<p><b>Copyright © Bailey Bradford 2018. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Pride Publishing.</b></p>
Tony Rossi grumbled as he glared at the gas pump. He hadn’t noticed the small sign on it stating that the credit card reader wasn’t working. He glanced around him. All the other pumps were occupied and his car was dangerously close to being on Empty. It was hot—of course, it’s south Texas—and he didn’t want to have to unfasten Ina from her car seat and drag her into the gas station to pay.
He also didn’t want to run out of gas in a traffic jam on the Interstate. Plastering on a smile despite his irritation, he turned and winked at Ina. His precious daughter didn’t deserve any of his crankiness.
Tony opened the passenger-side back door and leaned in. “Hey, looks like you get to come in with me. We’ve gotta pay inside.”
Ina squealed and clapped her hands. Her dark brown hair was growing so quickly, it’d be to her shoulders soon. Five weeks after her last chemo treatment and her hair was already over an inch long. The length accentuated her big eyes, and damned if Tony was able to say no to her when she asked him for anything.
Which was why going into the gas station wasn’t ideal. He held out his right hand to Ina so he could assist her.
“Can I get candy? And chips? And a blue Icee?” Ina hopped out of the car, clutching his hand. “Do they have pizza? I could get pizza.”
And there they were, the big, brown puppy-dog eyes she gave him, now fringed in thick black lashes. Five months ago, she didn’t have those. The pang to his heart stole his breath. That still happened often when he realized how close he’d come to losing his little girl.
“I don’t know if they do, but we could always make a pizza when we get home, or have your favorite place deliver. If we order now, it’ll get to the house not long after we do,” Tony offered. They walked between the pumps and over to the gas station door. “Remember our talk yesterday about eating mostly healthy foods?”
“Aw,” Ina groaned. “Always?”
“Not always, but do you think you need everything you asked for just a minute ago?” Tony murmured a ‘thank you’ to the lady who held the door for them after she came out.
Ina opened her mouth—whether to argue or not, he didn’t get to find out, because instead she let go of his hand and ran to the counter.
“Ina!” Tony rushed after her. The counter was only a dozen or so feet away, but someone could snatch Ina and run with her.
“I know you!” Ina waved at the clerk. “You work at that fun place to eat.”
“Ina, don’t run off like that.” Tony glanced at the person standing beside Ina, a customer paying for a six-pack of beer. “Sorry.”
“Eh, she’s fine,” the customer replied.
“I do work at Georgie’s. You’re right. And I remember you, too, and your dad.”
Tony blinked at the clerk. Enzo, Shift Manager. As if he needed any help remembering the sexy man behind the counter. His face warmed with a blush. “Sorry.” All his words seemed to have abandoned him save that one.
Enzo, with his vibrant blue-green eyes and sandy-blond hair, was not a man to be forgotten. He was gorgeous, with cheekbones any model would envy—it was no wonder he’d been chosen to pose in the charity calendar Tony’s best friend, Hector, had also been a part of.
If Tony remembered right, Enzo was Mr. September.
Tony realized that Enzo had spoken while he’d been standing there, gawking like a fool. “Sorry.” God help me, I can’t speak! Or I shouldn’t speak. Jesus.
“It’s all good. Don’t worry about it.” Enzo smiled, and Tony’s pulse fluttered.
“Am I gonna get to pay for my stuff any time soon?”
Tony muttered another apology and tugged Ina away from the counter.
Ina turned to the man who’d griped. “I’m sorry, mister. I didn’t mean to cut in line.”
“Oh, I’m the one who’s sorry,” the guy said. “My mom would have smacked me.”
Ina’s eyes rounded. “Your mom would hit you?”
“Ina, let’s get that candy you wanted,” Tony urged, shooting the stranger an apologetic look.
Ina waited until they were down the candy aisle before stopping. She wasn’t interested in anything on the shelves yet. “What did I say wrong?”
Tony bent to kiss the top of her head. Her hair was so soft, not like it had been before she’d lost it. BC—before cancer—it’d been a little coarse. “Nothing, honey.”
“Daddy, you turned red twice.” She held up two fingers. “Twice. I saw.”
