After months of subtle teasing and flirtation at the local bakery Claire owns, she’d finally agreed to have coffee with Dorian after work. Something about Dorian intrigued Claire. He wasn’t like the crass guys who came into her bakery every morning looking for handouts nor was he like the bashful men who were afraid to make eye contact. Always impeccably dressed and well mannered, he brushed aside the compliments from the girls behind the counter as meaningless banter. They fawned over his eyes; they were the color of thick Essex fog and beamed anytime Claire was present. And his voice, it was rich and intense as a single malt scotch laced with an indecipherable accent. It was slight, very slight, as though he disguised it purposely. Claire, having lived in Europe for a number of years, picked up on its nuance.
Dorian came in that morning for his usual, a small black coffee and two of Claire’s macaroons. She came from the backroom with a bright “Good morning” just as he paid the cashier. One half of her hoped he’d remark on her new hair color, the other hoped he wouldn’t. Adding highlights was hardly breaking news but if he noticed the subtle change then, in her eyes, she was more than merely a passing fancy. For all she knew he could be married and their flirting nothing more than friendly repartee. There was no doubt what the other wanted; opportunity for the other to respond was always left open, yet neither acted on the offer. Their genuine interest in one another was palpable.
Dorian took matters into his own hands, literally. As the cashier ran to the back to grab his fresh macaroon, he turned to Claire replenishing the carafe of cream. There was no one in the shop save the old gentlemen who spent the entire morning watching the passing pedestrians rush to work from his corner bistro table.
“Is that all I get from you?” Dorian asked as he approached Claire from behind. His voice, though not close, startled her. His hand on the small of her back steadied her and caught the tray of porcelain before it slipped from her hands. “Easy,” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to...”
“No!” Claire giggled and tried to sweep around him but he was close, too close—close enough for her to smell his expensive cologne. She was trapped, heavenly trapped, but trapped nonetheless. “I’ve been like this all morning.”
He stepped forward and leaned in until there was little more than a thin breath of air between them. His eyes traced every detail of her thin, toffee-colored face before meeting her deep brown eyes. He was so close she swore he meant to kiss her but then his gaze shifted and he placed the tray on the table she was pinned up against.
“You need to relax.” He stepped back but she wished he hadn’t. “Listen, I’m leaving work early. Would you like to go to an early dinner?”
Okay, he’s not married, flashed through Claire’s head. He wore no ring, then again no one wore rings anymore.
“Or we can go for coffee,” he said sensing her hesitation. “I know this great little French bakery; the owner is a stunning sister with the most adorable ...” He winked. “… smile.”
God, even his earlobes are sexy. “Have you asked her out?”
“Are you accepting?” He moved closer into her space.
She suppressed the smile he hoped to see. “Yes, come by after work.” She pushed past him as the cashier returned with his purchase. Claire handed it to him with a look of satisfaction. “We’ll have coffee here and see where the night goes.”
He took the bag, his hand caressing her hand on its retreat. “I’ll see you then.” He turned to leave but returned and said in a low register. “By the way, I like your hair. I can’t wait to see it sprawled across my pillow tomorrow morning.”
He left before Claire could formulate a reply. Was he serious? Hell, she was too busy checking out his ass to care.
After the midday rush, Claire ran home to freshen up before Dorian arrived. She didn’t expect their meeting to lead to anything but she wasn’t taking any chances. She returned to the bakery after a shower and donning a cute little periwinkle sundress and a bit of lip gloss. It was a quarter after six when Dorian sauntered through the shop’s doors sporting a pair of perfectly faded Diesel jeans and structured tee that left little to the imagination. A dark sports jacket was folded over his arm. This was the first time Claire had seen him out of his business attire and judging by her second glance, she liked want she saw.
They sat and talked. The first thirty minutes felt more like a job interview rather than a proper date. He was an accountant at one of the mega firms a few blocks over and he was new to the area. Honestly, Claire was more interested in hearing the different ways he planned on taking her. Not that the other stuff didn’t matter, but it had been nearly three years since she had any and Mr. Dorian was looking quite delicious. There’s nothing like a man who can screw your brains out then get up and do your taxes.
He reached across the small table and played with her fingers as she told him how she was compelled to attend culinary school after living in France. By the time she began talking about the business, they’d slipped into an easy, comfortable rapport she didn’t balk when he kissed her fingertips as she spoke.
“Going from advertising to pastry chef is a leap,” Dorian said. “Was corporate America that bad?”
“It was horrible. My job was to single-handedly convince women that they were stinky, unkempt, hairy beasts and my client’s product was sent to deliver them from the gates of hell.” Claire sipped from her glass. “Going into the office everyday was tantamount to going to group therapy being run by your own rapist.”
He flashed a smirk, suppressing his urge to laugh. “Wow, yeah, I see how that would’ve been a challenge.”
“Are you making fun of me?” She nudged him in the ribs.
“No. You have a way with words, that’s all.”
“Oh and I guess your comment about my hair makes you William Shakespeare.”
Dorian’s smile dissolved. He knew his words would bite him in the ass and she’d never see him as anything other than a joke. “I have a confession. I should’ve been honest from the beginning,” Dorian said. “I shouldn’t have led you on.”
Claire braced herself for disappointment. She knew he was too good to be true.
