Killian didn't notice the pattern at first.
Oh, he definitely noticed her. It was impossible not to, whenever he caught sight of her walking past the large glass windows of the storefront, all flowing blonde hair and perfect cheekbones. Sometimes she'd pause and look through the glass, an almost wistful expression on her face as she glanced over the (good quality but, frankly, overpriced, if you asked him) furniture spread throughout the showroom.
He'd catch a glimpse of her maybe once a week, always in the same clothes, jeans and a tightly-fitted black polo with sensible sneakers. A work uniform, he supposed, but he didn't recognize it from any of the stand-alone stores that surrounded the sprawling mall, no logo or nametag to give her away.
It took six weeks before he realized he only ever saw her just after 3:00 p.m., and he began paying attention. (Simple curiosity, really.) Sure enough, she passed the storefront every day between 3:05 and 3:12. Some days she would glance through the windows and others she would barrel past without turning her head, but her brief appearances came like clockwork.
Truth be told, it was the best part of his day. A man who worked on commission only had so much joy in his life.
It didn't take long for Robin to notice. Of course. "Pretty sure stalking's illegal, mate."
Killian rolled his eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Five-foot-five? Blonde hair? Looks like she could probably beat you up?"
"She's the one who walks by our place of work every day. I do not stalk, thank you."
Robin smiled, and Killian knew he wouldn't hear the end of this anytime soon. "Not yet, at any rate. But you should probably wipe your chin."
"Says the man in love with his boss," Killian threw back, raising a very pointed eyebrow.
That shut Robin up pretty quickly.
After another week, Killian realized she always returned from the opposite direction between 3:45 and 3:50. He stared after her for the third day in a row after discovering this new little quirk of her schedule, and found himself very seriously considering taking a very late lunch break one of these days.
(Purely for research purposes, of course.)
"Stalker," Robin whispered, breezing by too quickly for Killian to retort.
He probably shouldn't have been as worried as he was when she didn't pass by one Tuesday afternoon. It was only 3:15, after all. Perhaps she was delayed. Maybe she had the day off, or she -
"Jones. I pay you to look pretty and charm bored housewives into buying dining room sets, not stare out the window."
The voice startled him; he should have heard the telltale click-clack of Regina's impractical heels approaching him, but his mind had been… otherwise occupied. He gathered himself and turned, pasting a smile on his face.
"So you do think I'm pretty. And here I thought you hired me for my expertise. I'm flattered, truly, but -"
Regina's eyes narrowed. "I hired you because Americans think an English accent implies good taste and trustworthiness, no matter how wrong they might be." She tilted her head towards the dining section. "There's a woman browsing over there. Help her."
Killian gave a sarcastic bow. "As you wish. I do so love it when you emerge from your crypt in the back and grace us all with your presence."
If any employee other than him or Robin spoke to her that way they'd be fired on the spot, but Regina simply rolled her eyes and shooed him off.
In truth, Killian had been halfheartedly trying to get fired since the day he started. He suspected Regina respected that, in her own strange way. It was the oddest job interview he'd ever taken part in, with her more interested in confirming that he was, in fact, English and, as she put it, "decent-looking enough" for the job than determining if he was qualified for it.
"What the bloody hell am I even here for?" he had finally asked her, his patience wearing thin and his desire to work for her fading by the minute.
"Definitely English," she'd muttered, glancing down at his résumé. "Look, I'll level with you. I hired one good-looking English guy, and his sales are nearly double everyone else's on the floor, despite him having no appreciable skill or sales experience."
Killian was pretty sure his eyebrows were touching his hairline by that point. "Do you talk about all of your employees this way?"
Regina had simply shrugged. "Do you want the job or not?"
He'd gone home without committing either way. Something (well, besides the obvious) had nagged him about the entire experience, and it wasn't until he was trying to sleep that night that it hit him: despite her bluntness, she hadn't once brought up his prosthetic hand. She'd hardly even glanced at it, when he thought back on it.
He'd called and accepted the job the next day.