“How about we get that candy and an Icee, pay and get out of here?” Tony’s stomach rumbled, though he wasn’t so much hungry as he was anxious. He couldn’t pinpoint why, except that he’d made an idiot of himself in front of the most attractive guy he’d ever met.
“Okay. I’m not in trouble?” Ina sucked on her bottom lip.
“No, honey. You aren’t.” Tony pointed to her favorite candy. “That what you want?”
“Yes!” Ina smiled, dimples appearing in her cheeks, her concern about being in trouble forgotten.
Tony let her get a small Icee. As hot as it was outside, he wouldn’t deny her the cool treat. He promised her pizza, breadsticks and sauce for dinner, which put an end to her asking for chips and convenience store food.
Then he had to get in line to pay. And to see Enzo again.
Tony watched him as discreetly as possible. Enzo was a little shorter than him, maybe around five-ten. He had broad shoulders and from what Tony could see of his arms, nice muscles there, too. The bland beige uniform shirt he wore didn’t do his complexion any favors, but Enzo’s wide smile and happy banter with customers made him seem to glow.
Getting a little fanciful there, aren’t I? Tony allowed himself a mental eyeroll—the real ones would never happen on his end. He didn’t want Ina picking up that annoying habit from him. Although, from what he’d heard his friends who were parents say, it was an ingrained pre-teen-to-early-twenties behavior in kids.
I’m not a kid. Tony quit sneaking peeks as they got closer to the counter, instead focusing on Ina’s description of her favorite show’s latest episode. He wasn’t there to drool over Enzo and his primary concern was Ina, not anyone else.
“Looks like someone’s been good,” Enzo said, smiling at Ina. “Hey, my sister’s favorite Icee is the blue one, too. Personally, I like cherry the best.”
“Oh, me too,” Tony found himself saying.
Enzo turned that bright smile on him. “I tell my sister that’s because we have highly evolved taste buds, but she never believes me.”
Ina tugged at Tony’s hand. He tore his gaze from Enzo and looked at her. “Yes, honey?”
“What does evolved mean?” Ina frowned. “Does that mean it’s better? I don’t think it tastes better, and the blue is prettier anyway.”
Enzo cleared his throat and snagged Ina’s attention. “I was just teasing. The blue raspberry is as good as the cherry.”
“And blue’s prettier?” Ina pressed, bouncing up onto her toes.
Tony thought Enzo’s eyes were a prettier color than anything he’d seen in a while. He also decided he needed to save Enzo from having to lie if he didn’t love blue best. “Ina, remember, people have different opinions.” He took his wallet out and removed his bank card from it. “Here you go. That pump isn’t taking cards.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” Enzo took the card from him. Their fingers brushed and a jolt of warmth shot through Tony.
Enzo made a soft sound, a slight gasp that Tony almost missed before he ran the card through the reader…that was facing Tony. His face went hot with another blush. “Oh, er. I, um. I should have paid attention.”
“It’s all good.” Enzo handed the card back and his voice was lower, with a rough tinge to it. “People do it all the time, but you’ll need to enter your PIN and answer the mini-quiz.”
Who does that? Everyone swipes their own cards. Jesus, I’m an idiot. And what mini-quiz—“Oh.” He cringed. His vocabulary and actions certainly weren’t proof he had a Master’s in finance. “Thanks.” After he turned down cashback and the other question the card reader presented, he scrawled his signature with the digital pen and dared to glance at Enzo. “Thanks.” Crap, I said that a minute ago. “I mean—”
Someone behind him in line grumbled. Tony took the Icee and handed it to Ina, then tucked the candy into his shirt pocket.
“Have a nice day,” Enzo said, and Tony just knew that man’s smile was going to cause his heart to stop.
“You too,” he squeaked out, stepping aside so he could escape with perhaps a smidgen of dignity—although he was pretty sure he didn’t even have that left.
“Bye, mister!” Ina tried to wave with the hand she’d placed in Tony’s, which made for an awkward flopping movement on his part.
“Bye, Ina. See you later.” Enzo waved at her.
It was only once Tony got outside that it occurred to him he’d forgotten to pay for the gas. Screw it. He could drive with under a quarter of a tank of gas for once. There’d be another place to fill up his car before he ran out. Going back inside and making an even bigger fool of himself was out of the question.