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Authors: Ana Tejano

It's a Match

BOOK: It's a Match
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It’s a Match

 

Ana
Tejano

 

 

It’s
a Match

Copyright
© 2016 by Ana Tejano

Cover photo by
Rawpixel, designed by Ana Tejano.

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are
products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book
may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means
including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in
writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages
in a review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Aaron and JL - thanks for showing me the ropes.

 

 

01. The present.

 

Cams didn’t think Gabriel would actually show up after she’d texted
him earlier. She retracted it, sort of, telling him not to bother because it
really wasn’t an emergency. She just panicked and reached out to the first
person she knew would sympathize. After all, he was the only one who knew where
she was that night, besides her sister, Charlie.

But she knew he was out on a date too, which was why she changed her
mind and told him not to worry about her. It wasn’t like she was in danger or
anything; besides, she had already calmed down. Cams was at their friend’s
restaurant, just waiting for heavy traffic to go away before heading back home.
Gabriel could wait until tomorrow. 

So she wasn’t expecting him to arrive twenty minutes after she sent
her last message. Gabriel hadn’t replied, so she assumed he’d stayed put
wherever he was. But when the chimes over the door announced the arrival of a
new customer and the owner nodded in recognition, Cams turned around and found
herself caught in his intense gaze as he approached her.

She looked away quickly so he wouldn’t see her blush, but not
without noticing that his sleeves were now folded up. He’d had them covering
the whole length of his arms earlier that afternoon when he dropped by her
house. She tried to ignore the flip-flopping of her stomach and the quickening
of her heartbeat—something that her body had started doing involuntarily ever
since he’d been around her for the past week. Cams knew she was right about how
folded sleeves looked
so
good on him and smiled to herself, but it faded
when she remembered that he didn’t agree to her suggestion earlier, so perhaps
this was something his date had pointed out.

Did he tell her about this girl he was supposed to meet tonight?
Cams couldn’t remember. But she didn’t have time to think about it anymore
because warm hands were on her bare shoulders as Gabriel turned her around to
face him. Suddenly she was in his arms, and all coherent thought flew out of
her head.

 “Are you okay?” he asked as he pulled away to look at her. “Did he
do anything to you?”

Cams shook her head slowly, trying to gather the thoughts that were
oh-so-nicely disrupted by his scent, which filled her senses when he hugged
her. Woodsy, with a hint of sweat and cigarettes—secondhand smoke, because
Gabriel had never touched a cigarette in his life.

“No. Nothing happened. I’m okay,” she finally got to say.

He slowly let go of her shoulders, then took a seat at the bar stool
beside her. Their eyes met again, and his lips slowly curled into a sincere
smile.

“I’m sorry it took me a while to get here,” he said.

Cams’s face flushed. “It’s okay.” She reached for the glass of iced
tea she had ordered earlier to give her hands something to hold on to. “You
really didn’t have to come.”

“You expect me to ignore a message from you that started with ‘Help’?”

She resisted the urge to slap her forehead at the stupidity. She
really shouldn’t have sent that. “Well, thanks,” she said. “But you really
didn’t have to.”

Gabriel let out an exasperated sigh. She braced herself for a
lecture about how she’s downplaying herself again, but he just pursed his lips,
then called the attention of the bartender to order a glass of Jack Daniel’s.

She glanced at him, surprised. For someone who owned a bar in the
city where millennials partied every weekend, Gabriel rarely drank alcohol. He
didn’t like hangovers, he once said. She knew him well enough to know that he
only drank when something was bothering him. He couldn’t be
that
bothered
by her message, right?

 “Did something happen during your date?” she asked after the bartender
delivered his drink.

To her surprise, Gabriel hesitated. “No. Why do you ask?” Cams
motioned to the glass of whiskey in his hand.

 “Oh. No, this is nothing,” he said slowly. “I’m just . . . winding
down.”

 “But it’s still early,” Cams said. A glance at the big clock behind
the counter said it was only a little past eight, and she knew he never got
home before midnight on date nights. She wanted to believe that he was here
because of her, but this was Gabriel, her friend, who ignored even work emergencies
whenever he was out on a date. “You can’t possibly be here just because of me.”

 “Camilla,” his voice had turned low, her full name rolling off his
tongue, sending a slight shiver down her spine. “I’m here for you. Why is it so
hard to believe that?”

02. Three hours earlier.

 

Gabriel rolled his window down to surrender his ID at the
subdivision gate, but the guard just nodded and allowed him to go in. It took
him a second to recover from the surprise, then he lifted a hand to salute and
went on his way. It was about time they finally recognized him and simply let
him through after all the times he’d gone here.

