Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Allure
“More iced tea, sir?”
I smile up at the waitress. “Yes, thank you.”
As she walks away, I check the time on my phone. Six forty-five. Two minutes since the last time I checked.
Patience, Leon. Patience.
Yeah, right. I just want to get this evening over with because I’m pretty damn sure I know how it’s going to end.
I drum my fingers on the table and look out the window in search of a temporary distraction. The restaurant overlooks the bustling pavilion where the city’s most touristy boardwalks intersect. One extends for miles along the beach in either direction, the other bisects Old Towne, and they meet here amidst the trinket shops and funnel cake stands.
It’s Saturday night and tourist season is in full swing, so the pavilion is packed. Naturally, every street performer in town is here. Steady streams of people throw coins and bills for magicians, mimes, and musicians, but most of them are crowded around two sorcerers who are trying like hell to outdo each other. One of the two is obviously a water sorcerer, and he waves and gestures as the contents of a small metal bucket at his feet rise up and twist and contort into different shapes. At one point, the water takes on the form of a child standing in front of it, mimicking her movements and facial expressions to her great delight.
The sun is sinking behind the ocean, though, and the fading daylight gives the water sorcerer’s rival a distinct edge, making his fire tricks appear brighter and more impressive by the minute. He stands on top of an overturned milk crate, and foot-tall flames dance on his upturned palms, taking beautifully human forms and moving in time with the faint music that’s made its way from one of the musicians to my ears.
Suddenly, the fiery dancers disappear in a puff of smoke, and the water sorcerer throws his head back and laughs as the drenched fire sorcerer glares at him over the heads of the roaring crowd. Undeterred, the fire sorcerer conjures another flickering orange figure, and with a wave of his hand, sends it strutting across the cobbles toward his rival.
His rival, whose watery avatar has leapt from its bucket and is prepared to stand its ground. The two figures face off, circling each other like wildcats, and I have to wonder if the sorcerers are rivals after all. More like performers who’ve figured out exactly how to work a crowd together.
My gaze drifts from the battling avatars to the fire sorcerer. He’s smoking hot, and I don’t just mean his fingertips. He’s got a smile that’s probably attracting as many people as his magic, and he’s not wearing a shirt over his washboard abs, which is also almost certainly helping him draw in a crowd. They say sorcerers are dangerous in bed—something about losing control of their powers—but if I’m up against a body like that, I’ll take my chances.
I pull my gaze away and take a long drink from the iced tea that showed up while I wasn’t paying attention. I’m on a date, for crying out loud. Well, sort of. I glance at the shirtless sorcerer again.
Guess it doesn’t hurt to look. After all, I’m getting dumped in T-minus… T-minus…
I pick up my phone to check the time. Five minutes till seven.
I fold my hands on the table and look out the window again as I blow out a sharp breath. Andrew’s not late, but I’m impatient. As impatient as I was just before our first date, oddly enough, but for entirely different reasons this time.
It’s disappointing, I’ll admit that. Three months of e-mailing back and forth and chatting on the webcam, three dates with sizzling hot chemistry that was just about visible to the naked eye, one almost kiss, and now “can you meet me tonight?” and “we really need to talk” in that quiet “this is about to be over and we both know it” tone.
That sorcerer out in the pavilion is looking more tempting by the minute, with or without the danger of a concussion or a third degree burn. Or maybe I’ll go find the nearest willing body, non-magic or otherwise, for a one-night stand. It’s been six months, for God’s sake, and after I’ve invested this much time, excitement, and anticipation into things with Andrew, only to have it blow up in my face before even making it past a kiss? To hell with it.
I should’ve known when that kiss almost happened, but then didn’t. Right up until that moment in my car, I was sure things were going great. Spectacularly. I wasn’t in a hurry to get into bed, but in the back of my mind, going by the way we kept looking at each other and the things he kept doing to my pulse just by smiling at me, I knew the sex would be amazing when we got to it.
My heart sinks a little deeper. Who am I kidding, thinking I can leave after this inevitable conversation and go find a one-night stand? I want Andrew. Yes, I want to sleep with him—with a body like that and chemistry like this, who wouldn’t?—but it’s more than that. So much more.
Sighing, I take another drink. Well, better to end it now before we’ve gone there. At least then, when I’m banging my head against a wall wondering how I fucked this up and wishing I hadn’t gotten my hopes up, I won’t also be craving another go-around with him in bed. Cold comfort or something, I guess.
Outside, the pavilion is thick with people, some of them still, some of them in motion, but a subtle flicker of movement catches my eye. When I look, my heart skips in the same instant my stomach drops. I’ve known for a while I’m hooked on Andrew, but didn’t realize just how much until now, when I’m watching him work his way through the throngs of people, eyes down and hands in his pockets, to tell me it’s over.
