Unexpectedly Yours (Page 7)
But Sophie doesn’t know who I am, or if she does, she doesn’t care. She just looks at me with open curiosity. “So what’s your deal?” she asks. “Did you get stranded too?”
“Yup. I’m supposed to be on a flight to London right now,” I explain. “I was going to meet my family there for the holidays, but it was cancelled.”
“That’s too bad.” Sophie looks sympathetic. “Mine are traveling right now. Otherwise I’d go see them. Nobody should be alone for Christmas.”
“Why not?” I shrug. “It’s just like any other day.”
Her mouth drops open. “It’s not! It’s the holidays, a time for family, and celebrations, and—”
“Hallmark cards and stupid gifts everyone’s going to return in the morning anyway?” I finish, amused by the passion in her voice.
“Scrooge,” she shoots back, but she’s smiling as she says it.
I laugh. “And you’re stuck with me.” The waitress brings us plastic water glasses, and I raise mine in a toast. “Here’s to getting stuck.”
Sophie cracks a smile and taps hers to mine.
“You guys ready to order?” The waitress demands. She’s a brassy woman in her fifties with a pencil through her bun.
“Um, I’m not sure…” Sophie looks back at the menu. I take it from her hands.
“We’ll get two Ruebens, potato salad, slaw, fries too.” I order for us both. Sophie’s mouth drops open in surprise. “Trust me,” I tell her, as the waitress bustles away. “You haven’t lived until you’ve tried it.”
Sophie assesses me. “What if I was a vegetarian?” she asks, a smile creeping to the edge of her lips.
“No,” she admits with a laugh. “I love bacon too much for that.”
“My kind of woman,” I grin, leaning back in the booth. I let out a satisfied sigh. Things are turning around. A half hour ago I was stranded, bored, and alone, and now I’m in the company of a beautiful, intriguing woman, with a heap of pastrami on the way.
Life is good once more.
The food is amazing, and I can’t get over the restaurant: clustered with real New Yorkers chatting over their bottomless coffees and overflowing plates. Austin jokes through dinner, telling me stories about his other travel nightmares: getting stranded in an airport in Guatemala with a group of nuns for two days, or the time some boy band was flying out of the same terminal and he got caught up in a teen-girl riot.
It’s easy and fun, and almost enough to distract me from the knot of rejection, still heavy in my gut.
Finally, Austin pushes his empty plate back with a satisfied sigh. “Meat good. Man full,” he says in a low, caveman voice.
I laugh. “How did you get through that? I’ve barely made a dent!” I look mournfully at my full plate. Even having barely eaten all day, I still have half a sandwich left.
“But that’s the best part of Canter’s,” Austin grins. “Midnight leftovers.”
He winks, and I feel a shiver of something I can’t quite recognize. Anticipation maybe. Excitement. Nerves.
I didn’t think this through.
I was too angry and hurt at Matt to think about anything other than getting out of that hotel room. I wasn’t going to sit around moping over our break-up when New York City was waiting for me—and Austin had made it clear, he had time to kill.
But sitting across from him now, the fluorescent strip lighting bathing his gorgeous face in a golden glow, I realize, I’m way out of my depth.
Before Matt, I never dated much. A couple of hook-ups and short relationships in college, but I was too focused on my studies to pay anyone real attention. And when I did, they were always the cute but geeky guys I paired up with for study partners. Matt was like that too: awkward and sincere; we met through friends at a summer BBQ. He said it took him a week to work up the courage to call me. That’s when I knew I was safe with him.
Austin is anything but safe. He’s sexy, charming, adventurous…
Way out of your league.
“You OK?” he asks, watching me. “Or did you overdo it on the pastrami? I warned you…” he adds, teasing.
“I’m fine!” I blurt, then I pause. “Actually, there is one thing I need.”
Austin quirks his eyebrow. “Anything, sweetheart. Ask, and it shall be yours.”
I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I do know, I can’t deal with that heart-stopping smile and those piercing blue eyes in my current state. I need to take the edge off, and forget the whispers of guilt and insecurities rising in the back of my mind whenever I think about how things ended with Matt.
What if he was right? What if you couldn’t have made it work—and it’s all your fault?
I shake off the fear, and look Austin straight in the eye.
“I’m going to need a drink.”
I still have the hopeful list of places I was planning to go with Matt programmed into my phone, and when I check, one of the bars is right nearby.
“You didn’t have to treat me to dinner,” I scold Austin, wrapping up against the night winds. It’s cold and clear, the kind of bone-chilling breeze we never get in California.
“Hush, you.” He falls into step beside me, out on the sidewalk. “I was raised right. My momma would have a fit if I ever let a lady pay.”