I took a deep breath as I grabbed the handle of the door to the bookstore.
Finally, I was free—free. I walked in, running my fingers over the books on the sale rack. Normally, I was here to get something for a dreaded course at my college but it was the last day of the semester, and I was here for me. I stopped in front of the New Adult section, running my fingers across the bindings until I found a title that looked good. I pulled the book out and looked at the cover. I couldn’t help my eyebrow raising as I looked at the two individuals, sparsely dressed and entangled.
“Ellie, nice to see you! What can I help you with? I thought college was out for a while?” Stew came around the corner, and I found myself holding the steamy cover to my hammering chest.
I looked over his shoulder to see if the nameless guy who always seemed to be there to smirk at my suffering due to Stew’s attentiveness was around.
I took a deep breath as I shook my head, moving the book to my back. “Uh, yeah…I mean…I’m good, and yes, it’s out for a bit.”
Stew leaned against the shelf, flashing me his braces as he pushed his thick glasses up his nose.
“So here for pleasure?” he asked, looking around my shoulder to see what book I was holding behind my back.
I shuffled backwards as I lifted my shoulders to shrug. “Yeah…nothing in particular.”
He stepped forward, keeping pace with me as I tossed the book behind me into a pile of sale ones. “There must be something you had in mind?
I shook my head. “No, not at all.”
I actually did have something in mind, but he was never capable of actually finding the books I needed. Over the past several months I had gotten used to looking up what aisle it would be in while he walked away, leaned too close to a computer screen with his brow furrowed, hunting and pecking his way around the keyboard. I always had the book in hand by the time he figured out how to use the search bar properly.
“You have to have some idea what you’re looking for, El. Come on! One year studying your butt off, and now you have some time to read something you like and you have absolutely no clue what you want?” Stew pushed, walking in time with me as I headed through the store.
I gritted my teeth, looking over the shelves and my eyes landed on nameless guy, smirking at me as he put a book back on the shelf. I widened my eyes at him and mouthed the words, help me please!
He sucked in his lower lip as he attempted to contain his laughter. He jumped down from the ladder, and I squeezed my eyes shut as I stopped at the shelf I was next to.
“How about a New Adult romance?” Stew suggested, and my face went red as I thought of the book I’d been holding when he walked over to me.
“Stew,” a deep voice made my eyes shoot open; “I think it’s time for your break,” Nameless said, covering his smiling lips with his hand as he looked between us.
“I was just helping my favorite customer out,” Stew replied, and it sounded like he was pouting behind me. My jaw tightened as I fought the urge to thrust my elbow into his gut.
“Don’t worry, bro. I can handle it from here,” Nameless said, narrowing his green-blue eyes at Stew.
“Yeah,” Stew huffed. I looked over my shoulder and shot him a sympathetic smile as he nodded at me saying, “Nice to see you.”
“You too,” I replied, watching as he walked away. I turned to face Nameless, looking up at his slender frame. He dropped his hand, sticking it into his jean pocket as he smiled at me. “Thanks for finally saving me.”
“I’ve been watching him do that for months…it’s been quite entertaining.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, breathing in through my nose before pushing passed him. “It hasn’t been entertaining for me. Good way to drive away customers.”
“That’s why I finally decided to save you,” he said as he followed me through the bookshelves to the classics section.
I turned, walking backwards. “Oh, how kind of you.”
Nameless raised his eyebrows up and down quickly as he leaned against the book shelf, tapping his fingers on the wood. “So what can I help you find?”
I shrugged, looking around the store. Suddenly I had no clue what I wanted to read. His smile and eyes seemed to be a deadly combination for my brain cells.
Finally I replied, “I like Jane Austen, but I’ve read all of her books.”
Nameless nodded over his shoulder. “So you’re a romance novel buff?”
I followed him as we made our way a few shelves down. “Not exactly…I just admire her writing. I like her sense of humor.”
He looked over at me, his smile enhancing his strong cheek bones and jaw line. “You don’t seem to find things very funny.”
I blinked at him. “If you’re referring to the fact you let Stew torture me for months, that isn’t funny.”
“It’s the kind of thing Miss Austen would’ve found amusing.”
“Yeah,” I shot back. “I’m sure you’d know that.”
He stopped, crossing his arms so they bulged slightly. He had an Adam Levine build; lean muscles with his sex appeal focused on his confidence. “Stereotyping are we? And you haven’t even seen my tattoos.”
“Tattoos?” I repeated, my chest tightening with pressure.
He winked at me, flipping his arms over to expose the tattoos on either forearm. “Have you read any of Austen’s unfinished work?”
I nodded as I stared at the koi fish on either arm. One danced in moonlit water, while the other danced in water shimmering with the light of the sun.
“You have, or you’re that amazed by these?” he asked, tapping his arm with his finger.
I shook my head, my breath sticking in my throat as I tried to make my vocal chords work. I swallowed. “Uh…yeah, I’ve read them.”
I fought the urge to hit myself in the head. I was acting like as much of an idiot with this guy as I did with Stew. My eyes moved from his tattoos back up to his face. He scratched his five o’clock shadow before reaching behind me.
