Stepping closer, he handed the camera off to her. “Miguel.”
Taking it from him, she gestured with it before tucking it into her bag. “Thanks. Totally forgot it existed.” Biting her bottom lip, she could sense him watching her as she pocketed her keys.
“I wonder why that was, querida.” A slight tilt of his head caused a few of the longer layers of his dark hair to curve down around his cheekbones.
“Musta had my hands full with somethin’ more important.” When Kandy smiled up at him again he flashed her a sly half-grin.
Kandy was cute in her ponytail and brightly colored tennis shoes, seeming so sweet and unassuming as she stood there. It was quite the opposite from the siren who could’ve had him driving into the rocks earlier. She had trouble written all over her. The good kind though, the kind Miguel was beginning to realize he missed. A distracted pass of his skeleton tattooed hand down his jaw to his ink-covered neck ended with another apprehensive straightening of his tie. Though he was incredibly handsome in his businessman threads, Kandy had to wonder if he felt like the striped fabric was strangling him with how buttoned-up he was. For Miguel, the way she was looking at him was like an unspoken invitation to come play if he wanted.
Deliberately turning his attention to the purple Jeep with the grey wrapped roll bars and multi-colored cloth seats, Miguel nodded to it and took a few steps toward it. At the back next to the rear-mounted spare was a bracket with two very nice fishing rods locked in place. Inside the cabin was also a bait box he could just see from his position and where he figured the reels must be kept. While the equipment may not have been high-end it certainly looked as though it had gotten a fair amount of use and was ready for an impromptu adventure on the high seas. If she had access to a charter or frequented one regularly like he saw in the photo, it would make sense they’d be kept at the ready. Miguel felt the textured grip on the rod built for a substantially heavier weight where it had been worn away, maybe from a holder in the cockpit of a boat. It was the setup Zoraida had used when she was alive.
“You fish a lot, querida?”
With a fond smile, Kandy placed a palm on part of the Jeep’s rear door. “It was kind of a family thing. My mom was big into it. Grandfathers had their own boats. If we weren’t grillin’, we were out on the water. But I’m not really known for bein’ able to sit quietly in tight spaces for too long.”
Miguel gave her another quick glimpse of a knowing smile. It was hard to overlook how often she had used the past tense in her explanation. Granted, he was becoming quite the fan of her flirtatious side, but it was also clear that there was more for him to explore, which was a pleasant deviation from his usual dalliances.
“It was your mom’s.” He lightly touched the Florida license plate supporting sea life conservation featuring a brightly colored dolphin. “How long she been gone?”
To say she was surprised would have been an understatement. With the rise in popularity of older Jeeps, Kandy fielded usually a couple of inquiring parties a week who inevitably wanted to know the vehicle’s provenance despite politely being told it wasn’t for sale. She hated it when people either in their lack of awareness or because of poor manners forced her to divulge that the sentimental value was tied to the sudden passing of a parent.
Reaching up to her throat, her fingers tapped lightly between her collar bones. “About two years. Almost three now, actually.”
It was obvious Miguel was factoring these details into whatever appraisal he had made of her earlier. It felt like he was weighing this new information he was learning about her in consideration of a bigger decision. He certainly was going through a lot of trouble just to ask her out. Watching him analyze and fit that piece wherever he put it in his mosaic of her made Kandy wonder if he ever did anything on instinct. Well, other than when he took hold of her in the Mercedes.
Kandy absentmindedly traced the ridges of the spare tire’s off-road-rated tread. “Do you fish?”
Miguel smirked and took another gander at the pair of rods, “Nah, I get stuck cleanin’ and cookin’ ‘em for everybody else.”
”I don’t get the title of Chef in the family, that goes to somebody else, but her guy runs charters and shit out to the Skyway and Bradenton. Sometimes, we’d hop along to see what was bitin’.”
His angular brow furrowed for a moment as he mulled over the details about her connection to the charter company. It was through family. Just because she had a photo of a boat belonging to that one particular outfit didn’t mean it was the only charter she ever used. It also didn’t mean that the relatives she was talking about ran the charter with the logo he recognized. After all, the brunette had said boating was a family interest. Even if she turned out to be related to the charter owner and his wife, it couldn’t have been that close of a relation.
A cry of seagulls overhead brought him back around to the present and he became aware of how lost in his thoughts he was. Looking over at her, she was smiling at him and still the perfect embodiment of summer. Sure, he could have come right out and asked, but he dreaded the thought of being right. He was here. She was here. The weather was beautiful. Why not spend a little time at the beach and get to know her in a more casual way rather than interrogating her? But stronger than the nervousness and the concern he had was what he felt when he saw her. The attraction he felt, which was far more complex than just lusting after her physical self, needed to be investigated. Miguel wanted to know why this was so intense and compelling. The Scorpio was curious.
“Bet you the star in the family though.” With his hands in his pockets again, he silently waited for her response while a mischievous glimmer appeared in those dark eyes similar to what he had shown her back in the Mercedes.
Embarrassment colored her cheeks causing Kandy to briefly turn away from him. Covering part of her face with her hand, she groaned. “The great thing about traffic is usually you never see those people again.”
Miguel moved back closer to her, close enough he could reach out and touch her if he wanted, “So you not happy to see me then? You looked like you were happy as fuck when you saw me standin’ here at your car. I thought you were waitin’ for me and everything.”
