Love Realized (The Real Love Series)
Author:Melanie Codina

chapter EIGHT

“Damn, what a day,” Jake said as he blew out an exasperated sigh and climbed back into his ambulance. He was especially glad that call was over; he hated responding to calls where it wasn’t really an emergency, but they just wanted a ride to the hospital. It happened way too often. Now he just had to get through the paperwork for the day, which should only take about an hour, so he wasn’t going to complain about it. It could always be worse!

His partner, Eddie, climbed up into the driver’s seat and started the rig. “You can say that again,” he said as he got himself situated and got them on the road back to the station house. “I heard some of the guys mention heading over to Hooley’s after our shift. You up for grabbing a beer tonight, or do you have to get home to Ryan?”

Hooley’s was a great Irish Pub chain here in San Diego and was a great spot to hang out and unwind from the day. He hadn’t been out for a beer with the guys in a while and realized that his work friends all probably thought he was avoiding them. Surprisingly they hadn’t given him shit about it. The reality of it was that he just always seemed to be checking in on Gillian. Not that she needed to be checked in on; he always found excuses to do it because he needed to see her. Damn! He knew he had it bad, and it’s not that he wasn’t aware of his attraction toward her, but he had always been able to keep it in check. Until recently that is. It was almost as if, at the exact moment in her driveway two months ago, when Gillian told Logan that they were over, his mind, and apparently his libido, knew she was on the market and wanted to claim her as his.

He was almost embarrassed as his body responded to her voice that night when she was telling Logan to imagine her naked body pressed against another man, while she called out his name in ecstasy. You better believe that Jake was visualizing such a scenario, but it wasn’t just any man, it was him. It was his name that she called out, and it was him who took his pleasure deep inside of her body. Well, shit man … calm yourself down. Just remembering it had the same effect on him now, which was not cool because sporting wood with only your male partner in sight—well, there was really no defense for that.

He needed to get out, maybe even get laid. Too bad the only woman that came to mind when he thought about sex was Gillian. And didn’t that just make him an asshole. She wasn’t even divorced yet, and she was all he could think about. Knowing his friend was waiting for an answer, and knowing that Gillian wouldn’t be home tonight because it was high school football night, and she never missed Madison cheering, he replied, “No, Ryan is over at my parents’ house for the night. Drinks sound good.” Nope, not creepy at all that I know her schedule. Of course, the fact that Gillian would be at the high school approximately one mile away from where Jake was going had nothing to do with his decision to go out. It was just lucky because if she needed him, he wasn’t far away.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After spending a fabulous morning with her sister-in-law and her beautiful nieces, which turned out to be just what she needed, Gillian felt refreshed and even relaxed. Who didn’t feel great after being showered with toddler love while holding an infant? Plus it was nice to see the relief in Morgan’s eyes when she was allowed a few moments to herself so she could shower in peace. All moms knew exactly what that moment felt like when you were completely exhausted, yet wide awake, because you were literally at the beck and call of a tiny human.

Then after hanging out with a less-frenzied looking Morgan and enjoying some lunch, she had picked Dylan and Ryan up from school, fed them and passed them over to Jake’s parents for the night. Since those two were joined at the hip, they were a packaged deal. Even though they were Ryan’s grandparents, they still expected Dylan to call them Gramps and Nana. Since Ryan was their only grandchild, they welcomed Dylan into the fold. It was always so sweet to watch them love on her son. Since they had known her since she was a teenager, they felt like another set of parents to her, so she had no problem with Dylan viewing them as surrogate grandparents, as well. Gillian’s parents had relocated to Temecula, about an hour away, so it was nice that her kids had a backup set.

Now she had some time to kill with a little peace and quiet before embarking on the chaos of enduring high school football games. Coffee in hand, Gillian set it down as she searched for her phone, blindly reaching into her bag on the floor next to the chair she had luckily claimed from a group of kids who had just vacated the coffee shop. After digging around for a few moments, she finally came across it. She wanted to check how much time she had before she had to be back at the school. Parking always sucked for the football games, and she was determined to avoid the damn back lot again.

Of course, Madison’s solution to this was for her not to come at all. Oh, the joys of having a teenage daughter. Gillian was sure that what she had to tolerate with her own daughter had to be some cosmic payback for what she had done to her own mom. Well, if she was being honest, and Madison did to her what she did to her mom, Gillian would be a grandmother within the next eighteen months. Note: lock up daughter very soon.

