Cassie tugged nervously at her hair, tucking one of her long blonde curls behind her ear as she considered getting out of the car. This was a dumb idea, and she wasn’t sure how someone as smart as her had come to the conclusion that it would be a good one.
It had been one encounter, and most of the time she had been busy helping Sam work out what had happened at her mother’s home. She hadn’t really had the time to notice Victor and how cute he had been. Or how kind he seemed, and what a good cook he was. It was probably her memory playing tricks on a romance deprived brain. There was absolutely no reason for her to have got into her car and driven up here on the strength of that.
It must have been a bad idea as she hadn’t even told Sam. She had told herself that it was because she didn’t want to upset Sam after the difficult time she’d had meeting her birth mother. But she knew it was more about Sam pointing out the obvious to her. Like the small issue of living a six hour drive apart. Or that apart from the fact he could cook, was adopted and had enough knowledge of the legal system to help others, she didn’t know anything about him. For all she knew there was a Mrs Short, or he was gay.
No. Not gay. Not with the way he had looked at her. But a partner, that was a possibility. She hadn’t thought about that when she had taken a leap out of her safe, routine existence this morning to drive all the way up here. All she had been thinking about was the way her spine had tingled when their eyes had met, and the way her stomach had flipped over when he smiled at her.
She glanced up at the sign over the cafe, and tried to imagine the person who had created this place. It was warm, the reds of the wood panelling welcoming you from the outside. Friendly and informal said the bright flowers and simple sign. It was hard to believe it had once been a small family law firm. That thought brought a smile as she imagined the place as it once had been. People with pain and hope walking in to the offices of Victor’s father, probably receiving the same warm, gentle welcome as those seeking their birth parents did now from his son. Or for that matter, those looking for a decent plate of chilli at lunch.
It all made her want to go inside even more.
But there was something holding her back. And not just all the practical reasons why this wasn’t a good idea and probably didn’t have a future. It was her. Did she really trust her instincts about men again after the disaster that was her relationship with Simon? She knew already that they were two different men. She also knew she had changed since she had found the courage to end it with Simon, tired of playing the mind games he seemed to love more than her. She had tried to move on quickly, dating a string of men she wasn’t really interested in, or probably ready to be interested in. When the truth had dawned she knew she needed to take time out. But time out had become normality, with the safety of her heart more important than the pleasure and pain of falling in love again.
At least until now and a chance meeting in a diner miles away from home. Something had woken up inside her again and finally she had found herself chafing against her self control, and her tendency to be ADA Hillman on and off duty. Except with people like Sam or Philby.
Or Vic. She felt deeply on that one meeting that she could be just Cassie with him. And that had just fuelled more base reactions to the memory of the man. Cute in body and face, his dark blonde hair and goatee seemed to be perfect for him.
She gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. She looked out of the window and the scenery across the valley. It was beautiful, still, with no wind, sun dappling through the trees on to the lush green below. It was all far too perfect.
Cynic, she chided herself. Scared, she acknowledged.
Taking another deep breath she pushed herself out of the car. She planted one foot in front of the other, and took herself into the diner. Early afternoon meant the lunch rush had been and gone. Only a few customers were left lingering over coffee and dessert. She tried to look nonchalant as she wandered up to the counter, feeling an acidic tightness in her stomach at the absence of the man she was after. It would be just her luck that on the one day that she decided to take the plunge he wouldn’t be there. She looked around herself, trying to remain seemingly nonchalant as she did so. No other waiters were out so whoever was around would be out in the kitchen.
She turned back to the counter but before she could get on the stool in front of her the object of her journey appeared from the out of the kitchen. He didn’t see her at first, his attention taken by the papers in his hand. But when he lifted his head and his eyes met hers... oh yes, it had most definitely not been a figment of her imagination.
“Hi!” he exclaimed, surprise and pleasure mixing in his tone.
“Hi,” she replied with equal pleasure, her ego enjoying the positive response, never mind the relief that he was here, and yes, so cute.
He put the papers on to the counter. “What are you doing back here?” he asked. “Not that it isn’t great to see you,” he added quickly, his smile faltering over how his comment might be interpreted.
