After talking to Lizzy for a few minutes, Travis made his way back to the elevators and out of the expansive multi-story building into the chilly December air. Even though he was in the business district, the city was definitely in the holiday spirit. There were a few giant wreaths completely made of lights on some of the buildings off Brickell Avenue. Poles were lined with twinkly lights depicting Christmas trees, candles and of course the palm trees were strung up with lights. He wished he could get more into the spirit, but it was a struggle.
Instead of parking in the employee garage, he’d parked his truck a couple blocks over on Flagler so he’d have an excuse to stop at the coffee shop he’d been frequenting for the past year. Whenever he was in town, he found himself heading over there before and after work. Pathetic, but he didn’t care. Noel, the tall, lithe owner with a mass of dark curly hair and pale grayish eyes, had been the subject of his fantasies for the better part of the year. She was always friendly to him whenever he was in her shop and she sometimes sat and talked with him—something he’d noticed she didn’t do with anyone else—but he couldn’t figure out if she was just being polite.
It was nearing six, which meant she’d be closing soon so he picked up his pace. He passed a few people on the street, all of them bundled up wearing hats and coats, an odd sight in normally sweltering Miami. As he neared her shop, he slowed down and forced himself to get his shit together. For all he knew, she wasn’t even working. Before he’d reached the door, Noel of all people, walked out. Carrying an oversized purse and looking at her cell phone, she didn’t even glance up. He tried to move out of the way but she slammed into him.
Her purse slid off her shoulder as her head snapped back. Wide eyes met his and her mouth formed a small ‘O’ as he steadied her. He gently held her upper arms as she stared at him for a long moment. She was slender, but not exactly fragile. There was a subtle strength he’d picked up on the first time they’d met.
“Travis.” She practically breathed his name. It was like a seductive caress, but then she shook her head and that’s when he realized her pale eyes were bright with unshed tears.
He automatically tensed, hating to see any woman cry, but especially her. “What’s wrong?”
Glancing away from him, she shook her head and bent to pick up her purse.
Kneeling with her, he started gathering some of the things that had fallen out and nearly choked when his fingers wrapped around a box of condoms with a red bow wrapped around it.
“Oh my…that’s not…well, it is mine. One of my friends gave it to me as a gag gift for my birthday.” She snatched it out of his hand and shoved it into the mammoth black bag she called a purse.
Travis struggled to talk, as he always did around her. Thinking about her and condoms in the same sentence was threatening to short-circuit his brain. He hated his reaction because it made him feel like a randy teenager with a crush. Which is basically what he had on her. A giant crush. Her tan cheeks were a bright crimson as she met his gaze again. At least he didn’t see tears in her eyes anymore. He couldn’t handle the thought of her upset.
“You leaving? I thought I might catch you before you got off work.” He was pretty sure his sleep-deprived brain had taken over but he wouldn’t complain. He needed to ask her out and if she rejected him, he’d get over it and find another place to get coffee.
Her face brightened for a moment, her cheeks flushing even darker. “Really?” Before he could answer she sharply shook her head. “Uh, I’ve got to go. I don’t have time to talk right now, Travis. But I’ll see you later.” Now the stress was back, full force. It was so potent, it was practically surging off her in visible waves.
As she started to hurry down the sidewalk to the end of her building where she usually parked, he fell in step with her. “What’s going on, Noel?” He’d never seen her like this before. Normally she had a bright smile for everyone.
She gave him a guarded look and he could practically see the wheels turning in her head. He’d taken out his ear and eyebrow piercings for his last job but he still had visible tattoos and, for some reason, he felt as if she was sizing him up. Finally she sighed as they rounded the corner of the building. “I mentor as a Big Sister and Juanita, that’s my mentee’s name, called me a few minutes ago and she’s really worried. Her mother’s ex-boyfriend has been hanging around lately and she swears he’s never been abusive to her, but he’s been giving her the creeps. He only stops by when her mother is working and she said she thought she saw him drive by more than once.”
Adrenaline punched through him. Noel was tall and lean with a runner’s body so she wasn’t some fragile thing, but still… “You’re going over there by yourself?”
She shot him an annoyed glance. “Yeah.”
“Do you know anything about this guy? If he has a record, or possible weapons or—”
“I don’t know anything other than Juanita is scared. I tried calling the cops but they said they couldn’t do anything other than send a patrol car down the street.”
He admired her protective response but he wasn’t letting her walk into a situation like this alone. “I’m going with you,” he said as they reached her green, four-door hybrid car.
“Excuse me?” She looked up at him now, her keys dangling from her left hand.
Bending down, he lifted his pants pocket where he had a weapon holstered. “I have a permit and you already know who I work for. What harm can it do to have me along? If the guy is there, chances are he’ll be more apt to walk away if I’m with you.” People tended not to fuck with him because of his outward appearance. And if they did anyway, they learned fast that he fought dirty and took down his enemies any way he could. When she bit her bottom lip but didn’t respond, he continued. “Think about what’s best for Juanita.”
At those words, he could see the decision made in her eyes. Even though she still looked slightly unsure, she nodded. “Get in.”