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Billionaire's Kiss Sloan Storm 2022/8/3 13:48:10

Which leads me to the place I wound up working…

Awkward though it was, I managed to get a position at the only coffee shop in town, the Brew Ha Ha which, ugh, I know.

Unfortunately, the awkwardness had nothing to do with the name of the place.

Although it had been opened by his mom and dad over twenty years ago, the current owner was none other than the last guy I dated before I skipped town with Trevor, Brian Mulrooney. When we were kids, his nickname was “Stringbean” due to his slim build. However, by the time high school rolled around he’d begun to fill out and quite nicely, if memory serves.

Um, let’s just say the ‘filling’ continued. And continued. And. Continued.

So much so though, that as I leaned against the hand sink behind the counter and watched him squat down in front of me to service the espresso machine, I had a hard time distinguishing where his waist stopped and his butt started. He’d grown so large that his back fat folded in from the sides towards his spine, making it appear as if his ass crack was nearly a foot long.

As he worked, I stared at the fissure with a mix of disgust and awe, amazed at the human body’s ability to adapt. After a few more minutes of listening to grunts from him and the occasional clank of his wrench against the metal tubing under the beverage maker, he stood, and hitched up his pants.

“That should do it,” he said, as he turned back towards me. A translucent mustache of sweat bubbled across his upper lip as he continued, “If that steam wand starts acting up again, I’ll need the flashlight for it and it’s out in the truck. But if it does, tell me right away ‘cuz I’ll have to get back down there on my hands and knees and work on it.”

“Um, okay,” I said, as I wiped my hands across the front of my apron. “I’m sure it’ll be fine until after my shift is over.”

He frowned at me for a moment, uncertain of exactly what I meant, and then after a quick shrug, disappeared into the back. I smiled and wiped off the steam arm with a towel as I looked around the almost empty coffee bar.

The only person there was Mr. Wilson. A former high school gym coach, he was now a retired widower who passed his time amongst the living by spending most of his day here. I’m sure it wasn’t easy being alone. I admired that about him. There was a quiet dignity to it.

And speaking of quiet, the truth was that except for the big rush in the morning and a smaller one right around lunch, the restaurant was quite peaceful most of the day. And, as much as I hated being here for some reasons, there was something about the slower pace that soothed me. Maybe at an unconscious level it was what I needed at this point in my life. Because even though I’d been gone for a couple of weeks now, I still had no desire, zero, to go back to LA.

I glanced up at the clock on the wall and saw it was a little past three, which was a bit early for my break but I was starving and we were dead.

“Brian,” I called out. “Can I take my break now?”

“That’s fine,” he yelled back.

After grabbing a roast beef on a croissant from the refrigerated display, I pulled up a chair and sat at one of the tables near the front of the coffee shop. As usual the weather outside threatened my fragile mental state with an ever-present gloom.

However, at least the sandwich was tasty. I suppose Brian didn’t get that big by accident. Kimmie, his wife, was the cook. Her food was delicious. No question about it.

It began to rain outside as I ate. Before long, enough fell so that it sprayed out from beneath the tires of cars as they passed by. Chewing another bite of my sandwich, I swore I could hear the hiss of the rubber against the wet pavement, but of course, I couldn’t.

Just about that time, my phone vibrated in the front pocket of my apron. Putting my sandwich down, I reached in and pulled it out to read the text message. It was Katy. Again. I ignored it, as I had all the messages, calls and emails I’d received since I left. I still had nothing to say to anyone.

I paid no attention to any of them. I didn’t want to go back. Not to what I left behind.

So why didn’t I reply and simply tell everyone that’s how I felt?

As I chewed a bite of the salted beef and buttery bread, I asked myself the question again. That was the right thing to do after all. Especially when it came to the business. It’s one thing to know what’s important in life; it’s another thing to follow through on it. I was in a situation where I wanted nothing to do with either knowing or doing.

I shoved the phone back down in my apron and continued to eat.