“I fancied a drive,” she said quickly, wincing inside at the feebleness of the explanation. “And some of that great chilli of yours, of course.”
“Of course,” he replied, the smile on his face now hopeful at what might be hidden behind her reasons. “Take a seat and I’ll go grab you some. Rice or potatoes?”
“Rice please,” she replied before slipping on to the stool, taking a deep breath to steady herself as soon as Vic was out of sight, though she wasn’t sure what she was still nervous about. The connection was definitely there. He’d been happy to see her. But that didn’t mean that anything they might feel would go anywhere. Didn’t mean they had anything in common, or that they would want the same thing. And she knew what she wanted... long term, a partner. She considered the tightness in her stomach and other parts of her anatomy. A short term lover would be good, but not, she realised with an increase in her nervousness, what she wanted.
“Here we go,” Vic said arriving back at her place at the counter. “Chilli and rice, plus homemade lemonade.”
Cassie tucked in appreciatively. After a couple of mouthfuls she managed, “As good as I remember.” She took a sip of the lemonade.
“Yeah, you can say that again,” Vic replied, his eyes settled on her face before he realised what he’d said and dropping to the counter which he wiped assiduously.
Cassie felt a slight blush rush across her face, not sure what gave her greater pleasure – the comment or the unconscious way it had fallen from his lips.
“Have you been busy today?” she managed to ask.
“Yeah, good crowd, usually is in the summer,” Vic replied.
“And is it just you here? I think I met Mark last time,” Cassie continued.
“At the moment it is,” Vic replied, settling on to the stool next to her. “Mark did the morning shift with me, and Susan will be in to help close up later on.”
“Susan?” Cassie asked, feeling herself go cold.
“Yeah, a local high school student who helps out at the weekends.”
Cassie thought she could hear some amusement in his voice at what she was sure was blatant relief on her face at that particular piece of information.
“She had a big project to finish so I said she could come in a bit later,” he continued.
“Lucky girl,” Cassie replied, “The boss I had when I was in my senior year made a slave driver look considerate.”
Vic laughed. “I’m sure it was a character building experience.”
Cassie smiled. “Something like that. Whenever I have a bad day I remind myself that I could be back at Barracks Warehouse packing my 100th box of the day.”
“Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?” Vic asked.
“Pretty much as long as I can remember,” Cassie replied. She gestured to their surroundings. “Have you always wanted to do this?”
“Not always,” he replied with a small smile. “I originally planned to do law as well. Keep the family business going.”
“I discovered I could cook,” he replied, his smile spreading. “I was doing business as my major at college, and somehow the combination of the two eventually led here.”
“Was your Dad disappointed?”
“Nah. He wasn’t that type of person. He said as long as I did my best, in my job and by people, then he would be proud of me, whatever job I chose.”
“Sounds a good man,” Cassie said softly.
“Yeah, he was,” Vic replied, his smile now washed with a slight hint of melancholy.
Another customer caught his eye, and he got up to go to their table.
“Eat up,” he said, a brighter smile back in place. “I have a great dessert to follow.”
Cassie returned the smile, watching him deal with the other customer for a few moments before tucking in to the rest of her meal.
Vic had been right. The dessert had been great, and strangely it had taken 4 hours after that for her to feel like she was ready to leave. Not that Vic had seemed to mind as he effortlessly moved between serving customers and keeping her company. And once Susan had arrived he settled at a table with her, sipping at a coffee and trying to persuade her to eat yet more food.
She glanced at the clock again. “I suppose I really ought to get going,” she said, her reluctance to leave the diner obvious in her voice.
“Yeah, long drive,” Vic replied, his own voice showing a gratifying reluctance for her to go. “You’ll need something to keep you going,” he continued, his face brightening at the idea of passing on more food to her.
“Seriously, I don’t think I could eat anything else,” Cassie laughed.
“No, not now,” Vic grinned. “Something for the ride and tomorrow.” He moved quickly to the kitchen. “You can take something for Sam as well,” he called over his shoulder.
