corporate flight out of Santa Barbara.”

Francesca thought of all the times she’d created situations to find out if strangers would take the trouble to stop and help her. She’d had nice old ladies offer her rides, friendly couples give her directions, even the odd schoolkid help her find a lost dog. But never had anyone taken things as far as Sam Reese.

She drew in a deep breath. “You’ve been great,” she said. “Really terrific. I don’t know how to thank you.”

His tawny gaze settled on her face. She regretted her dull-colored hair and oversize glasses, not to mention the deliberately unflattering makeup. Successful, gorgeous men like him didn’t much inhabit her grad-school world. Why couldn’t she have put on her sexy biker-girl disguise today instead of ugly-pregnant-woman?

Sam waited patiently. As if he had all the time in the world. As if he was used to people being reluctant to give up information.

“If you don’t want me to track down your boss, that’s your decision,” he said. “At least eat something. For the baby, if not for yourself.”

She really wished he would stop mentioning the pregnancy. Okay, so in all the years she’d been doing this sort of thing, she’d never once been put in a position of coming clean, but hey, this wasn’t her fault. She was being overwhelmed by guilt. Well, guilt and a more-than-mild attraction to a handsome guy.

“I’m not pregnant,” she said.

His gaze never left her face. One point for his side. She pulled off her glasses and tossed them on the table. It was a small gesture of vanity, but under the circumstance-wearing the world’s ugliest dress, sensible shoes, and an unflattering hairstyle-it was the best she could do.

“I’m a grad student studying social psychology. I observe how people react under different circumstances. In my work I’m trying to see if social standing, appearance, or gender influence behavior.”

Sam tucked his notepad back into his jacket pocket. One eyebrow rose slightly. “Will busy people eager to get home on a Friday afternoon stop and help a pregnant woman?”


His eyes narrowed as he studied her face. She wanted to say something stupid, like she cleaned up real well, but held back.

“What’s in the boxes?”

She cleared her throat. “Mixed paper recycling.”

“You deliberately chose to address them to a company that had recently closed?”


This time his gaze dropped to her protruding stomach. “And that?”

“A medical condition.”

His eyes widened.

She laughed softly. “Just kidding. It’s a device to simulate pregnancy. I borrowed it from a maternity store. Women use it to see how clothes will look as the baby gets bigger.”

He picked up the glasses and glanced through the lenses. “Clear.”

He smiled. A slow, sexy smile that made her long to trade in her black sensible shoes for a pair of red strappy sandals.

“I’m not an easy man to fool, Francesca,” he told her. “In fact, I can’t think of the last time someone did. You’re impressive. The fainting was a nice touch.”

She shrugged. “Actually that part was real. I haven’t eaten all day and that messes with my blood sugar.”

He motioned to her protruding belly. “You spend your day like this in the name of scientific research?”

“I don’t always dress up with a pregnancy belly. Sometimes I go out in a wheelchair, or tattoos and black leather.”

He leaned back against the sofa. “That would stop traffic.”

She smiled. “That depends on where I am.” She reached for the tea. “There have been dozens of studies done about the effect of appearance on behavior. Do you know that more people will stop to help an attractive person than an unattractive one?”

“Men are visual creatures.”

“But it’s not just men. Women do it, too. I’m studying-” She stopped and put down her tea. “Sorry. I get on a roll. My studies fascinate me.”

“I can see why. Who are you going to be tomorrow? If your costume involves black leather, feel free to stop by.”

She laughed. “Actually I’m supposed to be done with the research phase. My project for the summer is to write my dissertation. But the thought of spending all that time at the computer makes my skin crawl, so I’ve been putting it off.”

“What do you want me to do with the boxes?”

“Oh. I can take them with me. I need to return the cart, too. I borrowed it from the building maintenance guy.”

“So he gets full points for helping out the pregnant lady?”


“What about me?”

Sam had a great voice, Francesca thought as a shiver rippled through her. Deep, rich, seductive.

“You get bonus points,” she told him.

“Good to know.” He angled toward her. “How about I let you keep the points and in return you join me for dinner tonight?”

Under normal circumstances Francesca never would have accepted the invitation. She didn’t know Sam Reese from a rock. Yes, he was plenty appealing, but in the scheme of things, did that really matter?

“Dumb question,” she murmured as she maneuvered her truck through the early evening Santa Barbara traffic. It was early June, with the tourist season in full swing. Sidewalks were crowded, restaurants full, and traffic moved at a crawl down State Street.

“Appeal matters.”

So did those cat eyes, the tempting smile, and easy conversation. But the real reason she’d said yes was she needed to have sex. After all, a promise was a promise.

Francesca grinned as she thought of Sam’s reaction if she’d told him that particular truth. Would he have bolted for safety or started unbuttoning his shirt? She liked to think it would be the latter, but she’d taken a good look at herself when she’d gone home to change and her out-loud shriek hadn’t been from pleasure. Nope, the man would have run for his life.

One shower with three shampoos to get the powder out of her hair, a quick change of clothes, and a light dusting of makeup later, she was ready to if not dazzle, then at least intrigue. She figured with as bad as she’d looked before, anything would be an improvement.

So she was off to dazzle Sam Reese and see what she could do about keeping her promise… the one she’d made to have sex with the next attractive, single man to cross her path.


Francesca knew she wasn’t in Kansas anymore when the restaurant’s valet parking cost more than a recent lunch at McDonald’s. She smiled brightly as the well-dressed, blond surfer valet looked disgustedly at her ten-year- old truck, then took the keys with a shake of his head. She could only imagine what the guy would have done if she’d still been pregnant and, well, ugly. No doubt he would have shown her to the back of the restaurant.

Francesca dismissed him from her mind and instead focused on the beauty of the evening. The sun hovered at the horizon, casting a golden glow over the courtyard entrance to the restaurant. She was about to have dinner with a very nice man who, if he played his cards right, would help her fulfill the commitment she’d made to her sisters.

Two months ago, after too much wine and way too many cookies, she’d promised Katie and Brenna she would do the wild thing with the first normal single man she met, thus ending a self-imposed three-year celibacy. Her willingness to do something so completely out of character had a whole lot more to do with the lack of romance and

Вы читаете The Sassy One
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату