Aiden watched a beautiful brunette pick four red tomatoes and place them in her shopping cart. She walked, her shoulders pulled back, eyes straight ahead, exuding self-confidence. He followed her down the aisle. When she stopped to choose a bunch of bananas, he passed her and searched her left hand—no ring.
He moved toward the checkout, waiting for her to approach a register. As she exited the aisle and approached, he feigned interest in a magazine and rolled his cart forward so that it collided with hers.
He looked up. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Are you okay?”
She looked at him, the corners of her mouth twitching. “I’m fine. Now, if you’d be so kind as to move your cart, I’ll pay for my items and be on my way.”
“Oh yes, of course.” He pulled his cart back, allowed her to enter the checkout lane, then pushed his cart in behind hers. “My name’s Aiden Berkley. And you are?”
“Not interested.” She pinched her lips into a flat line.
“I’d really like to treat you to coffee … to make up for crashing into your cart.”
When her eyes met his, he smiled. “There’s a coffee shop right around the corner.”
“I don’t think so.” She paid for her items, grabbed her bag, and pushed her cart toward the cart return area.
Aiden tried not to drum his fingers or tap his foot while waiting for the cashier to ring up his few items. When the cashier finally bagged his last item and said, “That’ll be $12.50,” he handed her a ten and a five.
“Keep the change.” He grabbed his two bags, returned his cart, and rushed out the door, scanning the parking lot for the brunette.
He spotted her just as she was ready to climb into the passenger side of a sky blue Lexus sedan. His lower jaw dropped. Maybe she was way out of his league. He shook his head and ran toward the car.
He reached it just before she shut the door. He leaned down to look in at her. “If you’re busy today, how about lunch tomorrow?”
She sighed and rolled her eyes.
He remained standing hunched over, smiling at her.
“Look, Aiden Berkley, isn’t it?” She waited for his nod. “I’m really not interested. Now, if you’ll allow me to close my door…”
“Wait, please. Is it that you’re not interested in men, or not interested in me?”
“I’m not interested in either.”
“Well, I’m not like other men.” This earned him another eye roll.
“Of course you’re not, until I go out with you.” She grabbed her door handle and tried to pull it shut.
He moved out of the way. He wanted to take her out, but if he didn’t let her go, she’d think he was just another jerk.
He watched as she backed out of the parking space and drove down the lane.
“Man, do you know who you were just tryin’ to hit on?”
Aiden turned in the direction the voice had come from. “Kahlil! You know her?”
“Not personally, but I know who she is.”
“Well, who is she?” Aiden rubbed the back of his neck.
“That’s Samantha Rivers. She’s the editor in chief of Hot Topics Magazine.”
“Are you serious? The Hot Topics Magazine—the magazine that dishes the good and the bad on who’s who in the whole country, ‘anybody who’s somebody’?”
Kahlil nodded. “That’s the one.”
“Maybe I am outta her league, but I ain’t giving up.”
Kahlil raised an eyebrow. “You know she could have any man she wants, right?”
Aiden grinned. “Yeah, but I just gotta make her want me.”
* * * * *
The next week, Aiden went to the same grocery store at the same time, and there she was – Samantha Rivers – in the produce aisle.
This time, when she approached the checkout, Aiden moved with precision so that she saw his approach. Then he swung his arm in an arc and gave a slight bow. “After you, m’lady.”
She looked at him and laughed out loud. Then she raised her hands. “Okay … one coffee … around the corner. Half an hour, then I’m gone.”
Aiden grinned. “I’ll take it.”
They put their grocery bags in their respective cars, then walked around the corner to The Mug and Cup. She ordered a mocha latte with double chocolate. Aiden ordered a butterscotch hazelnut coffee and picked up the tab for both.
They sat at a table for two near one of the large windows.
“So, why are you so interested in me? Looking for sex or money?”
Aiden nearly spit out his sip of coffee, but swallowed quickly and began to cough.
Samantha sat smiling while he recovered.
“Well, you come right to the point, don’t you?” He sat up and leaned his forearms on the table. “What if I said I’m looking to build a relationship?”
She searched his eyes for a minute, then said, “Money it is.”
“Wait … what? Is that what you saw in my eyes? Really?”
“I couldn’t tell, but I know men.”
“Well, you don’t know me. Do you know that last week when I tried to hit on you, I didn’t even know who you were?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
Aiden shook his head and frowned.
Samantha raised an eyebrow.
“Some guy really did a number on you, huh?” Aiden paused, but she didn’t respond or meet his gaze. “Don’t let him ruin a chance at real love for you.”
It was her turn to swallow and cough, but not to the degree Aiden had. “That’s what you want to offer me? Real love?” She chuckled. “What if I said I don’t believe in real love.”
“I’ll take that as a challenge, and I’ll meet you here at this same coffee shop same time next week.”
She met and held his gaze a few moments. “You’re on.”