Hello! Hope you all had a wonderful weekend.
I wanted to give you all an update on Nolan & Delilah Vol. 1. After much agonizing, I’ve decided not to post the rest of Vol. 1 on my website. With the email I received from Amazon Kindle, I’m a little spooked about them taking down my account in entirety.
Come Aug. and Sept., I have something big in the works with one of the e-retailers and I don’t want to ruin my chances of this event taking place. Sorry, I’m not allowed to mention anything yet, but please understand that this decision wasn’t made lightly.
For those of you who’ve been with me since the Max & Jane days, you know that I’m committed to this blog relationship I have with you. This one, unfortunately won’t happen. However, I do plan on posting Vol. 2 and taking it down before Amazon Kindle gets a hold of it.
The bummer part, I haven’t even begun writing Vol. 2. I’ve been focused on 10,000 Reasons–which is done, by the way. I’m looking it over one more time before sending it off to be edited. I’m hoping for it to be out early Aug.
Since this is a serial, I will publish each book on a Tuesday for four straight weeks. You won’t have to wait long to get the next one. I promise this story will move your hearts.
Since we’re on the topic of 10K Reasons, why don’t I post a (rough draft) teaser for the first book called Unknown Reasons? This will give you your Monday morning fix!
“Come on, Jenna. You have to help me.”
“Katie-Rose, I cannot go out tonight. I have a midterm tomorrow.”
“Puleez! I can’t miss out on this double date. Jackson has all but forgotten me this past month and now that he’s called, I can’t say no.”
“Why can’t you ask someone else? Why me?”
“Loren was supposed to be my double date partner but she just called to say she’s sick. It’s too short notice to get a hold of anyone during midterms. You have like straight A+s. You don’t even need to study since you’ve been studying for weeks. I promise you, dinner and then straight back home. It’ll be two hours, tops.”
My college roommate, Katie-Rose was in a bind, and so was I with her request. I didn’t want to go anywhere tonight. No matter how much I studied this past week, tomorrow’s history exam was going to be tough. They always were.
“Why does it have to be a double date? Why can’t Jackson just take you out by yourselves?”
Katie-Rose hesitated. “Well, it just is. He has this business meeting and he’d like me to be there by his side. He’d also like for his associate to have someone there so it isn’t an awkward situation.”
Damn. Why did she have to put in me on the spot? “All right,” I sighed. “When’s dinner?”
“In twenty minutes. Change.” She threw one of her black dresses at me.
“I can’t wear this. It’s too short and too revealing.”
Katie-Rose was about to say something but decided to pick her battles. She let me be as I picked out a demure black dress that fell below the knees, showed no cleavage, and had three-quarters sleeves. I rarely wore makeup so I went with my natural look, plus a little blush and lipstick. I knew Katie-Rose thought I looked lame, but she didn’t mention it.
We were headed to the Downtown Club. This was where couples celebrated special occasions, high-powered business meetings took place, or important-looking people were out to see and be seen. In a large city like Los Angeles, there were many places similar to this restaurant, but none quite as prestigious.
I did not belong at the Downtown Club. I didn’t think my roommate did, either, but I supposed there were facets of her life I never questioned. Katie-Rose and I met our freshman year and we got along well enough where we decided to room together the next three years. Though she was a good friend, I couldn’t consider her my best friend. In truth, I didn’t have any best friends. I’d always been a bit of a loner. I had hoped that by our third year together, Katie-Rose and I could become close, but there were too many secrets in her life. If she didn’t want me in, then I wouldn’t pry.
“Do you know the name of the man I’m to meet tonight?” I asked my roommate who was busy reapplying her makeup.
“I’m unsure. Jackson didn’t say.” She hurried her primping and pushed me out the cab door when the valet stood there awaiting our arrival. “Let’s go have some fun.”
Fun was not what I was thinking when I stepped inside the Downtown Club. It was more opulent than I’d imagined. Now I really felt like I didn’t belong. I just hoped when faced with all the cutlery and glasses, I’d know which was which, and whether I should grab from the left or the right.
