About the book:
I know better than to dream—especially about the super sexy bearded hottie who sits with me on my break every Sunday night. Since Christmas, Tom has been increasingly flirty, and with Valentine’s Day coming up, I hope…No, I can’t afford to hope, either.
What I can afford to do is keep working two jobs so I can eventually finish my nursing degree—and forget the way his intense, direct gaze makes me feel all lit up inside.
What happens when all a girl’s got is her dreams?
Release Date: February 13, 2016
Please Note: Linger went into Kindle Unlimited May 2019 and will be available at Amazon only for 90 days.
He wasn’t coming.
Of course he’s not coming. It’s Valentine’s Day. There were teenagers and hearts and flowers everywhere. I made more hot chocolate tonight than I did the week before Christmas. Apparently, young lovers preferred hot chocolate. With sprinkles on top.
Seriously. We didn’t have sprinkles, so why did everyone ask for them?
At least there was a lull in traffic. People walked in the door, saw the tables crammed full, and walked right back out. I should have mourned my lack of tips, but it wasn’t like tips helped a whole damn lot anyway.
The urge to check the time was strong, but I was nowhere near the register, had no reason to be. I hated that we weren’t allowed to wear watches. As if time ceased to exist because we were hap-hap-happily serving the masses their steaming or ice-cold cups of high-priced goodness.
I snuck a glance at the register on my way to restock the napkins.
Just because it was Sunday night at 6:47 didn’t mean he wasn’t coming.
But he always came and sat down by 6:45, I reminded myself. Always packed up and left at 9:45, a respectful fifteen minutes before closing time—though I often imagined what might happen if he stayed late.
Imagining got me nowhere.
The napkins need no more fluffing and I’d mopped up an upended twenty-ounce hot chocolate that went every-freaking-where. On some girl’s leg and expensive handbag and I was sure it would somehow be all my fault when she emailed corporate to get a complainer card.
It was a personal favorite when women who carried handbags worth more than my monthly rent payment handed over the piece of paper that every employee called the complainer card. And I could usually predict when one would make an appearance—nine times out of ten, it came after the guest said the most ridiculous combination of words that amounted to ‘no fat, no fun, no real joy’ in this order.
Mop put away. Napkins fluffed. Spice rack cleaned up and organized. I’d pretty much done all I could out here while I waited.
Nope. I wasn’t waiting. For anyone—er, anything. Just working. Work, work, work, work, work. My favorite.
I resisted the urge to make sure there weren’t any dinosaur bumps in my sideswept hairdo. I’d get written up for fiddling with my hair, plus, I was pretty sure the extra time I’d spent doing a fancy fishtail braid hours ago was a total waste.
A man stepped next to me to dump out some of his coffee and pour about six ounces of half-and-half in the cup—jerk—and I surreptitiously craned my neck to read the time on his smart watch.
6:53. He wasn’t coming.
My break was at seven. Except for the holidays, this was quite possibly the first Sunday in months I hadn’t sat down at his table on my break. Tonight there would be no murmured, “so tell me about what you’ve been reading.” No stories about what shenanigans his students had been getting up to.
6:55. Just gonna call it. He was probably out to dinner with some gorgeous redhead. Or at home cuddling on the couch with said redhead, watching stupid movies and drinking homemade hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles.
I had no claim on him.
No claim other than fifteen minutes of my Sunday night. The best fifteen minutes of my week, if I were honest. Though I’d kind of thought…
There had been something happening last week. Something big. Or at least the promise of something big. Our fifteen minutes had felt different. Charged. Electric. Filled with that crackling earthy scent of the earth before a rainstorm, if I were being ridiculous.
But I wasn’t being ridiculous. It had been real. So real.
Tom had almost reached out as I was getting up to go back on shift to take my hand. I hadn’t imagined it.
And I’d felt the specter of the touch that could have been all week long.
Goosebumps broke out on my arms as I remembered, and I pulled my sleeves down over my hands.
“Will you be here next week?” His voice had been low, almost urgent. Any hint of teasing banter that had come before gone. In its place, sheer, unadulterated need.
He’d never asked before. Always said something benign like, see you next week. Or, if I were really lucky, something like, until next week. When he said that, I could dine all week on the old-fashioned gallantry. It was so easy to imagine him as some kind of historical hero come to life. All broad shoulders and long limbs and whisky-smooth voice that burned as it went down.
