Gabby wanted to be late. She wanted to arrive cool, collected, and exactly fifteen minutes late. She wanted him to be waiting for her, anxious for her arrival and eager to be in her company. She also wanted to win a million dollars, and given her nerves, that was about as likely.
Instead she was five minutes early, and sat in the waiting area of Rumpernooks, fidgeting with a lock of her hair, and checking the time on her cellphone at thirty second intervals. She thought she was past this painful crush on Ace Journey. It bordered on obsession, though it had been a year since the spanking. Seeing him, standing there so straight and handsome at Liv’s wedding had made the painful memory flood back, that and all the sexy fantasies she’d had after that misadventure. It made no sense to conflate such a rotten experience with something more stirring and romantic. It was like one of the old novels she got from the used bookstore near her house. In those romances, heroines were spanked by loving heroes, who did it for the woman’s own good. Turns out, getting a punishment spanking did not lead to kisses and lovemaking. It led to having a sore butt for three days. And scary-sexy daydreams.
It had been a mistake to meet him tonight. She didn’t want another complication in her life and a relationship, especially a long-distance relationship, would be a huge issue to deal with. She already had a penchant for making things more difficult than they needed to be. But it was Ace.
Anyway, it was too late to change her mind: Ace got out of a cab a few feet from the deli door. He wore a well-tailored brown suit, a bolo tie with something glittering at the throat fastening, and a buff-colored cowboy hat. His sun-touched, dark hair was a little longer than she remembered, and he’d grown a moustache, but otherwise, he was tall and broad-shouldered, with a purposeful stride in his pointed-toe boots, like she remembered him. Exactly like she pictured him when she went to bed sometimes. She fell asleep imagining him without his shirt, his biceps rippling and chest solid and broad. Those mental images made for restless dreams, though, and she shook her head to clear it.
“Hey there, li’l girl.”
She looked up and he was there. Her lungs froze up and she had to gasp before she spoke. “Ace.” She stood and offered her hand.
He looked at her hand for a moment then took it and pulled her in for a hug.
She tried not to get lost in his warm embrace. She tried hard. But it was so good to be held, so safe there, like the world of sick mothers and bill collectors and snide photographers didn’t exist. Eventually, though, the hug loosened and he took a step back.
Ace’s milk-chocolate eyes assessed her from toes to hairline and he grinned broadly beneath his dark moustache. “You look like a peach pie on a summer day, sweetheart.” His accent was sexy, a drawl like in old western movies.
She beamed, and forced her face to take on a less transparent expression. “Thank you, Ace. You look pretty tasty yourself.” Tasty. She could have smacked herself. Oh yes, she’d like to taste him, but that wasn’t going to happen. He was a man she couldn’t push around, one who would make demands on her, who’d father her as much as any lover could. She didn’t need a father, or a lover. She had her work, such as it was, and the care of her mother and her cat, and that was all she could handle.
Still, here she was with Ace. A few minutes of fantasy wasn’t like a commitment, after all.