Chink in the Armor - Chapter 2

Laurel was in the back of the Bloom Room, adding the finishing touches to the flower arrangements acting as table centerpieces at a client’s fiftieth wedding anniversary dinner that night, when a deep, sexy, and charmingly accented voice announced, “I’m kidnapping you.”

She turned, not even bothering trying to contain the smile blossoming on her face. “Hey,” she greeted merrily. “Is it lunchtime already?”

Her visitor tucked the sunglasses into the v of his shirt, and grinned. “It’s past it, actually. You never showed, so I decided to come and get you.”

Laurel checked the clock on the wall and gasped. “Wow, look at the time.” She looked back at him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was that late. Sorry.”

He shrugged. “No problem. Come on.”

“What?”

“Lunch.” He smiled. “You must be hungry.” He finally showed her the other hand, pulling a brown paper back from behind him. “Grilled chicken on rye.”

She could cry. “You brought me lunch?”

He shook his head. “No, I brought bait. Now I’m taking you out of here. You need a break.”

She grinned, and tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. “You don’t have to keep me company, you know. You’re probably late for work anyway.”

He put on his sunglasses, and opened the back door. “Being the big boss has its perks. A flexible schedule is one of them.” He pulled her toward the nearby park. “Come on, I know you’re dying to tell me how the family dinner went.”

Λ

When he threw back his head and laughed, Laurel knew beyond a doubt that she was in trouble. She was falling for him.

It wasn’t surprising though, a woman had to be dead—or swinging for the other team, but he could probably sway even those—not to fall for Slade Wilson. Simply based on looks, the man was lethal, but once you got to know him, once he let you in, let you close...Oh boy. He was whip-smart, intelligent, he had a dry, but wicked sense of humor, he was a good listener, gave great advice, and was a perfect friend.

He was gorgeous inside and out, and she was in so much trouble.

She could attribute her attraction to the fact he was older—although seventeen years wasn’t that much of a gap, more mature and fascinating than men closer to her age, but she knew that wasn’t it. They...fit.

They’ve hit it off from the moment they met. A chance meeting one rainy afternoon, two strangers sharing a cab, that ended up sharing so much more. The drive ended up in a café, where they’ve spent hours talking.

Theirs had been a chance encounter that has developed into a great friendship. She knew she could tell him everything, ask him anything, and he would never judge her. Quite the contrary, he’d do his best to help her, either by action or a mere advice.

They’ve shared laughter and sadness, told each other anecdotes from their lives, shared their past experiences. She’d told him about her broken relationship with her family, told him of the betrayals and heartache in her past, the struggles to get back onto her feet...He’d told her of his past in the Australian Secret Service, the betrayals of two friends, the death of his son when he’d been away on a mission...They laughed together, discussed everything from politics to the weather, shared long silences that never became uncomfortable, just being there for each other, being together.

She was in so much trouble.

She never wanted their relationship to end. She didn’t want to ruin their friendship. She knew it was something special. But letting him know how she felt, how she was starting to feel toward him, would surely ruin it. She would do her damnedest to keep her true feelings hidden, not let them show. She had this one opportunity to have this amazing man in her life, and if it meant only being his friend, so be it.

She never wanted to lose him.

He nudged her, bringing her out of her reverie. “Woolgathering?” he asked with a smile.

She knew his eyes were twinkling behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses. She adored those eyes of his. Chocolate brown that seemed black in low light, but turned into a golden hue when the light hit them just right. The depths of those eyes were mesmerizing. They were old-soul eyes, but the only time shadows crept in, was when he talked about the past. It was a shame he had to keep them covered in the sunlight. An old injury had rendered his right eye very sensitive to light. And added a delectable scar above his eyebrow.

And she really shouldn’t be thinking about how sexy that scar made him. Or how delectable everything else on him was. Not that she’d seen much beside a bicep or two, and a patch of smooth chest whenever he unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt. But she had a good imagination, and the way those shirts clung to his chest, the way the pants cupped his butt just right...He must have one hell of a body.

And she really should be thinking about his body. Focus, Lance. Don’t be an ass.

She drunk the last of her orange juice, and shook her head. “No...Well, yeah. I was just thinking about Oliver and Sara.”

“What about them?”

“They looked...happy...last night. Couple-happy.” She shrugged. “It was a little bittersweet seeing them like that after...After.”

He was immediately serious. “Do you still love him?”

She was taken aback. Not by the question, but by the tone of his voice. “I will always love him.” She looked away, toward the lake. “I mean, he was my first...Everything. First love, first lover, first heartbreak. There will always be a place for him in my heart.” She looked back at Slade. “But I’m not in love with him.” She smiled. “There’s a difference.”

“Good.”

She felt her smile slip. What did he mean by that? “I’m happy for them, you know. I really hope they could make it work. It’s not even awkward anymore.”

He looked at his watch. “I have to go. I’ll walk you back.”

“You don’t have to,” she protested.

“I want to.” He took her hand. “Come on.”

“Do you want to go to dinner with me?” he asked suddenly as they arrived back to the Bloom Room.

“Sure,” she quickly accepted. “Movie first or after?”

He shook his head. “No movie. Just dinner.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Tonight at eight?”

“Uhm, sure.”

He nodded and turned to leave, but she placed her hand onto his arm, stopping him.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “So I know what to wear.”

He lowered the sunglasses down his nose. “Dress like you were going on a date.” He winked and left her gaping after him.


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