It was like I stepped into the twilight zone. Everybody went quiet, all eyes on me as I stepped through the door of Fresh Cuts. I guess I should have expected it, as a woman walking into a room full of men, but damn. It was…uncomfortable.
Carter, all the way at the back of the shop, was barely suppressing a laugh as I finally put one foot in front of the other and began moving forward. I honestly wanted to bolt out of the door, back to a place where stranger men weren’t staring a hole through my clothes, but Carter caught my eye and inclined his head, beckoning me where he was. I kept my gaze focused on him, and I soon as I reached him, he ushered me to the back, into his office.
“Well that was interesting,” I said, as soon as the door closed behind us. “Am I some sort of… anomaly or something?”
Carter grinned. “Well… yeah, kind of. A beautiful woman walks into a room full of men, they’re gonna look.”
He nodded. “Yeah, seriously. You’ve never been in a barbershop before?”
I rolled my eyes, smiling as I pointed up at my hair, which was free of my usual messy bun, in a mass of curls that rested on my shoulders and stretched well above the top of my head. “When would I have occasion to visit a barber?”
“That’s right,” he teased. “I forgot you’re on a mission to grow all of the hair.”
“Shut up,” I said, batting his hand away as he reached for one of my curls. “I came because I wanted to give you something, and I was too excited to wait until later.” I cringed about admitting that, but he seemed not to notice.
Grinning, I held up a black and gold box, imprinted with the Guilty Pleasures logo. “You told me that you are not into chocolate, and I take that as both a personal insult and a challenge.”
“It definitely wasn’t an insult, I—”
“Uh uh uh,” I said, wagging a finger at him as I pulled the top from the box. “You will taste this, you will love it, and your mind will be forever changed.” I removed a piece and held it in front of him with my eyebrow raised. “Wait… unless you’re allergic. Are you allergic to anything?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Good. Then, eat.”
Shaking his head, he took the chocolate from me and took a bite, and I could almost tell he was preparing to repeat his insistence that chocolate just wasn’t his cup of tea. but then, I saw the exact moment the flavors hit his tongue. He eyes went wide, mouth stopped moving, and he gave a slow nod of his head.
“Damn,” he said, popping the other half into his mouth. “It’s actually… really, really good. What the hell is in this?”
“You’re not just saying that?” I asked, nervously chewing on my bottom lip.
He reached for another piece from the box. “Nah, these things are good. Tastes like it might get me drunk if you eat too many, but good. Is that what you’re trying to do, Frenchy, get me drunk off chocolate so you can take advantage of me?”
“You wish,” I teased, holding the box away from him.
Carter didn’t respond, only smiled as he switched gears. “So are you gonna tell me what you’re feeding me or not?” he asked, easily maneuvering the box away from me.
“Salted caramel and whiskey truffles. You said that you didn’t really have a sweet tooth, so I thought that maybe one that wasn’t so sweet, with more complex flavors would be more in line with your tastes.”
I nodded. “Yes. A 12 year old Lagavulin, very smoky, very chocolatey on its own. From my personal collection.”
“Oh, so this is a special recipe just for me?”
The grin on Carter’s face made me blush, and I stammered over my words as I replied. “This a test run of a new item for the shop,” I said, trying to cover.
“You’re gonna use 12 year old whiskey from your personal collection for the shop?”
Damn. No, I’m definitely not using a two hundred dollar bottle of liquor in a recipe for the shop.
“Well, I… um…”
“Yeah, I thought so,” Carter said, chuckling. “So… why do I get the special treatment?”
I sat down on the edge of his desk. “I… I guess I just wanted to thank you, for returning my plant this morning.”
“I get personalized chocolate for returning the plant?” he asked. He was standing so close that I could feel the heat radiating from his body, smell the barest hint of cologne from his clothes.
“Well… I may have had another intention… to cheer you up.” I looked up at him with a smile, hoping to gloss over how nervous I was about his possible reaction to that.
He lifted an eyebrow at my response, and I could tell that I’d surprised him a little. “You did that already, Frenchy. Last night?”
I shrugged, then reached up to wipe a bit of the truffles’ cocoa powder coating from the corner of his mouth. “I wanted to be sure.” I met his eyes for a moment, my hand still touching his face before I looked away, then slid down from the desk. “In any case, I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed them. I’m going to let you get back to work. I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” he said. He smiled at me, but his eyes were unreadable. “I’ll see you around.”