Please don’t let him see me.
After a full day of mommy duty, Annie Addison couldn’t conjure up enough energy to deal with Lance Walker. She ducked behind her open trunk, praying for a bit of luck. The appearance of a size twelve Nike indicated good fortune would not be forthcoming.
Busted, she lifted her head, whacking her noggin on the raised trunk. “Yeow. Quit stalking me.”
She massaged the top of her head, only slightly mollified when he began to sputter. “I…I’m not stalking you. Just wanted to make sure you got into the building safely.”
“Oh, pleeaaase.” Her southern twang emerged with her temper. “It’s a secure parking lot with a guard less than fifty feet away.”
The parking lot light revealed the pinkish glow creeping over Lance’s face, making Annie regret her verbal attack. The man annoyed her simply by breathing, but he wasn’t that bad. Not if one liked the intelligent, hunky sort.
Delete that thought. Lance purchased his clothes at Nerds ‘R’ Us and refused to open the blinds because the mean ole sun created a glare on his computer screen.
She focused on the negatives, doggedly ignoring his body, ripped from regular workouts, and refused to envision the way his gray-green eyes twinkled when he smiled. If she didn’t concentrate on his pesky nature, she might have to admit he was better than not bad.
No way. Her life precluded having time, or use, for a man, even one that seemed nice. Her efforts centered around two jobs, a degree yet to be earned, and a three-year-old angel who reminded Annie each day that men couldn’t be trusted.
Maybe she should just tell him about Natalie. Even a pursuer as ardent as Lance would run if he discovered her maternal secret.
After grabbing her tote, she scurried toward the building, hoping to escape both Lance and her thoughts. At the gate, she set down her bundle to swipe her badge. A hand grabbed her canvas bag before it touched the ground. “Let me carry that.”
She smirked when Lance stumbled at the unexpected weight. “If you had half a brain, Walker, you’d stay away from me.”
“Brains are overrated.”
So was the cute grin he flashed.
“Let’s grab a coffee during break.”
Annie made a production of her sigh. “Giving you credit for half a brain was fifty percent over-inflated. The answer is no.”
She passed through the revolving bars, leaving Lance to manage her oversized tote. His long legs enabled him to catch her at the elevator, even lugging her bag and his backpack. “Is it my breath?”
“Yeah. That’s it.” She bit her lip to keep from laughing when he ran his tongue over his teeth.
She jerked her bag from his hand. “It isn’t your breath, it’s the body odor.”
He sniffed at his armpits. “Body odor?”
“I’m kidding, Walker.” His downcast face caused her tone to soften. “I can't afford fancy coffee.” The company paid well for her voice-overs, but between tuition, daycare and rent, she still needed to waitress to cover expenses.
“Come on. My treat.”
“I’m not going out with you. Period, the end.”
He raced for the door, grabbing it just in time to smack her shin.
“Ouch!” She pierced him with a nasty look. “You don’t take rejection well, do you?”
She ignored the concern etched on his features. Red welt or not, his eyes stared at her calf and partially exposed thigh. She jerked her skirt down. “Don’t.”
Lance blinked. “Annie, I wasn’t…ah, forget it.” He lifted his head, staring at the ceiling, but continued to hold the door open.
She hadn’t been so “anti-men” during her first month at Interactive Action, but as Romeo wannabes grew bolder and pick-up lines grew more ridiculous, she’d wrapped herself in protective iciness. Bob from the accounting department would use the accident as an excuse to stroke her knee and Lance’s buddy, Arnie, would look up her skirt. To be fair, Lance wasn’t like those bozos.
Of course he is. After he got her in the sack, she’d become a statistic. She’d learned that lesson the hard way. Courtesy of Natalie’s dad.
“I’m perfectly capable of opening my own doors.”
His eyes met hers. “Duh. Trying to be chivalrous here. And you couldn’t open anything carrying that bag. I’m surprised you can even walk. What’s in here anyway?”
