Just One Touch: A Black Alcove Novel (The Black Alcove Series Book 3) (7 page)

“I should get going.”
She stands and heads for the door. I stand, too, following after her.
It hadn’t crossed my mind until just now how badly I want to kiss
her. If she leaves, I may miss my chance.

“Dinner was great,
and I had fun hanging out with you today.” Her smile pierces my
heart, and without a second thought, I’m pulling her into my arms
and hugging her. The second I realize what I’m doing, her body goes
stiff, and I get the feeling I ruined our good day with just one
move. But then I feel her arms around my waist and I don’t let go.
I kiss the top of her head and pull back.

“Goodnight, Alex, I
enjoyed your company as well.”

She blushes as she
backs away, turning for her apartment. When her door is closed I
stand there for a moment. How can I possibly feel this attracted to
someone I hardly know? And why, even though I know so little about
her, do I feel as though I’ve known her forever?

My cell rings. Heather.
Shit, I should be making this dinner effort with her.

“Hello?” I answer,
concerned why she is calling me at 10 at night.

“Hey, Conner, Jake
can’t sleep and says he needs to talk to you before he could try it
again.”

My heart grows.

“Put him on.”

“Dad?”

“Hey, bud, can’t
sleep?”

“No. I forgot Donny.”

I glance around for the
stuffed turtle I saw earlier.

“Yeah, he’s right
here.”

“Oh.”

“Can I bring him to
you tomorrow?” I ask, trying to make him feel better. He sleeps
with him every night. Last night he must have been too tired to
notice he was missing.

“I just thought I
lost him. Can he sleep with you?”

“Sure thing,” I
say, completely honest.

“Okay, ’night Dad.”

“’Night, buddy.”

““I’m glad you
picked up,” Heather says after Jake gives her the phone.

“Me too. I didn’t
realize he was so attached to one stuffed animal.”

“You know, maybe one
night you could try staying over here and maybe we wouldn’t run
into this sort of thing. As part of giving us a try?” she asks.

The reminder is like a
punch to the gut. I don’t know if I can keep going through with
this if I’m developing feelings for Alex. It’s not fair to anyone
involved.

“It’s probably best
if we take it slow until we know this is what we want for sure,” I
say.

“I know it’s what I
want, Conner. Are you having second thoughts?”

“I can’t just make
an emotion appear. It takes time. How about lunch tomorrow?” I
suggest.

“Conner, we can’t
just keep doing dates.”

“That’s how people
get to know each other and decide if they want to be in
relationships. They do things together. What do you want to do?”

“I want to go to bed.
I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The line goes dead. I
grab my charger and the turtle and head for my room. I’ve got an
amazing son who I love, a woman across the hall who is making me feel
things I’ve never felt before and who I shouldn’t be attracted to
if I’m going to make this work with Jake’s mom, and my son’s
mother who says she wants a family but isn’t willing to put in the
time. Life is about to get very interesting.

Chapter Five

Alexis

I walk into the gym,
heading behind the counter where I was told to go after my interview
a few days ago. I clock in the way I was taught to do as well and
then I just stand there. I smile at a couple as they walk in, rubber
mats rolled neatly under their arms, ready for an hour of yoga. Each
of them runs their keys over the corner of the counter until a
beeping noise occurs. They continue on their way past me. There isn’t
anyone else coming in, or anyone else behind the front counter for
that matter.

Another man and a
woman, who look to be the most fit people I’ve ever seen, walk
through the sliding doors a moment later. He slings a bag over his
shoulder while she shakes a bottle in her hand. They both nod in
greeting, and my hand flies up in an awkward wave slash swatting the
flies away sort of wave. They don’t seem to notice though; they
just walk right on by, not doing the weird key thing the couple
before them did.

Surely, they’ve got
someone here to train me or at least show me around. Perhaps the lack
of attention at the front desk is why they hired me in the first
place. I take a step toward the gap that allows people behind the
counter but am again distracted by the noise the front door makes
when it opens.

Skylar. I haven’t
seen her since our afternoon hike when I dropped her back off here.
She must really like the gym.

