Page 10 of Eight Dates

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“And you’re here. Your brother set you up…this week?”

Ben grimaced. “I guess this is what my brother thinks passes for celebration since we didn’t go see our parents. And the guy I’m meeting is named Chaz, so I’m not holding my breath that this is going to go well.”

“Chaz? Yikes,” Nova said. “Listen, if you need a rescue, just thumb your nose.” He demonstrated in a way much smoother than Ben would ever be able to pull off. “I’ll come save you.”

Ben flushed hotly in his core and hoped it didn’t show on his face. “Thanks. I can take care of myself, but I appreciate it.”

“We all need a hand every now and again. Something I feel like you already know,” Nova added, eyeing Ben’s pocket where he’d put the cash. “Good luck, kind stranger who gives his coat out to random people he assumes are homeless.”

Ben stumbled back a step. “Ben,” he said in a rush. “My name is Ben, and I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

“Ben,” Nova said, his lips curling around Ben’s name in a way that made it sound beautiful instead of plain. A few tickets started printing at his little kiosk, and he took a step back. “You didn’t make me feel bad, Ben. In fact, you made me feel better than I have in a long, long time.”

And then he was gone, and Ben was dismissed.


The tiny splashof whiskey didn’t take the edge off any of Ben’s nerves. Neither did the menu selections, but he wasn’t really hungry as it was, so when the server finally approached him, he just ordered the bruschetta for the table and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Ben: I think pick number one stood me up. Well done.

He fired the text off to his brother before slipping his phone into his pocket, and just as he straightened, a voice to his left said, “Do you make it a habit to text on dates?”

Ben spun in his seat and locked eyes on the guy from the photo. It was the most bizarre sensation because for all that Ben had set a thousand different expectations, he hadn’t expected Chaz to look exactly like his profile photo.

But he did.

Down to the salmon polo shirt collar visible under his black coat.

He was tall—much taller than Ben—and he sort of hovered even when Ben stood up and offered his hand to shake.

“No kiss?” Chaz asked.

Ben couldn’t tell if the guy was joking, which was only slightly terrifying. He managed a smile as he sat back down and tried not to stare as Chaz removed his coat, revealing impressive biceps. “I’m glad you could make it,” Ben said once Chaz was seated. “I was starting to worry when you were running late.”

Chaz laughed. “On time is early.”

Again, was he joking? Ben tried to smile, but he was pretty sure it looked like a grimace. “I hope you’re okay with bruschetta. We didn’t get a chance to talk about allergies or…”

“Allergies? You know those are a sign of weakness, right?” Chaz said.

This time, Ben knew the guy was being serious, and he decided to swallow back his response because yeah. There was no chance in hell he was going further than an appetizer with a guy who showed up late, gave him shit for texting, asked for a kiss before they were even introduced, then implied allergies were a matter of bodily strength.

“Well, help yourself. I already got a drink, and the server should be—oh.”

As if summoned, a woman with a high blonde ponytail finally appeared, and Chaz ordered a pint and the hot wings. He smiled at Ben when she walked away. “I hope you’re hungry.”

He wasn’t. He most definitely wasn’t. “So, Chaz…your profile says you’re—”

“I’m in finance. I work for my father, but before you assume it was a nepo-hire, I worked my ass off to get this job. I got the VP title last year, and I have a wall full of awards to prove it.” Chaz leaned forward, poked his finger through all the tomatoes on every piece of bruschetta, then sat back and folded his arms. “And you’re what? A teacher, right?”

Ben licked his lips. “History professor at the university. I got my PhD in…”

“There was a guy in our beer league who taught middle school history,” Chaz interrupted, speaking over Ben like it was his job. “Teaching’s a kind of adorable job. He was also the soccer coach. You coach?”