Caroline eyed the floral arrangement critically, trying to figure out what was off with it. She was working on a few choices for Bonnie’s wedding, and though she had a month or two before Bonnie would need to choose, she liked to start early. She was about to reach out to adjust one of the violets when the bell over the doorway tinkled, followed by the slam of the door against the frame. “You would not believe who is moving in across the street.”
Caroline inwardly sighed, reaching for a clean rag to wipe her hands and turning to face Katherine, who was glaring at a small bouquet on the shelf by the register. She knew that the building across the street had been up for new ownership for the past few months, but she hadn’t seen anyone move in yet. “Who?”
“That son of a bitch.”
“Going to need to be a bit more specific, Kat.”
“That tattoo artist from New Orleans.”
“Are you sure?” Caroline asked warily, glancing back at her violets. “If I remember right, you were pretty drunk the last time you saw him, and that would be a weird coincidence.”
Katherine turned her glare towards Caroline, who glanced out the window at the shop across the street, which now had “Mikaelson Ink” on a sign above the door in pretty calligraphy. She heard Katherine unzip her purse and looked over as her friend pulled out a slip of paper and pushed it into her hand. “I knew you would say that, so I got this first. I know who I saw, and it was him.”
Caroline glanced down at the receipt to see Artist: K. Mikaelson written at the top above the charge.
“I had to pay two thousand dollars to have that tattoo removed.”
“I know,” Caroline said, her eyes still fixed on the storefront. She could see movement behind the tinted windows but couldn’t make out any facial features.
Katherine was pacing, her arms crossed. “It’s him, okay?” she insisted. “And I know you bang down people’s doors with welcome brownies whenever they move in anywhere near you, but this guy does not deserve your baking.”
Caroline snorted, turning back to her flower arrangements. “Duly noted,” she said.
“Do you know what you’re doing for Bon’s wedding yet?” Katherine asked, flipping through the sample books Caroline had just created for another one of her clients, and Caroline reached out to gently take it away.
“No. That’s what I’m trying to do now, which is why you should go plot whatever sabotage you’re planning somewhere else.”
“Sabotage? Me? I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Caroline let out a sharp breath, a stray lock of hair that had stuck to her cheek lifting off of her face. “Sure, Jan.”
Katherine rolled her eyes at the reference before taking a step towards Caroline, leaning against the counter. “Okay, but if I were to hypothetically be planning this so-called ‘sabotage’--” Katherine made air quotes, “--would you hypothetically consider helping me?”
Caroline’s lips twitched. “Do you have to ask?”
“Just checking,” Katherine half-sang, grabbing her purse from the counter. “I have work...fifteen minutes ago.”
“You should probably start getting there on time.”
“Please. What’s Amara going to do, fire me?”
“Probably not,” Caroline admitted, knowing that Katherine’s older sister most likely kept her doing the books for the family’s coffee shop through a combination of family loyalty and whatever blackmail evidence Katherine undoubtedly held. “But still.”
“What, is the very idea of me being late giving you hives?”
“Yes. It really, really is.”
“You should have some fun once in awhile.”
“I have lots of fun all the time, and you’re just getting more and more late.”
“ Fine ,” Katherine sighed dramatically. “I can see where I’m not wanted.”
Caroline snorted and gave her a friend a half-hearted wave before turning back to the bouquet. She’d just decided that violets might not be the best choice after all and had begun to pull them out and replace them with red peonies when a low voice spoke behind her, making her flinch in surprise. “Hello there, love.”
“Hi,” she said cheerfully, turning around and swallowing when she saw the speaker. Though she mostly got a lot of bachelorette party requests and last-minute ‘shit I need a bouquet for my mediocre marriage proposal’ “emergencies” from jittery twenty-somethings, it wasn’t uncommon for her shop to get more than the occasional tourist with a hot accent. Said tourists were usually not as attractive as their accents, but this one was. “Can I help you find anything?”