“Katie-Rose. Come.” A man who looked old enough to be her father called her.
My friend excitedly ran to him, despite his disapproving glare. This man, Jackson, looked as blue-blooded as could be. Between the waspish complexion, to his salt and pepper hair, to his deep voice, he was the stereotypical high-powered, sit-at-the-head-of-the-conference-table man who normally wouldn’t associate with the likes of college girls—unless they were his daughter’s friends.
“You look so handsome, Jackson,” my roommate gushed. She forgot entirely that I was there as her sidekick.
Her “date” didn’t miss a thing. “And you are?” he asked.
“Hi. I’m Jenna.” Geez. I sounded as ridiculous as I felt. I was so out of place here.
A few seconds of looking me over, I must have passed the silent test. He slightly motioned for me to follow. Katie-Rose excitedly called me over by flailing her arm, which Jackson immediately pulled down. My friend giggled, to Jackson’s chagrin.
I walked several steps behind the mismatched couple and wished I was anywhere but here.
“Jenna?” Jackson called.
I looked up and that’s when I saw him.
He was utterly disarming. For the first time in my life, my body went into shock. It was like a thousand chrysalis to butterfly metamorphoses happening simultaneously—wanting to fly away, but trapped in my body. It was like an electric panel about to overload—sparks flying everywhere just before the breakers burst into flames. I felt eerily like a balloon about to burst because the helium tank wouldn’t shut off.
He was truly the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. If he were a movie star, he’d be Marlon Brando. If he were an athlete, he’d be Michael Jordan. If he were a CEO, he’d be Steve Jobs. He was the ultimate in every category.
The man staring at me made me feel like a little girl walking into the principal’s office—nervous and curious to understand why I was called. I couldn’t wait to meet him, and yet, I didn’t want to meet him at all.
“This is my business associate, Xander.”
“Hello.” I spoke in a bare whisper.
He nodded his head and put out his hand for me. What I was supposed to do with his hand, I had no idea. I spied a small grin as he placed it on the small of my back and led me to my seat.
This was going to be another damn boring dinner with an asshole of a business associate whom I hated. Jackson White was the epitome of a lazy, self-centered, bastard who wouldn’t have done shit with his life had he not inherited his millions from his father and grandfather. If I never saw this man again, it’d be too soon.
I gritted my teeth when he explained about our dinner “partners” who would be joining us soon. What I thought was going to be a quick meal where we talked business and parted, turned out to be a ten-course extravaganza with escorts. He wanted us to be “more comfortable.” Asshole.
The last thing I needed was a woman prostituting herself to me. This old bastard might need to pop a Viagra and open his wallet to get laid, but I sure as hell didn’t. By the looks of the girl walking with him, this was going to be a long, giggly night.
Short dress, fuck me heels, hair teased like Madonna in the 80s—where the hell did he find her? Did he really need to pay a service to hire a skank like her? I could have picked up anyone off the street and she would have had more class than this girl, walking arm in arm with a man older than her father. Regardless of my annoyance, I stood up and behaved like the gentleman my mother taught me to be.
“Xander?” Jackson sought my attention.
I looked up and that’s when I saw her.
This goddess was alarming. Every part of my body stood tall to meet and greet her. I didn’t believe in shit like love at first sight, but this felt damn near similar. Like a sixteen-year-old, I could feel my heart beating faster, my palms getting sweatier, and my body humming to the excitement of saying hello. What the fuck?
She had the innocence of Audrey Hepburn, and the sex-appeal of Marilyn Monroe.
However, she was a girl. She looked no older than twenty-one, a decade my junior. What the hell was I going to do with a simpering, idealistic girl barely old enough to drink? To her credit, if she worked this business, she’d be well versed in pleasing a man.
Putting all this horny teenage bullshit behind me, I walked over to meet my “date.”
“Jenna,” Jackson introduced us while his girl mauled him at the classiest members’ only restaurant in LA. “This is Xander.”
“Hello.” Her voice was as soft as her skin.
She looked exotic. I couldn’t say what her ethnicity was—Caucasian mixed with Asian? Middle Eastern? European? Whatever the hell she was, I was interested. This night just turned in my favor.
