The sizzling pavement high-fived my face as someone’s gum glued to my cheek. I scraped myself clean and tried not to vomit. As I pulled myself to my feet, I felt my foot collapse and looked down to find three inches of my pump lying on the asphalt. Great!
Kerry’s text message laughed at me from my phone’s now cracked screen. Stifling a scream, I headed for my convertible and started the top lowering. Did I honestly have to battle Kerry for my love life? My phone began singing her song. “I was—”
“Going to call me? I know. We have twin telephone-apy.”
“Yeah. Steph, this guy is gorgeous. He knows we’re twins, so you have to look a 20 out of 10.”
I clutched the wheel. “Kerry, I can’t.”
“Sure you, can.” She giggled. “Use your makeup.”
“Not what I meant! I told you I’m not ready to date again.”
“Honey, you haven’t dated anyone in over a year, and Kevin wasn’t a serious relationship because I never met him. It’s summer and that means fun. Flirting, dating, and dancing you know? What happened to my awesome sister that left trails of slobbering guys in her wake?”
I felt the heat creeping into my face.
I sighed. Why wasn’t she letting it go? “Where, when, and who?”
“That new place, The Rose Fountain, seven tonight, the guy who belongs on the cover of a romance novel.”
I bit my lip.
“Steph, you owe me your first born.”
At five I began rifling through my closet, pushing sweats and work clothes aside. I sneezed once, twice, and thrice. What was going on? I retrieved my red velvet halter dress and held it up. When I saw myself in the full-length mirror my memories swirled. It had been Kevin’s favorite. Shaking my head I set it aside. I considered a figure-hugging purple number Kerry had lent me, but shied away from the second skin look. Rubbing my irritated eyes I glanced at my bedroom windowsill and recognized the claw marks of the clumsy cat that had destroyed the screen. “Boots!” I turned to my closet as the tabby bolted to the window. I ran after her and slammed it shut, just missing her tail as I sneezed again. Catching sight of my puffy eyes I grabbed my pillow and screamed. Stepping back to my closet I took out my favorite black cocktail dress, hoping the keyhole detailing would distract from my red eyes. Kevin had hated it. My mouth gaped as I looked at the shredded fabric. Boots had turned the hem into a fringe! Glancing at the clock I slipped into the red dress as I considered the ways to skin a cat.
As I threw my hair into a bun, I realized my hands were shaking. “It’s just a date.” I said, walking into my bathroom. “You go, you eat, and you leave.” I spent the next hour doing, removing, and reapplying my makeup.
I stepped into the chilly night and the perfume of roses and beef bouillon danced past me. My stomach churned. I walked into the restaurant, violin music swirling and mingling with strains of quiet conversation. “Just breathe.”
“Mr. Brenner is waiting for you.” The hostess said when I gave her my name.
I gulped, my eyes darting to the door. She led me through the main eating area to a more secluded room. A single table was set with candles, the glasses of red wine already poured. Was he as nervous as me? I smiled at the idea and took my seat. I focused on the wineglass as I quelled a flutter of butterflies.
“I promise your eyes won’t bleed if you look at me.” He laughed.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my face growing warm. “I’m not used to blind dates.” His smile was dazzling, his eye’s a beautiful hazel set off by chocolate locks, with a jaw that could chisel marble. Thank you, Kerry! I pretended to study my menu until the waiter took our orders. Secretly, I was studying him.
“Your sister was right about how gorgeous you are, Stephanie.”
The heat in my face intensified. “Thank you. She didn’t tell me your name.”
He laughed again, a deep bellyful rumble. “Sorry. I’m Kingsly.”
“Kingsly? What a strange name.” My hand flew to my mouth, “And that’s why I don’t drink. I have little enough filter when I’m sober. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I like directness, and I agree with you.”
My shoulders relaxed. “So, why are you single and here?”
“I’m single because I’m a work-junkie, and here because your sister made you sound too good to be real.”
“You like making me blush, don’t you?”
He grinned. “What about you?”
“Uninterested ex, and a pit-bull of a sister.” I observed him and something in me stirred.
“Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you from this area?”
He shook his head.
“Where did you go to college?”
“A little school in London. You?”
He chuckled. “Really? My brother—half brother through our mother—went to culinary school there. This,” he motioned around us, “is his restaurant. It’s the reason I moved to town.”
“My ex—” I shook my head “Cooking is a hobby of mine.”
“Well, maybe my brother will give us a tour of the kitchen before we leave.”
We chatted about his work as his brother’s lawyer over appetizers, my bookshop over dinner, and laughed at his brother’s moving to town for an ex over dessert. Was I as crazy as his brother to still be pining over Kevin?
Standing up, he extended his hand. “Let’s see about that tour.”
Kingsley led me to the kitchen and tapped a man in a white coat on the back. The way the man stood sent electricity to my toes. When he turned, his eyes widened.
My mouth opened in silence.
To read my follow up interview with Stephanie click here: https://justinaluther.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/188/
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