“Ah Dios, no otra vez. What is she doing here and how did she spot me from all the way over there?” Julia muttered under her breath.
What horrible luck at running into Kelly, an unfortunate ex-friend. She had been harassing Julia for months. This harmless stalker was becoming a pain in her backside.
“Julia,” Kelly called out from the top of the aisle, waving for her to stop. “Julia!”
It would be rude to just ignore her. Several shoppers turned to glance in her direction while Julia waved back half-heartedly. She couldn’t possibly walk off, not now. Her patience was going to be sorely tested on her relaxing Saturday. Kelly was pushing her cart with some difficulty to get through the crowd. Julia looked around for the quickest exit from this crazy woman. She backed up a step, yanking her cart while keeping an eye on Kelly and bumping into another patron.
An elderly man dropped his packages. “Oh dear!”
Julia crouched to her knees to assist the man with his items. “I’m so sorry, let me help you.”
Her heart raced, as the man took his time to take the items from her, delaying her from escape. Kelly waved over to her again to wait.
“Shoppers today, we have great bargains here in the store!” The speakers boomed with the usual pre-recorded retail cheeriness.
Julia was ready to escape and tried to back up again, but the crowd got dense in that moment as bright red lights started to flash from the rooftops. She bumped into another shopper.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, touching the shopper’s arm in apology, without looking behind her.
The deep chuckle made her glance around. “What?” she snapped at the man she was pressed up against, distracted by Kelly’s approach and not paying attention to what she was doing.
He looked her up and down, shrugging, an amused grin displaying the hint of a dimple in his cheek. She leaned away to see him more clearly. He was wearing a simple t-shirt and board-shorts, but she could sense the power in the man as he gazed at her. She could feel the brush of his breath next to her temple. The smell of the ocean mixed with suntan lotion and another more masculine scent drifted closer as her cheek nearly touched his chest. Julia took in a refreshing breath, enjoying the distinct Armani cologne. While his green eyes laughed at her, reality woke her up again. She stepped away, her face flaming.
I’m such an idiot! She couldn’t believe how long she’d been pressed up against him. “I’m sorry. I – I. Hmmm.”
He turned back to the shelves. “That’s okay.”
She had to end this madness. Under ordinary circumstances, Julia would never have begged a strange man in the middle of the supermarket, but desperation made normal people do the weirdest things. He peeked at her once, his brow crinkled.
Julia tried to be subtle as she leaned closer, lowering her voice. “Pretend you’re my boyfriend,” she mumbled behind her hand.
His eyes widened as he leaned down to her. “What did you say?”
“Hold me like we’re a couple. Please play along. I’ll… I’ll take you out to dinner, my treat. There’s this woman… I’ll explain after.” She looked up at him, pleading for cooperation, praying for a little help on her side for once in her life. “Please?”
His jaw tensed. “Listen, lady, I don’t know what you’re on about. I haven’t got time for this. Did the media send you?”
“Media? No, just… please?” Julia couldn’t let her chance slip away. She wasn’t even the crazy one. “That woman is stalking me. I can’t get rid of her. I don’t normally do this, but I’m a little desperate.”
Julia didn’t get the opportunity to convince him any further, as her nemesis was there giving her a glare. Her uncooperative savior continued to browse the shelves, ignoring her request. She had offered him dinner, why was he so offended?
“Hey there, Julia, how are you?” Kelly’s eyes lit up, a tight smile plastered on her overdone face. “I thought for a second you were trying to avoid me.”
“Kelly!” Julia startled even herself from the volume that came out of her mouth.
His eyes met hers for a brief second.
She cleared her throat before continuing in a calmer voice. “It’s been a while. Are you still dancing?”
Kelly skimmed a look through Julia’s cart. “Did you think I would stop because of you? You think you’re a better dancer than me because you’re Latin?”
Julia’s embarrassment turned into annoyance. “I never said that, you’re a good dancer. If you’ve stopped dancing, what has it got to do with me?”
Kelly glared, flipping her bright red hair back over her shoulder. “Well, what do you expect, after what happened with Sebastian.”
The other patrons were starting to notice their argument. An older lady passing by gave Julia a nasty once-over. She stared back at the woman, amazed at the judgment.
“For the hundredth time, I’m not with Sebastian. He was just a friendly instructor. Maybe you read too much into his attention. But now you’re being a pain and harassing me for no reason. Really, it’s got to stop.” Then, as an after-thought, Julia added, “I’m seeing someone.”
“I’m not harassing you!” Kelly’s raised voice attracted the attention of a few other shoppers. “You’re the one with the issue here.”
Julia closed her eyes, wishing for a new day. Kelly was just not going to see reason. Could the ground swallow her up and take her away, not likely.
“Hey, sweetheart, are you ready to go?” He began a bit awkwardly, but ended up pulling out the charm and offering his hand to Kelly in greeting. “I’m Chris, Julia’s boyfriend.”
Julia swallowed, grateful for his help, even if it was a little off in timing. Chris shrugged, pressing his lips together. His arm curved around Julia’s back, resting on her hip as he gently pulled her closer to him.
Kelly accepted the gesture briefly, looking back at Julia, her lips curled in distaste. “Are you and Julia together?”
“Actually, we are. I told you I wasn’t involved with Sebastian.” Julia gritted her teeth, hoping the insane woman would disappear. “You’ve turned into an annoying pest, Kelly. This has got to stop. If Sebastian doesn’t want you, then move on. And leave me alone. I’m with Chris.”
In the awkward silence, Chris caressed Julia’s hip. She turned toward him, hip to thigh.
Kelly’s brows knitted in consideration. Then she smacked her lips together, pointing at Chris with a smirk. “So how long have you been seeing each other?”
“Three months,” Julia said quickly.
“Six months,” Chris blurted out at the same time.
