Tossing the want ads onto the kitchen table, Abbey blew a stray wisp of hair from her brow. She had learned to use a computer in high school, though she had no real aptitude for anything beyond the basics. She wished now she had paid more attention, since it seemed every job required at least some degree of computer savvy, and she was woefully lacking. All her friends were into the latest social media, but she had never gotten the hang of finding her way in the digital world. As for texting . . . Abbey shook her head. She much preferred talking to people face-to-face.
With a sigh of resignation, she phoned for a cab. Her father had offered to buy her a car, but she had no real need for one. Most of the places she had to go were within walking distance of her apartment.
Even after all the years she had lived in New York, the sights and sounds of the city filled Abbey with excitement. After paying the cab driver, she stepped out of the car and quickly became part of the crowd. These days, most stores were open 24/7, so whether it was day or night, the streets were swamped with cars that drove themselves, the sidewalks packed with people who were always in a hurry—rushing to get to work or eager to go home, dashing off to see a movie, a Broadway show, a free concert in the park.
Hitching her handbag over her shoulder, Abbey stared at the gleaming glass-fronted façade of the computer store. Her knowledge of digital devices started and ended with her iPod, which was nothing like the current high-tech phones, iPads, and computers. She could find music, text when she had to, and read the latest news on her iPod; anything else was beyond her.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped into a world that was totally unfamiliar to her.
A quick glance around showed computers in all types and sizes—small towers with enormous screens, monitors that didn’t need a tower, wireless laptops, and devices that were no bigger than a cell phone.
You could buy a keyboard if you were old-school, but newer computer models responded to voice commands. She had heard that, in another year or so, those would be obsolete and man and computer would communicate with thought waves.
Shelf after shelf held nothing but computers, monitors, keyboards, software programs and gadgets, and stacks of technical manuals. It looked like geek heaven, she mused. All around her, people chatted enthusiastically about the latest software, the newest addition to this or that. They might as well have been speaking a foreign language, because Abbey didn’t understand a word they were saying.
With a shake of her head, she turned and headed for the exit. Maybe she could get a job in Beverly Hills as a house sitter or a dog walker. Cash only. She wouldn’t need any computer skills for that! She could stay in Hollywood with Mara and Logan until she found a place of her own.
Lost in thought, Abbey didn’t see the man coming through the door until she slammed into him. It was like crashing into a mountain.
“Whoa, girl,” he exclaimed. “Are you on your way to a fire?”
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t . . .” Abbey glanced up—and up. He was a tall mountain. Blinking up at him, she took a step back. She was used to handsome men, but this guy . . .
He looked like the GQ Hunk of the Month with his long black hair, broad shoulders, trim waist, and vibrant blue eyes.
He reached out a hand to steady her. “Are you all right?”
“What? Yes. No. I mean, of course.”
He grinned, sending her temperature rising and her pulse racing. It was disconcerting, the effect he had on her. She had met a lot of good-looking men. None of them had made her feel like throwing herself into his arms.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked. “There’s a club just down the street. Dante’s. Do you know it?”
“Yes.” She knew it all too well. Dante’s catered mainly to out-of-work musicians and down-on-their-luck actors and screenwriters.
It was a tempting offer—sharing a drink with an incredibly handsome man. But gorgeous or not, he was a stranger.
He cocked his head to the side. “Is there a problem?”
“No.” What could go wrong? Dante’s was just two blocks down, the sidewalks were crowded with people. She had a .22 semi-automatic in her purse—a goingaway gift from her father. Smiling up at him, she said, “Lead the way.”
He took her hand as they threaded their way down the street to the club. The touch of his fingers twining with hers made her heart race and her toes curl with pleasure.
Inside, he guided her to a small table in the back, held her chair as she sat down. “I’m Nick.” His voice, deep and whiskey-rough, moved over her like a caress.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Abbey.”
“Even though I almost knocked you down?”
A laugh rumbled deep in his throat. “I don’t think I was in any real danger from a little thing like you.”
She would have been offended if any other man had called her a “little thing,” but the way he said it, the admiration in his dark blue eyes, made it sound like high praise.