I’d hesitated a little. Wobbled a bit on my sensible (read: super ugly) rubber-soled shoes. In that moment, my feet hadn’t hurt. There’d been no twinge in my lower back. And I would never be sleepy again.
“More reliable than the postal service,” I’d quipped before turning serious. “I’ll be here.”
He’d said something about finding that astonishing, and I’d read about a billion different meanings into it for the rest of the night. Okay, for the rest of the week.
The prevailing meaning seemed to be that he found it astonishing I wouldn’t have other plans on Valentine’s Day.
Which meant he thought someone—some man—found me desirable. Which meant, when I remembered that almost-touch of his hand, he found me desirable.
Seven o’clock. Donna partially hip checked me to remind me it was break time, and I did everything I could to avoid looking her in the eye as I moved to clock out. Couldn’t bear the sight of raised eyebrows as if in question. Duh, like I didn’t know Professor Hottie wasn’t here.
In no universe was I going to take the time for Donna to fix me something to drink, so I grabbed for the first bottled juice in the cooler and paid. It tasted like ash.
And there were no empty tables for me to grab. No uncomfortable high barstools to sit on, either. It reminded me of finals time. Only worse because everyone was so damned chipper and gooey-eyed. Two-by-two. Like animals on the fucking ark.
I almost went to the back to grab a pack of brownies, hide out in the storage room, and forget that calories and sexy professors existed. But that way lay madness. I had to get out of there.
The hollow clang of bottle hitting trash can startled me. At least it didn’t break, I thought, though that wouldn’t mean taking out the trash would be any less hellacious later on, especially since Mr. Make-Your-Own-Latte was back dumping out more drip coffee after a refill.
I ended up holding the door open for a herd of teenagers; I was a horrible person for not going back and helping Paulo and Donna out; but I just couldn’t cross that threshold.
The sun went down an hour ago. It was cool outside, but not cold. The oppressive humidity of spring and summer would be here soon enough, and breathing in the fresh air would do me a world of good, but there was nowhere to sit on the patio and pretend to scroll through my imaginary texts.
If I went to sit in my car, I’d be tempted to drive off. Drive away. Never come back to this coffee shop on the corner. With the table in the corner. To that chair that was a little squeaky when you first sat down. The outlet that was partially hidden—which kept the undergrads and highschoolers away from it. His table. I’d be a fool to think of it as our table.
Besides, where would I even go if I drove off into the dark?
Tempting as it was, there was always my rent to consider and the nest egg I was determined to build up. Bills. So many bills. And insurance on the Camry.
What does the word even mean—Camry? The word sounded weird in my brain, like something unrecognizable even though I’d seen it a million times. It was almost like some made-up word. Did it have some kind of etymology or had a room full of marketeers spun it from nothing?
A shiver raced through me. Despite the seasonal temps, I was cold. Getting really cold in my thin black hoodie and stupid green apron I forgot to take off before I walked out here—great, I’d probably get written up—and I couldn’t keep standing on the patio like a moron. The weak beep on my rental-car white, mother-of-four sedan seemed exceedingly loud to me. No siren call, that beep bloop.
“Camry,” I said aloud as I walked through the parking lot, testing it out on my tongue. It probably means: well, shit you tried.
I opened the passenger door. Shoved some stuff in the floorboard so I had a place to sit. At least this way I couldn’t drive away.
Set the timer clipped to my apron. Twelve minutes. I had twelve minutes to sit here with my eyes closed in the dark of my car not even parked under a light. So many bad choices. I had twelve minutes to sit here with my eyes closed and pretend that lump in my throat just meant I was thirsty. Pretend I didn’t hate everybody and everything and most of all myself.
Which wasn’t even true. I didn’t hate myself. I was pretty fucking proud of everything I’d accomplished. Even if it wasn’t on a socially-approved timeline.
Maybe that was what made it even sweeter—nobody else realized just how much I’d done to be here right now.
In the passenger seat of my no-frills sedan that I was four months from paying off.
Maybe I should put in for a shift change.
That thought shook me out of my pity party. No way was I complicating my life just because I got a little too big for my britches and let myself dream.