Trevor Kelly is killing hearts right now. Have you met him?
“Tell me you have one.” My purse hits the counter with a loud, unceremonious thud. “I’m in desperate need of a caramel-topped donut. Bonus points if it’s cream-filled. Double bonus points if there are pecans on top.”
My friend, Claire, looks at me from across the bar of the Dogwood Cafe and laughs. “That good of a morning, huh?”
“Something like that.” The stool squeaks as I sit. The sound rips at my temple, adding to the frustration of the start to my day. “I’m going to need the biggest cup of coffee you can find too.”
“The coffee I can do. The donut, though. That’s going to be a problem.”
“Come on, Claire,” I say, sniffing the air. “You have one. I smell it.”
“You can’t smell it.”
“You underestimate me and my senses.”
She glances under the counter. Her attention settles on a spot near the end of the bar where the donuts are kept beneath a heavy glass dome. They’re a specialty at the Dogwood Cafe, handmade pieces of pure joy created by the owner’s wife.
I live for these things. Claire does too and the look in her eye tells me one of my favorites is left. The problem is—they’re her favorite too.
“I’ll jump the bar and get it myself,” I warn.
Her laugh is loud, filling the mostly vacant dining room. “There’s one left, but—”
“No buts. None,” I say, talking fast so she can’t interrupt me back. “I. Need. That. Donut. Today has gotten off totally on the wrong foot and I need something to smile about, okay?”
“You have me. We’re friends. Smile away.”
“Donuts make me smile. People don’t.”
I hold my hand out, palm up, and look her in the eye. She waits for me to crack. When a few long seconds pass and I haven’t even blinked, she sighs.
“Someone bought it,” she says. “For real.”
Brushing a strand of my long black hair out of my face as if preparing for battle, I narrow my gaze. “No.”
“You aren’t allowed to buy the donuts if a paying customer wants them.”
“No. I love you, Claire. I do,” I say, shaking my head. “But not more than donuts.”
“And not more than donuts on a day like today.” I wince as my brain decides to play back the morning for my mortification. “Especially on a day like today.”
I shoo her away. Like a child, I climb onto the stool, knees on the seat, and peer over the bar. Just as I suspected, perched on a platter like the little gift from God it is, sits a glorious caramel-topped donut with the most perfect pecans I’ve ever seen.
The sight alone melts some of my stress. The way the icing glistens in the morning sunlight streaming through the windows makes me forgot about the meeting I have in a few hours. Staring at the pecans, I almost forget my ex-boyfriend’s stupid text messages this morning and how much it still hurts even though I don’t want it to.
“Want me to go ahead and grab it?” I ask. The words come out strangled because of the inverted position. When Claire doesn’t answer, I look up.
She’s looking behind me, smoothing out her blue apron. The flirty smile on her lips clearly isn’t for me.
“Hey,” I say in an attempt to draw her attention back my way. “Give it to me.”
“If you insist.”
The voice, all gravely and deep, wasn’t Haley’s. And, unless she became a ventriloquist with a penchant for leather-scented cologne that sends chills racing down my spine to my yoga-pant covered behind—a behind that’s up in the air …
My body teeter-totters over the bar as I try to find the internal switch from awe to action.
A swallow passes down my throat as I survey the situation from my precarious position. Claire’s cheeks are tinted pink as she drops her gaze to mine. The giggle that’s hidden by a twist of her lips tells me one thing I already thought to be true: whoever is behind me must be seriously good-looking to warrant the sparkle lighting up Claire’s face.
Lowering myself onto the stool, I keep my gaze focused on the oversized wooden fork adorning the wall behind Claire’s bright red curls. I wonder how close my cheeks are to matching Claire’s tresses.
“I’ll take the donut to go, please,” I say with a gulp.
“And I’ll have mine here.”
His voice must be inches behind me and the proximity makes me jump. He chuckles before sitting next to me.
The richness of his scent melts with the honeyed twang of his voice and I consider what will happen if I dissolve into the vinyl bar stool. It’s too early in the day for humiliating myself in front of cute strangers.
Can life come with a re-do button already?
