ndrea, I need your help.” Judy waved to her from the checkout counter.
After setting the warm pile of freshly folded towels onto the shelf next to the sinks, Andrea walked over to her. “What’s up?”
“First, good call on the cut for that last customer. She looked incredible with that bob.”
Andrea shrugged. “Good. I figured she would.”
“You have a knack for that. Knowing what will look good on someone. Including me.” She pointed a finger playfully at Andrea’s face. “That’s impressive. Not everyone knows how to style black hair.”
“Well, you were easy.” Andrea glanced at the halo of short springy curls that framed Judy’s beautiful face. “Anything would look good on you.”
It wasn’t a lie. Judy totally rocked the look. Warm copper undertones made her brown skin glow and her tall slender figure caught everyone’s eye. More than once Andrea had seen guys follow Judy through the mall with their tongues almost hanging out.
“It’s more than that and someday you’ll realize this is your calling.” Shaking her head, Judy held up a ten-dollar bill. “Totally unrelated, but I need you to pick up my dinner from the Sub Shop next door.”
“Ugh, really?” Andrea groaned. “Why me?”
“Because I’m busy and hungry.”
“And,” Andrea said with a smirk, “because you don’t want to have to talk to the jerk manager, Stanley.”
“Bingo.” Judy laughed and laid the money on the counter.
“I can’t believe you went on a date with him. He’s so gross.”
“Temporary insanity.” Judy laughed and pushed the money toward her. “How about this? You can keep the change.”
“Fine, but I’m buying a cookie with it.” She picked up the bill and headed toward the door.
“Ask for extra mayo, please!” Judy called out.
Andrea held up her thumb and walked out into the crowded mall thoroughfare. She really didn’t mind helping Judy out. After her mom bailed, Judy stepped in and helped Andrea out—gave her advice, beefed up her hours so she could save more money, and even gave her some extra bonus pay for little extra things Andrea did around the salon.
But it was a trade-off. The manager at the sandwich place was a total ass. She didn’t want to have to deal with his condescending, chauvinistic attitude.
Andrea weaved through the shoppers and entered the brightly lit sandwich store. The smell of warm bread made her mouth water. Her stomach rumbled, too. Half a bowl of mac-n-cheese and part of a hot dog just didn’t cut it for dinner, but a chocolate chip cookie would hit the spot.
She stepped up to the empty metal counter and glanced toward the door leading to the back room.
“Hello?” Waiting, she tapped her fingers with the beat of the Pet Shop Boys song coming from the overhead speakers. After another moment, she called out again. “Hell-o!”
Sneakers squeaked as a guy bolted around the doorframe from the back.
Mr. Menudo. Her pulse jumped from resting to full-on sprint pace.
His black t-shirt still hugged his biceps, but the front had been covered by a white apron. The black spikes on his head were hidden under a hairnet. Eyes wide, he removed it with a swipe of his hand.
She glanced at the nametag pinned to the chest of his apron—Crew Member Gio. Hot name.
“Holá.” Gio walked to the counter, dimples on full display. “I mean, hi.”
“Hi.” She raised an eyebrow. “Is that the Sub Shop official greeting now?”
“Oh, sorry. I’m new.” He leaned his elbows onto the counter, lacing his fingers together. “And looking at you, I really can’t remember what I’m supposed to say.”
He was tall, but his slouch brought his dark eyes level with hers. A sweet heat filled her chest and bled into her face. Wow, confident much?
Gio drew in a breath through his nose. “What can I get for you?”
Andrea blinked. “Uh, my boss called in an order. Her name’s Judy.”
“Sí, sí. Got it.” Gio turned and reached for the paper bag sitting under a warming light. He touched the empty napkin dispenser and shook his head. He bent to retrieve more from the cabinet below.
Andrea smiled at the view.
“Here you go.” Gio set the bag on the counter in front of her.
“Uh… aren’t you forgetting something?” She held out the money.
Pink filled his cheeks and he gave her a mock salute. “An honest girl. I like that.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to get you fired.” Andrea watched his long fingers as he punched the sale into the register. Goosebumps raced across the back of her neck.
“Thanks. I don’t want to get fired either.” The drawer popped open and he counted out her change. “Mamá would kill me.”
Slamming the drawer shut, he placed the money into her hand. His warm fingertips brushed her palm and she shivered.
What the hell? He’s just a dude. A hot dude, but still.
“Oh, I forgot.” Andrea pocketed the money in her jeans. “Judy wants extra mayo.”
“Sure.” Gio grabbed a small, clear plastic cup and held it under the pump spout for the mayo. He pressed down, but nothing came out. He shook the large container a little and tried again. Still no go.
“Sorry, one sec.” He met her eyes and winked. “I promise, I do know what I’m doing.”
He balled up his fist and gave the spout a gentle pound. A clump of dried mayonnaise dislodged from the end of the spout, allowing the rest to flow freely. Mayo spurted everywhere. On the counter, on Gio’s apron—and all over Andrea.
She gasped and jumped back slightly, biting her bottom lip to keep from laughing.
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry!” He grabbed another wad of napkins as his cheeks went from pink to red. “I mean… dammit.”
Andrea had to laugh at the horrified look on his face. He avoided her eyes as he wiped the mess from her arm.
“It’s okay, really. I hear mayo is good for hair.”
“Diós, I got it in your hair, too?” He finally met her eyes. “Lo siento.”
He took her hand in one of his and used the other to gently wipe her skin. Andrea let him, giving in to the ridiculous urge to have him touch her.
“Accidents happen. Don’t worry about it.” She giggled. “I work at a hair salon. I’m sure I can wash it out.”
“Yeah, I uh saw you there.” Gio sighed. “This wasn’t exactly how I thought I’d meet you, though.”
His mumbled, el estúpido made her laugh again.
He looked up from the napkin he held to her arm. “Tu hablás Espanol?”
“Only what I learned when I paid attention in class.” She smiled. “And you aren’t an idiot.”
“Thanks. I sure feel like one.” Gio grinned and a new dimple imploded in his cheek. “I get a chance to meet a beautiful girl and I cover her with mayo. Smooth as Ex-Lax.”
Andrea laughed again, but it was her turn to avoid his eyes. Beautiful. Right. Not her.
“Sorry,” Gio said. “You probably have a boyfriend who’s going to kick my ass for spraying you with condiments.”
She shook her head. “No, and my big brother is away at boot camp, so you’re safe there, too.”
He raised his thick eyebrows. “Oh. Then can I ask you a personal question?”
“Uh, depends.” Andrea frowned. It was all fun and games until the secrets started to fly.
“Cómo te llama?” He grinned. “Or is that too personal?”
“No. Me llama Andrea?” She scrunched her forehead. “Did I get it right?”
“I don’t know. If your name is Andrea, then you did.” They laughed and he reached for her other hand to clean the mayo from that arm. “I’m, Gio.”
“I know.” She nodded to his nametag. “Is that short for something else?”
“Italian?” Andrea sucked on her bottom lip as Gio turned her arm back and forth to check for mayo. Damn, he has really soft hands.
“My grandfather was part Italian. I’m named after him. But most of my family is from Mexico. My last name is Ruiz.” He tossed the napkins into the trash. “All done.”
Darn it. “Thanks. I’ll take care of the hair.” She picked up the bag containing Judy’s sandwich.
He handed her a filled container of mayo. “Be careful. That stuff is dangerous.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She stood there for a moment, pretending to check the bag.
He opened his mouth then closed it then sighed. “Hey, would you mind if… oh, wait. I missed a little.”
Gio reached for her and wiped a drop of mayo from her cheek with his thumb. Her heart spluttered inside her chest.
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