I lean in. “It’s basically invisible. That’s it?”

“More or less. I probably have a few on my hands where I’ve burned myself cooking. Want to see my blog?”

“Hell yeah.”

She seems sweetly nervous when she launches the site from her phone. Pictures of all the dishes she’s created appear, many themed around holidays, traditions, virtual vacations, or zany culinary experiments. I take my time studying what she’s done. After all, this is important to Calla. I read some of her articles and even play a few of the videos she’s shot.

Finally, I darken her phone with a smile. “You’re really good.”

“Thanks. I keep trying out for TV shows to increase my exposure. I made it onto a cable competition where I was judged by three really talented chefs. But I lost to another home-trained cook who used to be a stripper…and dressed accordingly.”

“So all the chefs judging you were male?”

“Two of them. The other was a female who had a passion for Indian food, which my competitor made perfectly.” She shrugs. “Maybe I’m not meant to be on TV. That’s okay.”

“I think you’d be great.” I pull her closer and tuck long strands of her hair behind her ear. “And I think you’re beyond gorgeous.”

“How are you still single?” She sighs.

“I didn’t really look. I was always married to my job.” And I never found anyone who seemed right for me…until you.

She nods. “I’ve been guilty of ambition, too. I figured I have tons of time.”

Of course she did, which makes me wonder… “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four. You?”

I grunt. God, is she going to think I’m an old lech? “Thirty-six. Does that bother you?”

“Actually, I’m relieved.”

That surprises me. “Because?”

“Most guys in their twenties are still playing stupid games I don’t have patience for. They don’t know what they want and they aren’t ready for anything real.”

“That’s not me.”

She nods again. “I like that about you. Plus, my mother always dates guys who are younger than her. She was a cougar before the term was a thing. She was always fixated on looks and sex way more than emotional connection. I couldn’t relate. Then again, we’re not super close. She didn’t have me until she was forty. I was a surprise. She’s not even one-hundred percent sure who my father is.”

And that bothers her; I can tell. “So you’re the opposite, only wanting to date responsibly and seriously?”

She nods. “You’re the first truly impulsive thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t start dating until I was eighteen. My ex-boyfriend and I were together almost two years before we had sex.”

“And I’m guessing it wasn’t good?”

“Horrible. And the last few guys just didn’t wow me. I tried, but… What about you?”

“Never been interested in settling for something less than my parents had. They were married for thirty-three years before we lost my mom to cancer a few years back.”

As if she senses the pain I still carry, she tosses her arms around me and gives my back a comforting stroke. “I’m sorry. You miss her.”

This woman gets me. “All the time. She was amazing.” I peer at Calla again, marveling at how right it feels to have her in my room, in my bed. “She would have liked you.”

She gives me a warm smile. “I’m sure I would have liked her, too. Do you think you get your personality more from her or your dad?”

“My dad. I look like him. I talk like him. I think like him.” I laugh at myself. “When I was a teenager, I was determined to be anyone and everyone other than him.”

“Rebellious, huh?”

“Oh, my god. I was a horrible kid. Full of angst and defiance.” I roll my eyes at how stupid I was. “But as I got older and started seeing the world as an adult, I realized he was right and I’d been an idiot. At least until lately. Now I’m convinced he’s gone off the deep end.”

“Well, if you need advice on handling that parent, let me know. I’ve always had to manage my zany mom, who never thinks anything through.”

We laugh a little, kiss a little, pet a little. I go from wondering if she’ll let me make love to her again to being sure she will. The knock on the hotel room door puts a stop to the fun.

“Shit. I’m naked,” she shrieks as she darts for the bathroom.

“I won’t let anyone see you.” I grab a pair of shorts from my nearby suitcase, then motion her to shut the door. “I’ll get everything set up and let you know when it’s safe to come out.”

“Thank you,” she sighs.

Calla

I lean against the bathroom door with a huge grin. The way Quint protects me from even the little things makes me melty. I can see a future with someone like him. It really sucks we live so far apart…


Tags: Shayla Black Romance
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