From MIX AND MATCH –
Will their friendship always be relegated to the friend zone?
They arrived at the diner in tandem. Always hearing his mother’s voice in his head, he held the door for her, then guided her to a booth along the back wall.
“Well, now, there’s two people I haven’t seen in a month of Sundays,” Ruthie Tewksberry, the owner, said when she spotted them. “I’ll be right over, kids.”
Jasmine slid into the booth, Donovan opposite her. Before they could settle, Ruthie made a beeline for them, two coffee mugs clasped in one had, a pot of coffee in the other.
Before he could even protest, she glanced down at him and said, “Don’t worry, I brought you a teabag and the water’s coming up.” She plopped the bag down next to him.
“Ah, Ruthie, darlin’, when are you gonna say yes and marry me?”
“When I get in a time machine and go back thirty years,” she quipped, making him laugh. “Don’t mind being called a cougar but I sure ain’t robbing any cradles. Jazz, how’s your mother doing?”
“Good. Working. What else?” She shrugged.
“Woman has more ambition than anyone I’ve ever seen.” She shook her head as she filled one of the mugs and placed it in front of Jasmine. “So, you two want to hear the specials, or do you know what you want already?”
Jasmine ordered her craving grilled cheese, while he went with a simple chicken burger.”
“Give me ten and I’ll have everything on the table. Here’s your water, Van.”
He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “You’re a living saint among us mortals, Ruthie darlin’.”
“Oh, you.” A flush ran up her cheeks as she swiped a hand in the air at him, a huge grin on her face.
“I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen her blush before,” Jasmine told him once the woman had gone to place their order. “Do you do that intentionally or does it just come naturally to you?”
“You know.” She waved a hand at him. “All that charming, flirting, full-on-accent stuff. Darlin’ this and love that.“
His grin started slowly at her attempt to mimic his accent. It was actually pretty good, he thought. Then it spread when the import of her words filtered through. “Ya think I’m charmin’, do ya?”
She tossed him an eye roll that should have looked comical but on her was as sexy as hell. “I said what you did was charming, not that you are.”
“Ah, Jasmine my love, you wound me to the quick, you do.” He made a show of placing both hands over his heart and attempting a pout. His reward for the ridiculous theatrics was her laugh, which came quick, free, and naturally.
“Now there’s a lovely sound,” he said gazing at her face.
She shook her head. Still smiling, she told him, “I truly don’t think you can help yourself.”
He shrugged. “It’s not a question of helping m’self or not. It’s just as easy to pay a compliment or give a kind word as it is an unkind one. And it makes me feel good to know I’ve been able to put a smile on someone’s face from something I’ve said.”
He couldn’t decipher the expression on hers as she regarded him across the table. Before he could ask about it she said, “Did Olivia call you after”—she lowered her voice—“our date?”
“Aye, she did. First thing the next morning. Did she call you?”
“No, which is weird. She usually checks in right away.” Her brows knit together. “What did you tell her?”
He was prevented from answering right away as Ruthie delivered their food.
“You need anything else, give a holler,” she told them.
Once they were alone again he said, “The truth. The evening was pleasant, you were a lovely woman and I enjoyed getting to know you a bit, but you didn’t think we were well matched.”
“You agreed,” she said, a tad defensively.
He took a bite of his sandwich. He hadn’t. Not really. And he hadn’t related everything Olivia and he discussed. He didn’t share, for instance, the matchmaker had said to go slowly with Jasmine. The fact she wanted to be friends was encouraging because it was the first time she’d ever said that about one of the men she’d been introduced to.
“Because you were so adamant about it,” he said.
Now Jasmine pulled a pout and hers wasn’t meant to make him laugh.
“What did she say after you told her I didn’t think we were,” she lifted her hand, “suited?”
“That she had a few more women who looked promising—her word—that she’d introduce me to.”
“Oh. Okay, then.” She sat back in the booth. “Well…okay.”
He wasn’t sure but she seemed…put off by that.
“No more talk of that now,” he said. She visibly relaxed at his words. “Tell me what you’re thinking I should be bidding on the house.”
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