I parked my car and grabbed my purse, then hurried into the restaurant. I flung myself into the booth with a breathless, "Sorry."
Alice looked up with a grin. "Traffic?"
I took a long swallow of the coffee that was waiting for me, and nodded. "It was endless."
"I was going to order you breakfast, but Rose said not to."
Rose shrugged around a mouthful of toast. "No point in it getting cold, in case she didn't make it." She fixed me a glare. "I did call, but you didn't answer."
I grinned at my ever-practical friend. "I think it's at home on its charger. I have no idea, really."
She rolled her eyes. "The point," she started patiently, "of a cell phone is to carry it with you. It does no one any good plugged in on your bedside table—beside your dildo."
I blinked at her, then joined in her laughter. Alice rolled her eyes, and handed me a slice of toast.
"Here, eat this, and you can share yours when it comes. I think Jess put your order in as soon as you came in."
I took the toast gratefully. "Thanks, Ally."
She smiled. "No problem."
The door opened, and a loud ruckus made us all sit up a little straighter.
The crew was here.
They came in frequently, eight of them, and filled the huge table at the back. Construction workers, all dressed in plaid and denim, complete some days with tool belts. They arrived, taking over the entire place with their laughter and jibes. They teased Jess mercilessly, ate huge meals, drank a lot of coffee, and basically made our day.
"Damn it," Rose hissed. "They were here yesterday. I didn't expect them today. I sat on the wrong side of the booth!"
Chuckling, I glanced up. "Your beefcake is facing away. So is your cowboy, Alice."
Alice leaned forward. "What about your guy?"
I knew without looking he was in his usual spot. I peeked up again, meeting the gaze that made my heart beat a little faster than normal and my cheeks burn. Vivid, warm green met my nervous blue, then they dropped down, breaking our connection.
"Yeah," I breathed. "He's there."
"We need to convince Shelly to cover the end wall with a mirror," Rose mused. "I'd even pay for it."
I giggled as Jess put my toast and scrambled eggs in front of me.
"Lord," she whispered. "The hotness level at the table. I might spontaneously burst."
"Is Mike there?"
She nodded, her eyes dancing with glee. "He stayed back yesterday and asked me out."
Rose leaned forward. "Jess, we need you to recon for us."
Jess laughed. "You want info on the beefcake and the cowboy?"
Alice giggled. "We need to know names, rank, and availability. Oh, on Bella's green eyes, too."
Jess stared at me. "Bella, you never said . . ."
"No, it's fine, Jess. Just enjoy yourself. Tell us all about it on Sunday."
She grinned. "I will."
I watched her walk away, feeling a slight pang of jealousy. Mike always sat beside green eyes. They seemed to be the quietest of the group, often listening more than talking. The same with Alice's cowboy. The rest of them made up for it, especially Rose's beefcake. I had been staring at green eyes for almost a month. But, that was as far as it went. On occasion Rose or Alice made a comment to the group when we left, and had even chatted a little once or twice. My interaction had only ever gone as far as a shared glance and, one blessed day, a soft, crooked smile that made his eyes crinkle. As fast as it appeared, though, it was gone and our connection was, once again, broken.
I stabbed at my eggs with a little more force than necessary. Glances and a smile, and I was a goner.
What a loser.
Jess leaned on her elbow, a dreamy look on her face. "Mike was great. Sweet, funny, romantic." She grinned. "Did I tell you he brought me flowers?"
Rose smirked as she picked up her mimosa. "Twice. You also told us how magical his tongue felt in your mouth."
I covered my mouth with my free hand, trying not to laugh. Jess had been going on for a while, but it was good to see. She was a great friend, and I liked to see her happy.
Alice bent closer. "Did you ask?"
Jess nodded, almost bouncing in her seat. "The beefcake—Emmett—he's single. He works out like a demon and loves cars. Perfect for you, Rose."
Rose tossed her hair. "We'll see."
"Your cowboy, Alice? His name is Jasper. Mike says he is very quiet, the calm one of the bunch. He's from the South and has the drawl and everything. He says he's never met anyone so polite. Mike told me he constantly looks over at you."
Alice leaned back, fanning herself, putting on a Southern drawl. "Bless your buttons."
We all laughed.
Jess bit her lip, glancing at me. "Your 'green eyes'. . ."
My heart plummeted. He was married. Or lived with someone. I knew it. He was far too fine a specimen to be available.
My disappointment must have shown on my face, because Jess shook her head. "No, no, Bella. He's single. The thing is, he was in a relationship that ended about six months ago. Badly. Mike says he's been really quiet since then. But he says Edward is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Everyone likes him. He's sort of the leader in the group. He keeps them in line."
