Chapter One

The evening air was cool in the autumn month of November. Adriana could see people passing by the bookstore where she worked, clutching their coats closer to their bodies. She was stacking books in their genre order, much like she did every day she came into work.

Tucked in the corner of the bookstore sat the little coffee shop where patrons came to sit, sip on coffee and read their books. Leaning against the counter, dark red hair swept up into a messy ponytail was Scarlet. She glanced across the way and lifted her hand in a wave when she saw Adriana.

Adriana set aside her books and moved to stand beside the counter across from her friend. "It's pretty slow today," she said with a sigh.

Scarlet shrugged one shoulder and made a show of wiping down the counter as her boss walked by. "That's what happens when it gets cold. No one wants to venture outside, even if only to come in here where it's nice and toasty."

"I don't get that. That's all I would want to do on a cold day is hang out in a bookstore drinking coffee and reading," Adriana said, glancing back out the window at the people rushing by, paying no mind to the quaint bookshop.

"Uh oh," Scarlet said, ducking her head. "Watch out. Hottie approaching at twelve o'clock." She paused. "Well...your six."

Adriana turned around to see who Scarlet was referring to and tried not to make eye contact. It was the boy with the pretty blue eyes and blonde hair. He was one of Adriana's regulars. He came in all the time inquiring about different books and sitting for hours on end just reading. Adriana thought he was cute, and didn't mind him taking up her bookstore for any length of time.

Approaching the bar, the boy looked at Adriana, then at Scarlet and said, "Can I get coffee, black please?"

Scarlet flashed a smile. "Sure thing," she said. Turning, she grabbed one of the clean white mugs with one hand and the coffee pot with the other. She turned, set the mug down and filled it with ease. "Anything else I can do for you?" she wondered politely.

"Nope, that will do it. Thank you," he said quietly, as he handed her the money he owed her. "Keep the change." He walked away from the counter, passing by other coffee drinkers on his way, moving to a seat on the other side of the bookshop where a book awaited on his seat. He settled down into his chair and opened the book, glancing briefly back up at the girls as he did so.

Scarlet was unabashed as she watched the man walk away, but her attention was diverted as she recognized one of the faces he passed. He sat by himself, coffee mug in hand. A book lay, unopened on the table. He looked innocent enough but Scarlet immediately looked down and focused on an imaginary smudge on the table. "Adriana," she said quietly. "That guy over there...he is in here all the time." She flicked her eyes toward him and saw him glance at her and she looked to Adriana, brown eyes slightly wide. "I think he's stalking me."

"Scarlet...you realize that is the direct definition of a regular right? If he's here all the time, then that usually just means he comes for the coffee, the books and the ambiance like many other people. That does not mean he's stalking you," Adriana said patiently.

Scarlet made a face at Adriana. "Shut up," she said. "He could be a killer for all you know."

"Yeah? Well he could be a police officer for all you know," Adriana shot back with a raised eyebrow lifted above the rim of her glasses.

"Oh yeah? Well...why don't we just go ask him?" Scarlet asked. She grabbed the coffee pot and skirted around the counter. "You're gonna miss me if he kills me," she said before walking across the room.

Adriana rolled her green eyes skyward and called to her best friend, "You go ahead and do that, but I'm going back to work before my boss starts creeping around." She left the counter and headed back to her stack of books.

Pausing at the table where the man sat, Scarlet smiled. "Can I give you a refill?" she asked, blinking innocently.

The man glanced up at her with his grey eyes and smiled slightly, "Sure...Scarlet," he said.

She blinked and poured the coffee into his cup. "H-how do you know my name?" she asked quietly.

The man stared at her for a second before saying, "It's written on your name tag."

Scarlet looked down at the nametag she wore and blushed. "Oh," she said. "Um...sorry. I just...my friend and I were talking about you. I notice you're here all the time and I'm worried that you might be stalking me or, like, a killer or something but she said you're probably here for the coffee or maybe you're a cop. So which is it? Killer or cop?" She gasped softly. "Cop killer?"

The man looked at her like she might be the crazy one. "Um...neither? I'm just Nate, and I come here for the coffee, really. It's a good atmosphere here, and I like it. If I make you uncomfortable, then I can just leaveā€¦" he trailed off as he started to stand.

"Oh no," Scarlet said quickly. "No, no, no, you're fine. Really. I just...I'm gonna go. Enjoy your coffee. Do you want a muffin? On the house since I, you know, accused you of being a stalker. And a killer."

"No thanks. I'm good. And you're fine really. Have a nice day, Scarlet."

"You too," she muttered, cheeks heating in a blush as she all but ran back to the counter.

Adriana watched Scarlet practically run back behind the counter and wondered what had happened. She had begun putting books away on the shelves when she noticed the blonde man a few chairs away laughing.

"I don't usually see you laughing while you read. Did you choose a comedy today?" she wondered as she walked by.

"No, I was just laughing at that guy over there striking out with that waitress is all. I thought it was amusing," he shrugged.

"Some people have a hard time talking to opposite genders. It's not exactly something to laugh at," Adriana said glancing up at her friend who had suddenly become very interested in her work doing all in her power to avoid even looking in the possible stalker's direction.

"Do you?" he asked. Adriana whipped her head to look at him.

"Do I what?" she asked, unsure about where he was going with this.

"Have a problem talking to the other gender?" he clarified.

"I don't think that is any of your business, and it's sort of rude to even inquire such a thing on such a stranger basis," Adriana declared, placing a few more books on the shelf.

"Well according to your friend over there, your name is Adriana," he said with a shrug, taking a sip of his coffee and watching her over the glass rim.

"You talked to her?" Adriana demanded, wondering why Scarlet would tell this stranger anything about her at all.

"No, I overheard her talking about me to you as I was walking up to order coffee. Something about a hottie at twelve o'clock?" he asked with a smirk. Adriana rolled her eyes.

"Uh huh, that's awfully bold of you to admit that you were eavesdropping on us. That drops your hotness level down quite significantly," Adriana said a little harshly. He wasn't all that attractive anymore now that he'd shown such a thing about himself.

"I suppose," he said, "it's a good thing I am significantly more attractive than most people."

"And modest too," Adriana said sarcastically. "Tell me, what does one call a person who thinks so highly of himself?"

"Jared," he said with a smile.

Adriana stared at him for a moment before saying, "Well, Jared, it's been lovely talking to you, but I have a job to do, and you sitting here harassing me is not conducive to me finishing that job."

"Conducive? That's a big word for such a small girl. If you don't mind; however, I think I'm going to stay a while and finish my coffee. I hope that's not too much like harassment for you," Jared smirked.

"No, please. Stay. Finish your coffee. Next time maybe I'll suggest she spit in it," Adriana said before turning and walking away with her stack of books.