Turning of the Stars Ch. 01byPanthem©
"Coconut milk. Caprino fresco. Arugula- what the hell is arugula?" Anna muttered to herself under her breath as she scanned the rest of the list.
She didn't know what half of the items were and her frustration was building. Her boss at the bookstore had waited until the last second to give any thought to this extensive list of refreshments their visiting author had requested and now it was up to Anna to try to hunt it all down.
A sigh escaped her lips as she pulled her long hair up out of her face into a sloppy bun, climbed out of the car, and walked quickly toward the upscale grocery store that she hoped would stock some of the more obscure items.
Anna made a whirlwind rush through the aisles, picking out what items she could from the list as she went. She couldn't imagine what on earth he was going to need all this food for; he was only going to be at the store for a couple of hours. If Anna had been in charge she'd have told him in no uncertain terms just where he could shove his arugula. She giggled and hoped an arugula was some kind of bizarre cucumber.
Of course, if she had been in charge this "author" probably never would have been invited to the bookstore. According to Claudia the guy was the son of a celebrity, which is why she'd wanted him to do the book signing so badly. She hoped it would bring in a large audience who would then stay to buy something and remember the shop next time they needed a book.
Anna had never heard of him, hadn't read his book, and couldn't care less who his father was. Claudia, on the other hand, was even more spacey than usual with excitement over his visit.
"Blood oranges, ugh that sounds disgusting. Star fruit (make sure it's ripe)," she read off the list, making a face. She asked a produce clerk and to her surprise he immediately pointed her toward a small cart with exotic fruits on it- including star fruit and blood oranges.
Anna stared at the fruit blankly. She picked one up and turned it over, looking for some sign that would tell her whether it was ripe. Glancing at the time on her phone she groaned and decided that she didn't have time to worry about it so she just grabbed four of the star fruits at random and was piling oranges into her arms.
"Excuse me, miss?"
Anna jumped and dropped most of the fruit onto the ground, the oranges rolling in all directions.
"Dammit! What?" she snapped, dropping to her knees to try to corral the oranges before they got too far away.
She reached up under the cart to retrieve an errant star fruit and sat back up trying to straighten her dress with one hand and hold on to the fruit with the other. At this point she was beyond frazzled and whoever it was still hadn't spoken so she looked up ready to snap.
Instead her mind went completely blank when she looked up into the most amazing green eyes she'd ever seen. For a moment she just sat there, frozen, until the eyes smiled at her and broke her momentary paralysis.
"I didn't mean to bother you," the man said, squatting to help her gather oranges. "But I noticed you were buying star fruit and the ones you picked don't look very good. They're kind of expensive so I just thought..." He shrugged as he trailed off, pointing vaguely at the fruit cart.
"Oh! Yes, please. I'm totally out of my element here; exotic fruit isn't really my thing. Which ones should I get?"
She couldn't help staring some more as he stood and bent over the cart to get a better look. His nose was slightly crooked, like it had been broken at some point, and his full lips gave the impression of a smirk even when relaxed as they were now, but somehow those things made him seem even better looking. Especially the lips.
Taking her time picking up the rest of the fruit, Anna had a perfect vantage point from which to appreciate how sharp he looked in his perfectly tailored black dress pants and crisp white button up.
He wasn't her type at all; most of the guys she'd dated were more the dirty jeans and hemp necklace types, but she cocked her head, admiring the way the slacks accentuated the rounded curves of his ass in a way that dirty jeans could never hope to aspire to.
The man carefully picked out several star fruits and oranges and set them in her basket as Anna stood and dumped her armful of fruit back on the cart.
"There you go. Are there any more exotic fruit purchases I can help you with today?" he asked with a grin and a wink. "Since that's not really your thing."
Anna suppressed a simpering giggle and told herself to get a grip.
"Actually, if you know where any of this other stuff is I would be forever in your debt." she said, pulling out the list and skimming the remaining items. She handed the list to him and saw his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "I know, it's pretty ridiculous, huh? I don't even know what half of it is," she spilled in a rush, eager to assure him it wasn't her list.
"So why are you buying it?"
"Because some self-involved blowhard with an inflated sense of entitlement decided to push his weight around and demand the most obscure groceries he could google."
The man let out a hearty laugh and Anna couldn't help laughing along with him, grateful to finally have someone to complain to about her ridiculous errand.
