“Man . . . you gotta apologize, man. I do not like being on the receiving end of a Tyler Carver cuss-out, man!”
Gunnar chuckled, going over the schedule for the classes he would be teaching for the rest of the week. It was Wednesday, the first day Damon had been back for work because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday that Monday and the fact he had Tuesdays off. Gunnar felt really bad for getting his employee-turned-friend in trouble, and though he had admitted to himself he would have to apologize, doing so in person . . . not so much.
“I can’t just send her a card—?”
“How the hell you gonna apologize to a black woman with a card! You gotta be a man and show your face! And given the way you treated her, I’d borrow some kneepads ’cause you gotta do some serious grovelin’, son!”
Gunnar rolled his eyes. Damon certainly had a flair for hyperbole. “I don’t know where she is, Damon, and given she won’t be coming back here anytime soon, I don’t see how that will happen.”
“Go to Soul Cuts. She works there. Hell, her info is even on her contact sheet. Next try.”
Gunnar gnashed his teeth but said nothing. He really had no excuse not to apologize now. He would make it quick, like ripping off a band-aid. Maybe the instant attraction he had felt for her would be gone since there would be no shock at the sight of her anymore.
Yes . . . that sounded good.
For the rest of the day he was distracted, especially since Damon kept dropping none-too-subtle hints about making his apology. He also tried to tell Gunnar the sooner the better, but he’d gotten caught up on the phone with one of his equipment suppliers so the lunch date to Soul Cuts became postponed to after work.
Damon had even threatened to follow him just to make sure he went, but Gunnar threatened to revoke his free Tuesdays if he did such a thing.
“I’m not a preschooler!”
“You damn sure sulk like one!”
Gunnar groaned and for the second time in a week, dreaded the end of the workday. He must have a defective gene between his Norwegian and American Scottish roots somewhere that made him prefer work instead of play, but given the past few months, “play time” had been more stressful.
On his way out Damon shook a fist at him, and though Gunnar knew the other man was kidding, he really didn’t want to call Damon’s bluff. He hopped into his jeep and made the twenty-minute drive across town to the black section, not the least bit intimidated by that as opposed to the woman he was to meet.
It was dark by the time he pulled onto the street where her business was. Her space was tucked between a Laundromat and a knickknacks store. He peaked inside to see it was empty, but the lights were on, and he tested the door.
It was unlocked.
Taking a deep breath, Gunnar opened the door and stepped inside. “Hello?”
“I’ll be right with you!”
Gunnar stood and listened to grunting, crashing, and cursing. He bit his lip to keep from grinning, and a magazine for black hairstyles caught his interest. Intrigued by the photos, he picked up the magazine and began flipping through it, sitting in one of the plastic chairs along the wall as he waited for the shop’s proprietor.
It would be just her luck the one set of clippers she needed would be all the way in the back of the junk she had in her storeroom. She had intended to straighten things out over the long weekend, but laziness had bitten her hard and the sudden cold snap had her less inclined to go out when it wasn’t necessary. Once she got purchase on the clippers—brand new and top-of-the-line—she blew out a breath and ignored the boxes and magazines that had fallen from their precarious stacks to the ground. The next time she asked Damon and Wendy to help she would make a “do not touch” pile so she could find her important things better.
Shaking the unopened clippers in victory, she walked out of the storeroom, barely sending her walk-in a glance. “I’m sorry for the wait. What can I do for you?”
“Um . . . accept my apology?”
Her head snapped up and she whirled towards the sound of the voice. What was he doing here? And why did he still look suave and fine even as he flipped through her Black Hair magazine?
Damon had said he would get his boss—Gunnar, what kind of a name was Gunnar?—to apologize for his behavior, but she hadn’t believed him. Gunnar was the boss, Damon was the employee, and no matter how protective Damon was of Wendy or her, Damon couldn’t make his superior do what he wanted him to do. Besides, Tyler would get over it. She’d gotten over worse insults, after all.
She shook her head and crossed her arms underneath her breasts. “What apology? I ain’t hear an apology?”
He grinned then, still flipping through the magazine. He seemed very intrigued by what he saw, and Tyler had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling at him. He used his forefinger to hold his page and he looked up at her. Those gray eyes lanced right through her, and she fidgeted imperceptibly.
He smirked slightly. “I’m sorry.”
Tyler raised an eyebrow. “Sorry for what?”
“Being rude. I was having a bad day and I took it out on you. I apologize.”
He sounded sincere enough, but it was hard to forget what he said, especially given the rather large grain of truth to it. “Apology accepted. Now you don’t have to worry about Damon punching you in the nose.”
Gunnar chuckled out right then and shook his head. “I know how to bob and weave.”
Tyler’s eyes skipped to his arms and she shook her head. She was sure he knew how to do more than that, too. “Right.”
She grabbed a broom and began sweeping the hair and other debris from the floor. She felt those eyes on her and felt self-conscious. Why did she wish she wear something more flattering other than her ratty black smock? It wasn’t as if what was underneath was much better—a long-sleeved tee and old jeans—but usually she didn’t come to work to impress people, especially not on slow Wednesdays.
