After a few seconds, Eric’s heart hammered so hard he was certain Jane could hear it. There wouldn’t be enough lifeboats in the world to save Operation Smooth Sailing if he continued to rub his hands up and down his boss’s daughter’s back. Reluctantly, he loosened his grip, pulled away to create some space between them, and gave her shoulder an awkward, platonic pat.
“Sorry.” She straightened his lapel and brushed it, stepping back to arm’s length. “I…” She took a deep breath. “…got a little emotional on you there.”
Eric remained frozen in place, only a couple of feet from her, completely clueless what to do or say. He needed a how-to manual for this kind of thing.
She leaned against her desk, facing him. “I’m so frustrated.”
“I mean, why can’t a guy just go out on a date without an agenda or strategy? And why are women held to a different standard?”
Rhetorical. Please let that be rhetorical. He tried to look somewhere else, but couldn’t draw his gaze away from her hands as she fiddled with the necklace that disappeared into her cleavage behind her silk blouse.
“If a guy spills ice water in his date’s lap, she wouldn’t hold it against him forever. She wouldn’t send him flowers with a Dear John letter attached. Am I right?”
Ice water in his lap might be just the ticket right now, Eric decided, finally pulling his gaze away from the freckle on her neck peeking out from under her silk collar. “No. Uh… I mean, yes. Yes, you’re right.” Right in so many ways it made him dizzy. Coming to her office had been a mistake. It had to be the ten months of abstinence in combination with the ridiculous hours he’d been putting in leading up to this merger, and the stress of blowing his promotion this close to his annual review that had him in this state.
“I guess I’m just scared I’ll never find a guy who’ll go out with me more than once. It’s kind of a joke in my family. My three brothers are married and I can’t even get a second date.”
“Maybe it’s just that you’re going out with the wrong guys. I know lots of men who would give anything to go out with someone like you.”
“You do?” Her eyebrows rose, her expression hopeful.
“Sure.” He could think of one in particular, but sadly there was that non-fraternization clause he’d signed when he was hired.
“Ohmygod, you’re the best, Eric!” She held out her hand. “You’re on.”
What the hell? He accepted her extended hand, and she gave it a vigorous handshake.
“I’m free on Fridays after seven.” She scribbled on a Post-It note on her desk. “Give one of your friends my number, and we’ll set up a time.”
He took the slip of paper. “O—kay.”
She smiled. It was a huge smile that lit up her entire face, like the sun coming out. “Great. You’re the best. Really, you are.”
Oh yeah. He was the best for sure. The best at mucking everything up. He finally had Jane’s phone number and now he was tasked with finding another man to give it to. Perfect.
“Oh. And I have another favor to ask.”
Maybe this could turn around.
She held up a finger and wagged it. “No lawyers. I will never date one. Ever. I’d rather stay single the rest of my life.”
Nope. No turning this disaster around.
Numb, and not exactly sure how he’d gone from up-and-coming attorney to flower delivery boy to Jane Dixon’s personal dating service, Eric shuffled out the door and down the hallway to the safety of his office. This time, he closed the door.
Jane stared at her open doorway for a long time after Eric left. He was cute up close. Thick, mahogany hair, great face with a strong jaw, but it was his chocolate brown eyes that struck her the most. There was something about his eyes—warm, intelligent eyes that studied her like a puzzle he was trying to solve. She’d only seen him from across the conference room and in passing at company functions, but now that she’d spoken with him…damn. And she’d almost lost it in front of him. Well done.
At least he hadn’t made fun of her like her brothers always did. Oh man, her brothers would have been brutal.
She pulled a white spider mum out of the arrangement and twirled it. Usually, she just never heard from guys after the first date, or got Dear Jane texts instead. These flowers were a first. She plucked a petal, then another. God, she’d asked the cute lawyer to set her up with a friend. Desperate much?
No. It wasn’t desperation, it was self-preservation. One more family dinner with a round of fifty questions from her entire family, including all-time favorites like “What are you doing to scare men off?” and “Do you even like men, Jane?” and she’d lose her freaking mind.
All her life she’d tried to stay in step with the Dixon family expectation of who and what she should be: a successful lawyer, loyal wife, excellent mother. Somehow, though, she never seemed to get it right.
Why couldn’t men be more like her cat, Gandalf? Loving, self-sufficient, and chill with whatever happened? Gandalf didn’t care if she spilled ice water, or laughed too loud, or wore sweats, or didn’t like Brussels sprouts.
She started removing the second row of petals. The Brussels sprouts thing was weird. The guy actually ended their date because she wouldn’t try them. She didn’t need to try them. They smelled like barf. The fact it was an old family recipe made no difference. Barf balls equal gag. Gag is bad in any social setting. Therefore, no tasting. End of story. And, unfortunately, end of date.
She’d worked her way to the small, inner petals, reversing direction to pluck them counterclockwise, now. Maybe her family was right. Maybe there was something wrong with her. It surely wasn’t that she didn’t like men, though. They just didn’t like her, evidently. At least not enough to ask her out again. And then there were the ones with roving hands—which wasn’t a bad thing if it weren’t a first date.
She pulled out the remaining half dozen or so central petals in a single pluck and flicked them from her fingers. She hadn’t always had this problem. She’d gone out with several guys multiple times in law school. What was different now from two years ago? God, it had been so long since she’d had sex, she could probably qualify for her V card again.