Her hands clutched the bag protectively. In her haste, she’d grabbed the wrong tote. No way would she tell him the bag held her daughter’s things: roller skates, clothes, and dumbbells, because Natalie wanted to lift weights like mommy.
To distract his attention, she snapped, “Chivalrous? This is your idea of chivalry?” She pointed at her shin, the bump already making the transition from red to blue. “In the Middle Ages, men opened doors for women because the doors were heavy. Chivalry wasn’t just a grand gesture, it had a purpose.”
“Really? Then chivalry is dead because there’s nothing I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.” A boyish smile erased the dejection on his face. “Except, maybe, buy you a fancy coffee?”
She wanted to kick his shin with her uninjured limb. Men thought spending a little cash solved everything. “Surely your genius brain can come up with something more original than holding a door open, especially if you must break my leg in the process.”
“I could say ‘thank you’ when you let me buy you a fancy coffee.”
“Nice try, but that’s just courtesy.”
“Ah ha! You said courtesy.” He grinned a Cheshire Cat grin. “The dictionary defines chivalry as ‘bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women.’”
Her eyes widened. “OMG! You looked the word up? You need to get a life. You're becoming a terminal nerd.”
The pun hadn’t been intentional but they both laughed. The propeller-head probably memorized the definition of chivalry for the game he worked on, Gwain’s Ghost. Not to impress her.
“Courtesy is important, Walker, but chivalry is a combination of all the things in your definition.”
“Tell you what, I’ll come up with an example of modern chivalry if I can explain my idea over dinner. On Tuesday.”
She narrowed her eyes. Tuesday would be her first day off in weeks. And Valentine’s Day. “Why would I do that?”
He gulped. “Because if I can’t come up with an appropriate gesture, I won't bother you again. Ever.”
That notion didn’t pack the expected punch. And the idea of spending another Valentine’s Day alone possessed even less appeal. “If it will get rid of you once and for all, I’ll do it.”
No way would he impress her. So she’d finally be free of his uninvited attention. That was what she wanted, right?
His voice intruded into her self-argument. “But if I win, we go on a second date.”
“No. If you win, we’ll go for that fancy coffee, and…you have to sponsor my 5K Race for the Cure.” She amended quickly, “And you still have to stop bugging me.”
“You’re on. It’s a date.”
“It is so not a date.”
Lance’s restaurant choice surprised her—it was perfect. Instead of trendy and slick, candles and soft music created a romantic atmosphere. Half-round tables forced patrons to sit side-by-side while a delicious aroma stimulated anticipation.
She stiffened. It would take more than haute cuisine and fancy wine to impress her. “Very nice. But this isn’t chivalry; it’s just expensive.”
He laughed. “Nah. This is just good food. The chivalry comes later.”
After they were seated, he asked, “I bet you think I was a geek during my formative years?”
“You weren’t?” Annie didn’t quite manage a straight face.
“Nope. If I show you my anti-geek shot records, can I meet your daughter?”
She choked, knocking her water goblet over. “You know about Natalie?”
Lance rescued the glass before it spilled. “I’ve seen your screen saver. Got any recent photos?”
“You want to see pictures of my kid? That is chivalrous.”
“That’s not my gesture. I just like munchkins.”
The waitress interrupted. “Sir, I’m required to check your I.D. before I can serve the champagne.”
Lance’s face turned valentine red as he reached for his wallet. Annie stifled a giggle. Her giddiness turned sour when she remembered he wasn’t only a baby-face—at twenty-six he was a virtual toddler. Four years her junior.
Something on his driver’s license caught her attention, drawing her gaze like a Holy Grail. When the waitress left, she grabbed the card from his hand.”
“What? So I’m younger than you. Big deal.”
She ignored his whine, continuing to stare at the license. Perhaps he could be trusted. Lance Walker just might be the man to restore her faith in the male species.
She raised her lips to kiss his cheek. "Alas,” she whispered, “chivalry does indeed live."
The words on his license, Organ Donor, shone like armor.
Copyright © 2012 by Robin Weaver