Blue Bannock really had no idea what to do with Mya Herrington. He forced himself not to look over his shoulder—again—as he got the drinks for Dawson and the pretty strawberry blonde with him.
You’re a fool, he chastised himself as he thought about how he’d plastered himself to the woman whose name he didn’t even know. He’d have to apologize, but that meant he’d have to go back out onto the dining room floor.
Of course he would. He was playing the part of host today, and he couldn’t just cut and run, even if he wanted to.
His brother would kill him.
“Hey, Alvin,” he said to the single waiter they had working the lunch rush today. It had come and gone, and only a few tables remained. Having a party come in this late, the way Dawson had, and then only thirty seconds later, hearing the bell again, was unusual.
Having Mya show up here when he’d asked her out right to her face and she’d said no was highly unusual.
He’d contemplated moving upon the initial rejection, but he told himself he didn’t see her that much anyway. His house wasn’t too close to hers, and just because she’d asked him to help with her dog once and then with her misbehaving lawn mower another time obviously didn’t mean she was interested in him.
“Can you take these drinks to table nine?” He put the last water glass on a tray, and Alvin picked it up.
“Sure thing,” he said. “Thanks, Blue.” He smiled at Blue, who couldn’t return it.
“I’m going to take a break,” he said to Alvin. “Is that okay? I can jump up and seat people when they come in.”
“It’s fine,” Alvin said, as if he owned the place and not Blue. Well, Blue’s brother, technically. “I’m surprised we have a new table at all. I’ve got it.”
“Thanks,” Blue said, then he took a moment to make sure his shirt was tucked in and his belt buckle sat straight. He couldn’t do anything about the jeans, but at least they were clean, and he always wore cowboy boots, whether working in the steakhouse or out on the ranch.
He pushed his dark cowboy hat low and turned to face the dining room. Mya sat on her hands, her phone out of sight. She wasn’t exactly looking for him, but her eyes flitted all over the place, as if she couldn’t drink in the eclectic décor fast enough.
He wanted to drink in her lips, but he lectured himself silently. You will not ask her out again. You won’t. She already knows about the size of your crush. Keep some dignity, cowboy.
After making his shoulders as strong as he could, he walked toward her. Every footstep sounded like a gunshot, and she had no choice but to look up and watch his approach. That only made his skin prickle with flames, but he forced himself to pull out the chair across from her and sit in it.
“All right,” he drawled. “I’m on a break for a little bit.” He folded his big hands on the table in front of him. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I—” Mya reached up and tucked her dark hair behind her ear. She wore a sparkly, silver earring there, and Blue sure liked it. She worked as a paralegal for a law firm along the bay, and he’d been a fool to thing someone like her would ever go out with a man like him.
They came from two different worlds, and he should’ve been more prepared for her rejection than he’d been.
She stared at him like she’d been caught in an alien tractor beam.
“Mya?” he prompted, ready for this humiliation to be done and over. Then he could get back outside and wrestle the cattle to work through his frustration.
“I—” She drew in a big breath, her slight shoulders coming up with the action. “I, actually, I wondered if you still wanted to go out,” she finally said.
Blue’s eyes widened. “I mean, yeah. Of course.”
Her eyelids fluttered as she lowered her head, and a soft smile came to her lips. “Okay, good,” she said. “I was worried I’d blown things with you.”
Blue bit back the words that she could never do that. He didn’t need her to know how deep his crush ran. “What’s your schedule like?”
She produced her phone then, and they worked through their calendar until they both had a free evening. “So dinner on Thursday,” he said. “I’ll swing over and pick you up.” He grinned at his lame joke. “About seven?”
“Seven’s fine,” she said. She looked past him. “Can we—do you have a minute to eat with me right now?”
“Right now?” Blue wasn’t sure why his eyebrows leapt so high. “You don’t have to get back to work?”
“The partners are having their monthly meeting,” she said, shaking her head. “They let us off early in the afternoon when they do that.” Her dark hair moved out from where she’d tucked it, and Blue had such the urge to push it back into place.
Everything about her screamed out of your league! She wore professional clothes, always looked like a million bucks with accessories, shoes, and makeup, and Blue…put on a cowboy hat every day.
She had a good job, plenty of education, and the ability to live her life how she wanted. He’d been tied to his family ranch here for his whole life, and even if he did love it, no one had ever asked him if he wanted to run the operation and a restaurant to boot.
He would’ve said yes, but sometimes the walls in his life felt so pressing, so tall, and so overwhelming. Coaching himself mentally, he drew in a deep breath, counting slow beats as he did. He blew it out the same way, and said, “Sure, we can eat right now.”
Mya’s smile nearly bowled him off his chair, and he reached across the table for her hand before he even knew what he was doing. Surprisingly, her smile deepened as she turned her hand over and laced her fingers through his.
His blood fizzed in his veins at the skin-to-skin contact, and he actually looked around like there might be someone watching and judging.
“I can put in an order for us,” he said. “Do you know what you want?”
“I need a menu,” she said. “I’ve only been here a couple of times before.”
Blue got to his feet and grabbed a menu, returning to the table as fast as possible. Mya buried herself in it, and he mourned the loss of her delicate hand in his. His skin was rougher, tanner, while hers spoke of office work and regular manicures. He’d liked the juxtaposition of their alternating fingers, each of them representing something different and yet the same.
In that moment, he remembered she was a human being, just like them. The ground between them suddenly leveled.