Yet there he remained throughout her chore, watching, cataloguing, arousing her to the point she wanted to kick him out. She already knew he found her borderline repulsive. Hadn’t he already done what he came here to do?
“Can you cut my hair?”
Gunnar was just as surprised as she was by the question, and he ran a hand through his hair to tamp down his embarrassment. He needed one, anyway, and what better way to make up for his rude behavior than to give her business? Hair was hair after all, even if his was European instead of African, he thought she would be able to do a good job. Damon’s hair always looked great after a cut, after all.
“You want me to do your hair?”
“You know this is a black barbershop, right?”
He shrugged. “I know you get mostly black customers, but I doubt this is a black barbershop.”
“Not many white people make the drive to this part of town unless they want soul food,” Tyler said frankly. Gunnar pinked a little. He rarely came to this side of Durham himself.
“You’re not doing this to sue me if you get a craptastic haircut, are you?”
He laughed. “Craptastic!”
“Yes! You’re pullin’ my leg, aren’t you?”
Arching an eyebrow, he shrugged out of his leather jacket, walked slowly to her, turned her chair, and sat in it. “You’re far too professional to botch a job, Tyler. I trust you.”
She looked shocked at that confession. “You do?”
“Yes. The fact you so succinctly put me in my place and the fact Damon speaks so highly of you tells me you are a trustworthy person. So . . . have at it. I’m at your mercy.”
Those brown eyes met his cautiously in the mirror. He grinned at her. “This is your last chance to back out.”
Her nostrils flared. Gunnar remembered them doing that during their session when his voice issued a challenge. He knew Tyler was definitely up to meet it.
“Would you like a wash, too?”
“I’ve already washed my hair in the shower, but thanks for asking.”
Tyler rolled her eyes and turned the chair. She took a spray bottle from her cart and began misting his hair to dampen it. His brown hair turned darker and the cool sensation relaxed him. When her fingers began combing through his hair he almost purred. She had a gentle, assured touch, and he glanced at her face through the mirror. She was all professionalism now, and she looked very sexy that way.
He never realized the scalp could be such an erogenous zone, but between her body brushing against his head, her gentle fingers, and the calming snap of the shears, Gunnar’s body was working to a fevered pitch. He gripped the handles of his chair to keep from squirming.
“Am I making you that nervous?” Tyler asked with a bit of an edge.
“No . . . I actually have to go to the bathroom,” he said sheepishly.
Tyler’s eyes went wide in surprise, and she bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Go straight through that door to the back. It’s the door on your left.”
Gunnar walked quickly there, and once he was inside locked the door and sagged heavily against it. The pressure in his jeans was too much, and he unzipped them to relieve it. Did the woman have any idea how alluring she was? He’d never gotten so aroused from a haircut, and he’d females cut his hair before. No, this reaction was solely Tyler’s and he was at a loss on how to control himself.
He took a series of deep breaths and went to the sink. He could do this . . . he had too—she wasn’t done with his haircut yet! He thought of numerous unpleasant things—at the fore of his mind was the last date he had with Kaci—and Gunnar finally felt fit to go back out there. He splashed water on his face, dried it with a paper towel, and went back into the shop where Tyler was cleaning out one of her clippers.
“Did you wash your hands?”
Gunnar’s eyes snapped to Tyler’s. “Um . . .”
“It’s a pet peeve of mine. If you go to the bathroom, please wash your hands! I make sure it’s always stocked with soap and paper towels!”
Gunnar smiled a little and relaxed. “You sound almost as anal retentive about cleanliness as I am. When I first opened the gym, it would take me at least an hour and a half to disinfect every single piece of equipment. Me and germs do not get along!”
“That’s why everyone and their mama’s always sick all the time,” Tyler said, starting her soothing and arousing cutting again. Gunnar was better prepared for it this time, however, and he willed his body to relax.
The duo managed to fall into a comfortable stream of small talk. How sad was it this was the most enjoyable experience he’d had with a woman in weeks, and she hated his guts!
He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of her fingers through his hair. Maybe it wasn’t so sad . . .
His hair felt like silk. That was the only way Tyler could describe it. The strands were fine as they slid through her fingers, but not so fine they would be considered thin. Given she was used to thick, tightly-curled strands that fell in puffy clumps on the floor, seeing the light-brown sleek strands fall on the floor was a bit fascinating.
“I can’t believe you’re letting me do this,” she muttered absently, pulling the comb through a section of hair she was about to cut.
“Why? I know you know I don’t get many European hair textures in my shop.”
“Considering my mom is Norwegian and my dad comes for a line of Scottish settlers, I guess you can’t get anymore European than that!”
Tyler grinned in spite of herself. “That explains ‘Gunnar’, huh?”
“Yes. My sister is Inge. I think she has it worse!”
