He smelled like coffee.
Not the overly diluted, syrupy sweet stuff either. His aroma was smooth, robust, warm, invigorating… real coffee. Even over the floral-perfumed air of my flower shop, his scent prevailed. It was just a whiff at first, when he and his friend walked in, passing me with nods and smiles of acknowledgement while they continued their conversation. Just enough that I thought maybe I’d missed a glimpse of a cup in one of their hands.
Now, he was standing close, examining the flower arrangement I’d just finished sprucing to perfection. Beside him, my suddenly nervous hands mutilated a similar bouquet. My focus was shot as I took what I hoped was a subtle inhale of his pleasant, savory scent while I puzzled over why the hell he smelled like that. In my mind, I concocted a silly, tragic little tale ending with a jilted lover tossing a full cup of coffee in his face. I shook my head, chuckling quietly at my reverie.
Then I felt his eyes on me. My hands stilled, rendered inert by his inquisitive gaze.
“What’s so funny…?” he paused, presumably to read the name embroidered on my tee shirt, “Simone?”
Damn. I had never heard my name sound quite like that… like it was something naughty. I swallowed hard, reluctantly dragging my attention away from the flowers to look at him. Our eyes met, and the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile that made me clench my thighs together in an effort to stem the throbbing that bourgeoned between them.
Jesus, he is fine.
Mr. Coffee was covered in smooth dark mahogany skin, and even though his low-cut hair and goatee were impeccably groomed, there was nothing pretty about him. Warm, intelligent eyes, a sturdy nose, strong jaw line, and full lips… Everything about him, from his broad shoulders to his big hands to his bigger feet practically dripped virility. My friend India would definitely approve. I could practically hear her in my ear now. “Mandingo much? Hell yeah.”
There it was again, my name rolling off his lips in that deep, smooth tenor like it was a sensual, erotic word. He tipped his head to the side, raising an eyebrow in amusement as he waited for me to respond.
“Yes? How can I help you?” I asked, keeping my tone professional even though my thoughts were far from proper.
“You were laughing… I wanna be in on it too. I like to laugh.”
My mouth went dry. “Oh… I … um…”
“How much is this one?”
Before I could respond, The Friend shouldered past him, holding up a large arrangement from the “I’m Sorry” section of the shop.
Thankful for the reprieve, I smiled as I took the pink and purple bouquet of roses and lilies from his hands. “This one is one-thirty, so with tax, you’re looking at just under one-forty-five.”
The Friend raised an eyebrow. “A hundred and forty-five dollars for some flowers?”
“You’re not seriously complaining about the price are you?” Mr. Coffee turned to The Friend with a scowl. “You forgot Kim’s birthday, dude.”
“You forgot your girlfriend’s birthday?” I asked, eyes wide. “If so, you’re gonna need to put this back, and go grab a bouquet of orchids.”
Mr. Coffee shook his head. “Nah, this fool forgot his wife’s birthday, and she just had his second big ass baby last month. Nine pounds. All natural.”
“Oh my.” I grimaced. “Yeah, you’re gonna need the orchids, and you should stop at the chocolate shop next door… and a jewelry store. Definitely a jewelry store.”
“See? She’s saying the same thing I told you. Maybe now you’ll listen… since a beautiful woman said it,” Mr. Coffee said, turning his attention back to me with a smile that made me blush.
The Friend scowled at him. “Motherfu— are you flirting right now? I have a serious problem and you’re flirting. Unbelievable.”
“I’m not flirting, I’m stating facts. She’s gorgeous. What, you gonna try to tell me she’s not?”
“I’m not looking at her like that, man. Kim’s ass will probably sense I’m looking at another woman, and that’s not a problem I need right now.” The Friend turned to me, taking the first bouquet from my hands. “I’m gonna get the orchids, you can ring me up.”
I smiled, giving him an approving nod. “Good choice.”
Carefully avoiding eye contact with Mr. Coffee, I made my way to the register, where the two men joined me a few moments later to check out. The process went smoothly, despite the lingering butterflies in my stomach.
I didn’t think too much of it when Mr. Coffee followed The Friend out of the store with a simple wave goodbye — no request for a phone number. Plenty of men flirted just to flirt, and that brief encounter had given me enough excitement to make another long day on my feet bearable. For the last two years, my life had been steadily devolving into a grossly predictable routine of go to work, go home, go to work, go home, with the occasional visit with friends and family. The work involved with starting Posh Petals and keeping it running past the critical first year — customer acquisitions, weddings, events, maintaining the storefront— had pretty much sapped most of my social life. Posh Petals was the closest thing I had to a husband and kids, and I usually fell asleep at night clutching my tablet. A little afternoon flirtation from a sexy man was as lively as it got for me.
When my employees returned from handling a delivery, I escaped to the back office. At the end of the day, I sent them home, opting to do the closing routine myself. I was cranking down the thermostat for the night when I heard the bells over the door chime, letting me know someone was coming in. Shaking my head, I adjusted the strap of my laptop bag on my shoulder as I peeked around the corner into the shop, trying to see who the last-minute customer was. It never failed that someone came rushing in at closing time, usually a case like the one earlier in the day: apology flowers.