There was just over an hour before kickoff, which meant she had at least another thirty minutes of kid-free time to do some reading and enjoy some coffee. Too bad she somehow forgot to charge her eReader and had to use a more traditional format for reading—an actual book. It was comical how strange it felt to be holding a book instead of an electronic device, right down to the fact that she actually caught herself tapping the far right side of the page to get it to turn and looked to the top corner for the time. Anyway, lucky for her, she found a book in the back of the car. Considering how she spends an awful lot of time sitting and waiting at one practice or another, it came in handy. It didn’t matter if she had read the book before, she always loved to revisit her favorite scenes.

Once again her thoughts ventured to her daughter, who would be mortified to see that her mother was reading Twilight out in public, where everyone could see. She barely contained her desire to stick her tongue out at Madison, for the second time today, even though she wasn’t there. Gotta love little victories. Since the kid-free time was so infrequent, she eagerly dove back into the world of Forks High School.

While deep in the imaginary world of sparkling vampires, Gillian leaned forward to reach for her coffee and barely registered the fact that someone was talking to her. Except that the deep timber of his voice caught her attention and quickly distracted her from the book. Looking up, she found a striking set of blue eyes set within a very masculine face surrounded by thick black hair, staring down at her expectantly. Was he talking to her? Only one way to find out. “Excuse me?” she asked. He smiled down at her and holy shit, what a smile it was. It was hands down a jaw-dropping-panty-melting-excuse-me-while-I-wipe-the-drool-from-my-chin kind of smile. Am I drooling? Oh, please don’t let me be drooling.

“I was just wondering what team you were on?” he asked in that very sexy voice again. It was intoxicating. Shaking herself out of her sudden case of swooning, she found her voice.

“Varsity, my daughter cheers.”

He smiled at her again and motioned toward her book and said, “I was actually referring to your book. Isn’t that the book where everyone is on a ‘team.’” Oh you are a spaz, Gillian! She felt her cheeks blush with embarrassment at misunderstanding his question, but seriously what man asked that kind of question. Aw dammit! He must be gay. Well, that would be a big disappointment. Just answer the man, and let him get out of here before you really do something stupid.

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were asking because of my shirt,” she said, motioning to her shirt that sported the name of the high school and mascot proudly on it, and just so happened to showcase a view of her cleavage very nicely. Thank God for Victoria’s Secret. “But to answer your question, Team Edward,” she said with a smile because this was just a funny topic to have with a stranger. Hopefully she wasn’t about to find herself in a conversation where she felt she was being judged for liking Twilight.

He looked like he was processing that bit of information before he said, “And what are the other options for teams? What’s the other guy’s name?”

She smiled bigger before responding, “Jacob.”

“Yeah, Team Edward and Team Jacob. Now which guy is the one who never seems to be wearing a shirt?” She practically snorted at his question as he continued, “This is important information, you know. I think a single guy nowadays needs to be knowledgeable in this kind of stuff.”

Gillian laughed out loud at that comment, but knew it was true. “You are absolutely correct about that. A guy must know the basic information about Twilight. The best advice I can offer you is that if you’re dating a Twilight fan, never tell her you think she is weird for loving it. It’s more than just a movie, you know,” she said as she gave a little wave of her book. “And the shirtless one is Jacob.” She dramatically sighed and fanned herself to be funny. His smile got bigger.

“Good to know. Not that I would ever do something like that. You know, make fun of someone for being a fan.” Then he leaned toward her and lowered his voice like he was sharing a secret. “Closet Star Wars fan here,” he said, while exaggerating a look over his shoulder to see if anyone heard his confession. Then when he looked back at her, he winked. As he stood back up straight, she noticed that he had to be a few inches over six feet tall, and his shoulders looked nice and broad under the jacket he was wearing, which was unzipped and his scarf was hanging down in front, denying her the God-given right of women everywhere to objectify his chest.

“If you would allow me to buy you another cup of coffee, you could provide me with any other Twilight no-no’s for the single man. Either that, or we can chat over the fact that our children apparently go to the same school,” he said as he gestured toward her shirt. Okay, so he must not be gay since that was the second time he mentioned that he was single. Was he flirting with her? It seemed very likely just by the fact that he winked and kept smiling at her. And that smile alone was lethal for crying out loud. Should she flirt back? She was feeling a bit tingly inside, and had a swarm of butterflies demanding attention in her abdomen. Could she do this? There was no reason not to flirt back, it wasn’t like she was throwing herself at his feet, but if he gave her a little time she just might be. Just do it, girl! What have you got to lose?