“Oh my,” Tyler laughed, but that wasn’t bad compared to some of the names she’d heard. Young mothers who came into the shop sometimes had children whose names Tyler could only pray they would learn how to spell eventually. It was as if they had put all twenty-six letters on a dartboard and shot at them, then constructed a name from whatever had been hit. Then again, her name was Tyler after her grandfather because her father was determined she would be a boy—no other name would do.
“I got teased awfully when I was in school. Not many southern boys with a name like mine,” Gunnar chuckled.
Tyler stood behind him, their eyes locking in the mirror. Once again, they blew her away. Never before had a pair of eyes affected her so. Throughout the entire cutting she’d forced herself not to stare at them, at the way his eyelashes seemed too long for a man like him, yet only served to enhance his handsomeness. His eyebrows almost looked tweezed, so perfect was their arches over his eyes, but Tyler knew that was because of the perfect cocktail of genes he’d inherited from his European roots.
She noticed his mouth curving into a slow smile and she ducked her head immediately. “Uh . . . is that why you stared working out?”
Tyler rolled her eyes and had to force herself not to drag her hands along his arms. “The teasing. You decided to work out to stem it, or did this body happen later?”
There was a short exhalation of breath. “You’ve been checking me out?”
She scowled at him through the mirror. “You own a gym, and it’s obvious you’re in peak physical shape. I notice things. And actually Damon has a better body than you anyway.”
Gunnar shrugged slightly. “That would probably hurt my feelings more if it weren’t true.”
“You agree with me?”
“He’s had more time to work out than I. I’ve gotten lazy trying to get the gym off the ground, though after a year and a half you’d think I’d be done with that.”
“You’re never done. The market is always changing . . . gotta keep things fresh.”
Another slow smile. “Exactly. It’s nice to talk to someone who understands that.”
Though she had inherited Soul Cuts from her father, and with it many of his regulars, there was still the need to expand business. With many chain barbershops coming into town, she had to offer something a little more. She hired many kids and younger people in her neighborhood for jobs here—many times their first—and she rented out stations for people who could do hair but didn’t have the money to open up their own shop. It was a way to keep everyone more connected to the business, and she liked her set up just fine. She was, however, talking to some local television networks about getting ads on the channels and she would start putting in calls to radio stations as well.
Sighing, Tyler put down the shears and picked up the portable hair dryer. She had finished styling his hair and would now dry it so he could get its full effect. She didn’t get too crazy with it, but she cut it much shorter than she imagined it had initially been. It was short in the back and a little longer in the front. It made him appear younger, bringing out the boyish charm and enhancing his piercing eyes.
Damn but this man is fine!
“So,” Tyler said, handing him a mirror so he could look at the back of his head too, “what do you think?”
It was a simple haircut, but it rivaled many of the hair stylists his modeling agency had forced upon him during his years in LA. She really had found her calling, and he suddenly realized why Damon was always in a better mood after he’d gotten a haircut. Tyler was as personable as she was professional, and despite the way he had treated her upon their first meeting, he’d never felt unwelcome in her establishment.
He shook his head, bemused and once again humbled by her. “You’re an amazing woman, Tyler Carver.”
The absolute shock coloring her voice had him chuckling. He turned his chair around so he could face her head-on and he nodded. “You could’ve easily given me the haircut from hell, and yet you gave me one of the best cuts I’ve had in years. I find that incredible.”
Tyler shrugged, averting her eyes from his as she took the mirror from him. “You’re my client. I always treat my clients with respect irrespective of how I really feel about them.”
He ignored the way his heartbeat had accelerated in his chest. “And how do you feel about me . . . when I’m not your client?”
Tyler made a big show of putting up the mirror and cleaning her clippers and shears. “What does it matter?”
That was a very valid question, and Gunnar didn’t have the balls to answer it just yet. He stood from the chair and reached into his pocket. “How much?”
She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “Fifteen.”
Gunnar reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty. She reached into her pocket and pulled out some cash, preparing to make change, but he put his hand over hers. “Keep it.”
Her eyes were wide and luminous as they looked into his. Her hand was dry, but he could still feel the softness underneath. He wanted to rub his thumb along the back of her hand. He wanted to bend his head and see if her lips were as pliant as they looked.
“Wow, that’s mighty generous of you.”
Her voice was huskier than it had been and he grinned. So it seemed he wasn’t the only one affected. “I figure it’s a thanks for making me look good and a sorry for treating you like crap earlier—to go along with the initial apology of course.”
Tyler placed the twenty with the other bills and flashed him a small smile. “All right. Will do.”
Gunnar didn’t want to leave. He had to, though, before he made a complete ass of himself around her again by kissing her.
He stepped away from her and went to the chair where his jacket was. Their eyes remained on each other as he slipped his hands through the sleeves.
“Thank you, Ms. Carver,” Gunnar said in a low voice.
“You’re welcome Mr. . . .”
“Daniels. Thank you for your business.”
They stood there staring at each other a moment more before Gunnar found his sense. He gave her a tiny wave and smile, then walked out the barbershop.
He would have to see her again, and since she swore she’d never set foot in his gym again, he would have to return for another haircut.