Julia’s stomach twisted, wondering if she should have thought through adopting a pretend boyfriend. Kelly was enjoying her discomfort and in true stalker style, digging deep for all the details.
“Who’s counting?” Chris added. “Isn’t that right, sweetheart? It feels like six months, we’re so in tune with each other.”
Kelly gasped, ignoring Chris’ explanation. “You told me you haven’t been with anyone for ages. From Sebastian to this guy, you must be kidding. And a surfie at that. What…”
“It’s none of your business.” Julia interrupted Kelly’s rant. “Because I never was with Sebastian, you’re not listening to me. I’m going to sound really rude now, but please go away. I’m busy.”
Chris’ eyes widened from Kelly’s embarrassing blunder in revealing her secret. He looked down at Julia with a curious expression, but just as quickly glared back at Kelly. Julia could feel his muscles tense. She bit her lip, wanting to scream and shove Kelly away. She felt awful, she had asked this gorgeous, unsuspecting guy to pretend he was her boyfriend and her stalker insulted him. Nice.
“And what’s wrong with a surfie?” Chris snapped. “A bit hypercritical from you, placing labels on people. Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
Kelly ignored him, raising a brow at Julia. “Your surfie is so rude.”
“There’s nothing wrong with surfers,” Julia said softly with a bit more steel for Kelly’s benefit. “My personal life is mine. I was never with Sebastian. Come on, this has gone on long enough. Please, I’m very busy. Chris and I have to be somewhere. Don’t we, Chris?”
Chris was still giving Kelly a dirty look. Another customer pushed past them, stopping to scold them for blocking the way. Then the customer relaxed, looking at Chris with a bright smile, he saluted before walking away.
Chris waved back. Julia looked between him and the shopper. The familiarity should have given her a warning. At the back of her mind, she knew there was a reason why everyone kept staring at him. She shook it off.
Her plan to get Kelly out of her life wasn’t working and she was distracted from all the people who kept looking at her pretend boyfriend. He was probably one the of the local surf champions. She gave herself a mental shake, pressing her lips together to see if silence would make Kelly leave. The woman didn’t budge.
“You haven’t heard from Sebastian, have you?” Kelly folded her arms across her chest. “I’ve been calling him. His phone’s disconnected. You wouldn’t have his new number?”
“No, I don’t. All right goodbye. See you, Kelly.” Julia ended their conversation by turning away, rolling her eyes.
It was time to be rude.
She squeezed Chris on the arm to point out an item from the shelf. “We probably need to get this, Chris, ah, this… this…”
She flipped the black box around, unsure what she had in her hand. There was nothing to describe it other than a Celtic-style company logo. Her face started to tingle with heat.
What have I actually picked up? Please tell me it’s not a box of condoms. Oh, God, Chris is looking at it now. What are condoms doing in the cleaning aisle?
He reached out and took it from her, the warmth of his skin embracing her. “Wax for my surfboard. Good choice, Jules.” Chris gave her an encouraging smile, not even missing a heartbeat.
She let out a relieved breath, glad she hadn’t completely humiliated herself in front of this gorgeous pretend boyfriend. Chris was continuing to play along with her, and that was all that mattered. He was more relaxed now.
“I better get going,” Kelly muttered, pushing her cart as she walked away. When she took a quick look back, she had an odd expression on her face.
Julia relaxed as Kelly finally walked off. Her day had just got better. She wanted to punch her fist in the air, celebrating her victory. Kelly had been defeated. Laughing a little, she turned to Chris. “Thank you so much.”
Chris just laughed. When she turned to leave, his eyes widened and he reached his hand out to stop her. He had his cell phone out. “Can I get your number? Dinner remember?”
They exchanged numbers.
“I can’t wait to have dinner. I don’t think that woman has her head on straight.” Chris shifted her cart out of the way, giving her a goofy grin. “I’m glad I stepped in. At first I thought you were the crazy one.”
“Me, no, not me,” she stuttered. “I’m really sorry about all that.”
He leaned down, the scent of his skin enveloping her as she sucked in a breath. When he pressed his lips to her cheek, she savored the feeling. His lashes closed briefly and he stepped away. The heat from his lips against her skin lingered and she felt it right down to her toes.
“You’re gorgeous. You’ve just made my day.” He squeezed her hand, as if reluctant to depart.
Their bodies were no longer pressed together, yet she could still feel every plane of muscle as if they were still touching. The appreciative smile on his face widened.
“Thanks for the help. It’s hard to explain.” She cleared her throat.
He raised a brow, clearly amused.
“So we’re on for dinner on Friday then? It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Julia. Glad to be of service,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t wait to hear what this was all about. I’ll be in touch.”
Julia could see the interest in his eyes and that told her he felt the same chemistry as she did. He took a step away from her, caressing her hand before letting go. Then he sauntered off.
She felt a burst of desire course through her. He turned back once, acknowledging her with a wave before heading toward the teller to pay. He had taken the box of surf wax she had held with him. She pressed her fingertips against her cheek, still warm and tingly from his lips.
The sudden connection with Chris surprised her. In that moment, his touch, his kiss brought up feelings she had not experienced in a long time. The memory of his eyes looking into her, not just at her, flashed through her mind in a distracting way. Feelings she was keen to keep away surfaced within her.
Oh God, I’m in trouble now.
Suzan Battah is a proud Australian born author who has loved to write since her teenage years. In 2011 she published her first novel a contemporary multicultural romance – Mad About the Boy. In her spare time she weaves magical tales to entertain. Suzan writes YA Fiction – Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance, Regency Romance and Contemporary Romance. Other fun things you can find her doing is training at the gym and Latin/Ballroom dancing. Suzan is afraid of heights, loves most things that are sweet, has no clue about fashion and one day hopes to speak Spanish fluently.