I hand the cashier my card and the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. I know what it means—he’s here. I can sense it. As I scan the tables in the coffee shop, relief trickles through my limbs. I don’t know what is wrong with me. Maybe it’s my lack of caffeine. I take a relaxing breath to calm my insides and then I hear it.
The sound pierces my spine and I freeze as a chill spreads across my skin. Damn. I haven’t heard that familiar voice in almost four years, but it still burns in my mind. I know I should pretend I didn’t hear him. I know I shouldn’t turn around, but I can’t stop my body. His bright blue eyes and that cocky half smile almost knock me to the floor. God, he looks good—better than I’ve ever seen him. His wavy honey hair, longer than I remember, shines with golden highlights. Our eyes meet and I’m completely gone.
My body would jump him right here in the coffee shop, if not for the little control my mind still possesses. My World Cultures professor stands three spots behind him in line. I struggle to put up my wall quickly and smile, but he knows me so well. Those eyes could always read me. It’s like we’re back in his Ford pickup in high school and no time has elapsed. I move down to the end of the counter to wait for my latte, trying to put as much physical distance between us as I can.
“We should catch up,” he calls to me as he pays for his coffee.
My breath hitches and I know he heard it because he chuckles. Damn my professor for being here. “I have a few minutes right now,” is all I can squeeze out as I try my hardest not to let my body win. Limit our time together. Do it now and never again. In public—always keep it in public. I grab my skinny latte off the counter hoping he will decline.
“I’ve got all the time in the world for you, Meg Billings,” he says with that smile.
He pulls out a chair at a nearby table, spins it around and straddles it. He crosses his arms over the top of the chair’s back and stares at me as I hang my purple jacket over the back of my seat.
“Your coffee is ready,” I remind him and he lifts his chin in acknowledgment, like he always did. When he returns to the table, he pulls his sweatshirt off over the back of his head, in the sexy way that always meant “get ready, Meg,” and turns his chair back around before sitting down. I know it is a mistake to be here without my friends for support. They are my backbone when it comes to Chase Maxwell. If my girls were here, they would tell him where to shove that beautiful face of his. I should just get up and walk out the door right now. Why does my body react to him? No one else does this to me. I’m always in control, except with him.
“Short hair suits you,” he says, raising his chin again.
“What does that mean?”
“Relax, Meg. It’s a compliment. I like it. It’s feisty. You really need to learn how to take a compliment.”
I am impressed with what comes out of my mouth next. “It’s just you I have a hard time believing.”
Then he looks at me with those blue eyes and says, “Don’t hate me. I never meant to hurt you.”
“But you did,” I say. I can do this: I think for a second, until he reaches out and touches my hand. The goose bumps shoot up my arm. I can tell where he is looking and am grateful for the thick sweater I’m wearing. I quickly pull my hand back, tucking it away on my lap. Here we go again.
“You left me remember?” he says, his blue eyes penetrating mine.
“You gave me no choice.” I don’t want to rehash this again so I’m relieved when the text from Alli buzzes on my phone. It gives me an out. I can tell him I have to meet her. I’m sure he remembers how neurotic my roommate is about being on time. I set my phone on the table, readying my excuse—big mistake. Always good with his hands, he snatches it off the table and quickly punches in his number to send himself a text.
I stand up and slide my jacket back on. I hold my hand out for the phone. “I need to go,” I say as convincingly as I can.
“No you don’t,” he replies, looking up at me. He’s the only one who can see through my walls. How does he do that?
“I just want you to know I went through rehab. I’m clean.”
I look at him skeptically.
“Have been for two and a half years,” he claims. “I miss you, Meg. I gave up all my old friends after treatment. You weren’t one of my drug buddies and no one knows me like you. I just want to talk. You’ve got my number, now. I have yours. Let’s talk.”
I nod and that cocky smile appears again. God, I hope I can handle this.
Copyright 2015 Susan Schussler