I placed my hand out for this Jenna. Why? I had no fucking clue. She obviously was thinking along the same line. Staring at my hand, she inched her right hand forward, then brought it back to her side. This Jenna was cute.
Taking charge, I placed my hand on her back and led her to her seat. She tensed the moment I touched her. Her taut body was an electric charge to my own. I disliked the mixed feelings I had about this fierce chemistry between us. I wasn’t a should-I, shouldn’t-I kind of man. I should and I did was how I lived life. Being unsure of myself, and what I felt about others was not a part of who I was.
“Miss? May I offer you some champagne?” the waiter asked.
She politely said no, but I chose to take two glasses on our behalf. “I assume you’re old enough to drink champagne?” I challenged by sliding the alcohol in front of her.
She nodded and answered, “The maître d’ carded me before I was allowed in.”
With such a serious tone, I didn’t know whether or not she was kidding. “He obviously didn’t check the dress code for your friend over there.” There was a blush on this angel’s face.
We looked over at the overly amorous couple who needed to get a fucking room. With the movement of her hand—up and down, up and down—this girl was giving Jackson a hand job under the damn table. Fucking moron! I’d like to take a video of him and his whore and send it to his wife and grown daughters.
Jenna appeared embarrassed for her friend, workmate, whatever their relationship was, as she turned her head down and faced the cutlery on the table.
“How old are you, Jenna?”
“How do you know her?” I tilted my head toward the slut across the table, without looking at her.
“The past three years.”
“You’ve been with her that long?” Could that mean they’d been doing this escorting gig for three years? Jenna was only eighteen when she had started, if that was the case. She looked too innocent to be a part of that world.
“Yes,” she answered with a little bite. “Why do you ask like that?” This timid girl wasn’t as timid as she first appeared.
Pointing in the direction of the jack-off session in action, I didn’t need to state the obvious. Jenna quickly turned her head back to her cutlery.
“Drink?” I offered the champagne again.
She didn’t say another word as she gulped down the contents of the flute.
What the hell was I doing here? Help me! Get me out of this place!
Not only was this man’s dark stare giving me an outbreak of nerves, I wanted to pull Katie-Rose out of here. What was she thinking behaving like a common streetwalker? At this moment, I hated her for embarrassing herself and for placing everyone around us in an awkward situation.
I didn’t help our cause by drinking an entire glass of champagne in one gulp. Ten minutes into this night, I knew I shouldn’t have come.
We could hear Jackson zipping up his pants as Katie-Rose demurely told me, “Jack and I are heading out. Can you catch a cab back home?” As livid as I was with my roommate, I was thrilled our night was done. “Sorry,” she whispered while Jackson said a few words to Xander.
I could feel the anger vibrating off his body. With each spoken word, Xander’s body tensed even more. “All right.” I heard his clipped tone.
Off the two went and here I was, left with an intimidating man, but free to go home and study.
“Thank you for the company. I’ll leave you to go about the rest of your evening with whomever you prefer.”
“Stay.” That wasn’t a question or a request. It was a command.
He pointed to the four servers coming with our food. As much as I wanted to leave, it felt wrong to get up when someone went through the effort of preparing a meal for us. As it was, the servers were confused with the two empty seats.
I did as was told and stayed in my seat.
“I hope you’re hungry, and I hope you talk more than you’ve done so far. There are ten courses coming our way. It’ll be an awfully long dinner if you give me one-word answers all night. A few original questions of your own would be appreciated.”
Rather than cowering away, I smiled—almost laughed—and started on my soup. “What’s your last name, Xander? And is Xander short for Alexander?” The biting laugh reappeared. “Two questions original enough for you?” I wasn’t going to let this intimidating man strong-arm me during the ten courses. If I had to sit through dinner with a stranger, I figured I’d do it with a smile.
“Blane, and no.” Two questions. Two answers. The man played hardball.
Whatever. I had nothing to lose in this game. A nice, free meal to sustain me while I studied into the night was small compensation for enduring such strain with Mr. Xander Blane.
