Authors: Marie Harte
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
The day before Valentine’s Day
“I don’t know why I’m here. This isn’t even my regular day.” Faith Sumner wiped her sweating palms on her jeans and tried not to feel nervous.
Across from her in a deep, comfortable-looking leather chair, Dr. Dylan Warren kicked an ankle over his knee. He wore a sport coat and slacks, looking more like a model than her therapist. But God, if she had to go to someone to get her head on straight, at least she had something pretty to look at while she did.
He also had the patience of Job. So annoying that he was hot, smart and
“Okay, okay.” She blew out a breath. “I’m nervous.”
“Because tomorrow night’s the first date I’ve had in a long time, and I’m actually looking forward to it.”
Dylan smiled. “That’s great.”
“Brian called for weeks, but I wasn’t ready. And then, I don’t know, I thought maybe. Then a few of my friends vouched for him. So I’m thinking I’m okay with a date on Valentine’s Day. That way I won’t feel like such a loser.”
“You’re anything but a loser.”
“Yes, yes. I’m beautiful, smart, successful and independent.” Like a mantra he’d taught her to recite. She felt better just saying the words. “I can handle dating again. I’m going out with this guy because he’s normal. Not a rich schmuck, but a regular guy who wants to connect.” She frowned. “At least, I’m pretty sure he’s not just after a hookup. Sydney likes him.” Her friends couldn’t say enough about the guy.
“Yes, well.” Dylan fiddled with his pen. “My future sister-in-law is a good judge of character. Go with your gut. You want to reach out, but you’re afraid. That’s a good sign.”
He nodded. “You’re cautious, realizing the risk of baring yourself, yet you’re willing to try. If you weren’t nervous, I’d wonder how seriously you were taking this outing. But you’ve accepted this date because you
—someone in your life. It’s a good step.”
She nodded. “I don’t need him to make me feel good about myself. His wealth, status and looks don’t matter. Well, maybe his looks. He’s really handsome.” She couldn’t stop thinking about the last time she’d seen him, in two scraps of clothing, and fidgeted on the couch.
“Looks are a part of attraction.” He winked. “Faith, you’ve come such a long way. I’m proud of you.”
Remembering what a scared, insecure moron she used to be, she smiled and sat up straighter at his words. Hell, she’d even taken to visiting Dylan at his actual workplace instead of his home, no longer leery of anyone with the title
. “Thanks. I’m kind of proud of me too. I’m going out with this guy for the right reason.”
I’m friggin’ lonely.
She cleared her throat. She trusted Dylan but didn’t want to appear a complete basket case in front of someone so capable. “I don’t want to be the butt of Sydney and Hailey’s cat-lady jokes anymore.”
“Faith.” Dylan coughed to hide a chuckle, but she heard it.
“Ha! You laughed. They all laugh at me.” She grinned. “But it’s good, because it made me realize it’s time to stop hiding. Like you said, time to take a chance.” She chewed her thumbnail. “I can do this. Besides, a date doesn’t mean I have to sleep with him.”
“No. You don’t.” Dylan sounded firm. “In fact, it would probably be a lot smarter if you didn’t. Establish a connection. Examine what you feel in an intimate setting.”
She raised a brow.
“By intimate, I mean that cozy dinner you mentioned you were going to.”
“Oh. Yeah. That.”
He laughed, and she sighed inside. Too bad Dylan, like the rest of his brothers, had already been nabbed. All the Warrens were handsome and genuine. She could only hope Brian Goode, her date the next evening, turned out even half as charming. Fingers crossed, she made small talk with Dylan about his brothers and their girlfriends—her best friends—and tried to ignore the way her heart raced at remembrances of Brian’s bright blue eyes and deep, husky voice…
The next evening, sitting in one of the nicest, priciest restaurants in downtown Augusta, Faith did her best to focus on the menu and not the blond god sitting across from her. The prices of the wines alone made her itch to be elsewhere, yet it was her attraction to Brian that had her second-guessing the date.
She hadn’t felt so drawn to a man since the last jerk she’d dated, and look at how that had turned out.
No. Think positive, Faith. Good energy. Stop being so negative.
She smiled at Brian, then pretended to look at her menu while she gave her surroundings a subtle study. The modern décor, a blend of urban chic and earthy wood accents, felt right at home with the smooth jazz crooning through discreetly placed speakers.
The waitstaff were dressed in black slacks and pristine aqua-blue polos and looked a little too pretty to be waiting tables. But whatever. If Brian wanted to impress her by going all out, she’d let him. From what Hailey had told her, he worked hard for his money. A regular guy, just like her, eking a living to get by. Even those of modest means deserved a night away from the humdrum of nine-to-five. God knew she needed it.
She glanced at Brian again, lured by his clear gaze and white smile.
Damn, that square jaw is just killing me.
She wanted to kiss him up one side of his face and down the other. Then find out if his chest really was that broad or if his button-down shirt just made him look that way. An image of Brian half-naked at Halloween appeared in her mind’s eye, and she swallowed a sigh. No, his chest really
“I’m a breast man.”
Faith blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“I prefer white meat. It’s drier, but I like my chicken to not taste greasy.”
Her heart raced, and she realized she’d put a hand over her low-cut blouse—a pitiful defense against an imagined lecher.
To her embarrassment, Brian seemed puzzled. “Faith?”
“Oh, right. Me too. Grease…yuck.”
