by Hartmann & Mighty Mike
Her heart was pounding.
Oh my god.
Her heart was pounding so hard that it was sure to burst through her chest wall at any given moment.
Then I’d be dead.
Pressing her back up and flattening against the cold brick wall, she held her breath all the while, dreading the impending confrontation to come.
I’d rather be dead.
After waiting what seemed like a “safe” amount of time, she breathed a sigh of relief.
I don’t think that he saw me.
Hesitantly peeking around the corner, she exhaled again upon confirming that the coast was indeed clear.
Thank you, Jesus.
Smoothing out her shirt, which had become quite disheveled in her oh-so-desperate escape, she finally ventured out from her safe haven of the back alley.
Well, that was quite the adventure. Walking down the sidewalk, she couldn’t help but frown at herself. How do I always end up in situations like this? I mean, it’s not like I’m the one who did anything wrong. So why am I slinking around like a wanted fugitive? If anything, he should be the one who…
She froze in her tracks at the all-too-familiar drawl.
“I knew that was you.”
A couple of steps and he was right behind her.
“I’d recognize you anywhere.”
Her olfactory senses were instantly overwhelmed by the familiar stench. It was distinctive and unmistakable. He’s drunk again.
“I’d chase you down anywhere too.”
The pointed threat sent a chill down her spine. As the wisps of hair near her temple fluttered into the periphery of her vision, she could feel his hot, intoxicated breath scorching her earlobe.
“It was rude of you not to say hi.”
Feeling the heat creep up the column of her neck, she replied through gritted teeth, “I didn’t see you.”
“You’re a liar.”
And you’re a sorry excuse for a man. “I didn’t.”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Fine. You’re right.”
“I know. I always am.”
Ugh. Cocky bastard! “We’re done here.”
“We’ll never be done.”
“I just want to talk.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“I won’t let you refuse me.”
Shuddering at his words, she muttered, “I’m leaving.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I do.” She was relieved when her legs didn’t betray her and miraculously managed to carry her across the street.
Of course it wasn’t that easy. Of course he followed after her. “You know that I’ll never let you leave.”
“Well, you don’t have a choice because I’m meeting someone.”
He snorted in disbelief. “When?”
“Right now.” Wow. That actually sounded convincing.
She walked up to the first entrance in sight. “Right here.”
Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Without another word, she defiantly opened the door and entered the five-star restaurant. Momentarily taken aback by the sheer extravagance of the interior, she gave her head a mental shake and completely ignored the hostess as she marched straight down the middle of the aisle.
There he was. At the back of the restaurant. A man. Wearing a suit. And across from him, was exactly what she needed…
An empty seat.
Yes. She realized exactly how ridiculous she looked. To even step foot in such a fancy establishment. In faded jeans and a ripped, boat-neck tshirt. Oh. Don’t forget the converse sneakers.
But she couldn’t stop now. Not with him watching her every move. Burning a hole in the back of her skull.
Sliding down into the luxurious leather chair, she whispered urgently, “I’m Harley and I need your help.”
A pair of stormy blue eyes locked with hers. Their intensity took her breath away….
“I’m Brandon and I’ll do what I can.”
(by Mighty Mike)
“Mr. Whittaker. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Good to see you too,” he replied with a friendly nod and a smile at the hostess.
“Wow, its getting pretty brisk out there tonight.”
He took off his coat and folded it neatly on his lap. “What is the Chef’s Choice tonight?” Please say shrimp…
“The Fillet and Shrimp are the Chef’s Choice this evening, sir.”
YES! “That sounds amazing.” His mouth had just watered a little bit.
“It certainly is.”
He hadn’t eaten much of a lunch. He’d been covered in what appeared to be a neverending mountain of paperwork all day. Needless to say he was getting real hungry. In fact, he was downright famished.
One of Mr. Whittaker’s favorite servers came to greet him. “We’ll have a table ready for you in just a minute.”