She wouldn’t cave. After I gave my two answers, I expected her to ask a flurry of questions. Most women, when they knew they were with a rich, powerful man, either talked my ears off or stroked my ego. This girl did neither. She, too, ate her soup in comfortable silence. Though I knew for a fact, neither of us was comfortable.
Once the next course arrived, I asked my own two questions. “What’s your last name, Jenna? And is Jenna short for Jennifer?”
With a smirk, she answered, “Ashe and no.”
So that’s how it was going to be?
By the fifth course, I learned very little about my dinner companion. It shocked the hell out of me that I caved and started a conversation rather than a two-word question and answer.
“You’re a stubborn young lady.”
“You’re a stubborn young man.”
“Why are you here tonight? Why would you come to a situation like this?”
She thought about my questions thoughtfully. “I came to help out a friend. If it wasn’t for Loren getting sick, you’d probably be dining with a better conversationalist than I.”
This Jenna Ashe had a way of making me feel like laughing—something I didn’t do often enough. “Then what would you have been silently doing if you weren’t here?”
“What I should be doing right now—studying for midterms.”
That caught me by surprise. “You’re a student?”
“Yes,” she answered tentatively. “Did I sound too much like an idiot tonight for you to believe I was a student?”
“No.” I answered vehemently. “That’s not it. I was just surprised. I didn’t realize you were a student.”
“Well, I am. What do you do?”
“I’m in the finance world. I used to manage other peoples’ fortunes, but now I only manage my own. I also dabble in random investments.”
“I see. I’m an English major dabbling in nursing. By the end of this year, I need to step away from the fork in the road and walk toward a career path.”
“Which way are you leaning?”
“My heart leans toward English, but my legs will take me down the nursing road.”
“I need to work. I’ll have a mound of college debt when I’m done and graduating with an English major may or may not pay the bills.”
“You could be a teacher or a writer…”
“Or a blogger, or a struggling journalist,” she answered with a sad smile that made my heart feel emotions foreign to it. “I love English. The reading, the writing, the stories behind the writers—it’s a wonderful luxury for me to study in college. But, reality calls and I’d like to make sure I can sustain a lifestyle, no matter how meager. I suppose that’s why I’ll choose nursing.”
“But that’s such a tough profession. You’re a fragile woman. How will you care for two-hundred pound men and women?”
She laughed sweetly. “I’m a lot stronger than you think.”
It angered me that Jenna supported her lifesyle by selling herself. Where were her morals, her self-esteem, her damn parents? What was wrong with this girl? Didn’t she understand what kind of danger she was in? Her roommate was probably riddled with diseases by now if she was fucking the likes of Jackson White. I had no right to judge, but no matter the end goal, prostituting one’s body was wrong.
“I think we’re done.” I told the maître d’ who came to check on our meal. We weren’t actually done. There were two dessert courses left, but I wanted to be with Jenna Ashe no longer. Her profession disgusted me. She angered me.
We were having a nice conversation when suddenly, I felt anger vibrating from his body again. I thought through what I might have said to upset him so profoundly. He cut short our dinner and all but dismissed me.
I didn’t understand myself, but I had to blink back tears when I said, “Thank you for dinner.” This man was all that I disliked in people. He was a brooder, controlling, and intimidating. For a brief while, though, I thought he was interesting, kind, and caring. It was stupid of me to get caught up in this high-society world. There was something incredibly sexy about a man who wielded power and authority, no doubt. It didn’t hurt that he also had money.
Sighing, I didn’t want Xander to know I was disappointed. I sure as hell wouldn’t let him know I was hurt. For some damn reason, I couldn’t keep my emotions in check so I excused myself and hoped he’d get the hell out of here before I returned from the restroom.
I’d been on dates in the past, but never with a man who moved my heart so readily. I didn’t even think I liked this Xander Blane, but being pushed away didn’t feel good. I put myself back together and found my “date” waiting for me by the maître d’.
“Would you be able to call a cab for me?” I asked the host guarding the front.
He looked to Xander, first, and then slowly obliged to my request.
