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"Oh, man, you are so hot," Jason Kravitz—Dr. Jason Kravitz—whispered in Jodie Patterson's ear. His hand rested on her shoulder almost shyly as they walked up the stairs of the old brownstone together.
He wasn't the kind of guy she usually dated, but he was cute in a geeky professor way, with his close-cut brown curls, his serious blue eyes and wire-frame glasses. He'd mentioned playing racquetball, and his physique was nice enough, she was pleased to note.
Mostly, Jodie got a kick out of how attentive and grateful he was. A bio engineer at Northwestern, what woman wouldn't be flattered when Jason told her he'd never been out with a woman as sexy as her?
It was an ego stroke, sure, but why not?
I'm gonna rock your world, Dr. Kravitz, she thought with a secretive smile as she impulsively pushed him up against the wall near her apartment and found his lips for a kiss. It was a preview of what she wanted to happen once they were inside the door.
He was a decent kisser, thank God, and from what she could tell of the boner inside his conservatively cut dress pants, they were in full agreement about how this evening was going to end.
Jodie looked down the hall where a door shut, though she didn't see anyone, and stepped away. She'd lived in this apartment building for six years and knew most of her neighbors. On top of that she was a local businesswoman with a reputation to protect. She liked to get wild, but she wasn't stupid.
She felt Jason watching her as if he couldn't bear to take his eyes off her. It was nice, compared to the string of smooth operators she'd dated recently, guys who liked to pretend they were too cool to stroke anyone's ego but their own.
She winked naughtily and crooked her finger. This was going to be fun.
They'd had a pleasant enough evening. He'd sprung for a very nice dinner and a show, and she'd cut him some slack on the social graces. After all, Jason was a scientist. A wealthy, nice looking and—she could tell—a well-endowed nerd.
Jodie knew that social dexterity was not the strength of the scientific male. Her best friend and business partner Dan Ellison had taught her that. Dan was a good friend and the one guy on earth she could trust and be herself with, but he was still a scientist. A true-blue genius, actually, a teenage college student, Dan was going for his second Ph.D. when Jodie had just hit her sophomore year.
She'd be lying if she didn't admit—at least to herself—that Jason was definitely fulfilling a little fantasy she'd held on to for a while.
Back in the day, more than once, Jodie had thought of what it would be like to sleep with Dan, too. He was sweet, and really good-looking, in spite of his refusal to part with his glasses and somewhat haphazard academic mode of dress. She'd given up buying him beautiful designer shirts and so forth for holidays because he never wore them, though he admired them as gifts. Dan was just…Dan.
Maybe something would have happened in those early days if she'd made a move, but when they opened a business together, the door that led to sex was closed firmly shut. As time went on, she also didn't want to risk destroying the one real relationship she had with a truly decent guy. There was a world full of men to bring home for a night, but really good men were a rare find. Dan was a really good man.
Opening her apartment door, she led Jason in by the tie and when the door shut, she turned on a low light, sliding her coat off and hanging it in the closet before taking his. Their hands touched, and her heartbeat picked up a little. The territory south of her belly button started to get that warm tingle of anticipation that signaled good things on the horizon.
Jodie loved everything about sex. She loved seduction and men's bodies and everything that physical coupling had to offer. It was fun, energizing, and she was very, very good at it. Knowing that gave her a sense of control. She could, with little effort, have any man she wanted. And usually did.
Tonight, that was enhanced by Jason's shy approach. She liked how he wasn't all over her the second the door was shut. He just kept staring at her as if she was the best thing since pink Popsicles.
Jodie grinned. She was an old-fashioned girl in one way: she liked a real man in her bed, not a battery-operated boy toy. Call her a purist, but there really was nothing like the real thing and she didn't settle for facsimiles.
"You make yourself comfortable. I'll be right back," she said with sexy promise in her voice.
Her weekend was off to a perfect start. Sex and fun on Friday night to ease into the weekend, followed by busy Saturday and Sunday mornings at the bakery, and then Sunday afternoon and Monday off to relax and have time to herself. It was a routine honed to perfection over the years. She'd worked hard to get her bake shop, Just Eat It, off the ground. Four years later, now that she was doing well, she'd taken on help and made sure she had time to enjoy life, too.
"Hurry back. Please," he said it so politely, so focused on her and still visibly erect, that she couldn't resist kissing him one more time. She enjoyed it when her lovers were this eager, and begged a little. Taking in his moony-eyed gaze she hoped her science guy wasn't tenderhearted. This was strictly a one-night thing, and she'd make that clear in some gentle way before they hit the sheets. It was better to be honest up front, then everyone could relax and enjoy.
She moved into her bathroom, washed up quickly, spritzing on some perfume and picking a black lace gown from her lingerie closet. Something told her Jason was a traditionalist. She took her hair down from its knot and shook it out, approving of her image in the mirror.
On her way back out to the living room, she saw her cell phone light up on the dresser where she'd left it. She looked down to see who had left her a message.
Without hesitation, she picked up the phone and called her voice mail to check.
"Jodie? You there? It's me, Dan," he said in the message, as if she wouldn't recognize his voice. "I'm back a few days early, and the guy subletting from me isn't out of the apartment until Sunday. I'm at a hotel, but call me on my cell if you want to have dinner or get together. I'll be up late, so don't worry."
She smiled, holding on to the phone for a second. She hadn't realized until she heard his voice how much she missed him.
Dan was a very busy guy. Since college, he'd been in high demand as a speaker and guest lecturer. He still did that now that he was a professor at the university—when he wasn't working on government contracts associated with the department's high-security experiments. When someone had a gift like Dan's, everyone seemed to want a piece of him. He'd been teaching less in recent years, away more often than not, so they didn't hang out as regularly as they had in the old days, although they tried to spend time together in between his varied engagements.
