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Shopping for Love(7)
Author: Renee Carlino


He smirks. “Well, sassy, that is because I was already down here when she texted me to meet you guys.”

“So that’s how you got here so quickly.” I sound like an idiot.

“Yep.”

“What were you doing down here?”

His eyes crinkle at the corners. “Aren’t you nosy? I was at a gallery showing for my friend. He’s a painter.”

“Oh, that’s right. Caroline said you went to art school in New York.”

“I did. I should have stayed there, but CC wanted to be close to the Crompton compound. I couldn’t leave her here alone with those animals.”

“Seriously? Is her family that bad?”

“Well, you’ve met Diana.” He pauses for a moment, looking thoughtful. “Actually, they’re not bad people. I was mostly kidding. Her dad was good to me…to us, when my mom got sick. I didn’t have a father to help us out.”

I want to tell him I don’t have a father, either, but I don’t want it to seem like we’re clicking even more than we already are. I don’t know how Caroline would react to that, and I don’t want to jeopardize this job and a potential friendship.

He continues speaking while he stares down the bottleneck of his beer. “Ben, Caroline’s dad, took on that role, in a way. But Ben can be controlling and Caroline doesn’t know how to stand up to him. I do. Diana’s actually not bad. I make jokes about her, but she’s probably the most normal one besides Caroline. After all, she introduced you two.”

“Thanks, I think.”

He nodded, straight-faced. “It’s a compliment.”

I can feel my face flushing bright red just as Blake stands up to let Caroline slide back into the booth. Even though he was teasing Caroline and throwing compliments my way, he still seems innately protective of her.

“That bathroom was filthy,” Caroline says.

“Are you ladies about ready to go or should we grab one more drink?”

“It’s up to you guys. I’m cool either way.”

Caroline seems to assert herself more when Blake is around. “I’m ready,” she says.

We all stand up, and Blake takes Caroline’s hand and motions for me to walk ahead of them. “After you,” he says, his voice low and smooth. I’m instantly turned on. I’m frozen where I stand.

Caroline is looking at me like I have two heads. “Go, Hayden, we’ll follow you.”

I don’t understand why I’m incapable of moving at the moment. I feel like all the blood is rushing to my head—and someplace else. I look to Blake…bad idea. He’s wearing a sexy smirk. He motions again for me to walk, but this time he winks, too. I nearly fall over. Instead, he takes my hand and leads both of us out of the restaurant.

I’ve never been that girl: the damsel in distress or the lust-struck type. But my degree of swooning and ogling just now was borderline criminal.

Blake turns to me on his right and cocks his head to the side. I’m looking up at him and he’s staring down at me. He’s at least six-one, thin, but built. His proximity is intoxicating. I inhale. He smells like man: sandalwood, moss, earthy, but there’s a hint of cigarette smoke, too.

“Little too much wine?” he asks.

“Something like that,” I reply, though the truth was that I was drunk off his good looks and smooth voice. I blame my hormones.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

We walk out to my car, and all the while I’m chanting in my head, I will not ogle Caroline’s boyfriend anymore. She is my client. I think I can even call her my friend after today and I am in desperate need of friends. But I also want to get to the bottom of this relationship. Why would these two stay together all these years when they seem so opposite? When there doesn’t seem to be any romantic attraction between them?

I get a grip and say, “Here she is,” pointing to Frankie, my purple Honda Civic hatchback.

Blake looks at Frankie peculiarly. “She?” he says.

“Yeah, Frankie.”

I give him the keys and he opens the passenger door and guides Caroline by the hand into the backseat. Once Caroline is in, he turns toward me. “You named your car?”

We’re looking into each other’s eyes. There’s a small smile playing on his lips. “Her full name is Frances Pea Civic. She used to be green.”

“Ha!” He laughs once and then boops the front of my nose with his index finger. “You’re a funny girl, Hayden.”

Why couldn’t he have said “beautiful” instead? I guess that would be wrong.

He has to move the seat back before he even attempts to get in because his legs are so long. Once he’s in the driver seat, he adjusts the steering wheel and starts her up. Caroline is quiet in the back and I’m still giddy over how close he is to me. “I didn’t think this was a factory color,” he says as he’s pulling onto the road.

“No, I got sideswiped by some beef-head driving one of those tractor trailers.”

He glances over and makes a horrified expression. “You were okay?”

“Yeah, I was totally fine. Terrified, but fine.”

And then he says, “Poor Frankie,” and I’m practically ready to declare my everlasting love for him.

Caroline chimes in from the back. “It smells like a dead body back here.”

Trying to make light of it, I joke. Because what else could I do but own the embarrassing moment? “The smell of my favorite and also very old ballet flats can easily be mistaken for a rotting corpse.”

Blake laughs out loud. He thinks I’m funny. Caroline’s not amused.

“That’s disgusting, Hayden. You should just buy a new pair.” The urge to say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, Caroline” is strong in me, but I stay quiet.

Blake looks over and smiles. “CC has hypersomnia. Don’t sweat it.”

I turn around, look at Caroline, and say, “What is hypersomnia?”

Caroline laughs a little and then says, “It’s a hypersensitivity to smells. Blake thinks I have it because he threw away a piece of fish once in my trash can and I complained about it.”

“No, C, tell her the truth.” He’s looking at her in the rearview mirror.

She relents. “I smelled it for six months after we had basically bleached the trash can and my entire kitchen.”

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