fun in her life than it did with the dare itself. Not that she wanted a commitment. Been there, done that. But a sexy man and warm summer night… that was another matter.

In the past sixty-three days she hadn’t come across one appropriate candidate, which said something about the state of her social life… or lack thereof.

Then Sam had appeared. He’d rescued her, made her pulse quicken, and asked her to dinner. She didn’t need her tea leaves read to recognize a sign when she saw one, she thought with a smile. As this one had been in all capital letters and italics, she couldn’t have missed it.

“What’s so funny?”

The smooth red-wine-and-chocolate voice came from behind her, causing her to jump. She turned and saw Sam standing next to a gleaming silver car. She couldn’t quite see the type of sedan, but she didn’t doubt that it was expensive.

“How do you do that?” she asked. “This is the second time you’ve been able to sneak up on me.”

His tawny gaze settled on her face… which gave her a distinctly unsettled feeling. He stood about six two or three. She was five nine and had put on two-inch heels, but still had to tilt her head slightly to study his face.

“I sneak by profession,” he said. “You look terrific.”

She glanced down at the black dress she’d pulled on. She’d bought it on impulse from a guy selling them out of the back of a truck on campus. With the designer label cut out and not a tag in sight, she’d had a feeling the merchandise hadn’t been exactly legal. But the price had been amazing and the dress made her feel elegant and sophisticated. Two things she knew she would need tonight.

She held out her arms, sucked in her stomach and turned slowly. “The miracles of modern medicine.”

“Did you have a boy or a girl?” he asked.

“It was more of a beanbag mound. Undetermined gender.”

As she came to stop in front of him, she flipped back her long hair, a gesture she’d perfected at age fourteen and hadn’t had reason to use in years.

This was fun. Maybe she’d been too hasty in settling in to her years of celibacy. There was something to be said for appreciation in a man’s eyes.

Sam took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm.

“Shall we?” he asked, motioning to the open courtyard of the restaurant.

“Why not?”

Why not? Well, for one thing, there was a growing knot of nerves in the pit of her stomach. Sam was smooth. The men of her acquaintance didn’t dress like GQ and act like James Bond. The guys in grad school were more jeans and Taco Bell.

Oh, well. She’d said she was going to get back in the swim of things and had decided throwing herself in the deep end was the quickest way. If her plan backfired, she would dog-paddle to the side and drag her wet butt out of the pool.

The visual metaphor made her smile.

As they walked into the restaurant, Francesca curled her fingers and felt the softness of Sam’s wool jacket and the hint of powerful muscle just beneath the fabric. Very masculine. Very not her life. Very something she might want to experiment with.

They reached the podium, where the hostess smiled at Sam. “Good evening, Mr. Reese. Your table is ready.”

“A man with his own table,” Francesca murmured. “Wow. If you come here often enough, do you get other pieces of furniture?”

“Sure. Last year they gave me a chair and a sideboard.”

She smiled. “I’m impressed you know what a sideboard is.”

“I’m an impressive guy.”

Sam placed his fingers over hers and squeezed slightly. The soft pressure, not to mention the heat of his touch, nearly made her stumble.

“So you’re confident,” she said as they were shown to a table tucked into an alcove. Several tall, potted plants gave the space a sense of privacy.

Sam released her hand and moved to hold out a chair. As she sat down, she tried to remember the last time anyone had done that for her, and came up with the answer.


He moved around the table and settled across from her. The hostess put menus on the table and left.


“What if you’re not sure? Do you fake it?”

He leaned toward her. “I never have to fake it.”

“One could think all that bravado was covering up for something.”

“Then one would be wrong.”

She laughed. “Fair enough. Although I can see I’m going to have to be on my toes with you. I’m glad I have a background in psychology.”

“It’s not going to help.”

“You say that because you’re not the trained professional.”

“Sure I am.”

The waiter appeared with a wine list. Sam waited until the server left, then held up the list. “Do you have an interest?”

Francesca considered the question. “Not as much as my sister, but I’ll look.”

Sam watched Francesca slowly turn pages. Her long dark hair rippled with her every movement and caught the light. The rich brown color was a contrast to the mousy brown it had been earlier.

She’d discarded her glasses, the pregnancy belly, and the unflattering dress. In their place she wore a black dress that hugged slender curves and long, sexy legs. Her skin was clear, a pale olive color that appeared luminescent. Hazel eyes-more green than gold or blue-widened as she read an entry. She had the kind of mouth that got a man in trouble, and he found himself wanting to be first in line for whatever she might be offering.

On the way over he’d told himself he was an idiot for asking her to dinner. He’d first offered to help because she’d been in trouble and that’s what he did.

Then he’d looked closer and he’d seen… possibilities.

She closed the wine menu and passed it to him.

“You see anything you like?” he asked.

“I’m going to let you pick.”

“Is it a test?” he asked.

“Maybe.” She turned her attention to her menu. “What’s good here?”


“Do you already know what you want?”

He waited until she’d glanced up before answering. “I know exactly what I want.”

The words got the reaction he’d been hoping for. Her eyes widened and her take-me-I’m-yours mouth curved.

“One point for your side,” she murmured.

“Are we keeping score?”

“I think I have to.”

“What’s the prize for winning?”

“What do you want it to be?” As soon as she said the words, she held up a hand. “Pretend I didn’t say that.”

He chuckled. “Getting in over your head?”

“A little. I’m not going to ask if you are. I can already guess the answer.”

“Fair enough. What do you want for dinner?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Are you a vegetarian?”

She frowned. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Psychology major. It’s a touchy-feely fringe science. Attracts a lot of vegetarians.”

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