“Hey Alex,” she
greets me and her hands immediately go to her hair to smooth is over.
When she’s closer, I see a smudge of dirt on her face and what I
assume is grass in her hair.

“Sleep in the grass
lately?” I ask, smiling at my own joke.

She pauses, “Yoga in
the park.” She shoots me a wink before she scans her card and
continues past me.

“Can I help you?”
an annoyed voice asks behind me.

I turn, finding the
same girl who waited on us at the bar, but who I also didn’t
officially meet. Abby, I think, is her name. A quick glance at her
nametag, which is set in the perfect place to draw attention to her
chest, confirms my memory is still all set.

“You’re that one
girl, aren’t you?” Abby continues to glare at me, clearly
sounding annoyed with my lack of response.

“If you mean Alex,
then yes. I’m that one girl.”

Her eyes narrow as her
chin rises so she can look me over.

“Sassy one, huh? We
might just get along after all.”

She taps my shoulder
and points behind me.

“First things first,
Alex. Greet everyone who walks through the door. Whether it’s a
smile, a nod, or a simple hello, make sure you acknowledge everyone.”
She waves to a gray-haired man with a slight limp who has just
arrived. “People come here to relax, cool down. Working out is a
de-stressor, and people who work out are normally happier too. Don’t
ruin their workout before it’s even begun by pretending you didn’t
see them.”

She’s giving me the
stink eye again, like I’ve already done something to not impress
her.

“Got it.”

“Second, everyone
needs to swipe their card. It will beep if their membership is good,
and it makes this god-awful buzzing noise if their account is bad.”

“Bad?”

“Yeah, like they owe
us money because they haven’t paid for the month or something.”

“And what happens
when it buzzes?”

“You tell them they
need to pay or leave. It’s simple, just don’t be a dick about
it.”

“Okay.”

In other words, don’t
use the tone she has with me right now—check. I don’t really have
a response to anything she’s said so far, but I have to wonder what
has happened to give her this attitude with me. Is there some reason
she has already decided she doesn’t like me? After a moment passes,
Abby rolls her eyes before brushing past me toward the other end of
the counter.

“We have snacks over
here, and this is the list of smoothies and protein shakes we make.
I’ll teach you those as people order them.”

I follow Abby around
for a while, nodding my head as she instructs me. She shows me how to
make two different smoothies, one from a yogurt machine and one that
uses a yogurt powder. Any shake that includes peanut butter is my
least favorite and, sadly, they are the most popular. Once I think
I’ve mastered the kitchen part of the job, Abby tells me there is
more. Apparently we wash the towels, and, holy crap, this place goes
through a lot of them. And in the last hour, one person has come in
to sign up. New memberships at this point are not my thing either.
Too many numbers to remember.

“Okay, so then we
pull all the towels into these giant gray bins and we fold them,”
Abby says, bringing my attention back to the dang towels.

“All of them?” I
ask.

“Yep, and you need to
keep up with them throughout your shift, or you will be here after
closing, catching up. You don’t want to leave work for the person
who opens.”

“Alrighty.”

She tilts her head in
annoyance, because, well, I can 90 percent confirm she doesn’t like
me, at the same time a bald guy in gray shorts and a blue cut-off
shirt joins us. He looks young but definitely older than me. The
balding is definitely a choice.

“Sorry I’m late.
Mrs. Mulligan got to talking about her grandkids again.”

Baldy sets his bag
under the counter and a grin splits across his face when his eyes
land on me. “I’m Pete—you must be Alex. Abby told me you were
starting tonight.”

I find his comment
funny considering Abby pretended she didn’t know who I was when she
got here. From somewhere next to me, she huffs.

“Back off, Pete,
she’s with Conner.”

“I’m not—”

“You can show her
around the back when we get done here. Go shower. You’re all sweaty
and gross.”

Pete chuckles, giving a
salute to Abby’s back.

I grab a towel and try
to mimic her folding skills.

“If you want a
player, Conner is definitely a better pick.”

I stop folding. A
player? Conner?

