Everyone dug into their appetizers while Caprice waited for Xavi to answer. She tried not to laugh at his confusion.
Xavi tilted his head. “What do you mean by blunt?”
“I mean that you are straightforward and say what you mean. You’re outgoing,” Caprice explained.
Xavi smiled, reaching his eyes, which were like sapphires on fire. They were deep and showed kindness and honesty that Caprice thought only existed in fairy tales. “Our men are taught to be honest and sincere, and we are even more genuine with women we want to pair bond with.”
Caprice realized Xavi might be one of the most exciting men she had ever met. They’d only met during dinner, which had turned out to be bizarre and filled with earth-shattering revelations, but he fascinated her. “Pair bond?”
Xavi nodded. “We mate for life with our partners.”
Caprice rolled her eyes. “Most guys say they want to find the one and then end up with a revolving door of women.”
Xavi leaned over with a sly half-smile, and his eyes crinkled with good humor. “We are committed, and we don’t lie.”
Caprice laughed. “Right. You mean to tell me there are no jerks on your planet.”
Caprice shrugged. “I mean someone who’s annoyingly stupid.”
He shrugged. “There are always exceptions. Maybe some guys are rough around the edges, but we’re honest jerks.”
Caprice couldn’t help laughing again. “Because I dated a guy who was a real jerk.”
Xavi reached across the table to take her hand. “I validate your experiences.”
Caprice bit her lower lip, but she found a straight face challenging around him. She wondered if all aliens were so formal. “I suppose you’re proof that they aren’t all like that. So what do you guys do on your planet?”
Xavi grinned, his eyes lighting up. “Nin and Ferrix are brothers. Nin is a researcher, and Ferrix works in the military sector. They are both princes. My company is making good strides in developing technology that will change the universe.”
“Really? That sounds incredible. Then Caprice took a bite of her appetizer.
Xavi used the opening to discuss a new type of renewable energy his company developed. Caprice saw the excitement on his face as he rambled about the beauty of the galaxy, space’s vastness, and Erion’s wonders.
“You said Nin and Ferrix are princes. Does your planet have a king and queen?”
“Yes, but not the way you probably think of royalty. Ferrix considers his title a duty, but Nin struggles with the idea of living up to the expectation of serving his people.” Xavi became suddenly and uncharacteristically serious.
Caprice glanced across the table to where Nin sat next to Rae. They were deep in conversation. “Nin is quite the gentleman, and you wouldn’t know he’s a prince.”
Xavi leaned closer. “He is not the typical prince. We are a unique civilization. We each have special abilities and talents, and we all live together on our planet. Nobility simply means greater responsibilities. Nin works hard to ensure our survival, and we don’t share the same needs or wants as the people on Earth.”
“And what are your needs and wants?”
Xavi paused, thinking for a moment. “To learn and stay true to our ideals. We’re at a point where we must decide if we’ll continue to be a culture of people who protect and care for each other. I worry that some aggressive, ambitious people will show their true colors. I don’t want to believe that’s who we are as a people, but if we allow radical extremists to take power, we will lose everything we’ve worked to achieve. The fertility issues are at the center of our politics.”
“Believe me. We’ve got the same problems here.” Caprice’s voice turned hard, but she didn’t want to get into politics over dinner, so she changed the subject. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Xavi nodded. “I have a younger sister and my mother; my father died when I was six, and my sister was just a baby.”
Caprice placed her fork on her plate and reached for his hand, squeezing it gently. “I’m sorry.”
Xavi’s eyes dimmed, his face hardened, and a muscle in his cheek twitched. “It was long ago, and I don’t remember him.”
“What’s it like on your planet?” Caprice changed the subject again because she could stand the pain in his eyes.
His face lit up. Caprice noticed the lopsided grin on her face as Xavi talked about his planet, his family, and everyday life. It was fun to think about sitting next to someone from an entirely different world. The thought would have sounded ridiculous a few hours ago, but now she wanted to know about every aspect of Xavi’s life.