It did occasionally annoy him that Regina never acknowledged that he did bloody well know what he was talking about - she had already disappeared to her office once more while he explained the difference between Atlantic Seaboard and California Coastal to his potential customer, but the woman's starry-eyed smile and puppet-like nodding told him she wasn't paying a bit of attention to what he had to say anyway.
Perhaps Regina was right.
He allowed himself to be dragged from dining set to dining set, patiently answering the woman's questions and never quite discouraging her attempts at flirting with him when a bright flash of golden hair caught his eye from the other side of the sizable showroom.
It was her. Inside the bloody store.
She looked tentative, glancing around uncertainly and letting her fingers drift across a mahogany tabletop. Killian watched her pick up the price tag, her face tightening as she read it. He knew that look, the one that browsers got just before turning and leaving.
(Regina really did charge too bloody much.)
She was a good hundred feet away but he'd still never seen her so close up. She was even lovelier at this distance, and she looked to have light eyes. Were they blue, or -
"Uh, hello? Are you even listening to me?" His customer tugged at his arm and he turned to face her.
"I'm sorry, love. I just thought…" he glanced back and saw Robin approaching her, tossing a smirk at Killian on the way, "...I thought my co-worker was trying to get my attention. My apologies. What was your question?"
It took another excruciating 15 minutes for the woman to come to a decision, and he handed her off to Belle to handle the payment and delivery information with his most charming smile. The instant he got more than a few paces from the register he found himself practically sprinting towards the center of the store, only stopping when Robin appeared, holding a frantic hand in his way.
"Is she still here?" Killian asked, glancing around and wondering why the hell he was so out-of-breath. He hadn't run that far.
"Bad idea, mate," Robin warned him, turning his head towards the bedroom section.
"So she's here?"
"Yes. And if you think Regina is hostile, for the love of all that is holy, don't try to talk to her."
Killian finally caught a glimpse of her, mostly in profile, her hair cascading over her shoulders as she pressed against the mattress of a twin-sized bed, testing its firmness.
"What the bloody hell did you say to her?"
Robin sighed. "I believe my exact words were, 'Hello. May I help you with anything?' She didn't actually hiss in response, but it was a near thing."
"Are you sure that's all you - "
"Yes. If she'd been looking for something in particular I would have pretended you were the expert and brought you over."
Killian scoffed but didn't take his eyes off the woman as she hopped on the bed and laid back, folding her hands over her abdomen. "I am the expert. And if… you would have?" He finally looked at Robin again, who just rolled his eyes.
"Of course. I got tired of your lovesick puppy routine and figured I'd give you a little shove in the right direction. But I think you dodged a bullet with this one."
"Maybe she's just having a bad day," he mused.
"Maybe. But she made it abundantly clear that if she wanted help, she'd ask for it. I'd tell you to keep an eye on her in case she does decide to buy something, but I think we both know you'll be doing that anyway."
Killian didn't even have time to retort when Belle approached, thank God. He'd had enough of Robin taking the piss out of him for one day.
"Hey, guys." She turned to Killian with an amused smile. "The woman who bought the dining set asked if you were single. Third one this week."
He chuckled. "And what did you tell her?"
"One of these days I'll act offended and tell someone we're dating just to see the look on her face." Belle shrugged. "But no, just the usual, 'Hasn't found the right woman yet' routine. You know she'll be back."
"And who am I to turn down a commission from a repeat customer?" Killian asked, his eyes drifting back to find the lass hadn't moved from her spot on the bed. It almost looked like she was -
- taking a nap?
Belle followed Killian's gaze. "Ah." She turned to Robin. "Is he pulling his Edward Cullen routine again?"
"Bloody hell, not you too," Killian grumbled, walking away while Belle snorted and Robin couldn't quite contain his laughter.
Killian snatched a clipboard from the service desk and retreated to the living room section of the showroom, pretending to take inventory and doing his best to not keep staring in the direction of a certain twin-sized bed.
(Well, someone needed to keep an eye on her in case she felt like buying something, and he wasn't about to let Robin muck it up again.)
In the end, she bought nothing.
It was the oddest thing. He'd thought his notion from earlier, that she was napping, to be completely daft, but… it appeared she was doing exactly that, her eyes closed and her breathing deep and even. He drifted closer, careful to mostly keep his eyes on his clipboard and his body turned away from her.