“Sure, I would love another cup of coffee, but I’ve got to warn you, I like the most expensive drink on the menu. I’m a bit of a coffee snob. Not sure you will want to make that kind of investment just for some advice on Twilight,” she said with what she hoped was a flirty tone.

“Oh, it’s already proven to be a very good investment. I'm Mike Lawson, by the way,” he said as he extended his hand toward her. Gillian reached up and placed her hand in his big strong hand.

“Gillian. Gillian Baxter.”

“Very nice to meet you, Gillian.” There was that smile again. “What’s your vice? I want to get you that coffee before you change your mind and give that empty seat next to you away.”

As she rattled off what her Starbucks beverage of choice was, she couldn’t help but enjoy the cool feeling she was experiencing. Someone was flirting with her, and she was hopeful that what she was doing back was flirting. Definitely a cool feeling, she thought, as she watched him head to the counter for their drinks. He certainly looked good coming and going, and clearly he was way out of her league.

Oh well, he may be out of her league, but it’ll be fun while it lasts. Worst-case scenario, she could have friendly conversation with a fellow parent since he said his kids go to the same school. She quickly pulled her phone back out and checked the time—she still had twenty minutes before she had to head to the school. She decided to send Allie a quick text.

Gillian: Wanna know what my coffee and the guy buying it for me have in common?? They are both HOT!! LOL

She sent it off, and it only took a few seconds for her best friend to respond while she quickly peeked up to see where said guy was.

Allie: You slut! How hot is hot? No wait, I don’t want description, I want a pic!

Gillian: I can’t take his picture! We just exchanged names you freak =)

Allie: Just give me his name and I will stalk him on Facebook later….

Gillian: You scare me sometimes girl…I will give you his name so if something happens to me you have somewhere to start looking for my body…

Allie: Now why the hell didn’t I think of that….gimme it!!

Gillian: It’s Mike Lawson…I will text you later.

Allie: You better call me slut =)

Gillian: Slut!

Allie: Very cute…call me later, I want details.

Gillian: Love you too…xoxox

Allie: xoxoxoxo

She laughed and put her phone in her bag as Mike walked back over, coffees in hand, and that damn magnificent smile on his face. “Here you go. You didn’t change your mind did you?” he asked as he carefully placed her cup in her hand. Cradling the cup in her hand, she closed her eyes and took a tedious sip of the coffee—filling her mouth with the melting whip cream on top—it was her favorite sip.

As she opened her eyes and looked up, she smiled at him and said, “Mmm … I’m sorry, did you say something? I was busy enjoying my yummy beverage.” He smiled back at her as he sat down in the chair next to her.

“No, please, don’t let me interrupt you. I would have no problem watching you drink that whole cup in silence if that was how you were going to do it.”

“Sorry to disappoint you. The first taste is the best, and the only one worthy of such attention.”

“Guess I'm going to have to get that drink next time then.” She was still smiling at him like some fool, but she couldn’t help it, this was fun. Flirting and being flirted with was not something she was familiar with in her recent years. Well, of course there were times when there was some form of harmless flirting during the course of her marriage. But this time, there was intent behind it for her … and shockingly, it felt good. The anticipation of what could be, coupled with the fear of the unknown, was a heady feeling. She leaned back in her chair and got comfortable while still cradling her coffee in both hands.

“So, Mike Lawson, what is it you would like to know? I want to make sure you get your money’s worth and all, and since I have to be on my way in about fifteen minutes, you might want to get to it.”

“Well, what do you think I should know? I mean, if I were having dinner with a beautiful woman, like yourself,” he paused and gave her a wink before continuing, “Is it inappropriate to bring up Twilight and assume that she’s a fan?”

Gillian once again smiled and laughed at his questions. “You would really bring up Twilight in a conversation with a woman while on a date with her? Wouldn’t you prefer to bring up a topic like work or your children? I believe it would be far more tolerable for you. You know, since you are a man and all.”