Dang. I was hoping to have a table right away. With a little bit of a disappointed look and a hint of mock contempt, he told Jim flatly, “I’ll be in the bar getting a drink then.” He slid Jim a sly grin and a wink as they both chuckled.
Wheeling over to one of the tables in the bar, he casually flagged down a server.
The majority of the bar tables were quite low. Unless they’re up against a wall. Or next to a window. This was one reason he liked to wait here.
“Glenlivet and a water please.” Being his single favorite malt scotch, he made certain to keep a bottle at home at all times. Just for the occasional sip. After days like this he could use it to relax and wind down a bit.
The aroma of steak and seafood surrounding him stole his attention away for a moment, and then, “Here you go, sir. Enjoy.” The server had set down the drink.
It caught him a bit off guard but was happy his drink had arrived, nonetheless. “Thank you.”
I’ll enjoy every last drop. Taking the first sip, he slinked back and relaxed into his chair with a long sigh. “Ahhhh.” Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and thought, Yupp. Still the best tasting scotch…
“Right this way, Mr. Whittaker.”
There’s Jim. Right on time.
“Let me get that for you.”
Jim took the drink glass and led the way to the freshly set table. Having witnessed Mr. Whittaker attempt to carry a drink more than one time, Jim had seen it almost being spilled on both himself and someone else, as he tried to propel his wheelchair with one hand. It seemed that the carpeted areas here were slightly more difficult to roll over.
I love how much room this place has.
The tables were far enough apart so that he never had to worry about knocking anyone’s purse hanging off the back of a chair or rub a coat draped over the back of a seat.
“Here’s your table. I had the chair moved for you.”
“Thanks again Jim. You’re the best.”
“You’re most welcome.” Setting the glass down on the table, Jim smiled warmly. “I’ll be back in just a minute to take your order.”
Taking another sip of his drink, he scans through the few options on the dinner menu. What to eat? Hmmm..
His thoughts were still so distracted by the happenings at his company – a brand new employee and also a couple new contracts that had come in – that he lost all track of time and didn’t even realize that Jim had returned for his order.
“Mr. Whittaker, have you decided what you’ll be having this evening?”
Not really but I’ll just get what I had last time. It was great. “Yes, I’ll have the Calamari to start.”
“And for your entree?”
“I’ll go with the Chef’s Choice.” Can’t go wrong with that. Right?
“You can never go wrong with that.”
Just as Jim walked towards the station to put the order through, something odd caught his eye. As he looked towards the entrance, an inappropriately dressed young woman – in grungy jeans and a tattered white tshirt that carelessly revealed one shoulder – had sauntered into the restaurant. Are those converse sneakers? Somehow, she managed to sneak right by the hostess and started to make her way down the middle of the room. Straight towards him.
That’s a girl on a mission.
She came right up to his table and sat down quite gracefully, much to his surprise. There was an obvious air of distress on her face and…
The hostess and Jim were both right on her tail, with matching expressions of remorse. And mortification. As his saviours approached the table, ready to rescue him from the unwelcomed guest, Mr Whittaker raised a hand to still their efforts. I really want to hear what she has to say…
Her hands and arms rested on the table, with her fists closed. They were trembling. Clearly, she was nervous about something. Her voice was laced with a sense of urgency as she whispered, “I’m Harley and I need your help.”
He couldn’t help but slip out a bit of a grin as he looked into her eyes and replied with the utmost sincerity, “I’m Brandon and I’ll do what I can.”
It was like staring into the ocean…on a stormy night…the violent waves of cobalt blue and steely grey crashing against shoreline…relentlessly…
A few moments of silence passed by. “Are you alright?”
She blinked at the sound of her name and replied breathlessly, “Brandon…”
A strong hand closed over hers, the calloused ridges scraping across her knuckles. “You’re in trouble.”
It was a statement. Not a question. She swallowed hard and nodded anyways.
“Is someone following you?”
As the cobalt gaze broke contact to drift over her shoulder, Harley was struck by a wave of panic and hissed desperately, “Don’t look! Please!”
