The skeptical side of him was his biggest stumbling block.

And his sexiest.

She understood cynicism. People were all the same. Same basic needs, just in different doses. She matched people based on those requirements.

But the problem with Montgomery was that his desires, while perfectly compatible with many, just couldn’t click.

He needed something more.

Like me. The fact that it sounded so right had her closing her eyes.

I should cancel. Staying here wouldn’t end well. She could be gone before he arrived, sit in her office, and see if the fake Joel called again.

With short-nail-tipped fingers, she’d begun to tap out a message canceling lunch when a shadow fell over her, and the scent of his cologne tickled her nose

Too late. And even worse, he was about to catch her in a lie. She tried to hide her phone. She wasn’t quick enough.

“Chickening out again, Mrs. Darlington?” The mocking tone drew her gaze.

“Something’s come up at the office.”

“I’m sure something has.” He swung his large frame into the booth across from her. “Run along. Don’t you worry about me.” He waved a hand. “I’ll just eat lunch by myself. I’m a big boy. I can handle a meal on my own.”

She chewed her lower lip. “I really don’t mean to keep doing this.” It was imperative she avoid him because, with him seated so close, she already felt her body weakening, melting. Heating in places it shouldn’t in public.

“Of course, you don’t mean to.” Smooth and sounding so sincere. Why did she get the impression he condescended?

The wily bastard is baiting me. Absolving her of guilt, while at the same time, laying it on thick.

He’s playing me.

Rather than gather her purse and flee, she leaned back against the fabric of the bench. “You’re early.”

“So are you,” he noted.

“I was thirsty.”

“Whereas I like to check out places ahead of time.”

“Looking for an escape in case the date goes bad?” she asked.

“Of a sort. I like to be prepared.”

She cocked her head. “Is spending a dinner or lunch with a woman that frightening to you?”

“Yes.” He smiled.

“Why do we scare you?”

He didn’t immediately reply as he ordered an iced tea from the waiter and another drink for her.

Why not? Sober was what had gotten her here in the first place. Maybe alcohol would give her the gumption to get up and leave.

She resumed the thread of their conversation. “If women frighten you, then why date?”

“Not all women. And frighten is perhaps not the right word. More like…have you ever found yourself somewhere you felt completely out of place? As if you were playing a role that didn’t fit?”

“And all you wanted to do was leave?” She did. In her case, leaving meant punishment. “Are you saying you’re faking it for these women?”

“I’m faking it right now.”

Leaning on the table with her elbows, she couldn’t help but study him, the strong lines of his face enhanced by the line of his beard. His sensual lips showcased by it. “This isn’t going to work if you’re lying to me about stuff. I need to meet the real you.”

“What if the real me is not a conventionally nice man?”

“Do you kill small animals?”


“Kidnap women to rape and murder and bury in unmarked graves?”

“Not recently.” His lips quirked.

“And you like your sexual partners alive and over the age of majority?”

He choked. “Yes, as should everyone.”

“Then you’re probably fine. Most people aren’t nice. Not one hundred percent anyhow. They lie. They cheat on their taxes. Sometimes, they take things from work. It’s called being human.”

“Sometimes, humans have hidden layers.”

“They do. But again, so long as they’re not beating the shit out of the girlfriend or kids, then it’s okay. Everyone lives differently.”

He stared at her. So intently. “What if I said I was an international killer for hire and that I’m thinking of retiring from the business to take up full-time real estate?”

She snickered. “Assassins don’t retire.”

“And what would you know of assassins?”

Annique shrugged, looking at the menu instead of him. The waiter took that moment to arrive, taking their orders and then leaving.

Montgomery still stared.

She did her best not to fidget. But, finally, she couldn’t handle it. “You are making me uncomfortable. When on a date, you should try not to stare overlong.”

“Why not? Can’t a man admire the woman he’s dining with?”

Annique pursed her lips. “Only so long as it doesn’t get creepy.”

“Did you just call me creepy?”

“If the stare fits.”


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