Again, I blinked back these stupid tears. Why the hell was I so emotional tonight? Was it that time of the month? Why did I care that Xander didn’t want to drive me home? Why would he take me home? He hardly knew me. I barely knew him. What sane woman allowed a stranger to her house?
It was best this way.
“Thank you again,” I said with a forced smile. He was about to say something but the valet interrupted him. For a brief second, I saw the struggle in his eyes. There was a gentleman in him that wanted to see me safely home. I knew there was and the torn look proved my heart’s desire. But in the end, torn or not, he headed for his car. “Take care, Xander Blane,” I whispered, turned myself around and walked back into the foyer. No matter how much I wanted one last look at the man who’d charged into my heart, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
This time, I would be the one to dismiss him.
I couldn’t help myself. Like a damn fool, I followed the cab all the way to her apartment. Parked across the street, I watched her walk into the third apartment without ever looking around. Foolish woman. Didn’t she know how dangerous this world was? Some man could be lurking in the dark, ready to do all kinds of horrific things to her. She had no clue and she didn’t give a damn. She opened her door and went in without a second glance.
I watched the lights go on, her figure walking around the apartment, and the lights turning off everywhere but in one room. I assumed that was the room where she was studying. Midterms. College. Barely in her twenties. She was just a baby. She looked so innocent. What was she doing working as an escort?
It ate at me to think of her with other men. It killed me to think about how poorly I treated her tonight. What the fuck was the matter with me? I was sitting in my car, watching a dimly lit room.
I decided to do something about the angst and anger inside me.
Sigh! And sigh some more! Damn. I wish I hadn’t gone out to dinner tonight. I wish I hadn’t met Xander Blane. Instead of memorizing facts about the Reformation, I was filled with images of that enigmatic man.
He was a walking paradox. His face was stern and cold, and yet I glimpsed warmth in his eyes. His words were harsh, but mixed with an odd sense of tenderness that made my heart doubt. As forcefully as he pushed me away tonight, our chemistry kept us connected. Even now, after having said good-bye, I didn’t think we were done. Somehow, we’d see one another again. No matter how hard he or I fought it, we’d cross paths soon.
The doorbell woke me from my useless reverie. I opened the door to find a beautifully wrapped box. Opening it, I saw four elaborate pieces of dessert and a hot carafe of coffee. There wasn’t a face to go with the bearer of gifts. But, it wasn’t a far off assumption that Xander must have left this as an apology. The twin sets of desserts and coffee were what should have ended our meal. I had no idea why he abruptly ended our meal, but I’d accept his apology and hoped to see him again some day.
“Hey, Jenna. How did you do on the midterm?” My classmate Jason walked out of the test room with me.
“Hi Jason. I think I did well? Hard to say right now. My brain feels like it’s been stretched too thin.”
“I know what you mean. Knowing you, you probably rocked this exam. I think you’re the smartest one here.”
“That’s nice of you to say, but with so many bright students, I rate average at best.”
We walked into the courtyard where all the students seemed to be soaking in the fresh air after their exams. Our exam was in the afternoon and by the time we were done, it was almost evening.
“By the way, I wanted to thank you for making copies of your notes for me. Your notes saved me from flunking this midterm.”
“It must be hard to travel so much with the baseball team and to miss all your classes.”
“It’s not easy.”
“I’m glad I could help,” I added before saying good-bye.
“Jenna?” Jason shifted his body and became very uncomfortable with me. “Uh…may I thank you by taking you to dinner tonight?”
His question took me by surprise. “You don’t have to do that. It was just a few pages of notes. That hardly warrants a dinner.”
“It would be an honor to take you out. Please say yes.” His awkward demeanor was completely contrary to his usual easy-going personality.
He was so earnest in his request, how could I say no? His polite, sweet, almost-ardent ways felt so different from my “date” last night. It was refreshing. “OK. Yes. It would be fun to have dinner with you.”
“Great!” He smiled. It was nice to make someone smile like that—like he’d won a prize and that prize was me. “I have a special place I’d like to take you. Would it be all right if I picked you up in an hour?”
“I guess so. How should I dress?”
