Chapter 1

“Jane, would you date Riley?” his girlfriend asks me from the only stall in the ladies room. Here it is, the question that all of his girlfriends ask me eventually. Riley is my best friend but he is a voracious womanizer.

“Not even on a bet,” I reply. This is my standard response to this question because I am nothing if not brutally honest.

“Why not?” she asks sounding suspicious. I’m beginning to think that she’s purposely taking her time in there. She knows I have to use the stall next and I bet she’s thinking that if she holds it hostage long enough I will be forced to answer her questions. Unfortunately, she’s right.

“Well,” I begin, “I love him to death but he has the emotional maturity of a fifteen year old and I would never trust him out of my sight. But I’m sure he’ll be different with you,” I add hastily to reassure her hoping this will get her to flush the toilet and open the door. Okay, even I have my weak moments of shadowing the truth slightly. A full bladder will get me to do it every time.

“Is he really that bad?” she asks. She sounds worried now. I hear her flush and then she is zipping her jeans. Yes! Just a few more seconds. But she’s not opening the door. Oh, yeah. She asked me another question. I was focusing so hard on a crack in the yellow cinder block wall trying not to wet my pants that I had forgotten to answer her.

“Oh, he has his moments. But he is acting differently with you than I have seen him act with other women.” My fingers are as tightly crossed behind my back as my legs are crossed beneath me. Lord, this woman is trying to kill me! Death by ruptured bladder was not how I expected to leave this world.

“Different how?”

“Look, I promise to tell you all about it if you just let me in there,” I say through gritted teeth. I am quickly losing my patience with her and she seems to catch on to that.

“Oh, sorry,” she says as if she didn’t realize she was keeping me waiting. She finally opens the door and I rush past her, practically knocking her out of the way, and lock the door before she has a chance to stall any more.

As I finally sit down, the thought ‘why am I friends with him again?’ flows through my mind for the millionth time. I have known Riley for years, he’s been my closest friend since our freshman year in college, and I have the best time with him. As a friend, he is funny and intelligent and loyal, and he thankfully gave up trying to push things farther than friendship years ago. I am just one of the guys now which is perfect. For me, anyway. His girlfriends, and there have been many, always have a hard time believing that he and I are just friends.

“Okay, spill,” she says trying to sound chipper as I am finally able to do what nature intended. “Do you think he’ll cheat on me?” she asks and I can’t help the little tug on my heart that I feel as I hear the vulnerability in her voice.

Such a difficult question. I believe that Riley may possibly be capable of being faithful to one woman if he ever stops acting like a kid in a candy store who wants to sample everything before finally settling on one that he wants to take home. All of his girlfriends believe that they will be the one to change him. It’s always sad when they get their hearts broken despite any attempt on my part to warn them not to get too attached.

“Well, I never see him looking at other women anymore,” I say. This is actually true. I don’t pay attention to it anymore. I intentionally stopped noticing a while back so that I could answer this question this way because no matter how many times you tell a smitten woman that her boyfriend is going to get bored or stray, she never believes you. Most of the time, the women just assume that I am jealous and want Riley for myself so they get hostile towards me. The thought that I am just trying to be kind and save them from heartache never crosses their minds.

Is it true? Do I have feelings like that for him? Every once in a while I do this mental exercise to see if his girlfriends are right and I am just jealous. Nope, try as I might, I can’t work up any serious emotion other than friendship for Riley. Sure, he’s hot in a ‘hi, my name should be Biff’ kind of way. You know the type – he grew up in a well to do neighborhood, he went to good schools, he never has a hair out of place, he wears casual preppy clothes, and he looks good with his shirt on and off. At least if you like chest hair he looks good with his shirt off. He has quite a pelt going on and I for one prefer a smooth chest. Back hair is totally out of the question (which he doesn’t have, I’m just saying…). He keeps his light brown hair on the shorter side to keep its waviness to a minimum and between his body and his hazel green eyes that seemed to dance with intelligence and merriment and his long sexy lashes, the combination draws women to him like flies to honey.

“Really? He doesn’t look at other women?” his girlfriend asks bringing me out of my revelry. What is her name again? I’m starting to feel guilty that I can’t remember it but since I’m not good with names anyway, I don’t put a lot of effort into remembering Riley’s girlfriends’ names unless I have met them at least four times. This is only time number three for this one.