Instantly, Brandon’s eyes returned to lock onto hers. “Okay, I won’t look…” his voice was steady as he leaned forward across the table “…but you need to tell me what’s going on here.”
Biting her lip nervously, Harley took a deep breath and whispered back, “My ex is standing right outside. Watching me.”
Something…intense…flashed across his expression and his fingers tightened protectively around hers before he breathed sharply, “Did he hurt you?”
Not today, she thought wryly and shook her head.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes…” she didn’t want to get into details right now, or ever, for that matter “…I’m fine.”
“I said that I’m fine,” she interjected sharply.
They sat in complete silence for several moments – Brandon seemed to be assessing the validity of her claim – before he spoke again, an airiness having found his tone. “Well, how can I be of service to you?”
With a long sigh, Harley confessed sheepishly, “I lied.”
He raised a skeptical brow. “To me?”
Unable to resist a laugh, she quickly clarified, “No, not to you. To him.”
“I told him that I was meeting someone in here.”
“For a date?”
Harley stared back in confusion. “What?”
“Did you tell him that you had a date?”
She gave a small shrug. “I don’t think that I specified.”
“Dinner or just drinks then?”
Yep. Still confused. Utterly confused. “What?”
“Did you tell him that you were meeting someone for dinner? Or just for drinks?”
“I’m not sure…” she was slightly taken aback by the impertinent question and frowned “…I can’t remember.”
“Then wouldn’t you agree…” a mischievous grin tugged at the corners of his mouth “…that it’s better to be safe than sorry?”
Does this man always talk in secret code? Or maybe it’s just how these upper-class snobs communicate with one another? Harley’s frown deepened as she admitted begrudgingly, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You can’t keep track of all the terrible lies that you’ve told, right?”
Is he teasing me? Seriously? “No,” she muttered defensively, pulling her hands out from under his grasp. “I can’t.”
“Then I have a proposition for you.”
I escaped a jackass to run into a weirdo. “What?”
“I propose that we have a legitimate meal together…” a playful wink “…strictly for appearances sake, of course.”
It was almost annoying – aggravating, to be honest – for this stranger to be making light of such a dire situation. But then again, now that she’d had a chance to do a quick once over…
“What do you say, Harley?”
He was kind of a handsome guy…
“Will you let me buy you dinner?”
Quite handsome, actually.
“Sure, Brandon…” she returned his smug smile with one of her own “…but only because you asked so nicely.”
(by Mighty Mike)
Jim was gawking from his station, clearly appalled by this girl in her unacceptably plain clothes and tattered converse sneakers. Waving a hand in the air, Brandon beckoned the unimpressed man to the table.
“Can we get a menu for the lady, Jim? She will be joining me this evening.”
A momentary silence and then, “Certainly. Would you like something to drink, miss?”
Harley looked at Brandon for a second as if she needed permission.
You don’t have to ask me. We’re on a date, remember? He gave her a nod.
“Uhh…I’ll just get a water for now…” quickly, her hesitation turned to confidence “…with lemon!” As Jim was turning to walk away, she added a “please.” Seeming to settle into her seat a bit, she appeared quite pleased with herself.
Thats more like it. He was starting to see that determined girl that had just marched her way in a few minutes ago.
He desperately wanted to ask her more about this mysterious ex of hers. Why exactly was she running from him tonight? Why did it seem as if she was protecting him? It didn’t make much sense yet. Let’s enjoy dinner first and then hopefully we’ll sort through her story later.
He tried to peer around the menu that was glued to her face. “Would you like more than just a water?”
“Holy crap!” she blurted out and promptly set the menu down flat on the table. He saw a very shocked expression on her face “Brandon…”
He shot her an inquisitive look. “Yes?”
“Have you seen these prices!” she squeaked. It seemed that her jaw was practically resting on the table.
She does have such beautiful wide eyes. Adorable even…
“Yes, I have.” he chuckled in amusement. Twice a week, in fact. “You’re more than welcome to get anything that you want.” Why am i so attracted to this girl? I must find out more.
