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Stolen Touches: Chapter 5

Milene

“I can’t wait to get home.” I sigh and close my locker. “I’ve switched shifts with Harper for tomorrow. I’ll be pulling a double.”
“Why?” Pippa asks.
“She said her mother’s sick and needs a visit. I couldn’t very well say no.”
“You’re too soft sometimes. Harper never agrees to switch with anyone.” She shakes her head. “Did you run into that sexy stranger again? The one from three weeks ago?”
“Nope.” I wave to the girl at the reception desk as we pass.
“I can’t believe he didn’t ask for your number.”
“Maybe he wasn’t interested.” I shrug. “He saw Randy pestering me, decided to help, and that was all.”
“I’m still shocked Randy quit. It was so sudden.”
“I heard he mentioned a family emergency and left town,” I say as we pass through the exit doors. “Thank God.”
Suddenly, Pippa’s no longer walking in step with me. I stop and turn to find her staring at something, her eyes wide.
“Pip? Are you coming?”
“Um . . . about your mystery guy.”
“What about him?”
“Looks like he might be interested after all.” She smirks and nods toward the parking lot.
I follow her gaze, and the corners of my mouth twitch in an involuntary smile. Fifteen yards from us, the jacket guy is leaning against the hood of a big silver car, his arms crossed in front of him.
“Holy fuck. Is that a Bentley?” Pippa whispers in my ear as she nudges me with her shoulder. “Go over now. Make him marry you. You’ll never have to work again.” She giggles.
I snort. What she’s suggesting is the exact thing I’ve been trying my damnedest to avoid. “See you tomorrow.”
The jacket guy watches me as I walk toward him, and I find myself wishing I was wearing something a little more flattering than hospital scrubs. The midday light brings out the gray in his hair, and once again, I’m amazed at how attractive he is. Today, he’s wearing a simple gray shirt with nothing over it. His stance emphasizes his wide shoulders and bulging biceps. He’s built like a professional swimmer—toned muscle, with a narrow waist and broad chest. I reach his direct orbit and smile.
“Well, hello again, stranger. If you are still a stranger,” I say. “Just passing by?”
“Kind of.” He straightens and puts his hands in his pockets. “I was wondering if you’d like to have lunch with me.”
“I don’t usually go to lunch with men whose names I don’t know, Kurt.”
I expect him to smile at that, but instead he just returns my gaze. “Coffee?
I wonder why he doesn’t want to share his name. I mean, he could have given me a fake name from the start. It’s not like I’d ask for his ID to confirm. Maybe he thinks I’ll find him more alluring this way? If that’s the case, he’s not entirely wrong.
“Coffee might be doable.” I shrug and motion toward the small place nearby where most of the hospital staff, including me, are at least semi-regular visitors. “There’s a café across the street.”
He nods and follows me in silence as we cross the road. We pick one of the tables on the patio, covered with a garish red and white gingham tablecloth. The jacket guy pulls a chair out for me and takes a seat at my side.
“So, are you stalking me, Kurt?”
“No,” he says. “I had some business in the neighborhood and saw you leaving the hospital as I was getting into my car.”
“What a coincidence.”
The daughter of the café owner comes to take our orders. A cappuccino for me and a double espresso, no sugar, for him. I’ve always wondered how people can drink coffee without sugar.
“How’s life treating you, Goldie?”
There is something unusual in the way he watches me, waiting for an answer. As if he genuinely wants to know and isn’t just asking for the sake of making conversation. It may sound stupid since I’ve only truly exchanged a handful of words with him, but I have the impression he rarely gives his undivided attention to anyone.
“Pretty much the same,” I say. “People getting stabbed. Overdoses. A bunch of broken bones. One poisoning.”
“Poisoning?
“Jealous wife. The husband was cheating.” I grin. “She wasn’t happy at all.”
“Did he live?”
“Yup. We pumped his stomach when he came in.”
“What did she use?”
“Some cocktail of kitchen chemicals.” I raise an eyebrow. “You?”
“No poisonings here. Just meetings and a ton of emails.”
I squint my eyes at him. Even though he looks like a businessman, with his expensive clothes and a watch that likely costs more than a year’s worth of my rent, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d be dealing with paperwork. He holds himself in a certain way, even now when he’s seemingly relaxed, and it makes me certain he’s not an ordinary manager.
“You didn’t just happen to be in the neighborhood, did you, Kurt?” I pick up the coffee the waitress has placed in front of me and take a sip.
“No.” He leans forward, reaches over and removes the pin that’s holding my hair in a bun at the nape of my neck, causing it to cascade down my back. “You have really unusual hair, Goldie.”