I consider her question. Okay, that is not exactly what I said, she twisted my words a bit. “Not that I have noticed,” I repeat clarifying. I come out of the stall and wash my hands wishing desperately that this bar kept the paper towels filled in the dispenser. Shaking my hands, and I admit, trying to get some of the spray on her, I try to get them to air dry quickly. “I think you should just relax and see where things go. Enjoy your time together and if it works out great and if it doesn’t at least you had fun, right? Ready to head back out there?” I ask more than ready to get out of this small space and away from her.

“Sure,” she says brightly. Her mood seems to have lightened considerably. She is now convinced that I am not interested in Riley for myself and that she is the only woman to have ever completely won his heart. I should probably feel badly about giving her this impression as it will make things more difficult for Riley, but I figure if he is going to force me to hang out with these women it is only fair if I do little things to make it easier on myself.

We head back out to our table. There are a few more people in the bar than there was when we got here but not many. This is mine and Riley’s favorite neighborhood bar, called Earl’s, and it never gets too busy until late. I love playing pool and this is one of the few places where I can play well and not have men get all weird that they are being beaten by a woman. If someone new comes in and starts acting upset about it, there are plenty of people I know here who will tell him to get over it or get out. Amazing in this day and age that this stuff still happens, but it does.

When we are close enough to the table to hear him, Riley lets me know that we are next up. He disentangles himself from his girlfriend who has rushed over to him and wrapped her arms tightly around him and after giving his quarters to our opponents, he walks over to the rack of cue sticks on the wall. One of the guys who we are playing begins racking the balls while Riley picks out a good stick. I always laugh at how carefully he looks the cue sticks over to try to find the perfect one because everyone knows that bar cues are always crooked or old. I just turn the stick until the curve in it is pointed down and I can get a straight line on the cue ball. As long as the stick isn’t too light and it has a decent tip, I can usually get the job done with any of them.

Our city is one of the few probably in the whole of the United States where money breaks. When the guy is sure that the rack is tight and perfect, he slides the triangle away from the balls and steps back from the table. Riley hands me the stick and moves aside so I can break up the balls. Leaning down at the end of the table, I draw back the cue stick and thrust it forward again making contact with the cue ball and sending it hurtling towards the triangle of balls at the other end of the table. They go careening towards the sides of the table and two of them find their way into a pocket. Both of them were solids.

The guy who racked the balls looks impressed. “Nice break,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply, not really looking at him. Sizing up the table, I go in for my next shot and send the seven ball into the side pocket. The cue ball doesn’t come back to where I hoped it would and I am left with only a tricky bank shot for my next shot. Banking is not one of my strengths and I just miss sending the four ball into a corner pocket.

“Anyone ever mention you suck at this game?” Riley asks me grinning. He knows that I hate it when I miss and he loves to tease me mercilessly. I give him a dirty look.

“Don’t listen to him, it was a great shot. Just off by half an inch,” the guy who racked tells me.

“Thanks,” I say. I can tell that he’s trying to be nice after Riley’s cutting remark, not patronizing. For the first time, I take a good look at him and wow, is he ever impressive! He is tall and lean but muscular with jet black hair which is a little shaggy, his eyes are the color of a summer sky and he looks great in his jeans and black t-shirt. The view as he leans over the table to take his shot is very nice indeed.

“Hey,” Riley murmurs as he elbows me in the ribs, “eyes on the game, missy.”

“Just sizing up the competition,” I murmur back and he rolls his eyes at me and laughs. “Right,” he says.

The guy misses his second shot and Riley moves away to take his turn. “I’m Jack Peters,” the dark haired guy says to me holding out his hand. “And that’s Max,” he nods towards his friend who is scowling at the table as Riley sends a ball into the side pocket. “You’re pretty good at this game.”

“Thanks, I try,” I shrug as I shake his hand. I always try to be modest in case I end up having an off night. I find that the more I drink, the better I perceive I play but that doesn’t make it true.

“Do you play here a lot?”

“Usually a couple of nights a week,” I say. Okay, it might be three or four times a week when I don’t have an assignment but that just makes me sound like an alcoholic instead of an avid pool player so I tend to downplay the number until someone knows me better.

“Your boyfriend is pretty good, too,” Jack says motioning to Riley.

“Riley’s not my boyfriend,” I tell him. Was that a look of relief that I just saw in his eyes? “His girlfriend is over there.” I motion to the blond, big breasted woman at our table. Damn, still can’t remember her name!

