ABLAZE by Tierney O’Malley
Angel took a deep breath, inhaling hot summer air spiked with the scent of fresh baked cinnamon. There must be another Pink Door around here. She exhaled slowly and raised a brow at the Close sign hung inside the windows with closed white shutters. The sign, however, didn‟t stop her from trying to open the door. If someone was inside, good, she could ask for the other Pink Door. She turned the brass knob. Luck of all luck, the door opened. She immediately walked inside. Since she‟d been out in the sun, the room was in semi-darkness. Her shoulders sagged with relief when cool air-conditioned air welcomed her.
“Yes! Cool air. Thank God. And smells fresh, too.” She spotted a chair and immediately plopped herself on it. “Heaven in hell.”
She closed her eyes to savor the moment. The restaurant was quiet. No other sound except for the soft music floating around. She recognized it right away. My Heart, by Perishers. How about that. Angel sighed. She couldn‟t explain it, but for the first time since To Catch a Predator plastered Willy‟s face on television, she felt at peace, away from the pain, humiliation and regret of what could have been a beautiful wedding. It felt as if she just got out of jail after a long year sentence.
Relieved, she opened her eyes and found herself looking straight at a handsome man with dark hair that reached the base of his neck, curled on the end and cut unevenly. His bangs swept to the side were long enough to touch his eye. And those eyes! They looked so exotic―almond shaped with dark thick lashes that were pointing down instead of curling up. She couldn‟t quite see the color, but she was sure they were blue. A hint of beard as if he neglected to shave this morning added to his ruggedly handsome face.
Angel blinked. Did she fall asleep and dreaming right now of being in Olympus facing one of the hot gods in rumpled white shirt that he must have pulled from the bottom of his hamper and, well, faded low-rise jeans? She lowered her gaze and sighed at the sight of his toes peeking through his tattered hem. Nice. Was he there all this time?
She stared at the man and, dear oh dear, he stared back with such intensity she felt like an appetizer laid out on the table. “Wow.”
Facing her, the man leaned back on his barstool, his arms resting against the bar behind him without breaking eye contact. And then he frowned. He was staring as if she just materialized in front of him like some kind of a ghost. Or maybe…on no! She probably looked horrible. Consciously, she smoothed her hair.
I definitely look horrible.
Angel had never seen such an attractive face that looked devious enough to make any woman fall in love with him instantly. Not even Willy‟s chiseled face could match this man‟s features. He must be over six feet tall and a big fan of green salads. Must be, otherwise, he wouldn‟t have had that super lean shape.
“Ciao, bella,” he greeted.
His voice, soft and so masculine, caressed Angel‟s skin. It also brought her back to her senses. “Oh, God. Please don‟t tell me you don‟t speak English. I just had a row with the cab driver who pretended not to know English at all. Let me tell you, I offended the poor man because he kept saying no English. I insulted him. So don‟t make me insult you, too.”
“Fine. Ciao to you, too. I come in peace. I suppose it doesn‟t matter if you don‟t know squat about my language. Just look at me as if I‟m the most beautiful woman in the world and I‟ll be fine with that. I might even stay here forever if you rubbed my feet and lower back.”
The beginning of a smile tipped the corners of his mouth. His eyes sparkled like a dancing candlelight flame. Jesus, this man was so irresistible she couldn‟t stop staring back. He opened his mouth to say something, but she beat him first.
“I don‟t speak Italian. Sorry. You must know some English, Mister Hottie. You do look exotic, but you‟re in Seattle and must have heard the word Starbucks and Pink Door Condo. You can just point and nod. This place doesn‟t look like a condo to me and not exactly what I had in mind when I left North Carolina. Manfred owns a condo and not a restaurant. So, Starbucks. Left or right? Pink Condo. Left or right?”
The man‟s brows drew together. He looked confused.
Lord, if he couldn‟t speak and understand English, she must have sounded like a bird twittering in the bushes to him. “Alright.” Angel gave the man her sweetest smile. “Too bad you can‟t understand me. I was going to ask you to make love with me while you whisper sweet sexy words in my ears. But since you don‟t know English, then I guess I‟ll just have to find someone else. You see, I need to prove that any man can get satisfaction from me. Willy, the idiot, is wrong on that account about me. Ha!”
The man‟s lips thinned. Now he looked displeased.
Maybe when she said idiot he thought she was referring to him. Oh, well. “Sorry, I didn‟t mean you‟re the idiot. You don‟t look like one. What you are is an ice cream anyone would want to lick.” Angel sighed. “Nice. This is the first time that I talked about my ex without getting interrupted. Manfred would have been growling by now and Minnie, foaming around her mouth. Manfred is my grandpa and Minnie is his sister. If you want to ruin their moods, just say the name Willy. Anyway, about Starbucks. You know it is the number one coffee shop in US. In fact, it is now a universal language when it comes to coffee. I bet even the Amazon natives know the word. So I am assuming that you, Mister Hottie, know it, too. Just point. Starbucks. Left or right? No?” Angel wiped her forehead with the tips of her fingers. “Oh, God, I am dying of thirst. I just want a cold frappuccino and maybe a big slice of coffee cake. Well, as much as I‟d like to sit here and talk to you, I have a condo to find. Nice meeting you.”
“I‟ll send someone next door to get your frappuccino and a slice of coffee cake.”
Angel let out a tiny squeak. Lord Almighty! He knows English. She tried to remember what she said earlier. She called him a hottie and…did she offer to let him to make love to her? Annoyed, she huffed, then said, “You. Are. A. Fraud. What the heck is it about you guys pretending not to know English? That‟s just annoying.”
“You, Miss Angel McCready, assumed that I don‟t understand you. If you gave me a chance to talk I would have told you that I could understand and speak English.”
“You greeted me in Italian.”
“Because Pink Door is an Italian Restaurant.”
“You look exotic. I thought—Oh, don‟t smile. I assure you when I said exotic I wasn‟t complimenting you.”
The man gave her a whatever-you-say shrug.
“How would I—wait, you know my name?”
“Yes.” He looked at her feet and then met Angel‟s eyes again.
“Manfred. Did you crawl all the way here?”
“I was close to crawling.”
Angel looked at her knees. Sure enough, blood ran down her shins. “God, I hate blood.”
“No-ingles cab driver said streets are closed because of some centennial celebration. He dropped me off some blocks away from here. So I walked.”
“On your knees.”
Angel rolled her eyes. “I was dreaming about Frappuccino when I tripped and landed on my knees. It was a nice dream, too.” She looked at her palms and saw that they were scraped, but not as badly.
The man stood up and went behind the counter. “I say you really pissed the driver off.”
“I‟m surprised. With a face like yours, any man would scramble to his feet to serve you.”
A face like mine? He said the words while looking deep into her eyes as if trying to see something more from her. She could tell he was used to staring at women. It was his way of making them squirm. She felt like squirming herself. What a topnotch flirt.
The man grinned. He had straight white teeth, which added to his almost perfect image. Wow. She decided not to acknowledge the compliment. “Like you said, I pissed him off. Anyway, you know Manfred?”
“Yup. You‟re the granddaughter he told me about.”
“Oh, God. Please don‟t tell me I am in the right Pink Door.”
“You‟re in the right place. This is Pink Door you are looking for.”
“Drat. Manfred‟s getting even with me for being a pain. He said condo not a restaurant.”
“Upstairs is the condo part.”
“And what are you supposed to be? The bellboy?”
“No. I‟m Dylan Band. Your guide.”