“Well, then, I need you to make an announcement.” The leggy brunette’s voice belongs to a woman used to giving orders. “He must be here by now.”
Legs is standing in front of me at the hostess stand, her back turned so that all I can see is a mass of chestnut brown waves, a waist small enough for a man to grab onto, and an ass that was made to fill out a skirt. In front of her, a petite blonde clutches a stack of menus like a lifeline as she gnaws on her lower lip.
“Well?” Legs’ voice is more demand than question.
While the hostess explains to Legs that the restaurant really isn’t set up for announcements, I glance at my watch impatiently. The traffic on Sixth Street had been more of a bitch than usual, and I’m running five minutes late. An irritating reality considering that I’m habitually prompt, a remnant from my military days. I’ll cop to a lot of vices, but tardiness isn’t among them.
Legs, however, is going to make me even later, and I frown as I glance toward the bar area to my left, looking for any unaccompanied woman who might be “J” from the 2Nite app. But there’s no one sitting alone who looks like she’s waiting for “PB” to join her.
It’s my first time using this particular app, and its schtick—because they all have a schtick—is that all contact is anonymous until you actually meet your date. That’s fine and dandy, but it makes connecting difficult. After all, would she really have left her name as J at the hostess desk? Because I’m going to feel like an idiot if I have to call myself PB.
Then again, I’ll be lucky to have the chance to call myself anything at all, because Legs is spending so much time harassing the hostess that the restaurant will be closed before I can ask about J or claim a table.
“—except I already told you that I don’t have his name,” Legs is saying as I tune back into their conversation. The corporate warrior tone has faded, replaced by frustration and, I think, disappointment.
As for the hostess, she now looks even more frazzled.
“All I know is that he works for a security company—”
Ding, ding, ding. Folks, we have a winner.
“—and he should already be here.”
“J,” I say confidently, stepping up beside her. “I’m Pierce Blackwell.” I pull a business card from my wallet and hand it to her when she turns to face me.
“Of Blackwell-Lyon Security. PB,” I add, just in case that’s not absolutely clear. “I’m very happy to meet you in person.”
And that, frankly, is one hundred percent true. Because while the rear view might be amazing, from the front, my date for the night is even more stunning. Her dark hair frames a pale face with skin so perfect I have to force myself not to reach out and stroke her cheek. She has a wide mouth that was built for naughty things, and the kind of curvaceous body that lets a man know he has a real woman in his arms.
“Oh.” Her voice is a little startled, and her amber eyes are wide with surprise. She’s dropped the stern tone she’d used with the hostess, and I see relief in her eyes. I guess she thought I was going to stand her up, despite the fact that she doesn’t look like the kind of woman who gets stood up often.
And her obvious relief that I’ve arrived suggests a vulnerability I wouldn’t have guessed from listening to her interrogate the hostess.
Honestly, I like the contrast. It suggests a strong personality wrapped around a soft, feminine core. In other words, a woman who knows what she wants from a man, but isn’t afraid to let him take control.
Did I mention I like taking control?
My card is still in her hand, and she glances down as she reads it, her thumb softly rubbing over the raised lettering in what I think must be an unconscious motion, but still makes me imagine the brush of that thumb over my hand, my mouth … and other much more interesting places.
She lifts her head. And in the moment she meets my eyes, I’m certain that I see a familiar spark. The kind of heat that means we skip the appetizers, slam back a quick get-to-know-you drink, then barely make it back to my condo with clothing intact.
I know women like the way I look. Sandy blond hair, a body that’s in prime shape at thirty-four thanks to military training and my current job’s requirements, plus blue eyes that have been known to draw compliments from strangers.
So the heat in see on her face doesn’t surprise me. But then I blink, and damned if that fire doesn’t disappear, her eyes going completely flat. As if someone had flipped a switch.
What the hell?
Was I hallucinating? Fantasizing?
Or maybe she’s just doing her damnedest to fight an intense, visceral lust.
But why would she? She came here tonight wanting the same thing I did. One night. A good time. And absolutely no strings.
Honestly, it makes no sense. And right now, the only thing I’m certain of is that the desire I saw on her face is gone. Poof. Just like a magic trick.
No heat. No fire.
No goddamned interest at all.
“So, will that be two for dinner?” the hostess asks brightly. “The wait’s about forty-five minutes in the dining room, but there are a few tables open in the bar.”
“That’ll be fine,” I say, determined to get this evening back on track. “We’ll probably stick with drinks and appetizers.” I look to her for confirmation, but she’s frowning at her phone and doesn’t look up again until we’re seated.