“Then it would be okay if I buy you a drink?” he asks hopefully. I notice the dimples on the sides of his mouth as he smiles. He is so cute!

“Sure, why not.”

“What are you drinking?”

“Raspberry Stoli and 7-Up would be great,” I tell him.

“I’ll be right back,” he says and I can’t help enjoying the view as I watch him walk towards the bar. My eyes drift back to the table and I see Riley taking a shot at the eight ball. I can’t help a little groan. Riley always chokes on the eight. I inwardly cringe as I watch the eight ball miss its pocket and the cue ball head towards the corner. Thankfully, it catches the lip of the corner pocket and stops before falling in. Riley catches my eye and winks at me wearing his best impish grin as if he meant to do that. I scowl back and then laugh.

Max takes his shot and manages to get four balls in before scratching. At first he seems upset with himself but then he notices where he left the eight ball. It’s against the rail at the far end of the table. Since he scratched, I have to keep the cue ball at my end and have to make one hell of a bank shot to win the game. Max looks over at me with a look that tells me that he is sure that I am going to miss. If only he knew that the best way to get me to shoot well is to have my opponent get cocky or patronizing. Pulling the cue ball out of the hole at the end of the table, I place it carefully, assessing the amount of green that I have to cover to make this shot. I glance up at Max again and his smirk is enough to give me the motivation that I need. I send the cue ball careening to the other end of the table where it makes contact with the eight ball sending it back to the corner pocket. Riley is grinning from ear to ear, Max looks angry.

“That was one hell of a shot,” Jack says appreciatively from behind me. “Don’t mind him,” he motions to Max, “no one ever taught him how to play well with others.”

I laugh. “I’ll keep that in mind and thanks for the drink. Do you want to play again?” I ask as I take my drink from him.

“Definitely,” Jack replies as he digs his hand in his pocket looking for more quarters. The man definitely looks good in those jeans!

Riley walks over and puts his arm around me. “Nice game, sweetheart,” he says as he gives me a quick kiss on the cheek. I elbow him sharply in the ribs for being too intimate. I know he’s just trying to annoy me but his girlfriend is now glaring at me from the table. He laughs and takes the quarters that Jack hands him and goes back to the table to rack the balls.

Jack looks at me with one eyebrow raised. “Sure he’s not your boyfriend?” he asks.

“Positive, he’s just a jerk,” I tell him and he laughs.

For the next hour, the four of us play pool while Jack and I talk. He is funny and intelligent and a great pool player. We end up playing five games with Jack and Max winning two of them including the last one. Finally, other people come in who want to play pool and Max and Jack end up losing the table shortly after Riley and I sit back down at our table.

After their last game, Jack comes over to where I am sitting with Riley and Kristin. Riley had reminded me of her name when she was in the ladies room where I did not go with her that time. “Would you mind if I joined you for a while?” he asks me.

“Not at all,” I tell him as I motion to the empty chair next to me.

“So, what do you do besides play pool exceptionally well?” he asks as he sits down.

“She’s an undercover agent for the FBI. Being a pool shark is her cover,” Riley says facetiously to him from across the table and I kick him hard in the shin. “Ouch!” he exclaims as he reaches down to rub his leg.

“Really?” Kristin asks with big eyes. “I thought Riley said that you were a consultant in the medical field?”

I roll my eyes at her. “He was kidding,” I explain.

“So you don’t work in the medical field?” she asks looking thoroughly confused.

Ignoring Kristin, I turn back to Jack who is looking amused. “I work for a consulting firm and I travel around the country working with different hospitals. When I have an assignment, I’m usually gone Monday through Thursday and come back home for a three day weekend. It’s a good life,” I tell him. Actually, it’s a great life. I love my job. I get to see a lot of the country, I enjoy the challenge of a new assignment and by the time things start to get routine and boring, I can move on to a new site.

“How long are your assignments?” he asks.

“Depends on the hospital and what they need. I do interim management, process improvement, and sometimes software implementations. It can range anywhere from three weeks to six months.”

“Wow, so you’re not home much then,” he says and I think I see disappointment flicker across his face but it’s gone before I can really tell.

“Yes and no. When I have a long assignment, it feels that way but in between assignments I often get weeks off while the background work and contract things are being arranged through the home office for my next job. I end up with more time off in a year than I ever would have with a nine to five job around here. I’m currently between assignments right now, actually. What do you do?” I ask.