Still in shock and unable to scrape her jaw off of the table, Harley glanced down at the menu and back up at Brandon.
“And don’t forget that drink too,” he ordered playfully. “Gotta keep up appearances, right?” If she relaxes a bit more, maybe she’ll spill the beans.
“Right,” she echoed in slight disbelief as their eyes caught one another.
They both transcended into a momentary daze…
“Your water, miss…” a hand came down with a glass between them “…with lemon.”
Smiling, she replied in a mock elegant tone, “Thank you very much.” Her lips puckered a bit.
Oh, what am I getting myself into? Shaking his head, Brandon took another sip of his drink.
“Have you decided on an entree, miss?”
Once again, Harley peered over at him.
“Dont look at me,” he said evenly. “You did read the menu, right?”
“I’ll have the stuffed chicken and a cosmo,” she purred smoothly, sure to tack on an exaggerated, “please.”
He couldn’t help but smirk. “I’m glad that you remembered to get that drink.”
With a wink, she reminded him, “Gotta keep up appearances, right?”
Brandon took one more sip. “Right.”
“So what the hell do you do anyways?!”
Caught a bit off guard by her brash question, Brandon coughed and spluttered a bit of his drink. Raising his brow, he muttered in reply, “Excuse me?”
“What the hell do you do…” grinning from ear to ear, her chin was now resting comfortably in her hands “…to be able to eat at a place like this?”
Brandon wiped his mouth, a smile now reappearing as he had begun to lock eyes with her again. If she wasn’t so damn adorable…
Generous lashes fluttered at him and her voice was childlike. “Well?”
“I manage a local company. We deal in health and safety…” he offered the limited intel, not keen to delve into personal details “…mostly on large-scale construction sites.”
Harley stared at him in silence for a long moment before she abruptly broke down into laughter.
Befuddled by her unexpected reaction, Brandon glanced around the restaurant to see if he’d overlooked an amusing mishap. Perhaps someone had spilled a glass of red wine on their crisp, white shirt. Or was choking on an olive pit. “I don’t understand…” an extremely confused expression swept over his face “…what’s so funny?”
“You,” she choked out between chortles, even pointing a finger at him to reaffirm that he was indeed the brunt of her joke. “You’re so funny.”
“Please enlighten me.” She’s a loon. Somebody call the paddy wagon…
“You boys are all the same…” she gestured towards his chest before proceeding to tuck a stray lock of toffee colored hair behind her ear “…even if you get dressed up all fancy-like.”
What on earth is she talking about? And did she just call me a boy??
“You’re in this yuppie place, surrounded by snooty waiters, eating overpriced grub and looking like James Bond…” a crooked grin overtook her luscious lips “…but you spent all day digging in the dirt to get here.”
James Bond…hmm…he smiled to himself with a bit of satisfaction…naive girl…you really don’t understand. He shook his head and chuckled for a moment. “Oh, Harley. You are far too sweet for your own good, aren’t you?”
She was the one who appeared puzzled this time. “Huh?”
He smiled and offered a little further explanation, “I’m not the one getting dirty anymore. We provide job sites with health and safety equipment to ensure that workers don’t get hurt.”
It was obvious that she really had no idea what he was talking about but gave a convincing nod, nonetheless.
With a smirk and a laugh, he added wryly, ”The only dirt I dig through now is corporate bull shit!”
The mood was light again as they both laughed at his remark.
“Your Cosmo, miss…” Jim set the cocktail glass down “…and the appetizer will be out shortly.”
“Thanks Jim,” Brandon said before turning his attention back to Harley. “Here’s to…”
Before he had the chance to finish his toast, she went ahead and took what seemed to be a much-needed and very long gulp of her cocktail.
Smiling for a moment, he brought his own glass to his lips once again and finished his drink in silence.
Chugging down every single last drop as if she’d been stranded in the desert for an unthinkable length of time, Harley slammed the empty glass down onto the tabletop and giggled as it nearly toppled over. “Oops. I guess I don’t know my own strength.”
