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"Hey, Jennifer—Dr. Demetrios just walked in."
Jennifer Labeaux noted her friend Yolanda's mischievous grin before she glanced over her shoulder. As usual, her heartbeat sped up at the sight of the tall, dark-haired male striding toward her section of the Coach House Diner.
Dr. Chance Demetrios was easily six feet four inches tall and built like a linebacker. He wore his black hair a shade long and his eyes were a deep chocolate brown—eyes that twinkled, charmed and seduced Jennifer with each conversation they shared.
She watched him slide into his usual booth, third from the back, with a view of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, street outside. He always sat in her section. Jennifer was torn between being flattered and wishing he wouldn't single her out. Not that she disliked him—quite the contrary. He made her yearn for things she knew she couldn't have and she was far too attracted to him for her own good. No doubt about it, Chance was too sexy, too rich and too high-octane for a waitress whose most sophisticated night out was visiting her neighborhood ice-cream shop with her five-year-old daughter.
Over the past six months, she'd seen Chance nearly every morning. There was no mistaking the male interest in his eyes but his persistent friendliness and good-natured acceptance of her refusals when he had asked her out had slowly but surely eased, and then erased, her natural wariness. The conversations she'd overheard between him and other customers only increased his appeal. He appeared to be genuinely interested in the lives of the diner regulars.
Even if dating were possible in her life at the moment, she'd never date Chance Demetrios, she thought with regret. Rumor had it that he loved women and went through girlfriends like a PMSing woman went through chocolate bars. Despite being powerfully attracted to him, Jennifer knew he was out of her league. If she ever became involved with a man again, he wouldn't be someone with a stable of women.
She tucked a menu under her arm, picked up a glass of ice water and a fresh pot of coffee and walked to the booth.
"Good morning, Dr. Demetrios," she said with a bright smile. "What can I get you?"
His deep voice seemed to linger over her name, sending shivers up her spine and heat curling through her belly.
Determined to ignore her rebellious body's reaction, Jennifer kept her gaze on the thick coffee mug as she poured. She steeled herself, setting down the pot and taking out her pad and pen. Despite preparing herself, however, meeting his gaze was a jolt. His dark eyes were warm, appreciative and filled with male interest.
And then he smiled. Jennifer had to fight to keep from melting into a pool of overheated hormones.
"The usual?" Thank goodness her voice didn't reflect her inner turmoil, she thought with relief and not a little surprise.
"Yeah, please," he said, his smile wry. "And maybe you can just hook up an IV with black coffee."
"Late night?" she asked with sympathy. Her gaze moved over his face, noting the lines of weariness she'd been too preoccupied to notice earlier. His dark eyes were heavy lidded and his jaw shadowed with beard stubble. He looked as if he'd either just rolled out of bed—or hadn't gone to bed at all. "Did you work all night?"
He shrugged. "Back-to-back emergency calls."
"You work too hard," she commented.
"All part of being a doctor." He smiled at her. "I knew the job had lousy hours when I signed on."
She lifted an eyebrow at his reasoning. "Maybe so, but if you don't sleep, how are you going to function?"
He glanced at the Rolex on his wrist. "Maybe I'll catch a nap on my office sofa before my first appointment."
"Good plan." Jennifer heard the cook call her name and realized she'd been chatting too long. "I have to go. I'll tell the other waitresses you need your coffee topped often this morning."
Taken in by his appreciative smile, Jenny forced herself to nod pleasantly and turn to her next customer.
Through half-lowered lashes, Chance sipped the hot black coffee and watched her walk away. He suspected the employees and regulars in the diner weren't fooled by his attempts to play down his interest but he couldn't summon up the energy to care if they knew he loved looking at her. She wore the same attire as the rest of the waitresses—black slacks and white shirt under a black vest. But with her long legs, lush curls and graceful carriage, the clothes took on a different vibe on Jennifer. The diner's owner might think the uniform made his waitresses blend together, but she stood out like a long-stemmed rose in a bouquet of daisies.
He'd been asking her out for months now and each time, she'd turned him down. Six months earlier, he would have shrugged and moved on to the next beautiful woman. But for some reason that he couldn't begin to understand, he'd lost the urge to pursue other women since meeting Jennifer.
He couldn't accept that she wouldn't go out with him. He knew damn well she was attracted to him. Despite her never-wavering, cool-yet-friendly reserve, he felt the strong tug of sexual chemistry between them every time he saw her. He'd dated a lot of women over the years. He knew he hadn't misread the faint flush of color over the high arch of her cheekbones when they talked, nor the way she shielded her gaze with lowered lashes when he teased her.
No, Jennifer was definitely interested. But he'd asked her out at least a dozen times, probably more. She'd always refused, saying she didn't date customers.