“Conner’s not—”

“Oh, trust me, he is.
He’s a tease, too, so don’t go thinking he’s into you if he
flirts. That’s just who he is. And if you’re not looking for a
guy, then you might want to keep to the story that you and Conner are
a thing or whatever. If you don’t, Pete will be all over you.”

She hasn’t looked at
me once, and a part of me wonders if it’s possible someone told her
the wrong thing about me and Conner, and this could be the reason for
her attitude toward me.

“I’m sure you’ve
heard of me. You are hanging out with some people who aren’t very
fond of me. And I’m sure nothing you’ve heard is good, but you
really shouldn’t judge me from what you hear.”

“I agree,” I say,
hoping she catches the hint. By the pause, I’d say she caught on
pretty fast.

“Anyway, if you take
my advice on anything, it’s this: Pete is a cool guy and all, but
when he wants something he gets serious fast and it’s scary.”

“You say that like
you’ve had firsthand experience.”

“Just take my word
for it.” This time she looks me right in the eyes and it makes me
cringe. Her eyes mean business. I don’t make another comment;
instead we fold almost the entire bin, which I’m estimating is at
least fifty towels, in silence.

“So are you for real
dating Conner Brian? Because I saw him the other night and it didn’t
look like he was dating anyone,” Pete says the moment he’s back.

Abby is still folding
towels like he isn’t even there.

“Sure am,” I reply.

Abby makes a choking
noise and throws her head back before returning to her never-ending
task. “They’re practically living together,” she adds.

“Seriously? Well,
shit,” Pete says with disbelief. “I guess we’d better get to
work then. Follow me.”

And I do. He teaches me
how to pick up weights, clean machines, fill shampoo/
conditioner/body wash and lotion bottles, and take pool temperature.
After learning all that, those memberships sound like a fantastic
idea. Anything sounds better than having to admit to Conner that I’ve
made him my fake boyfriend. And I’ve known him less than a week.
This should go well.

Conner

For the first time in a
few days, I find myself with free time that I have no idea what to do
with. I’ve done everything inside my apartment that a guy can do.
I’ve taken out the trash, I’ve washed sheets and attempted to
fold them neatly, I’ve gone through my junk drawer in the kitchen,
and I’ve made a list of home repair projects I can do on my next
day off. Jake is going to love the new shelf I plan to build him.
When I ran out of ideas, I even cleaned the bathroom, scrubbed the
toilet and all. Now I’m on the couch, bored and not finding
anything else to take my mind off my new neighbor or the fact Heather
hasn’t called me like she said she would and that she isn’t
answering my calls. I couldn’t care less that she hasn’t talked
to me, but she has my kid so I worry about him. If she’s ignoring
me … would she ignore him?

Alex is this breath of
fresh air and although I’m really enjoying this upbeat mood that
she gave me after hanging out a couple nights ago, I can’t help but
worry how this is going to affect my relationship with Jake’s mom.

I know he and I will be
fine, but if Heather knew that I even had the idea of a hanging out
with another woman, I’m afraid of how she would lash out at me for
it. If she ever tried to take Jake from me, I’d fall apart. That
kid is my life. Therefore, I don’t feel like sharing any of this
information with her just yet. And Alex, she has no idea what’s
going on between me and Heather. I should probably tell her before it
blows up in my face and Alex starts to think for some reason it’s
her fault I don’t want to be with Jake’s mom.

I’ve just leaned back
and am about to turn the television on when my cell chimes with an
incoming text. It’s from Lucas; he wants to head to the gym to
shoot some hoops.

I send a quick message
back letting him know I can meet him in fifteen minutes. I stuff some
clothes into my bag and hop in my truck. The thought that I might run
into Alex crosses my mind. I haven’t crossed paths with her even
once since dinner and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking for
an excuse to see her again.

With my bag slung over
my shoulder and Lucas, who arrives at the same time as I do, doing
the same, we head inside. We swipe our cards, and Abby comes out from
the small kitchen behind the counter.

“Hey, Conner.” She
waves at me with a smile that quickly disappears when her eyes find
Lucas. She rolls them and walks off.

“What’s that
about?” I ask.

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