“Charlotte,” he called softly.
“What do you recommend?” I asked.
His thumb brushed over my knuckles. “Charlotte,” he repeated.
“I haven’t had a decent steak in a while.” I turned the page, not seeing a single word.
“Charlotte,” he repeated, this time louder.
Without any way to ignore him longer, I looked up. “Yeah?”
His handsome face was warm with understanding. “Relax.”
I allowed the menu to fall to the table and grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been on a date in a really long time. At least, not a good one. Rita set me up with her hairdresser’s son a few months back. But he was an accountant, so I snuck out the bathroom window.”
His eyebrows popped up, but I carried on because, well, he was still staring at me and still stroking his thumb over the back of my hand in a way that felt divine—and slightly petrifying.
“I work twenty-four hours a day. And live and breathe my career. I don’t know what Rita told you about me, but I can assure you it wasn’t true. I’m not funny or interesting like she loves to tell men. In truth, my life is a mess. I’m a boring homebody who reads medical journals for entertainment and survives on microwave dinners for one. I appreciate you asking me out to dinner. I really do. But I’m not sure I can do this.”
He continued to stare at me, but his eyes took on a humorous glint.
Great. He was laughing at me.
I needed to get the hell out of there. But first I had to get my hand back.
Grabbing my purse, I gave my hand a tug, but he kept it pinned to the table.
“He was an accountant?”
Of all the questions I figured he’d ask after my little trip to the restaurant confessional, that was not one I’d considered.
“Yeah. It was terrible.”
He laughed. “And you thought you were boring.”
I snapped my gaze back to his, a smile pulling at my lips. “Right? I almost fell asleep on him.”
He finally released my hand and took the menu from in front of me, moving it out of the way. “I’ll do what I can to keep you awake tonight. I retired from accounting a few years back.” He winked.
I bit my bottom lip.
He chuckled. “Relax. I didn’t ask you to dinner for entertainment.” He dug into his pocket and retrieved a pen before writing something on a cocktail napkin. “I don’t need a song and dance. I said no faking it and I meant it. If you want to sit there and stare at the menu until you memorize it, I’m more than happy to sit here and watch you do it.” He flashed me a smile but kept his eyes aimed at whatever he was writing. Or maybe he was drawing? I couldn’t tell. “You want to talk, I’ll talk. You want to sit in silence, fine by me.” He finally slid the cocktail napkin toward me.
It was some kind of map. Arrows started at a small star at the top, continuing through the maze of lines before separating out into two different paths.
I was still trying to make heads or tails of his sketch when he folded his hand over the top of mine. A-GAIN!
What the hell was up with this guy and holding hands? I’d known Porter for less than twenty-four hours and I’d already had more physical contact with him than I’d had with anyone else in years.
“Charlotte, I would love it if you’d stay through the entire dinner. Maybe even through dessert and coffee too. But, if you decide to leave, I should warn you that there isn’t a window in the women’s restroom.” He remained serious as he pointed at one of the arrows. “Your best bet will be the emergency exit at the end of the hall.” He traced his finger across the napkin to the end of the other path. “Or the one at the back of the building.”
Covering my mouth with a hand, I tried to hide my smile, but it was a worthless attempt, especially when he grinned.
He continued. “Let me be the first to inform you. I’m boring too. And I haven’t been on a date in years. All kidding aside, you might need that map in an hour. But you’re beautiful. And smart. And, regardless of whether you think you are, you’re funny too. So I’m going to sit here for however long you’re willing to stay and hope like hell that cocktail napkin ends up in the trash.”
Jesus. Where did this guy come from?
We sat in silence, his left hand on top of my right, my heart racing, his gaze never drifting from mine, his blues locked on my browns.
When the waitress returned, she talked.
But I sat there, reveling in the warmth that I hadn’t experienced since the chill of reality had devoured me.
“So, what do you say?” Porter asked as the waitress watched me expectantly.
“I’m sorry… What?”
“I asked if you were gonna stay long enough to eat?”
Damn it. I absolutely was. Porter might have wanted company in the darkness. But, with a single taste of the warmth, I wanted to bask in the sunlight.
“Depends. What kind of dessert do you have for after dinner?” I asked, turning my hand over to intertwine our fingers.
His eyes darkened as he purred, “Anything you want, Charlotte.”
Without a word, I crumpled his cocktail napkin map into a ball with my free hand.
He smiled. Mine was bigger.
Whoever coined that phrase is a bald-faced liar. Words are often the sharpest weapon of all, triggering some of the most powerful emotions a human can experience.
“It’s a boy.”
“Your son needs a heart transplant.”
Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.
Syllables and letters may not be tangible, but they can still destroy your entire life faster than a bullet from a gun.
Two words—that was all it took to extinguish the sun from my sky.
For ten years, the darkness consumed me.
In the end, it was four deep, gravelly words that gave me hope of another sunrise.
“Hi. I’m Porter Reese.”
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