Masked Hearts Chapter 2

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2 | Happy Hour Blind Date

Mark pulled into a parking space that faced the silhouettes of the university’s adobe buildings spreading out below the starlight. He still felt the warmth of Sienna’s skin against his lips. She must think he was a lunatic. He should’ve just said yes to dinner with her and canceled his blind date, except it was a set up with a client’s daughter.

He checked the texts on his phone to find the name of his date again. It looked familiar, but he couldn’t figure out why. It didn’t matter. He’d be polite but distant. A twinge of guilt pinched him as he stepped out of his car. He should go in with more of an open mind. For all he knew, Sienna never wanted to speak to him again. It’d probably be better to pursue someone who wasn’t his son’s teacher anyway.

But he’d wanted Sienna since the first day of school.

He walked up Central Avenue and enjoyed the eclectic neon signs that glowed in the night—a Zia symbol here, a coyote there, a sign that invited him to get his body pierced like a cactus. Though he was from Chicago, Albuquerque had enchanted him like the state motto said it would. The style and feel of the city was unique and always tugged at his appreciation of the odd.

He straightened his tie and readied his mind for the evening before him. The date would be fun. At the very least it would be practice so when he saw Sienna again he might be less of an idiot after two years of a self-enforced dating hiatus. He walked under the silver neon that said “The Cellar” and proceeded downstairs into a bar with jazz filling every corner.

Since it was early, the crowd was limited to a couple by the empty stage, a man at the bar and—his glance swept around to the other side—Ms. Warren sitting in a corner smiling at him. His eyes bulged. He checked his phone for the name again and saw Mia Warren. No wonder it’d sounded familiar. She was his daughter’s third grade teacher.

Now he felt like a fool. Unlike with Sienna, he’d never bothered to learn her first name and always just called her Ms. Warren.

He stared at her again. Her smile had faded, but she still looked hopeful. This was going to be a disaster. He had no interest in her whatsoever.

He smoothed down his tie and gave his business smile. She beamed, and he had to admit she was beautiful. Her blonde hair cascaded below her shoulders and rested just above her breasts, the tops of which were pushed up and showed off by the plunging neckline of her blue cocktail dress. But her glamor reminded him too much of his ex. Sienna’s understated beauty and quick wit excited him far more.

“Ms. Warren, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize you were my date tonight. I would’ve said something at school.” He sat down, and she kept grinning.

“It’s okay. I wasn’t for sure certain it was you that my dad set me up with. I didn’t realize you were the architect for the Argentina school.”

Something in her eyes put him off, but he couldn’t figure out what. “Yes, that was something I did when business was slow. Fortunately it got me several paid jobs.”

“You seem to do well enough.”

He watched her gaze sweep over him, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, let’s just have a good laugh about this over a drink and then call it a night. We probably shouldn’t date since you teach my daughter.”

“Forget it! That’s work. This is play.”

He ran his finger under his shirt collar as he listened to the words he’d planned on saying to Sienna if she had balked at dating a parent. A group of teachers making their entrance saved him from a response.

“Mia!” shouted a young woman who was dressed more like a trampy woo-girl than the third grade teacher he knew her to be. He looked behind her and saw half the teaching staff from Desert Eagle Elementary trickling their way.

Remembering what Sienna had said about going to a staff Happy Hour, he turned and glared at Mia. She’d known who she’d been set up with and had brought him here to show off to the staff. His disparaging glance was lost on her though as she introduced him as one of the parents from her class. “We were set up on a blind date. Can you believe that? It’s fate.”

The woo-girl squeezed his face in her hands and said, “You’re just so gorgeous I could eat you up right now.”

“Me first,” said Mia, and they both laughed. The teacher released his face and sat down at their table along with another woman. The three teachers talked like they were on some sort of communal date.

Women closer to his own age and a couple of men he recognized from the school sat at a long table nearby and stared at his group while they talked. He had to get out of there before Sienna showed up. She might misunderstand the whole situation. Even though the waitress arrived soon for their order and returned fast with their drinks, it seemed to Mark as if she took forever. He kept glancing at the door, hoping Sienna wouldn’t show. Now that his Scotch was there, he’d down it and go.

Mia took his hands, drawing his attention away from the door and to her. “So when’s the last time you sat at a table with so many hot women? Shelly says you never go out.”

“Shelly?” His mouth fell open.

“Yeah, we talk all the time. She’s so much fun. She has the best ideas for the class Halloween party.”

He could well imagine Ms. Warren and his ex getting along. Ms. Warren certainly didn’t seem like the type to spend her Saturdays documenting her class’s progress, and Shelly was the original party girl. He tugged at his hands, but she held them fast. He said, “Better be careful not to let Shelly have too much input. She’ll probably book a puppet show, a storyteller and a pony.”

“Exactly! It’ll be awesome!”

As if on queue the three teachers at the table shouted, “Woo!”

He had to get out of this bad spring break dream. The woman next to him said in a lower voice, “Looks like someone’s jealous of you, Mia.”

Mark yanked his hands away and turned around to see Sienna, her fists clenched at her sides and her eyes wide in surprise.

The fire in Sienna’s eyes stirred his passion. Her dark hair fell to her shoulders with a wave at the bottom instead of the ponytail she usually pulled it up in for school. Her skin had a natural tan that made her appear smooth and unblemished. Her slip of a dress fell just right on her slim figure and made him want to kiss her like a movie couple in front of everyone.

God, he was an idiot. He was sure she’d never talk to him again.

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