Rachel Quinn's breath caught in her throat when she saw the young man directly in her path. He sat by a small blue compact car, one of the last in the parking lot. The setting Saturday sun reflected off a nearby windshield and temporarily blinded her. She squinted, moved her Coach purse to her other arm, and walked faster.
The man stood at hr approach. "Excuse me, Miss?"
Rachel put a death grip on her designer handbag. Why didn't I fish out my pepper spray? She gave him a polite smile. "Yes?"
"I found this bracelet on the trunk of my car. It isn't yours, is it? I'm asking everyone who walks by." He held something shiny toward her.
"Um, no, sorry. Not mine."
"Okay. Sorry to bother you." The man flashed a tight-lipped smile, sat back down on the asphalt, and proceeded to ignore her.
Rachel unzipped her purse and found her keys with the tiny can of Mace attached. As she unlocked her gold Civic with the key FOB, she heard the man's voice again.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Rachel turned to look back toward the blue car as she opened the driver's door to her own. A middle aged couple was walking by the small Ford with an elementary school-age girl between them.
"I found this bracelet on the trunk of my car," the young man said. "It isn't your wife's or daughter's, by chance, is it?"
"Um, I don't think so. Honey?"
"No," came the stern reply.
"Okay," the young man said, "sorry to bother you all. Have a nice evening."
The family walked on, and the man sat down again. Rachel knitted her brow and tossed her purse into her passenger seat, then closed the door. Keys jutting between her fore and middle fingers—just in case she was grossly miscalculating the good Samaritan with the bracelet—she walked back to the blue Ford. The family climbed into a minivan off to her right.
"Hey," she said.
The man turned his head but remained seated. His striking dark features and bold blue eyes surprised her. She had barely looked at him earlier. "Hi again," he replied.
"So let me get this straight." She stopped a few steps from him and crossed her arms. "You're just hanging out in a parking lot, asking everyone who walks by if they put a cheap piece of jewelry on your car?"
An adorable smile complete with dimples grew out of nowhere. "Yeah, pretty much."
Rachel cocked her head to one side. "How long have you been here?"
"I don't know. Maybe an hour."
"You've got nothing better to do?"
He looked down and toyed with the gold bracelet. "I have an art history report due Monday which I haven't even started on yet. So no, not really."
Rachel chuckled. "You go to college around here?"
"You're a little ways from home," she said.
"I had an art lecture to attend here at the Nelson. Trying to get some extra credit."
Rachel nodded. "Got it."
"Hold on a sec," the man said, holding up a finger. He jumped up. "Evening, ladies!"
Rachel saw two older women walking their way. The man went through his spiel again.
"No, that's not mine," one of the women said. "Janet?"
"Oh that's very pretty," the other woman said. "I like the knot. Look at the gold knot, Mary! Oh my granddaughter would love this. Where did you say you found it?"
"Right here." The man motioned to the trunk of his Focus.
"Someone just left it there? On your car?"
"I guess someone found it on the ground by my car and thought it was mine."
"I see," the one named Mary said. "Well it's a very pretty bracelet. I hope you find out who it belongs to! I'd hate to lose something like that."
"Thank you, I'm trying."
Janet smiled. "Well you're doing a fine job! You kids have a nice evening, now."
"Will do, ma'am," he replied. "You too."
"What a cute couple!" Rachel heard one of the ladies say as they walked away.
He didn't correct them; merely flashed an amazing smile. He had glorious hair, too. Rachel hadn't noticed any of these things before. Probably because she was scared for her life at the time. It seemed silly now.
"I'm Tristan," he said, and held out a hand.
"Rachel." She gave his hand a strong shake.
"Wow. That's quite a grip you got there," he said.
"My Dad told me you can tell a lot about a person by their handshake."
"Really? And what did you just find out about me?"
"Well," Rachel began, looking him up and down, "I know you're very polite, respectful almost to the point of being a cliché, you have poor time-management skills, and you have a good heart."
"Wow. You gathered all that with a single handshake, did you?"
"Well, not exactly," she replied. "I put all that together after choking down your interpersonal interactions these last two minutes, added to the fact you've been hanging out in a parking lot for an hour, as you claim, trying to find the owner of a cheap gold bracelet."
"Are you making fun of me?" he asked with a smirk.
"No! Not at all."
He eyed her suspiciously.
"Okay, maybe a little."
Tristan nodded. "Thanks, I appreciate it."
"Just tell me," Rachel said, "why is it so important you find out who that silly little bracelet belongs to? Why not take it to lost and found?"
"Museum's closed now."
"It wasn't 'an hour ago."
Tristan looked down at the bracelet and acted as though he wanted to say something, but didn't.
"Maybe just leave it in the parking lot?' Rachel offered. "Like right there by the stripe, where it's least likely to get run over? Maybe the owner will come by? I mean, if someone's truly looking for it, they'll find it, right?"
He twirled the gold circle between a thumb and forefinger.
"Hey, it's not much different than what you're doing now. Only this way you can go get on with your life instead of being a creepy guy hanging out in a parking lot."
"Oh now I'm creepy."
"This is a little creepy," she said with a smile.
Tristan smiled too. "Okay," he said, "maybe it is a little creepy. But I'm here because… well, because this bracelet could really mean something to somebody. A grandmother could have given it to some sweet little girl who will be crying her eyes out tonight because she lost it. Or it could have been some widow's birthday present from her late husband. Or… Or this 'cheap piece of jewelry' as you call it, could belong to the love of my life. And if I leave now… well… I'll never meet her." And with that, he turned his beautiful gaze back to the shiny gold bracelet.
Rachel's breath caught in her throat once more. A swelling, almost an ache, rose in her chest. It didn't hurt, just caught her off-guard. A pressure gathered behind her eyes, where the slightest hint of tears were forming. She couldn't swallow, she couldn't breathe, she couldn't take her eyes off him.When his gaze met hers again is when it happened. She sucked in a quick snip of air, and right then and there, Rachel Quinn fell hard.