"The bookstore I work for is having a book signing this afternoon and the 'celebrity author' sent us this 'list of demands'," she explained, rolling her eyes and making air quotes with her fingers to accentuate her point.
The man chuckled again. "Really? He wants all this stuff just to snack on?"
"I know. It's crazy, isn't it? As if our tiny store has the budget for this sort of thing."
"Yeah, that would be crazy. I tell you what though, I can round up the rest of this stuff pretty quick. Why don't you go over to the café and order for us so we can have a cup of coffee together before you go."
Anna's jaw dropped. "Oh, I don't know. I mean, I would love to," she assured him, taking another quick glance down at his lips and back up to his eyes. "But I'm really in a hurry."
"Please? You said you'd owe me forever. I'm willing to let you off easy with one cup of coffee."
Anna bit her lower lip as she debated with herself. It wasn't a terribly difficult choice. "Alright, but one cup of coffee isn't sufficient repayment. I'll still have to owe you my first-born child or something. I guess Mr. Fancypants can wait a few more minutes for his coconut milk."
"I'm certain he can," her savior said with a wide grin. "I'll just be a few minutes, would you grab me a coffee with cream?"
Anna unsuccessfully tried to wipe the grin off her face as she set off toward the café. She ordered them both coffees and sat down to wait for...crap, she hadn't even asked him what his name was, how was that for superficial? She rolled her eyes and allowed herself to be excited anyway about having coffee with cute guy.
It had been longer than she cared to think about since she'd been on a date, and she'd never gone out with a guy like him. It wasn't that he was all that good looking, though he was, but he had a predatory air about him that made her weak in the knees and there was something in his eyes when he looked at her made her feel...tingly.
He was standing not far away down the nearest aisle, head bent to a box of what looked like crackers. Apparently Carr's Water Crackers were with the snacks, not the beverages like she thought. Her eyes traveled slowly up his body, taking in his the way his shirt stretched tight across his broad shoulders, his dark hair curled against the olive skin on the back of his neck, and those beautiful green eyes. Eyes that, at the moment, were looking right at her.
She flushed, embarrassed to be caught staring, but covered pretty well, she thought, by smiling and pointing at his cup of coffee. He nodded at her and held up one finger, tossed the crackers in the basket and wheeled it to a cash register. Just as she was getting up to pay she saw him speak to the cashier and point to her. The young girl nodded quickly and began ringing up the items as he strolled back towards her.
"I think I found everything," he said proudly as he sat down in the chair across from her.
"Wow, thank you so much. I can't tell you what a huge help that is."
"It was no problem, really."
"Claudia will be thrilled. That's my boss, she's trying to bend over backwards to impress this guy, lord knows why. Well, I do know why, it's because she's trying to boost publicity and get people in the store. You know, lure them away from all these chain stores that have popped up lately. It's working, I guess, we've had a lot more traffic since we announced the signing."
"So who is this guy, anyway?"
"Heck if I know, I can't even remember his name." She shrugged her shoulders dismissively. "Some bored dilettante who thinks he can write books? I think they're some kind of self-help instructional something or other."
"Sounds pretty boring."
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose it depends on who he hired to write it for him."
He chuckled and nodded as he reached for his coffee. As he brought the cup to his lips his shirt pulled against the muscles of his arm and Anna caught sight of a tattoo peeking out from under the rolled cuffs of his sleeve. She smiled to herself, thinking maybe this guy was more her type than she thought.
"But enough about Mr. Fancypants, we haven't even introduced ourselves. Anna Webster." She held out her hand. The hand that took hers was warm and gripped her firmly for a moment before letting go, brushing his fingers along the palm of her hand as he pulled back. Anna shivered and blushed again, covering her confusion with a smile.
"Nice to meet you Anna, I'm Grant," he said, smiling back. "So that must be a pretty cool job working at the bookstore, the occasional Mr. Fancypants notwithstanding."
Anna chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I love it most of the time. It's small and quiet. There's an unlimited supply of books, which is great. And I like helping people discover something new to read, especially if I can turn them on to something I love."
"Do you...turn people on a lot?" he said with an innocent face.
Anna snorted at his innuendo, but chose to take his question at face value, "I do actually, you wouldn't believe the number of people who wander into a bookstore with no clue what to buy."