From the snippets of conversation he'd overheard from the other waitresses, Chance didn't think she dated anyone at all.
Which only made him more intrigued and determined to spend time with her, away from the diner.
He rolled his shoulders to relieve the ache of muscles too long without rest and stretched his long legs out beneath the table. The red, vinyl-covered bench seat was comfortably padded and, like everything else in the Coach House Diner, reflected the 1950s theme. The effect was cheerful and welcoming. Chance had felt at home here from the first moment he'd stepped over the threshold six months earlier. Since the diner was only a short walk from the Armstrong Fertility Institute where he worked, it had quickly become his favorite place to have coffee, breakfast, lunch or grab a quick dinner if he'd worked late.
He glanced around the room, nodding at Fred, an elderly gentleman seated on a stool and eating his breakfast at the end of the long counter. Fred was a retired railroad engineer and, despite his advanced age of ninety-five, still woke early. Chance had spent more than one morning next to Fred on the round seats at the counter between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00.
He took another long sip of coffee and rubbed his eyes. It had been one hell of a week. After long hours of hard, frustrating work, he and his research partner Ted Bonner had finally disproved allegations that their work was questionable.
In the midst of proving the funding was legally and morally ethical, Chance had also watched as Ted fell in love and got married over the past several months. Chance would never admit it aloud, but observing his best friend's happiness had raised questions for Chance about his own lifestyle. Did he want to meet a woman who could make him settle down? Could he be monogamous?
Given his relationship history, Chance doubted it. He loved women—their smiles, their silky hair and skin, the way their eyes lit with pleasure when they made love.
No, he couldn't imagine ever settling down with one woman.
Which made him wonder why he hadn't dated anyone over the past six months.
Unconsciously, his gaze sought out Jennifer, locating her at the other end of the room. Her laughter pealed musically as she took an order from two women in business suits.
He muffled a groan and swigged down the rest of his coffee. He knew damn well Jennifer was the reason he hadn't dated anyone in months.
Or maybe I'm just too busy with work, he thought, unwilling to accept that the beautiful blonde was to blame for his nonexistent love life.
Midweek, he'd spent two long nights in the operating room. His volunteer work at a free clinic in a low-income Boston neighborhood often expanded to include surgery during emergency situations. This week, those emergencies seemed to roll in almost on each other's heels.
I'm too damn tired, he told himself. That's why I'm being introspective. A solid eight hours of sleep and life will look normal again.
He frowned at his empty coffee mug. He hated examining his feelings and no matter how he sliced it, he couldn't deny that he'd been spending too much time lately considering his life. And for a man who was rarely alone, he could swear he sometimes felt lonely.
Chance looked up. The red-haired waitress he often noticed talking with Jennifer stood next to his booth.
She quickly filled his mug and left, letting Chance return to his brooding.
He'd had plenty of affairs, but none of his relationships with women could qualify as meaningful.
And that's the way I like it, he thought. So why am I wondering if there ought to have been more?
He dragged his hand over his face and rubbed his eyes. He reached into his jacket pocket but the tiny vial of nonprescription eyedrops he kept there was missing. Instead, he found a note he didn't remember putting there.
He scanned it and felt like groaning. The 3x5 card from his secretary was a reminder that the institute's annual Founder's Ball was the coming weekend.
And he didn't have a date. He frowned and tapped the card on the tabletop.
The prospect of going alone held no appeal. Attending the event was mandatory, and he'd never attend without a date.
What the hell, he thought. Given that the only pretty woman he wanted to date was Jennifer, he might as well bite the bullet and ask her to go with him.
She'll probably say no. She's never said yes any of the other times I've asked her out.
But just talking to her always made him smile— and he could use a smile this morning.
"Here you are—eggs over medium, French toast and bacon." Jennifer slid the plate onto the tabletop in front of him.
Perfect timing, he thought.
"Would you like me to bring you some aspirin?" she asked, glancing down sideways at him.
Her comment was so far from his thoughts that he blinked in confusion. "What? Why?"
"You were frowning as if your head hurt. I thought you might have a headache."
"Oh. No, I don't have a headache. Not yet, anyway." He held out the card. "I was reading this."
She glanced at the note, her eyes scanning the black type. "The Founder's Ball? It sounds very glamorous."
"It's black tie." His shrug spoke volumes about his lack of interest in whether the event was sophisticated. "The institute holds the ball every year. The band is supposed to be excellent and I hear the food's worth putting on a tux and tie—but it's no fun to go alone. Which is why you should take pity on me and be my date."
Jennifer brushed a strand of blond hair from her temple and fought the temptation to accept. The diner was located only a few blocks from the institute and many of its customers worked at the medical center.