Kismet or Happenstance? Ch. 02byAugust_Bouvier©
Two short e-mails, four days and a phone call later, Ana's eyes flitted between the occupied tables at the tapas restaurant, her watch and the sympathetic expression on the hostess's face.
She swept the errant strands annoying her right shoulder back into the twist above her nape. Great. Just great. He'd either left or—
Ana turned around, startled by the stern, deep timbre, relieved he was here. There he stood, all annoyed in a smoky grey business suit—two buttons on his white shirt undone, no tie—and insanely sexy.
"I was outside taking a call and saw you when you came in."
I'm sorry." These days, it felt like she was perpetually late and apologizing for it. "I got lost on the way here."
Sean's brow rose.
"I'm kind of new in town and still getting my bearings."
He considered her for a moment; his eyes warmed with approval of her wrap dress.
"It's a good thing red's my favorite color. I'll let it slide this time."
And just like that, the day's hiccups suddenly started to fade.
"Today must be my lucky day then."
The look on his face was skeptical, teasing.
"We'll see about that," he tossed back and gestured for her to follow the hostess.
She was pleasantly surprised when he slid back the chair for her before easing into his own across from her.
"So what's new with you?"
"Furniture. Or the lack of it, I should say. Mine's in a warehouse, instead of on a truck because of some mix up with the delivery date." He winced sympathetically. "I get a refund and I get to camp indoors for a while longer."
"What made you decide to move here?"
Ana decided to go with the simplified version of things.
"I was born here actually and my mom and I moved shortly after my parents split up. I used to visit my dad during holidays."
Though that all changed after he married Gwen and they had kids of their own. The gaps between phone calls increased, while the number of cards and e-mails thinned out. Visits got postponed as "next time" and "soon" gradually stretched larger spans of time.
Mom had repeatedly told her that the demands of Dad's coaching job were the reason for their own divorce, that he probably was spending most of his time with his football players than with her stepmother and siblings. Though there was truth to Mom's assurances, Ana had often wondered at the time, if Mom was just sparing her feelings; if Dad secretly felt differently about Sharon and Jack since they weren't adopted. But that was then...
"Moving back here has been in the back of my mind for a long time—it's the place that feels most like home to me for some reason, so here I am. What about you?"
"Born and raised here. Went to college in Boston and ended up in New York afterwards. I loved every minute of it." The wistful note in his voice piqued her curiosity about his adventures in the Big Apple, no doubt there were many. "But after a few years, I just couldn't do it anymore. I'm a California boy at heart."
"Is your family still here?"
Sean nodded, his eyes softened at the question. That was the moment she noticed just how vivid a blue his eyes were, even in the diffused light. Oh, my.
"My parents and my brother live close by. My sister's in Chicago."
Their server, a cherubic brunette, interrupted to take their drink order. Sean tilted his head to read her nametag.
"Tina," he said as his index scrolled down the menu, then turned it so she could see where his finger had landed, smiling warmly up at her. She leaned closer over him while scribbling in her notepad. "I'll have a glass of the Montecillo...and the lady will have?"
"Mineral water—Pellegrino is fine," Ana added, anticipating the girl's next question. Sean sent her a look. "I haven't had anything since breakfast so alcohol's not a great idea," she explained before their waitress took off. His expression turned quizzical, concerned even. "It's been a crazy day—I enjoy food too much to starve myself." Girl, you're starting to babble.
"It works for you."
The compliment warmed her, maybe too much because she found herself avoiding his gaze, feeling very much aware that she was a woman, that he was a man and that this was a date. One with the potential to be good. Ok, it's been a while, that's why you're feeling silly and self-conscious. Pull it together, you know how it goes.
"I bet you're the youngest," she interjected, before the silence stretched for too long.
"Yes," he frowned briefly before connecting to their earlier conversation. "How'd you guess?"
Ana waited as Tina set down their drinks and exchanged a smile with Sean before she promised them more time to look over the menu. "The youngest child's usually the charmer of the bunch. And it looks like you've made Tina's day."
Ana chuckled, the sound matched his playful taunt.
"I'm not invested enough to be jealous." His reaction was immensely satisfying. "And even when I am, it's not my style. Just making an observation."
