I sat in Rachelle’s Café. Today’s seat was facing the door.
I tried to switch it up so he wouldn’t know.
If my back was to the door, maybe one day, if he noticed me, he wouldn’t think I was looking for him, waiting, hoping for a glimpse.
Even though I was.
Raiden Ulysses Miller.
An amazing name for an amazing man.
The bell over the door rang, and having months of practice in not letting my hope and eagerness show, I slowly lifted my eyes to look, my heart skipping a beat.
It wasn’t him.
I brought my coffee cup to my lips and took a sip, hiding my disappointment.
I’d started crushing on Raiden Miller when I was six and he came to Grams’s annual picnic.
He was nine.
He was also beautiful.
Over time, he got more beautiful. He was just one of those boys who started out gorgeous and just got better.
So by the time I got to high school, a freshman to his senior, I was gone for him. He was the most popular boy in school. Tall. So tall. Six foot four. Broad. Muscular. His hair a rich, dark brown, and even back then there were burnished highlights in his hair like he went to Betsy’s Salon.
He didn’t. It was natural and still the same. His sister Rachelle had the same hair. Everyone was jealous.
Only of Rachelle.
As for Raiden, I just wanted to touch his hair, see if it was as thick and silky as it looked.
Just one touch and I’d be happy.
After high school, everyone thought it was so cool he went into the Marines. The perfect fit for him. Even as a boy, he was a man’s man. His Dad had taken off and after that everyone knew he’d taken care of his Mom and sister. He kept their yard looking nice, fixed stuff at their house, and even though he played football in the fall and baseball in the spring he got jobs to help make ends meet.
He was a good kid, grew up fast because his Dad was gone, and he easily took on that responsibility which made everyone like him. So the Marines were a natural choice, Raiden deciding to serve our country and doing it by joining the baddest of the badasses, as everyone knew the Marines were. Or maybe this was just me thinking Raiden was the baddest of the baddasses because he stepped up at a young age and looked after his family. But I think most everyone agreed.
What surprised folks was when he got out.
I’d heard people talking.
“Off the grid.” I’d heard Paul Moyer, who owned the feed store, say. He’d gone on, “Suppose it’s not a surprise, what with what went down over there, ole Raid losin’ his buddies like he did. Gettin’ that medal. What he had to do to get it. But still, sad to see a man like him… lost.”
I knew what went down. His squad had been nearly annihilated. They’d lost almost everyone. Word was Raiden had almost singlehandedly saved the few who survived, and not only that, he’d made certain the bodies of his comrades went with them so the enemy couldn’t get them.
I knew this because everybody talked, but also because it was such a big deal. It was all over the papers.
But the minute he could get out after that, he did.
Everyone thought he’d make a career of the Marines.
Then, six months ago, he came back to Willow.
The first time I saw him, having popped by Rachelle’s to grab a coffee, I’d stopped breathing.
He was no less gorgeous, not after all these years, nearly fifteen of them. He was just as tall, but even more muscular. His shoulders so broad you could plant a tabletop on them and it would hold steady. Thick thighs. Sinewy, veined forearms. Big, rough hands.
And those eyes.
I’d studied them in the yearbook. So unusual, the way the green transformed from pupil to the edge of his iris.
They were better with him older, tan; his strong jaw always thickly stubbled, like he shaved once every week because he didn’t have the time or inclination to bother with it, and further, he didn’t care what people thought. Those lines radiating out the sides of his eyes which just made them more interesting.
His entire unbelievably handsome face and his thick, overlong hair seemed to exist in order to be a frame for those magnificent eyes.
It did a good job.
I could say this because I was an authority on this subject, as was nearly every available and not so available female in Willow, Colorado, our hometown.
But maybe I was the only one who crazily, creepily (it had to be said) semi-stalked him by hanging at out Rachelle’s Café simply to catch a glimpse of him.
Okay, so maybe it was more than just to catch a glimpse of him.
It was silly, but I couldn’t let go of the hope that one day he’d walk in, look at me, smile and maybe pop by my table to have a chat where I would boggle his mind with my brilliance. I’d charm him with my manner. Then he’d ask me out on a date. At the end of which, maybe, hopefully, I’d finally be able to touch his hair (amongst other things).
This never happened.
A couple of times, those beautiful eyes of his looked through me. Once, embarrassingly, I didn’t move my gaze fast enough when he glanced through the café and he caught me studying him.
But he just gave me a chin lift and looked away.
That was it.
He did seem to have a lot on his mind. He never came to the café to hang out, eat lunch, anything like that. He usually moved through, always grinning at his sister if she was around, heading straight to the back room and disappearing.
This was, of course, intriguing; why he’d come to the café and disappear.
Then again, everything about Raiden Miller was intriguing.
It also meant that he didn’t hang out to eat, and perchance, gaze about the room and fall madly in love with me.
And at that moment, I was realizing this was also not going to happen that day. I’d been there a while. It was getting late and I rarely saw him there late.
So I grabbed my purse and tossed down enough money to cover the check lying on the table, including a generous tip. Should a miracle occur and Raiden finally notice me, buttering up his sister with big tips wasn’t a bad thing. She was a year ahead of me in high school. We’d known each other since forever and she already liked me, as I did her.
It also was earned. Her food and service were both stellar.
I grabbed my coat off the back of the chair, shrugged it on and looped my purse on my shoulder.
“Later Hanna!” Rachelle called as I moved toward the front door.
“Later!” I called back, throwing a smile her way and putting my hand to the door.