She tried not to make it obvious that she was checking him out, but judging by the small smirk twisting his lips he had totally noticed, though the appreciative return glance made her feel a bit better.
“No, thank you. Just looking.”
“Well, let me know if you need any help.”
She hadn’t exactly meant to add a double entendre, but he didn’t look like he was complaining judging by his unchanged smirk. “I actually do need to buy a bouquet for dinner this weekend.”
“Oh,” Caroline said slowly, wondering if she’d misread and he had a girlfriend. “Well, what did you have in mind?”
“Something with a long shelf-life preferably,” he said, following her as she went to the shelves of pre-made bouquets. “I’d like her to be able to keep them for quite awhile.”
Caroline inwardly lamented the loss of what probably could have been an excellent one-night stand as she went through some of the options. “Chrysanthemums have the longest shelf-life, but they’re kind of high maintenance. You’ll have to change out the water and cut the stems every day to keep them looking nice.”
“That won’t be a problem.”
“Great!” Caroline said cheerfully. “They’re kind of pollen-heavy, though. If she has an allergy then you might want something else.”
“No, that’s perfect,” he said. “I assume you’re the Bella in ‘Bella’s Bouquets’?”
“No, that was my grandma. It’s a family business and I took over the shop for her. I’m Caroline.”
He gave her a dimpled smile, reaching to brush his lips against her knuckles, and she fought down a flush. “Caroline, then. I’m Klaus, by the way.
Something about the way he said it made her pause, but she didn’t know how to ask, so she just pulled a few flowers out of the cooling shelf and began to carefully arrange them in the bouquet paper. “Are you visiting from England?” she asked, trying to make small talk, and she glanced at him as he shook his head.
“No, actually. I just moved here a week or so ago. My sister’s been here with her boyfriend for a year--she’s who I’m getting the flowers for--and they’re having a housewarming party for me this weekend.”
“That’s nice,” Caroline said, fighting down a small smile at the almost hopeful look he shot her.
“I suppose,” he said, and she sensed that he almost wanted her to press for details. She was pretty nosey anyway, so she did.
“Not excited to be living near them?” she teased.
“Well, I’m not all that fond of her boyfriend, to be honest. He’s a bit of a prick.”
“Oh,” Caroline said slowly, the realization dawning, and she narrowed her eyes. “And let me guess, the ‘prick’ boyfriend has a pollen allergy?”
“It’s possible,” he said with an unashamed dimpled grin.
“It’s possible? I feel like that’s kind of a yes or no question,” she said, unable to fight down her own smile.
“It depends, will you disapprove enough to turn down a date because of it?”
She eyed him for a second. “Well, it’s not nice to interfere with your siblings’ relationships.”
“I’m not nice, and he’s a prick.”
“You’re really selling me on that date,” she said, her lips twitching, and he smiled back.
“I suppose I’m not presenting myself at my best. Perhaps you’d allow me to take you out to dinner to make a better second impression?”
She considered him for a second, tilting her head to the side before nodding slowly. “Okay.”
His face lit up, and she couldn’t fight down the smile at how pleased with himself he looked. “Excellent. What time do you close?”
“Perfect! I close a bit later, but I’m sure someone will be willing to cover.”
“Yes, actually. I moved here to open up the shop across the street.”
She stiffened. “The tattoo shop?”
“Yes,” he said, his tone becoming guarded at the sudden change in her demeanor.
“I’m sorry, but you have to leave,” she said, her voice clipped.
“You gave my friend Katherine a tramp stamp of her ex-boyfriend’s face when she was completely shitfaced. Not responsible tattoo artist behavior, and definitely not the kind of person I want to date.”
He looked even more confused at that, and she briefly wondered whether Katherine had been wrong about his identity before realization seemed to dawn. “That wasn’t my fault, love--”
“Don’t call me ‘love’.”
“Caroline,” he began. “I--”
“I need you to leave.”
