"Don't disappoint me now, Dominic," Mr. Rosenberg said. His tone was cold enough to chill the hot summer air that sat heavy on my shoulders while Lenny and I stood just outside a cafe on Broadway. That hot little ballerina and her hot little friends were now clustered at the counter ordering their hot little coffees. "We'll be in touch."
The line went dead.
“What’d he say?” Lenny asked, raising his brows at me.
I raked my hand through my hair and pulled a tiny tin of mints out of my pocket. Popping a couple into my mouth, I held out the open tin to Lenny. “I’ll tell you later.”
Lenny grabbed a few of the mints and tossed the palmful into his mouth. “Why not now?”
I snapped the lid shut and dropped it back into my pocket. “I gotta go take care of something real quick, and then I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
“Where are we going?”
I gestured at the door. “To Eleanor’s Cafe.” I pulled open the door and waved my arm theatrically in front of me. “After you.”
Lenny flipped his palms, hitching his shoulders. “Why?”
I stepped through the door and didn’t care if he followed me, but he did anyway. The ballerinas were now all gathered at a table on one side next to the windows by the street. The hot one was sitting at the corner of the table and happened to be right next to another empty table--which wouldn’t be empty for long.
“I’m really thirsty all of a sudden, Len.”
Slipping my hands into my pockets, I strode through the cafe, making a beeline for their table and stopping between it and the empty one next to it. The little birds continued to chirp excitedly, ripping open little pink packets of fake sugar and dumping it into their paper to-go cups of coffee. The foxy one was slowly swirling a spoon through hers, staring at the glassy surface while her other hand firmly but silently tapped a rhythm against the table.
“‘Scuse me, ladies,” I announced myself.
They all looked at me. I offered a disarming smile, making eye contact with each of them, saving the hot girl with the obsidian hair for last, and she was looking right back at me. And her eyes were purple.
Holy fuck, this girl was the friggin’ jackpot.
Her eyes weren’t just a regular purple. It was some shade of violet that almost looked bluish-silver and was super light. They were utterly mesmerizing.
They were so mesmerizing that for once, I was briefly at a loss for words, and the blonde girl saw that as an opportunity to speak up.
“Can we help you?” she asked, full of snark, and then she nodded at her violet-eyed friend. “Or are you just trying to hit on our friend here?”
I offered a wider, but still tight-lipped smile. “The latter.” I reached behind me, blindly grabbing the empty chair to flip it around and sit in it. I held out my up-turned hand to the girl with the magical purple eyes. “Dominic Luciano.”
She stared at my hand for a second, then slid her violet eyes up to mine. She hesitated for a beat or two before she timidly set her hand in mine to shake with me. “Bella.”
I shook her hand slowly, repeating her name with drawn out syllables. “Bellaaa…” That rang as familiar on some level, but it was probably because all the millennial moms who grew up on the Twilight movies named their daughters Bella. It actually suited this Bella. I released her hand because it was clear she was a little shy. “What’s your last name?”
She laughed lightly alongside a tepid scoff. “I don’t even know you.”
I turned over my hand, gesturing between us. “Well, telling someone your name is the first step in getting to know them.”
“I already told you my first name,” she retorted, although there was a tiny little curl at the corners of her lips like she was amused by the whole thing.
“Her last name is Merriweather,” the mouthy blonde offered mischievously while she held her coffee cup with two hands, hovering it at the level of her chin.
Bella whipped her face away from mine and scoffed loudly. “Amanda!”
Amanda wrinkled her nose and looked at me. “How old are you, Mr. Luciano?”
I cleared my throat and sat up straight, adjusting the collar of my black button-down shirt. “Twenty-five.” I jerked my chin at her. “How old are you?”
Amanda didn’t answer my question. Instead, she slid her gaze toward Bella. “He’s a little too old, don’t you think?”
“I’m not old at all,” I protested. Twenty-five was not old. Unless that just meant they were too young. “What, are you ladies in high school or something?”
Amanda and the other friend with them snickered. Bella swirled her spoon through her coffee again.
“No,” Amanda finally said. “We’re nineteen.” She nodded at Bella. “She just turned nineteen yesterday.”
I looked at Bella, offering her my most doting and charming look. “Well then. Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
Bella’s beautiful, pouty lips set in a flat line while she arched an eyebrow at me. “I am not your sweetheart.”
I smiled warmly, tilting my head to one side. “Not yet.”
The other two girls giggled like maniacs.
Bella raised both eyebrows at me. “You’re a pretty confident guy, Dominic.”
I playfully mirrored her raised brows. “Yes, I am.”
The eyebrow-raising contest lasted for another beat or two before she folded and dropped her eyes to her coffee. “Okay.”
I ducked my head to try to catch her gaze. “Okay, what?”
“Okay, like…” She rolled her wrist in a big, slow, elegant circle, fingers flitting through the air like the wings of a mystical fae; still not looking at me. “Go ahead and do whatever it is that people do in this situation.”
I squinted. “What do you mean?”
“She means,” Amanda cut in, “she’s been extremely sheltered her whole life up until just last year, was homeschooled.” She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “And was never allowed to talk to boys. So she doesn’t know anything about dating or…” She slid her gaze up and down my form. “What you’re obviously trying to do.”
Oh fuck, that probably meant she was a virgin.
I had never understood some guys’ preoccupation with nailing a virgin until this exact moment.
Bella, with her molto bella violet eyes, was going to be mine. I didn’t care what kind of game I had to play with her friends to make that happen.
“I am obviously just sitting here trying to get to know her better, Amanda.” I sat up straight again and smiled genuinely at her. “As her friend, who obviously knows her very well, what do you suggest I do differently?”
