Book 1, Chapter 9

I don’t really know what to do with makeup, but Megan does.  She sat me down at the kitchen table, and then bemoaned the fact that most of the things in her purse were wrong for my skin tone or complexion or whatever.  But when she was done attacking my face she’d still wrought something of a transformation.

I studied myself in Megan’s compact mirror.  My lips seemed fuller, and pinker, and a little glossy.  My lashes were way longer than I remembered them ever being.  I couldn’t even put my finger on what else she’d done, but I had to admit it looked good.  I wouldn’t be gracing the covers of any magazines, but I might have fit in on a photo lineup at, say, page twenty seven or so.

“Wow,” I said.  I closed the compact and gave it back to Megan.  “You are a miracle worker,” I told her.

Megan scoffed and put the compact in her purse.  “You don’t give yourself enough credit for being cute,” she said.  “Tomorrow after work we’re going to stop at my place and I’ll give you a real makeover.  You’ll sizzle so hard that when we get to the club everyone who looks at you is going to burn up with either desire or jealousy.”

“Uh,” I said.  The last time Megan had insisted on making me ‘sizzle’ before a party had been in college.  The night of the infamous wingman-fail nuclear landmine incident.

Megan grinned.  “Trust me,” she said.  “Now, what do you do if you don’t know what to say?” she asked, and I knew she was asking me about tonight, reminding me of what we’d discussed while she’d done my makeup.

“Talk about work,” I answered.

Megan nodded.  “And if you start to feel panicked?”

I fidgeted.  “Excuse myself to the bathroom and call you for moral support,” I said.

“Good.  And if he gets fresh?”

We hadn’t really discussed that.  “Uh… stab him with a fork?”  I guessed.

Megan’s grin split into a smile and she laughed.  “That’s my girl,” she said.  She stood and gave me a hug.  “You’ll do fine.”

I laughed shakily.  I was nowhere near convinced, but I appreciated the vote of confidence nonetheless.  I even hugged back.

Then Megan collected her purse and started to head out.  I got up and followed her to the door.  “Don’t forget to call me after,” she reminded me, and I collected another hug before she left.  Maybe it’s silly, but I waited in my doorway until she’d driven out of sight before I went back in.  Then, because I’m me, I locked the door behind myself.

That left me with half an hour before Hans was supposed to show up.

I wanted to just grab a book and wait in the parking lot… but that didn’t seem like it would be appropriate, and it was already getting dark.  So instead I crouched by the window and pushed the curtain back just enough to peer out.  But then I thought it might be weird and a little creepy if Hans pulled up and noticed one eye in the window, staring out and waiting for him.  So after a few more minutes I stopped and started pacing instead.

I can burn a lot of time and nervous energy with pacing.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t really make me less nervous.  The back and forth motion seems to encourage back and forth thoughts, and that’ll wind anyone up.  But I am a little less spastic if I haven’t been forcing myself to sit still, and it does help me lose track of time.

I did my best not to let my nerves get away with me.  I thought about calling Megan, but then reconsidered.  I’d probably need that lifeline worse later.  It occurred to me that I really should have gotten Hans’ number at lunch.  Then I could have called him and cancelled… but somehow I hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t getting any of his info while Megan had been giving him all of mine.  I wondered if she’d planned that.  I made a note to rectify it.  There would be no future dates if I did not have the ability to arbitrarily cancel them, even if that meant there would be no future dates.

Perfect.

And, of course, assuming Hans was going to be interested in future dates after tonight.  I really hoped this evening was just going to be about work.  Or maybe it was all a ploy so he could get the inside scoop on what Megan was interested in.  That would make more sense.

I frowned.  Too bad it wouldn’t do Hans any good; apparently I didn’t have a clue what it was that Megan was looking for, either.  Except that it was long term, not Hans, and she hadn’t found it yet.  Maybe it was a good thing she and I were going out tomorrow.  Objectively I can admit that in the two years since graduation I’ve become more and more shut in – and I’m okay with that – but Megan is my best friend, and I really didn’t like the realization that I didn’t know what was going on in her life where it didn’t overlap mine.

I mean, I know I’m not a very good friend.  But that right there, that moved things from ‘not very good’ to ‘bad.’

I was interrupted from my reverie by the doorbell, which was jarring enough that I scrambled across the living room to answer it.

I don’t like alarms and I don’t like timers, and I don’t like doorbells – and I really, really don’t like making people wait on me.  So I was halfway through my locks before I thought to check the peephole, because I really didn’t want whoever it was to get impatient and ring the doorbell again.  Yeah, I know: stupid.  But what can I say?  I’d probably be really easy to rob and murder, but you wouldn’t have to wait while I got the door.

