“They all look so good,” she said, sinking her teeth into her bottom lip.
“Order whatever and as much,” he added with a smirk, “as your little heart desires.”
The waitress brought their beers, and they each put in their first order of the all-you-can-eat dinner. Valerie excused herself to the ladies’ room. When she got back, Alex was gone. His keys and beer were still at the sushi bar where he’d been sitting, but he wasn’t there. She glanced around as she sat down assuming he must’ve gone to the men’s room.
She turned curiously to see who it was because she didn’t recognize the voice. As soon as she saw them, she smiled. “Oh, hey, Elijah.”
Elijah was a broker at her office whom she’d shadowed a few times, so, of course, she knew his name. He offered his hand, and she shook it, praying he’d give her a hint as to the name of the other guy standing with him and smiling just as big. His face was very familiar, and the way he was smiling at her she knew she was supposed to know him.
With no help from Elijah, she turned to the other guy in the suit. “Hey!” She reached for his hand too, over emphasizing her enthusiasm to make up for not knowing his name.
“We hear congrats are in order,” Nameless Guy said, and she was beginning to panic about not remembering his name—at all.
Then she remembered he wasn’t an agent or broker. He was a lender who came into the office often. “Yes, thank you. I just found out today. I’m very excited.” She smiled big. “So I’ll need your card to keep handy now.”
Immediately, he reached inside his suit jacket to the front pocket of his shirt and pulled out a card. She took it as Elijah asked about the test. Valerie glanced down at the name on the card. Trent Ewing . Trent. Trent. Trent. She repeated inwardly.
“So are you out celebrating?” Elijah asked, holding her gaze a little too long as he smiled and played with his pinky ring.
“I am actually.” She nodded, smiling again and looking away from Elijah.
Something about the way he was looking at her made her uncomfortable, so she turned to smile at Trent again. Just then Alex sat down next to her, laying what looked like at least a dozen perfect long-stemmed red roses on the table in front of her. They were wrapped at the stems with a red silk bow. Her mouth dropped open for a moment as she looked at the beautiful flowers then turned to Alex curiously.
“Flower shop next door.” He smiled then glanced up at Elijah and Trent as he picked up his bottle of beer.
Feeling her heart expand, she picked up the roses and smelled them. “Oh my God. Thank you,” she said, leaning in to touch his chin, and kissed his cheek. Then she shook her head suddenly and turned to Elijah and Trent, a little embarrassed. “I’m sorry. Where are my manners. Elijah, Trent, this is Alex.” She turned back to Alex. “Alex, these are co-workers of mine, Elijah and Trent.”
Alex shook Trent’s hand first then reached for Elijah’s. “It’s Eli,” Elijah said with a smile then turned and winked at Valerie. “We’ve talked about this, Val.”
“Yes.” She smiled, nodding. “I keep forgetting.”
Eli had a habit of playing with his pinky ring. It was something he did often even when they were working, but for some reason it unnerved her now. He was one of those good-looking older guys in his thirties who just looked like he had his act together. But there’d been times he showed a little too much interest in her, and that made her nervous now in front of Alex.
Too many times in her recent past she’d secretly used Elijah as a mental consolation to make herself feel better. There were times she’d been so down, feeling as if she were taken for granted by Alex—like maybe she didn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Having a man so put together like Elijah show interest in her felt good. Especially because he didn’t say inappropriate things to her like the younger guys she was used to. He’d made it clear even in the subtle way he said things that it wasn’t a meaningless fling he was in search of. Instead, he often talked about his future: Investing well for his later years. The home he was looking for once he settled down with a wife and kids. Another thing he made crystal clear was that he was very single and still hadn’t found that special woman.
“Well,” Elijah said with a smile first at Alex then her. “We’ll leave you be so you can continue celebrating. Nice to meet you, Alex,” he said, turning to smile at Alex. Then he turned to Valerie again. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” she asked, confused.
“You’re an agent now, Val,” he said with a big smile. “Sundays are your biggest open house days. I’m doing that big one tomorrow I told you about over in La Jolla Shores. Three multimillion-dollar homes in the same area. You’re more than welcome to take a shot at it if you’d like. I can’t be in all three homes at once.”
Valerie smiled, turning back to Alex, who didn’t crack so much as a smile. He even turned away to pay more attention to the television announcer giving updates on the Sanchez fight. “I don’t actually have my license yet,” she began to say, but Elijah was quick to interrupt her.
“Minor details.” He shook his head. “You know how this works, babe. Even if we get an offer tomorrow, it’d still be months before escrow could close. By then you’d have your license for sure.”
From the corner of her eye, she could see Elijah’s calling her babe had gotten Alex attention. So she shook her head quickly. “I’ll be celebrating all weekend. But thanks for the offer. I’ll see you Monday.”