She popped a piece of popcorn in her mouth and headed back toward the TV room. “Nope. I lightened up a bit in law school. My point had been made. They saw me as one of them, not a flaky outcast.”
She passed him the bowl once they were seated on the sofa again. Eric found it hard to believe anyone could look at this woman and consider her an outcast of any kind. She was amazing. Brilliant. One of the smartest people he’d ever met. And hot—especially in that dress that was cut super low in the front, exposing her cleavage, which never happened in her business suits. It was hard to tear his eyes away, but getting caught checking her out would be awkward, and he’d had plenty of that today. On the TV, James Bond was skiing down a snowy mountain being pursued by multiple bad guys with guns. “You said you have three brothers. I know one is in the litigation section at DR&S. Are the other two lawyers, too?”
“Oh yeah. We all work at the firm. That’s what Dixons do… Multiply and litigate. Nothing else for three generations now.” She shoved a handful of popcorn in her mouth.
No pressure there. “You don’t sound happy about that.”
“You’re a shrink, too?” she said around a mouthful of popcorn.
Yeah, in addition to flower delivery boy and dating service… “Just an observation.”
She swallowed and washed it down with a chug of beer. “You’re very observant, Eric Blackwell. I guess that’s why my dad likes you.”
“Your dad likes me?” Shit. He’d blurted that out without thinking first. He’d told himself that her dad was a taboo topic.
“He thinks you’re the best new hire we’ve had in a long time.” Her face remained unreadable. “Better than everyone…me included.”
While he was glad he had the man’s favor, his chest tightened for Jane, who was in a tough spot. God, it must suck for her to work for her dad. Especially a dad like George Dixon, who never seemed pleased with anyone or anything. The non-fraternization clause seemed silly in light of the fact all four Dixon kids worked at their dad’s law firm. Clearly they didn’t have a problem with nepotism. Talk about a conflict of interest.
On the TV, Bond evaded the bad guys much more effectively than Eric was evading awkwardness. He and Jane sat in silence for a while, munching popcorn and staring at the TV screen.
“People think I was hired because of who I am,” she said finally.
Only her eyebrow arched in response.
He cleared his throat and searched for the right words. “You were hired because of who you are: a successful lawyer.”
The eyebrow winged higher.
“Being a Dixon is irrelevant,” he added. “Any firm would have hired you based on your credentials and ability.”
“You don’t know me. Could have been a total inside deal.”
“I know you killed it in high school and undergrad and probably went to a super prestigious law school. I also know you are co-head of the Family Law Division after only two years. That’s impressive, as was your presentation at the last multi-department meeting. And you work ridiculously long hours.”
The cat jumped up on the sofa next to Jane and she ran her hand down his hairy back. “How would you know how many hours I work?”
Busted. “Your office is down the hall from mine. I work long hours and sometimes am out before you.”
“I’ll say it again. You’re very observant.”
Or maybe just very attuned to Jane Dixon. He reached for another handful of popcorn and got a handful of Jane instead. “Sorry, I, uh…” He lost his train of thought as she turned her hand over and laced her fingers through his.
“Thanks for setting me up with your friend. Sorry I tried to light him on fire.” She squeezed his fingers and then released him.
He fought the urge to fidget and instead picked up some popcorn. “Well, now Alastair can brag about his scorching hot date.”
The cat climbed onto the back of the sofa and Eric leaned forward, just in case it decided to make good on its rumbly threats while walking behind him to settle in behind Jane’s head.
“So, I’ve told you about me. What about you?” she said before tossing some popcorn in her mouth, then washing it down with beer.
“Not much to tell. I didn’t graduate number one in high school or undergrad. Didn’t get offers from three Ivies, but I did okay. No siblings to outshine. I’m an only child.”
“Where do your parents live?”
“It’s only Mom. She’s upstate.”
The cat butted his head against hers and she reached back to scratch around his ears. “Your parents divorced?”
“No. Lost my dad in a car wreck when I was little.”
“I’m so sorry. That must have been horrible.” She scratched Gandalf under his chin. “My dad is a bear sometimes, but I can’t imagine growing up without him.”
Ordinarily, he kept the sadness and regret over his father’s death tucked deep down, allowing only his resentment to remain because it motivated him to do better, but her sincerity dislodged his grief and it bubbled up unexpectedly.
He blinked a few times and focused on Bond’s car chase, willing the ache in his chest to loosen. He wondered if the scene was filmed at a normal speed and then sped up to look out of control and crazy reckless—like he felt at that moment. In his mind’s eye, he pictured himself pulling Jane close and kissing her. He imagined how soft her lips would be—and how warm. Warm like her fingers laced through his at that moment.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you,” she said, giving his hand a squeeze.
“No. You didn’t. I—”
The cat jumped off the back of the sofa and landed between them right on top of their hands with his claws out.
“Ow, shit, Gandalf!” she said, yanking her hand back and shaking it. “I’m really sorry, Eric. He’s the worst.”
The cat was a nightmare, but not the worst. At least Gandalf took action on his impulses, rather than sit there dreaming about them.
Jane nudged Gandalf, and he leaped to the floor. It was like he could read her mind and knew she had a full-on fantasy working that involved locking lips with the cute lawyer, which would have been a huge no-no. Like, giant no-no. She’d written lawyers off the day she graduated from law school. They were arrogant, bossy, and way too argumentative. She had a whole family of them, and there was no way she’d date one, much less marry one.