"So you think I'm charming, huh?"
His blue eyes danced with mirth, his good humor infectious. Ana had to make a concerted effort not to laugh while her mouth was full of mineral water. She cleared her throat, making sure it was safe to speak. "I'm going to pass on an answer; your confidence is high enough as it is!"
"Oh, so you think I'm charming and confident. And it's been what?" Sean turned his wrist and studied his watch. "Twenty minutes?"
"And, see? I've charmed you already," she filled in with pure sass, ready for his sharp counter. He wouldn't be able to resist.
Instead, his gaze lingered on her face. "You underestimate yourself."
Ana swallowed at the implication of his statement. There wasn't a drop of sarcasm in his voice, no trace of impishness in those blue eyes. He merely said the words as if they were an undisputed fact. Her pulse jumped into a higher gear just long enough for her to notice. Man, he's good.
He lifted his wineglass. "Welcome back, Ana. Here's to you feeling like you've come home."
Ana raised her glass, touched more than he could know. "Thank you. It's good to be back."
"Now back to this business of you finding me charming—" Her laughter interrupted him. "Hey now! I'm being serious here." But his eyes so weren't.
That's how the evening progressed, with Sean engaging her in playful banter, telling stories, making observations, teasing her and making her laugh. The delicate skip of piano jazz and surrounding chatter faded into a distant soundtrack. It was the lightest, most in-the-moment, she'd felt in, gosh, over a year.
* * * * *
"So when's the last time you had a really good home-cooked meal?" Sean asked after the dishes were cleared.
Ana tilted her head, thinking. "It's been weeks? Why?"
He leaned in, his voice hushed and conspiratorial.
"You might not know this, but there's this old tradition that when someone moves into the area you welcome them with a home cooked meal."
Ana widened her eyes.
"No way!" She carefully scanned the neighboring faces. "But who? Who'd do it?" Sean sighed with dramatic exasperation and she glanced at him, jolting as if he'd suddenly appeared in front of her. "You?"
"See, it's just your luck that I happen to be an excellent cook."
"You know, we should get you enrolled in a self-esteem class, pronto."
Sean laughed in spite of himself.
"There's only one way to find out then: dinner at my place on Saturday. Just tell me what your ultimate last meal would be and I'll cook it."
Ana eyed him speculatively, then considered his request.
"Seafood lasagna," she all but purred, "with scallops and shrimp and a Bechamel sauce. My mom used to use mozzarella and a light sprinkling of Parm for the top. Oh, and her cheese biscuits were the best. So light and fluffy." Her voice twisted around the memories.
She saw the question flicker in his eyes; one he probably wasn't sure how to ask. He reached for her hand and the small gesture conveyed an understanding that words couldn't.
"She passed away almost two years ago. My friends and family were amazing through everything. It showed me how blessed I am. And my dad and I got close again. There've been...good things." Ana felt, more than heard, the broken edge in the last two words. She ducked her head and took a soothing breath. Could anything be as good as knowing her mother was just a phone call away?
Sean looped his fingers around hers and his thumb repeatedly swept her knuckles; her fingers instinctively curled around his. He just...listened, as if he understood that there'd been so many words offered to her, and while appreciated, that just being heard, being able to express easily—often foreign to her—was comforting enough. A comfortable silence filled the space between them.
His long fingers curved over hers before slowly letting go. "So I've got big shoes to fill then."
"Yes," Ana nodded, grateful for the mix of levity and understanding in his voice. "Still think you're up for the challenge?" she asked, wanting to reassure him that everything was okay—with her, with them.
"Fear of failure rarely stops me from trying something," he mused and twirled his glass before taking the final sips. "But if by some small chance I screw up, there's always pizza delivery."
"Well, if that's the case, I prefer to stay home." His look of mock indignance was priceless! "Look, you have ample time to find a restaurant that makes superb seafood lasagna. I'm even willing to pretend that I didn't notice a difference." she quipped.
"Just for that, you're doing the dishes. And you can pretend you like it."
"Don't throw in extras to just cover your tracks. I used to clean up after my mom made it so I'll know what to look for." Needling him was such fun, especially when he was such a good sport about it—daring her, even.
