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Two Weeks Earlier
Danni balanced the laundry basket on her hip as she stepped out of the dry Nevada heat, and into the humidity of the Save a Wash. No one did their laundry on a Wednesday afternoon, so it was the perfect time to study. For some reason, just starting school when most people her age would have been finishing made her feel a twinge unsure. Funny how going straight could do that to a person. She'd always felt cool and in control while on the grift.
She'd been born to play the game. Or so her father had always told her. And taught her.
Not worth thinking about now. Danni blinked to allow her eyes to adjust to the inside light, and set her basket down on an empty table. Her textbook lay on top of her dirty clothes. She had more than two years ahead of her, but she wouldn't have it any other way.
She'd carefully pushed her change into the slot, when a shadow fell across her arm.
"Do you have any dryer sheets? I must have left mine back at the hotel."
Danni glanced up to match the sexy voice to the shadow. She had heard some pickup lines before, in fact, she'd heard that exact pickup line in the Laundromat, but never from someone like this. Someone who didn't need cheesy words because his very presence was an open invitation.
Tall and dark and rugged.
Her breath hitched. She'd always gone for the rebels. Long hair, no job and an air of total irresponsibility. Bonus points for lack of sensitivity, except for something useless like his bad music or his dirty poetry. Those were the kind of guys who rocked her world.
But this wasn't a guy. This was a man.
Despite the corporate cut to his dark hair, he exuded a jagged undercurrent of danger. No rebellionjust promise. She swallowed. This man was gulp worthy. A snug, navy T-shirt molded his proud chest and shoulders. Danni kept a tight rein on her eyes. Do not lower.
She met his gaze. She found humor in the darkness of his brown eyes. And expectation. Oh yeah, he was waiting on her to answer. Dryer sheet. That was it.Time to work it. "For a dollar," she told him.
He raised an eyebrow. "You want a dollar for one dryer sheet?"
Danni shrugged. "You're welcome to go to the store." A touch of frustration mixed with the humor already in his eyes. He stuffed his fingers into the front pocket of his well-worn jeans. And they fit him well. Nice flatstomach, narrow hips. Fine-looking package. Okay, so she looked lower. Big deal. He pulled out a five.
"I can even make you change," she said with a smile. She could imagine it right now. Slide him three bucks and a dryer sheet, pocket the extra. Daddy had taught her well.
But she wouldn't. Because damn it, she was determined to be an honest person.
Also, a very rude one. Rudeness kept people away, and that's how she liked it. It was the way it had to be. When people got close to you, they began expecting things. Wanting to know personal, private details.
He pushed the money into her hand. His long, lean fingers warm and strong as he folded her fingers around the cash. "If you need it that badly, keep the whole five." The man took one of her sheets, turned his back and tossed it into one of the oversized dryers in the corner.
He looked just as good from the back as he did from the front.
Shoving the bill into her pocket, Danni was at a loss. She'd come out on top in this little encounter. Hadn't she?
Danni grabbed her book and sat. Freeing her mind to the wide-open world of court reporting, she tried to forget the man. She should be memorizing the abbreviation for parenthesis. She had a mock deposition to study for. Uh-huh, that was irony there.
Her gaze strayed to the man folding his socks. What if he started folding his underwear? What if he didn't?
Despite the thinness of her T-shirt, she broke out in a light sweat. This was a man who deserved underwear speculation. He also took the fun out of it by giving her all five bucks.
And yet that made him even sexier.
Maybe she hadn't needed to be that rude. But the man stirred up every instinct not to talk to him. Perhaps that was a good thingher track record with men was awful. And she always went with her gut. So should she go against it for once, and go for him instead? The last of his clothes were already dry, there wouldn't be much more of an opportunity.
Grabbing a dryer sheet, she walked to the table where he stood shaking out another pair of well-worn jeans. He didn't react as she approached. She waved the dryer sheet in his field of vision. The flowery scent of a summer day wafted between them. At least that was the scent mentioned on the package.
Mr. Gorgeous turned toward her and raised an eyebrow.
"I'm waving the dryer sheet white flag of peace. Maybe I was a little rude back there."
"A little?" he asked, his voice low and rumbly. And very, very sexy.
"It should be two dryer sheets for a dollar. I misquoted the price earlier." Okay, if he could work "dryer sheets" into a cheesy pickup line, so could she.
Without touching her, he tugged the sheet from her fingers.
In spite of the white flag, she refused to give up."Actually, the going rate for five dollars is two dryer sheets and a cup of coffee." She reached into her pocket and pulled out his bill. "And I just happen to have five dollars."
"I just happen to be thirsty." The humor reappeared in his dark eyes.
"There's a coffee shop at the end of this block. Why don't I meet you there in about thirty minutes? My clothes should be dry by then."