After rolling up his window and tucking his ID back into his wallet,
Gabriel reached for his phone and hit the number on the screen. The phone linked
up to his car’s speakers as the call connected.

One ring. Two. It cut off halfway through the third ring, and Cams’s
familiar soft voice filled the car.

“Hello, Gabriel.”

He smiled, slowing down to let some people cross the street in front
of him before speaking. “Congratulations, Camilla Ronquillo! You’ve won an
online date!”

There was a pause, and he could imagine her rolling her eyes.
“You’re never going to let me hear the end of this, huh.”

“Be proud, it’s an achievement,” Gabriel answered with a chuckle. He
turned left, noting the house on the corner with a windmill in its yard, one of
the landmarks he remembered from the first few times he went to visit her. “You
finally let someone take you out!”

He heard some rustling, then the sound of her voice became
different, and he knew he was now on speaker. “I shouldn’t have told you all of
this,” she said regretfully.

“But you did, and remember who helped build your profile,” Gabriel
teased. “Look at you, going out with an almost-perfect stranger!”

Cams snorted. “Of course you’ll be proud. You practically pushed me
to go out with this guy.”

For the record, that wasn’t true. He didn’t make her say yes when
the guy she met on Sparked Match asked her out. He did give her an opinion when
she showed him the guy’s profile, but as for her saying yes, it was all her
doing. Gabriel had already pegged the guy as someone who wasn’t going to follow
through, despite all the interest online. He had that look. He knew the type
because he was one of them too. Sometimes.

Gabriel had been in the game for a while now, so he knew these
things. After all, online dating was all about numbers: the person you’re
talking to is also talking to about five other people, so you should be talking
to more. It was a matter of knowing who to ask—or in Cams’s case, who to say
yes to—from the matches you’d collected.

And he’d been in the game long enough to know that it was time for
him to quit. He had a reason, after all: Cams.

But thanks to all of Gabriel’s reservations and thoughts on how to
cross the boundaries they set for each other, some online guy got to her first.
And she agreed to go out with him. And of course, she told him. And Gabriel,
suddenly hit by some form of cowardice, didn’t do anything.

He couldn’t understand it either. Now this date bugged him worse
than a mosquito buzzing around his ear.

“Anyway, where are you? Are you still picking up the cupcakes? You
know I can’t be late for my date.”

He laughed, ignoring the little prickly sensation in his stomach,
just as he turned right onto Cams’s street and slowly approached her white SUV
parked in front of her place. “I’m five seconds away from your house.”

“Already? Geez, Gabe, you could have told me earlier so I’d have
been ready.” He heard some footsteps, then heard Cams yelling for her sister.
“Just go in and wait for me downstairs, okay?”

Her sister Charlie was waiting for him when he got out of his car.
She gave him a once-over, letting out a low whistle as he approached.

“Well, someone’s looking hot,” she said. He laughed and reached out
to ruffle the younger girl’s hair. Charlie was more outspoken than her sister
and had never been selfish with her compliments to him. She said once that she
was simply speaking for Cams, but the older sister never confirmed it.

He followed her inside, and Charlie yelled in a singsong voice, “
Ate
,
your date is here!”

“What!” was Cams’s muffled answer. He heard a door open, and her
voice came clear. “Gabriel, don’t believe that little brat.”

“I don’t know, I think I’d like to,” he replied loudly, winking at
Charlie, who giggled.

Cams didn’t have a comeback for that, but a few seconds later, he
heard the sound of heels making their way down the stairs. Charlie looked up
from the bottom landing, and a wide grin broke upon her face when she saw her
sister. It didn’t take too long until she appeared in front of Gabriel. His
eyes widened.

“Camilla,” he breathed out softly.

“Gabriel,” she answered, beaming at him. The short dark-red dress
fit her perfectly, showing off her bare shoulders, her dark hair framing her
face, making her look both mysterious and sweet.

He had always thought that Cams was beautiful, even without the
makeup and all that fancy stuff. Today, she looked positively stunning, so much
that it felt like every move she made sent shivers to different parts of his
body.

 “Will this make a good first impression?” she asked, twirling
around once for him. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, and it was all
he could do to not close the space between them and wrap her in his arms so she
wouldn’t have to meet someone else. “Or is this too dressy for a first online
date?” she added.

Of course this wasn’t for him. Why wasn’t she going out with him
tonight?

Right. Because he didn’t move fast enough.

“No, definitely not,” he answered, a smile tugging at the corner of
his lips. She smiled back and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“You look perfect, Camilla.”

Any guy would be crazy not to want to go out with her.

And Gabriel was one of them.

