Jon rounded the corner, the uneven cobblestones of Broad Street bled into Grant. Both the US and a Christmas Flag fluttered above the aging brick of her store front. It was lovingly restored with the help of a good power washer. He knew that because Tessa’s picture after her battle with said power washer was still the wallpaper on his Mac.
The name, Ever After, was in copper, fused with a rich black iron in scrolling letters. The twisting curly cue of the E came into full view as he got closer. A festive wreath donned in pretty white lights butted up against the E, adding tradition to the decidedly eclectic street. More lights twisted and curled around the lettering, finally dripping from the smaller sign that read: books, live music and art.
She’d commissioned a local artist to do the smaller sign and a metal worker for the store moniker. The window displayed a new local artist this week. Rich oils layered over old newspapers stacked over an inch high. That was one way to go green, he thought. Sometimes it was books, sometimes it was art—you never knew what would be in her window.
Ever resourceful and a constant surprise, that was his Tessa.
The rustle of a tree caught his attention over the quiet street. Shops tended to close up early on Sundays, even in SoHo. He looked up, instead of a tree it was another wreath making all the noise. It seemed to float in the air, and then settled to bookend Ever After. The evergreen mirrored its mate down to the amount of lights coiled in and around its bow. A small hand attached to an arm flashed from the corner and he finally noticed the corner of the ladder sticking out.
Déjà vu hit hard. The long, curve of her legs and spectacular ass was on better display than the first time he’d seen her. He couldn’t stop the stupid grin when she tucked the long ribbon of copper hair behind her ear. It was as if those two and a half years hadn’t passed at all.
It was the first day all over again. The punch of attraction, curiosity and that traffic stopping face was about as full circle as he could get. He stepped forward. The only change this time was that he didn’t have to go home alone.
She made a grunt of greeting. “Yeah?”
“The door’s locked.”
“We’re closed, sir.”
He could hear the thinly veiled sarcasm in her voice. It only made him want more of a reaction out of her. “What if I want to buy something?”
She didn’t look down at him. “I’ll be open tomorrow at ten o’clock sharp.”
Brisk efficiency. God, he loved her. “But I want to buy something now.”
“Ten o’clock will have to do.”
“If I told you I was a famous rockstar would you open up for me?”
He saw her lips twitch and sucked back a laugh of his own. “Even if I bought everything in your store, right now?”
“Even if I told everyone I know what a rude proprietress you are?”
“No one would believe you.”
He tugged on the pleat of her skirt just above her calf. Leather and pears twirled on the wind as she came down a step. “What if I asked really nice?”
He couldn’t see her eyes, but he could see her lips. The way she nibbled on her bottom lip when was a dead giveaway to her teasing. “But, sir, you are not nice.”
He swallowed down the lump of laughter. “I can be.”
Her laugh almost broke free with that answer. “Nope.”
“You won’t open up, even for your husband?”
She stepped down another stair, hooking her arm around his neck. Her mouth hovered just above his. “Especially not my husband. You won’t tell him, will you?”
He slid his fingers into her hair. “Nope.”
“Good.” There was barely a breath between them, and the green of her eyes sparkled just like her favorite season. “I think he might get jealous.”
She shrugged. “He’s Italian.”
This time he did laugh and when their mouths met it was just like home.
She was home.