“That’s really sweet, but I actually don’t date cops.”
The second the words leave my mouth, I realize how ridiculous they sound. Jade and Amber shoot me matching incredulous looks, and I wish I could rewind the tape and stick with, “I’m too focused on work to date anyone.”
Austin, bless his heart, is doing his best not to stare at me as though I’ve announced a fondness for liverwurst pancakes. “This is like—an unwavering personal policy?”
“Right,” I say, figuring I might as well go with it. “It’s just a personality thing, I guess.”
Those blue-gray eyes bore into mine, looking more bemused than offended. “No problem,” he says. “I’ll hand in my resignation tomorrow.”
He’s stone-faced, so it takes me a second to catch the glint in his eye. I bust out laughing, I can’t help it. “You’ll quit being a cop?”
“Sure, if that’s what it takes.” He scuffs a toe in the dirt. “Shouldn’t take them more than a few weeks to find my replacement, and then I’ll take you out for dinner at that cool Portuguese place downtown.”
“Sintra,” Brandon offers. “Great linguica tacos.”
“Sure, we’ll have that.” Austin smiles, and I hear Amber giggle beside me.
My heart does a cartwheel, but I keep my expression neutral and fold my arms over my chest. “How do you plan to pay for this date if you’re jobless all of a sudden?”
“No problem, I’ll get a new job.” He looks thoughtful. “I’m thinking shepherd.”
“Sure, I like sheep,” he says. “Or maybe an astronaut. You think NASA’s hiring?”
“Maybe, but you’d have to move to DC or Houston,” I point out, trying not to flirt. This isn’t flirting, right? “Being that far away is going to make dating difficult.”
“Good point.” He pretends to think. “I suppose I could be a snake milker.”
I give a super-uncool snort-laugh. “For all that snake milk they’re selling in grocery stores?”
Amber laughs again, but Jade looks thoughtful. “That’s actually a real job, isn’t it? I saw it on TV.”
“Yep,” Austin confirms. “They’re zoologists who extract venom from snakes for medical research.”
“Is that how they make antivenom?” Amber asks.
“Yeah.” He’s answering Amber, but his eyes are fixed on me. “It’s a noble career, and I’m guessing you’ve never dated a snake milker.”
“I’m guessing I don’t want to.” Truth be told, I’m rethinking my policy on the cop thing.
Austin brings his hand to his chin and pretends to ponder some more. “Harsh. Okay, how about if I become a chicken sexer?”
“A chicken sexer?” I can’t stifle the laughter, but I stop and consider whether this might be a real job, too. “Wait, is that someone who determines the sex of chickens?”
He grins as Brandon does an imitation of a startled chicken. Cluck-cluck-cluck-squawk!
“They work for commercial hatcheries where they’ve gotta figure out right away what gender the chicks are.” Austin slugs Brandon in the shoulder to make him quit the chicken impression. “I hear it’s pretty lucrative, so I’ll be able to take us out to some nice places.”
This is hands-down the most bizarre flirtation I’ve ever been party to, but I can’t stop smiling. Can’t stop feeling like I’ve got a cinnamon jawbreaker in the center of my belly. “How do you expect me to tell my friends and family I’m dating a chicken sexer?” I ask.
“You’ve got me there.” He drums his fingers together in mock contemplation, then snaps. “Got it. How about an iceberg mover?”
“That’s a thing?”
“Sure it is.” He grins. “They track where the icebergs are at and then tell the shipping companies how to get around them. Sometimes they even hook them up with cables and drag them away.”
“Don’t you have to be with the Coast Guard to do that?” Amber asks.
“Good point,” Austin says. “I suppose I’ll have to enlist. Do you have a problem with all men in uniform or just cops?”
The hair on my arms prickles, and I feel my smile stiffen. That’s right, we were talking about cops. Cops and why I don’t date them.
As much as I’m loving flirting with Austin, I’ve gotta be straight with him. “You seem like a great guy, you really do, but—”
“But you can’t ask me to give up my career for you?” He nods, not looking particularly hurt. “Fair enough. I suppose we did just meet.”
“Right,” I say, though there’s something about Austin that makes me feel like I’ve known him a while. I might not be into cops, but there’s something about this one that grabs me.
All the more reason to keep your distance.
I take a deep breath and don my best public relations mask. “It’s been really great meeting you, though,” I tell him. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
“I’m sure you will.” He gives me a mini-salute, and those blue-gray eyes hold mine for a few more breaths. “If you change your mind about dating a cop-turned-shepherd-turned-astronaut-turned-snake milker-turned-chicken sexer-turned iceberg mover, you know where to find me.”
He turns and saunters down the hill, taking an unexpected hunk of my heart with him.