Caprice was so caught up in conversation that she didn’t realize the waitress had taken her appetizer and replaced it with the dish she ordered. Everyone had eaten their food but picked at her plate. She enjoyed herself so much that eating and talking were hard. Xavi leaned closer to her, his face inches from hers, and she wondered what it would be like to kiss him.
Her cheeks flushed. She twisted the ring around her finger loose and slid it into her pocket. “Would you excuse me for a moment?”
Xavi nodded. “Are you alright?”
Caprice swallowed. Until that moment, she had been completely faithful, but the uninvited thought about kissing him that popped into her head made her guilty for a thing she had not even done yet. “Yes, I need to get some air.
Xavi sat back in his chair, his eyes searching hers. “Did I do something to upset you?”
Caprice shook her head. “I’m not upset. I’m...”
“Thrilled by my charming personality. I can tell.”
She laughed. “I wasn’t going to say that. I was going to say that I’m overwhelmed.”
“And you’re overwhelmed because you’re interested in me.”
“I’m interested.” Her voice caught in her throat. Caprice couldn’t believe she admitted that to him. Even so, she had already said ‘yes’ to an entirely different future. “I’ll be right back.”
She headed out the front door and leaned against the wall outside the restaurant, taking in the night air. Caprice had never met anyone like Xavi. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deep. Caprice opened her eyes, staring into the sky, when Xavi came outside.
Xavi pushed his hands into his pockets. “I wanted to check on you.”
Caprice pulled herself together. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
It could never go any further than conversation or flirtation. The only recourse was to shut down and let her feelings go underground. “We can’t be together.”
Concentrating was impossible when he leaned in, and she could imagine his mouth on hers. “I’m headed back to Florida soon to be with--”
As if he’d read her mind, Xavi closed the distance between them and cut off her words with a kiss. Not a light, playful kiss. Deep, passionate, and it sent her mind racing. Xavi’s hand slid around the back of her head to draw her closer. Caprice felt breathless by the time he pulled away. They stared at one another for a long time.
Caprice needed to tell him the truth. “Xavi, I’m sorry, but I’m supposed to be getting--”
His eyes darkened as he cut her off again. “We should get back inside.”
She needed to tell him the truth, but the words stuck on her tongue. “You’re right.”
Then Caprice turned to walk into the restaurant. Xavi followed her, and they slipped back into their seats. She forced herself to make small talk. They barely knew one another, and he was from Erion. Still, something about him made her want to throw all her plans out the window. She didn’t care about being good or getting married. The thought of never seeing him again once they returned to Erion made her stomach twist. Caprice pushed the food around her plate until the waitress brought a check to the table. After they paid the bill, they gathered outside the restaurant.
“Hey.” Caprice walked up to Rae. “I had a really good time. Thank you for inviting me.”
Rae threw her arms around her sister as Caprice returned the hug. She leaned into the embrace, pressing her face into Rae’s neck and smelling her perfume. She missed Rae so much when she was in Florida.
“I’m happy you came.” Rae beamed.
Caprice glanced at Xavi. He stood with the brothers and Kat but must have sensed her gaze. Xavi looked up and walked over to her. Caprice wanted to taste him again, and she wanted to suck his lower lip and feel him swirl his tongue into her mouth. She had never felt this kind of chemistry with a man before, which was a problem because a new life awaited her in Florida. Caprice wanted to tell her sister the big news, but tonight wasn’t the right time.
“I want to see you again.” Xavi’s breath was ragged and heavy, like a lover confessing when he leaned close to her ear.
Caprice hesitated. Fear, guilt, and shame were emotions she knew far too well. Rae had given up so much to fulfill a role more motherly than sisterly. Those emotions were the only thing that kept Caprice from living her life, and they always won out, but not this time. A smile crept to her face. “I would like that.”
“We’re going to leave once Ferrix fixes the ship,” Xavi spoke as if choosing his words carefully.
Caprice nodded. “I know. I hope we’ll see each other again before you leave.”“I hoped you’d say that.” When Xavi smiled at her, Caprice realized an alien tech nerd from another world had captured her heart. Too bad she already promised it to her fiancé.