I was in shock. Marlowe had already said more to me than she had in months. It seemed as if something had changed and she was okay with hanging out and talking with me. As I grabbed Country’s tools from under the counter, I asked, “Long day?”
“Yeah, you could say that, but it wasn’t too bad. I’d rather it be busy than not. The slow nights seem to go on forever.”
“Can’t disagree with you there.”
“What about you? Was it a busy night over at Stilettos?”
I pulled the cooler away from the wall and started to dismantle the back cover as I answered, “No more than usual.”
“Do you like working there?”
“It definitely has its advantages.” I removed the burned-out condenser as I continued, “For one, our coolers aren’t older than I am.”
“I’d say that’s a definite advantage,” she giggled.
Damn. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually carrying on a real conversation with her—something I feared might never happen, and it came easy. I felt completely comfortable with Marlowe, and from the way things were going, it was clear she felt the same about me. I wanted to keep her talking, so I asked, “You’re from Texas, right?”
“Um-hmm. I grew up in San Antonio.”
“That’s a long way from here.”
“Yeah.” Her nose crinkled with a grimace. “That was kind of the point.”
“You have a rough go of it?”
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“Understood.” I could tell by the tone of her voice she didn’t want to talk about it, so I tried to change the subject. “Looks like things are going well for you here. Got a good job. Gladys thinks a lot of you. Country, too. Plus, you’ve got your girl. I’d say—”
“My what?” she interrupted.
“Your girl.” I glanced over at Marlowe, and it was clear from her expression she had no clue what the hell I was talking about. Hoping to clarify what I’d meant, I told her, “Country told me you have a girlfriend.”
“Umm, yeah.” She bit her bottom lip as her eyes drifted to the floor with embarrassment. “That’s not exactly right.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend. Never did.” Trying my best to hide my surprise, I pretended to keep working on the condenser while she spoke. “Country came up with that on his own after I told him I had plans to see a girlfriend of mine.”
I held back my smile as I asked, “And you never told him any different?”
“Well ... no, not exactly.” A grimace crossed her face as she explained, “I really needed this job and didn’t want to risk causing any issues between me and Gladys, so I let him keep believing I had a girlfriend, hoping he wouldn’t ask me out again.”
“I don’t know. I actually feel kind of bad about deceiving him for so long.” I could hear the guilt in her voice as she told me, “He’s been really sweet to me this past year. I should’ve just told him the truth.”
“Does that mean you’d go out with him? You know … if it wasn’t for the job and for him being Glady’s grandson?”
“Umm, noooo,” she answered with hesitation. I can’t begin to describe my relief when she said, “Country is a good guy and all, but he’s not my type.”
When Rafe showed up to fix the cooler, it had taken all the courage I could muster not to act like a total spaz and hide out in the office while he was there. I was determined to ignore my insecurities and have a normal conversation with him. It wasn’t easy. Just being close to him brought butterflies to my stomach. I couldn’t even think straight. My mind would go completely blank, and I couldn’t speak. I would just stand there and stare at him like a hormonal teen with her first crush. It was embarrassing beyond belief, but I just couldn’t help myself.
There was something about the way his broad shoulders filled out his leather jacket and his thick, muscular thighs pressed against the denim of his jeans that exuded strength. The second he would walk into the room I’d feel this overwhelming need to cower away and hide. I guess I could say he made me nervous, but not in a fearful way—in a way that had my fingers itching to rake through his dark shaggy hair, my mouth longing to feel his lips against mine, and my entire body humming with need. It also didn’t help matters his beautiful green eyes followed my every move. Rafe might’ve had a pretty boy face and a charming smile, but he was a bad boy all the same. I could see it in the way he talked, the way he walked, and the way his very presence demanded attention—my attention. There was no denying I was attracted to him, but since I’d never spoken more than two words to him, I had no idea what he thought about me.