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The glass door swung open and then shut, sucking cold air and a flurry of snowflakes into the Java Café.
Even before the heavy boots thudded on the wooden floorboards, Jet felt a rush of awareness, the skin at her nape tingling. He was here.
Jet Diekerhof sat up a little straighter, trying to act blasé, as if the hottest guy she’d ever seen hadn’t just entered Marietta’s coffee shop.
But it wasn’t easy ignoring the crazy adrenaline rush that made her hands shake and her skin go hot then cold. Or the way her heart beat double time.
Jet didn’t know why he had this effect on her. She didn’t know anything about him. Didn’t even know his name. He was just gorgeous. Hot, sexy, smoldering, heart palpitation kind of gorgeous. He had a whole sleeve of tattoos—she thought that was what they called them when they covered an arm—and long, thick dark hair and a dark scruff of a beard that made her stare at his mouth.
He had a sexy mouth. Sexy muscles.
But best of all, he had a brain.
She never saw him without a stack of books, tons of books, and notebooks, and a laptop. He’d show up and turn his table at Java Café into a mini office, books and notepad and laptop spread out around him, and he’d read, pen in hand, ready to jot down notes.
He was always scribbling something. She loved that. Loved how he’d read with intense concentration, oblivious to everything around him.
He had to be a teacher, a grad student, a writer. Something like that. Who else would sit for hours in a coffee shop, pouring over books, biceps beautifully bunched, brow furrowed in concentration?
He was intense and edgy and intriguing and she’d never met anyone else like him.
Not that she’d ever actually met him.
Today she vowed she’d change that. She’d promised herself last time she was going to introduce herself. No matter what. And once Jet made a vow, she had to keep it, had to honor those vows, otherwise, what was the point?
Now he was here, and her skin prickled, and her stomach flipped, and her pulse was jumping double time.
For weeks she’d been wondering who he was, what he did, why he was here…
For weeks she’d been struggling to muster up the courage to talk to him.
He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, and no one ever joined him at his table. He also drank tea, not coffee.
The café served him his tea in a china cup. With a saucer.
(She loved that.)
It crossed her mind that he could be gay. Which would be disappointing from a purely selfish point of view as Jet had spent a lot of time fantasizing about him, longing for him to drop into a chair at her table, long muscular legs outstretched, big muscular torso angled carelessly away, even as his dark eyes watched her with sexy, lazy, delicious intent.
It would never happen but that didn’t stop the shiver of anticipation from racing up and down her spine.
She really, really wanted to meet him. But how? She was determined, but wasn’t at all sure how to orchestrate the meet without sounding like a breathless gum smacking teenager.
And she wasn’t a teenie-bopper. She was twenty-four, a teacher, and fairly worldly after six months traveling through Europe.How could she introduce herself without sounding like a schoolgirl?
Jet wasn’t sure if her extreme nervousness was due to the age gap—she was sure he was at least five or six years older than her—or the fact that he oozed sexual confidence.
Her hand shook ever so slightly as she pushed back a long lock of hair, tucking it behind her ear as she watched her mystery man head to the counter and order.
He was wearing old faded jeans that hung from his lean hips, jeans that outlined his hard quads and hamstrings before falling to the tips of his black boots. They weren’t combat boots or cowboy boots, but something a guy who rode a motorcycle might wear. Bad ass. Take no prisoners.
And then he turned abruptly and his dark eyes—deep, deep brown, almost black—met hers and held.
Her heart fell all the way to her feet.
She went blistering hot and then icy cold.
She couldn’t look away. She’d waited weeks for him to notice and now he had and she didn’t know what to do.
Hot again, cheeks burning, she finally dropped her gaze, grabbed the student papers in front of her, forcing her attention back to her grading. Breathe, she told herself, breathe. Act normal.
Not that she had the faintest idea what normal was.
Jet had never been normal.
Geeky, smart, happy, confident…she’d loved school from her first day of Kindergarten. She’d excelled in every subject, all the way through elementary school, a perfect student on into junior high, winning prizes for most books read during the summer, ribbons in the annual essay contest and science fair. She’d been the quintessential book girl…even teacher’s pet… and she’d thrived in school, all the way until the day in eighth grade when she overheard girls ridiculing her in the bathroom.
And they did it, knowing she was in there.
Knowing she was a captive audience in the stall.
They didn’t stop, either, not even when she finally emerged, face blotchy from holding back tears.
She didn’t cry while she washed her hands. She kept her chin up while she dried her hands. She walked out of the bathroom, head high.
It wasn’t until she was home that she gave into tears.
She’d known since second grade she wasn’t popular, but she hadn’t realized how unpopular she was until that day. But Jet refused to change. If she was going to be mocked for being smart, she’d show them just how smart she was.
She studied harder than ever, never letting anyone know in high school that her amazing grades weren’t effortless. She wanted the haters to think it all came easy, so she let them believe she whizzed through, and she did a pretty good impression of loving life, with her 4.4 GPA (thanks to all the AP and honors classes), and near perfect scores on the SAT and ACT.
But once she’d finished college—which had been a lot of work—she didn’t know what to do with herself.
She didn’t know what she wanted.
She’d spent so much of her life trying to prove she was smart and successful, that she didn’t really even know who she was…other than smart, and academically successful.
After graduating, Jet earned a teaching credential, making sure to qualify as both an elementary teacher and a single subject teacher in English, Social Studies, Science and Math.
If she was going to be an overachiever, why not do it to the max?