He nearly jumped at the sound of an alarm, tinny and quiet as it was. It almost sounded like -
He glanced back in her direction and saw her fumbling to shut off her cell phone and wiping at her eyes. She sighed shoved her phone in her back pocket, taking a quick second to stretch her arms above her head.
Of course, she chose that exact moment to look in his direction.
Green. Her eyes were green.
That was his first thought. The second was sheer panic, and she likely thought he'd been watching her bloody sleep this whole time (which - only partially true, thank you, and this was a furniture store, not a hostel).
They both froze for what felt like hours but in reality was probably only a few agonizing seconds before she scrambled from the bed and he looked down at his clipboard, his cheeks burning. He didn't look up as her footsteps grew farther away, hurried paces in the direction of the door.
Only when the footfalls stopped did he look up once more.
She'd halted with her hand on the door and looked back over her shoulder, her eyes holding his, her mouth pulled in a tight line. It almost looked like an apology.
Killian hazarded a smile, just a slight little upturn of his lips, and gave her a quick nod. hoping she caught his meaning. You can come in for a nap anytime, love.
Her face relaxed, just barely, and she nodded in return, an almost-imperceptible tilt of her head.
And then she was gone.
Killian had managed to avoid Robin through most of the evening rush, but that only meant an interrogation over lunch the next day.
"So… she actually was taking a nap."
Killian shrugged, staring down at his lunch while Robin rooted through the fridge in the break room. "Seemed that way. She set an alarm and everything."
"And you didn't say anything to her."
"Did you or did you not warn me to stay away, lest I have my head ripped off?"
"Well… yes, but I've never known you to be shy when approaching a woman, no matter how bad of an idea it was. And believe me, after how she reacted to a simple offer for help, I don't think any innuendoes from you would have been received well. Not that it's ever stopped you before."
Killian speared a bite of chicken with his fork and rolled his eyes. "I didn't want to wake her up."
"You didn't want to - " Robin laughed, shaking his head. "It's not like this was her bedroom, Killian! It's a place of a business."
"Of course I know that. It just felt… wrong, I suppose. Like I was intruding on something."
Robin stared at him as if he'd grown an extra head. "You are completely mad, you know that? And so when she woke up, you just - "
"We stared at each other like a pair of frightened gazelles, and then she took off. But I think we had a moment."
"That's what I said."
"Mad. Completely, utterly mad."
Killian sighed. "You had to be there."
"Apparently. I'll be shocked if she ever walks by the storefront again."
"We'll see, won't we? In another…" Killian glanced at the clock, "two and a half hours, give or take."
"Mad and a stalker. I don't see how she could possibly resist you."
When she walked past the front windows at precisely 3:08 p.m., Killian couldn't stop his smirk.
She didn't come in, but she still walked by every day like clockwork. Whereas previously she would slow her walk and glance inside, now she simply powered by the storefront, her gaze firmly fixed in front of her and her hands shoved in her pockets.
Well, it was something, at least.
He wished he knew her name.
It was another two weeks before she missed her usual 3:07 walk-by. Instead of worrying, Killian felt nervous excitement growing in his belly.
The last time she didn't show up on time, she -
God, he was pathetic. But he wasn't wrong.
At precisely 3:17, there she was, tentatively stepping inside. Glancing around the store with her hands held together in front of her, seemingly relieved when she wasn't immediately approached by a salesperson. It was always dead around the 3 p.m. hour anyway, most of the people on lunch breaks having filtered out and the usual customer base of stay-at-home mothers gone back to see their children home from school.
Just like last time, she meandered through the store and stopped once she reached the bedroom suites, tentatively pressing her hands against every mattress she passed.
It was only then that Killian realized he hadn't moved from his spot in the rear of the store, clipboard in hand, inventory forgotten. And he'd been staring. Again.
She seemed to find something she liked by the fourth mattress she tested, the tiniest smile gracing her features as she pressed into the comforter. Killian felt himself smiling along with her; the expression was like the sun coming out.
