Excerpt from Chapter One of How We Fall, The Men of Evansdale County 2
What in the hell is a dragon fruit?
The scribbled list taunted me from my hand. Bright blue ink scrawled across a white paper napkin that looked more like hieroglyphics than actual words. With my brow wrinkling in confusion, I stared harder, hoping that somehow I would magically know what these things were. Starfruit. Blood oranges. Medjool dates. Grappa?
Okay, maybe this job wasn’t for me. In fact, it seemed more like the job from hell at this point.
It was my first day at the restaurant. Some guy whose nametag read Toby, came stomping out of the kitchen like an angry bull. His pale, almost chalk-white face was flushed beet red across his cheeks and forehead, dripping with thick beads of sweat that ran beneath the collar of his white chef coat. He thrust the list in my hand, along with some cash that reeked of the same cheese and burned garlic that he did.
Toby told me I had to go to the Canary Whole Foods Market on Houghton Road to get the things on the list and that I needed to be back before one. He also said the chef was exceptionally particular so to only get the best.
Even when I tried to explain that it was my first day and that I was just a hostess, he didn’t care. He said the king needed them, and I had to do it. Fast. Then he rushed back towards the kitchen quicker than Cinderella leaving the ball.
I mean, if the king was so particular, why couldn’t he just get his own stupid dragon fruit instead of sending me on my first day?
I stood there, waiting for the bus and cursing Toby under my breath, shivering against the chill of October air rustling past my cheeks like an icy breath. With my arms hugged tight around myself, I wished I had a better coat. Or that maybe the only black skirt I owned, which was part of the hostess dress code—all black – dress, or blouse and skirt—wasn’t so short. Even with the thick black tights I wore beneath it, the thin cotton was no match for the weather.
Now it was nearing twelve-fifteen, the list of nearly foreign-sounding items I had to gather was still gripped tightly in my hand while I wandered around the market. I was most likely going to get fired. Or maybe I should just quit?
“This is dragon fruit,” a male voice called beside me, so deep and resonating that it sounded like what I imagined the echo inside of a bass guitar might when it was being played.
Had I said that out loud?
“What?” My forehead pinched together as I spun on my heels only to be faced with one of—no—the, most gorgeous man I’d ever seen in my life.
No description could do a man like him justice other than breaking down every bit of him into a list of bullet points. Tall. Check. A lean Adonis-like physique with golden tan skin. Check. A face that looked like an Armani cologne model in a magazine? CHECK.
He was all muscle from what I could tell. Easily standing at six-four, maybe even taller, with massive, broad shoulders. His dark blond hair twisted into a bun at the base of his neck with sandy colored strands poking out from beneath the band holding it all together. Pieces of hair curled around the nape of his neck and for a second I wondered what they might feel like brushing against my lips.
He had a neatly trimmed, thick beard and mustache with crystal-clear, light blue eyes almost the same color as faded blue jeans. But it was the chiseled line of his lips that had me momentarily entranced, and the way his thin upper lip curved perfectly against the fullness of the lower one.
This man was the very essence of sex. He was the kind of man women threw themselves at. The sort of man who could all too easily have any woman he wanted at the snap of his fingers.
Correction. Any woman, except for me, that is. Men were currently off my radar. Especially ones like this even though I had to remind myself to keep my gaze from falling on the sensual curve of his lips for too long.
“Dragon fruit,” he smiled, holding up a strange looking thing in the palm of his hand. It was oval shaped, and a bright rose color with green, spiky tips. It almost looked like a miniature pink pineapple. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
“No,” fiery red heat filled my cheeks. Stupid freaking blushing. It had nothing to do with being embarrassed or even the man standing in front of me. “It’s okay. I—I didn’t realize I’d said that out loud, actually. So, that’s a dragon fruit? And people eat it?”
“What were you planning on doing with it?” he asked. The amused smile that lifted his lips had me momentarily hypnotized.
Why was my heart pounding so loud?
My head shook, jolting me back to reality. I had little time to get the things on my list and get back, much less time to be contemplating the way my mouth suddenly went dry. Because I really didn’t want to have to look for another job all because I got too wrapped up in staring at a handsome man’s smile.
“It’s just this list,” I held out the napkin with chicken-scratches of blue ink across it with a loud exhale of air. “I just started this job today, and my boss gave me this list and told me to come get all this stuff. Blood oranges? Some weird dates—and you wouldn’t happen to know what grappa is would you?”
I shoved the list even closer in his direction to see if maybe he could decipher it. “I dunno, I should probably just quit. This guy kind of sounds like a demanding, control-freak asshole if you ask me.”
“Yes, he certainly does,” the man took the napkin from my hands and studied it with a cocked eyebrow. His pale blue eyes grazed across the list before he lifted his gaze back to me, a slightly bemused smirk quirking one cheek higher than the other. “Well, lucky for you, I know what all of these are. Grab yourself a basket.”
The man was dressed well in a snug shirt and dark jeans like maybe he was headed for a casual day at the office, or perhaps even a lunch date. It was a dark blue button up shirt with the top button undone and he had the sleeves rolled to his elbows, showing off his hard, muscular forearms. The fabric itself screamed of wealth and class, as did the leather Burberry sneakers on his feet. The only thing that seemed out of place in his otherwise professional, yuppie appearance was the rows of tiny silver hoops lining his ears. The combination was oddly intriguing.