He looked torn for a second, seeming to consider his options before he tilted his head to the side and gave her a small smirk, giving a glimpse of a set of leather cords tucked under the collar of his henley that she felt the strange instinct to tangle between her fingers. “Fine, then. It was nice to meet you, Caroline. I suppose I’ll see you around.”
“I suppose,” she bit out, watching as he left.
It was a pity that she’d had to kick him out. She’d liked him, or at least she had for the few moments that she hadn’t known that he was the one who pulled the dick move with Katherine. Still, her loyalty was to her friends first and foremost, and she wasn’t about to go on a date with someone who had caused one of her best friends so much trouble.
For the rest of the morning she concentrated on Bonnie’s wedding options, looking up to help out a few customers when they came in. Her thoughts were constantly flipping back to Klaus, though, and she found herself unable to wipe the smug smirk and stubbled cheek from her mind’s eye.
Around lunch time she looked up to see Klaus exit his shop, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his leather jacket despite the warm California spring weather, and Caroline couldn’t help but reluctantly admire the way his jeans clung to his body and the way the light caught his dirty blonde hair. He glanced around the street before looking straight at her, and she felt her cheeks heat as she stared him down, unwilling to break eye contact.
He raised a questioning eyebrow, his lips quirking before he turned away and walked a few doors down to a coffee shop, disappearing inside.
“Fancy seeing you here, love.”
Caroline took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she set the pen she’d been doodling with down on the table. For the last month, Klaus had been ‘coincidentally’ running into her whenever she went to get coffee on her break. She’d tried taking it at different times, but he’d inevitably walk in a few minutes after her and either try to engage her in conversation or silently lurk a table or two away. It was infuriating and totally ruined the only bit of time she had to herself all day other than lunch.
She wasn’t even sure why he was so determined to talk to her. It had taken a grand total of one conversation for him to decide that he was interested, and they hadn’t even talked that long. She’d tried to be politely distant the first two or three times he attempted to make small talk, but she had gotten to the point where she felt she could excuse being rude. From the way he behaved, she knew that he probably saw her as a challenge, and she had no interest in being what would undoubtedly be his flavor of the month.
Was she making assumptions about his relationship status based on how attractive he was? Most definitely, but she doubted she was wrong.
“Hi,” she bit out, resisting the urge to drain her coffee and leave. That would be letting him win, and she had no intention of giving him a single inch.
“How’s your day going?”
“Good until you started talking to me,” she said lightly, taking another sip of her coffee.
“Is that so?”
She would not make a scene in the coffee shop. Her mother had raised her better than that.
She stared at him over the rim of her cup, her manicured fingers clicking as she let them drum against the cardboard in what she knew was a grating staccato. It didn’t seem to bother him though, and the knowing smirk at her attempts to get him to fuck off were almost more infuriating than his presence in and of itself. He watched her attentively as she took another sip of her coffee.
“Do you draw?”
“Do you draw?” he repeated, nodding to the pen by her hand.
“No. I’m just sketching some ideas for a new line of terrariums,” she said stiffly.
He hummed, looking pointedly at the pad partially hidden by her palm. Sensing that he wasn’t going to leave her alone until he had a look, she picked up the pad and held it out to him, and he took it, the brush of his warm fingers against hers making her shiver.
She watched as he looked, the tip of his finger tracing the outline of the fern, though not quite touching the paper, and she felt an odd anticipation bloom as she wondered what he thought.
“It’s pretty,” he said. “Do you design these often?”
“Yeah. They’re easy to take care of, so they’re great for brightening up offices. They’re my best-sellers other than wedding decorations.”
“You sound like you love what you do,” he said, and she nodded.
“I really do! I majored in journalism, but I always liked hanging out at the store when I was a kid. My grandma paid me under the table to work in high school, and I figured out how much I loved it. It just seemed like a natural fit to take over after my grandma died, and now I can’t imagine doing journalism, although I do keep up a blog for the store.”
