It has been a very busy week and I apologize for the infrequent posts. Today is special because I'm posting a 10 page excerpt.
The first person to comment back on the except will win a Lucy book!
She rolled her eyes again. "Come on, Stud, admit it. I'm not exactly your usual date."
He'd gotten the nickname at the agency long before Beth had come and it had never bothered him before. There was something about the way that she said it that made him feel as if she was mocking him though. The moniker Stud simply did not sound like a compliment when it rolled off of her acerbic little tongue.
"You're an unusual woman, period."
"I don't think so."
The waiter arrived again with a basket of fresh bread and the salad, then disappeared again just as quickly.
Ethan served her and then himself from the large bowl. "You're wrong, Sunshine. You are different than most women in this town and yet you were born and raised here."
Her eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"You're as fresh and sweet and a man can't help wondering how you maintained such aura of innocence in a city so filled with anything but."
"Are you saying I lack city sophistication?"
He looked her over, letting his gaze linger extra seconds on the parts his body craved to touch. Her little black dress was perfect and the last word in sophistication, not to mention sexy as hell. The way she'd styled her hair was both tantalizing and chic...her make-up was neither too gaudy nor underdone. Nothing about the individual elements lacked the polish he would expect of her mother's daughter, but Beth still managed to project an innocence that challenged the predator in him to teach her the depths of her own passion.
"No. You don't lack anything, but you don't fit this city either. Not like your mom does."
"Or the women you actually date."
He shrugged, not sure what to say. It occurred to him that another woman might be justifiably offended by his comments, but Beth was only looking at him with curious speculation.
She sighed. "If you want the truth, I've never felt like I fit. Not my family. Not this city. Not any of it."
"So, why do you stay?"
"I love my parents even if I don't always get them and vice versa. Besides, D.C. is all I know. I've thought of moving...I just wonder if I'd fit in any better someplace else."
"So, why take a job with agency?"
"There were a lot of reasons. It was time to make some changes and that felt like the right one. I was also bored out of my mind doing investment counseling."
"You got a degree in finance."
"And didn't realize until too late how much making money bored me. I love what I do for the agency...the way I get to be involved in so many different things and people's lives." She buttered a piece of warm bread and put it on his plate.
"Thanks." He took a bite, his hunger warring with his need to know more about this surprisingly enigmatic woman. "But you don't live the adventure yourself."
But that hadn't been her idea and he was sure she would have refused if she could see another way around the problem. "What are you afraid of?"
"Who said I was afraid of anything?" She ate a bite of salad, her eyes closing in apparent bliss. She moaned. "This is good. The dressing is perfect."
"Everything here is perfect."
Her eyes opened and she smiled. "Good. I'm starving."
He was too, but the food was not as alluring as the woman sitting across from him. Or her secrets. "You like touching the pulse of a project, but you've never wanted to be out there where the blood is really pounding. I'm wondering what about life scares you so much you don't want to live it."
Her brow furrowed. "I never said I didn't."
"You read about what you want to do sexually. You don't do it." She hadn't confirmed that, but he was almost positive it was the case. "You hide sexy lingerie beneath conservative business attire," he said, taking another guess.
Her hand stilled with a forkful of salad halfway to her mouth. "You said you hadn't gone through my drawers."
"I haven't...yet. I saw the top of your stockings when you got into the car."
"Oh." Her Madonna like features blushed. "Conservative attire is appropriate for the office."
"Maybe...but the more I think about it, the more I realize you hide your natural sensuality."
"So, now you're a mind reader and a pop psychologist?"
"No, just a man who knows a lot about women."
"Now that I believe, but you don't know as much about this one as you think you do."
"I'm going to remedy that."
"So you say."
"It's necessary. For the case."
"What a convenient excuse to sate your over active curiosity."
She ignored that and tucked into her salad.
He let her eat in peace until she finished it and then said, "I still think you're afraid to live."
"Are you goading me for a reason?"
Was he? He guessed he was. He wanted to push her past her control and get to the real woman under the put together, sunny exterior. "You don't date agents..."
"That merely shows my intelligence, not some deep seated fear of really living."
"Why, Beth? What is so smart about refusing to date men who fascinate you?"
"You think agents fascinate me? Brother, you are so wrong."
"I don't think so."
Her dark eyes snapped with irritation. "Stop being a prick."
"Whoa...that's a pretty strong reaction for what is essentially a harmless conversation. I must have struck a nerve." And that interested him. A lot.
"Why don't we dissect you and see how much you like it?"
"Go ahead, Beth. What you see is what you get." He put his palms out in an open gesture. "I left my family behind in
He didn't know why he added that last bit...like a challenge...except he couldn’t get the image of those hot pink handcuffs out of his head.
"Which is exactly why I don't date agents."
"Because of the lack of sexual inhibitions? I'd say that would be a benefit considering your leanings in that direction."
"Because agents aren't good long term relationship material."
"You said you weren't interested in getting married." And he'd about convinced himself to believe her because doing so would mean he could go after those pretty pink handcuffs with a clear conscience.
After the assignment.
If he made it that long.
"I’m not, but things happen. If you date a man, you can fall in love with him and end up married to him against your better judgment. My mother once told me never to date a man I wouldn't want to end up married to."
"That doesn't sound like your mother. She seems like the type that would encourage dating whoever got you the connections most beneficial to her."
"She's not that much of a barracuda. Now if it were my Aunt Connie..."
"Your mom's sister who is an actual politician, not someone who likes to play behind the scenes like your mom?"
"That's the one. She makes my mom seem positively June Cleaver maternal by comparison."
"So, your mom told you not to date agents," he said going back to the topic that interested him.
"She told me not to date a man I wouldn't want to end up married to and agents make lousy family men."
