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My Pleasure

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              Emma Swan was not a people person. It was for this reason that the Chick-fil-A drive-thru wasn’t her sort of thing. You had to talk – face to face – with at least four people just to get your food. And they asked for your name at the beginning of the entire process. Then everyone afterwards actually used it, with a mega-watt smile on their faces. And Emma Swan never would understand the Southern phenomenon of tacking “Miss” on the front of a person’s first name. Miss Swan, she understood. Miss Emma? Not so much.

              But she had to hand it to those cheery employees walking up and down the line with their i-Pads. They were efficient. Which was one of the reasons Emma put aside her anti-social ways on her way to work. No matter how much of a hurry she was in, she could count on Chick-fil-A. She could be in and out of that line in five minutes flat.

              Then there was the coffee. Sustainably sourced by local farmers. Or something. There was a big poster about it in the lobby. All Emma knew was that it was damn good, especially for a fast food place. And then there were chickin-minis. She had Mary Margaret to blame for getting her hooked on those. Or more accurately, her four year old son Leo. Tiny nuggets wrapped in tiny fluffy biscuits. Where had those been all her life? It was her new favorite food. Okay, breakfast food. Grilled cheese and onion rings still held the one and two spot.

              So she gladly put up with the bright smiles and the over-the-top hospitality for a decent breakfast a couple of times a week. Or three. Okay, four max.

              But she was not going to be one of those people who had drunk the kool-aid and made odes to how wonderful Chick-fil-A was on You Tube. And then Mary Margaret had to go and introduce her to the sweet iced tea.

              “You can’t re-locate to Georgia and not drink sweet tea,” she had argued with Emma while practically shoving the straw in her mouth.

              “So what next, MM? I have to start monogramming my towels?”

              But she had begrudgingly took a sip anyway, and there was no turning back. Then she discovered the lemonade, and the cookies and cream milk shake. Some days, she was hearing “It’s been a pleasure to serve you, Miss Emma” twice in twelve hours.

              She was one “Eat Mor Chikin” cow from making a You Tube video while holding a Styrofoam cup with a red straw.

              To make her obsession even more embarrassing, it led – albeit indirectly – to her being an actual- to-God secret admirer. Who left anonymous love notes. Seriously. What had she become?

              Killian Jones, according to his name tag, was the owner-operator of Emma’s neighborhood Chick-fil-A. She had figured immediately that he wasn’t just a regular burger- er – chicken sandwich flipper because he was wearing slacks and a navy blue button down shirt – no tie. His chest hair must need plenty of breathing room because he always had at least the first five buttons of his shirt undone (not that she was counting or anything). The first morning they met, he hadn’t started out on the best foot, inadvertently insulting her food preferences.

              When he handed Emma her food, Killian Jones had leaned over slightly to glance in her back seat, simultaneously handing her a coupon.

              “We’re doing a special promotion today. Would your little one like a gift card for a free cone?”

              His words sort of trailed off when he saw that the backseat was empty. Emma had barked out a wry laugh.

              “Uh, there’s no kid back there. Sorry.”

              “My apologies,” he muttered as he stood quickly, his face flaming and his hand lifting to rest behind his ear, “I just assumed. You ordered the chicken minis, and usually people get those for their kids . . . “

              Normally, Emma would have been insulted, but he seemed so genuinely embarrassed, that she simply chuckled. “Well, I have been told that I have the appetite of a twelve year old.”

              The smile that he gave her was lopsided and almost sinful. He arched a very expressive brow, and leaned towards her open window with a conspiratorial whisper. “I must admit, I rather fancy them myself. I mean, they’re chicken nuggets in little biscuits. What’s not to love?”

              “I know, right? It’s revolutionary.”

              They gazed at one another way longer than necessary, threatening to bring imbalance to the well-oiled drive thru machine. Killian blinked, as if suddenly remembering where he was, awkwardly cleared his throat, and then handed Emma her coffee.

              “It’s been a pleasure to serve you. God bless.”

              In a slight daze, Emma took the coffee, noting the brush of his fingers against hers like she was some fifteen year old with a crush. It wasn’t until she was driving away that his accent registered with hers. Instead of a southern drawl, it had been a lilting Irish accent.

              Intriguing.

                            ********************************************************

              Later that day, Emma’s hand literally shook as she took the Styrofoam cup of lemonade from the drive thru. For a brief moment, she considered chickening out – pun completely intended – but then shook off her fear and resolutely snatched the envelope from the passenger seat of her Bug.