I grab my bag and dig through it like the aforementioned button is buried at the bottom. Sorting through mountains of candy wrappers and receipts only reminds me how much I’m sucking at life right now, but it’s better than looking at the guy who just saw my butt up in the air. In the thinnest yoga pants I own. With the brightest pink panties I have in my closet.
My wallet gets jolted a little harder than necessary as I realize how pointless wearing my pretty panties are today. No one will see them but me. That’s what I get for making some stupid deal with my cousin Dane that I won’t date for six months.
It’s for my own good, I remind myself as I sling a tube of lip balm against my wallet. The guys I pick are completely wrong for me.
A muscled forearm extends across the bar, taking a cup of coffee from Claire. “Thank you,” he says.
Hands still stuck in my purse, I look at Claire.
She grins. “Did you say you wanted coffee?”
I clear my throat, trying to ignore the pull of energy from the man beside me. “Yes, please. I’ll take it with me.”
She takes the donut box to the kitchen to get my order ready to go. As soon as she’s gone, the room seems to shrink. Fidgeting in my seat, knowing this guy just saw me in a very unflattering position, I start to stand.
“You aren’t from around here either, I take it,” he says before I can execute my plan to flee. “I mean, with your accent and all.”
I consider pretending he isn’t talking to me and ignoring him altogether, but that would be rude. And, as things are going, his voice might be the highlight of my day. So, I sit again.
“You mean I don’t sound like I’m from Dogwood Lane, Tennessee?” I ask, still not looking at him. “I’m shocked. I thought I had my drawl down pat.”
He laughs. “Sorry. You sound very Midwestern, if I was guessing.”
“Good call. I’m from Ohio. I’ve lived here a long time though …” The words drift away, along with all coherent thought, as my gaze is snatched out of thin air. Despite ascertaining from Claire’s reaction he was cute, I’m wholly unprepared for the delicious package in front of me.
Staring back at me are the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. They’re the color of the sky on a winter day—crystal clear and bright. His brows are heavy, his lashes thick, and if I could find my voice, I’d compliment them.
Smooth, tanned skin is highlighted by a brilliant white smile. A sturdy jaw is softened by laugh lines at the corners of his full lips. There’s confidence in his posture that somehow absorbs my shock and the kindness in his smile puts me at ease.
“Ohio, huh?” he says. “I’m a Michigan fan. I hope you won’t hold that against me.”
“I’m not a sports fan. I hope you won’t hold that against me.”
His grin grows wider. “Fair enough.”
What’s not fair is how I can’t remember what I’m doing here or what I have to do after. I untangle my gaze from his just in time to see Claire coming around the corner with my donut on a plate. Just like that, everything comes rushing back.
I didn’t realize my shoulders had relaxed or the throb in my temple had eased, but I’m well aware when they slam back into me again.
“Did I forget to tell you I wanted that to go?” I ask, rubbing the side of my head.
“You told me,” she says. She sets the plate down in front of him.
“Hey,” I say, pointing at the plate. “That’s mine.”
He looks at the donut and then at me. I fully expect him to slide the plate my way. There’s not a part of me, not a piece the size of one of those candied pecans, that thinks he won’t.
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he smirks.
“At risk of you stabbing me with a fork, I beg to differ,” he says. “This looks delicious. Thank you.”
“You are so welcome,” Claire purrs.
I glare at my friend. “You can’t give that to him because he’s cute, Claire.”
“Hey now,” he interrupts with a furrowed brow. “I’m not sure I like ‘cute’. Ruggedly handsome? Roguishly attractive, maybe?”
“Thief?” I offer.
He lifts his fork like he’s taunting me but, proving not to be a total daredevil, doesn’t touch the donut.
“Um, maybe I gave it to him because he ordered it first,” Claire offers. “Get a hold of yourself, Haley.”
“Get a hold of myself?” The dam holding back the irritation that’s been building all morning breaks in a spectacular display. I half-stand and half-sit on the stool and fire away at my friend. “Do you even know what’s happened to me this morning, Claire?”
“Let me fill you in,” I say through clenched teeth. “A smoke detector started chirping at four o’clock this morning because the battery went bad, despite changing them last week. Okay? And I was too short to reach it without climbing on a chair and because it was four in the morning and I hadn’t had coffee, I fell. Hit my knee, bumped my elbow, and I cried. Because I’m a baby.”