He considered her question and responded, “True, I would prefer to talk about my children or my work because they are important to me. But I am currently sitting in a coffee shop, talking to a beautiful woman about Twilight. And I'm tolerating it just fine. In fact, I have a newfound respect for the franchise all because of you. Besides, how else would I get to know the woman I am dating if I don’t listen to her talk about something that she might be passionate about? So hit me with the need-to-know stuff.”

Taking another sip of her coffee, she watched Mike talk over the top of her cup. She couldn’t even tell if he was intentionally flirting or if it was just honest comments. He could totally be working an angle, or he could be genuinely curious—she had no clue. This guy was good. Considering what to tell him, she realized that she didn’t want to talk about Twilight; she would rather talk about his kids or his work.

“Well, as a woman, sitting in a coffee shop, with a handsome man,” she winked at him, copying what he did earlier. “I would prefer to talk about your children or your work rather than Twilight. I have girlfriends and a teenage daughter for that. So let’s conclude the Twilight lesson and say that it’s good to use to get the date, but maybe not while on the date.” Knowing full well that she just made it sound like she would go on a date with the man, she sat back and waited to see how he would proceed. Keeping his gaze on her, he waited a few moments before he replied.

“So, Gillian, what you’re saying is that you will go on a date with me?” he asked with a triumphant smile, proving that he picked up exactly what she said.

Wanting to have a little more fun with him, she said, “I'm sorry, Mike, but I don’t recall being asked out on a date.” She smirked back at him as she leaned over to get her phone out of her bag. If he just so happened to get a glimpse of her cleavage while she did, so be it. Allie would be so proud! Sitting back up, she glanced at the screen on her phone for the time.

“That’s because I didn’t ask you out on a date, Gillian,” he replied. And that took the wind out of her sails. For a split second, she wanted to crawl into a hole and hide, as she realized her maiden attempt at flirting backfired terribly. She was about to get up and thank him for the coffee when he said, “Yet.”

Touché, Mike. Touché. And just like that, the anticipation of seeing where this would go built itself back up inside her belly. He looked down at his watch and said, “I believe my time with you is almost up. I, too, have somewhere to be, but I would really love to get to know you, Gillian. Could I take you out some time?”

If she had her wits about her she would’ve messed with him some more and played hard to get, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to say yes and didn’t want to delay it. Even though she hadn’t realized she wanted to try and date. Besides, she didn’t have much time before she needed to get to the field, so she couldn’t string him along. Smiling at him once again, she said, “I would love to go out with you some time, Mike.”

“Is it too late to ask if you are available tomorrow night?”

She felt her confidence start to climb again. “Well I do believe that is a trick question,” she said as she slowly stood up and started to slip her jacket back on in preparation of leaving. “If I say yes to tomorrow, then you will know that I have no life and was going to be home on a Saturday night. But if I say no, that I'm not available, I will just be sitting home all alone wishing I had said yes.”

If it was even possible, his smile got bigger when he said, “Well, when you think about it, since I asked if you wanted to go out with me, you clearly know that I didn’t have any plans for tomorrow night either. So I couldn’t judge you for that. And if you say that you are not available, then I, too, will be sitting at home all alone wishing you had said yes.”

“Good point.”

“So clearly you’re the only one who could put us both out of our misery. The only option is to say yes, and allow me to take you out tomorrow night.”

“Clearly I am the one with the power here … decisions, decisions,” she jokingly said while pretending to consider it. She bent over and picked up her bag and slung it up onto her shoulder. “Well since we would both be miserable if I say no—I guess you’re right—I'm going to have to say yes.”

“Glad to hear it, Gillian. How does six-thirty sound to you?”

“Sounds like a date,” she said as she reached down into her bag and pulled out the first piece of paper she could find. She wrote her number and address on it, and handed it to him. “I look forward to it.”

As she handed him the paper, he took her hand and gently pressed it against his lips. With a soft chaste kiss to her knuckles, he said, “Until tomorrow night, Gillian Baxter. Unless, of course, I get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of you before then.” Giving her one more beautiful smile, he turned and walked out of the coffee house.

Feeling warm and tingly all over, coupled with a weak-kneed sensation, she dropped back down into the chair behind her to catch her breath. She clasped the hand that he kissed in her other hand and just enjoyed the sensation of firsts: her first time flirting with a man other than her husband; her first cup of coffee with another man; her first kiss to the back of the hand? Oh who cares, I have a date tomorrow! She had to text Allie. But first, she had to get her butt to the high school before all the parking was gone.