Vivi Anne Hunt
Look Inside: Kai Healing's Smiles (Chapter One) (+Bonus)
Hi peeps. :)
While Kai's Healing Smiles is on pre-order until September 13, there is no 'look inside' option on Amazon, which is why I want to show you Chapter 1 early!
Stay until the end, where I'll offer you the option to read the book before then.
Silas is mourning the loss of his wife. Every day, he is going through the motions and barely managing to keep the excruciating pain from overtaking his life. There is precisely one ray of sunshine in his days — Kai — the smiley, awkward barista at Starbucks. For some reason, Silas finds comfort being around Kai and soaks up as much light as this sweet boy could give him. For the short time Kai has worked at Starbucks, he has secretly watched one man from afar, hoping that one day he would notice him back. He looks all mature, business-like, and always sad. One day Kai finally gets the chance to speak to him. And this is where their story begins. Will Silas be able to let go of the past and start fresh? And will Kai be able to heal the gloomy man with his smiles?
Losing a soulmate is like losing two limbs, or all of them at once. Suddenly, you don’t know what to do with your body. You go through life like a zombie, with infrequent flashes of awareness which anchor you to the world around you, if you’re lucky.
For me, that flash was Kai.
However, before we can talk about Kai, we have to talk about coffee.
Even though I could afford it, Starbucks always seemed overpriced. Ellie and I argued about it endlessly. She would drag me inside and make me order the most ridiculous drinks with the most ridiculous names and pay a ridiculous price for the privilege of imbibing at that shrine to the holy bean.
After she was gone, Starbucks was the only place I went for my coffee. I would torture myself, recounting every conversation we had ever had inside, then go home with tear stains on my cheeks and a hole in my heart.
Despite that, I would go back. One day as I walked inside, before I even smelled the brewing coffee, I saw him. A new barista. Kai. Out of nowhere, this young, outgoing, smiling creature with a bright smile and eyes appeared—and he never left. For five months, he has been the only shot of energy I’ve needed. He is my color and light throughout my gray days.
I start my day with Kai and finish it with… well, staring at a photo of me and Ellie. The only one I kept in our bedroom.
Ellie was also one of those people who always smiled, like she had a string that constantly pulled at the corners of her lips, for it was painful for her to stay serious or angry. She would switch after moments of untypical emotion and that was it.
I missed that, so I was thankful for Kai.
“Morning, Silas,” he beamed each morning; as if I were a good reason to smile, but I knew better. He said everyone’s name and had a smile for them, so I wasn’t special.
I still liked it.
So, I went to Starbucks every day and ordered all their ridiculous drinks, a different one each day. Some people gave me strange looks, but I didn’t care. I told myself I was doing it for Ellie. In truth, I kept going to see Kai’s bright smile. Then, coffee in hand and a little light in my heart, I would go to work designing blueprints for an architectural firm. What else is there to do after you lose your soulmate? You just bury yourself in whatever you can find to keep you busy and you don’t stick out your head for anything.
It was one of those days, a Friday, and I was meeting my best friend, Wesley, for coffee. I was surprised he was still my best friend since I only half-listened to him. I suppose he was giving me the benefit of the doubt because he knew how much losing Ellie destroyed me. Maybe he had more hope for me than I did.
“Iced white chocolate mocha, please,” I said automatically, following the roster.
The cashier smiled and took my money, then Kai smiled, as always, and started making my drink with such deft movements that I couldn’t help but stare. Next to me, Wesley, otherwise known as Wes, frowned.
We didn’t usually meet there, but he asked about my Starbucks habit for some reason, so there we were. Once our drinks were ready, we sat at a table, me with my ridiculously overpriced and named beverage and him frowning at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, shrugging. “I just thought…”
“What? Spit it out.”
“You know what.” He smiled. “Never mind. How’s work going?”
That’s all he asked about these days because he knew I had no personal life.
“Good. Fine. My clients seem happy.”
He snorted into his mocha latte. Wes always drank the same thing. He was taller than me, with muscles for days and tattoos peeking out of every crevice of his clothing. The lucky bastard was a tattoo artist with his own tattoo parlor.
We met in college, where I also met Ellie. When she died, he was as devastated as I was, but he moved on because he still had all of his limbs, while mine still felt numb.