“We’re actually about to close,” I called out, locking the door to my office before I stepped into the retail area of the space, still not seeing the customer over the tall display cases. “I can give you a few minutes, but you’ll have to make it… quick.”
He was back. Mr. Coffee was back, and like before, he was setting my senses on fire, looking like the definition of sexy-as-hell and smelling like refreshing warmth on a frigid winter day.
“I’ll be quick, I promise.” He smiled, bringing deep dimples that I’d somehow missed before into full view. “I’m Roman,” he said, stepping forward with his hand extended. “I own the coffee house on the corner.”
I grinned, snapping my fingers as that tidbit of information slid into place. “So that’s what it is.”
My cheeks grew hot. “Oh. Well… um, I noticed earlier that you smelled like coffee, so it kinda makes sense that you own a coffee shop.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “The scent kinda gets embedded in everything. Can’t help it.” He shrugged, and that brought my attention to the fact that his hand was still outstretched, waiting for me to return the gesture.
I clumsily jutted my palm forward, nearly jamming our fingers as I grasped his hand. “Sorry,” I said, forcing back a shiver at the warm magnetism of his skin against mine. “I’m Simone, and I… own the flower shop we’re standing in.”
“That’s dope. I walk past here every day to get to the coffee shop, and had no idea a black woman owned this place. I’ve actually been inside a few times… never saw you before today.”
“I don’t usually work the store,” I explained, reluctantly tugging my hand away from his to slip into the pocket of my jeans. “I usually do my own deliveries for any weddings or events, and when I do come to the store, I usually stay in the back, doing the business housekeeping, all of that. But, I’m trying something new, letting my employees handle some of the smaller events, and working the front of the store a few days a week. I don’t know, it’s kind of fun to be up here, talking to customers, and… I’m sorry. I’m completely going off on a tangent here.”
I shook my head, mortified that my tendency toward long-windedness was rearing its head now.
Roman flashed me that smile again. “Nah, you’re good. Sometimes you get sick of doing the boring, important stuff, and you wanna get out there and show your face, meet the customers for yourself. I mean, I go through the same thing. You work so hard to build a business, and then you get to a certain point where it feels like the people you’re paying are the ones who get to have all of the fun you used to have when you first started grinding it out. I get it.”
Raking a hand through my short bob, I nodded. “Right. So… uh… did you need some flowers or something?” I asked, trying to avoid an awkward silence.
He laughed. “No. I just wanted to talk to you.”
My eyes went wide. “Oh.”
“Oh? You seem surprised. You gonna try to tell me you don’t have men stop you just to talk all the time?” he asked skeptically, eyebrow raised.
I shook my head, chuckling. “Probably not as often as you seem to think.”
Of course I caught my fair share of the unfortunate street harassment and catcalling every woman in the city was subject to, but suitors with genuine interest were few and far between. It’s not like I had much opportunity to meet men anyway. Outside of my walk home or running errands, most of the heterosexual men I met were getting married.
Roman leaned against my front window. “I don’t believe that for a second. Not as pretty as you are.”
Blushing, I combed a hand through my hair again while I attempted to conjure up a witty response.
“Hey,” he said, before I could respond, “Do you drink coffee?”
I grimaced, almost ashamed to give my answer to someone who’d made authentic coffee his profession. “Uh… yeah… from my Keurig.”
He rolled his eyes in mock disgust as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “So… you mean no, you don’t drink coffee.”
“Hey now, I paid good money for that little machine, don’t you hate on my coffee.”
“That shit is not coffee,” he replied, laughing as he shook his head. “I see I’m gonna have to show you what real coffee is.”
My lips turned up as I shrugged. “I guess so.”
“What are you about to do now?”
The smile dropped from my face. “Now? Like right now?”
“Yeah, like right now,” he said.
Going home to veg out in front of the TV with a jar of Talenti.
“Oh, I was gonna do some sketches of the flower arrangements for a wedding I have coming up, and I need to do some inventory work. You know, the usual stuff to keep everything running,” I said, grossly embellishing my plans. No need to give him the full picture of my pitiful social life.
“Ah.” Regret filled Roman’s voice as he nodded. “The life of an entrepreneur, always more work to do. I was going to invite you over to the shop for a little bit.”
I glanced down at my watch, lifting an eyebrow. “You’re still open this time of night?”
“Yeah. It’s a different vibe, different crowd from the daytime crew. A little bit of liquor comes out, music, stage, all of that. It’s fun. You should come by some time when you’re not busy. Or, I should probably say when you’re less busy.”
I heard myself speaking before the rest of my brain caught up. “I can spare an hour or so now. But no more than that, I really do have to get to work.”
God, do I sound too eager? I hope I don’t sound desperate.
In any case, he smiled. “I promise not to keep too long.”
I nodded, then followed him out, stopping to lock the door, and then my steel security shutters after Roman pulled them down for me.
“You ready?” he asked, stepping closer to me to minimize our traffic obstruction on the busy sidewalk.
A little burst of excitement bloomed in my chest as I gave him an affirmative nod. “Yes.”