“I’m an assistant DA,” he says.

“That sounds interesting,” I say trying to feign interest. Uh oh, I sigh inwardly as I can’t help thinking about how incredibly boring the last lawyer I went out with was.

“You don’t sound very impressed,” he says with a knowing smile. “I’m assuming you are one of the millions of people who don’t like lawyers?”

“Oh, lawyers are fine as people. My track record with dating lawyers hasn’t been that great though,” I tell him honestly. The last date I had with a lawyer I ended up leaving during dinner. After his third condescending and sexist remark, I had laid money on the table, explained that we both knew this wasn’t going anywhere, suggested that we not waste any more of each other’s time, and I left him sitting there with his mouth open and left. I met up with Riley and some other friends at the bar and all of them thought that I was cold hearted to do that but then they all admitted that there were some horrible dates that they had wished the women they were out with had done the same thing instead of wasting the rest of the night with them.

“Sounds like you just haven’t met the right lawyer,” Jack says with a cocky grin.

“Really,” I eye him up and down forwardly, “and are you implying that you could change my mind about dating lawyers?” Shyness is not one of my many attributes.

“I’d certainly like to give it a shot,” he says and behind the cockiness, there seems to be something else. Hope, maybe?

“Well, I do like to think of myself as open-minded…”

“Then how about dinner tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow, you don’t like to waste time, do you?” I laugh. I had been expecting the minimum prerequisite three day waiting period from first meeting to first date that most guys have.

“Well, I don’t know how long you will be in town so I thought I had better take advantage of you being around,” he says. I like how his blue eyes sparkle with excitement as he says this.

“Tomorrow would be great,” I tell him. Damn, my heart is pounding! I haven’t had this strong of a reaction to a guy in longer than I can remember. His looks, his presence, his smell, his obvious intelligence – it’s all intoxicating.

Jack and I talk for a little while longer until Max comes to retrieve him to play another game of pool. He gets up reluctantly and promises to be back soon which makes Max glare at him. I am assuming that he is glaring at the prospect of Jack playing poorly in order to come back soon and not at the idea of Jack talking to me. The jury is still out on whether or not I like Max. He seems a little too intense. Jack didn’t say, but I would imagine that he’s a lawyer as well and a much more stereotypical one.

About ten minutes after Jack leaves the table, Riley wants to go home. Looking at my watch, I am surprised that it’s already after eleven. I may not have to get up in the morning but Riley does and we rode together. Kristin drove herself.

I take a pen out of my purse and scribble my number on a napkin. Cliché yes, but still very effective, and I walk over to Jack. He smiles widely as he watches me approach. “I’m leaving,” I tell him and I hold out my number for him.

“So soon?” he asks and he truly does look disappointed.

“Yes, Riley has to get up early in the morning and he’s my ride.”

“I could give you a ride home…”

I laugh. “Someday I’ll tell you my story that explains why I never let a guy I don’t know well pick me up or drive me home.”

He frowns and looks concerned. In a serious and very lawyer like voice he asks, “Did you have a bad experience?”

“Relax, Mr. DA, no harm came to me,” I laugh. “But it is a story that every young girl should hear before going out on her first date.”

He looks relieved and smiles. “Then I look forward to hearing about it tomorrow over dinner.”

“It’s a date,” I say and I turn to leave but he puts his hand gently on my arm.

“Hey, Max, I’ll be right back,” Jack says to his friend and then he turns back to me. “Do you mind if I walk you out?” he asks.

“Not at all.” He smiles and we both walk towards the door. Riley and Kristin have already left. When we get outside, I can see them by Kristin’s car and they seem to be having some sort of disagreement.

“Trouble in paradise?” Jack asks.

“My guess is he’s telling her to go home instead of following him to his house. Riley’s not big on weeknight sleepovers.”

“You and he must be pretty close to know things like that,” Jack says and there is something in his eyes. Jealousy, maybe?

“Like brother and sister,” I reassure him.

Jack looks over at Riley and Kristin again. “Well, if that’s the type that he usually goes for I guess you wouldn’t be his type.”

A little taken aback because Kristin is gorgeous, I ask, “And why is that?”

“Because I think your IQ has to be at least twice hers,” he laughs.

