakfasts were gone and I had fifteen minutes before I needed to be at work. We threw away our garbage and stepped outside into the chilly morning air.

“What’s your name?” he had asked as he looked over at me. “I’ve been calling you Vanilla Latte in my head for a few weeks but it doesn’t do you justice.”

I smiled and shook my head. “I think it suits me, honestly. You tell me yours first.”

“I’m not sure that’s fair,” he replied with a chuckle. “Maybe I could guess.”

“How about this?” I started, resisting the urge to step closer to him. “You get one guess a day. If you can figure it out, you win.”

“What do I win?”

I shrugged. “What do you want?”

“A date,” he responded quickly, without needing a second to think about it. “If I guess correctly, you have to go on a date with me.”

I arched my brows. “And if I win?”

“Then I go out on a date with you.”

We stared at each other for a moment. He had an inch or two on me in my three-inch heels, leaving us almost at eye level and the intensity staring back at me made butterflies swarm in my stomach. I nodded and held out my hand.

“Deal.”

He wrapped his larger, warm hand around mine so we could shake on it and I felt a shiver run up my spine that had nothing to do with the cold air. The two of us just stood there, our hands connected, lost in our own moment. It was broken when someone pushed out of Java Express, forcing us to step out of the way, and I felt the loss of his hand the second he let go.

“Okay.” He looked at me thoughtfully. “Rebecca?”

I shook my head. “Nope. Peter?”

He scrunched up his nose. “Do I look like a Peter?”

Laughter escaped my mouth but before I could reply, my phone chimed. I pulled it out of my pocket and gasped when I saw the calendar alert. “I have a meeting in five minutes. I have to go. See you tomorrow, City Roast?”

“See you tomorrow, Vanilla Latte,” he confirmed, holding his hand up in a wave as he stepped back. I flashed him another smile and turned to head to my SUV. When I made it to where I was parked, I looked over my shoulder. He was still standing there with his hands in his pockets, a smile on his face, and his eyes on me.

So, for three weeks we had been having quick fifteen minute conversations over coffee during the weekdays. Neither of us had missed a single one and neither of us had guessed the other’s name.

“I thought maybe you were bailing on me,” he said that morning as he halved the blueberry scone he’d ordered for us. I shook my head and reached out to grab a chunk of it.

“I wouldn’t dream of it… Daniel.”

He laughed softly. “Wrong. What are your weekend plans?”

“I have a dinner thing tonight and then I’m trying to be as lazy as possible.” I watched as he took his own bite of the scone. “What about you?”

“Well, I have to go to San Francisco for work on Sunday morning.” He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “And I won’t be back until Friday night.”

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