              “Could you give this to your owner-operator?”

              “Okay,” the girl server said with a smile and a nod as she took the note, “we always like to hear how we can better serve our customers. Is there anything I can do to make your experience here better?”

              “Oh,no!” Emma said quickly, making a quick slashing motion with her hand. “It isn’t a complaint. Quite the opposite actually. Just . . . “ she nervously bit her lower lip, “don’t tell him my name or . . . anything. Okay?”

              The girl gave a slightly different smile this time as she pocketed the note. “Sure thing, ma’am.”

Emma couldn’t tell if the smile was just relief or a kind of knowing. Maybe the girl thought it was Emma giving her boss her phone number. Maybe women were frequently passing notes to Killian Jones. She wouldn’t be surprised. Emma’s face flamed red as she drove away.

It wasn’t like it was that kind of note. All it said was, “You made a hectic morning bearable. Thank you.” For a company that emphasized customer service so much, it was really just a thumbs up for a job well done. Like a positive review on Amazon. Nothing more.

              ********************************************************

Killian Jones was there again when Emma stopped to get a quick breakfast. This time, he arched a knowing brow when her yellow Bug pulled up to the curb.

“Ah, Miss Emma Swan once again. Your chicken minis, m’lady, and I must say, a fine dining choice for a woman of mature tastes.”

He gave a mock bow as he passed the bag through the window, and Emma was mortified when a giggle made its way past her lips. He waggled his eyebrows at her, to which she rolled her eyes. Yet, he had remembered her.

She cleared her throat as she took the bag, and then asked him, “I was wondering about the accent. Isn’t it the wrong one?”

At first, he furrowed his brow. “The wrong one . . . oh! You mean, as in, why don’t I go around saying mornin’ ma’am, or ya’ll have a good day now?”

Emma giggled again at his horrible impression of a Southern accent and shook her head. “Yeah, that’s what I mean. Your accent is . . . Irish?”

“Aye. And if you’re wondering how I ended up in Atlanta, well, the short version is I came across the pond as a kid.”

Emma nodded. It was about all she was going to get. She was sitting in a drive thru with at least half a dozen other cars behind her. So she simply nodded, tilted her head in a way that was only slightly flirtatious and said, “I like it.”

              *****************************************************

The rest of the day sucked, to put it bluntly. The scumbag she was staking out took hours to show up, she twisted her ankle chasing him down, and she never did get to eat lunch. So today was a cookies and cream milkshake type of day.

And today the note she asked the girl at the drive thru to pass along to Killian Jones said, “I’m glad you moved here. It’s a long way from Ireland, but . . . welcome home – I hope.”

              ******************************************************

“Is that required?”

              On this particular morning, it was pretty cold outside, and Killian had kept his banter at a minimum as he handed Emma her order. So maybe she was grasping at straws for a little interaction. Or maybe it was a legitimate question.

              “Is what required?” he asked, both eyebrows jumping slightly.

              “God bless,” Emma clarified, “everyone here says it. Is it company policy or something?”

              Killian shrugged, “Sort of. I mean, not officially. You can’t make someone use religious language, of course. But we’re encouraged to if it’s something we believe in.” He pulled the collection of necklaces he always wore around his neck free from his pea coat and scarf. He grasped a pendant shaped like a cross and waved it at Emma. “And I’m a good Irish Catholic boy.”

              The smile he gave her belied his words, especially when his tongue darted out to swipe at his bottom lip. Emma cocked her head to the side and gave him a teasing smile.

              “Not so sure you’re always a good boy.”

              He leaned down, lowering his voice to a timbre that did something to Emma’s insides. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

              Emma rolled her eyes as he leaned back with a triumphant grin. Then his features became suddenly sincere.

              “However, Swan, I do wish you every blessing. I mean that.”

                             **************************************************

              The cold weather made it a “second cup of coffee in the afternoon” sort of day. But she had brought in a skip so easily she could have done it blind-folded, her little nephew Leo stopped by her office with a picture he drew of the two of them in preschool, and Mary Margaret insisted she come over that night for David’s famous chili.

              And Killian Jones wished her every blessing.

              On today’s note, Emma wrote, “You make me smile. That’s rare. Thank you. (Or should I say, God bless?)”

              She had hesitated including that last line. After all, she didn’t want to give herself away. But was there any harm in dropping a hint or two? She shook her head, sealed the envelope, and passed it off to the girl who received all of her notes for Killian. Emma now knew her name – Holly.

