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Chasing Love: Chapter 3

CHARLIE

If there’s a list of top ten things people are terrified of doing, first dates has to be one of them.

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve done many things outside my comfort zone like bungee jumping off the High Steel Bridge in Washington. It’s the biggest adrenaline rush I have ever experienced, yet not one I’ll likely repeat in this lifetime.

I’ve gotten a tattoo, although I’m terrified of needles, and held a snake on a wildlife tour even though they petrify me.

Each time I experienced a level of discomfort for trying out something different, I always try to remind myself why I push my boundaries.

And right now, I need to remind myself of how nice Julian is and what we’re doing could be something amazing.

The café isn’t overly busy. The lunch rush has been and gone, and the only people lingering are the afternoon coffee addicts and people like me.

I choose a table close to the exit, just in case it all goes pear-shaped, and I need a quick getaway. On the plus side, it has a window and view of some construction workers. They are cute, whistled at me when I walked past, then went back to their grueling job of repairing the sidewalk.

Breathing out, my nerves ease but only slightly. I pull out my compact for the hundredth time to check my lipstick isn’t smudged all over my teeth. Biting down, I quickly examine, happy with the clean results, then put my compact away.

It’s not like I haven’t dated before. There have been others subjected to my awkward first dates. Some even made it past several rounds. A couple of lucky ones made it to the bedroom, and that’s where it ended. Nikki and Eric often tell me I’m too picky, a detriment to my quest to find the one. Both of them believe I have this imaginary man in my mind, he sits on this pedestal, and no one has a chance of bumping him off his so-called throne.

I hate that part of them is right.

And I especially hate that the thought of him even crosses my mind right now.

“Hey.”

Julian is standing beside where I sit, looking incredibly handsome in a pair of dark jeans and maroon polo top. I’m quick to stand, leaning my body over the table to kiss his cheek. As my skin caresses his freshly-shaven cheekbone, my stomach flutters, making my entire body hyper-aware. His scent, a masculine aftershave, lingers in the air delightfully.

With his hand resting on my hip, we both pull away at the same time, our gaze connecting through the sheer force of a simple touch. His playful grin instantly relaxes my nervous energy as we both sit down on the wooden chairs.

Julian scans the café, looks at the door, then shakes his head with a knowing smile.

“I promise I’m not an ax-wielding murderer.”

The door. This guy knows all the single tricks.

“I know,” I casually say, grabbing the menu. “I like the view.”

“Of the construction workers?”

“Um, no… well, maybe.

Julian slides his hand forward, resting it on top of mine. My imagination is running wild, wondering why I allow myself to put up a guard when in front of me, Julian couldn’t care less.

“Relax, please. I won’t kill you, and if you get off on watching sweating men jackhammer concrete, I’ll still find you gorgeous.”

My shoulders fall, relieved he’s broken the awkward tension. I don’t know what’s wrong with me around him. It’s almost like I’m desperate to make this work somehow, scared if I don’t, I’ll fall into a familiar spiral and struggle to break free, again.

“We should order,” he suggests. “How long do I have you?”

“Me? For however long you want.”

Shit. Another lie. The pile of work on my desk is astronomical, and about an hour before walking in here, Nikki dumped a new case on my desk she wants me to review before I leave. I’m expecting to pull an all-nighter, the only way I can stay on top of my workload and life.

“Um, okay, sorry, maybe long enough for a latte?”

The waitress makes her way over and takes our order. Julian orders an espresso, and then gives me a brief explanation how he became addicted during his last trip to Sicily.

“Wow, so you travel a lot. What is it you do?” I ask.

“Journalism. I write pieces for a few magazines and occasionally some of the well-known newspapers, depends on what the trend is at the time.”

The waitress returns, placing our beverages on the table, then leaves quickly.

“And you?”

“Family law,” I reply, wrapping my hands around the hot cup in front of me.

“I didn’t peg you for a lawyer but admire your tenacity.” Bringing the small glass toward his lips, he drinks the espresso in almost one go. “Tell me how you became a lawyer? Is there a reason behind it? And where did you study?”

This question isn’t one I haven’t been asked before. Truth be told, I’ve explained it more than I can count, nailed the story to a tee, leaving out various components which are deemed unnecessary to relive, especially to a stranger.

I begin to explain to him how it all started, and how my childhood felt like a turbulent rollercoaster ride from my mother’s repeated absences until she left for good, serving my father with divorce papers.

“Explains why you chose family law,” Julian says, sympathetically.

“I’d seen the worst side of them come out. They didn’t think I could understand their adult conversations, but I knew what was going on.”

“Then Yale, impressive and hard to get into?”