"Probably close to the number of people who walk into grocery stores with no clue what to buy."
"Touché," she said, grinning at his little dig.
He smirked, but before he could reply the cashier approached their table and asked how she wanted to pay for the groceries. She was talking to Anna, but looking at Grant as she spoke, smiling widely and batting her perfectly made-up eyes. The girl was young, but pretty with stylish blonde hair and tight jeans that made Anna feel downright frumpy in her embroidered peasant dress and sandals. For the first time in ages she wondered whether she should buy some lip gloss or something.
She shoved the bookstore's credit card in the girl's face and the girl shot her a withering look as she took it and sauntered off with another glance over her shoulder at Grant. Anna noted with satisfaction that he paid the girl no mind.
"So what do you turn people on to? What do you like to read?" He leaned his elbows on the table and took another sip of his coffee.
"Oh, I'll read anything and probably enjoy it." Anna's eyes lit up as she spoke, as if she were telling him about old childhood friends, which in a way she was. "But my favorites are the old stand-bys, Thomas Hardy, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Jane Austen of course..." she continued, placing her hand over her heart.
"Of course." He nodded, amused by her enthusiasm.
"And in the last few years I've discovered lots of newer authors: Douglas Adams, Stephen King..."
"They're not exactly new authors, are they?"
"They were new to me."
Grants eyes widened in surprised. "Were you living under a rock?" he asked in disbelief.
"Almost," she laughed, used to that response. "I grew up on a commune. My parents were both teachers and had lots of books, but nothing new since they moved 'off the grid' as they called it in the early 70's. I left when I was eighteen; that was three, almost four years ago. I got the job at the bookstore and I've been working there ever since. Corrupting my soul with capitalism as far as they're concerned," she said with a grin, half joking.
Anna looked up at the cashier who was handing her the credit card and her receipt. She signed her name and tried to hand the receipt back to the girl, who was grinning like a fool at Grant.
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" she asked him, leaning on the table next to him.
"I don't think so," he said kindly as he took the receipt from Anna, handed it to the dazed-looking girl and thanked her, effectively dismissing her.
Anna sipped her coffee to cover her smile before asking, "So what about you? What do you do?"
"Well, that's kind of a long story and I think you're in a hurry. I guess that means we'll have to see each other again so I can tell you all about it."
"Oh," Anna said, a bit shocked at his response. And then, "Oh!" as she looked at her phone and realized how late she was. Jumping up from her chair she exclaimed, "Shoot, I have to go!"
"I bet Mr. Fancypants won't show up on time either. He's probably off picking up some poor unsuspecting chick, thinking the party won't start until he gets there."
Anna laughed and nodded in agreement as she gathered her things and grabbed the basket full of bagged groceries. "That's probably true, but I'm more worried about my boss. Poor Claudia is probably flipping out right about now. I should get back to help her out."
"Let me help you with the groceries." He walked with her to a shiny red sport car and looked at her in surprise.
"This is your car?"
Anna understood his confusion. Claudia's Corvette looked more like something the busty blonde checkout clerk would be driving. She tugged at her dress self-consciously and had a fleeting desire to grow larger boobs.
"No, this is Claudia's little fountain of youth. I don't have a car so she sent me to get groceries in this."
"Ah, that makes more sense." He nodded in understanding as he helped her load bags into the trunk.
"Thanks again, Grant. I don't know what I owe you, but I owe you, big time."
"I'll think about that and let you know," he said in a light voice, but the look in his eye was anything but teasing.
Anna's heart skipped a beat and her mouth went suddenly dry. "I'll be looking forward to it," she said in a rush before she lost her nerve, then quickly turned and got in the car.
She was halfway back to work before she realized she'd never given him her number.
"You forgot? How can you forget to give your number to the super hot guy hitting on you in the grocery store?"
"Keep your voice down," Anna hissed, looking around to see if anyone had heard. The small open space at the front of the store was packed with people, mostly women, but fortunately none of them were paying any attention.
"Seriously, Anna. What were you thinking?" Claudia asked, only slightly moderating her volume.
"Well, first off he didn't remember to ask me for my number so maybe he didn't want it. But I was thinking about getting back here with all this ridiculous crap." She rolled her eyes and gestured at the items she was carefully arranging on decorative plates. "So you wouldn't have to deal with Mr. Fancypants throwing a temper-tantrum because you didn't have his ripe star fruit here waiting for him."