That earned her a soft chuckle. “Thirsty?”
Peering up to meet Brandon’s amused eyes with a mischievous glimmer in her own, she pointedly wiped the back of her hand across her mouth before sending him a sweet smile. “Parched, actually.”
With another chuckle and a small shake of his head, Brandon leaned back as Jim returned to place a piping hot plate between them.
“Your Calamari, Mr. Whittaker.”
“Thanks. It looks delicious, as always.” Never once breaking eye contact with Harley, he added breezily, “And we’ll take another Cosmo for the lady, please.”
Jim nodded. “Yes, sir…”
“Um, no thanks.” I’d rather drink antifreeze…
Brandon raised an eyebrow at the unexpected refusal and asked, “You don’t want another drink?”
“Oh, I sure do!” She nodded enthusiastically, sending her already-messy ponytail into a frenzy. “But not another Cosmo.”
“Nope. I don’t really like them.”
His brow knitted together in confusion. “Okay…”
“I only ordered that to impress you,” she confessed openly without even a hint shame. “I’ll take a Jack and Coke this time.”
Brandon and Jim turned to stare at each other in absolute disbelief.
Don’t they know how to mix a real drink in this place? Rolling her eyes, Harley shared the simple recipe in a matter-of-fact voice, “It’s one part whiskey and three parts ginger ale.”
The two men had apparently been rendered speechless.
They must have a pathetic excuse for a bar. “Jesus…” there was obviously an irritated edge to her tone “…don’t tell me that you guys are too uptight to carry a bottle of Jack Daniels in this fancy place.”
Laughing heartily, Brandon seemed to have awoken from his stupor. “Well, Jim…” he winked at the bewildered older man “…you heard the lady.”
Jim slowly backed away from the table, as if it was loaded with explosives and uttered, “Y-yes, sir.”
Who would’ve thunk that the prissy British Royal Guard could stutter, Harley thought smugly. My next goal is to remove that stick from up his butt and beat him with it…
Her train of thought was interrupted by loud grumbling in her stomach. I’m starving to death! Good thing he ordered an appy. Grabbing her fork, Harley crinkled her nose at the deep-fried oddities. With a shrug, she stabbed a few pieces and stuffed them in her mouth, saying, “I’ve never had this…Ca-la-ma-ri…before.”
“Do you even know what Calamari is?”
“Nope…” another mouthful “…but it’s not bad. What is it anyways?”
A long, deliberate pause. “Squid.”
“Squid…” she stopped to blink at him several times, before narrowing her eyes “…as in tentacles, suction cups and shoots black ink at unsuspecting divers, squid?”
“One and the same.”
Relaxing back into his chair, Brandon watched in amusement as she proceeded to devour a significant portion of the serving. Finally, he spoke up to make an ironic observation, “You’re still eating it.”
“Well of course I am,” she insisted between chews. “It’s still pretty tasty. Want some?”
“Sure…” Brandon couldn’t resist a chuckle at her offer “…thanks for asking.”
Scooping up his own utensil, Brandon leaned forward to spear a forkful of Calamari before asking, “How about you, Harley?”
“What do you do for work?”
“Work?” Oh my effing god! Harley instantly shot to her feet, knocking over the plate and sending it careening across the table and off of the edge. “Work!”
“Okay…” Brandon was looking down at the bits of calamari scattered all over his lap in utter confusion “…was that the wrong thing to ask?”
“No.” Harley couldn’t stop bouncing up and down anxiously as she said in a strained voice, “But I really have to go.”
He righted the overturned plate back onto the table before meeting her gaze with stormy eyes. “I see.”
He actually sounds disappointed.
In truth, Harley was disappointed too. She didn’t want to leave. She’d rather stay right here and…
Um, no. You’d better get your ass to work. Now. If you want to keep your job, that is. “It’s just that I’m supposed to be at work right now,” she explained miserably. “I was on my way when…ughh…shit. I have to go.”
