It didn’t take long to finish the details and open the account. I let [Diego] know how to set up the online portal and gave him the usual rundown on our services. Blah blah blah, don’t hesitate to contact me, you might find X, Y, Z interesting, here’s a big packet of things you won’t read. I set his own folder on top and settled it on the desk in front of him.
“That’s it? That was…relatively painless.”
I couldn’t help allowing the hint of a smirk into my expression. “Did you think it would be painful?”
“Not exactly. But when you put something off for years before doing it, I think it tends to collect an…air of morbid dread around it. When it’s then accomplished in thirty minutes sitting across from, uh, you, I guess it seems a little silly to have worried about it for so long. Of course until recently I wouldn’t have had a you to take the edge off.”
“I’m…glad I could help. In all the ways.” Which felt true. All the ways. The account. The alleviation of dread. The…mutual appreciation.
He patted down his pockets, pulling out a crumpled receipt, keys tangled with a piece of jewelry made of red yarn and Cheerios, and finally a wallet. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but I realized after the other night that we hadn’t even exchanged phone numbers. And I do love Claris, but I’d rather not leave her in charge of arranging all of my playdates. If you will.” He didn’t immediately hand it to me. “That is— as long as you are also in favor of potential future playdates. No pressure, of course.”
If he’d straight up asked me out, I would have known how to react. But phrasing it like that, like it was all in good fun, disarmed me. “Playdate” and “future” were both concepts I thought I understood…until you put them together. Wasn’t the future for seriousness? Maybe, with Diego, it wasn’t. And maybe I wasn’t mad about that. “I am open to potential future playdates,” I said after a moment of deliberation. Realizing he now looked like he regretted saying anything, I leaned in very slightly and lowered my voice. “The question is: would it be too forward of me to write my cell number on the back of my card? You might think I’m something of a tart. And I’m already concerned for my marriage prospects so I wouldn’t want word to get around that I was fast.”
His lips twitched while I kept my expression as serious as I could. He placed a hand over his heart. “I promise not to think you…unappealingly tarty if you give me your number. And me? What if I give you mine and you’re terribly turned off by the impropriety of my doing so while you’re engaged in your job?”
I mimicked his hand-over-heart. “I promise not to be turned off.” After considering a qualifier of some sort and deciding against it, I just let the statement stand.
Diego lost the battle with his Serious Expression and grinned. “Oh good. I would hate to be responsible for that.” He began patting down his pockets again while I picked one of my cards out of the container on the desk and wrote my number on the back. Since he was still searching for something, I offered him my pen.
“Thanks. I try not to bring a lot with me when I’m being made over by little kids.” He used the pen and handed both it and the card to me. “Respectfully, sir, my card.” “And mine in return.” He tucked mine away immediately but I glanced at his. I have a thing. About handwriting. There’s something intimate about it, about someone’s imprint on paper. Almost like in a way you could touch them through the shapes of their letters, the pressure of their pen.
I realized I was just sitting there staring at his phone number and quickly pocketed the card. “Thank you.”
“Of course, of course.” His smile was full of mirth. “It has been a very good meeting, sir. I hope to renew your acquaintance as soon as is convenient for us both.”
“As do I, as do I.” I held out my hand, which he grasped in both of his. I didn’t know if that was an old-school handshake, or just the thing that felt natural in the moment, but whatever it was, I liked it. “Let me know if you have any questions about the account.”
“I will…call the bank if I have questions about the account. I will call you for other things. If that’s all right. So as not to further mix business with pleasure.”
I knew I was blushing. It seemed ridiculous to be blushing, but I was. “That is acceptable,” I said with dignity.
He stood. I stood. We stood there.
“I’m resisting the urge to walk you to the door like a gentleman,” I confessed, keeping my voice low.
“It’s the thought that counts. Until we meet again.” He bowed. Legitimately. Bowed at me before turning and walking regally to the door, and somehow without losing a single doily.
Maybe I couldn’t lead him out, but I could certainly appreciate the view.
I looked around, expecting everyone to have seen the whole thing, to be ready to rib me mercilessly for a dude bowing at me over my desk. But no one was paying attention. This is what happens when you have the Motherfuckers as your friends: you expect everyone to tease you as a way of showing their affection. Not that my coworkers had affection for me. Not that they didn’t.
Not that it mattered. Diego Flores had just flirted with me in the manner of a hero from an old romance novel. And he’d bowed. Like. That was a little bit wacky.
And I was a little bit swoony over it. Le sigh. Swooning over Claris’s husband was potentially dangerous, but what the hell, he was fun to talk to and I definitely wanted to do more of that. Talking. Not swooning. Well…maybe swooning. It was practice swooning. Preparatory swooning for some eventual person I’d date who wouldn’t already be married. Like Tim. Who would be an excellent candidate for swooning.
I pushed the thought away. Tim could be swoony, too. Probably. This was just new-person-swoon. It was a different type of swoon. No pressure. All fun. Charming. With that one dimple. A little new-person-swoon never hurt anyone or damaged any boyfriend prospects.
At least, that’s what I was telling myself as I waited for my post-Diego flush to fade away. He really was charming, though.
(c) Kris Ripper, Carina Press, 2021. Shared with permission from the publisher.
The Love Study #3
All Mason wants to do is fall in love, get married and live happily ever after.
The hunt is beginning to wear him down…until he meets (slightly) famous fashion designer Diego. Everything sparks between them—the banter, the sex, the fiery eye contact across a crowded room.
There's just one thing: Diego is already married and living his happily-ever-after, which luckily (or not) for Mason includes outside courtships.
But not quite in the way he'd always imagined.
Mason thought he knew what would make him happy, but it turns out the traditional life he'd expected has some surprises in store.
Romance Comedy | LGBTQ [Carina Press, On Sale: November 30, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781335424556 / eISBN: 9781488076992]
Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and zir pronouns are ze/zir. Kris shares a converted garage with a kid, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.
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