There is nothing unusual about my hair. Except for the fact that my sister and I share its light shade, but no one else in our family does. Blonde hair is not common in the Italian community. Bianca and I are the only ones who take after our Norwegian grandmother.
He takes a few strands between his gloved fingers, lightly brushing the locks.
Tell him to stop! He’s crossing boundariesYou can’t let a random stranger do that.
I ignore the voice of reason completely and look at the strand of hair he’s holding, noticing he’s only using the first three digits, while the other two remain slightly rigid and bent. I wonder what happened with his hand.
“So, you were waiting for me,” I say. “Why?”
“Is there anything wrong with my wanting to take a beautiful woman out to lunch?”
“That usually comes after the necessary introductions, Kurt.” I smirk. “Do you have something to hide? Is there a reason why you don’t want to tell me your name?”
“What could I possibly have to hide?” His gloved fingers release my hair and brush against the skin along my upper arm in the process, sending an excited shudder throughout my body.
“I don’t know. Are you an ex-con? A politician with a wife and three kids at home?”
“I don’t have so much as a speeding ticket to my name. No wife or kids, either.”
“Why not?” I raise an eyebrow. “How old are you?”
“Thirty-four. Having a wife and kids was never something I planned.”
“And do you have a set plan for everything?”
“For most things, yes.” He looks into my eyes. “Would you like to apply for the wife position?”
I burst out laughing. It’s not the question itself, but the way it’s delivered in a completely serious tone. “Sorry, Kurt. I’m not exactly on the market. You’ll have to search for a likely candidate elsewhere.”
“Do you have something against marriage? Are you afraid of commitment?”
“Nope.” I shake my head in bewilderment over discussing marriage with a man I’ve just met. “I have a well-founded fear of ending up tied to a man I don’t love. Too many bad examples in my family, I guess. At one time, my sister Bianca and I had an agreement that we’d never get married. We planned on being cat ladies, living in houses that smelled like pee.” I reach for my cappuccino. “That was until she upended her half of the bargain and married a scary Russian guy. I changed my perspective on marriage for real after that.”
“How so?”
“Strangely, I saw how good it could be. Those two are . . . like damn soulmates or something. I’ve never seen two people so fucking in love. They could be on a Hallmark card.” I take a sip of my coffee. “I can’t explain it. You’d have to see it to understand.”
“You plan on marrying a scary Russian guy, as well?” he asks.
“Of course not.” I laugh. “I don’t like scary guys. What I’m saying is that I won’t settle for anything less.”
“And you said you weren’t romantic . . .” His finger lands on my bare forearm and traces a line down to the blue veins at my wrist. I swear my heart truly skips a beat.
“Maybe I am, a little.” I shrug, aware of his finger moving upward again and trying to suppress the need to simply close my eyes and enjoy his touch.
“Has that guy been bothering you again?” he asks. “The one from the bar?”
“Randy? Nope. I heard he suddenly left the city, hasn’t even called. Thank God.”
“Good.” He nods and moves his finger to the back of my hand. “Is anything else new?”
“Other than a bunch of bizarre stuff happening? No.”
“What bizarre stuff?
“Well, I could start with me going on a date with a man whose name I don’t know.” I grin.
“So, this is a date?”
“You tell me.”
“Maybe it is.” He takes my hand, turns it palm upward, and resumes tracing patterns on my skin. “I don’t go on many dates, so I’m not exactly sure how to classify this.”
I arch an eyebrow. “You don’t go on dates?”
“No. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a date. Maybe in high school.”
I double over, laughing. “You’re shitting me, right?”
He’s lying. Has to be. When a man looks like he does, there must be a ton of women lining up to throw themselves into his arms. He looks down at my hand, which slipped away from his while I was giggling, and wraps his fingers around my wrist. Pulling it closer, he continues to trace the lines with his fingertip. Love line, life line, I’m never sure which is which.
“What other bizarre stuff?” he asks.
I blink and shake my head. His touch is very light, but it still raises goose bumps on my skin. Not just my arms, either. And I certainly don’t plan on removing my hand.
“Well, there’s the flower incident. I still have no idea who sent them.”
“Yes, I remember you mentioning it. What did you do with all the flowers?”
“Asked the hospital laundry department guys to help me take them over to St. Mary’s. We brought the flowers to the rooms of long-term patients,” I say. “I kept some. I shouldn’t have since I don’t know who sent them, but they were too pretty.”
His finger moves up along my forearm. “What else?
“My ex broke into my place last week and stocked my fridge.” I look up at him. “He says he didn’t do it, but I don’t believe him.”
David isn’t exactly a relationship type of guy. I find it super strange he’d try to get back together with an act like that, but I can’t think of anyone else who could have done it.