“Maybe.” One of the things Kandy picked up on while being around him was he somehow was able to trigger a shift in her mood. He kept sparking a fire that regularly was smothered by the weight of her anxiety or aversion to being around others. If he was going to tease her a bit, then she would happily do the same while riding this feeling, whatever it was. It might at least help get her through the awkwardness that came with her bouts of shyness in one on one interactions. A purple and white Chuck Taylor took one large step right up to his well-polished dark blue and tan saddle dress shoes. He was quite the dresser. The blue was a perfect match to the color of his suit pants.
Keeping her feet planted, Kandy let a school girl twist turn her torso left and right. “You miss me any?” The smile playing across her purple glossed lips was far from innocuous.
Miguel did his best to put up a good front, but that laid back chill demeanor of his fell away when he laughed to himself concerning her question. He paused to pensively rub his chin again, “Maybe.”
Picking up the thick tongue of his tie she waved the tip playfully, “You lookin’ sharp today. You out here to see somebody special?” Kandy gave him a fake cringe at the thought before it melted back into a seductive slant of her mouth.
It was decision time. This was taking longer than ninety seconds, but Miguel deemed leaving her to go across the street for the interview to be the wrong choice. Down in his bones, he knew walking away from her would turn out to be something he’d replay over and over and wonder about. Keeping his hands firmly in his pockets, he at least resolved not to try and kiss her again until he had a better handle on all of this, especially who her family possibly was. She would only know about him what he’d tell her and with a random meeting like this, they were a considerable distance away from where he worked and lived, giving him an added buffer.
While he was stuck in limbo inside of his head, Kandy on the other hand felt like somebody had wound her up to go. The part of her brain, which was usually so loud about keeping to the straight and narrow, was barely audible. She was too busy chasing the delightful rush she experienced when gazing up at, speaking to, hearing, or touching him. He was like a walking, talking can of starter fluid that got her firing.
“Dunno, querida. Am I?” He casually shrugged, staring at the dark front of the restaurant that still had its red and white CLOSED sign turned to the street. Maybe his instincts about the owner were right after all. Miguel smirked and sighed while being unaware of one of his arms slipping around Kandy’s hips right up until he felt her weight shift against him. So much for putting a bit of distance in between them to regain some perspective.
“You keep on lookin’ over there like you might be missin’ out on somethin’. You sure? I was gonna go chill at the beach and maybe grab some food.” Kandy nodded behind him to the sun-warmed dunes and happily swaying palm trees of one of America’s most awarded white sand beaches. Miguel glanced over his shoulder past the Mercedes as he felt one of her hands come to rest on his flank, “Wanna come?”
And there it was, that little question. Two words, three syllables. Miguel replayed her question in his head, Wanna come? It was like she knew how to use their closeness to manipulate the magnetic-like attraction that was drawing them together under its own power. Every expansion of distance and touch-fueled contraction of it worked to convince him more and more of how tangible this all was. It wasn’t every day he found a girl who could take him out of his thoughts for a while, or at all really. Naturally, this shifted the power dynamic between them as he had no clue how to counter it and it left him a little uneasy. But the urge to satisfy his growing interest in her was pushing him along just as forcefully as his desire to finish what she started in the car.
Every couple of minutes in Kandy’s head it registered how peculiar this connection with him was. As his arm found its place around her, she quite comfortably eased into his embrace without giving it a second thought. They had relaxed into each other like a couple meeting up at the end of a long workday, relieved to be near one another. Despite how alien this was to her, Kandy wasn’t worried enough to stop it and neither was he. In fact, she really wanted to live in it for a little while. Those amber-brown eyes of hers never left him once while he stood there silently considering her proposition.
Sucking his teeth, he sighed. Fuck it. Without a word, Miguel turned back round to face the direction where he left the S600 parked and extended his left hand for her to take, the hand resembling an X-ray. Kandy moved up to his side and slipped her palm into the contours of his before it was locked into place by the interlacing of their fingers.
As they walked together, Kandy’s thoughts drifted to her father’s parents and the way they always put themselves on the side of traffic keeping her safe on the sidewalk away from the cars. Of course, she then wondered whether Miguel had offered his left hand for a similar reason. It had been such a long time since she had thought about that time in her life or the significance of a gesture like that. He’s probably just left-handed, Kandy.
Reaching the Mercedes, Miguel caught her head turning to admire the V12 powered sedan again. It was his pride and joy, right down to the glossy black wipers on the seemingly ageless headlamps. The car turned all the right heads and could also sail past those he wanted to avoid altogether. If only the man knew what she had been fantasizing about, he might not ever let her back inside the tan and brown leather interior.
Kandy did not have a plan in this situation. Chalk it up to being high, on a sugar rush, or bored out of her fucking mind, but she had thrown her usual day to day routine — a routine, that despite the bubbly persona she showed to her family, frequently meant avoiding people as much as possible — right off that bridge and into the choppy waters below. It had taken her months merely to work up being able to park in this very lot with all the noise and people circulating around her. It took even longer to be comfortable enough to ride with the top off of the Jeep.
Usually, Kandy’s head was always on a swivel for anything from police cars to ambulances to obnoxious lifted trucks, which occasionally packed train horns. Though she would never openly admit it, she often walked along a sidewalk in fear of noises that would trigger a panic attack like earlier. She’d likely say she preferred to remain alert of her surroundings, just in case. Perhaps it was Miguel’s awareness and protectiveness of her that grounded her enough to have the confidence to be unbothered while strolling along with him. Then there was the matter of all she really wanted to do any time she looked at his Benz was pull him into the backseat. A nervous pass of her palm followed quickly to smooth down her hair that didn’t really need smoothing. In a flash, the image of them rolling around on the coffee and cream-colored leather seats disappeared from behind her eyes.