I tried not to shiver as the warmth of his body washed over me. “Here it is.”
He handed me a book with a disturbing cover of a girl with half her face gone.
I raised my eyebrows. “You’re joking, right? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?”
“Judging a book by its cover isn’t a good thing to do,” Nameless chastised me, shaking his head. “It’s actually very good.”
I looked down at the book and back up to his soft lips and then his eyes. “Fine,” I began as I narrowed my eyes at him, pushing my shoulders back and standing taller. I was pretty sure my 5’2” frame and all hundred pounds of me couldn’t be less confrontational. “I guess I’ll trust you, but only because you saved me.”
“Are you trying to intimidate me?”
I fluttered my eyelashes at him. “Is it working?”
His shoulders rose as he chuckled. “Not really.”
My stomach growled, and my whole body tensed as Nameless’ brow furrowed at me.
“I…I forgot to eat today,” I stuttered out, looking down at the book in my hands.
I watched from the corner of my eyes as he looked down at his watch then back at me. “It’s almost four. You forgot to eat all day?”
I curled my toes inside my ballet flats as my hands tightened around the paperback binding. “Uh…sometimes I do that.”
I chewed on the inside of my lip as he looked at my small frame, and I knew he was thinking I was too skinny.
I knew he was right.
“How about I get you a muffin and coffee from the cafe?” Nameless suggested, cocking his head at me. His expression warmed me, and I didn’t feel the judgment I expected.
“You really don’t have to.”
He held his hand out for the book. “It’s my way of making up for letting Stew torture you for months.”
I let the book drop in his hand, trying to ignore the rush of heat from the touch of his fingertips against mine.
“I suppose I could allow that,” I replied, and we headed to the cafe across the way.
“Do you hate me because I let him bug the shit out of you?” he asked as he pulled a stool out for me to sit.
I hopped up into it, replying, “You still have a chance to redeem yourself.”
“What type of coffee can I get you?” he asked, leaning on the table. His smile toyed with my emotions, making my empty stomach dance with butterflies.
“White chocolate mocha latte with a blueberry muffin,” I answered as he pushed my book towards me with one finger. “Please.”
“I’ll be right back, start looking through that—you don’t have to buy it just because I suggested it,” he commented before turning to the counter.
I glanced down at the book, flipping through the pages and catching bits and pieces here and there. It wasn’t like I could concentrate on anything when I was waiting for him to come back.
“So,” Nameless began as he easily slipped onto the stool and pushed the coffee and muffin my way; “how often is sometimes…if you don’t mind me asking.”
I stared down at the muffin, my mouth watering from its freshly baked scent. I pulled off a piece and popped it in my mouth.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, sticking his head in his hand and tangling his fingers in his hair. The top was longer than the sides, sticking between his fingers as he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “I shouldn’t have asked. I have no—”
I cut him off. “Don’t worry about it. You’re not the first person to tell me I’m too skinny.”
“Probably the first stranger to, though,” he answered, his chest rising as he sat back in his chair, holding his biceps as he stared at me, obviously uncomfortable.
I offered him a soft smile before taking a sip of the drink and then answering, “Not really.”
“I don’t do it because I think I’m fat.”
He nodded, looking down at the table as he tapped his fingers on it. “So,” his eyes met mine; “You do know you’re beautiful…even when you’re eating.”
I choked on the piece of muffin in my mouth. “Thanks?”
His ears turned red, but he kept his eyes locked on me. “You’re welcome.”
I looked down at the muffin, picking at the wrapper before letting my gaze back up to his. “I really do just forget to eat…and not on purpose. There’s—” I paused, looking at the muffin before continuing; “There’s just a lot of things in my life that distract me. Honestly, half the time I don’t eat, and the other half I just jam something down because I know I should.”
He ran his teeth over his lower lip before he replied, “Your friends don’t say anything?”
I shrugged. “I don’t talk about it. You’re the only one who’s ever really asked. My friends are too involved in being in college and partying to really care. I guess I don’t really know if I’d call them friends anyways.”
“Sometimes that happens…friends drift apart as they become adults—or don’t become adults,” he commented as he leaned in. “I get it.”
“Some situations force us to be adults sooner than others,” I replied. I pursed my lips as I realized I said too much. I shook my head as I stood, grabbing my coffee and book. “Thanks for this, and the book recommendation.”
“Sure,” he replied, his jaw tightening as he looked at me.
My shoulders relaxed, and I found myself smiling at him. “Thanks for listening. You’re easy to talk to…almost too easy.”
He laughed, standing and walking with me to the register. “I can honestly say you’re the first person to say that.”
I handed him the book and he scanned it.
“Well, you were,” I said.
I swiped my debit card, and he stuck the receipt in the book before holding his hand out to me. “It was good to meet you—”
I took his hand, and a tingle rushed up my body.
“Ellie,” I replied, trying not to sound as breathless as I was.
“Trent,” he replied. “I can make a list of books you might like for the next time you come in?”
“I’d appreciate that,” I said, biting my lip and watching as his eyes lingered on me.
“I’ll see you in a few days?”