Editor’s Note: Enjoy this short told from the perspective of Carina Fullbright.
Carina sighed and walked up the steps into the kitchen. The room was bustling with wait staff, chefs, and busboys. She sighed as she began folding the tenth stack of napkins. She wondered what Kass was doing, and if Alexander’s date had arrived yet. Which one of Kass’ friends is here with him tonight? she wondered. Stop it! she chided herself. Don’t think about men who are out of your reach, girl.
Something wet nuzzled her leg. Cari looked down to see a small black-and-white dog nudging her with his nose.
“How’d you get in here?” she asked aloud, petting the creature.
The little dog licked her hand. She smiled.
“Whoa! Get that dog out of my kitchen!” one of the chefs yelled.
“How’d he get in here?” Ms. Purdy, the kitchen manager, shrieked.
“I’ll take him outside,” Cari said, picking up the puppy.
Anything to get out of this stuffy kitchen! She turned around, totally unfocused. Her world suddenly collapsed. She felt herself falling, swaying downward, and then swinging back up at a vertiginous speed as strong arms caught her. The puppy leaped from her arms, barking and ran out of the room. She instinctively brought her hands up to try and catch him.
“Are you all right?” the man asked, keeping his hands braced against her rib cage.
Cari peered up into the face of the man who had crashed into her. It wasn’t a face she could easily forget as his emerald green eyes penetrated her gaze. She inhaled his ambrosial cologne and nearly fell again, as it had a dizzying effect on her. As her vision came into focus, she realized the man was Alexander Goth.
“I…” escaped her lips as he still hadn’t let go of her.
“I’m sorry,” he was saying. “I was distracted.”
“That makes two of us,” she replied crisply as they disentangled, regaining her composure.
“Maybe you should sit down,” he suggested.
“I’m fine,” she disagreed, shaking my head, but winced when she felt a sharp pain shoot through her ankle.
“Ms. Purdy, would you get us some ice and drink for the lady?” he turned around and asked her supervisor.
Ms. Purdy’s jawline hardened. “I… uh… we’re very busy with your uncle’s party, Mr. Goth, and I’m her boss and I really can’t spare any of my staff right now.”
“You can give her a moment to recover,” Alexander said firmly.
“She seems fine,” Ms. Purdy shrugged.
“My family is paying for your staff so if I say you can spare her, you can,” Alexander replied authoritatively.
“Of course, Mr. Goth,” Ms. Purdy replied hastily, his face reddening. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Alexander didn’t respond, returning his attention to Cari.
“I’ll be okay,” Cari protested as he took her elbow, guiding her to a couch in the sitting room. “Really. I don’t need any ice, but thank you.”
“The ice is for me,” he corrected as she sat down. “You whacked my jaw, but you might want to ice your cheek. You hit my shoulder pretty hard,” he winked with his uninjured eye.
“I hit your jaw?” Cari’s eyes widened with surprise, and then she grimaced. Her cheek muscles tightened painfully. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a rather uncoordinated tangle,” Alexander touched his eye. “X marks the spot.” He chuckled with ease. “My sincerest apologies.”
Ms. Purdy reappeared with an ice bucket, a glass bottle , and two glasses. She dropped the bottle into the ice and left the room, clearly annoyed.
“I can’t drink,” Cari protested.
Alexander picked up a piece of ice. Leaning over her, he tenderly placed the ice against her cheek, bracing himself gently against her shoulder. She flinched, grabbing his arm.
“Cold?” he asked.
She nodded, placing her own hand against her cheek. For a brief moment, their fingers grazed before he broke their touch.
“You didn’t need to do this,” Cari said hoarsely, and immediately cleared her throat, self-consciously. “I mean, thank you.”
“The cider is sparkling. Non-alcoholic. I didn’t want you to be lightheaded,” he shrugged, leaning back on the couch. “The sugar will be good for you after the impact.”
“How did you know?” she inquired curiously.
“About the non-alcoholic part?” he smiled. “Lucky guess… no, I overheard you and the bartender speaking earlier.”
“Oh,” she flushed, hoping he hadn’t heard the discussion about himself. She dropped the melting cube back into the bucket. “Shouldn’t you be joining your party?”
He glanced off toward the laughing guests and popped the cork on the cider. The liquid foamed as he poured the glasses. “Well, most of them are here for my uncle… it’s not really my party,” he looked back at me, eyeing her closely. “Besides if it were, you’d be on my arm instead of hiding in the kitchen… you’re blushing! It’s cute.”
“Am not!” Cari retorted.
“How’d a jewel like you get stuck on napkin-folding duty?” he inquired, almost teasingly, setting the cider back in the ice bucket.
“Uh… a… my teacher… got me the job,” she stammered.
“Is that why you’re really here?” he asked teasingly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she replied nervously as she leaped to her feet and grabbed the table to steady herself. “I mean… I’m here… working… for your family.”
“I don’t know, you tell me,” he said, leaning casually on the edge of the couch. “What brought you to this moment in time?”
Her voice caught. He was staring at her and she liked it. She wondered what he was thinking behind his piercing green eyes. Her lips parting slightly as she gazed at him, scratching at an imaginary itch on her neck. She wished she could just reach over and graze her fingers down the side of his leg. Is it hot in here? she mused to herself. She licked her lips, hating the sticky sweat pooling around her chest and armpits. I hope I don’t smell. This gorgeous man was inches away from her and he made her feel… different… different than ever before… and the feeling made her nervous.
Alexander arched a brow, seemingly amused. “I think this is a first for me.”
“That I bought a lady a drink and I didn’t know her name.”
“Technically, you didn’t buy me a drink.”
“Touche. So your name?”
She bobbed her head and stepped away from the table, feeling grateful that her composure had returned. “Well, until I decide you need to know my last name, we’re on a first-name basis.”
“But you have me at an unfair disadvantage,” he said with a charming smile, stepping toward her. “You know my full name.”
“I don’t know your middle name,” she replied, taking a step back.
“But you know I’m Alexander Goth.”
“Well yes…you could look up my full name in the staff list.”
“I could. But I’d rather you tell me,” he handed her a glass.
“This is delicious.”
“I’m glad you like it. It’s a berry cider. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I prefer it over the apple anyhow. Seriously, shouldn’t you get back to your party… your date?”
“Eventually. Ayesha was tearing it up on the dance floor with one of my fraternity brothers last I left her. She seemed content.”
So that’s who Kass meant when she said ‘friend.’
“Ayesha’s a friend of my family’s.”
“Ayesha?” he quirked a brow. “She doesn’t seem like the type of friend you’d hang around.”
“You hardly know me,” Cari replied, dropping her gaze to the ground. “Besides, you don’t seem like the kind of guy to hang out with a servant in the library.”
“You’re hardly a servant, Cari,” he said softly.
“Well, I’m not… like… your… family,” she replied firmly, setting her drink aside.
“I find your candor refreshing,” he grinned.
“Thank you, Mr. Goth.” she said, suddenly feeling shy.
“Alex, please call me Alex,” he smiled genuinely.
“Alex,” she tried it out. I like it. What am I doing? “I should get back to work.”
As Cari walked out to the door, she smiled politely and offered her thanks. She was about to leave when he spoke again.
“That’s my middle name.”