His Secret Barista by Nyla Lily

Danielle

I’d met plenty of people before at my job. Working behind a front register, the position made it impossible to avoid them. Offering a smile as I made their coffee. That’s all I could really do. None of them really stood out.

Not before he walked into the coffee shop. The man in the suit who looked like he carried far too much weight on his shoulders. Mr. Kingston.

A steak and cheese panini with a hazelnut latte. Always wanted two extra espresso shots. He didn’t even have to order; I knew what to type in the moment he approached the counter. Then, after getting his order, he’d sit next to the large display window and enjoy his lunch.

He’d only come occasionally, sometimes it felt like weeks would pass. Then he’d reappear, offering a smirk when he realized I still remembered his order. Now, it felt like he stopped by every day. Hardly anything kept us apart.

How could I possibly forget about a man like him?

My heart made it impossible. Call me ridiculous, but I didn’t think any other customer had such an effect on me. I wouldn’t call it love. I’d have to know him more than his order for it to be anything more than a crush.

I’d have to make up a conversation with the guy for it to be love.

“Don’t look,” Cindy whispered next to me. “But I think you’re being stared at.”

I’d been cleaning one of the espresso machines when my favorite worker slid over in my direction. Ignoring her, I turned to see who she could’ve been talking about.

Mr. Kingston sat in his favorite spot. His attention rested on his phone. Must’ve been his job that held his attention. Unfortunately, it seemed he wasn’t the one Cindy had been referring to. Pulling my eyes from the man, I looked around.

I noticed another guy looking in my direction. Sitting at one of the small round tables with a coffee in his hand, he offered a smile when I met his gaze. Had to be around my age, maybe a few more years older.

“He’s cute,” she continued to whisper. “I think he’s interested. He’s been looking this way for a while now.”

Looking toward her, I laughed. “That doesn’t sound creepy or anything,” I joked before returning my attention back to my work. Sadly, I wasn’t much better than that guy. I always looked in the direction of a man that wouldn’t want anything to do with the person they liked the most.

Mr. Kingston would want a mature woman, one who aged like a fine wine. More like himself.

After saving myself as long as I had, maybe a guy my age wouldn’t hurt. At least then, I’d have someone. I wouldn’t keep pining over someone I couldn’t reach.

“I think you might overthink things at times,” I warned her. “Who would want to hook up with some barista? I’m sure they could do much better.” I felt a small hit to my arm and then noticed her frown. Of course she’d disagree. As my friend, she had to.

“If you don’t reject him, I might start shooting smiles in his direction.” She laughed, shifting her hands around to keep looking busy. “For all you know, you could meet the perfect guy at work. All I’m saying is that if you don’t want to be alone, you’re gonna have to be the one to push.”

I laughed at the thought. Cindy didn’t know about my feelings for the older man by the display window. The perfect guy sat only a few feet away. So close, yet so far.

“I guess I’ll end up lonely for the rest of my life then.” Another hit to my arm brought a laugh from my lips.

“Well, I’m not sure about the rest of your life,” she murmured, her voice returning low. “That cute guy is now standing at the front counter.” She chuckled and my stomach did a small flip. “Something tells me he’d rather you take his order.”

This time, I didn’t want to look. From her amusement, I knew she wouldn’t lie. I seriously didn’t feel like hearing some sort of confession from a guy who only spoke to me once before.

“If he asks for your number and you really don’t wanna give it away, you know mine.” She then sent a wink in my direction before abandoning the station. So much for being my friend. Knowing that she planned on busying herself long enough to make me be the only one who could take care of him, I sighed and turned.

Brown hair and soft matching eyes looked in my direction. A smile that should have made my stomach squeeze and tighten. Instead, I felt sick. At twenty-four, any sort of attention sent in my direction should’ve thrilled me. Instead, I felt uncomfortable.

Walking up to him, I offered my usual service smile. “Hey there, what else can I get for you?”

I hoped he planned on ordering something, taking it to go. When I watched him rest his elbows on the counter and look comfortable, my gut told me he didn’t plan on going anywhere. At least Cindy kind of gave me a backup plan.

The sort of grin he wore, I’m sure he easily made women’s hearts swoon. The effect didn’t work too well on me; I think.

His mouth began moving and words flowed out. If it weren’t for a distraction, I might’ve listened long enough to hear what he was saying.

A pair of piercing eyes caught my attention in the background. Eyes that always made my knees weak when I had to look into them whenever he came to order his meal.

Mr. Kingston looked in my direction. That normal stoic expression on his face transformed into one that I’d never seen before. Narrowed brows, lips curved down. A look that I’m sure scared many people.

Not me. No, not even close. My legs trembled, but fear had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Kingston never looked in my direction, and now that he had, I never wanted him to look away.

Then, he stood up.

“What do you think? You tell me what time you’re off, and I can show you some great Thai food.”

Right. The other guy. The one that I didn’t even remember the name of from writing it on his cup. I looked back at him and tried to find words. To be honest, I still felt shaken up. My mind felt jumbled and finding the words I needed became a challenge. A rejection, that’s all I needed.

“She’s busy.”

Mr. Kingston.

We both looked at him. Abandoning his seat, he’d approached us with only a few brisk steps. Plastered on his face, that same look remained. It felt impossible to breathe. My heart sounded like thunder from the way it pounded against my ribcage.

I looked at the other guy and noticed the way his skin paled. Like I’d expected, everyone would be terrified of being towered over by a man like Mr. Kingston. He took the hint. Offering an apologetic glance in my direction, he scrambled for the exit.

And now, I stood alone with my savior.

“Sorry, you looked like he trapped you between a rock and a hard place.” His words were smooth, like the rest of him. I couldn’t believe my ears. He was talking to me.

Heat flooded my cheeks, and I gripped the counter. If I let go, I thought my legs would try to give out. “No, don’t apologize. I appreciate it!” My voice cracked, and I wanted to melt into the floor. Far too embarrassing.

Then that frown of his lessened, and I knew my heart got the better of me.

I wanted the man far more than any man before. He’d saved me without being asked. Knew that I was in trouble without any words leaving my lips. How much longer would I be able to feel this way while doing nothing about it?

Remembering Cindy’s words about being the one to give a push, I met his gaze. Either my crush would be squashed, and I’d be able to move on, or something could happen. I had to go for it.

“I want to show my gratitude. I get off at five.” Biting the corner of my lip, I ignored the hesitation weighing heavy in my gut. “Let me buy you dinner.”

The man who had always been so unreachable stood only inches away. I knew I’d be grasping at straws. Who’d want to try anything with a barista?

Keeping his gaze felt impossible. I noticed the way his brows lifted an inch, as if he felt surprised. A man like him had to be asked out by beautiful women constantly. Maybe he was trying to figure out how to turn down a bland nobody. Maybe he—

“I’ll see what I can do.”