“How’s that new one, Nathaniel, treating you?” he asked with a smirk, because he knew Nathaniel Mars was the bane of my existence. He had asked me to revise the blueprints twice already, and I was sensing a third time coming.
I groaned. “Why ask when you know the answer?”
“Because I like to see you squirm, of course.”
I sensed a foreign presence at my back, so I turned my head to see Kai wiping the tables. He was pretending to ignore us, but I noticed him looking at Wes from time to time. Something strange sparked in my stomach, but it went out almost immediately.
Wes cocked his head, frowning at me.
I sighed. “What? You’re acting like a nut today.”
“Nuts, eh? Is that what they put in coffees these days?”
I ignored his smirk and sipped my coffee, feeling nothing. To be honest, it was one of the worse tasting ones on the menu, but again: I didn’t do it for me—I did it for Ellie.
Wes frowned at my drink like it had accosted him. “Do you still order everything on the menu?”
“When are you going to stop torturing yourself?”
I shook my head, unwilling to get into it, even with my best friend. He was the kind of person who didn’t mince his words, but sometimes I just needed someone who understood, damn it.
He sighed, then looked behind me and smiled. “You like tats?”
Behind me, in the corner of my eye, Kai jumped like a startled, skittish animal. I turned around to take all of him in as he tried to regain his composure.
“Oh, shoot… sorry,” he said, still smiling. “Didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that you have some good ones on you.”
“Thanks,” Wes said. “Do you have any?”
I wondered why Wes was being nice to a virtual stranger, but then again, he was more social than I ever was.
“No. Not yet, anyway,” Kai said. “Where did you get yours?”
“JustInk. Have you ever been?”
“No, but I hear it’s great. My mate was there last month.”
“Cool,” Wes said with a relaxed smile. “You should come check it out. I work there.”
“Wow, awesome,” Kai said. “I didn’t know Silas had such cool friends.” He seemed to catch what he said and his eyes widened. “I mean, of course you’d have cool friends,” he said to me. “Fuck—I mean fudge… What am I saying? I’ll shut up now. Sorry.” He walked away, flushing up to his ears.
Something about his embarrassment brought a huge grin and a chuckle out of me.
Wesley looked at me like I had grown an alien appendage all of a sudden.
“Fucking hell,” I grunted. “What now?”
“So, I haven’t seen you smile since… you know.”
I shook my head, refusing to talk about it. “I smile sometimes. It’s not a big deal and definitely not something you should alert the media about.”
He narrowed his eyes and stared as he mulled that over. “Okay, then.” He relaxed. “Now, tell me all about this Nathaniel fellow, and leave no stone unturned.”
I rolled my eyes. It was fun for him to torture me, so I told him everything.
From that day on, we met at Starbucks every morning.
Was it a friend or a boyfriend, though? I’d seen them together a few times since that first encounter, and I still couldn’t tell.
Like many other days, I hid behind the muffin stand and spied on Silas and his tatted-up god of a man, wondering what the fuck I was doing with my life. Pathetically, I spied and, when I could, eavesdropped on customers.
Well, one customer in particular.
“Are you still mooning over your man?” May asked, cackling like a bloody witch. “What’s it been, a year?”
“Shut up,” I muttered. “I’m doing no such thing.”
“Uh-huh, and I’m a dummy who can’t tell the difference.”
“Did you come here to gloat because you have a gorgeous girlfriend who talks to you and touches you with no intermediaries, like coffee cups? And it’s been half a year, not that anyone is counting.”
“Of course not,” she said, laughing. “Why don’t you go talk to him? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“Uh, he could be straight, or that could be his boyfriend.”
She sighed. “So? Then you know, and you’re free to moon over other customers.”
“You’re hilarious. And annoying. Maybe you should go do your job now.”
“Maybe you should do yours,” she said, sticking out her pierced tongue. May was one of those girls who didn’t give a damn what the manager said, so she refused to remove it or to dye her purple hair back to blond. Since the boss liked it, our manager, Stew, had to tolerate her.
That was a relief for me because her sarcasm sustained me on most days.
“I mean, if I were a gay guy,” she said, deep in thought as she played with her piercing, “I would go for that tatted-up titan. No offense.”