Cassie opened her mouth to protest again, before realising this wasn’t going to be something she was going to be able to fight. So instead she rested her head on her hand and allowed herself to take in the sense of relaxation that was washing over her. She had forgotten the last time she had enjoyed just talking to someone, especially someone who she had only just met, getting to know them. She thought back to all those first dates and how hard they seemed to have been. Talking to Vic had felt so easy, so natural. Mind you, they hadn’t been on a date, with none of those formalities, and anxieties. Who knew what could happen if they were on an official date? Cassie felt a slightly wicked smile twitch at her face at the idea of an official date, and what that could lead to.
“Here we go,” announced Vic, his voice cutting into a very pleasant daydream. Not that the sight of the man in her fantasy in front of her with numerous boxes wasn’t pleasant enough. “Compliments of the house.”
“Vic,” she started.
“No arguments,” he replied firmly. “You wouldn’t let me treat you to lunch so you will need to just accept these.”
“Having a free lunch wasn’t the reason I came here,” Cassie replied softly.
Vic opened his mouth as if to say something, but instead busied himself with the boxes of food. Cassie watched for a few moments before picking up her bag and made ready to go. With Vic and his boxes next to her she slowly walked out. As they reached her car he said, “The top one has the cake Sam loved when she was here. The others give you a selection of the cakes and pastries I do.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Cassie said, putting the precious parcels carefully into the back of her SUV. “Though if I come here too often I will need to go on a diet.”
“I also do some fantastic salads,” Vic replied immediately. “So no excuses.”
“Wasn’t about to make any.”
She closed the back door and turned back to Vic, feeling her nerves tighten again. She needed to tell him the truth. She had a feeling he had guessed, but she needed to be upfront about it. If what she wanted had any chance she had to be upfront.
“So...” she said, still trying to find the words to explain everything. Her thought processes were frozen into inaction though by Vic finding his courage before she did, his lips pressing firmly on hers before she could continue her sentence.
Once the shock had passed Cassie leant forward into the kiss, her hands moving to his waist, her fingers finding a firm grip on his shirt. The kiss was slow, and blissfully long. When they came up for air a little while later Cassie was vaguely conscious that she had just had an unusually long, public first kiss. And that she didn’t care.
“Please tell me that was the real reason you came back,” Vic whispered.
Cassie was still finding words failing her. She leant forward and kissed this gift from fate. He pulled her tight to him, this time the kiss going a little deeper before they pulled apart with a soft gasp. Words, Cassie firmly instructed herself, now she really needed to find words.
“I don’t normally take leaps of faith like I did today,” she started by a way of explanation. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about meeting you.” She managed to lift her eyes to his. “And how you affected me on that one meeting.” She bit her lips slightly as she considered her next words. “I kept telling myself that I knew nothing about you and that you were 6 hours away...”
“But still you came,” Vic finished for her.
“Yeah, I did,” Cassie replied, dropping her eyes for a moment before Vic lifted her chin so their gazes could meet.
“Thank you,” he said simply.
“You’re welcome,” she replied fighting the grin desperate to break out on her face before deciding that it wasn’t worth the effort.
Vic stepped disappointingly away from her before producing his pad and pen. “I’m going to be organised this time,” he said, handing her them both. “Phone number please.” As Cassie wrote it down he continued, “Feel like doing the drive again next Sunday?”
“Depends on what’s on the menu,” Cassie replied.
“Well, how about a walk, picnic and me,” he replied with his own grin.
“So is it a date?” he asked, a slight nervousness creeping in to his tone. “I mean I know you have to come up here again, but I can’t leave the diner all day at the moment.”
Cassie waved his worries away. “It’s not a problem. I would love to come for a picnic.” She handed the pad back to him. “Phone number please.”
He smiled at the echo of his request. Tearing the sheet off he handed it to her. “Phone me when you get home.”
“It’ll be around midnight,” she laughed.
“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “I want to know you’re home safe.”
Cassie felt a lurch inside. She had picked right this time, she could feel it. Leaning forward she savoured one more kiss before forcing herself to get in her car. Waving her goodbyes she turned her car towards home and the impatient countdown until the following week when she could get a chance to be with the man she may fall deeply in love with very soon.