Averting his eyes, Brandon flicked a crumb off of his sleeve. “I understand.”
“Thank you for the food.”
“And thank you for saving me.”
“Rescuing damsels in distress…” a wry chuckle “…is my specialty.”
What is it about this man? I just want to…
Placing her palms flat on the table, she leaned down until the tip of her nose brushed against his skin.
She pressed a soft kiss against his cheek and whispered, “I bartend at the Elephant & Castle on 19th street.”
That shocked him into silence. Not to mention, the tips of his ears had turned scarlet red.
Giggling, Harley straightened up and turned on her heel to make a beeline for the entrance. Pushing through the door, she took off down the sidewalk. She was still ten minutes away. Even running at full speed. Her boss was going to murder her. But she was only thinking one thing…
I’m never going to see him again.
Okay, okay. She was thinking one more thing…
God, I should have kissed him on the lips.
(by Mighty Mike)
So many different thoughts and emotions at the exact same time kept Brandon frozen for a few moments. Being male, you can guess the first thing he noticed when she bent over to kiss him. Her shirt was hanging loosely over one shoulder and revealed quite a bit at that particular angle. Including a hint of her bra…
Lace? Never would have guessed.
And then she was gone.
Disappointment. But the night was barely starting.
Satisfaction. I did, in fact, succeed in the task of rescuing her from a dire situation.
Intrigue. There is so much more to find out about this gorgeous girl.
He was also extremely impressed by the way she handled herself in this situation. The tenacity…the flair…she could be nominated for an Oscar with that performance.
You can’t forget that he’s still a guy though. He remained trapped in his thoughts with his mouth agape as she walked away. He was slowly leaning over, watching her…she sure has a nice and perky…
CLANK!!…BANG!…CLANK! He had lost his balance! Having leaned over a bit too far, he had to catch himself with the table. He didn’t want to fall out of his chair in public. Although it would not have been the first time and certainly would not be the last, he still prefered to avoid making a spectacle of himself.
Regaining his composure – at least i didn’t make any more mess of this table than was already here – he laughed aloud, “that was a close one” and thought that even the pros have their moments.
The chair! Maybe she noticed my wheelchair. Could that be part of why…he shook his head to banish the unwelcome thought process.
As Jim arrived to see what all the fuss was about, Harley had already made it out the door.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m good…hey, do you have a pen?” Repeating in his head as many times as he could, Elephant & Castle, 19th street, Harley, he explained, “I need to write something down before I forget.”
“No…” Jim searched his body for a pen “…not this moment.”
A great idea popped into Brandon’s head and he dug his smartphone out of his pocket. ”Okay, Google. Write a note. Elephant & Castle. 19th street. Harley.”
“Okay. Saving,” the robotic monotone replied in confirmation.
You have got to love technology.
He started to think of what he was going to do. Should I have her food brought to her? Should I bring it to her? What would I say if I went to her work? I’ll just drive by to see what the place looks like…
He stopped himself. Knock it off, Brandon! It’s too soon…just…too soon.
Jim finished resetting the table, as Brandon plucked the remaining calamari off of his lap. Still somewhat in a daze, he murmured, “Harley” and a grin appeared. Again in a soft whisper, he said, “Harley…what a great name for a beautiful girl.”
“Sorry about that. She kind of had to leave in a rush so I’m back dining solo tonight.” He chuckled and smiled, even though a small lump had already formed in his throat. Everything was going so well.
“It’s quite alright,” Jim assured empathetically. “I’ll be right back with your meal. It should be ready.”
Brandon let out a long sigh as Jim headed for the kitchen. I wonder when I’ll see her again. Or if I’ll ever see her again…
A hand came down with a very hot plate. “Enjoy.”
“Anything else, sir?”
Looking down, he noticed the Jack and Coke was on the table. As much as he wanted to pound it down, he left it sitting across from him, untouched. He was driving tonight, after all. “Can I get a water?”
To be continued?