“Says the Harvard graduate,” I tease, welcoming the change of topic. Julian raises his brow, watching curiously until I realize I gave away my secret. “Fine, I may have stalked your Facebook profile.”

His soft chuckles ease my embarrassment. Raising my cup toward my lips, I take another sip, relishing in the caffeine fix my body so desperately needs.

“What can I say? I’m a woman of many talents,” I gloat with a smile.

We both laugh, and though the light-hearted banter is a refreshing change, I push away the feelings which crawl their way to the surface every time my mind wanders to a time in my past where darkness prevailed, and nothing, absolutely nothing, could take away the pain which had consumed me.

I clear my throat, hoping Julian doesn’t notice my change in demeanor.

“I met my good friend, Nicole, or Nikki as I call her, at Yale. We were both studying law, and after years of working for some awful employers, we took the plunge and opened Mason & Romano, a boutique law firm.”

“That’s quite some risk and at such a young age.”

“Yes, I know. I studied nonstop. It’s all I did for pretty much most of my twenties,” I tell him, reflecting on the long hours with my eyes on textbooks which led to compromised eyesight and having to wear glasses when I read. “Nikki and her husband were raising a young child. The juggling act of parenthood and thriving careers was harder than each of them expected.”

I go on to tell Julian about the decision to move to the city. Rocky was fortunate to have had a contact in the media industry and got a job almost immediately as a sports commentator. He can talk all day about sports, something I’ve now grown accustomed to.

Nikki and I both found jobs at separate firms. The first year was grueling, and I had questioned my decision several times. But somewhere along the way, I realized I was making a difference. I was passionate about working in law and loved my job, except for my seedy boss. I ignored his inappropriate comments about my attire and the way he said my hair smelled good when I walked past him. It was all kinds of wrong, and it made me uncomfortable.

“Fortunately enough, a solution presented itself late one Sunday afternoon while hanging in the playground. It came from Nikki at her wits end juggling motherhood,” I tell him, reliving the memory.

“Will called his nanny Mommy the other day,” Nikki spoke softly as she watched Will play in the sandpit with the other children. “Charlie, I can’t do this anymore, work twelve-hour days and never see my son.”

“We opened with a small client base, and as we grew, we both hired personal assistants— Eric and Emma. Business is booming. We even hired another attorney, Tate, and extra interns to run the office.”

“Quite an amazing journey,” he praises. “I can tell you’re passionate about what you do.”

Julian has this face that instantly calms you. Throughout telling my story, I felt my heart racing at times. But just looking into his eyes, everything I’d been holding on to which I hadn’t realized, slowly began to ease. He listens attentively, staring with an inquisitive gaze. A true gentleman unlike some of the jerks I dated who would just stare at my chest while licking their lips.

“I didn’t want to end up like my mother… miserable with this unwarranted chip on her shoulder, stuck in a small town making hot tamales every day. I was out to prove a point.”

“We have a lot in common. I, too, was always trying to prove a point. And well, here I am with the most gorgeous woman in Manhattan.”

I smile and touch his hand with ease. This dating thing isn’t so bad, not when the man is as handsome as Julian Baker.

Quickly glancing at my phone, I notice the time. With a disappointed smile, I finish the last of my latte. I don’t want to end this quick date of ours, and unlike anything I have ever done before, I muster up all my confidence to ask for a second date. “So, dinner. My place? I can make a mean tamale,” I half-joke.

The corner of Julian’s mouth curves upward into a cocky grin before he bites down, teasing me softly. “Tonight?”

“Wow, um… tonight.” I mentally run through my workload again. The old Charlie would’ve kindly tried to reschedule. Work has always come first, but I’m sick of the rules I created for myself.

Out with the old, in with the new.

“You know what? Yes. Tonight will be perfect.”

“Your place or mine?”

“How about mine?” I suggest selfishly, knowing I can cram in a few more hours of work after he leaves. “I’ll text you my address.

“Perfect.” Julian looks at his watch but is quick to apologize for being rude.

“No, I get it. I’ve got a ton of work to do, too.”

I stand at the same time as Julian. His hands wrap around my waist, and gently, he grazes his thumb down my cheek and across my bottom lip. My pulse begins to race again toward my hammering heart echoing beneath my chest. My gaze shifts away from his deep stare and toward his lips, desperate to taste them on my own. Slowly, Julian leans down, brushing his lips against mine as I close my eyes and relish in the warm feeling consuming me.

Pulling away in an agonizing pace, we both catch our breaths.

For the longest time, I didn’t think it was possible to feel all the things Julian has made me feel with just one kiss. Perhaps I’m crazy, allowing myself to fall prey to his charm.

But I am no longer eighteen.

No longer a foolish kid.

“Tonight?”

“Tonight,” I whisper back, tilting my head to kiss him one more time.


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