Adeline Reynolds took a deep breath and crossed her fingers before walking through the door of the small diner. She didn’t mind online dating, but the last few men she’d met had been so far from what she was looking for it wasn’t funny. Dirk was twenty-two, way too young; John was forty-eight, too old; Roman was about a hundred and fifty pounds heavier than depicted in the picture he’d posted in his profile; and Mark was just plain weird.
She had high hopes for Bud, despite his name.
Her younger sister, Alicia, thought she was insane for looking online for someone to spend the rest of her life with, but then again, Alicia had met the love of her life in high school and hadn’t had to worry about finding good men to date as an adult.
Adeline was careful. She never gave out her address or phone number to any of the men she met online. She chatted with them on the Internet for at least three weeks before agreeing to meet them in person. When she did meet with someone, she made sure it was for a quick lunch date in a public place first. And she stalked the man online, trying to find out everything she could about him before deciding to take the next step and meet in person.
Bud was around her age, thirty-four, had a full-time job, he’d never been married and had no children, and looked normal. Looking normal was important, because she herself was nothing special. She had about twenty…or thirty…extra pounds on her shorter frame, her black hair was medium length, and she had a perfectly boring job, which she hated.
She also had a dog. And that’s where being normal ended for her.
Adeline had epilepsy and would most likely always have it. And really, epilepsy wasn’t actually that rare, three million people, or one out of every twenty-six, had some form of the disorder. As best the doctors could tell, it was caused by her very long delivery at birth. Her mom had a hard time and Adeline’s brain was starved of oxygen. Other than the seizures, Adeline was as healthy as a horse.
“Seriously? You want to leave now? We just ordered,” her date exclaimed in disbelief.
“I don’t want to, but Coco is alerting. I’m going to have a seizure, and I don’t know if it’s going to be a big one or not. I need to get somewhere safe before it happens.”
Bud looked at her in horror. “You’re gonna start spazzing now? Here? In front of everyone?”
“Not if you help me find somewhere private I can go to,” Adeline said dryly, ignoring the offensive “spaz” remark.
“I can take you home.”
Adeline shook her head. “I won’t make it. I only have about ten minutes. It would take me around twenty-five to get home.” Not to mention she didn’t want him knowing where she lived. It was a rule she had with the men she met online. No allowing them to know where she lived until after at least the third date.
She preferred not to beg, but didn’t have a choice at the moment. She gave him one more chance to be a good guy. “Please, Bud. I know you weren’t expecting this, and honestly, neither was I, but I can’t control when they happen. Will you please help me?”
Bud shook his head and threw his napkin on the table and stood up. “This is way over my head. I can’t handle this. I only wanted to have lunch and see if we had any chemistry. You’re nice and all that, and having a dog around all the time is one thing, but this is something else altogether. I wish I could help you, but I can’t. Sorry.”
Adeline didn’t bother watching as Bud stalked away. It was disappointing, but not the end of the world. It had happened before, a guy walking away from her after finding out the realities of being with someone suffering from a disease like hers. If she could turn her seizures off, she would. But since it wasn’t possible, she’d come to terms with them.
She tried to reassure Coco that she understood his alert, and get her purse and jacket together at the same time. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to deal with an imminent seizure in a public place, and it most certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“Are you all right?”
Adeline whipped her head up in surprise and stared at the man standing next to the booth. She hadn’t noticed him walking up to her, more concerned about getting her stuff together and trying to reassure Coco.
He was tall; she had to crane her head up pretty far to look into his eyes. He was looking down at her in concern, his brows drawn together. Even though she was nervous about her pending seizure, she couldn’t help but notice how good looking the man was. He was tan and had a five o’clock shadow, as if it’d been more than a day since he’d last shaved.
But the thing that really struck her was what he was wearing. The navy-blue cargo pants, along with the T-shirt that had “Station 7” emblazoned on the front with a large Maltese cross under it, made her entire body sag in relief.
“You’re a firefighter?”
“An EMT or paramedic?” she clarified, knowing that just because someone was a firefighter didn’t necessarily mean they’d gone through medical training.
“Yes…?” The word was stretched out into a question.
“I’m Adeline. I have about ten minutes or so before I’m going to have an epileptic seizure, as Coco,”—she gestured toward the dog currently panting in her face and pawing at her leg—“has warned me. I need to get to a safe place, I can’t drive, and the person who could’ve taken me somewhere,”—she paused for a precious moment to glare at the door Bud had disappeared through—“seems to have ditched me. I’m incredibly embarrassed, but I’d appreciate the help.”
The firefighter held out his hand and said in a calm and controlled tone, which went a long way toward making her feel better about the entire situation she’d found herself in, “My name is Dean. It’s good to meet you. Trust me; I’ll take care of you.”
Crash closed his hand around Adeline’s, threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table, then helped her to her feet. He had no idea if the money would cover whatever she and her date had ordered, but he had other things to worry about at the moment. He kept hold of her hand and led her to the front of the restaurant and out the door. Luckily they were across the street from Station 7.
He’d gone to the diner to eat lunch with Hayden, a sheriff’s deputy, who was one of his good friends. They’d been talking about everything that had happened to her boyfriend when he’d been abused and stalked by an ex-girlfriend. Crash would never understand how people could be so crazy when they were in a relationship—or when that relationship ended.