I checked and it was Hans.  His hands were in his pockets, so I took the time for a deep, steadying breath before undoing the last lock and opening the door.

“Hi,” I said… because when it comes to social interactions I’m brilliant like that.

Hans smiled.  “Hello, Abigail.”  His hands left his pockets and one reached for mine.  I gave it to him on autopilot, and this time he did raise it to his lips.  “You look stunning,” he said, and planted a roguish kiss on the back of my hand.

“Uh,” I said.  It wasn’t that cold, but I had goose bumps.  It’s just a work date, I reminded myself.  Work date, work date, Work date.  I was already annoyed with myself for being a bad friend to Megan, and now I was getting mad that I’d let a little flattery get me all flustered.  I was perfectly aware that the only way I’d ever really stun a guy was if I had a panic attack and a taser.  I thought about pointing that out, but I didn’t actually have a taser.  I suppose I could’ve offered to tie him down and strap him to a car battery, but that would probably have come out wrong.  Work date!  I managed to reclaim my hand.  “Shall we?”

Hans waited while I locked up and then he walked me to the passenger side of his car – that massive yellow Hummer.  He opened the door for me and closed it once I’d climbed in.  Then he jogged around to his side.

There’s a fine line between courtesy, chivalry, and chauvinism.  I wasn’t sure yet where Hans fell, but it would’ve been a lie to say that my nerves didn’t appreciate the extra hand holding.  It was the hand kissing that had thrown me off kilter.  I wondered if I should count that as my first.  Probably not, for that I think it would have to be on the lips.  Maybe.  Work date, Abby.  Work date.

Hans didn’t try to talk to me while he was driving.  I was just as glad, even though I was willing to bet it was just because Megan had tipped him off that ‘distracting the driver’ makes me really uncomfortable.  I found myself wondering exactly what else she’d told him about me while he’d been sitting at her desk this morning.

Thinking about Megan reminded me – for once!  – to do her meditation breathing before I freaked out.  So I spent the drive with my eyes closed, taking slow, calming deep breaths and trying not to think too much.  I wished Megan was here instead of me: firstly, because Megan would know how to make small talk and flirt and all that stuff.  But secondly: where I was neurotic and twiggy, Megan was sensual and sexy.  If this wasn’t a work date, Hans was setting himself up for a huge disappointment… and I was going to spend the rest of my life being mortified by whatever I ended up doing.

Of course, if I were Megan then all of these deep, calming, chest-expanding breaths probably would have ‘distracted the driver’ into a head-on collision, killing everyone.  So maybe it was just as well it was me.  Hans might have to live with disappointment, but at least we’d all live, right?

I opened my eyes when I realized we’d stopped.  I did take one more deep breath before I managed to make myself unclench my fingers and work my belt buckle.  I had a row of half-moon impressions from my fingernails running across each of my palms.  But that was okay, how would anyone notice?  People only kissed the backs of hands, after all.

But then again, I could totally see Hans-the-Viking catching his chosen lover by her wrists, pulling her arms up over her head and pinning them against the wall with one massive hand.  He would step in close, trapping her between the wall and his lean, muscular body.  His lips would start at her fingertips and trail down her palms; his breath hot against her skin.  She’d whimper into his chest; moan when his teeth scraped the inside of her arm.  And….

And I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten started on this, but I was back to wishing Megan was here instead of me.  Since I was having one of my fantasies, imaginary Hans’ chosen lover was imaginary Megan, and how was I supposed to live up to that?

Fortunately, I was saved from trying to answer myself by real Hans opening my door.  He offered me a steadying arm as I got out.  I don’t know if I looked like I needed it or if he was just being courteous – but I was grateful either way.  I felt a little bit shaky and the goose bumps were back.

Once I got out Hans closed the car door and then locked them all with a button on his keys.  He offered me his arm, and I took it because imaginary Hans and imaginary Megan were doing unimaginably indecent things to each other in my head, and I wasn’t too sure about my knees.

I felt a little bad.  Real Hans was being pretty sweet, but he had totally picked the wrong girl to spend an evening with, and I didn’t think he realized who he’d been passing up – or what he’d been passing her up for.

“Thank you,” I said anyway.  I took a mental count.  I’d said about six words since our evening had started.  I figured I had about six more before I blurted out something insane, or stupid, or insanely stupid.  It was going to be a very long evening, or a very short one.

Hans just smiled.  Poor ignorant bastard.  “But of course,” he said easily.  Then he put a hand over mine and together we walked into the restaurant.

Midnight Moonlight, Book 1

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