Claire bites her bottom lip to keep from laughing.
“Hold up,” he says.
“Hush, donut thief,” I say, shushing him with a wave of my hand. “Then I couldn’t make coffee because the town flushed the water lines yesterday and the water is still red. And then, because it just keeps getting better, I get a call from Sandra at the library, asking me to come in today and I’m praying like heck it has nothing to do with the rumors that we’re having budget cuts.” I take a lungful of air. “I’m over today and it’s not even really started yet.”
“Ouch,” the man says, taking my need for oxygen as a cue to add his opinions. “That is a rough morning.”
“Oh, it gets better,” I insist, feeling my blood shoot through my veins. “Then Joel sent me a text.”
Claire’s brows shoot to the ceiling. “Joel the hippie?”
“Stop calling him that.”
“That’s what Dane called him the entire time you dated him,” she says.
“You dated a hippie?” the man asks. “That’s surprising.”
I glare at him. “Want to know what’s surprising? I’ve managed to act like a lady and haven’t taken that donut right off your plate. That’s surprising.”
“This isn’t funny.” I bounce in my seat, trying not to beg while also trying not to take the pastry off his plate. It’s not so much I need the donut itself; it’s that I need the comfort of the carbs that will remind me of my mother’s homemade cinnamon rolls and give me the illusion that everything is going to be okay. “My life is falling apart.”
Ignoring my puppy dog eyes, he digs his phone out of the pocket of his jeans. His fingers fly against the screen.
I take a moment to study him from the side. The light catches off his neatly trimmed sandy-brown hair. His face is freshly shaven and I wonder vaguely what he would look like with a good three-day stubble.
For a moment, the donut is forgotten. In its place is a thought as delicious as the caramel icing—of the taste of the thief’s lips against mine. My little daydream is halted when he slips his phone back in his pocket.
“How much do I owe you?” he asks Claire.
“A donut and coffee is four eighty-six,” she says.
He fishes a ten-dollar bill from his wallet and places it on the counter. “Pay for her coffee too and then keep the change. Can I get this coffee to go, though?”
“Sure thing,” Claire says.
She strolls to the cash register, leaving the thief and I alone. I struggle to fight the grin splitting my cheeks.
“Did you just buy my coffee?” I ask.
“You know what goes good with coffee …” I look at his plate and then back to him. All he does is laugh.
He gets to his feet, unfolding a body that’s taller, and harder, than I expected. His jeans are coupled with a grey and black flannel that fits him well enough to see the lines of his body. The curve of his biceps, the dip of his waist, and the slight angle from his shoulder to his neck is divine.
“Are you finished?” he asks.
I zip a line from his boots to his face. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to walk out of here until you’ve finished appreciating me.” He grins. “If you’re done, I do need to go.”
A full-on blush covers my body and, when he laughs, I wonder if he’s thinking it’s the same color as my panties. This makes me blush more.
“You are not the gentleman I hoped you were,” I say, failing to hide a laugh.
He smiles devilishly, assessing me as he shoves his wallet back in his pocket. Then, with a pained expression and a dose of hesitation for my benefit, he slides his plate in front of me. “Here. You can have my donut. I know it’s not all you wanted, but it’ll have to do. I’m late.” He takes a cup from Claire for the road.
“I didn’t hear anything you said after ‘You can have my donut’,” I say, sticking my finger in the middle of the pastry. “But thanks.”
“They have forks, you know.”
“I know. But I wanted to make sure you didn’t ask for it back.” A warmth spreads through my middle as he laughs. “Thank you for this.”
“You’re very welcome, Ohio.” He heads to the door but stops before exiting. Looking at me over his shoulder, he narrows his eyes. The feel of his attention on me changes. It gets heavier. Not uncomfortable, but it makes me squirm nonetheless. “I’m Trevor Kelly, by the way.”
“And I’m Haley.” My voice is breathier than I intend or expect and if I weren’t still flushed from getting caught staring at him, I might blush again. “Haley Raynor.”
“It was nice to meet you.” His features soften as he steps into the sunlight. “Oh. If I didn’t mention it, you owe me for the donut.”
And, with a final grin that sinks me into my seat, he’s gone.
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