Martha’s assistant, Caroline, enjoys taking a break at a nearby mall…with a good book. She doesn’t expect to run into the hunk she has been lusting over. Excerpted from Interior Designs.
Caroline had lunch in the nearby mall most days. She would take a book and huddle in a back corner. Today she was reading something for her book club, thoroughly engrossed in it while waiting for her salad, when the voice she heard catapulted her back from the world within the pages.
“Hello, there,” he said, in those deep bass tones.
Even before glancing up, she recognized the voice. She’d seen him around occasionally, even in this very restaurant. Was that why she came here every day? Hoping to run into him? No, surely her mind didn’t work like that. But she smiled and said, in an innocent, yet curious tone: “Hi, Mr. Lowenstein. Are you meeting Ms. Cummings here today?”
“No, we’re meeting tomorrow, but not here,” he added. “I do come in here a lot, though. You do recall that, don’t you?” He looked amused.
She felt her cheeks redden as she nodded. “But I didn’t expect to see you today. How’ve you been?”
“May I join you?” He glanced at the opposite bench in the booth.
She didn’t really feel up to companionship, but he was so gorgeous….Was that wrong of her, in light of Martha’s relationship with him? Of course, who knew if they actually had a relationship?
“Sure,” she nodded. She closed the book and waited for him to say something else.
“You and I have been like ships passing in the night,” he commented.
“Not really. Yeah, I’ve noticed you here once in awhile, but that’s not unusual. Isn’t your office somewhere near here? And you know that mine is, as well. Nothing odd about us running into each other.”
He laughed, gifting her with his magnetic glance. “Just in case you’re feeling disloyal for breaking bread with me, I’m sure your boss wouldn’t mind.”
Caroline’s salad appeared, along with her glass of red wine; the server pulled out her pad and took Zach’s order: a burger and fries. Caroline smiled at the boyish appetites of this man.
She wondered how old he was. He was probably a few years younger than Martha, so maybe he was about her age. Not that any of it mattered. They were just having a friendly lunch.
They talked about casual topics, and when Zach’s burger arrived, they ate in silence for a few minutes.
Caroline began to feel as though she were “getting through” a chore of some kind. When had the lightness slipped away, replaced with these heavy silences? Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
But Zach put down his burger, sipped some water, and met her gaze. “Would you like to go out to dinner or a movie sometime?” Just like that, out of the blue.
Frowning, she started to shake her head.
But he pursued the topic: “Come on, just two acquaintances getting to know each other better. You don’t have a big bruiser of a boyfriend who would beat me up, do you?” And he flashed that sexy grin.
“No,” she laughed. “I guess that sounds like fun.”
They agreed on a time for Saturday. Then Zach stood up, grabbed his check, and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek.
After he had gone, she sat there for a long while, feeling discombobulated and confused.