“That’s the thing about this city. People are so rude,” Keisha Martin grumbled at the guy shoulder surfing behind her. At least she was only reading on her Kindle and not taking care of any bank transaction or anything else involving a password. Still, she didn’t exactly want him seeing what she was reading either. Not that she was ashamed of it, but she was in the middle of a raunchy sex scene and that was nobody’s business except hers and her book boyfriend.
Homeboy didn’t get the message or evidently thought her criticism wasn’t meant for him. How could he not? It was bad enough he was unavoidably standing so close she could feel his breath tickling the top of her head every time he exhaled—because yeah, that’s how tall he was—but on top of that he was probably coming to all sorts of conclusions about her that weren’t meant for public consumption.
“Do you mind?” She turned around, ready to lay into him then froze at the sight of his dark-chocolate eyes smiling down at her. Yes, he was as tall as she’d thought, tall enough that she had to crane her head to look at his flawless, sculpted face. Goodness, someone could cut themselves on those cheekbones!
“Couldn’t help myself.” He grinned. “Hot scene.”
“I’ll bet,” she blurted, hadn’t meant to engage him any further. Especially when she was so instantly attracted to him her stomach dipped at the sight of his mahogany skin and straight white teeth as if she was riding on a rollercoaster and not a crowded car on the Downtown D.
The train jerked to a stop in the tunnel and he braced himself with one hand on the ceiling, the other on the pole, and his feet planted apart, hips trust back and away from her.
She appreciated the effort he made to avoid his pelvis making contact with her and that he didn’t seem like one of those pervy guys who enjoyed getting their rocks off on unsuspecting victims during their commute.
Complaints rose up from several disgruntled passengers just as the train’s PA system came on with a barely audible announcement about someone engaging the emergency brake on this train and a sick passenger on the train in the station ahead.
Wow, almost a freaking trifecta. They were only missing a police action.
This was not good at all. Keisha had been rushing around late this morning and left the house without grabbing her usual snacks or even a breakfast bar she could munch on her way to the train. She’d planned to grab something as soon as she got to work, which would have been pushing things. But this indeterminate delay? This could get ugly.
“Are you all right?”
The deep, butter melting voice sounded like it was coming from a lot farther away than just above her. If her legs hadn’t already started to feel weak and she wasn’t experiencing light headedness, that voice alone would have done the trick.
“I’m fine,” Keisha lied as she saw spots flashing before her eyes right before everything went black.
* * *
Keith Marshall watched her sway and begin to fall as if in slow motion. He’d never seen anyone faint in real life before but reacted automatically, directing the surrounding passengers to make room as he caught the young woman and scooped her up into his arms.
The crowd thankfully cleared a path to where a few people had stood from their seats to make room for Keith to sit down with his precious cargo.
It was so easy to act as if they were together—like they belonged together—especially when the other passengers treated them like a couple.
An older woman handed him a piece of candy from her purse, reminding him of his gramma who’d always had a supply of Tootsie Rolls in her purse for him and his siblings. “It might be low blood sugar.”
Keith suspected the same from witnessing a couple of episodes with his older sister who had diabetes. He hoped it was nothing more serious, though low blood sugar was serious enough. He’d just met her after all, and wanted to get to know her a lot better. He gratefully took the candy as the woman in his arms began to stir and slowly come around.
A gentleman standing nearby handed Keith a large cup of ice coffee. “I didn’t get a chance to drink any yet. It might help.”
Keith looked down as her confused color-change eyes took him in. He stared for a moment trying to figure out if they were hazel, gray, green or all of the above. After a long moment, he gave up, just appreciating their exotic, catlike beauty. “Take a sip.” He put the straw to her lips and watched as she unquestioningly opened her mouth to follow his command before taking the cup in both hands.
Something stirred deep inside him watching her full lips close around the plastic. He wondered what the coffee tasted like on her mouth, the urge to kiss her and find out growing by the minute. An urge he firmly pushed down. An urge for which he was sure she would rightfully chide him.
The memory of her annoyed, chastising look when she’d turned to catch him reading over her shoulder made his heart thump hard in his chest, the noise magnified in his ears by the silence around them.
It was as if everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen next, and Keith took the chance to boldly, gently push a stray tendril of hair away from her face and tuck it behind her ear. The cinnamon strands were as fluffy as they looked.
She stopped drinking after a few swallows, closed her eyes and leaned her head on his shoulder. So trusting, probably too tired to put up a fight or not accept the kindness of strangers.
One of which he would not be for long, if he had anything to say about it.
Keith wondered if he was taking advantage of the situation, but told himself he’d be a fool not to. When opportunity knocked, he answered the door. His mama hadn’t raised any fools.
“Are we still in the tunnel?”
