Carter lifted an eyebrow. his eyes narrowed for a second, and then he shook his head as a smile spread over his face. “First name basis with the owner, huh?”
I took a long sip from my coffee before I answered. “Well… I’m on a first name basis with the owner of the barber shop too. So, what are you saying?”
“Nope. Try something else,” Carter said, laughing. “You haven’t been to my place three days in a row. What’s up with you and Roman?”
“You’re kinda nosey, aren’t you?”
“It’s a valid observation.”
Carter lowered his head, looking me right in the eyes. “Yeah, and so is the fact that you’re deflecting. I’m saying… if I’m wasting my time here, let me know.”
“Wasting your time?”
“Yes, Simone. You can’t tell I’m flirting with you? Am I that terrible at it?”
I raised a hand between us, pinching my pointer finger and thumb together. “Maybe just a little terrible.”
“Or,” Carter said, glancing past me. I turned on my chair to see Roman across the shop, speaking with a customer. As if he could feel my eyes on him, he looked up, and his face immediately brightened into a smile. He gave me a nod of acknowledgement, but his brightness dimmed when his eyes slid over to Carter, who grinned. “The Coffee Kid already has your nose wide open, and you don’t see it for me.”
He wasn’t off base with his assessment. Carter’s physical attraction was undeniable, but he didn’t give me butterflies like Roman did. Shaking my head, I laughed. “I wouldn’t say that, but I do enjoy Roman’s company,” I said, opting for candor.
“Okay… so you can’t enjoy more than one person’s company?”
I felt Roman approaching when he was still several feet away. I turned to watch him, unable to keep a little smile from spreading across my face at the sight of the sexy smirk that played on his. The kiss he placed on my forehead when he reached me was completely unexpected, but when he rested his hand against the small of my back, shooting Carter a sidelong glance, I understood.
Roman was marking “his” territory, sending the message that my attention was already occupied. That realization set off dueling feelings of annoyance — because we certainly hadn’t discussed any such thing in the three days we’d known each other — and approval — because I could appreciate the tenacity and confidence it took to do such a thing. Or… maybe he was just arrogant as hell. Either way, an intrepid spirit was high on my list of “yes, please” qualities in a man, so I let it ride.
“I’m glad you made it,” he said, staring me right in the eyes before dropping his gaze to my lips like he wanted to kiss me. For a brief moment, I thought it was for show, but the flash of irritation in his eyes when Carter cleared his throat gave the impression he’d forgotten Carter was even there.
“Carter… what’s up, man?” I watched as the two men greeted each other with that hand-slapping followed by a shoulder bump thing men do.
“Same old. S’up with you?” Carter asked, smirking as his eyes traveled to Roman’s left hand, which was still planted firmly on my back.
Roman simply shrugged, his expression bored — body language that from where I was sitting clearly said “Mind your damn business, bruh.”. It was interesting dynamic, really. I didn’t get the impression they disliked each other, but I had a strong hunch that Roman was not fond of the idea of Carter being around me.
Carter must have shared that perception, because he grabbed his cup, sliding off of his stool. “I’m gonna get out of here before this coffee gets any colder. Simone… it was good seeing you again. Rome… I’ll holla at you later, man.”
When he was gone, Roman occupied his empty seat, and I couldn’t help teasing him as he sat down.
“Jealous much?” I asked, taking a bite from my nearly-forgotten muffin.
Roman chuckled, shaking his head. “Is it that obvious?”
I lifted an eyebrow at him, then took another big bite, followed by a sip of coffee. “Definitely. I’m guessing you’re not a Carter fan?”
“Not when he’s grinning in your face. You know how a kid can get a cookie or something, and if you even look like you might wanna think about maybe possibly asking for a piece, they go in full on mine mode? Like… back up off my cookie, bruh. That’s me. You’re the cookie.”
I threw my head, breaking into a fit of laughter. “Are you serious Roman?”
“Hell yeah, I’m serious. I’m stingy, Simone. When I’m interested in someone, it irritates the shit out of me for anybody else to display an interest before I’ve had a chance to… lock things down, so to say.” He shrugged, running his tongue over his lips as he looked at me, waiting for a response.
“Wow.” Shaking my head, I took another long sip from my coffee as I considered my next words. “You’re really gonna throw the big joker like that, huh?”
“What do you mean?”
I sucked my teeth. “Negro, please. Don’t act like you don’t know telling a woman you’re stingy about her isn’t a panty dropper.”
“What?” His eyes grew wide. “That wasn’t my intent at all, I was being real,” he said, laughing. “But seriously, I’ve known Carter for a long time. He’s cool people.”
“Yeah, I got that feeling from him. He helped me with my gate this morning.”
One corner of Roman’s mouth turned up. “Yeah, I bet he did. Slick bastard.”
“Roman! You pulled the gate down for me the first night we met!” I lifted my cup to take the last sip of my coffee.
“Exactly. He’s trying to do the same thing I was trying to do.”
I nearly choked on my drink, breaking into a coughing fit as I giggled. “And what, pray tell, is that?“
“To get in your space, make a good first impression. Get your attention long enough to do something that would keep your attention.”
“Mm. And you think you’ve done that?”
He smiled, trailing a finger along the outside seam of my jeans. “Well… you’re here, aren’t you?”