Normally, her mother only asked for money. There was never anything good between them.
She pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. She didn’t even know why she was allowing herself to think of her mother.
Caleb offered her his arm and she took it, sliding hers through, linking them together. It felt good.
She pushed some hair off her face, and they made their way toward the diner. Like most Mondays, it was busy. She often passed it on the way to the store.
Caleb held the door for her first, and she stepped inside, nerves hitting her quickly. She had nothing to do with her mother’s affairs, but she was always judged because of it. He put a hand on her waist and led her toward the far table that only had two seats. It wasn’t private, and she was aware of all the stares.
After removing her coat, she placed it on the back of her chair. Caleb further surprised her by pushing her chair under the table.
“Thank you,” she said.
He took the seat opposite her.
Her back was to the room while he faced everyone.
She picked up the menu and perused the items.
Caleb reached out and put a hand on hers. “Ignore them.”
Lilly looked up. “You notice the glares.”
“So, they look at you like that. Ignore them.”
“Says like a man who doesn’t experience it.” She pressed her lips together.
“You think I don’t know what it’s like to be glared at? I know what women say about me, Lilly. Some of it is true. Not all of it. I play the role of a rebel and a heartbreaker. It’s the role they give me, and I’ve got no problem doing it. I like it, and if women throw themselves at me, I still get judged for it. I don’t sleep with every single woman who looks my way. I have standards.”
Lilly lowered her menu. “You’re saying you’ve never been with a married woman?”
Lilly smiled, feeling somewhat lighter.
“Don’t let them get to you,” Caleb said. “You have every right to be here. I want to be with you and enjoy dinner. Ignore the rest. This is your life as well.”
“Don’t mention it.” He winked at her, and she rolled her eyes. The waitress took forever to come to their table. Every time Caleb tried to talk to her, she’d avoid him. They’d been seated for a good twenty minutes before Caleb got up and went to the diner’s main kitchen. Seconds later, Joanne, the owner, came out.
She saw the woman who’d been avoiding them and waved her closer. Whatever the woman said made the waitress pale and scurry away. Joanne took the notepad and pen and came toward them.
“Sorry about that, Caleb. Consider dinner on the house,” Joanne said.
“I don’t mind paying,” Lilly said. She didn’t want to get special treatment or be rude.
Joanne pointed toward the back wall. “See that sign?”
Lilly looked in the direction and at big bold letters that read the words, served in five minutes or you don’t pay.
“Oh,” Lilly said.
“Ever since I took over this diner from my father, I prided myself on customer service. No one can rival me. I’m that good. A little wounded waitress isn’t going to set me back the years I’ve taken to build this reputation up. Caleb knows this. He used to work here and was one of the best damn waiters I knew. Now, what can I get you?”
Lilly was surprised.
Caleb ordered first, and she decided to have the same as him.
“You worked here?” Lilly asked.
“For three years. During high school, the year after, and I’ve been a regular ever since. If I notice she’s swamped, I’ll grab an apron and get to work. Joanne’s a good woman. I like her. Always have.”
Within minutes, their food arrived, and Lilly got stuck in.
This was a date.
Lilly didn’t know it.
Caleb felt like the biggest fucking loser on the planet.
Taking her to the diner for a date. The food was amazing, and he didn’t want it to be so obvious he was asking her on a date. Of course, Tiffany, the clinger, had to be working tonight. He hadn’t chased her.
Tiffany had come on to him, and he’d been with her a few times, but she’d initiated everything. He never asked for her.
His mother was right. She’d always warned him that his carefree attitude would get the better of him.
“So, why don’t you have a car?” he asked.
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