“What do you recommend?” she asked.
“A burger,” he said. “I like the Cattleman’s Choice, because it has those fried onion straws on it.” His mouth watered just thinking about it. Or maybe that was because of the gorgeous woman sitting across from him.
“Oh, they have one with bacon and avocado.” She set down the menu, her dark eyes alight with her smile. “I’ll have that.”
“Regular fries or sweet potato?” he asked.
“Regular,” she said. “And can I get a Diet Coke?”
“You can have whatever you want, sweetheart.” He gave her a smile that felt like he was diving off a tall cliff. Thankfully, he caught himself before he landed head-first against rocks, and his face heated as he reached for her menu and stood up.
He wrote out the ticket quickly, stuck it on the order board, and filled a glass with Diet Coke for her. He took a pre-filled water and headed back to the table. With drinks and straws and their order in, Blue met Mya’s eyes.
“I just want to know something,” he said slowly, quietly. “Why’d you say no last night and then show up here this afternoon?”
Fear paraded across her face, and she looked away as she focused on unwrapping her straw and dunking it in her cola. But that didn’t take much attention or time, and Blue’s question continued to hang in the air between them.
* * *
Mya Harrington found the man across from her absolutely adorable. Handsome as the day was long, and pure perfection wearing that hat. Of course he’d want to know why she’d backpedaled in less than twenty-four hours, and she didn’t want to lie to him.
Her throat felt like someone had poured sawdust down it, and she lifted her soda pop to her lips, desperate for relief. The carbonation burned, and the liquid slid down cold as ice. But still, she didn’t know what to say.
She blinked at him, her mind racing. If she didn’t say something soon, Blue would bolt again, and her chance to have the gorgeous cowboy in her life would be over. She knew that. Could feel it deep in her soul.
He opened his mouth, and words suddenly flowed from hers. “It’s my sister,” she blurted out. “I was on the phone with her last night when you asked, and she laughed. She said under no circumstances should I ever date a cowboy.”
Mya wanted to stuff her own foot in her mouth. Her chest felt like someone had put a thick, sturdy rubber band around it and was quickly tightening it. Her ribs wouldn’t expand to make room for her lungs, and she was going to suffocate any second.
“Your sister?” Blue frowned, and his eyes swept over the top of the table. It held old menus and advertisements from the steakhouse over the years, and Mya actually liked the culture and history. “Have I met your sister?”
“No,” she croaked out. “She lives in Maui and hates coming here. I always go visit her.”
Blue raised his eyes to hers again, plenty of confusion still there. “I don’t get it, Mya.”
She sighed, her shoulders finally relaxing. “I don’t either, Blue. She’s my older sister, and I’ve always done what she wants me to do.”
“I didn’t know you were on the phone with her,” he said.
“I was wearing one earbud,” she said miserably. Maybe this wasn’t going to work out. “She still heard you ask me out, and since I’ve talked about you before, she knew who you were.”
His eyebrows went up again, and she much preferred his surprise to his disappointment or confusion. “You’ve talked about me before.”
Mya saw a shining ray of hope, like the sun peeking out from behind storm clouds, if only for a moment. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “I mean, she knows you’re my neighbor.” Mya had told Shelley so much more, but she kept that to herself for now.
“Why doesn’t she like cowboys?”
“I guess she dated one once. He’s the reason she moved to Maui.”
“Who was it?” he asked. “I know almost everyone who dares to call themselves a cowboy on this island.”
“I don’t know,” Mya said. “She never did tell me. She’d always just say, ‘that cowboy’ who ruined her. Broke her heart.”
Blue went back to wearing confusion, and Mya wanted to make it go away. This time, she reached across the table and covered his hands with hers. She couldn’t really do that, as his were so much larger, and that sent a thrill right to the bottom of her toes. What could he do with hands this big?
She wanted to find out.
“But after you left, I was panicked. I talked to a couple of girlfriends at work, and they told me to come here and see if you still wanted to go out.”
“Because you want to go out with me,” he said, filling in the blanks she hadn’t said out loud.
Mya really wanted to go out with Blue Bannock, and she had for a long, long time now. She’d given up all but the last shred of hope that he’d ever ask her on a date, and then she’d ruined it because she hadn’t hung up with Shelley fast enough.
“Yeah.” The word came out like gargling, and Mya’s heart screamed at her to make sure Blue knew how she felt.
Gathering all her courage close, she stood and went around the table. He looked up at her, and she wasn’t sure if he could read her mind or what, but he scooted back from the table far enough for her to perch in his lap.
She ran one hand along the side of his face. “I’ve wanted to go out with you for a while,” she whispered, the words perfectly aligned and utterly true as they streamed from her mouth. “Please forgive me. Maybe we can just start over?”
Blue swallowed, those big hands encircling her waist now, holding her expertly on his lap. “Is this our first date, then?”
“Sure,” she said, glad for the protection of his cowboy hat. The brim effectively canceled out the rest of the restaurant, giving Mya the illusion they were alone. “I’d like that.”
“So would I,” he whispered, and Mya watched his mouth as they formed the words. She’d dreamed about kissing this man, and she leaned forward, further puncturing his personal space.
He closed the distance between them, his lips like soft, insistent fire as they consumed hers.
And just like that, her cowboy crush deepened into a cowboy obsession, and then cowboy affection, and she had a very, very good feeling that she was experiencing her first kiss with the man she was going to marry.