This time, he didn’t even try to hold his laugh in, and it felt good. Really good. How could a woman like this have trouble finding dates? She was a blast. Brilliant, beautiful, and funny. The whole package. If only they’d met another way.
Their laughter died out, and for a moment, they stared at each other and he found himself holding his breath.
“Another beer?” she asked, pushing to her feet.
He slumped back against the sofa cushions as she disappeared into the kitchen. What the hell was that? It was as if the air between them had ignited like the MacLandon’s menu. The cat leaped from the structure in the corner to the floor, never taking his eyes off of Eric, and Eric stared right back.
Jane returned and sank into the chair farthest away. All three of them sat in silence for what felt like forever.
“Sooooo, are you in a staring contest with my cat?”
“Gandalf’s going to win.”
“Not a chance.”
The cat’s eye twitched, but its unnerving vertical pupils stayed fixed on Eric.
“So, you said you know lots of guys who’d want to go out with me.”
“Uh-huh.” The cat showed no sign of backing down.
“I’m free every Friday.”
Shit. The last thing he wanted to do was set her up with another one of his friends. To imagine her laughing with them. Kissing them. Hell, if he’d been on that date with her tonight, a lot more than that menu would have caught fire. It was all he could do to keep his hands off of her now. But it couldn’t be him. Could never be him. He needed to keep his eye on the prize: junior partner at Dixon, Rosenbaum & Schoot. “Uh-huh. Fridays.”
He narrowed his eyes, but the cat didn’t even blink. Jane cleared her throat and shifted in her seat. Eric leaned forward, refusing to pull his gaze from the gold cat eyes. No way would he look away first.
“Seriously?” She let out a half-hearted laugh. “You’re in a staring contest with a cat.”
“I can’t lose.”
Because he never lost. His dad had been a loser, but he wasn’t. “It’s a status thing. Like alpha with a dog.”
“So, you’re the cat whisperer or something?”
“Nope. Just competitive.”
The hackles rose on Gandalf’s back and his tail puffed out even bushier. A low growl rose from his chest. Eric growled right back, never breaking eye contact.
“Oh, for goodness sake!”
“Shh. I’m winning.”
She slammed her bottle down and the cat flinched, but didn’t look away. “This is ridiculous. Go on, Gandalf. Beat it!” A perfectly aimed decorative pillow sent the cat running to the kitchen.
“Interference from the audience. Rematch!” Eric called after him.
“Great. You guys can have a do-over next Friday after my date with another one of your friends.”
A lump clogged his throat. He hated this. If she hit it off with someone he set her up with, he’d have to hear about what he was missing firsthand from that friend, and it would kill him. “Maybe one of those online match-up services would be better.”
She picked up the remote from the side table and turned on the TV. “Oh, hell no. Been there, done that. I go back and forth online with some guy who seems perfect, and when we meet up, he turns out to be two decades older than his picture and his “platonic roomie” turns out to be his mother, whose picture he carries in his wallet next to a condom of questionable vintage.”
Eric chuckled as she surfed two more channels, settling on an old James Bond movie.
“Popcorn?” She stood. “I’m starving. My lobster was extinguished.”
“Sure.” He followed her to the small, tidy kitchen where the cat gave him the evil eye from under a breakfast table for two. Again he was struck by the coziness he didn’t expect from Mr. Dixon’s daughter. “I’m surprised MacLandon’s didn’t offer you a replacement meal.”
She placed the bag of popcorn in the microwave. “Well, Alastair had a rugby match or something to go to. He invited me along, but it was awkward, you know?”
Oh yeah. He knew all about awkward. At that moment, he was debating whether or not to tell her she’d put the bag in upside down. It didn’t pop right that way. He’d found that out the hard way himself. “Um…”
She followed his gaze to the microwave. “Oh God. Did I leave the plastic on again?”
“No. Just put the wrong side up.”
“Oh.” She popped the door open and flipped the bag over. “I left the outer cellophane bag on once. Not pretty.” She closed the microwave door and restarted it. Her shoulders rose and fell with a sigh. “You probably think I’m the flakiest person on earth.”
He’d seen her give a briefing of the significant cases the Family Law Division was running at a multi-department meeting last year. She wasn’t flaky. She was brilliant. “I think you’re distracted.”
She shook her head as she watched the bag go around in the microwave. “Yeah. Distracted twenty-four/seven. My brothers used to call me Spacy Janie when I was in high school. I shut that down, though.”
Her sly smile evoked a returned one. “How did you manage that? From my experience watching my female friends who have brothers, the teasing can be pretty relentless.”
“Not when you get them where it hurts. In the Dixon family, academic success is a point of pride. So I crushed their pride.” The microwave dinged and she pulled out the bag, then dropped it on the counter, steam puffing from the end.
He waited for her to elaborate while she pulled down a bowl from the cabinet over the coffeemaker. The cat crossed the room to rub against her ankles in a figure eight. It paused long enough to glare at him with narrowed eyes and growl.
“Cut it out, Gandy. He’s not a threat to you.”
Yeah. Clearly not. Even the crossword knew he was inert. “So how did you shut down your brothers’ teasing?”
She pulled on the corners of the bag and dumped the popcorn into the bowl. “I beat them at their own game. I graduated valedictorian from high school and undergrad, which none of them had done, and I got acceptance letters to three Ivy League law schools.”
He covered his mouth in mock outrage. “No summa cum laude from law school?”