"Mr. who now?" Claudia asked lifting one eyebrow and smirking.
Anna picked up a copy of the author's book from a table nearby and read, "Mr. Grantham Roderick," off the cover in the snootiest voice she could conjure. She tossed the book back on the table as Claudia giggled. It bounced and the cover flopped open onto the table. Anna reached to close it and froze. Her hand came up of its own accord and her fingers touched the picture of the author on the inside flap.
"Holy crap," she whispered breathlessly as the pieces fell together.
Grant grinned widely to himself as he sipped another coffee. He'd come to the grocery store to get a couple of things for the book signing, just in case the owner of the bookstore hadn't been able to find them, but apparently today was his lucky day. Talk about killing two birds with one stone, not only did he get to have coffee with a gorgeous woman, he got to make sure he had everything he needed.
He was looking forward to seeing her again, and not just because he wanted to see her reaction when she figured out who he was. Hopefully she wouldn't be too upset with him, he hadn't meant to be deceptive, he'd just really been enjoying having a normal conversation with a normal woman. It wasn't an opportunity he had very often.
Of course, the fact that she was beautiful didn't hurt, either. The second he'd seen her standing there glaring at the fruit cart as if it had somehow personally offended her he knew he had to talk to her. She'd looked so comfortable in her skin...her perfectly creamy skin that he was dying to run his hands all over to see if it was as soft as it looked and her honey-colored hair coming loose from its bun hanging in messy tendrils down her neck.
And sweet baby Jesus, when she bent down to pick up those oranges and her dress pulled way up her thigh and he could suddenly see straight down the loose neckline to her little white cotton bra, his throat had closed up and he thought he was going to make a fool of himself staring at her without speaking.
He wasn't sure how he'd gone off on this particular mental tangent, but he was enjoying daydreaming about how her breasts would probably fit perfectly into his cupped hands when suddenly he was startled out of his reverie by someone plopping down in the seat across from him. He looked up and was surprised to see the girl from the check out grinning at him.
"I knew I recognized you, you're Grant Roderick! My mom is, like, a huge fan of your dad. I had to google your picture to be sure, but you are so much hotter in person. I remember seeing those pictures of you on ET a few years ago when you were dating-"
"Thanks, I'm sure my dad appreciates your mom being a fan. I'll let him know. I'm sorry, but I need to run. I'm in kind of a hurry," he said as he rose to leave the table.
"Are you sure you need to go so soon?" The girl leered at him and lifted her eyebrows suggestively. "I'm on my break and there's a family bathroom in the back with a locking door."
Grant stared open-mouthed at the girl, who couldn't have been more than sixteen, and tried to come up with something to say that wouldn't be too rude. "Um, no, I'm, ah, running late," he managed to stammer out before turning and walking quickly away, barely suppressing the urge to run.
"Please, Claudia," Anna wailed once they'd reached the refuge of the manager's office, "I can't face him! Please, just let me go home before he gets here. I'll work extra hours for the next month, just let me go."
"Anna, you know I can't do that. I need you here to cover the floor. And besides, he obviously let you go without getting your number because he knew he'd see you here."
"No Claud, you don't understand. I said terrible things about him."
"What did you say that was so terrible? Do you even know anything about him? Wait, please don't tell me you haven't read his book."
Anna gave her a guilty look.
"Oh my God, Anna! I gave it to you a month ago when I got him to agree to the signing."
"I just didn't get a chance, I was so busy with midterms. And the title was lame. Tales from the Dark Side? I mean, come on."
Claudia rolled her eyes in exasperation, but explained. "Okay look, the short story is that he's the son of Donald Roderick. You wouldn't know, but he was a famous actor back in the day. Anyway, poor little rich boy grew up famous, opened a club called The Dark Side, rode the whole downward spiral of the rich and famous, got his life together, and a while back he opened a restaurant called Daybreak that's been wildly successful. The book is mostly stories about the club and his crazy years, peppered with recipes for the amazing dishes they serve. I asked him to make one of the recipes for the signing and he agreed. He offered to do two actually, a dessert and an appetizer. That way we can distribute a little bit to each person in the audience."