On the Corner of Heartache and Hopeful–Kira

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Kira Schafer knew the instant he entered her deli. She always did. No matter that the blistering Nebraska temperature outside could cook a thick t-bone steak to medium-well, a chill of awareness skated along each of her vertebra whenever he came within twenty feet of her.

She kept her attention focused on the task of piling a double scoop of Rocky Road ice cream onto a waffle cone rather than on the electric blue eyes that were tracking her every move. It wasn’t conceit which made her confident he was watching her. It was the fact that the only other person in her ice cream slash deli shop was seventy-something Alfred Toole.

Kira handed the sweet, chocolaty treat to the spry older gentleman with a smile. “Here you go, Mr. Toole. That’ll be three twenty-nine.”

Alfred laid a five on the counter while licking a melted drop of ice cream from his thumb. She returned his change, which he promptly dropped into the tip jar. “Thanks, Mr. Toole. Have a nice day now.”

The septuagenarian winked. “You too.”

Her gaze followed Alfred out the door after which she inhaled a breath to steady her nerves. She then confronted her next customer.

Stance wide and arms crossed, Hunter Rice examined the deli menu on the wall behind the freezer display case with intense interest. She knew he had her meager, yet wholesome, list of available items memorized. He’d been coming in for lunch every day for the past six weeks, ever since he bought the gym next door. But this was an unspoken game they played. He studied the unchanging inventory of sandwiches and quiches and she waited patiently for him to order lean roast beef on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato, brown mustard, no mayo. He’d then either add in a side of her homemade potato or pasta salad, a kosher dill and water to drink. He’d sit at the same table to watch the small flat screen TV she’d hung in the far corner.

She crossed her ankles and arms, leaning a hip on the padded stool behind the cash register and drawing in another lungful of air. In spite of the pungent aromas of chopped onions mingled with baked bread, she detected the faint earthy scent of perspiration. The lining of her belly quivered. Lordy, she loved how a man smelled after he worked up a sweat. And having that man be Hunter Rice was a bonus. Double bonus, in fact.

A recently “retired” boxer, Hunter boasted the classic stature of a man who used to earn his living in the ring. Powerful and compact. He wasn’t all that tall, maybe five nine or ten. But compared to her five foot, three statue, he was a giant which made her feel ultra feminine and dainty in his presence.

The sleeves of his stone gray t-shirt stretched over impressive biceps, the tattoo of a snake’s head winking from beneath the material. His shoulders weren’t super broad, but broad enough to taper to narrow hips and a deliciously tight butt. Today he wore sweat pants, but she still caught glimpses of his thick leg muscles through the loose material.

Aside from his physique, Hunter didn’t look like the typical boxer. His round baby face with matching caramel brown hair and eyes, gave him more the appearance of a trustworthy doctor or compassionate veterinarian rather than someone skilled in the art of beating the crap out of another person. Then there was his heart-stopping, killer half-smile which showed just a peek of straight white teeth. And of course, his voice. Kira could listen to the low rumbling baritone for hours. It brought to mind sipping expensive brandy in front of a fireplace on a wintery night.

Finally, his hands. Dear God, the man’s hands. Wide, calloused palms with fingers that were just the right length and width. Ideal for a myriad of practical, and not so practical, uses.

His only physical characteristics which suggested he held a less than lily white collar job were his slightly broken Roman nose and the perpetual five o’clock shadow that graced his cheeks and firm chin.

But it was more than his looks that captivated Kira. There was an air about him, an essence of confidence which seemed to ooze from his pores. He was cool and poised. In control. Dominant. A flush heated her neck and she dropped her gaze to her folded hands least he see how badly she reacted to him. 

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