"You talk a good game now, Ana. Make sure you're not complaining when you're scrubbing up at the kitchen sink."
"So much for the neighborly spirit," she remarked, her voice just shy of being droll as Tina arrived with the check.
"Hey!" she protested as Sean immediately took it, and tucked several bills into the check-folder, handing it back to the waitress.
"Dishes," he whispered. "Besides I promised to make amends for...what was it again?" He looked to the ceiling as if the answer was floating about. "Oh yes—'devaluing your property'."
"You did!" she giggled while trying to sound outraged.
"It got you here, didn't it?" Sean looked so entirely pleased with himself, she couldn't help but feel flattered. She felt wanted, as though spending time with her was treasured. "And seeing that you had such a great time, you should be thanking me."
Ana shook her head. "There's that self-esteem thing rearing its ugly head again. And thank you for dinner."
Tina returned to the table, happily surprised with what must be a generous tip when Sean said: "We're all set," returning the folder.
She turned to Ana. "I like your ring."
All three pairs of eyes descended upon the peridot cocktail ring on Ana's finger.
"Thank you!" She stretched her fingers automatically, lifted by the unexpected praise, all the better because it came from a woman. "I designed it myself."
"Really? I thought it was an antique. You're a jewelry designer?"
"No," Ana said with a hint of self deprecating amusement, "it's more of a hobby."
"It's gorgeous," Tina decreed before slipping back into professional mode. "Well, thank you both for coming."
Ana watched as the co-ed smiled warmly at Sean, which she probably would have done regardless of the tip, for all his silent flirting. He seemed to enjoy the company of all women—period.
"Come back and see us soon and enjoy the rest of your evening."
Ana had a feeling Tina wouldn't be disappointed if only one of them returned.
"Careful," he warned after Tina left, "your eyes are giving you away." She feigned an innocent look and he shook his head in semi-admonishment. "Let's get out of here. I'll walk you to your car."
Less than a handful of patrons were scattered about as they left their table. Ana looked down at her watch; they'd been here that long?
The stroll along the softly lit path to the parking lot was a short, quiet one, except for the inner voice throwing questions at her. That day in the bookstore, he'd mentioned the goodnight kiss. Was he thinking about it now? Would it be better to leave him wondering what it would be like instead? Or would he make a move? They were already near the driver's side of her car.
"Thanks for a wonderful evening. Dinner was lovely." She actually managed to sound calm.
"And the company wasn't half bad." Sean was close but his expression was unreadable.
"Not a bit," Ana added, buying more time. Her heart expanded as he leaned forward, his hand resting just below her right shoulder. Anticipation burned the air; the wait, intoxicating.
A kiss on her left cheek, soft as a whisper, soft as his voice. It only sharpened the sting of wanting and not having. He pulled away but the challenge in his eyes was clear. I'm here, take what you want. Wasn't moving here all about a fresh start, being open to the possibilities and not so overly cautious?
Fear rarely stops me from trying something.
She cupped his jaw between her palms, guiding his head down to hers. She fully intended to go for a no-holes-barred kiss, until their eyes met. Let's give Mister Brennan a dose of his own.
Ana traced the left side of his jaw, feeling the light prick of stubble beneath the pads of her traveling fingers. His pupils dilated when she caught his chin between her index and thumb, dipping into the cleft's indentation. The curve was too tempting not to kiss, so she did, right on the concave—just barely. Sean's his breath rushed over her cheek and she started to back off, not wanting to go too far, not yet sure where that line lay with him. She remembered the written advice. It's smarter to not overdo, to not overfeed...
His hands grabbed her waist, tugging her closer. Ana startled at the sudden move, at the feel of him pressed against her. Sean took full advantage, silencing the rest of her salutation.
Ana half-expected, half-hoped, Sean would devour her, instead his lips swept tentatively over hers, like a guest waiting on the doorstep, waiting to be welcomed. But all of that changed the second her fingers sliced through his hair.
Sean groaned and took command of her mouth, learning, sampling, teasing, over and over. He tasted of the wine he drank—woodsy oak, a hint of tart cherry—and something druggingly incredible. Ana matched him at every pass.