Give people room to surprise you. Her aunt Sandra’s words rang in her ears and Kandy reflexively rolled her eyes. As she was about to rail for another round against herself for poor judgment about being with somebody she didn’t know, Kandy felt Miguel’s thumb gently caressing the back of her hand as they walked. It was then she realized he had been studying her again.
Sensing he was caught, he smirked and kissed the back of her hand just like he had on the bridge. “I know a place.”
Kandy nudged him a little and then spun around in front of him, “Oh yea, you know a place? Am I gonna like it?” An encouraging tug of that bony hand got her pulled back in tight for a squeeze.
While it was the safe choice, it really was also the only choice. Miguel had no interest in walking into a chain or corporate-run restaurant, nor did he want to get them stuck in line waiting to be seated at some overcrowded and overpriced place. He wanted to be able to sit comfortably with her, hear her, touch her. This was somewhere he knew they could spend as much time as they wanted. Rushing any part of this was going to be entirely unacceptable to him. In light of what happened on the bridge, she would probably prefer a more quiet laid back spot anyway.
“My cousin runs it. And you’re costin’ me money already. You better like it.” He dipped his head down enough to kiss her cheek before lifting her hand to let her spin back out as she liked.
It was on days like these that Miguel had felt old as fuck when he woke up. The bones within his body had already been aching before he had even made it out the front door this morning. Chalk it up to stress, not sleeping enough, spending less and less time at the trainers, all of it was beginning to catch up to him. And then this little hummingbird flitted into his path elevating the vibe around her dragging him out of his workaholic isolationism. Was he really skipping down the beach with a girl who smoked in the morning, danced to pop music, and very nearly got him out of his pants in traffic? The interview and any possible missed opportunities weren’t even registering on his radar. Kandy had all of Miguel’s attention and focus, for now at least.
“Come on.” Switching hands with her, Miguel stepped down off the curb when there was a break in traffic and led her across before turning down one of the shorter streets running between the large resorts towering above them.
Sandwiched in the middle of a kitschy tourist shop and a local coffee place was a tiny green painted door with a full-size, red-silled window to the right. Indoors there were a dozen or so tables, which were completely empty. But the delivery tickets and foot traffic for takeaway were near-constant during the lunch and dinner hours, owed probably to the hotels around them that served as their bread and butter. Passing under his arm as he held the door open for her, Kandy took a seat at the table adjacent to the window and furthest away from the kitchen. Miguel left her in her little corner after kissing her forehead and then made his way back toward the kitchen. Amber eyes watched on as he clasped hands and embraced the guy who poked his head out from behind the scenes.
“Hey carnal, what you doin’ on this side of the bridge?”
“I’ve got this girl with me an–”
“You on a date, bro? Fucking finally. And you come to me for the food that’s gonna get your scrawny ass laid.” The man, who was the exact opposite of Miguel in terms of height and physique, placed his hand on his heart to sell the joking sentiment. “Look at you. With your tie and shit. You comin’ from church? She a nice Catholic girl? Abuela would be so proud.”
The unamused Scorpio stood there with his hands in his pockets staring at his cousin rather cooly with those dark eyes. He was letting him have his fun. Manny barely had a year and some change on him, but there were plenty of times he stood in the gap for Miguel back in California. When Miguel finally called to say he and Irma had made it to Florida, it was Manny who had lobbied for them to choose Tampa instead of Orlando or Miami. To Manny’s relief, Miguel listened.
“You gotta lighten the fuck up man, damn.” Casually tagging Miguel’s stomach with the back of his hand, Manny laughed and gave him a nod, “I got you, Migs. What you want?”
Kandy turned her attention back to the scene outside the window. Locals and visitors streamed by to and from the marina on the next block. Some were heading out for afternoon fishing charters while the ones who had been up early enough were getting back to land to offload their bounty-filled coolers. Though she had never been in this particular restaurant, it was one she had driven past hundreds of times when she and Zoraida went out for a fishing or sunset cruise. Following Zo’s passing, there was always something she would remember or someplace she would recognize, which made her turn the Jeep around and head back to her home in the middle of the woods. And yet here she was, spending time in a place she normally would have avoided. Every once in a while, she’d bring the camera up and snap a photo of somebody doing one of the beachy things she used to enjoy as she sat waiting for Miguel to return.
“Her name is Kandy, for real? What club does sh–”
Miguel turned back to his cousin pointing at him who then held his hands up and took a step back. Joke time was over. Hearing Miguel call her name, Kandy placed her camera on the table and looked back down the way where the two men were standing.
Over his shoulder, “Qué quieres tomar, Kandy?”
Good question. She had no idea what he was going to order. So, she simply shrugged and went with the best thing to drink on a hot day, “Horchata?”
Pressing buttons on the camera body, she went back to scrolling through the photos she had taken during the last few days. Every so often, she’d zoom in and delete an image if it wasn’t up to her standards. The oldest collection of photos, which were the ones Miguel had scrolled through unbeknownst to her, she avoided. A minute or two ticked by before the light glinted off Miguel’s watch, catching her attention as he went to pull out the chair next to her. Death apparently wore a Tag Heuer and not a Rolex.