“Your ex?” he asks. “Were you together long?”
“With all the off-and-on periods included . . .” I think about it. “Maybe a year.”
The finger on my forearm stills for a moment.
“A year,” he says, then continues with his pattern. “That’s a long time. Does he live nearby?”
“Yeah, but he’s in India right now. A yoga retreat or something like that. He probably sent someone to handle the fridge thing for him. Why do you ask?”
“I hear India’s nice. He should consider staying there. It would be good for his health.”
I squint my eyes at him. “Why? Because of the tropical climate?”
His fingers move back down to my palm. “Because of the air.”
God, I love this man’s voice. My eyes land on his watch and, reluctantly, I pull my hand away from his. “I have to go. I have an appointment with the vet for my cat.”
“I’ll drop you off.” He takes out his wallet and leaves fifty dollars, which is way too much money, then stands up. “What’s wrong with the cat?”
“He’s been puking since last night. I think he ate one of my hair ties again.”
As we’re crossing the street, a bunch of teenage boys rush toward us from the other side, shouting and fooling around as they often do. The jacket guy’s hand lands on my hip, drawing me closer to his side, and he holds me tightly as the kids fly by in a flurry of waved arms and banter. Damn, I’m a sucker for guys with a protective steak.
“Is that normal?” he asks. “I heard dogs might eat anything, but not cats.”
“I don’t think so. He has issues,” I say as we walk toward his car. “But at least he’s stopped stealing food from the lady next door.”
“Why keep the cat if he’s got issues?”
“He kind of moved in without asking. I couldn’t throw him out.”
We reach his car, and I turn around, suddenly wondering how wise it is to get into a car with someone I barely know. As the thought hits me, he raises his hand and takes my chin between his fingers, tilting my face upward. A finger lightly brushes the skin on my cheek, and I find myself leaning into his touch. His head bends until his mouth is next to my ear, his lips making slight but electric contact.
“You are one extremely unusual creature, Goldie,” he whispers into my ear. His voice is rough and hypnotizing, sending a shiver down my spine. “And I like unusual things very much.”
His other arm wraps around my waist, and in an instant, I find myself sitting on the hood of his car, my legs astride his body.
“There’s nothing unusual about me,” I say, watching his amber eyes. He has a small scar on his forehead above his eyebrow, and I reach out to touch it. Our faces are so close that his breath brushes against my lips. If I were to lean forward a little, my lips would touch his. I move my finger from his eyebrow down the side of his face and then bury it in his hair at the back of his neck. At the same time, his finger slides upward from my chin to my bottom lip.
“I beg to differ, Goldie.” His finger vanishes from my mouth, replaced by firm lips.
The kiss is slow. Controlled. Just like him. I tighten my hand at his neck and marvel at how his lips savor mine. It’s as though he’s discovered a new and exotic land. I’ve always thought that hard and forceful kisses were the most intense. I couldn’t have been more wrong because the way he’s exploring my mouth is downright sinful. Would he make love the same way? For some reason, I don’t believe he would. His other hand reaches down to the small of my back and under my top, sliding upward along the ridges of my spine, igniting the firework flashes with each and every gentle touch.
“Come to my place,” I whisper into his mouth, not quite believing my boldness. I don’t invite strangers home, and I’ve only slept with men I’ve been dating, but here I am, inviting a nameless man into my bed to do whatever he wants with me. It’s reckless. Crazy. Why don’t I care?
He angles his head, watching me intensely. His hand is still holding my chin, his finger caressing my lower lip. “Are you sure?”
I open my mouth to say yes when a whizzing sound pierces the air as the windshield behind me shatters. I scream. The arm around my waist tightens, the hood disappears from beneath me, and I find myself pressed fully against the side of the car, my face flat against a rock-hard chest. Another shot echoes through the air. The bullet sends shards of asphalt up like sparks just to the left of us. A car screeches to a halt somewhere nearby and is closely followed by a second one. The chest vanishes, and suddenly, I’m being bundled into the back seat of a vehicle.
The jacket guy is speaking to the driver in a disturbingly even voice. “Take the girl home. Make sure you’re not followed.”
“Boss,” the driver nods toward my protector’s upper arm. “You’re bleeding.”
My eyes snap to his side, and I see the dark crimson stain spreading across his sleeve.
He ignores it completely and turns to someone who’s now standing behind him, out of my field of vision. “Find that fucking sniper.”
He throws one rapid glance at me and brings his palm down on the roof of the car. In a split second, the vehicle lunges forward, and I’m pressed to the back of the seat, feeling for the first time what it must be like to blast into space.

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