I try to convince myself maybe he’s not really here to call it quits, but his posture doesn’t do much to help my argument. His shoulders are tightly bunched, his gait hurried but stiff, and when he looks up just before he starts up the restaurant’s front steps, his expression is blank. For someone who’s usually relaxed and quick to smile, that’s not promising.
My heart keeps beating faster and faster as he disappears from my view, and my mouth goes dry when he reappears across the restaurant from me. He zeros in on me in an instant, and a half-hearted smile flickers across his lips. I take a long drink as he makes his way from that end of the room to this one.
So here we are. This is it. This is where it ends.
God, Andrew, I’m going to miss you…
He offers a polite but forced smile. “Hey.”
“Hey.” I hope my own smile is half as convincing as his.
“Thanks for coming.” He slides into the bench opposite me. “Sorry I kind of dropped it on you at the last minute.”
“Don’t worry about it. Sounded like you wanted to do this sooner than later.”
He chews his lower lip and doesn’t look at me. “Yeah. The sooner the better.”
He doesn’t elaborate. I don’t even know what to say, and in spite of my eagerness to get this over with, I’m not so sure I want to encourage him to get started. So I just keep my mouth shut and surreptitiously watch him while the waitress drops off some ice water and gets his order for another drink.
The man is stunning. Seriously. His dark hair is just long enough in the back to tickle his collar and in the front to get in his eyes from time to time. From the beginning, it’s been more than a little tempting, more times than I can count, to brush that unruly fringe out of his face and tuck it behind his ear, just because it’d be an excuse to touch him. I’m the kind of man who can and does proposition someone for sex halfway through a first date, but with Andrew, I haven’t been as aggressive. I haven’t been aggressive at all, by my standards or anyone else’s. When his hair falls into his eyes, I let him take care of it with a casual swipe of his slender fingers—he’s fine-boned and slim, more so than most guys I usually date, and it’s sexy as hell—and never make a move myself.
“So.” He clears his throat and wraps both hands around his glass of ice water. “I, um, like I said, wanted to talk. There’s some things that…” He pauses, releasing a breath, and his shoulders slump as much as their visible tension will allow. “It’s hard to explain, and maybe I should have said something sooner, but I hope you understand this is…” Once again, he pauses, and he bites his lip as he drums his fingers rapidly on the condensation-covered glass.
“Whatever it is,” I say in spite of my dry mouth, “I’ll understand.”
“That’s easy to say now.” He doesn’t look at me. “But the thing is, we’ve known each other for a while. We’ve been out a few times, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I—”
He stops, and looks at me through his long lashes. Holy fuck, I love those blue eyes.
I fold my hands on the table and lean forward. “If you want to call time on this, I’ll understand.” No I won’t. God, I want you. “Just…say the word.”
“Call time?” He blinks and his spine straightens. “I…no, that’s not where I was going with this.”
“It isn’t?” I raise an eyebrow. “Because that’s what it sounds like.”
Andrew sighs and lowers his gaze. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intent. I just… I’ve had this conversation a few times, and apparently I still suck at it.”
This isn’t what I expected. Not at all. “Well, just say what’s on your mind, and we’ll figure it out from there.”
“Okay, well.” He drums his fingers on the table.
Right then, the waitress reappears with his soda—Coke, though I’m surprised he didn’t order something much stronger—and a moment later, she’s gone, leaving us to our progressively less comfortable, not to mention predictable, conversation.
“Just give it a go,” I say. “Whatever it is.”
Andrew takes a long drink. Then a deep breath. “Look, I’m really attracted you.” He’s almost whispering now. “Like, really attracted.”
I’m not sure whether to be flattered by the comment or even more worried about what’s coming next.
He goes on, “And especially after the other night, it’s kind of hard to ignore the direction this is…” He meets my eyes briefly, but drops his gaze. “Where this is going.”
“We don’t have to go there,” I say quickly. “Not yet. If you’re not ready.”
With a dry laugh, he sits back. “It’s not quite that simple.”
“What do you mean?”
He keeps his gaze down. His hands are in his lap, and from the subtle movement of his upper arms, I’m guessing he’s wringing his hands. The tension in his shoulders is more pronounced now, working its way into the sides of his neck.
“Whatever it is,” I say, “just say it. No sense beating around—”
“I’m a sorcerer.”
My lips part. “I beg your pardon?”
He leans forward again, rests an elbow on the table, and lowers his head as he scratches the back of his neck. “I’m a sorcerer.”
Okay, that wasn’t what I expected. Holy shit.
My eyes dart toward the pair still battling it out with their magic creations out in the pavilion. Andrew’s one of them?