Nodding to the seat to her right, “You that kinda guy?”
Miguel smirked and sat down in the chair letting an arm drape over the back of hers, “You feelin’ crowded all of a sudden, mami? Cause I can sit there if you want me to.” A little nod to the side across from her.
“No, just kinda surprised you didn’t want a better angle.” An impish little smile formed across her lips.
Leaning in close to her ear, “Just wanna make sure you don’t go nowhere.” With that, his left hand fell to the top of her thigh beneath the table for a soothing rub.
Kandy laughed and pointed to the scorpion inked into the wrist and lower forearm of his right side, “October or November?”
Miguel regarded the arachnid briefly and how at times it appeared to be more entangled in the prayer beads than an anchor point for them, “That obvious?”
“When you say shit like that, yea, kinda.”
“October.” A beat, “It bother you?”
Kandy canted her head to the side as she gradually became aware of the slow pensive stroking of her thigh, which mirrored how he held her hand. It reminded her also of the tapping of his fingers on the dashboard of the Mercedes. His focus drifted to somewhere outside beyond the large window they were sitting next to.
“If it bothered me, I wouldn’t be sittin’ here and you also probably wouldn’t be still havin’ that hand.” A shrug of her shoulders, “With all the observin’ you like to do, I feel like you aren’t really the type who likes to touch a lot is all.”
He perked a brow as his hand on her leg stopped moving, “Like I’m some weirdo outside your window at night?”
She rolled her eyes with a groan, “No. Quit playin’. You know what I really mean.”
What was he going to do, lie? Miguel absolutely knew. There was always a distance he kept even with women right up until he had their clothes off. He also was honest with himself enough to know his enjoyment of her company and the atypical desire to touch her, to keep her close was a very strong indicator he was going to find himself in a situation he had been avoiding for the last few years. He had responsibilities, raising his sister here, helping out his mother and grandmother back in California. Distractions were expensive, more than he might be able to afford right now. And yet he was ignoring business to spend time with this chick because she made him feel like he was sixteen again.
“How do you know about horchata?”
Kandy fielded the ground ball and rolled with the change in subject, “Is that unusual? We’re in Florida. And I can’t stand that sweet tea shit.” She shrugged and managed to skip over her reluctance about discussing her family, “My mom’s dad loved food. He was old school Sicilian, so the more opposite to what he grew up eating, the better. From what I could tell, he cooked anything and everything, especially if it had spice.”
“Grandma didn’t do the cookin’, huh?”
She flat out sneered. “Cooking to her is probably orderin’ somebody to do it for her and then pushin’ it around on some insanely expensive china for a few hours after.”
It felt odd for him to see her respond in such a negative way. Sure, Miguel knew she was a human being with a full range of emotions, but it still seemed way out of character for her to be so spiteful in her tone. “No happy holidays or money in birthday cards, huh?”
“She’s a w–.” Catching herself and how venomous she sounded, Kandy exhaled and gave him a weak, almost apologetic smile. “She and I never really connected. He died a few years before my parents met. Once he was gone, a lotta people didn’t see much value in bein’ around her. Who wants to be around somebody miserable, right?”
As he listened, his hand left her leg for his fingers to trace the shape of her curls, careful not to pull or tangle them. There was more to it, but Miguel let her have a pass considering she had extended him the same courtesy earlier. After a reassuring kiss to her forehead, he went back to idly petting what was turning out to be his favorite part of her leg. They had plenty of time to return to these sensitive subjects. A quick smirk flickered across his face as he noticed how the span of their future appeared to be extending the more he learned about her.
“After my mom passed, I found this letter she left me tellin’ me about a box in storage. One of my aunts had lived in his house in Miami and gave her these notebooks he made. All handwritten with little facts and notes and shit. Each one was like a different place, half journal and half cookbook. They’re kinda like my secret way to connect with him.”
The thumping in her chest concerning how she was going to eventually have to explain the structure of her family was quashed by his touch. Kandy wasn’t sure if it was the weight of his hand or its slow and steady movements that helped her to unwind and let go of her worry. Either way, she was very grateful to be experiencing it. But she found herself in a rather perplexing situation. For whatever reason, a part of her expected to have a discussion like that with him. Right now, he was just some guy she met in traffic. Before she got to complete that assessment, she was already shaking her head. They weren’t sitting like they didn’t know each other and they certainly weren’t looking at each other like they didn’t know each other. Maybe she was just nervous and felt the need to talk to prevent awkward silence. Inside, she knew this wasn’t true either.
Miguel could only imagine what was on those pages. Her attachment to them and the sentimental nature she seemed to inherit from one specific side of her family softened the blow of possibly never getting to read through what treasures had been scribbled down. Nonetheless, he was terribly interested in anything she might share in conversation. “Ever try makin’ any of it?”
There was some hesitance in her nodding, “Yea, I’m so envious of people who can walk into a kitchen and have that magic in them to make somethin’ good, you know? So, sometimes I try the easier stuff like different sauces or soups or like snacky stuff. Empanadas, flautas, molletes, cocido, and the roasted corn.”
If this girl only fuckin’ knew… Miguel mused to himself whilst hiding part of his smile with his other hand. “Elote?”
She shook her head, “It starts with an E but it’s a bigger word.”