“None taken,” I said, looking at the back of Silas’ neck. It was nice and strong, matching his nice, strong body. Not to mention his strong hands, his forearms… Jesus, I was losing the plot. I really was pathetic.
Silas was one of those men who always looked meticulous, not a hair out of place. And he dressed like he had money, so I had no idea why a man like that would gaze at scrawny little me. Thinking he was there for anything but the coffee was officially sad.
Nothing was going to happen.
Unfortunately, he was just my type—older than me, brooding, with a nice smile when he shared it and a solid body. A body that could protect me and do dirty things to me and—
“Hey, it’s Kai, right?”
Holy shit, I’d been fantasizing about a customer and now I was caught red-handed. I stared at Silas’ friend or boyfriend, waiting to be told off. He surely didn’t like me looking at his man, drooling all over myself.
“Uh, yeah,” I stammered, probably going red. Damn skin, always revealing everything I’m thinking.
“Haven’t seen you at JustInk yet. Or did you decide to go another way?” he asked, smirking like he knew something.
“Oh, shit—I mean shoot. I haven’t had the time, I guess, but I was planning to stop by this month. You work there, right?”
“I run the place.”
“Whoa, you run the place? Jesus, no wonder—” Oh my god, shut up.
“No wonder what?”
“Nothing,” I muttered. “And yeah, I’ll stop by. I like your style.” Even though you have stolen the one guy I’d been interested in since forever. Well, there were other guys. There were always other guys, but they were mostly commitment-phobes, straight-passing guys who wanted me to hide in their closets, or guys like me who liked the same kind of unobtainable fruit and were so hard up for sex they settled for me.
Twenty-five was too old for this shit.
“Cool, you do that,” he said, still smirking. Why was he smirking?
I let others serve him because his weird attention freaked me out. Why did he want me to go to his shop, and why was he looking at me like that? Did he know something? Was he smug because I drooled over his boyfriend?
Jesus, Kai, you’re losing the plot again.
“Aww, too bad it was the other one, otherwise I would have said, ‘well done,’” May said, barely containing her manic laughter.
“Gee, thanks,” I muttered. “Some progress, huh?”
“You know, maybe you should look at it this way: If his boyfriend likes you, you can do a menage type thing together.” She waggled her eyebrows.
“God, go away and leave me alone. Don’t you have some incense to burn or something?” Did I mention? May was a witch. A real fucking witch in this day and age, and I was fascinated by that. Also terrified because I didn’t want to be the subject of her creepy spells or voodoo dolls.
Granted, I had no idea how it worked, but I’d seen movies like The Craft or that TV show, Charmed. They told me all I needed to know.
“Okay, here’s the new plan. You go to this guy’s tattoo place—”
“And you ask discretely about your man. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“He can punch me for having the hots for his boyfriend?”
“Or he can kiss you, fall into bed with you, and you two begin a beautiful life together. Seriously, dump the other one and hook up with this one. Even a freaking lesbian can see that he’s packing.”
I rolled my eyes. May was such a meddler. “I don’t like… all that.”
“What exactly do you like?”
Yeah, like I was going to tell her. “Don’t you have an eye of newt to cook up? Or, wait, let me guess: You secretly add your witchy stuff to people’s orders.”
Now she cackled. “Aww, man. That would be fun. I could solve the world’s problems, one overpriced cup at a time.”
“You mean you’d cure cancer and reverse climate change?”
“Nah, I’ll just turn assholes into sweethearts and sweethearts into assholes. You know, shake things up. It would give everyone perspective.”
“Sounds like a wonderful disaster waiting to happen, and a lovely Hollywood blockbuster.”
“See, you get me.” She leaned in to whisper as if sharing a conspiracy. “And if you ever need a love spell, I’m your girl.”
I groaned. “I need a love spell like I need fungus on my foot.”
We kept bantering as we worked. It was a slow Saturday afternoon, so there wasn’t much else to do. Later, when Silas and his friend or boyfriend were leaving, the tatted-up monster of a man winked at me, at which point I probably blushed like an idiot. Again.
“See, babe? You got it in the bag.” May elbowed me.
I sighed and cursed my luck. They were probably a couple looking for some twinks to play with or something. I hated having to share, or being one of many, but somehow the guys I liked always wanted that.
Oh, well. Back to reality.
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