              And did Holly just wink when she took her note?

                             *************************************************

              “Lovely as always, Miss Swan.”

              Killian’s hand lingered as he passed Emma her coffee. She blinked and opened her mouth to say something, and –

              Jumped a foot in the air when the SUV behind her honked. She and Killian both laughed, and he shuffled backwards, his face turning red. His smile was a broad one that dimpled both cheeks and crinkled the corners of his eyes.

              That day, Emma’s note read, “I find myself looking forward to your smiles. You’ve got a great one, but you’ve probably heard that before. Anyway, just wanted to let you know it always brightens my day.”

                             **************************************************

              Today it was raining, and yet the employees of Chick-fil-A were still there, bravely traversing the drive-thru line in ponchos, their i-Pads encased in water proof plastic. Killian stood huddled beneath the awning at the service door, in a thick navy blue raincoat. Raindrops had gathered on his eyelashes, making the blue of his eyes sparkle in the gray misty haze of the Georgia rain.

              “Wow,” Emma quipped when he handed her the to-go bag, “this is dedication. And still telling me, it’s a pleasure to serve you.”

              His eyes seemed to light up even more as he smiled at her. “For you, Swan, it is more than a pleasure.”

              That day, her note read, “Your blue eyes make a rainy day a little brighter.”

              It was the most blatantly flirtatious note she had left, but she no longer cared.

                             ************************************************

              “Your accent is the wrong one too, you know.”

              Emma smiled broadly as she leaned against the open window of her Bug. Killian made no move to give her her food, swinging the bag idly in his hand. She shrugged.

              “Yeah, I moved around a lot growing up. Minnesota. Portland. I moved here a few months ago. I had been living in Tallahassee, but my foster sister wanted me here to be close to family. There’s way more work here in bail bonds anyway.”

              Killian nodded as he handed her the bag of chicken minis and her coffee. “Well, Swan, welcome home . . . I hope.”

              He winked before turning his back to receive the next order. Emma’s jaw dropped, but she had the sense to ease out of the line and onto the highway.

              Did he know? To test it out, her note to him that day read, “I’ve never really felt at home anywhere. This is getting close. You’ve helped make it feel that way.”

                             **************************************************

              Emma was only half listening to Mary Margaret as she set the table in her and David’s eat-in kitchen. Their house was small, but quaint, and was in a great neighborhood. They had been willing to buy a smaller house rather than keep renting in the apartment complex, knowing the back yard and park down the street were better for Leo. It worked out for Emma too, as she spent way more time here than in her lonely one bedroom apartment.

              Mary Margaret was lecturing Emma about something – probably about how she ought to be more social – but Emma’s mind was on Killian Jones. Had he gotten her latest note yet? Would he figure out who she was? If so, would he think she was a total stalker?

              “ . . . so since you keep giving me excuses, I just decided to ask Killian over for dinner tonight.”

              The name tore Emma immediately from her daydreaming. “I’m sorry? What did you say?”

              Mary Margaret shook her head at Emma. “I said set one more place because I invited that guy I told you about over for dinner.”

              Emma set down the stack of forks she had been laying at each place and waved both hands back and forth. “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. You said his name was, what?”

              Mary Margaret had been going on and on about her and David’s former neighbor at the apartments and how he would be perfect for Emma. But surely that couldn’t be the same Killian as her drive-thru Killian. Could it? Okay, so Killian wasn’t exactly a common name . . .

              “Killian Jones,” Mary Margaret answered with an exasperated sigh.

              Emma shook her head rapidly. “Killian Jones? What . . . what does he do for a living?”

              Mary Margaret grabbed the forks Emma had abandoned. “He’s the owner-operator of the Chick-fil-A near here. I was going to introduce you the day you went with me and Leo, but Killian was at some training thing at corporate.”

              Emma grabbed the back of a chair as the room started to spin. Crap. She had to go and open herself up in that damn note today. And Mary Margaret just had to invite him over for dinner, tonight of all nights.

              This was going to be interesting.

                            *****************************************************

              Killian was just as surprised as she was when he arrived at the Nolans. Apparently, Mary Margaret had gushed on about her “sister,” but had failed to mention a name. They told Mary Margaret and David about their interactions in the drive thru, and everyone had a good laugh about it. What a small world! How ironic! That sort of thing. Killian seemed no different than normal. Maybe he hadn’t gotten the note yet?