She looked up then, as if she could feel him watching her, and Killian froze when their eyes met again.
Get off your arse and talk to her, you git.
She glanced down quickly, the smile falling from her face and replaced with a slightly embarrassed look. It was just as fetching, but not what he wanted to see, and Killian knew if he approached her she'd run again. So he waited, and when she glanced up once more, he gave her another quick nod, just like last time. He turned his attentions back to his clipboard, praying she caught his meaning.
Forcing himself to keep his head down was an agonizing test of his patience, but he counted to 100 mentally and waited, wandering the aisles as if he actually had something to do and somewhere to be.
He counted back down to zero once he reached 100, just to be safe.
When he finally allowed himself to look up, he saw her snuggled up on her side, one arm buried underneath a decorative pillow.
Thoroughly charmed, he genuinely resumed his work this time, waving off Robin when he tried to point out the lovely blonde using their store as her own personal hotel.
Last time she'd left right before 4:00. If his thinking was correct, she'd probably be getting up by -
At 3:50 on the dot, her cell phone beeped, and she once again startled out of her sleep (how the bloody hell could she fall asleep so quickly anyway? She'd hardly been in the store a half hour), scrambling to turn off her phone and shaking off the cobwebs, stifling a yawn as she climbed out of the bed and neatly adjusted the comforter and pillows. She took a few steps towards the door but stopped, turning and looking until her eyes found Killian's again.
Just like last time, he smiled and nodded. She didn't smile but returned the gesture, a jerky little movement of her head before she turned and power-walked to the door, disappearing from whence she came.
Remarkable. By Killian's count they'd had three conversations now, with neither of them ever saying a word.
After that, she showed up every Friday for a 20-minute nap. Killian let her.
"Why do you think she's doing this?" Belle asked after another month, watching his blonde temptress exit the store yet again.
"Rough job, perhaps? I know I've certainly wanted to catch some shut-eye on lunch break before."
"Maybe. I still can't believe you haven't talked to her."
"What would I say? 'I know you're probably tired, love, so why don't I interrupt what's probably your only peaceful moment of the day?'"
"That's… strangely considerate of you."
He grinned. "Well, I aim to please."
Belle sighed. "I'm serious, Killian. You should talk to her sometime. This isn't like you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you'll hit on anything that moves."
"That's a sales tactic, Belle. You know that."
She rolled her eyes. "Don't even try to pretend that's what it's about. I've been out with you and Robin before. I've seen how much you flirt."
"That's just simple fun and you know it. You act like I bring home a different lass every night."
"I know you don't, I just… what's with you? I've never seen you like this."
"Still don't know what you mean, love."
Belle groaned, rubbing a hand across her face. "Fine. Do you want me to follow her one day? See where she's going?"
"This isn't espionage, for heaven's sake. And no, don't follow her. I tried approaching her a few weeks ago. She didn't have to say a damned word, just shook her head at me before I could get within earshot."
"She doesn't want me to talk to her, Belle. So I won't."
They continued their strange dance for another three weeks, and Killian began to feel less bad for knowing her schedule as well as he did, considering she stuck to it with a regularity that would make a Swiss watchmaker proud. It had been nearly two months now, and it was always the same: every Friday she arrived just after 3:20, found a bed, laid down, and woke to her alarm at precisely 3:50 only to leave again.
It was oddly comforting, knowing that she would always be there.
The eighth Friday was business as usual aside from her appearing just a tad late - 3:27 this time - but Killian could hardly register her arrival as he was busy with the same woman he'd sold the dining set to a few months ago. She wore a wedding ring but that certainly didn't stop her from batting her eyelashes at every turn and looking for any excuse in the book to touch him. Killian managed to hide his grimace behind his best fake smile; a commission was a commission, after all.
He breathed a sigh of relief when the woman finally chose a coffee table and he could hand her off to Belle to arrange the delivery ("Sadly, love, I don't actually bring the furniture to your house. Your offer is tempting, but thanks all the same") and he was able to step away, preferably to find some hand sanitizer.
He was on his way to the break room when he saw her, still curled up on a top-of-the-line Tempurpedic. He shook his head with a laugh until he glanced at the clock on the wall.