“The stuff you get in the cup? Yea, yea. So fuckin’ good. But what tastes good to me probably is like dog food compared to what your mom and grandmother make. Plus whenever I visit my aunt in South Tampa, the one who lived in Miami, she has this place we order from. Some seriously bomb ass Mole. And they make the fried peppers with the right kinda cheese.”
Miguel squinted, “From Oaxaca?”
“Yea, we should go there sometime. I don’t think I’ve ever been in it.”
“Is that how to get you? With food?” Curiosity burned in his dark eyes to the point she had to coolly shift her attention to the passersby outside in the Florida heat.
“I mean if a guy wants to feed me…” Kandy smiled for a moment before looking back up at him from the window and clocking the slick grin that was now plastered on his face. “What, why you lookin’ at me like that?”
“No reason.” His fingers brushed forward on the table as if discarding unimportant cards in an unseen hand. His expression faded back to a more relaxed, but unreadable state. Miguel was rather amused by all this and telling her what he did for a living would’ve put a stop to wherever this conversation was going. As such, he deftly sidestepped having to give her any sort of clarification for now.
Kandy had the option of either pressing the subject or kicking back and waiting. As a Gemini who was always filled with questions and a desire to know and understand nearly everything in her environment, the Scorpio with his inherently mysterious and complicated nature both exhausted and expanded her capacity for patience. Rationalizing it couldn’t be anything too serious, she was letting it ride. “Do you cook for your family a lot?”
“I don’t let them starve or nothin’ like that.”
“What happens if I fall in love with whoever runs that place. No lie, they got some really fuckin’ good food there. That’d totally suck for you. He brings me out a plate of something to try in the middle of our date and I fall in love with him for it.”
His fingers rapped on the tabletop for a moment before quickly patting out a little rhythm on the table’s edge and sitting back, “I’ll take you to that restaurant and that motherfucker might be able to cook better than me, but he’s got no fuckin’ idea how to make you cum like I do. So I ain’t worried about shit, mi corazón.”
Kandy immediately covered her face with a hand to hide her blushing while the other was used to jokingly push him away as he went in for a kiss. “Stop!”
He laughed and pulled her in against him again before holding up his pointer and middle fingers at her, “This comin’ from the girl who was two seconds away from pullin’ my dick out my pants in the car. You have fuckin’ shorts on, what you think you were gonna get to do with it?”
She sat there silently sporting a sly smile of her own as she stared at those two fingers of his before sighing and looking up at him. Miguel studied her for a second and then shook his head when he understood the implication. All he wanted to do was put her on to something else in their talking to avoid being asked about his job and instead he had jumped out of one pot and into the fire. He was the one that got them started back on this topic and straightaway he realized he was going to have to finish it.
Miguel nuzzled into her hair right above her ear, “Why you tellin’ me to stop for anyway? What’s the problem, querida? Am I makin’ you ache?”
Kandy’s eyes fell shut as she shivered, hearing him, feeling him up against her. The next thing she knew, he curved the palm of her right hand high over the inside of his left thigh to guide her into giving a possessive squeeze of what was there under the cover of the table.
“At least now we even.”
They certainly were, for now. Her hand stayed right where he had placed it, still as stone as she quietly enjoyed the feeling of the problem she had caused him. The temptation to curl her fingers and take ownership of the aforementioned problem was growing by the second. Unfortunately, Kandy was unfamiliar with the design and stability of the counter space in the women’s bathroom in the lovely family-run eatery he had brought her to. But, it didn’t stop her from seeing herself folding one of her legs up on the sink’s edge and —
The alarm sensor at the front door chimed alerting them that a couple of new customers had walked in. Sitting in the window’s alcove, they were given a small bit of privacy that helped contain their conversation from any potential eavesdroppers. However, because they chose to sit facing the room anyone who turned around to head for the exit would clearly see them. Opening her eyes, Kandy nonchalantly withdrew her hand from Miguel’s lap.
“You shoulda stayed in my car, mami. You woulda been on your –” Miguel raised his wrist to glance at his watch for effect, “fourth orgasm by now.” He sucked his teeth and shook his head in faux disappointment.
“Four?” Kandy gripped her bottom lip with her teeth to try and stave off the grin brewing beneath the surface.
Miguel counted out four fingers one at a time in front of her. He watched again as her eyes dropped to the group of extended digits and inspected them from a distance. Without saying a word, Kandy inched forward and pressed her pouty lips against the tips of his middle and ring fingers as they were held the closest to each other out of the set. Staring up at him, she waited for movement from him like a cat waiting out its prey. He was going to need to get used to her instigating if they were ever going to function as a normal couple out in public. The fact he caught himself thinking in such terms left him perturbed.
Rotating his hand, Miguel took an authoritative hold on Kandy’s jaw and held her in place exactly where he wanted her. He couldn’t help but think of the two things her eyes reminded him of the most, Remy Martin and apple honey. The brunette didn’t flinch in the slightest as he rubbed his thumb back and forth against her lower lip inadvertently wiping away some of the purple color. To wake up the next morning and see that mouth of hers going to work was enough incentive to spend the night as opposed to a few hours. Giving him his moment, she eventually lifted her jaw out of his grasp and sat back in her chair out of his reach. Following suit, Miguel retreated to his corner and the pair let the round come out as a draw between them.
Seeing a thought come together in her head, he gestured to her, “Cuéntame, mami.”
For Kandy, it was Miguel’s watchfulness that she needed to get used to in comparison. A simple shrug, “I bet you really fuck a lotta chicks up.”