Such an old-fashioned name, yet somehow it suited him.
However, he was still pining over his ex. The glances we shared had to be simply that. Glances. A way to pass the time while his buddies laughed and joked around him.
Jess patted my hand. "Mike says he sees the way Edward stares at you. He thinks he's just hesitant to talk to you because of what happened in his last relationship."
"Do you know what it was?"
Jess shook her head. "Apparently, he never talked about it. No one even knew until they saw her with another guy one day, and Edward told them it had been over for a while."
She nodded. "I know, right?"
I smiled at her. "Thanks, Jess."
She grinned and leaned forward. "Did I tell you about how he fed me dessert off his fork?"
I couldn't help my grin. She had told us about six times, but she was so happy. "No. Do tell."
Tuesday morning, I was the first to arrive, sliding into our usual booth. Jess handed me a mug of coffee, shifting her eyes toward the tables where the crew sat, eating and laughing. Edward, as I now knew, sat on the edge, sipping coffee and eating scrambled eggs; the same thing I ordered every morning. Our eyes met; his crinkling slightly as we exchanged glances. The corners of his full lips turned up a little, then he broke our gaze and averted his attention back to the conversation happening around him. The restaurant was unusually quiet, and I could hear them easily.
Emmett leaned back in his chair. "Nope. I don't want to look after anyone. I don't need looking after, so why should I look after them? I want my woman independent."
The others guffawed, and one of them slapped the side of his head. "You're so full of shit. You need more looking after than anyone at this table."
There was more laughter and good-natured ribbing about the kind of women they were looking for. I bit back my smile when Mike informed them he wasn't looking anymore and the table broke out in catcalls and hollers. He looked over at Jess, who giggled and ran into the kitchen.
Jasper leaned back, picking up his mug. "What about you, Edward, my man? You want an independent woman? The self-reliant, career-oriented type?"
I casually rested on my elbows, trying not to appear obvious.
Edward rubbed the back of his neck, and shrugged. "Not really. I mean, I don't want to have to look after someone to the point they can't make their own decisions, but I don't want someone who is more focused on their career than me . . . or us." He paused, lifting his eyes briefly to meet mine. "I want a woman who wants what I want."
Inside I was screaming for him to say what it was he wanted—out loud so I could hear him.
Jasper peeked over his shoulder with a grin. "Which is?"
I could have kissed him, but I decided I would leave that to Alice to do the honors. That she would eventually do it, I had no doubt.
Edward hung his head back, then sighed. "I'm old-fashioned, I know. I want the kind of partnership my parents had. My mom had her career, my dad had his, but family came first." He grinned. "My mom always made homemade cookies. I like cookies. I want a woman who can cook and bake. I'd like my girl to make me cookies."
I swore he threw another glance my way, but I couldn't be sure. The door opened, and Rose and Alice came in, talking and laughing. They sat down, waving at the boys and ordering breakfast to go, explaining the shop was booked solid and they had to get in. Jess told me she would pack up my breakfast too, so I drained my coffee and stood without looking. I met an unexpected force, stepping on someone's foot, almost falling as I flailed. The only thing that kept me from falling backward was a pair of arms holding me upright.
"Whoa, girl. You all right?"
I shut my eyes, embarrassed. I didn't have to open my eyes to know whom I had stepped on.
His voice was low, husky, and sexy, so close to my ear that I shivered. Opening my eyes, I met his concerned gaze, the green so vivid it was like staring at stained glass.
"Sorry. I didn't see you."
"It's fine." His grin was wide. "I doubt your size fives did much damage to my steel-toe boots. I'm good." He paused. "You?"
I nodded. "Good."
He stepped back. "Okay, then."
We all went outside as a group, the girls chatting at their targets, as they referred to them. Edward walked ahead of them, getting behind the wheel of a truck. I glanced at Mike, who was beside me.
"Is that his truck?"
He nodded. "Edward drives his own truck."
"He didn't unlock it."
Mike looked at me strangely. "No, he didn't. He never does. He says if someone needs the shit in his truck more than him, they're welcome to it."
He waved good-bye, and I watched them all pile into their vehicles and leave. Edward was alone. I wondered if he was always alone. I thought about the conversation I had overheard. Edward liked cookies. Edward hoped the girl he settled with would make him cookies.
A plan began to form.
I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, though.
Thank you for reading. Update next week. This was part of a charity compilation in 2016. Can't remember the name, but I am posting it now of all to enjoy!