He, Robin, and Belle had all agreed that she was stopping in on her lunch break from wherever it was she worked. And she always, always left before 4:00, usually exiting the store like a bat out of hell. Wherever she was going, she definitely had some sort of deadline.
He pondered his dilemma for only a moment before approaching her and couldn't help but smile as he got closer. She was curled up in a fetal position, her small purse clutched to her much in the way a child would cling to a teddy bear. She was clearly out and he couldn't hear her alarm; either she forgot to set it or her phone otherwise malfunctioned.
He stopped a few feet from the bed and for a brief second contemplated just turning around and letting her sleep. They didn't know each other (no matter how much he felt like he did know her, even just a tiny piece of her). They'd never even bloody spoken. He owed her nothing; if anything, he'd been doing her a favor by steering the other salespeople (Robin and Belle knew better, but the rest? He wasn't so eager to share the whole ridiculous story) away from her and keeping a sharp eye out for Regina whenever she stopped in for her weekly slumbers.
But he simply couldn't shake the hurried way she always left the store. Like she'd be in trouble if she were late to wherever her destination was.
And she was, undoubtedly, already late.
He glanced at the clock again. 4:08.
He sighed, taking another step closer, almost close enough to touch her.
"Lass?" he whispered.
She didn't stir, her breathing deep and even and her hair falling gracefully over her forehead. Good heavens, she was lovely.
"Lass?" he tried again, just a bit louder. She still didn't budge.
He took a final step, closing the last of the distance and perching himself just at the edge of the mattress. After one aborted attempt he finally found the will to reach out, placing his hand gently on her upper arm. "Miss?" He kept his voice low and gave her a gentle shake.
She stirred but simply burrowed further into the pillow, a low grumble escaping her throat.
He gripped her arm just a bit more tightly, afraid to press too hard, and gave another shake, a bit more vigorously this time. "Lass," he said, finally at normal speaking volume. "You need to wake up."
"Hmmm?" she asked, stirring again but not quite conscious.
"You need to get up, love," he repeated, leaning down just a bit. Finally, finally, she slowly blinked her eyes open. They were even more beautiful this close up, still hazy with sleep but a glass-green that reminded him of the sea.
"What?" she asked, her voice thick with slumber, seemingly not realizing where she was.
It finally hit him then, just how exhausted this woman was. Beautiful as they were, her eyes had a slight reddish tinge to them and a faint hint of dark circles that weren't completely covered by her makeup.
As strange as her habit of stopping in for a nap was, for some reason it never occurred to Killian that she was stealing a few moments of sleep because she desperately needed it. His chest tightened at the thought.
"It's past 4 o'clock, love," he told her gently. "You usually leave before now, and I thought…."
"What?" She sat straight up, terror in her voice, suddenly wide awake. "What time is it?"
He glanced back at the clock. "4:10. You usually go before - "
"Oh God," she groaned, burying her face in her hands for a brief moment before pulling her phone from her purse. "How the hell did I - " she mumbled, swiping until she found the screen she was looking for. "God. I set the alarm for A.M., not P.M. Shit. I need to go."
She swiped under her eyes furiously, wiping the last remnants of sleep from them and slid off the bed, nearly shoving Killian aside as she went. Despite her flustered frenzy to leave, she stopped after two paces, mumbling a quick apology.
"It's all right, truly," he assured her, and he was rewarded with another look into those captivating eyes when she turned around.
She opened her mouth but seemed to lose her words, whatever she wanted to say dying on her tongue. She clamped it shut and glanced down at her shoes for a split second before looking back at him.
"Thanks," she told him haltingly. "For waking me up. And for... " she gestured wildly around the various beds and mattresses, giving up on even trying to put into words what she'd been doing there for so many weeks.
He smiled and, as he did every week, gave her a quick nod. "Anytime, love."
She stared at him a moment more before returning the nod, suddenly remembering herself and turning to leave, taking off at a near-sprint.
He stared after her, utterly dumbfounded, when Belle approached behind him.
"Well," she noted cheerfully. "That's new."
to be continued