"Even better than I imagined," he murmured at the corner of her lips, the words so low Ana wasn't sure she understood. He claimed her mouth again, damning any ability she had for coherent thought. He lifted his head, only to return again and again, as if he couldn't get enough, as if she'd had the same effect he had on her.
Her breath halted, then sped as he drew her forward, molding her to the solid lines of his body while he turned his attention to her neck. The contact, the light rasp of his stubble below her jaw, sent a wave of heat straight to her core. His thigh accidentally brushed between hers, the pressure just enough to make her breath catch. He did it again, lightly and deliberately, melting her, making her moan this time.
"Too much chocolate, Ana," he remarked, his voice gravely as he looked at her.
Pinned between Sean and her car, with his knee tucked between her thighs, Ana couldn't find it within herself to disagree. His hands traveled down the sides of her body and she watched as they worked their way through the folds of her dress. Was this really happening? To her? Here?
His fingers skimmed her bare thighs. "Those fishnets were so sexy, but I like finding you like this."
She shivered as his hands inched higher. Sean took her mouth under his while his fingers teased her mercilessly for what seemed like an eternity. Ana moaned in hot frustration, twisting in his arms, desperate to soothe the ache of desire. And then he did it. She felt his warm fingers trace the line where cotton met skin.
"I can't wait to kiss you here," he said against her lips. His mouth muffled her cry of shocked pleasure as his hand curved over her, making her want more. He lifted his head and she knew he could feel her arousal, his eyes blazed with it. His hand fell lower. "And taste you right here," he whispered it into her ear like a naughty secret.
Ana buried her head against his shoulder, moaning and gasping as his fingers moved back and forth. Her knees almost snapped the instant his thumb found her clit. The fabric veiling her only heightened the exquisite torture. She writhed against his hand.
"You like that, don't you," he breathed at her neck while dropping kisses there.
Sean's fingers kept, pressing and stroking, learning what made her cry out, and what took her breath away. The sensation kept on building, verging on climax, then he suddenly broke away. Ana let out a sound of protest, looking up at him, disappointed and confused. A distant ping jumbled with the sound of her breathing.
"Come here," he said, hugging her to him. Her arms automatically snuck under his jacket to circle his waist. Her tummy jerked upon feeling the ridge pressing below her navel. "I'm sorry, honey," he started, his jaw resting against her temple. "I'll make it up to you next time." His hands roamed her shoulders and back.
Ana settled into his embrace, enjoying the solid warmth under her hands. He felt and smelled so, so good. But delight turned to distress when a couple walked past them to the flashing lights of a neighboring car. Oh, God. How much had they seen?
A rush of heat flooded Ana's face. She'd known this man only a handful of hours and she'd let him— In a parking lot! Caught between her sensual abandon and her sensible restraint, she ducked her head and made a fuss about fixing her clothes, uncertain what to say—if anything. But Sean would have none of it. He tilted her chin up and gave her a light kiss.
"Next time." It sounded like a threat and a promise. There was longing in his words. He silenced any attempt at a denial with his thumb, the musk of her sex faint below her nose. "And there will be a next time, Ana," he averred, his hands bracketing her face before he lowered his head.
His tongue slipped into her mouth as if to illustrate just what the next time would entail. A series of images flashed inside her head: tangled legs, a bed, sweat slicked skin and Sean above her, filling her, making her cry out as she urged him on. The erotic snapshots imprinted on her brain, sent ripples of excitement through her body. Warm sensation pooled low, past her belly, melting her again, making her squirm and squeeze her legs.
Ana gasped when Sean broke the kiss, resting his forehead against hers. Brown eyes collided with blue. They stood in silence, her arms around his waist, his hands stroking her shoulders, calming her.
"I think that's the first time you've said my name all night," he said on a jagged breath, a lilt of laughter in his voice. He gently tucked a curl behind her left ear. Now how was she supposed to string a thought together?
She was certain Sean was going to kiss her again; instead he brought her right hand to his mouth. The tenderness and restraint of the gesture was deeply moving and unexpected. The brush of his lips below her knuckles, innocent, but the energy between them...
That's all Ana saw in the blue gaze pinning hers. Did he see the same reflected back when he looked at her? Something flickered in his eyes, as if deciding something, and then he dipped his head.