“Oh, I have an idea.” She picked up a plastic lid and pressed it onto Bella’s coffee, then picked up her own and stood. “Let’s go, ladies.” She looked at me. “You’re coming with us.” She looked at Lenny, who had been standing near the table scrolling on his phone this whole time. “And you.”
Lenny looked up from his phone. “Huh?”
Amanda arched an eyebrow. “Are you with him, or are you just weirdly standing in the middle of this cafe for no reason?”
He curled his upper lip in annoyance. “Yeah, I’m with him. Who the hell are you?”
“Amanda.” She dragged her gaze up and down his form, obviously interested in Lenny the same way I was apparently obviously interested in Bella. “You’re coming with us, too.”
He gave her the same once-over and then put his phone in his pocket and shrugged. “Okay.”
Bella looked up at her. “They’re coming with us?”
“Yes.” She picked up a small duffle bag, draping the long strap across her torso and then stepping away from the table with a swing on her very slender hips. “We’re vetting them.”
Amanda strode to the exit, Lenny scampered after her, the girl who hadn’t been introduced yet stood up and followed them, and Bella gathered all the empty pink packets into a wad in her palm. She started to push her chair back, but I jumped up and stood behind it to pull it out for her.
I offered her my hand. “Allow me.”
She looked at my hand for a second and then placed the crumbled up packets into my palm. And then she smiled impishly.
I bounced the little wad of paper in my palm. “Is this a gift?”
She smiled wider, showing off perfect teeth, and stood up. Reaching to grab the strap of her dance bag, she slung it over her shoulder and picked up her coffee, pressing on the lid to make sure it was secure. “If you want it to be.”
She stepped around me and followed the group out of the cafe. I stood still, just watching her absolutely flawless ass while she walked away, and I was one-hundred-percent in love.
I sprinted after her, shoving the wad of tiny pink papers into the pocket of my jeans. Back outside, I caught up with her, matching her long-legged strides and walking next to her on the street side of the sidewalk. “So you ladies are ballerinas or something?”
“Or something?” She simpered, chin lifted and eyes trained forward, somehow making herself look even more like a ballerina. “You seem so clever, Dominic.”
“Ha ha,” I said, grinning widely, staring at her, not even thinking about what I might run into. “I am clever. I’m also taking you on a date tonight.”
“Oh are you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Actually!” Amanda hollered, looking over her shoulder at us for a second. “You’re taking her on a date right now, and you’re going to pay.”
I hitched my shoulders. “Obviously, I’m going to pay, Amanda.”
“You are not paying for this,” Bella countered, looking right at me before turning her violet eyes toward Amanda. “He’s not paying for this. He can’t pay for this. We don’t even know them.”
“That’s why they’re about to pay,” Amanda said.
I was still staring at Bella. “Where are we going, and why don’t you want us to pay? We got plenty of money. Right, Len?”
“We got lots of money!” Lenny crowed, wiggling his eyebrows up and down at Amanda.
I smiled. “See? We got lots of money, Bella.”
Before she could say anything, my shoulder collided with a No Parking sign, knocking me backward off my feet completely. I landed on my ass, and thank God I knew how to tuck and roll.
Bella sucked in a gasp, which alerted the whole group to my display of anti-suave, and everyone stopped and turned around.
I groaned as I started to push myself up, and Bella immediately crouched next to me, grinning even wider and lightly laughing under her breath.
She gently wrapped her hand around my tricep, holding it and standing back up along with me. “Are you okay?”
I lifted my other arm to inspect my smarting elbow. My sleeve was torn, and my elbow was shredded. “Fine.”
“Here.” She handed me the coffee, which I took using my un-injured arm, and then unzipped her bag and rifled through it. She pulled out a tiny pouch and placed it between her teeth while she unbuttoned my cuff and rolled up my sleeve to my bicep. She opened the pouch and pulled out one of those little single-use alcohol packets, tearing it open and stuffing the wrapper into the pouch. She gently held the base of my elbow and hovered the little square alcohol pad over my road rash. “This’ll sting a little.”
“I’m fine,” I deadpanned.
“Ooo-kaay…” she sing-songed quietly, still smiling as she began carefully dabbing the scrape.
It stung a lot actually. But I just gritted my teeth and focused on Bella’s uncommonly pretty face and long, lush eyelashes. The pad of her thumb on the hand she was using to hold my arm was lightly, absently, and slowly stroking the exposed skin on the underside of my elbow.
“If you’re trying to get me to fall in love with you,” I murmured, “it’s working.”
She snapped her face up to meet my eyes and gave me another one of those breathy-laughter-scoffs of hers. “What is wrong with you?”
“I’m just the kinda guy who doesn’t dick around when I see something I want.” I cocked my head, angling my face closer to hers. “And I want you, Bella Mia.”
She dropped her gaze again, putting the alcohol pad into her pouch and pulling out a small tube of antibiotic ointment. She smiled shyly, but didn’t say anything as she dabbed a little ointment on and then put the tube away. Finally, she produced a band-aid from her little first aid kit and smoothed it on.
She rubbed both thumbs over the sides of the band-aid and then cupped my arm, lifting it to the level of her mouth, and she pressed a brief kiss to it. “There you go,” she said, unrolling my sleeve and buttoning the cuff.
She took her coffee and hastily trotted away from me, leaving me just standing there in a stupor for a second.
“I’m warning you, Bella,” I called after her loudly on purpose. “I am one-hundred-percent falling in love with you.”
Bella shook her head, her slender shoulders shaking with another quiet laugh as she skipped farther to walk with the girl who’s name was still elusive.