He chuckled at the notion, but nevertheless, he was intrigued about this impression she had of him. “Explicame, por favor.”
“‘Cause, when you wanna have a break from whatever your grind is,” She leaned in close to him and dropped her tone a bit, “when you wanna fuck…” He grinned a bit at that. “You make them feel like they are the only one on the planet that matters to you. And for those twenty minutes –”
“Twenty minutes?” Cue a sly smile from him that made her playfully turn his face away from her before the pair laughed together.
“For however long –”
“Horas y horas.” He dryly corrected her and got another little flirtatious push from the brunette.
“For however long, I think you really believe it too. Or want to, maybe?” Kandy could already see she had gone a fair amount deeper than he had liked. “And then when it’s over, hours and hours later…” His smile to her joke was shorter-lived this go-round. “When you remember that they’re not, you get the fuck up outta there and ghost the shit out of them. Best sex of their lives, pero por sólo una noche.”
“The best?” His hand returned to her thigh but slipped a few inches higher than where it normally rested.
“Mm, no doubt.” Her brows popped up.
The tip of his nose nuzzled her ear while he brought his hand up from her leg to tug lightly at the ends of her curls, “Wanna find out, right now?”
The genuine offer surprised her a little bit and she looked up at him with her head slowly tipping a few degrees to the side. Up until then, their playful and rather pleasurable game of flirting with and taunting each other had been just that: a game. “Am I scarin’ the fuck outta you or is this more cause you wanna tip the scales back in your favor, cariño?”
When he figured out she was trying to read him, the Scorpio retreated slightly and smoothed down his tie. Miguel was always the observant one and now he was the one being studied for tells. He wondered just how well she’d get at it. When considering the span of time his mind quickly scrolled through as it imagined different scenarios in their life together, he scolded himself internally. This was putting the cart way before the horse or so a reasonable person should think. Usually, his impromptu indulgences with women didn’t include fantasy or action beyond a few hours in length. But the one thing that turned him on more than being on top of her was the idea of spending the rest of his weekend with her. Two days was a rather large jump from the typical two hours.
“You think you’re different than the rest, huh?” Miguel instantly regretted how dismissive it sounded as it left his mouth. He closed his eyes quite convinced he had stung her.
In reality, the harsh jab sailed right on by due in large part to her knowing it was complete bullshit. “If we were purely about this,” As she was talking, Miguel felt her hand return to rest on the front of his pants again to emphasize her point. “we’d be messing up the interior of that Benz or in one of the thousands of hotel rooms around us. But you know how that’d play out, right? You’d be out cold before sunset and I’d be out the door and outta your life.”
The concept of him being the one loved and left made him shake his head. Every habit or norm he had was getting flipped upside down with her. A few minutes passed before he sighed and decided to see where she was at with all this. “I know you normally don’t go kissin’ strangers in cars, querida.”
Kandy was by no means short, but it still felt like he towered over her even when they were sitting as they were now. She wasn’t complaining in light of how devastatingly handsome Miguel was. The fact he had to lean in close to at times maintain a closeness to share secrets and those extra detailed one-liners meant to wind her up was a bonus. Every time Miguel looked at her, she could feel that energy radiating from him pulling the two together and it had to count for something.
He wanted to know what was up, which was fair. The thing about it was, she didn’t really have a lot to tell him. But there were two problems she was running into. If he required that kind of explanation then he couldn’t possibly be experiencing the same thing, or so she theorized. It was an inescapable component of their dynamic on her side, meaning that if she didn’t feel it at the start or it somehow disappeared likely so would the at-ease feeling she had being at his side. But if for some reason he was sharing the same feelings about this encounter and still needed her to describe it, how could she? It wasn’t like she could take his hand and place it on her chest to feel the flow of emotions circulating inside.
“I wanted t–”
Neither one had spotted the woman in her late forties walking up to them with a serving tray. “Sorry to interrupt, I’ve got your drinks here. Black coffee for the gentleman and horchata for the lady.”
As the coffee was placed in front of Miguel, Kandy folded her hands together on the table’s edge in front of her. In response, he gave her a to-be-continued half-smile though it looked a bit troubled. At least he was smiling, sort of.
“Thanks, Lydia.” Miguel tore open a straw and slipped it into Kandy’s glass of the sweet drink made from rice and spiced with cinnamon.
“Haven’t seen you in a while, Miguel. Y’all look like you got it all figured out. When did you manage to land this pretty girl?”
Just as Miguel was smirking at the irony of the woman’s statement, Kandy took one of his hands in hers without skipping a beat, “Three years ago.”
Miguel turned slightly and looked at her. But Kandy continued undeterred, “We met on a cruise ship. The kind that you can take your family around to some of the islands for a few days.” Up went his brows. He didn’t give a damn how big the boat was, he’d never be setting foot on it.
“A cruise, wow. Were you there with other people? You must be why he would never let us set him up with anybody. Lord knows we tried. Always working, this one.” The waitress was clinging to every word. And so was Miguel for that matter. Kandy was purposely ignoring his rather displeased expression. So serious, this Scorpio. “Miguel, why didn’t you tell us?” At the right time, he shrugged and offered a strained smile when quizzed by Lydia.
“I was with my folks and he was there with his grandmother.” Out came a smile that was pure sunshine as she saw him squirm a little out of the corner of her eye. “It was awful though. Everybody got sick, you know the stomach bug people get at sea when they don’t clean the ship right? We were trying to get home and they made us ration toilet paper the last two days. Oh gosh, it was so horrible. You remember that, honey?”