Their waitress arrived then. Abbey ordered a dry martini, Nick ordered a glass of Pinot Noir.
When the waitress left to turn in their order, Nick leaned forward, his forearms crossed on the table, his gaze intent upon Abbey’s face. “Tell me about yourself.”
“There’s not much to tell. I wasted the last five years trying to be something I’m not cut out for.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“I thought I wanted to be an actress, but I recently came to the realization that I just don’t have what it takes.” She shrugged, thinking how good it felt to finally admit it out loud. “I guess I just don’t want it bad enough to make the tough choices.”
He nodded. “So, what are you going to do now?”
“I’m not sure. Go back home, I guess.”
“Northern California. My parents have a ranch there. But enough about me. What about you? What do you do?”
“Nothing much. You might say I’m footloose and fancy free. No job. No family. No prospects.”
Abbey bit down on her lower lip, uncertain how to reply. Was he recovering from some horrible tragedy? An entrepreneur down on his luck? Or just some incredibly handsome drifter with no goals and no ambition?
She was still trying to think of a suitable response when the waitress arrived with their drinks. Nick smiled at the woman, tossed twenty-five dollars on the tray, and told her to keep the change.
He might be a drifter, Abbey thought, but he didn’t appear to be strapped for cash.
“What were you looking for in the computer store?” he asked.
“Nothing, really. I was thinking about getting a job and thought I should try to get up-to-date on the latest technology, but . . .” She smiled self-consciously. “I have no talent in that area, either. It’s all Greek to me. I have trouble remembering to charge my cell phone. The new computers . . .” She shook her head.
He laughed softly. “Maybe I can help with that. I know a bit about computers and software.”
“I was a computer programmer in another life.”
“Really?” She would never have pegged him as a computer nerd. “Well, I’d appreciate any help you could give me. Of course, I’ll have to buy a new computer first. I’m afraid mine is woefully archaic and past repair.”
“Well, when you’re ready to make the plunge, just let me know.”
Abbey sipped her drink. Who was this man, really? He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, yet there was something about him that made her think he was older. Perhaps it was his eyes—they seemed world-weary, and wise beyond his years.
The silence between them made her uncomfortable. She was scrambling for something witty to say when the DJ selected a love song.
Nick set his glass aside. “Care to dance?”
Abbey’s heartbeat kicked up a notch at the thought of being in his arms. She nodded, her throat suddenly dry as he took her by the hand and led her onto the tiny dance floor.
He drew her into his arms, holding her far closer than was proper between strangers. His arm around her waist was solid—protective, not imprisoning. His thighs brushed hers, his breath was warm when it caressed her cheek.
She looked up and his gaze met hers—intense and deep blue. For a moment, she imagined him probing her mind, uncovering her deepest secrets. For a moment, she imagined she could read his thoughts in return, imagined that he was alone and lonely, that only she could ease his pain.
Blinking rapidly, she looked away, and now she was acutely aware of his body pressed so close to hers, of how intimately he held her. Only a breath apart, she mused. And it was too far. His hand lightly stroked her back, up and down, and she sighed with the sheer pleasure of his touch, of being in his arms. She felt warm and achy in the deepest part of her being and she wished suddenly that they were alone in her apartment. In her bed . . .
Blushing furiously, she glanced up at him, grateful that he couldn’t read her mind.
He smiled at her, his arm tightening around her waist as the music ended and they returned to their table. “If I asked you out, what would you say?”
“Ask me and see.” She had intended for her reply to be saucy and flirtatious; instead, it emerged as a husky whisper. What was there about this man that she found so irresistible? It was more than his devastating good looks, more than the rich timbre of his voice. Something primal within him called to something wild and untouched within the deepest part of her being in ways she recognized but didn’t understand. She was meant to be his, she thought, as he was meant to be hers.
“Would you go out with me tomorrow night, Abbey Marie?”
“I’d love to.”
“Pick you up at eight?”
Nodding, she pulled one of her business cards from her wallet and handed it to him. His fingers brushed hers as he took the card.
“Eight,” she said breathlessly.
It wasn’t until Nick had put her in a cab and she was on her way home that Abbey stopped to wonder how he knew her middle name.