From the seat she could Tobias unlocking the door to Caff-aholic. Another black shirt. The man dressed as though in mourning. He rarely laughed or smiled. Not her type, but the perfect guy to befriend, especially since they planned to become business partners. She had her friends and he had no one, yet. What would it hurt to offer something a little more between them?
The fact he probably never did anything halfway would keep them on even keel. Yeah, he desired her, Emma knew it, but he wasn’t knocking down her door to see more of her. A physical attraction was understandable but controllable. They wouldn’t indulge themselves and scratch the itch they had for each other. An urge Abigail and Sasha would likely encourage and instigate. Strong emotions wouldn’t get in the way of their relationship. If she presented the idea of being just a little bit more to him it would be, “You’re a man. I’m a woman. We’re single. How about we spend time together, you know, when we want company?”
See, no emotion involved in that. It would be like dating, without pressure. All that dour of his would ensure no entanglements. It would be a nice change of pace to feel desired too, because Emma would bet money he wouldn’t smile if she surprised him. She’d get that look, and Tobias would mentally remind himself it was rude to undress her in his mind.
Settled on the plan of action, Emma scooted out of the booth, leaving her friends to argue. When the morning chill prickled the hair on her arms, she cursed. She’d forgotten his jacket again. Checking for traffic, she crossed the street to him. The heeled boots clacked against the sidewalk. She hadn’t had time to slip into flats yet.
His gaze started at the shoes then up until their eyes met. There was such an intensity to it and so much passion behind the look, it left no doubt he’d mentally taken off every stitch of her clothes. Her lips parted remembering the rough way he’d suckled her lips and tongue. A feverish heat consumed the skin his gaze brushed over. In its wake she couldn’t find the earlier bemusement at the look.
“Morning,” she said, breathless.
The shuttered gaze came first, and then he mentally placed her clothes back on. “Morning, Mallow.” He stepped into the store, waited for her to enter and locked the door.
“What brings you by?” He slipped his keys into his pocket.
“One friend brain dead,” she said. He started to take down chairs and she helped. “The other one can’t stem the flow of chatter. I’ve perfected the sleeping with my eyes open method.”
Efficient. He had all the chairs in place and was heading behind the counter. He was like a freight train, the kind that couldn’t stop on a dime.
“Sounds like an emergency,” he said. “Espresso. The sweetest blend I have, but nothing added. For you, a mix of regular coffee and cappuccino with all the frills.”
Was he flirting? Maybe he always had that lightness in those midnight eyes. Why couldn’t he smile and let her know?
He set to work and within minutes a bitter yet sweet tang filled the air. “How’s my brother working out so far?”
He didn’t chuckle, but she heard the tinge of laughter in his tone. “A huge help. I don’t know what I would do without him.”
He placed the espresso down. No smile, but the same intensity and passion in his gaze like before. He’d undressed her in his mind, shook his head and put the clothes back on. She glanced down. The starched white shirt was buttoned up to the top. She undid the first two buttons. No cleavage but skin. If he stumbled she’d know, because that meant he wasn’t only paying attention to details but to her. And wouldn’t it be fun to see if she could stand in front of the freight train and make it stop? Would it hurt to get singed with another one of those looks?
“In case you were wondering, today he’s coming in early to cover the store,” she said.
“So soon?” He babysat the coffee maker and didn’t turn around to look at her.
“You trained him well already. He can dance circles around me and it’s my store.”
A muscle flexed beneath the black shirt. He was turning. Emma held her breath. Something flickered behind his gaze. Tobias’ hand slowed when he placed the plain cup of coffee onto the counter. Like there was a caution sign between them, he didn’t reply, instead he began to make her cup. It wasn’t enough of a tell to know if it were the change of details or Emma.
Yeah, Emma could ask, but it had been awhile since she was the one in the driver’s seat. She’d become complacent in men asking her out. She forgot how nerves could make the steadiest of hands shake. For goodness sakes, the man had to have some sort of tell that said go ahead, ask for more. With his back to Emma again, she undid a third button and this time there was the barest hint of cleavage.
Tobias never brought up their first meeting in a sexual manner. Maybe that’s why she was obsessed with getting a reaction. Even a mature man would have at least one dirty joke in his arsenal. He didn’t give her the nickname Bare. Or Jiggle, because no amount of exercise could ever truly offset taste-testing desserts on a daily basis. No. He got stuck on the reckless part of her being naked. Not the naked kiss part of her being naked.
Seriously. After the passionate kiss he’d zipped right back into practical. He wanted to know why. The next question, given the time, would have been how. When she added up all the lack of sins it made sense why it was absolutely necessary the next time Tobias turned around he’d stumble, stare and stutter. Something had to yank him out of that calm. Then she would know if it was okay to say, “You’re a man. I’m a woman. How about us dating as friends?” No, not dating but being friends.
He was turning. Emma held her breath.
Tobias said, “Run him through the jargon and he’ll be set to go.” His eyes narrowed on the third button, but the rest of his body stilled. He shifted, put his weight on one foot and held her coffee. Tobias kept right on staring as though the button could confess to how it joined its friends on the open side. “Did you―”
He shook his head and placed the cup down onto the counter. He shook his head harder when it became clear he’d been focused on her chest. The price popped up on the cash register and it was Emma’s turn to frown. She checked the prices on the blackboard above his head and did the math.
“You didn’t charge me for my drink,” Emma pointed out.
He crossed his arms but the light was there in his eyes. “You didn’t have three buttons unbuttoned.”
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