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Copyright © 2012 Jayne Rylon
Luke grumbled as he tried to read his scribbles off the crumpled list in his hand. He paused to decipher his doctor’s writing. It really had gotten illegible lately.
“Excuse me.” A soft voice distracted him from his squint.
He glanced up in time to see a woman hesitate as she approached from the opposite direction, a half-full basket dangling from her arm. Sure, he hadn’t left a big gap, but the pretty, slender lady could have easily slid by.
“Sorry,” he apologized, parking his grocery cart at the very edge of the aisle.
“You’re fine,” she murmured with a shy smile.
He stared as she took a deep breath then darted through the opening. Her long hair swished against the curve of her waist, which he’d bet he could nearly wrap his hands around.
Too bad she wasn’t on his menu for this evening.
Now you’re going to cooperate? He rolled his eyes at his hardening c**k, which had an instant appetite for the demure brunette who disappeared around the corner. He resisted the urge to follow her.
Nothing much piqued his interest these days.
Maybe deciding to try his hand at cooking would be another flop. He’d test-driven enough hobbies intended to shake him out of his funk—golf, woodworking, voyeurism and landscaping—to recognize another lemon looming on the horizon.
After all, what he really craved had nothing to do with the dozen or so items his housekeeper had dictated he purchase for his culinary experimentation. If only there was a store he could patronize to browse for a life partner…
Lately his house echoed, reminding him of his loneliness as he paced during sleepless nights. He’d thought those would vanish once he’d reached some of his goals. But now that he’d hit both career and financial milestones, the nest egg he’d amassed rotted in his bank account with no hope of being used for something worthwhile like a vacation house for two or retirement plans or a fancy wedding or a kid’s college education fund. Without someone to share his successes with, they seemed sort of…pointless.
Shaking himself from the gloomy thoughts, he focused on the scrap he’d torn from his notepad. What could he possibly need for his stir-fry that would start with a z?
He nabbed a decent bottle of St-Emilion Bordeaux from the wine section on his way to the produce display at the front of the store. Didn’t it figure? A heart-shaped ass was presented to him as the woman he’d inadvertently trapped bent over to rummage through a crate of onions on the cracked linoleum.
If he hadn’t loved this place on entering, he did now.
Luke couldn’t say he’d ever shopped here before. The emphasis was certainly more on the product than the displays, something he found refreshing after the overly bright fluorescents of his usual megamart.
He might have to start frequenting the place, which touted the freshest vegetables at lowest prices. After passing it a million times before—since it was on the street between Kurt’s office and his house—he’d decided to alter his routine, hoping to change his broader course. Something had to give. Soon.
The damned adorable clientele here had lifted his spirits already. He didn’t claim to be a perfect man. Or even a decent one. No, he slowed down to relish the view as long as possible as he approached.
As if she sensed his gaze, she made her selection then peeked over her shoulder. Maybe she always checked her back.
Something about the momentary flicker of fear in her wide, brown eyes tugged at him. He considered saying hello, starting a conversation, yet he guessed she’d bolt the instant a stranger approached. Especially a man who looked as hungry as he must.
Who’d hurt her? he wondered.
She nibbled on her glossy lower lip—a natural, pale pink.
Luke offered her a gentle smile. She ducked her head and zigzagged around a low-hanging, cheesy cardboard archway that had seen better days. The path took her the long way to the lettuce. He shook his head and resisted the urge to give chase.
At least four different types of zucchinis were nestled at the very end of the row of pallets. The store had clearly run out of space and stuck them in the narrow lane. The awkward configuration left him surrounded by vegetables on three sides while he dug through the offering as if he could tell by osmosis which he should add to his selections. It was such tight quarters he’d had to abandon his cart at the opening, winding through the admittedly colorful and fragrant vegetables to reach the bins.
“How the hell do you tell which one to pick?” he muttered to himself.
Or so he thought.
“The freshest ones still have a moist end on the stem. The skin should be a little prickly but shiny.” The woman he’d refused to stalk, despite the directive from his crotch, offered assistance in a melodious voice that made him think of candlelight and fancy silverware, instead of the basic white plates he’d eat off tonight.
She didn’t enter the narrow section, waiting on the wide swath of linoleum outside its boundaries while he floundered. Probably she just wanted him to get the hell out of her way again.
“Ah, thanks.” He smiled at her, using her criteria to select what he thought was a prime specimen. “What about this one?”
She shook her head. “Almost, but no. It’s too big. The ones that are about six inches long or less have better flavor. Don’t take one that’s too fat either.”
Luke almost swallowed his tongue. At least choking kept his crass remarks from rushing out before his better sense could filter them.
How old are you? Ten?
“Better?” He exchanged the vegetable for one that conformed to all of her rules.
This time she beamed at him, and the expression transformed her from appealing to exquisite. “Perfect. Would you mind handing me one too?”
He focused on discovering the ideal zucchini for her, shifting several layers until an exemplary summer squash appeared. Something about her encouraged him to apply himself for the first time in a while.
Who would have thought?
“Here. This one.” He held the best out to her. Not a single mark marred its skin, flawless like hers.
She blanched and froze.
“What? It’s not good?” He tipped his head.
“It’s great. Sorry, I just—can’t go in there.” She waved her hand between the enormous boxes of produce.
“Ah, no worries.” He didn’t pry. He’d never met someone who was lachanophobic but he knew rare and unusual things existed in this messed-up world. Maybe she was afraid of one of the other vegetables or the creepy crawly things that could easily be hiding in the cracks after stowing away on the organic haul. More likely, of being too close to a man, especially one as tall as he was. He tried to slouch, making himself as unimposing as possible.
“Here you go.” He slipped the zucchini into a plastic bag and handed it to her at arm’s length.
“Thank you.” She shot him a sad smile laced with something that looked like regret then bolted while he wrapped up his find the same way.