He had somehow managed to make her feel at ease with just a few words, and she forgot to be annoyed with him. He continued on, charming and full of good questions, revealing details about himself along the way that seemed insignificant but gave her a glimpse into his mind that made her curious for more.
“Art major, huh? What’s your medium?” she asked a ways into the conversation, her coffee cold and forgotten in front of her.
“I paint, generally. I wanted to open a gallery, but plans change.”
“To becoming a tattoo artist, you mean?”
“After I got my first one in college I felt drawn to it, and things sort of evolved from there. I like the idea of my art leaving a permanent mark, and what better way than to leave an imprint of yourself on someone’s skin?”
His eyes skated over the skin exposed by the thin straps of her top, and she wondered what he was thinking about, whether she was imagining the hunger in his eyes. She cleared her throat, about to ask about what his favorite things to paint were, but stopped before she spoke when he checked his watch and grimaced. “Sorry, love. My lunch is over, so I’ve got to get back, but it was nice talking to you. Perhaps we should do it again sometime?”
The world seemed to readjust itself as she realized that he’d managed to bait her into a real conversation, that she’d been having fun , and she bit out a short ‘no’ before picking up her purse and walking back to her store. She was somehow both utterly unsurprised and absolutely enraged that he’d managed to be charming enough to make her forget why she tried so hard to hate him, and she mentally kicked herself as she approached the storefront, clutching her coffee cup hard enough to loosen the lid, causing some of the liquid to drip onto her skin.
Caroline drained the cold coffee and crumpled her cup as she closed the shop door with her hip, tossing it in the trash by the register, still seething. He was an infuriating, arrogant jerk , and she definitely wasn’t going to entertain the notion of spending time with the person who gave one of her best friends a tattoo when they were drunk, no matter how attractive the jerk in question was.
She was in the middle of constructing what sort of strongly-worded speech she’d give him if she ever saw him again when she was interrupted by her other best friend, who shouted her name from the back room.
“Hey, Bon!” Caroline yelled back, pushing her anger to the back of her mind as she walked through the shelves of bouquets to the back room where Bonnie stored her experiments, finding her friend bent over a large flower that resembled an orchid pigmented in a lurid shade of pink. Bonnie was a geneticist who experimented on flowers and plants to try to find natural replacements for synthetic ingredients, often resulting in oddly colored flowers with unique scents. Caroline tried to remember if Bonnie had mentioned what she was currently working on, but couldn’t come up with anything recent.
She bent over to take a sniff of the orchid, but Bonnie practically shoved her away. “Be careful! You don’t want to inhale the pollen.”
“Then why aren’t you wearing a mask?”
“Because I don’t bend over it like a tenth grader in their first chem class. Didn’t Mr. Fell teach you anything about interacting with chemicals?”
“Not the point, Bon. What’s this one for?”
“Viagra competitor, but for the hippy types who don’t want artificial chemicals in their boner.”
“So they’d rather have genetically engineered plants?”
“It’s not my job to sell the product, just to make it,” Bonnie said with a grin before gesturing to a clipboard on the side table. “I put the instructions there. Thank you so much for helping out!”
“I’m always happy to,” Caroline said, picking up the clipboard to look at it. “Should I wear a medical mask when I’m handling it?”
“Yeah, probably. I mean, it’s not dangerous , but there are a few possible side effects that would be a bit uncomfortable.”
“Got it,” Caroline said, scanning the instructions before setting it back down. “When do you have to be back at work?”
“I have about half an hour.”
“Do want to take a quick look at a few ideas for your wedding pieces before you go back?”
She and Bonnie chatted while they flipped through some ideas and did a few samples, and by the time her friend walked out Caroline had calmed down enough to dial it down to ‘bubbling in rage under the surface’ rather than ‘obviously seething’. Klaus Mikaelson, she decided, could take his dimpled smirks and annoyingly attractive stubble and shove it up his smirky british ass.