About ten minutes later, I finished my meal and after cleaning up, I went to the restroom. As I entered it, I noticed Mr. Wilson shuffling about looking as if he were preparing to leave. As I washed up, my suspicions were confirmed when I heard the chime from the front entrance go off.

“Bye Mr. Wilson! See you tomorrow.”

He always said the same thing when he left. ‘You will. The Good Lord and weather permitting.’

Cracking open the bathroom door, I listened for his clever one-liner, but when I glanced to my left, I saw he hadn’t gone out at all.

“Oh, Mr. Wilson,” I began, a bit taken back. I pointed in the direction of the coffee shop entrance and said, “I thought you left. I heard the chime go off and…”

Turning my head towards the front door, I froze, my index finger mid-swivel right at the same instant my mouth dropped open in shock.

It was like seeing him for the very first time all over again.

With his hair coiffed to masculine perfection, Grey stood before me wearing a slim-fitting, long black trench coat. As always, his skin carried a hint of a tan, inferring superiority over the paler set. My eyes fell upon his and held there, as if by trance. We stared at one another for several seconds until Brian appeared from the back and looked at the two of us, looking at one another.

“Maddie,” Brian said with a hint of apprehension in his tone. “Everything okay?”

His words snapped me out of my hypnotic state and brought the bitterness of my last interaction with Grey flooding back into my mind. Thinning my lips, I smoothed my apron and marched back towards the cash register.

“Yes, thank you, Brian. This gentleman was just leaving.”

As I passed near Grey, he reached for me. “Maddie.”

I pulled away with a small squeak, evading him. As I did, Brian inserted his bearlike torso between us, shoving Grey in the process without a word. Grey regained his balance as he fell back and lifted his hands in mock surrender.

“Hang on pal,” Grey began. “Take it easy. I just want to talk to Maddie.”

Brian sniffed. “First off, slick, I’m not your fuckin’ pal. Second off, it doesn’t look like she wants to talk to you. Now why don’t you get out before I throw you out?”

I huddled behind Brian and looked past him towards Grey. Glancing to Mr. Wilson, I noticed him peering over the edge of his newspaper, his eyebrows drawn upward in surprise. I shrugged and flashed a sheepish grin at him.

“Hey!” Brian exclaimed, startling me and focusing my attention back on the friction building between the men. “I’m not gonna tell you twice. Go.”

Grey nodded. With his hands still up in front of him he said, “I’m just gonna reach inside my coat pocket. Okay? Maddie, would you please tell him everything is all right?”

Half-wanting to watch Grey go toe-to-toe with my burly protector, I almost, almost, almost thought I’d scream that Grey had a gun. But instead, as Brian did a half-turn in my direction, I shrugged.

“It’s fine,” I muttered.

Brian nodded and looked back at Grey. “Go ahead.”

Grey slipped his right hand inside of his coat and a moment later pulled out a long black billfold.

“Checkbook,” he said, as he turned it back and forth in his hand for Brian to examine.

Brian nodded and as he did, Grey extended his hand towards him in greeting.

“Grey Sinclair,” he said, as he raised his eyebrows in an expectant manner. “And you are?”

I had no clue what Grey was up to, but I didn’t wish to upset my poor boss any more than he already was. Brian glanced at me over his shoulder for reassurance once again.

Brian nodded and turning back towards Grey, extended his hand in a cautious manner.

“Uh, Brian,” he replied. “Brian Mulrooney.”

The men shook hands for a moment and then released their grasp from each other. As they did, Grey straightened his tie.

“Brian,” he began with a smile. “I could talk about Arabica beans and the finer points of Doppio Espresso all day long, but I’m afraid that would cut into the business I’m here to conduct.”

Brian wrinkled his brow. “Business? What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

Grey nodded. He spread his arms upward and outward and continued, “Brian, I’ll be honest. I love your place. Great coffee, I’m sure, outstanding staff…”

I rolled my eyes as he paused for emphasis.

Good lord. What was he doing?

Grey continued, “And you know, I’m always on the hunt for new investments. Have you ever considered selling your establishment?”

Brian’s posture eased a bit. “Uh, no, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t. You know, for the right price, of course.”