Relieved that he didn’t suddenly find Kristin more attractive than me, I laugh and say, “Yeah, Riley is not known for dating Mensa candidates.”

“Lucky for me,” he says and then he slowly dips his head and I feel his lips gently graze mine. I am not usually one for making out with a guy who I just met at the bar but his lips certainly do feel good. His kiss is sweet and subtle, not demanding, yet with a promise of a deep seated passion that I want to investigate further. He lets his lips linger for a moment teasing mine lightly with his tongue and just when I am ready to forget myself and wrap myself around him and offer to take him home, he pulls back. His eyes are burning with passion as he stares into mine. “I am really looking forward to seeing you again,” he says in a voice that is more husky than before. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

With a great deal of disappointment, I watch him turn and walk back into the bar and I take a deep breath. Oh my god, I am actually feeling flushed! If I feel like this after knowing him for a couple of hours, I can’t wait to see how tomorrow night goes.

Reluctantly, I turn and walk towards Riley’s car. He’s still standing by Kristin’s and their conversation does not seem to be going well. He catches my eye and relief flashes across his face as I approach them.

“Look, Kristin, I have to go,” he says to her and motions to me. “Jane is ready and she has to get up early for an appointment,” he lies. “By the time I drop her off and get home, I’ll be exhausted and I have an early appointment myself. How about if we compromise and we go out tomorrow night?”

Kristin looks over at me and scowls but when she turns back to Riley, she has a pouty look on her face. “Fine,” she whines and she opens up her car door and gets in. Without even giving her a kiss good night, Riley turns towards me and his car. Kirstin slams her door closed, starts her car and quickly backs out of her parking space almost hitting two guys who are heading into the bar and then squeals her tires a bit as she pulls into the street from the parking lot.

Riley is shaking his head as we get in his car. “What the hell did you tell her in the bathroom?” he asks obviously annoyed.

“The same thing I tell all of your girlfriends – that you’re a two-timing jerk with the emotional maturity of a fifteen year old.”

He raises an eyebrow and looks over at me. “I’m always feeling the love from you but that can’t be all you told her. Fess up.”

“Fine, I might have told her that I never see you looking at other women anymore,” I say a bit sheepishly. “In my defense, though, she was holding the only stall in the bathroom hostage until I said something she wanted to hear.”

“So you caved?” He shakes his head in mock disgust. “You are so weak.”

“Hey, what can I say? My bladder is more important to me than your sex life.”

Riley shakes his head again but he laughs this time. “I can’t believe you lied! You never lie.”

“I didn’t lie!” I say indignantly.

“You did so! You know damn well that I have not stopped looking at other women. You see me do it all the time.”

“No, I don’t. I have made a conscious decision to not notice you do it just so I can say that to your girlfriends,” I say smugly.

Riley scowls at me. “You are evil.”

I give him my sweetest smile, “But you love me anyway.”

Shaking his head, he says, “Yeah, and lord knows why.” After a few minutes of companionable silence, he asks, “So, you going out with loser lawyer guy?”

It’s my turn to scowl. “He is not a loser and yes, I’m going out with him tomorrow night as a matter of fact. At least his IQ has three digits!”

He laughs. “Yeah, Kristin’s not the sharpest woman I’ve ever been out with. She has some other talents, though,” he says wiggling his eyebrows and letting me know just where those talents lie.

I shake my head and punch him in the arm. “I do not want to hear about your disgusting sex life.”

“You’re just jealous because it’s been a while for you,” he challenges.

“Jealous? Never. But I do think that my dry spell is about to come to an end.” It’s my turn to wiggle my eyebrows in his direction.

“Yeah, and I’m sure loser lawyer guy will live up to all of your expectations.”

“Now who’s jealous?” I tease.

“Nobody,” he says as he pulls up to the curb in front of my house. “Now get out so you can rest up for your exciting date tomorrow.” I give Riley a quick hug and get out of the car. He waits for me to get my front door unlocked and I turn and wave to him as I open the door and go inside.

Once inside, I am still a little wound up from being out so I make myself some tea and check out what late night talk shows are on. My sleeping patterns get all out of whack when I am between assignments and I end up staying up much later than I should because by nature I am a night owl and then I sleep in late. Around two, I finally make my way to my room and after changing and washing my face and brushing my teeth, I fall into my comfortable king size bed and immediately fall asleep where Jack has a role or two in my dreams.

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