Considering the fact her dad had been one, that said a lot about how Beth felt about him as a parent. "You don't think agents should get married? At all? That's pretty extreme, don't you think?"
"I didn't say that. You're really into twisting my words tonight. I merely said that agents make lousy family men and that I have no desire to end up married to one. Ever."
"It's a good thing for you your mom didn't feel the same way, isn't it."
"I don't know. Is it?"
"Your dad is a good man."
"Yes, he is. I'm very proud of what he's accomplished with his life, but it came at a price." She sighed, her expression not so much sad as determined. "He wasn't the only one who paid it either. I know what it's like to grow up with a very absentee father. Lots of kids do, but that doesn't make it any easier to live with when you are one of them.
Dad didn't settle for a desk job until I was in my teens. By that time, Mother had developed a whole life independently of him. So had I. That works for them, but it's not what I want for myself or for any children I might have. I'm not sure that what I do want is anything more than a pipe dream, but I'm not settling for something less. Which is why weddings and marriage are not high on my list of interesting conversational topics."
It was a hint to let the subject drop, but he didn't want to. He didn't want to settle down right now either, but someday he had every intention of getting married. Maybe even having kids. Family was a good thing. He was just too busy enjoying the single life at the moment to have one. But she sounded like she really never planned to go that route and something told him that would be a real waste.
She was warm and sweet...the kind of woman that would thrive in a family like the one he'd grown up in.
"Okay, so your dad missed a few school plays, but think of all the good he did."
She laughed, her expression almost pitying. "It was a lot more than a few school plays and someone else could have done what he did in the field."
"He was a damn good agent."
"Yes, he was...but he wasn't the only agent, not even the only really good agent. And who is to say that him moving to a desk job earlier wouldn't have done the agency more good?"
"But he wouldn't have been happy." Didn't she see that?
"I know. But his happiness came at the cost of mine. I can understand that as an adult...that he had to do what he felt was right, but I can never condone subjecting any child of mine to a similar situation. It hurts too much. I didn't understand why he had to do what he did when I was little. All I knew was that my dad didn't love me enough to be there for me when I needed him. I love him, but I'll never allow a child of mine to go to sleep at night wondering what is wrong with her that she's so unimportant to her dad he's missed her birthday again, or her first date, or her high school graduation."
He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again. He didn't know what that was like. Sure, things had come up when he was a kid that made his parents have to miss something here or there, but never one of his birthdays...or his graduation. It would be too easy for him to say it wouldn't have mattered, but he didn't know because he'd never had to face that.
"It sounds to me like you know exactly what you want—"
"Or don't want."
"Or don't want. You're definitely strong enough to turn down a guy if he wasn't offering you the kind of lifestyle commitment you're looking for."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you? Maybe I am now...but I wasn't always."
"What do you mean?"
"Just that I've made mistakes in the past I have no intention of repeating."
"You've never been married."
She winced. "No, I haven't."
Did she have any idea how her half answers were driving him nuts. The more he learned about her, the more he wanted to know until it was a burning thing inside him.
That was just his curiosity. Nothing special, but he hadn't been intrigued by something outside his job like this for a long time. Not since wanting to find out who had killed the uncle who had lived estranged from his family for decades.
He'd had to learn that info second hand...another man had discovered the identity of the killer. But this time, Ethan was going to be the one to discover what made Beth tick.
"So, you'd be safe dating agents."
"And if I fell in love?"
"Love?" He didn't deny its existence, but he'd never felt it. Not for a woman. Sometimes he wondered if he just wasn't the type of man to fall in love.
"Yes, you know that pesky emotion that causes people to do lots of stuff they swear they'd never do."
"I don't see you letting it rule you."
"You're too stubborn."
"Stubborn...what kind of talk is this? You are supposed to be telling this one of her beauty...ai, ai, ai...you leave the talk of stubborn for after the marriage." Vito was shaking his head and staring at Ethan in horror.
Beth grinned. "You tell him, Vito. Besides, I'm not stubborn. I don't know where he gets the idea that I am." She batted her long dark lashes at him and the old Italian beamed, eating up this flirtatious side to the quiet little admin.
Who damn well was stubborn. Very. His mama would love her. So would his sister. His daddy would say to steer clear unless he wanted to end up roped and hog-tied. He frowned. Not bad advice.
"Now you glare at her? This sweet thing. What could she have done?"
"Nothing. Honest." Beth smiled coquettishly. "He's a little upset because I think he's a poor prospect for a long term relationship like marriage. He thinks jumping out of airplanes and forgetting to pull the rip cord on his parachute until the last minute is entertainment. I have my own ideas about how to pass the time."
She said it so suggestively Ethan almost choked on his wine. This vixen was not the shy, but stubborn little secretary he was used to dealing with.
Vito was shaking his head again. "There is nothing romantic about jumping out of an airplane, but he did bring you here for dinner."
"That's true," Beth mused provocatively. "I suppose I'll have to give him marks for some level of romanticism."
"That is good, no?" Vito placed their dinners on the table before leaving to greet another obviously well known customer at the door.
"I can be as romantic as the next man, but this is not a real date, or had you forgotten?"
"My memory is just fine, thanks."
"Then what was all that stuff you spouted at Vito? I never said I wanted to marry you." He realized how ridiculous he sounded only when the words were out of his mouth.
He was coming off like a defensive kid, who was not confident of his ability with women so had to tell her what a great guy he was.
She laughed, the sound warm and filled with amusement. At his expense. "Would you prefer I told him that our get-to-know-you session for the sake of the case was getting too intense?"
"Of course not."
"He thinks we're on a date, so I acted like I was on a date."
"Then I pity the poor man you actually deign to allow yourself to go out with."
Hell no. He envied him...the date and the pink handcuffs.