“I come here every morning with the sole purpose of seeing you,” he declared. “I don’t care for macaroons but I know you make them fresh every morning and they have to be fetched from the kitchen—that gives me a few extra minutes to be with you. I’d like to get to know you.” Guilt made his jaw tighten. “But I fear my flirtatious behavior may have overshadowed my honorable intensions. I apologize.”
Honorable or not, his flirtation was the bright spot of her morning. “Please don’t apologize. I rather like the attention.”
“Are you kidding? Men hit on you all of the time.”
“Yes. They hit on me,” she emphasized rightly. “It’s disgusting, really.”
“I hope I’ve never offended you,” he said hoping to coax an honest response from her.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
Dorian smiled and looked over her shoulder to the passing traffic outside. It was a mild, clear evening. “Would you like to take a walk?”
They walked around the corner to an eatery and sat outside on the patio enjoying the evening air. Between the two of them, they polished off half a bottle of wine as their conversation flowed from his inability to pass as a ‘real’ American to her recurring dream of bathing in chocolate.
Under the glow of the dissipating sun, Dorian’s eyes became unreadable yet kind, making Claire feel exposed. Thankfully, the streetlights blinked on. Dorian looked carefully at her and wondered if she had any idea how magnificent she was. He admired her strength and business sense—a venture such as hers wasn’t guaranteed to succeed yet hers, small as it was, flourished.
“Look at me,” Claire giggled. “I’m talking your ears off.”
“I don’t mind. I’m a good listener…or so I’ve been told.” He nodded politely to the waiter who placed the bill on the table.
“You are a good listener.” Claire bit her bottom lip, lapsing into silence.
“Right,” Dorian reached into his back pocket, retrieved his wallet and dropped C-note on the table. “It’s getting late. I don’t want to keep you.” He stood offering her his hand. She took it and without having to ask, he draped his jacket around her exposed shoulders. “It’s getting a bit chilly.”
“Thank you.” She looked up at him.
On their way back to her bakery, Claire invited Dorian inside, but he declined. In a way she was relieved. They’d gotten along smashingly thus far … best end the evening on a high note.
“When am I going to see you again?” he asked.
Claire shifted from one foot to the other, biting her bottom lip. “Um, I see you almost everyday. You don’t come back on the weekends, Why is that?” She bought herself some time.
“I thought it would blow my cover.” He rocked back on his heels. “And you haven’t answered my question. When can I see you again?”
By now she’d hoped to have been writhing under his tongue not being asked out of a second date. Screw morals! Screw familiarity! It’s like the old saying goes: Prior knowledge of someone’s sexual past breeds contempt! “I’m free tomorrow night. It’ll be late but … um.”
Dorian filled the space between them without breaking eye contact. “Why do you bite your lip?”
“It’s a nervous habit. I’ve had it since childhood.” Unconsciously she bit it again.
He gently cupped her face, thumbed her lip free and leaned in, kissing it once, then sucking it softly between his lips. They both tasted their own lips on retreat, as if to savor the others until the last second. Their gazes were frozen. “You won’t bite your lip anymore.”
“How can you be so sure?”
He carefully pressed his lips to hers, not to kiss her but to whisper, “I have magic.”
Claire laughed and pushed him playfully. “Goodnight, Magic Man.”
“Goodnight, Miss Leigh.”
“How did you know my last name?”
“Like I said, I have magic. Goodnight.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned to walk away.
“Wait,” Claire called going after him. “Your jacket. Can I at least ask your last name?”
Dorian smiled brightly. “Kelley. Dorian Kelley.”
Claire’s forehead furrowed in thought. “Kelley. Why does that name sound familiar?”
“I have an older brother. Gabriel. You may have met him.” He took his jacket from her extended hand and kissed her cheek. “Goodnight.”
In the dark, cozy quiet of his bedroom later that night, Dorian knew sleep was futile. He rolled over and looked at clock, two-thirty. He picked up the phone and returned Gabriel’s call.
“Why the hell are you calling me at this hour?” Gabriel all but growled. “Shouldn’t you be in bed with Claire by now?”
“Watch it,” Dorian snapped. “It’s not like that. She’s a nice lady. Besides, unlike you and father, I haven’t embraced the dark side.”
“Don’t worry, you will.” Gabriel snorted. “It’s in your blood.”
“Is that why you called? To lecture me?”
“Yes and no.” Gabriel rolled from under Samantha’s weight, rose from bed, and headed for the living room. “I’m leaving in the morning. I have a few things I need for you to take care of while I’m away.”
Dorian exhaled a long breath of frustration, knowing where the conversation was headed. “Let me guess, you’ve emailed me everything I need?”
“That’s right.” Gabriel heard Sam call for him. “I have to go. Thanks for …”
“Yeah yeah yeah. I got it.” Dorian jotted down a reminder note to himself. “Will I need to employ any violent, sexual imagery this go round? I told the last guy you were going to cut off his bollocks and rub them up and down his mother’s leg while whistling Dixie. I think he got the picture.”
“Good work. I like your style. No, this one is pretty straight forward,” Gabriel said as a half naked Sam hugged him from behind. He covered her arms with his and whispered to her, “Hey, gorgeous. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Sam circled to his front and buried her face in his chest and then looked up at him. “Come back to bed.”
Gabriel leaned down and kissed her upturned lips. “Greedy, aren’t you?”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Dorian protested to Gabriel and Sam’s cooing. “Just oil up and fuck already! Goodnight.” He had to admit, seeing Gabriel happy with one woman put his mind at ease.