              Emma, on the other hand, was wound tight. Maybe things had been more comfortable between them when there was a car door and a time restraint. Or maybe it was all those stupid notes hanging over Emma’s head. Whatever it was, it made Emma’s face feel like it was stuck in a perpetual blush. She couldn’t think of a damn thing to say, and Mary Margaret and David were not-so-subtly trying to play matchmaker as they attempted to steer the conversation Emma’s way. But all she could do was give one word answers and stare at her plate.

              “Well,” Killian said with a satisfied sigh, “I can’t tell you Mary Margaret how delicious this was. Working at a restaurant all day, the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is cook. This was amazing, really.”

              Mary Margaret beamed at his compliment. “Well, we are pleased to have you. You should come over more often. We miss you. Right, David?”

              “Yeah,” David chuckled, shoving Killian’s shoulder, “I’ve got no one to watch hockey games with anymore. It’s not really a popular sport around here.”

              “The notes were from me,” Emma blurted out.

              Everyone immediately fell silent at Emma’s completely out of context outburst. Except for Leo, who ran his fork across his plate with a loud screech and demanded to know what was for dessert.

              Emma lifted her gaze from her lap to meet Killian’s. “The notes that kept arriving at Chick-fil-A in the afternoons? They were all from me.” She let out a long, shaky breath.

              “I know,” was all Killian said in response.

              Emma’s eyes widened. “I – I thought you might. When did you figure it out?”

              He chuckled as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I suspected, or hoped, it was you from the start. You see, every note corresponded with our morning interactions. But of course, today confirmed it. I was testing you by quoting one of your notes, and then when the note this afternoon was about home . . . “

              He trailed off, a grin splitting his face.

              “You hoped it was me from the start?”

              He nodded, and Emma just sat there grinning right back at him like a fool. Mary Margaret hurriedly jumped from the table, scooping up Leo.

              “Hey!” the little boy protested. “What about dessert?”

              “We’ll eat cookies in front of the TV,” Mary Margaret muttered in response, “David, now.”

              Killian and Emma chuckled as their matchmakers hurried from the kitchen. Emma felt as nervous as she had been back in junior high when she went to her first school dance. Killian rose from his seat across from her and came to take the seat beside her. They both shifted their chairs to be a little closer.

              “I felt something between us the moment I first saw you,” Killian said.

              “You mean when you offered my non-existent kid a free ice cream cone?”

              Killian chuckled and ducked his head. How a man could be so sexy, cocky, and bashful all at the same time was incredibly endearing. He lifted his eyes to meet hers, a silent question passing between them. Emma nodded imperceptibly as they both leaned towards one another. When Killian’s lips met hers, the contact was charged with an intense attraction she had never felt before.

              Except when his fingers had brushed hers in the drive thru.

              Those fingers now carded through her hair as she tilted her head to deepen the kiss. His lips were soft against hers, but his kisses were firm and passionate. His other hand came up to gently caress her face, his thumb tracing her jaw and coming to rest on her chin. Emma pulled back, giving him a shy smile, which he returned. Then they resumed kissing, their tongues entwined in a dance so perfect, it felt as if they had been molded to fit together. When they finally parted, they were breathing heavily. Emma rested her forehead against his and sighed in complete contentment.

              “Emma,” he murmured. God, she loved the way he said her name!

              “Yeah,” she mumbled back dreamily.

              “It’s definitely been a pleasure to serve you.”

Chapter Text

              Emma groaned when she pulled into the parking lot to see that the drive-thru line was wrapped around the building: twice. Little kids dressed up as pirates and princesses poured out of mini vans and SUVS. She should have known the allure of free food would bring the crowds. Normally, she wouldn’t so much as entertain the idea. But Leo had been talking about this for a week, and she wasn’t about to let him down just because Mary Margaret’s morning sickness meant she couldn’t get within a mile radius of grease.

              Emma pulled into what looked like the last available parking space. She helped Leo out of his car seat and firmly gripped his hand to cross the parking lot. The smell of fried food made Emma’s stomach grumble loudly, and her nephew giggled.

              “Hey,” Emma laughed, “the smell of chicken nuggets may make your mom want to hurl, but I can’t wait.”

              When she walked through the doors, she was greeted by utter chaos. Frazzled mothers, irritated dads, and dozens of kids hyped up on sugar or the excitement or both, ran too and fro. Amazingly, the employees were still smiling, and the line to the counter, though long, was moving swiftly.

