I took last week off due to Mother's Day. To compensate, I have a longer excerpt. You may have noticed the quality of the snippets have been improving due to editing. The day job along with life in general kept pushing the publication date forward, but definitely this summer. Coming soon is the boxed set of Pagan Eyes, an audible edition of Initiation, and the love story between Buell and Esmeralda Hare whern they first met. Trust me: it's full of magic and fire.
Jumping to her feet, she announced, “I’ll go check on that pizza.” Suiting her actions to her words, she rushed to the door before he could say anything else. Inside, she worked her way through the crowd of standing students, wondering why they insisted going somewhere that was so busy. The counter loomed in the distance rather like an oasis. Her goal was to get pass the sea of half-drunk students, mostly male. No doubt a few would take the opportunity to grope her, one of the reasons she avoided crowded places. Inhaling deeply, she prepared to shoulder her way through the bodies with a few elbows jabs and sharp pinches for any gropers.
A bleary-eyed male a little taller than her turned to comment, but stepped back allowing her to pass. He made sure to elbow the male next to him, who also stepped back. It was like the parting of the Red Sea. Of course, it would have to be renamed the parting of the drunken hoard. At the counter, she turned to see Mitch was right behind her with a fierce look on his face, daring anyone to touch her.
His expression shocked her. She’d never seen him look anything but friendly or thoughtful. Despite his leanness, his countenance promised a message that even the most liquor-befuddled brain could process. Mitch was being protective. The idea thrilled her, sending a jolt of euphoria through her body. When was the last time a man protected her? It would have had to be her father, but he’d quit protecting her long ago.
It was probably politically incorrect to like the feeling, but she did. Mitch made the few steps to the counter and spoke close to her ear. “I told you I would get the pizza.”
The words never penetrated due to her rapid bolt before she fell victim to uncomfortable details of his self-made party the previous night. The smothering heat wafting from the pizza ovens and an excess of human bodies almost made her wish she stayed planted in the cooler outside air. Perversity caused her to shrug her shoulders. A deft move allowed Mitch to slip in front of her and signaling the help. Stella grabbed the sodas, while Mitch picked up the pizza and balanced it on his fingertips. Stella trailed behind her friend rather like a tugboat following a larger ship. It certainly was easier getting through the crowd. If she always had someone like Mitch by her side, crowds wouldn’t be too bad.
Once they reached their outdoor table, she waited until they both sat before she launched her protest. “I was going to pay. This was my treat. It isn’t much of a present if you pay.”
Mitch opened the pizza box allowing a whiff of garlic heavy steam to escape. He pushed the open box in her direction. Picking up a piece, she brought it close to her mouth, but instead of biting, she spoke. “This isn’t over, McConnell. Thought you’d trick me. Not sure why.”
She bit into the melted cheese and tangy sauce enjoying the taste and warmth. Mitch grabbed a large triangle and folded it in half. Catching her eye in the dim light, he said, “You are the present.”
“What was that supposed to mean?” With Cam, it’d mean he expected her to do something kinky he’d read about in a magazine or heard on that stupid radio show that the male half of the student body listened to faithfully. The show revolved around two adult men trading bathroom jokes and salacious stories similar to fourteen-year-old boys. Ironically, men believed their tales.
If she ever wondered who the smarter gender was, that show alone should make her feel super intelligent. Mitch held up a finger as he chewed. Manners, so unexpected in a college student, but still appreciated.
Was he going to say something that would creep her out? Even if he had spent time with Treasure, she doubted he turned into a typical frat guy overnight whose twin obsessions were drinking and removing girls’ thongs before they climbed on top of them.
Picking up his soda, he took a pull on the straw, probably helping the pizza go down. He set the soda down and touched the edge of her hand with his close fist. So gently, she almost wouldn’t have felt it if she hadn’t seen the action, reminding her of a butterfly kiss. Not exactly as if she experienced any of those, but what she thought one might be like.
“Being here with you is my gift. This is the first time I’ve been out with a beautiful woman since I started college.”
“Seriously?” The whole idea was hard to believe. Mitch might not be a smooth-talking player, but hardly a troll. Her mouth twisted to one side, as she remembered most girls weren’t hoping to score an intelligent male. Most preferred to be the smarter one. “C’mon, a guy like you could have any girl he wanted. Have you even asked?”
“Mmpft.” The nonsense word was more of a reaction to having a mouth full of pizza and trying not to spit it across the table. Stella decided to take it as a no. He hadn’t asked anyone out. A passing car’s headlights illuminated their corner of the terrace briefly, causing the groping couple to grumble, but spotlighted a tender expression on her companion’s face that confused her more than his words.
His soft reply caused Stella to inch her seat closer to hear.
“College was never about parties or hooking up for me. I knew I’d have to hit the books to make it. Never really intended to do otherwise. I wasn’t exactly a hit with the girls back at my old high school, anyway. No fairy godfather bestowed on me the gift of irresistibility when I hit college, either. Besides the only girl I really liked was involved with someone else. There really wasn’t anyone else I cared about.”
Out of the entire half-whispered conversation, she seized on one part. Mitch had a secret crush on a girl. Obviously, one with a boyfriend, but who could it be? The large lecture class they both attended was full of females, not that she paid attention to any of them. Her goal was to get there on time and take notes. He’d never talked about anyone, either. “Who’s the girl? Maybe she’s not all serious about the boyfriend. They could break up, ya’ know.”
Here she was hoping for a couple to breakup if it would make her friend happy. Couples broke up all the time. Most were never together. They just hung out until someone more interesting caught their eye. A snippet from her earlier conversation with Cam slipped back and teased her with its implications. No, it couldn’t be.
The flickering votive silhouetted Mitch’s head and cast a tiny rosy circle on the plastic table. Enough light to see that the man angled his head away from her as he spoke. “I doubt they’d break up since she’s planning on buying him a telescope for his birthday.”
His words startled her almost as much as his resigned tone did. Sure, Cam hinted that Mitch liked her, but she dismissed it as one of his mind games. In Cam’s mind, she gained more attractiveness if other men wanted her. Why it mattered if other men desired her baffled her since the man kept their relationship practically covert. The number of people who knew they were dating she could count on one hand. Cam, Mitch, Leah, and the cashier at the discount store where they shopped, but the last one may have assumed they were related since they were both blonde. Not sure, if it ever came up in conversation when Mitch spoke to people.
At one time, she considered mentioning it. If Cam were someone else, she might have, but being a known male eye candy on the campus made any mention sound like bragging. After a while, she hesitated wondering if Cam shouldn’t be the one advertising his hold over her. Her quandary about what terms to use for their relationship fell by the wayside with a constant barrage of classwork, work-study, and her side work of typing up lecture notes.
Mitch’s abrupt mention of his own attraction to her caused her to blurt out, “Oh.” She smashed her lips together sure she’d made a big stupid circle with her mouth.
Mitch’s heavy sigh was louder than his words. “How could you not know?”