03. Two years ago.

 

Cams
met Gabriel Evangelista on the last day of her baking class. He was the cousin
of their instructor, Pia, and she had invited him to help judge their creations
for the day. Their last class was a bake-off, and the maker of the best baked
goodies could get a business deal, care of Pia and Gabriel.

She wasn’t competitive most of the time, but Cams liked the idea of
having something else to think about, so she set out to make her two
specialties: chocolate revel bars and red velvet cupcakes. She even practiced
frosting them at home a lot and enjoyed how something that looked so unassuming
could be so pretty and delicious after you dress it up.

It was the least she could do—make something pretty that someone
would want, even if no one wanted her.

“What are you making?”

She looked up from her mixer and found herself staring into a pair
of brown eyes so dark, they were almost black. Surprised, she took a step back,
her hand knocking off an empty cup from the counter. Gabriel’s hand shot out,
his quick reflexes catching the cup, smoothly putting it back.

“I’m making cupcakes,” Cams answered softly, pushing the rest of the
utensils away from the edge so she wouldn’t accidentally knock them off again.

Gabriel crossed his arms as he leaned against the counter, peering
into her mixing bowl. “Hmm.”

It was a noncommittal, observant “Hmm” that could’ve meant a hundred
things, really. But to Cams, it seemed like he was really saying “Boring,”
instead. She was fully aware that red velvet cupcakes were pretty common, but
she had a plan to make them special. How dare this guy be so condescending!

“Wait till you see what I make,” Cams replied, her voice louder,
more confident. She straightened her shoulders and looked at Gabriel defiantly.
He met her gaze, a shadow of a smirk on his lips, and gave her a small nod.

 “I look forward to it,” he answered, glancing at her apron, where
her name was embroidered. “Camilla.”

Heat rushed to her face when she heard him say her full name. She
wasn’t used to hearing anyone say that anymore. It sounded far too formal, and
everyone she knew called her by her nickname. The last time she heard someone
use it was when she met her ex…but that wasn’t something she wanted to
remember.

But the way Gabriel said her name sounded different. Maybe it’s the
way he almost seemed to exhale it as he spoke, as if he were breathing new life
into it. A warm feeling swirled in her chest.

Cams reached for the lever to release the bowl, and wondered if her
face was as red as the batter in front of her. She looked up, her eyes
following Gabriel as he walked away. He stopped at the next table, arms still
crossed as he listened to the other baker. In the middle of it, he suddenly
glanced at her direction, as if feeling her gaze. She saw his eyebrows go up,
and his lips curl into a knowing smile before she looked away hastily. If her
cheeks weren’t red before, she was pretty sure they were now.

A few hours, several mixing bowls, and lots of frosting later, the
air was heavy with the smell of sugar and freshly baked goods. Cams looked at
the lineup of happy little pastries in front of her: gooey revel bars with
glossy chocolate peeking from the golden-brown pastry and frosted red velvet
cupcakes stuffed with dark chocolate–peanut butter truffles. Cams was very
pleased with the day’s results.

A hand plucked one of the cupcakes from her tray, leaving a rather
unsightly gap in the whole presentation. She quickly rearranged it, then looked
up to scold the thief, but her words left her when she saw Gabriel taking a
bite of the cupcake.

Cams held her breath and waited as he chewed. Then she smiled when
his eyes widened and he took another bite. She felt like she had won something,
even if she didn’t know what it was just yet.

“Wow, this is so good,” he said after he finished. “This is the best
thing I’ve tasted today, Camilla.”

Her cheeks grew warm again, but this time in pleasure, not
embarrassment. “Thank you,” she said earnestly. Then she blinked at him and
pointed to her teeth. “Uh . . . the coloring is a little strong, so . . .”

He smiled wider before pursing his lips to run his tongue over his
stained teeth. “I really don’t mind having red teeth if it’s because of these
awesome cupcakes,” he said. “Can you stay after class? I want to talk business
with you.”

“Aren’t you going to check what the others made first?” Cams asked,
surprised.

“I will, and I’ll probably talk business with some of them too, but
I don’t want to let you go. These are too awesome for anyone to miss out.”

Warmth blossomed in Cams’s chest again, and she smiled her first
genuine smile in weeks. “Okay, I’ll stay.”

 He grinned. “Perfect. I’ll let Pia do her rounds now to check on
your work.”

“Have another one,” Cams blurted out just as he turned to leave.

He smiled at her again. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said, reaching for
another cupcake. “Thank you, Camilla.”

“Cams,” she said before he could turn around again. He gave her a
questioning look, and she repeated, “You can call me Cams.”

BOOK: It's a Match
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