He seemed strangely at ease in the market, studying the fruits and vegetables. I followed him around like an obedient puppy, basket in hand as he tossed the items from my list inside, but not before telling me a little about each one.
“So where do you work?” he asked, casually running his fingers across shining, yellow fruit. I couldn’t help but notice that his fingernails were clean and filed across the tops at precisely the same length and he had no cuticles to speak of.
Did he get manicures? I tucked my free hand into the pocket of my jacket so he couldn’t see the chips in my turquoise nail polish.
“Acquiesce?” my lips twisted around the word. “It’s that fancy place over on Monte Ridge. I just started today.”
“Nice place,” he glanced in my direction, looking me up and down for a moment before giving his attention to another basket of fruit, drifting his fingertips across the pitted, brightly colored skin of a small orange. “Do you have an interest in fine cuisine or—”
“No,” I snorted and cut him off. “Give me a grilled cheese or some fried chicken, and I’m happy as a clam. Don’t get me wrong, I love food. Always have. My grandma taught me how to cook when I was little, and it was something we did together every Sunday after church. She watches all those celebrity cooking shows too, and she’s always trying to make the things she sees. But this stuff, it just seems kind of uppity and snooty. But, it’s a job, you know?”
His lips twitched at the corners, fighting a smirk. “So you’ve never worked at a restaurant, much less an upscale one I take it?”
“No, is it that obvious?”
The smirk won. Apparently, I was amusing to the handsome mystery man. He probably thought I was a country bumpkin, lost in a whole foods market like some kind of damsel in distress with a shopping list. I suppose he’d be mostly right.
“It was nice of them to hire you without having any experience. I hear they’re sticklers for that over there.”
“I lied,” I admitted with a sheepish grin. “I mean, everyone does it, right? How hard can it be to seat people at a table and hand them a menu?”
“Hmmph,” he chuckled under his breath. “And this,” he plucked a thin bottle with clear, golden liquid swirling inside it from a shelf, “is grappa. It’s Italian alcohol made from the pulp left over from crushed grapes used to make wine.”
“So, it’s like, wine scraps?” my nose wrinkled at the thought.
“No, not quite,” he laughed, his eyes crinkling a bit in the corners. “It’s delicious, though it is an acquired taste. And—” his corn-flower blue eyes skimmed the napkin list I’d handed him earlier, “I think this is everything on your shopping list.”
“Thank you,” I gushed with relief. I pulled my phone from my coat pocket to check the time. Twelve-forty-one. “Oh crap, I’m running late. Thank you—” my head tilted in question, hoping he would at least offer his name so I could thank my hero properly.
“Finn,” he answered.
“Thank you, Finn.”
“Can I give you a ride?” He offered.
I gulped and stared at him for a second and contemplated the proposition before shaking my head. Number one rule in life we all learn as kids? No taking rides from strangers. Even ones who look like him. “No, I’ll catch the next bus.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. You said you were running late,” he shot me a blinding smile in apology. “I just thought maybe I could help.”
“Yeah. It’s just that I have a policy against getting into strangers cars and getting chopped into a million tiny pieces. You understand, right? But thank you—for the offer.”
“Smart,” he smiled at me again. “Well, it was lovely meeting you—”
“Hailee,” I answered.
“Hailee.” The way his lips curled around my name had my mouth running dry again and every muscle in my body tensing up. “Good luck with the job.”
“Thanks,” I hiccuped before turning to rush to the cash register.
I ran as fast as I could to the bus stop, not even taking time to stop and admire the way the vibrant, flamboyant colors of summer had transitioned into the rich, jewel-toned hues of fall. I was mostly praying I wouldn’t break the bottle of grappa or bruise any of the food. I don’t know. Does dragon fruit bruise?
God. I was an idiot. That guy was gorgeous, and chances are, he probably wasn’t an ax-wielding murderer. I could have at least taken the ride and gotten out of the cold and lived to tell the tale. I was kicking myself until I remembered that as far as myself and men go, I seem to always have an eye for the wrong ones, and he was probably no different. Despite his expensive taste in shoes and his sex god good looks, he was more than likely just like the rest of them.
An asshole. A cheat. A liar.
When I finally made it back to Acquiesce, it was one-thirty, and my heart was pounding frantically in my chest. Even though I’d gotten everything on the list, I was late with the king’s items, so I was probably getting fired anyway.
Pushing my way through the massive wood and glass doors, I walked as quickly as I could through a maze of tables until I reached the kitchen. Using my shoulder, I butted the swinging stainless steel doors open, holding the bags in front of myself taking deep gulps of air.
“I got it,” my chest heaved with heavy breaths as I rounded the corner. “I got all the stuff you asked for.”
When I made it around the sharp, steel edge of the wall, I found myself face to chest with a dark blue, button-up shirt that screamed of designer origins and I’d bet if I looked down, I’d see Burberry trainers. When I finally let my eyes lift to meet the face smiling down at me, a bit smugly I might add, the heat of a thousand fires filled my cheeks.
No way. No. Freaking. Way.
“Thank you, Hailee,” the gorgeous mystery man from earlier nodded with a blinding grin. A grin like that was no fair as there were several feelings inside of me fighting for control. Embarrassment, humiliation, and shock.
But mostly, and the most annoying of them all—lust.
Ugh. I am so getting fired.
….to be continued