She realized he’d been talking about the items on the menu that she’d pretended to be so absorbed in. She had to stop reading into everything the poor man said. For once she’d found a decent guy. Time to relax and enjoy her date instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I like to keep healthy. It’s tough, because I have a bad sweet tooth.” He grinned.
She did her best not to sigh like a besotted fool over a face that could have graced any of the covers on her romance novels. Even without the face, he was swoon-worthy. She imagined the cover ending at his neck and just showcasing that fine body.
Yeah, he was that hot. Nice, handsome and not a rich asshole. She’d truly scored
. Now how do I not screw it up?
She swallowed hard and refocused on his words.
“…yeah, got a real hankering for tits and ass.”
“You know, Smits and Plass? That new candy store downtown you mentioned earlier? Their window display is killer, especially with the chocolate-covered cherries front and center. I have a cousin who lives near Mt. Rainier out in Washington. The Chukar Cherries he sends me are the best.”
“Oh, ah, yeah. Me too. I like chocolate too, I mean.”
Faith, could you be any more oblivious?
But in her defense, Brian appealed to her on every level.
She’d always been a sucker for blonds. And looks. And charm. And hot, hot bodies.
Valentine’s Day had turned her into a desperate woman, one who shouldn’t be looking for a casual hookup. She hurried to take a sip of water to soothe her parched throat.
The waiter arrived with the wine Brian had thoughtfully allowed her to select. Since her last boyfriend had insisted she be a little more educated when it came to the finer things in life, she’d accepted his tutelage and now knew what she liked. Nothing too showy… Unlike Dr. Jeremy Pichter, the conceited ass who’d demanded she better herself to suit
And like that, her mood soured.
Thoughts about good old Dr. Pain In My Ass had her reconsidering her presence here tonight. Again.
Instead of settling in with a good book or watching reruns of
—about women who’d offed their significant others—she was on a date. She’d sworn off men for the past six months, and her friends still gave her crap about it, even though she’d had every reason to be wary.
But a nice night out with a man not interested in loving-and-leaving her or using her for arm candy at some gala appearance? Priceless. She could do this—enjoy a man’s company and maybe take their friendship to a deeper level. But not tonight. Tonight they’d get to know each other, remain platonic friends.
Or so she kept telling herself.
Too bad she hadn’t foreseen her libido waking up and taking notice of everything about the man. Nothing harmless about Brian Goode or his sexy-as-sin smile.
He and the waiter watched as she sampled the wine. Once she did and gave her approval, the waiter poured them both full glasses and left again.
After a sip, Brian nodded. “This is nice.” He sounded surprised.
“You prefer a jammier wine?”
“I have no idea. I’m a beer guy, actually. I just know what I like.” His flirtatious wink made her blush. “How about you?”
“I like it. I prefer a milder taste, to be honest.”
“Ever try really expensive champagne? I have.” He leaned closer and confessed in a low voice, “Excuse my French, but it tasted like shit. And for three hundred bucks a bottle, I’d have expected more.” At her raised brow, he explained, “Friend of mine got a big promotion and put on a dog and pony show. Me? I went because I’d heard there’d be tons of hors d’oeuvres. I guess that makes me shallow.”
She grinned, liking him more and more. “Yeah? Well, I accepted this date because I heard there would be an amazing dinner in it for me. So I guess I’m shallow too.” She met his raised toast and laughed.
After another sip, he set his glass down. “I have to know. What finally made you say yes? I figured for sure I’d be three strikes and out.” He shrugged. “As much as I may seem like a stalker, I’m really not. I saw you at the Halloween party last October and couldn’t get the sexy schoolteacher hanging by the punch bowl out of my mind.”
Oh boy. Not a great night to be remembered. She’d had way too much fun smacking her friends around with her oversize ruler. “Oh. Well. I’m not really a schoolteacher.”
Faith, he knows that. Could you be any lamer?
He chuckled. “I’m not really Tarzan either.” His costume the night of the party. As if she could forget it.
The barely there loincloth and chest strap had warned her to tread warily around the man. Because the sight of so much muscle had made it hard to remember how much she hated men.
But after a long stretch of celibacy, therapy and, hell, loneliness, she’d figured she was due for a real night out on the town. She’d earned it, and she trusted herself. Mostly. And okay, Brian had a sexy dimple she was dying to trace with her tongue.
“You made a good Tarzan,” she reminded him. “But you were missing Cheetah.”
He chuckled. “With the way Derrick was behaving around Sydney that night, he made up for my missing chimp.”
She shook her head. Her friend Sydney had become engaged to said chimp. Not to mention Hailey, Faith’s best friend, was soon to marry the chimp’s younger brother. Something to be said about those Warrens. First Gage, then Derrick. Had Dylan not been her therapist and otherwise attached, she might have made a play for him herself. But then she would have missed out on Brian.
She smiled at him. “You really want to know why I decided to go out with you?”
Recalling how Hailey had promised that Brian wasn’t like all the others Faith had dated—rich, obnoxious, and entitled—she teased, “For your millions.”
Brian blinked. She hadn’t really said that, had she? For weeks she’d been keeping him at a distance. Since he’d seen her, he’d been hooked on her sultry looks, mysterious smile, and amazing curves. It had taken him a few months to build up his nerve, but he’d decided to dip his toe back into the dating pool. His friends had sung Faith’s praises, as had his sister Freddy, who knew of Faith through her boyfriends—fiancés—or whatever the hell she called the two guys she’d fallen in love with.