She sighed and cuddled closer.
Maybe it wasn’t just trust. Maybe it was comfort and satisfaction. Maybe she liked being right where she was—safe and in his arms.
The thought made him feel ten times more protective of her than when he’d first seen her, looking all harassed and irritated as she’d squeezed into the car several stops ago.
It wasn’t an ideal first meeting, granted, but he’d wanted to rap with her from the first moment he’d seen her get on the train and had been biding his time.
Now was his chance.
The PA system came to life again, the conductor’s words mostly garbled, but the gist was clear. They’d be sitting in this tunnel for a little while longer.
The woman in his arms didn’t flinch, as if she had all day to hang and was no longer concerned about the wait.
Was it contentment or resignation?
“You smell good,” she mumbled against his shoulder.
She jerked her head up to stare at him. “Did I say that out loud?”
“Fraid so.” He grinned.
She clutched his shirt and buried her face against his chest. “I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t be.” He squeezed her shoulder, glancing at the people around them making a concerted effort not to stare.
“I never wanted to be that person. And here I am, being that person.”
“The sick passenger.”
He grinned at her brave front. There was just something about strong independent black women that made him want to hold them close and tell them everything was going to be all right, that they didn’t have to be so strong or independent all the time. “Don’t feel bad. You’ve got people on the train up ahead.”
She chuckled. “Misery loves company.”
“It’s not that miserable, is it?” He held his breath, waiting for her answer as she pulled her face from his chest to stare at him.
* * *
His eyes were so deep and dark. Mesmerizing. But his chest didn’t seem to be moving anymore. Had he died and she hadn’t noticed? “Not that miserable,” she murmured, glad when he started breathing again, feeling his long-lashed gaze scanning her face like a barcode.
“Nice to know.” He nodded, rearranging her on his lap for comfort, his or hers, she wasn’t sure, but when she tried to get up—she was sitting on a stranger’s lap after all!—his hold tightened ever so slightly. “You’re good.”
She certainly was. Good and bothered despite the repositioning. She hadn’t missed that hard part of him that let her know he was just as turned on as she was and once again appreciated that he made the effort to keep his distance inasmuch as the situation allowed. “I think you owe me a name, Mr. Guardian Angel.”
“Keisha.” She thought she heard one of the passengers say “Aww.” and another murmur, “How cute.” She couldn’t have agreed more and almost laughed at the notion.
She’d never imagined introducing herself to someone on a train while sitting on his lap, stuck in a tunnel and surrounded by a bunch of unexpectedly romantic strangers. Keisha’s hackles went up when guys on the street ordered her to smile. But she thought Keith could have ordered her to do anything right about then and she’d have probably considered it. “Married? Significant other?” she asked, had to know before this little lovefest went any further.
“Nope and nope. You?”
“Nope and nope.”
More buzzes about cuteness abounded.
Keisha couldn’t help herself and finally laughed.
“I know, right,” Keith said. “I’d like to get to know you better, Keisha. Want to meet after work and I’ll take you to dinner?”
Normally, she’d have thought twice about accepting, internally making up all kinds of excuses to say no. Not this time. “Yes.”
There was scattered applause that made Keisha feel like she was in the middle of one of her favorite romcoms right before the train jerked and started moving.
The applause swelled, joined by cheers of relief.
Keisha took several more sips of the coffee, thankful for the sugar rush. Someone liked their mocha latte sweet! “Here.” She handed Keith the cup and rummaged through her purse for her cell. “Number and last name.”
“It’s how I roll.” Her job as a high school teacher called for nothing less. “You have a problem with that?”
“Not a one, ma’am.” He smirked. “Keith Marshall…”
Keisha almost hummed as she typed his name and number into her Contacts. Nice and strong name. Like him.
When she was done, she put away her cell and proffered her hand. “Keisha Martin.”
“Our towels we’ll have matching monograms.”
She chuckled and felt the heat of a fierce flush warming her cheeks. Looked like she wasn’t the only one who was a romantic.
Keisha slid off his lap to sit in the seat beside him, preparing for the inevitable separation. At least temporary separation, she told herself.
But when the train pulled into the station, and he moved to get off with her and most of the passengers, she arched a brow.
“I’ll walk with you, Keisha. It’s on my way.”
She liked the way her name sounded on his tongue and the commanding way he invited himself like he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. There was something irresistible about a man who could be gentle and strong in the same breath that made her heart twang.
An older woman patted her back as she walked by them. “You two take care of yourselves. And don’t forget breakfast next time, Keisha.”
Keisha smiled and nodded, but despite the fainting spell she didn’t regret her lapse.
If skipping breakfast meant her fainting into Keith Marshall’s arms, she’d do it all over again.