“The drinks here are good,” I say as the hostess leaves us with the bar menus. “I live downtown, so I’ve been coming here a lot since it opened. How about you? Been here before?”
One perfectly groomed eyebrow arches up in a way that I find incredibly sexy, despite the fact that she’s obviously annoyed. “I’ve only just arrived in town. When would I have had time?”
“Right. Good point.” Now I’m just being conciliatory, because how am I supposed to know when she moved to Austin? I read her profile and there wasn’t a single word in there about her being new to town. But my only other option is to tell her flat out that tonight is a bust, and then get the hell out of there.
Except I’m not ready to give up on her yet. Because despite our off-kilter start, there’s something intriguing about J. And I know damn well that I saw a spark of interest in her eyes. And so help me, I intend to get it back. Because, hey, who doesn’t love a challenge?
“Speaking of time,” she says. “Under the circumstances, I feel I need to be completely honest.”
“Go for it.”
“It’s just that I didn’t appreciate being kept waiting,” she says. “Punctuality is extremely important to me.”
“Me too.” That’s true, but I’m surprised she’s getting bent out of shape for a mere five minutes. Still, at least we’ve found one tiny patch of common ground. “I’m almost always early. I’d blame the traffic, but honestly I should have left the office earlier.”
I flash my most charming smile. It hasn’t failed me yet, and thankfully tonight is no exception. She relaxes a bit and leans back in her chair, her finger tracing the leather edge of the menu.
“I’m glad to hear it. You’ve seemed lackadaisical about the whole thing so far. It’s not the attitude I’m used to.”
I reach across the table and take her hand. It’s soft and warm, and my cock tightens in response to a fresh wave of lust. She may be prickly and inscrutable, but she’s also fiercely self-assured, and the combination is seriously hot.
“Sweetheart,” I say. “I may be flippant about a lot of things, but never about this.”
“Sweetheart?” She tugs her hand free of mine, and I couldn’t have gone limp faster if she’d dunked me in a barrel of ice water. “And you called me J, too? I mean, what? Are we starting a hip hop band?”
“We could,” I quip, trying to regain my balance. “PB and J. You have to admit it works.”
I laugh, because it does work. And why the hell is she griping at me, anyway? If using initials irritates her that much, she should have picked an app other than 2Nite.
“Just call me Jez,” she says. “Or Ms. Stuart if you prefer to be more formal.” She’s sitting up straight now, and I’m thinking that she couldn’t be more formal if she tried.
“Jez,” I say. “I like it.”
“It’s short for Jezebel, obviously. And of course our parents named my sister along the same theme.” She leans back, clearly expecting a response.
“Parents will do that,” I say, since I’ve got nothing else. Let’s just say that talk of parents and siblings isn’t usually par for the course on these kinds of dates.
Still, it must have been the right thing to say, because she smiles, and it’s the kind of smile that lights her whole face. And even though I don’t do full nights—not ever—I can’t help thinking that it’s the kind of smile I’d like to wake up to.
“Listen,” she says, “I know I may seem formal and demanding, and that can be a little off-putting for some people. It’s just that I take all of this very, very seriously.”
“I get that.” I mean it what I say. After all, I know that I’m a nice guy, but a woman has to be careful who she goes home with.
“I’m glad you understand,” she says as the waiter comes up to take our order.
I hand the waiter my menu. “Angel’s Envy. On the rocks. And the lady will have…?”
“Club soda with lime.” She meets my eyes as the waiter walks away. “I like to keep a clear head.”
Okay, sparks or not, this woman is exasperating. “Honestly, right now, I’m thinking I should have ordered a double.”
Her mouth tightens with disapproval. “Fine. But I hope you have a clear head when it counts. I expect complete attention to detail.”
I hold her gaze for ten full seconds. And then—because at this point I have nothing to lose—I slowly let my eyes roam down. Her usually full lips, now pressed together in a thin red line. The soft curve of jaw. The tender slope of her neck.
Her top button of her silk blouse has come open, and I can see the curve of her breasts spilling out over the cups of her pale pink bra. I pause just long enough to imagine the taste of her right there. The feel of her soft skin against my lips. And the way her bossy, severe voice will soften when she writhes beneath me and begs for more.
Slowly, I raise my eyes. “Sweetheart,” I say. “I’m all about the details.”
I watch, satisfied, as a pink stain colors her cheeks. She exhales, then swallows. “Right. Well, that’s good.”
I bite back a smile. I’m not sure what kind of game we’ve been playing, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the score is currently in my favor.