"Thirty minutes it is," he told her.
But she knew the truth. He wouldn't show up. Sure, he'd accepted, but then who wouldn't in order to get the crazy person at the Laundromat away from them? Besides, he was definitely corporate. Corporate never went for her.
TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER, Danni slid her laundry
basket with clean clothes into the trunk of her car and slammed the lid. She turned and faced the street. Five minutes to go. She couldn't seem too eager. She dug out her cell phone and dialed Cassie's number.
"I've asked someone out for coffee," Danni said as soon as her best friend answered.
"It's snowing outside, right?"
Danni checked the sunny blue sky. "What are you talking about? It's way past snowing in Reno."
"That was sort of my point. You never get my jokes. How did this come about?"
"I insulted him, took his money, then apologized without really apologizing.""That's like my last three relationships," Cassie said, her teasing voice making Danni grin.
"He won't show," Danni said.
"Whew, that's better. For a minute there I was afraid you were nervous. But then, your normal cynicism reappeared."
"Nerves give men the upper hand on a date." Was this a date? Meeting? Whatever. Nerves were never good. "You can never show them that you like them."
"Absolutely. Dating suicide."
"Do I detect a bit of facetiousness in your voice?"
"If you only detect a bit, then you need your hearing tested. Listen, Danni, since you've asked this guy out and that's a first for you, why don't you make this a date of firsts. Here's a guy who knows nothing of your past. He's not going to be judging you.You're just a woman, he's just a man. Enjoy each other's company. Enjoy the moment. Why are you talking to me when there's a man waiting for you? I'm hanging up now." Click.
She smiled as she closed her cell. Cassie was probably right. Danni hadn't consciously decided to treat this new guy differently than every other man who'd stumbled into her life. But she had, and that was a valid reason to be nervous.
After putting her phone back into her purse, Danni locked her car and headed to the coffee shop, leisurely passing by others on the sidewalk. Actually, the coffee shop was more like a bistro, with a selection of breads, teas and coffees. An electronic chime sounded as she strolled through the door.
Normally her glance would head straight for the refrigerated display cabinet, then she'd stop and look at the specials written on the chalkboard, or take a sample of the bread of the week. Not today. Instead, her gaze went directly to the seating area filled with fashionable glass-topped wrought-iron tables and matching chairs.
He was there.
He'd waited for her. Her steps slowed for a moment as she approached him lounging against one of the high-backed barstools. Her knees turned wobbly all of a sudden and she hadn't expected that.
So, how should she play this? Classic vamp? No, that wouldn't workshe wasn't wearing the right shoes. Girl next door? No, she'd already blown her chance at innocence back at the Laundromat. She paused and that's when he looked directly at her. He smiled. A slow, open smile that moved across those sexy, sensuous lips of his and every nerve ending in her body fired up.
She'd been right to be cynical. She'd been right to push him away at the beginning because this man was dangerous. This was the kind of man who made logical women say, "Sure, I'll invest everything I own in your pyramid scheme."
She had no clue how to angle her behavior. Cassie had suggested that Danni should just be a woman. Could it ever be that simple? Just be yourself. Whoever that was.
Danni realized she was smiling back. I'm an idiot. She slid into the stool beside him, and the waitress came by and asked for their order."You took my money and I don't even know your name," he said after a moment of silence.
"Danielle, but everyone calls me Danni."
She shook his hand, his fingers feeling softly calloused. "So, Eric, do you usually pick up women while doing your laundry?"
A moment passed before he answered, his body relaxed. "Only on Wednesdays. Thursdays it's the grocery store. Besides, that wasn't a pickup."
"It wasn't?" Her feet began to tap under the table. Had he spotted something in her the way she had in him?
"You were the only person in the place using dryer sheets. Everyone else had the liquid stuff."
She glanced up quickly, her gaze meeting his. Humor danced along the brown of his eyes.
"I was the only person in the place, period. You're messing with me," she said.
"A little. Besides, you clearly picked me up." Surprisingly, she liked him teasing her. Previous guys either took themselves way too seriouslyrebels searching for cluesor they, like her father, took nothing seriously. Life was one big day at an amusement park. No waiting in line, only fun. Nothing subtle like bantering.
"Technically, you made the first move, so I'll have to award the pickup to you." Who knew what the ultimate prize would be for the winner.
He inclined his head as if to accept. Her heartbeat quickened. He wasn't denying his making a move. Just a man meeting a woman. It could happen. It could work.
The waitress brought Eric his coffee and her a soft drink. "We have fresh chocolate cheesecake."
Danni sucked in a breath. Cheesecake was one thing she could barely resist. But to enrich it with chocolatethat was almost too low a blow. Could anything be more decadent? Maybe Eric feeding it to her off his fork.