Those speaking engagements had always paid quite well, as did his many publications. As his college years had been completely funded by a scholarship, he'd been accumulating quite the bank account since he was young.
Not so for Jodie, who'd worked her way up and, even with her scholarship, had worked all through college to be able to afford the necessities. However, Dan was never arrogant about his accomplishments, and he never acted as if he was better than everyone else. Quite the opposite, when she'd met him, he was a bit of a loner.
They became friends, and eventually he became her silent partner, bankrolling the bakery at the beginning. He'd also developed their "secret ingredient"—a cookie icing that held pheromone additives that enhanced female sexual attractiveness. In other words, eat a cookie or two with that icing on it, and any woman would attract men that she was also attracted to, releasing the pheromone along with the usual chemical something-or-others that all combined to create lust.
Dan had explained how it all worked—in painful detail—and Jodie had listened, though she only understood about five words of what he was saying.
Dan's invention was the thing that had put her on the map of the Chicago specialty foods scene with her Passionate Hearts cookies—for adults only, of course. After a few write-ups in food and women's magazines, she was even considering a Web site and online sales.
To do that, she'd have to hire another baker, but she needed to make sure she was hiring the right person, and had been stalling. When it came to her business, she was nowhere near as daring as she was in her social life. She'd been meaning to ask Dan his opinion; maybe he would like to conduct interviews with her.
Jodie was a social butterfly and Dan was more solitary. She dated a lot of guys and was sexually and socially adventurous, enjoying going out with her friends and traveling when she could. Her female friendships were the cornerstone of her social life, though. After growing up with a dominating father and watching her mother suffer for it, as did Jodie, she had no desire to attach herself to any man for longer than a night.
Men were just for sex, and none of them seemed to mind.
Dan was the exception to the rule, in a platonic way. He'd never made a move on her, and for that, she was grateful. He was as dedicated to work as she was, and that, as well as their college friendship, was their glue.
Dan had dated three women that she knew of, one in grad school and two later, fairly seriously, but he was ultimately married to his work. Not many women could put up with his frequent absences and the times when, even though he was sitting right there with you, his mind was off solving some problem.
The women he dated tended to be as smart as he was. Jodie knew she didn't compete in that area. She wasn't stupid, but she was hardly on Dan's level when it came to brain power.
Dialing quickly, she called his cell, which she knew by rote.
"Jodie," he greeted her warmly on the second ring. The same surge of comfort and happiness overcame her, too, hearing his voice.
"Dan, I'm sorry, I just got your message. I was, uh—" she said, glancing toward the front room where Jason waited.
"Out on a date, yes. It's Friday night. I'm sorry. I remembered just as soon as I left the message. I'm a little bleary on what day it is. They've all blended together lately. Who's the lucky fella?"
"Um, just a guy. Actually, um, he's…"
"There. I understand," he said easily. "You didn't need to call me right back."
She smiled, shaking her head at how he finished her thoughts. They'd been friends for that long. Suddenly the sexy night she'd had planned with Jason didn't seem so exciting.
"It's been a while," she said, letting the black gown fall to the floor and yanking open a drawer, grabbing some underwear, yoga pants and a tank top. She dressed as she was talking. "How long are you home?"
"I'm teaching, so I'll be here for the year this time. Wanted to get home a few weeks before the semester started to get ready. Didn't I tell you before I left?"
"Nope," she said, though there wasn't any blame in her tone. She was used to him forgetting details like that.
"Listen, there's no hurry. Go enjoy your date."
She paused, a little ding of hurt around her breastbone. Didn't he want to see her, too? But he sounded tired. That had to be it. Dan didn't do subterfuge. If he didn't want to see her, he'd say so.
"Are you okay?"
"Braincloud," he said wearily, and she grinned, understanding immediately. "Braincloud" was the inside joke they shared after watching the movie Joe Versus the Volcano to describe the complete fog and exhaustion Dan suffered when he came out of his work-saturated life.
Dan worked with such intensity. In college, he'd get so stuck in a project that he'd forget to eat, sleep, or to even leave his room. Once, he'd stayed in his room for so long working out a problem that the people in adjoining rooms thought something was terribly wrong and called her, the dorm student rep, to check it out.
He'd barely noticed when she'd gotten security to open the door and they found him amid a forest of books and papers, his attention completely tuned to his work. He hadn't eaten for two days, and Jodie had taken it upon herself from then on to bring him food when he was working.
Eventually, it became a ritual. She'd come to his lab or his dorm room with food and they'd share a break. She made him laugh, and he helped her get through three years of required math for her business degree. She baked him things all the time, and it had been his idea for her to open a bakery.
When other guys were trying to find the best way to get into her pants, Dan had just enjoyed her company and never asked for more. When she'd been turned down by one bank after another to start her business, having a weak credit history and no rich parents to back her up, Dan had stepped up and loaned her the money. He'd had plenty saved and had been collecting money from patents and other work for years.
It paid to be a child genius, and he was more than generous in sharing with Jodie, no questions asked. Later, when he developed the icing formula, she signed him on as partner. Even though she had been paying back his loan, it was only fair that he share in her profits.
She'd been a little surprised, but pleased, when he accepted.
"You haven't eaten, have you?" she said, knowing.
"I'll call room service, promise. Listen, you have someone waiting—you have fun," he said, starting to hang up.
"Wait. This guy, you know, it isn't important. I don't think we were clicking anyway," she said, with her fingers crossed, just in case. "I haven't seen you in forever. I'll be there in an hour with a pizza. Where are you?"
He told her, and she called in the order for their favorite deep dish, wondering how she'd let Jason down easily. It wasn't fair, getting the guy all worked up and then fleeing the scene, but she wasn't in the mood anymore. She'd make it up to him another time.