But after a year of teaching, she was more disillusioned than ever.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to be in a classroom for the rest of her life. She felt as if she’d only ever been in a classroom–
“Can I join you?”
The deep voice was paired with denim clad legs and heavy black boots.
Jet jerked her head up. Heart pounding, face hot, she looked into dark eyes.
Him. It was him.
“There are no open tables.”
Her mouth opened, shut. “Sure,” she choked, gathering her papers and pulling her laptop closer, giving him space.
“You’re fine,” he said, setting his leather backpack on top of the empty chair. “Don’t move your stuff.”
“It’s okay. I don’t need-” she broke off, swallowing the words, since he’d walked away, returning to the counter to collect his order.
Blushing furiously, she forced her attention to the paper in front of her. She felt stupid and gauche and she wished she could disappear, and she kept her head down even as he placed the bagel and tea on the table and drew his chair back.
Focus, focus, focus she told herself.
“I’m Shane,” he said, taking a seat.
She drew a breath, looked up. “Jet,” she said, extending her hand, shocking herself with how calm she sounded.
His hand closed around hers. One black eyebrow lifted. “Jet?” he echoed.
His grip was firm, his skin warm and she felt a little tingle all the way through her. “It’s Dutch,” she said.
“You are the first Jet I’ve ever met.”
Handshake over, she slid her hand beneath her leg, trying to ignore all the crazy butterflies filling her middle.
“You’re a teacher,” he said.
She looked at him, surprised. “How did you know?”
“You’re always grading papers.”
So he’d noticed her before. Another shiver coursed through her. “How about you?” she asked. “I always see you with a stack of books and papers.”
“I’m a writer.”
That intrigued her. She sat up a little taller. “What kind of writing?”
“That’s a pretty broad subject area. You can squeeze a lot into that…biographies. History. Crime. War.”
“And so you write…?”
“History, crime, war.”
Her eyebrows arched. “That’s pretty dark stuff.”
“Can be. My job is to try to make it personal. Make people care.”
“And do you?”
He laughed, flashing white teeth. “Sometimes.”
“Have you been published?”
He hesitated. “I should have something out next year.”
“That’s great. Congratulations. I’ll have to look for it. I like non-fiction. That’s kind of my thing to read.”
“Oh yeah? Any favorite authors?”
“Jon Krakauer….Sean Finley… too many to name them all.”
For a moment there was a flicker in his eyes and then it was gone. His expression turned thoughtful. “Which Sean Finley?”
She frowned, thinking. “I’ve read virtually everything by Finley, but my favorite is probably the first one I read by him, the one on Custer’s Last Stand. Heartbreak & Heaven.”
“It was brutal. Sad. But really powerful. It’s like reading about the Alamo. You know what’s going to happen ahead of time, but the details in the retelling brought it to life and made the massacre that much more painful.”
His mouth curved, and yet his dark eyes held hers, intent. “So you are Team Custer.”
“No. More like Team Crazy Horse, but I feel for Custer. I do. He was foolishly brave and I had to respect him even though I didn’t want to. The whole thing was tragic.”
“He was in over his head.”
“But I think most people are! I think most of us learn on the job…and we just kind of hope no one knows that we’re wildly underprepared.”
His smile widened. “Are you speaking from personal experience?”
Jet grimaced. “I might be in a little over my head at the school, but I can promise you that no one will die on my watch.”
A table was suddenly open across the café by the bay window. Jet watched Shane’s face. He was going to head over there and grab the now empty table.
Her heart fell a little. It was absurd. She was absurd. There was no reason to like this man so much. She still knew virtually nothing about him. “I can watch your stuff if you want to claim the table,” she said.
He turned to look at her, amusement in his dark eyes. “I’ve worn out my welcome already?”
For a second she couldn’t think or breathe, too lost in those dark eyes. He was really ridiculously good looking. Too good looking. She didn’t like feeling so shallow. “I just know you like your space,” she said, and then blushing as one of his black brows lifted.
“I mean, you never talk to anyone,” she added quickly, “you just work.”
He leaned forward, elbows on the table, biceps bunching beneath the smooth fabric of his gray Henley. “Is that why you never said hello?”
She gulped a breath. “I got the impression you didn’t want to be bothered.”
“And I thought it was the tattoos. That maybe they put you off.”
Jet’s cheeks burned hotter. A dozen different emotions swamped her. But being the youngest in a big family had taught her some basic survival skills, and so she held his gaze, and kept her chin up. “I think you know why I was looking at you.”
He stared right back into her eyes for what felt like endless seconds before he lifted his cup, and took a sip, all without breaking eye contact. “And were you never going to do anything about it?”
Her brow creased. Her heart thumped. Tattoos and muscles and long dark wavy hair and ass-kicker boots…
Jet swallowed hard. “I wanted to.”
The black eyebrow lifted quizzically. He set the cup back down. “But?”
Jet wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole. But it didn’t. And Shane just watched her and waited for a response as if he had all day.
The silence stretched. Her heart thumped harder. Clearly he had all day.
“You’re a bit intimidating,” she blurted breathlessly.
“What does that mean?”
“You’re out of my league.”
“Are we talking Marvel comics?”
He smiled, and the smile was warm and more than a little bit amused. Reaching into his leather satchel he pulled out a card. He placed it on the table between them before beginning to gather his things. “Should you ever want to get a cup of coffee, or talk books, or teaching—I used to be a high school history teacher—call me.”
Jet watched him walk away, and take the still empty table by the bay window. He put down his tea and pulled out his laptop.
She turned to look at the business card he’d left on the table.
Sean S. Finley.
End of Excerpt