By: Leddy Harper

“Online dating?” My question came out in a higher pitch than my usual deep tone. I was in shock. She must’ve been certifiable to have to pursue online dating. This woman was downright gorgeous and probably could’ve had her pick of any guy in the place. I’d noticed many men shooting envious expressions my way as soon as I’d taken this seat.

The blush remained, but her eyes moved to mine while she lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. “I’m new to town, so it’s pretty much the only way to meet people.”

I nodded, understanding the need to fill in the loneliness. “You don’t know anyone here?”

She shook her head, answering me silently.

I extended my arm across the table. “My name’s Dane. Now you know at least one person.”

When she put her palm in mine, the caress of her smooth skin caused heat to cover me from head to toe. It wasn’t much of a shake, more like simply holding hands, and that alone made my blood pressure spike. It’d been too long since I’d felt such intimacy…even if it was nothing more than a cordial greeting.

“Hi, Dane. I’m Eden.”

I couldn’t stop it even if I wanted to. My grin widened, sending an ache through my jaw, a burning tightness in my cheeks. Not only was she beautiful, but she had a name to match. The Garden of Eden—the first symbol of all that was pure, and the birthplace of temptation.

Snapping back to reality, I removed my hand from hers and glanced around the bar. “Well, I’m sure your real date will be here soon. I’d hate for him to misinterpret this and leave.”

“You can stay. I’m pretty sure he’s not coming.”

“Then he’s an idiot.” The sentiment was true, although I didn’t mean to voice the actual words. I had no right to say such things. And I certainly didn’t have the right to stay—although it didn’t stop the desire.

She lowered her chin, hiding herself from me. I didn’t know what it meant at first, but then she glanced up again, and I noticed the blush in her cheeks deepening. Her dark eyes met mine, and I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t tell what color they were in the dim lighting, but I knew they weren’t brown. Some other shade of dark. They captured me, detaining me from the life around us.

“Are you here by yourself?” Her voice softened, almost sounding timid, in complete contrast to her bold tattoo and bright hair.

“Yeah.” I nodded and then tugged on the collar of my white button-down. “Stopped here on my way home from work.”

“Bad day at the office?” Her words were laced with intimacy, as if I’d come home and found her in the kitchen making dinner. “Bad day at the office, dear?” And it sent a pang of guilt-ridden desire through my chest.

“I guess you could say that.” But I didn’t care to talk about me. I didn’t want to offer her any room to ask questions I couldn’t answer, so I cleared my throat and changed the subject. “So, tell me, Eden…where are you from?”

“Originally from California, but I came here from New York.”

My eyes widened, my tongue heavy with intrigue. “Why the drastic moves?”

“Well, I left home to go to school, and now I’m here for a job.”

“Where did you go to school?” I itched for the beer I’d left behind when I came to her defense. But I had no desire to get up and fetch it. That would mean I’d leave Eden, and that thought didn’t sit well with me. It’d been a long time since I found myself in easy company, and I wasn’t ready to give it up quite yet.

“NYU. I studied accounting and finance.”

My eyebrows raised, my interest surely showing on my expression. “Wow. That’s impressive. NYU is a really good school. I went there.”

“You did?” Her excitement punctuated her question with a lilt.

A small rumble, but a rumble nonetheless, started in the base of my sternum and rolled its way up until the whispers of a laugh filtered past my lips. “No. I didn’t. But it sounded good, right?”

What she did next stole the breath from my lungs. She parted her lips, tilted her head back, and the most contagious giggle I’d ever heard erupted from her. It wasn’t contagious in the sense it made me join her. No. It made me want to do everything in my power to encourage her to keep laughing so I could sit and listen to the melody of her happiness all night. It was deep and throaty, almost raspy. It ran over me, scoring my skin as it settled.