With his hand concealing a good portion of his face including his mouth from the waitress, all he could do was nod and go along with her. He wanted to see her pull this off and it looked like she would as the woman was standing there clutching her pearls entirely invested in the retelling of their fantastical love story.
“The last night before we were to get back to the terminal in Fort Lauderdale, I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It was so bad and everyone’s plumbing was a mess. Like a total disaster. I was knocking on doors trying to find somebody with a bathroom that worked and some toilet paper.” Kandy sighed sentimentally whilst petting his scorpion tattoo absentmindedly, “Miguel was the only one who opened the door.”
“He saved your hind-end.” A moment later, the waitress caught herself and covered her mouth. “Oh my.”
“He sure did. He opened that door and let me in and I just…” Kandy had turned back to Miguel and took a breath before staring deep into those brown eyes of his. “I saw him and I knew. This is it. This is what forever looks like. This was totally meant to happen. He was meant to be there to open that door and I was meant to be there to go through it.”
Closing the gap between them with a slight grab low on his dress shirt, she gave him the most tender and loving of kisses he could ever remember receiving. Miguel was struck dumbfounded not just by the kiss itself, but also by the devotion in her eyes. So much so all he was able to do was sit there motionless.
Kandy sat back from him with a small smile and another dreamy sigh, “Haven’t been able to leave his side since.”
“My Lord, it sounds like a movie, Miguel.” All Lydia got from him was an awkward nod as he drank from his mug.
Kandy waited a beat before casually shrugging and adding, “I wound up clogging his toilet though, but we eventually got past that.”
Miguel nearly strangled on his coffee.
“You okay, my love?” As she stroked his back, he lifted his hand trying to get the focus off of himself and back on her. “He gets a little choked up about it sometimes.”
The waitress was hugging her serving tray to her torso whilst looking at the couple, “That’s true love though. I always knew Miguel would find somebody. He’s a good wholesome boy with values. It’s real easy to see how his momma raised him right.”
Kandy placed her head on her hand and stared up at Miguel with such adoration that he was still visibly stunned by it. “I couldn’t agree more.”
The bell at the counter rang prompting the waitress to glance over her shoulder at the kitchen. “Your food should be up in a bit.”
Once the woman was gone, Miguel took another slow drink of his coffee to buy himself some time in the flow of their conversation. Yes, Kandy was having a bit of a go at him trying to get rid of the glum mood he had seemed to have fallen into. But she also did it to see how much he really cared about finding out what this was. The tapping of his fingers to the side of his mug gave him away. With her, he couldn’t tell which way was up. She had him inside out trying to piece together if there was even a shred of truth in anything she just said about him. The notion that she could and would lie so well and so easily was starting to trouble him. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. But there was also the potential of her being honest. What she showed him and what he saw was compelling.
The line of orders was petering out as the lunch rush ended and not long after they were alone in the front of the restaurant again. Standing up from her chair, Kandy startled him and she at once saw the concern he had that she was leaving. Both palms reassuringly slid up the front of his chest to the top of his shoulders as she stepped over his legs. She wasn’t going anywhere. Sitting down in his lap facing him, straddling him in fact, her arms folded behind his neck.
“You know, these are my people, right?” Eyeing her, Miguel was trying to dissuade her from any further shenanigans.
A simple nod before she moved a little higher in his lap forcing him to shift in his chair. “Qué van a hacer? Van a llamar a tu abuela?”
Manny is probably fuckin’ texting her right now… It was his turn to shiver, which he quickly played off with a rolling back and flex of his shoulders. Another uncomfortable adjustment underneath her. Miguel was learning very quickly that being distant, whether it was physical or emotional, was not possible when he was in her orbit. The way Kandy was talking, the way she was looking at him when she said those things, her nails driving home her question by tracing the portrait of his grandmother tattooed on the right side of his neck. It all made him take in a slow, deep breath.
“Quizás.” Another little shrug and her finger trailed along his jaw while she enjoyed every moment of seeing him up close. “But I know you enjoy it. Deep down.” Her pointer pressed into the center of his chest, level with his heart.
Before he could confirm or deny it, Miguel felt her fingers in his hair and her mouth on his. He had been preparing himself for some ridiculously crude display from her, but instead, it was the same type of kiss as when she had been talking to the waitress about him — all comfort and affection. It had to be next to impossible to fake something like that or so he was telling himself. With one hand around the back of her neck and the other low on her hip, he secured her in place to let that kiss continue. Despite feeling part of himself slipping further into this pool of quicksand with her, the Scorpio still believed he had enough of a handle on things to pull himself up before potentially getting sucked beneath the surface.
If Kandy wasn’t stopping time, she was at least slowing it down in their slice of the universe. She was captivating enough to keep him centered in the present by not letting him drift for too long into the past, nor become too distracted by what might be coming in the future. Who or what he left behind in California did not matter to him in that moment like the difficult decisions he would need to make in the future didn’t either. All he needed to be focused on, or more accurately, wanted to be focused on, was the girl in his lap kissing him like they had been in love for decades. Not only was this the entire opposite of the hectic energy that had filled the cabin of the Mercedes, but it was the last thing he expected from her. For someone who was all about structure and consistency, it was getting more and more difficult to reconcile his attraction to her.
