A month later, Megan braved the Council’s hearing and escaped with a strong warning and probation. She’d never used magic so irresponsibly before, looking back Megan wasn’t sure what happened. One minute she was furious and casting Zack aside, the next all hell broke loose. Of course she didn’t admit that to the Council or the punishment would… she didn’t want to think about it. Megan straightened, held her head high and thanked her lucky stars, determined her loss of control wouldn’t happen again. As if to prove it to herself, the next morning she drove back to the park for a run. Maybe the good looking guy will be there again. Oh, no, stop right there, no more relationships. I can’t afford more trouble.

She stepped out of the car, started through her stretch routine and glanced up. There he stood not ten feet in front of her, shoulder length wavy blond hair, tousled by the wind, wide muscular shoulders narrowing to… she licked her lips… the dude that played Thor had nothing on this guy.  A furry black dog at the man’s heels. For a split second, Megan considered ducking back into the car.

One hand on his waist and the other stretched over his head, Braiden bent slowly from side to side and front to back. He looked up and saw her, a genuine smile curved his full lips. “Hi there, nice to see you again. Megan, right?”

Too late. She groaned knowing she didn’t have the self-discipline to walk away, besides it would be rude. “Morning. How are you?”

“Can’t complain.And you?” he asked walking toward her.

She noticed his slight uneven gait as he ambled closer. “Hurt yourself this morning?”

“No, just old injuries flaring up. I try to walk five miles through the park each day to keep things limbered up. How about you? Addicted to running and the Adrenalin rush?” Braiden closed his eyes and pursed his lips. “Sorry, that came out wrong,” he said in a gruff voice.

“Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “That’s exactly why I run. Who’s this with you?” Her gaze wandered to the black dog beside him. As she watched the dog yawned, a purple tongue lolled out. Must be part chow, she mused.

“Onyx, he’s good company. Well, have a nice run. I’m beat, gonna head home. Nice seeing you.” He waved and trudged down the path in the opposite direction.

“Same here. See you and Onyx around,” she said over her shoulder. She bounced on the balls of her feet then sprinted up the path. A few seconds later, the gravel crunched under her feet as she skidded to a stop, turned and retraced her steps. “Hey.”

Braiden stopped and looked back at her. “Need something?”

“Any chance you’d be interested in grabbing a cup of coffee or a bite to eat?”

He paused for a beat, then shrugged. “Sure, sounds good. When?”

“Tonight,” she said firmly. “We can meet at the cafe on the river front… around seven. Will that work?”
“Sounds like a plan. See you there.”
Braiden returned home, and eased into the red Adirondack chair on the porch, bemused. Was this a date? Not sure if this was a good idea, he shifted in the chair. After the explosion, he’d vowed not to let any opportunities pass by him. Life is too short. Onyx wandered up the stairs and sat beside him. He leaned over and scratched the dog’s ears. “Good day huh… boy? Got a date with a pretty lady tonight. What do you think of that?”

Onyx got up, stretched and walked to the door, then turned with a tail wag and looked up.
Braiden laughed. “Not much huh? Don’t blame ya. Want in? Okay, let’s go and grab a snack.” Braiden groaned as he got up and went inside, the dog trailed behind.

In the afternoon, he checked his email and invoiced a couple of contract jobs he’d completed. Recent breaches in the corporate and government landscape opened lucrative opportunities in the private sector, especially for a cyber-security specialist with a top secret clearance. His cell phone vibrated across the desk. Scooping it up, he glanced at the screen then accepted the call.

“Shawn, what’s up?” Braiden listened for a couple minutes.

“Gee, that’s too bad. But you know what they say, what goes around…” He smirked and shook his head.

“Nope, not interested. If the company spent two weeks trying to get the clearances necessary and failed…the job is behind schedule before you even start.” Braiden quieted for a few more beats while he listened intently.
“I work alone and on a project like that two weeks is an eternity. I’d better pass this time. Good luck.” He paused. “Oh, I understand only too well. But you should have thought of that before taking such a risk.”

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