She draws a breath, and I can tell she’s trying to gather herself. “So if you’re all about the details, then you already know my problem.”
I lean back, grateful when the waiter returns with my drink, as that gives me time to think. Problem? The only problem I remember her mentioning in her profile was that she’d been working such long hours she hadn’t been properly laid in months. I’d assured her I could remedy that, and she’d promptly accepted my RFD—which is 2Nite speak for “request for date.”
“Well, you’ve been going a hundred miles an hour,” I say, and she nods, looking pleased that I remember.
“And all this drama with my sister is adding a whole new layer of insanity.”
She looks at me sharply, and I immediately, regret my words.
“I thought you’d done your homework.” There’s a challenge in her voice, but I barely notice it. I’m too mesmerized by the way her lips now close over the straw of her soda.
I shift, my jeans feeling uncomfortably snug. And honestly, what the hell? Because I can already tell this woman is bad news. Intriguing, maybe. Challenging, definitely. But way, way too much trouble.
Apparently, the parts of me below the table aren’t nearly as critical, however. But I’m going to attribute that to a general desire to get laid, and not necessarily to Jez.
“Well?” she presses.
“Are you always this…” I trail off, thinking better of saying what I was thinking. Bitchy.
“It’s just that this smells remarkably like a job interview. Which seems a bit like overkill for just one night.”
“One night? Oh, no. I’m looking for something for at least three weeks. After that, we can decide if a long term commitment would make sense.”
“I was with Larry for over five years,” she says, which explains why she’s been so awkward tonight. I’m guessing this is her first time to even use a dating app.
“That’s quite a while,” I say.
“It is. And honestly, I prefer the continuity that goes with a long-term arrangement. With someone I can trust, of course. That’s what I’ll be evaluating with you, of course. Assuming you check out and can prove yourself. Which, frankly, I’m starting to doubt.”
I wince, suddenly picturing a panel of Olympic judges at the foot of my bed as I attempt a double rolling dismount with a flip.
I shake my head, dismissing the thought.
“Right. Okay. Let’s back up.” I slam back the rest of my bourbon. “Now it’s my turn to call you out for being unprepared. Because my profile is crystal clear. No long term commitments.” I flash that charming smile again. “Forget marriage. I’m all about the one-night stand.”
“That’s absurd. You’re seriously considering doing this for just one night? And you think that would be okay with me? That I want to do this repeatedly?” She gestures at the table, as if having a man buy you a drink is the most hideous torture imaginable. “Are you insane?”
“My shrink doesn’t think so.”
She stands, then hooks her purse over her shoulder. “I wish your policy had been made clear. This has been a complete waste of time in a week when I don’t have any time to waste.”
“Jez—” I stand and reach for her, but she steps back. I have no idea why I want her to stay, but I do.
She, however, isn’t giving me the chance to convince her.
“Thank you for the drink.” She draws a breath, and I can see her effort to settle herself. “I really am sorry for the misunderstanding. Despite everything, I think it would have been… interesting working with you.”
And then she turns.
And then she’s gone.
What the hell just happened?
“Another?” the waiter asks, as I sink back into my chair.
“Yeah. A double this time. I think I need it.”
I sit there for a minute, a little shell-shocked, and I’m not sure why. I damn sure shouldn’t be disappointed she walked, because that one would have been trouble for sure. The last thing I need is a woman who wants to cling.
But still, I’ve sat in a bar and had a drink by myself on several occasions. But never before has the empty seat across from me seemed quite so empty.
I sigh, then lift the drink the waiter slides in front of me. I savor the bite of the whiskey, wondering if it’s the alcohol that’s messing with my head. Making me think that maybe two dates wouldn’t be the end of the world. Hell, maybe even three.
Because the truth is, even though I never quite figured her out, I haven’t been that entertained by a woman in a long time.
My phone chirps, signaling an incoming message from 2Nite.
I snatch it from my jacket pocket, certain it’s a message from Jez.
But it’s not.
Oh, it’s from J, all right. But as I read it, I get a dark, twisting feeling in my gut.
Sorry I missed our date. Work blew up and I had to fly to Dallas. Rain check?
I read it twice, just to make sure that the bourbon isn’t making me hallucinate.
But, no. The message is clear. J—the woman I was all set to meet here tonight—isn’t in Austin. She’s two hundred miles away.
Which means that she didn’t show.
Which means that Jez isn’t J.
Which means that I have no idea who Jezebel Stuart is.
And I damn sure don’t know what the hell we spent the evening talking about.