Just as he was starting to wind his hand into her ponytail for leverage in the kiss, whooping was heard from the kitchen. In unison, they both extended an arm out in the direction of the source of the noise to flip off his cousin who was peeking through the order window at them. Miguel’s palms returned to Kandy’s thighs and ran straight up to her hips holding her exactly where he wanted her. They were busy and that kiss was not stopping for a damn thi–
“Miggy’s in love!”
Miguel grumbled out of frustration and let his head rest back against the chair when Kandy sat up, ending the kiss. “Cállate or no fucking tip!”
“I wouldn’t be talkin’ about no fuckin’ tip if I were you bro.” Manny quipped.
She quickly covered Miguel’s mouth and looked down the way at his cousin calling after him as he disappeared back out of sight, “Please don’t spit in our food!”
Miguel waited a few seconds checking if anyone was in a position to see them before removing her hands from his mouth by taking her by the wrists and gently, but firmly folding her arms behind her back. This unquestionably was one way of getting Kandy’s attention. Any other time and with anyone else, Miguel would have thought twice about making a similar move. But there was no way in hell this was gonna last beyond the rest of the day and he might as well enjoy her the most he could given their bizarre circumstances. Under it, there was an odd sense of relief when he finally committed to the decision, in the same way, choosing her over the job interview had. This was the path he chose and he was going to take it all in brick by brick
Kandy went to kiss him but was stopped by the hold on her wrists. It had been a playfully defiant challenge to his hold on her meant to test his commitment to it. In fact, Miguel carefully pulled down and away on them again forcing her spine straighter effectively restraining her. After a few seconds, she sat back nearer to his knees in his lap as an act of obeisance and waited. Before her gaze rejoined his, he caught her glancing down at his tie and he subsequently arched a brow. She was a lot more confident and experienced than she projected and he was much less passive and conservative than he had liked for her to think.
The hand Kandy mused about belonging to death slithered its way up under her t-shirt. This clearly was retaliation for her misbehavior in the Mercedes. When he understood that she knew what this was about, he gripped her wrists tighter with his right hand. Half of her mouth inched up into a grin. With his head tilted off to one side, he watched her whilst calmly caressing her ribs just below her bra.
The brunette looked toward the kitchen using a cheerful sing-songy voice, “What are you doin’, Miguel?”
After a few extra seconds, the fingers of his left hand finally made their move, delving underneath the underwire of her bra to covetously grope her breast. Skin to skin. Initially, Kandy softly groaned and sank forward into his touch, which he allowed. Remembering the large window next to their table, she apprehensively glanced at it. But as much as she was fretting about somebody on the street deciding on a lark to investigate some restaurant they happened to be walking by, it was impossible to ignore how his thumb was slowly drifting back and forth. The remarkable change in her breathing only encouraged him to push his hand up further. His petting was immediately more aggressive despite being somewhat restrained by the piece of annoying lingerie.
“You always this sensitive, mami?”
Her half-closed eyes swept back to him from the window only long enough to give him a sharp glare. The correction he issued in response to that look was a slower and more concentrated massage between his fingers and thumb. He had asked her a question and expected an answer from her. What had been a mild, yet enjoyable ache between her thighs had grown into a craving for satisfaction. In an effort to bring herself closer to being granted such relief, she complied and nodded finally.
“Deja de preocuparte, querida.” Miguel gave her wrists another short tug. “Glass is tinted. Ain’t nobody seein’ through that shit.”
At any point during all of this Kandy could wiggle her arms free or ask for it to end. Despite how concerned she was about someone walking in from the street to pick up an order or out of the kitchen to bring them theirs, it was way too pleasurable to stop. Considering the scope of the mechanics of sex in general, this limited and controlled touch from his hand was having more of an effect on her than any of her previous casual encounters. It wasn’t solely about sensation of course. Who owned that bony hand played a large part in it — his good looks, his intensity, how deliberate and focused he seemed to be. Her head fell back and she stared at the ceiling silently wishing for all this not to end while simultaneously cursing the fact they weren’t in some luxurious suite locked away to do whatever they pleased.
Pushing his luck, Miguel didn’t let up on her until a delicate whimper of his name slipped past her lips. This was starting to backfire on him. With a slow and subtle pressing of her hips, she was doing her best to capitalize on that development beneath her. His dark gaze wandered over to a pair of doors on the opposite side of the room, one was for the bathrooms and the other to a staircase leading up to the half-floor overlooking the restaurant’s main room. They were well on their way to falling entirely out of control, but he still thought he had time to make a choice. Truth be told, this wasn’t his preferred location for their first coupling, far from it. For where they were, they had two options: his Mercedes parked in the lot next to the pier or upstairs. At least in the room above them, they would be afforded enough privacy and space to be comfortable. Calling around to the hotels or worse walking in and out of them to find a vacant room would do nothing but kill the vibe. He wanted her now.
Just as his other arm was reaching around her back to lift her up for a quick relocation to the mezzanine’s office, he heard steps in the kitchen headed in their direction. Miguel released her arms and helped her rotate out of his lap and back into her chair. Right as the waitress pushed through the swinging door with the tray of their food, Kandy took a sip of her half-melted horchata and Miguel drank from his mug of now tepid coffee.
He whispered in her ear, “You better be thankin’ whoever the fuck you pray to you didn’t wear a skirt today, querida.” As he placed a kiss on her temple, he felt her shiver and grip his thigh.