              “You look amazing, Swan.”

              A smile curled Emma’s lips at the deep voice in her ear. She turned around to greet her boyfriend, and the sight that greeted her had her eyes widening and her mouth going dry. She swallowed thickly.

              “You’re . . . you’re . . . “

              “Devilishly handsome?” Killian filled in with a quirk of his brow. He took her hand, leaned over and kissed it, then winked up at her. “I know.”

              She shook her head to try and clear it. “No, I mean yes, I mean . . . you’re a pirate.”

              He chuckled and gestured around him. “My restaurant is having a theme night, if you haven’t noticed.”

              Emma quirked a brow. “Your restaurant is also supposed to be family oriented.”

              She couldn’t help licking her lips as she took him in head to toe. Tight leather pants that left little to the imagination (though she did have personal knowledge of the subject), a long leather duster, a somehow sinful red vest, and a shirt that was barely buttoned. Her boyfriend always liked to let his chest hair breathe a little, but this was bordering on scandalous.

              He wiggled both brows at her but made no comment. Instead, he turned to Leo. “And here we have . . . a knight in shining armor?”

              Leo lifted his little plastic sword and attempted to peer out beneath the plastic helmet that had slipped down to block his vision. “Yeah, cuz what if the pirate’s try to kidnap the princesses? Someone will need to rescue them!”

              Killian nodded in mock seriousness. “Very noble of you, lad.” His eyes cut to Emma appreciatively. “Though I think there are plenty of princesses here who can rescue themselves.”

              Emma blushed and shuffled, no longer feeling quite so silly in her lacy white dress. She adjusted the crown of white flowers on her head as Killian continued to give her that look. “So, um, he still gets the free kids meal, right?”

              “Of course!” Killian assured. “I like a young man who thinks outside the box.” He leaned closer and whispered, “Besides, there have to be some perks for sleeping with the owner-operator.”

              “Killian!” she admonished, smacking him in the chest. She bit her lip and gave him a coy smile. “Although . . . what other perks do I get?”

              He jerked his head to a booth in the corner in sight of the kids play area. It had a sign on it that said “reserved.” He took her hand and escorted her over, pulling the seat out for her and then kissing her hand again before he left.

              “I know your usual order. I’ll bring it right out.”

              Emma almost tipped her chair back watching him walk away. The costume was even better from behind. He returned quickly with their food, and when he set down the tray, Emma noticed something else.

              “Is that guyliner?”

              Killian chuckled and did that adorable thing where he scratched behind his elf shaped ear. “Aye. I decided to go all out, you know.”

              Emma couldn’t take her eyes off her boyfriend. There was something weirdly sexy about the very realistic hook on his left hand, and Emma wanted to be those pirate charms resting against his chest hair.

              “Em – MA!” her nephew cried, startling her out of her lustful daze.

              “Um, sorry kid, what?”

              “Can I go play?”

              Emma shook her head to fully clear it. “Sure, go ahead.”

              She should have been bored while Leo played. She should have been getting a migraine from the noise. But instead she just sat there with her chin in her hand watching her boyfriend get even sexier as he interacted with all the kids. He pretended to sword fight with one boy dressed as Jack Sparrow, stumbling back dramatically when he got “stabbed.” A little girl dressed as Ariel got frightened of his hook and started to cry. Emma almost melted when he knelt down to her level and got her to giggle instead. And her ovaries. It may have done something to those, too.

              An hour later, Emma had finally managed to pull Leo away from the plastic slides and tunnels and was buckling him into his car seat. His eyes were fluttering closed as she shut the car door.

              “Swan!” She turned and saw Killian jogging towards her. When he reached her, he twirled a strand of hair between his fingers “I’m sorry I was so busy in there.”

              Emma stepped closer with a teasing smile on her lips. She ran her hands through his exposed chest hair. “Then just make it up to me, pirate.” She grabbed the lapels of his leather coat and yanked him in for a heated kiss. Their tongues tangled as Emma dug her fingers into his hair. She broke the kiss, but dragged her lips along his jaw line before whispering huskily in his ear. “Come to my place when you get off. And keep the costume on.”

              She gave him a light push and a smirk. He grinned wickedly.

              “As you wish.”

              “Whatever happened to my pleasure?”

              His tongue came out to swipe at his lower lip as he leaned back into her personal space. “I’ll be saying that later, love.”