“If you don’t mind dressing up, I’d like to take you to my favorite restaurant.”
“Please don’t feel obligated to take me anywhere nice. I’d be happy with In-N-Out.”
Jason laughed. “An hour?” he asked.
“Sure. See you then.”
Driving home, I wondered where Jason would take me tonight. We didn’t know each other outside of the classroom and I felt somewhat uncomfortable with him spending money on me. Now that I thought about it, I had no idea who paid for dinner last night. As bizarre as that night was, thoughts of Xander played through my mind all day.
“You’re home.” Katie-Rose said sheepishly.
“Shouldn’t I be the one saying that?” I eyed her blotchy neck, disapprovingly. “Did you make it to your midterms?” She shook her head no. “Katie-Rose. You can’t do this. You’ll end up flunking out.”
“I emailed my professor last night and told him I had a family emergency. He said I could take it next week.”
I didn’t say any more. She had her life and I had mine. It was hard enough to take care of myself. Who was I to admonish her?
“I’m going out tonight, Katie-Rose.”
She perked up and said, “You are? With whom?”
“Jason from my history class is taking me to dinner to thank me for lending him my notes.”
“Is he cute?”
Of course that would be her first concern. “Yeah, he’s cute.” I picked up my dress from last night and put it over me in front of the mirror. “He told me to dress nicely. Is it weird to wear the same dress two nights in a row?”
“Borrow one of mine.” Katie-Rose went through her closet needlessly. I couldn’t wear any of her dresses.
“Thanks, Roommate, but I think I’ll wear this one more time before washing it.”
As I started getting dressed, I felt that same odd, butterflies-in-the-stomach sensation again. Wearing the same clothes reminded me of my night with Xander. I couldn’t seem to forget him; everything reminded me of him.
Doing my best to brush off the unwanted yearning, I got ready for my “date” two nights in a row! Sadly, that was an accomplishment for me.
“Jenna. Your date is here,” Katie-Rose purposely yelled out in our tiny apartment.
I rushed out for fear she may embarrass me further. “Hey, Jason.”
“Wow, Jenna. You look beautiful.”
My face felt hot and I knew I had turned red. “Thanks,” I whispered and introduced him to my roommate. “I’ll see you later,” I said to her.
“We don’t have curfews in our home. You can keep her out as late as you like,” Katie-Rose tapped Jason on the shoulder and let him know.
“Thanks for the info,” he said with a cute wink.
“You really look beautiful tonight, Jenna.”
“Thank you.” I laughed. “This is my only nice dress. I’m glad you like it.”
Jason laughed with me. “I hope you’re hungry. I begged my dad to call in a reservation for us at my favorite restaurant.”
“I am hungry, but anywhere would have been fine.”
“I wanted this night to be special.”
This was getting into unchartered, very uncomfortable territory for me. “Where are we going? Where’s your favorite place?” I changed subjects to the banal.
“The Downtown Club.”
That’s when I felt my heart fall to my feet.
I felt her presence the moment she walked in. I tried damn hard to push her out of my mind all day, but here she was, in the same dress, with the same innocent face, in the very flesh. I was so damn angry to see her here with another client, I chose not to acknowledge her.
“Xander. Hello, Xander!”
My sister could be a nuisance at times. “What is it, Lexie? I postponed a business meeting because of you. What’s the reason for this impromptu dinner?”
“Geez, Xander. Why the anger? What did I do wrong? I’m sorry if I took you away from a meeting. I thought you said it was OK.”
I felt bad taking my frustrations out on my little sister. “Sorry, Lexie. It hasn’t been a good day. How’s school?”
“I love, love, love college! The boys, my sorority sisters, the parties—”
I cut her off. “The studying? Midterms? Exciting classes? Any of those fall under ‘love, love, love college’ for you? Are you still looking to be an English major?”
“Of course. I have a rich brother who will support me no matter what major I choose. Why would I study something I have no interest in?”
“Maybe so you can have a future career?”
“Pish posh! No way am I ever working. You can support me until my husband takes over. If he doesn’t make enough money, you can continue my allowance until I die.”
I shouldn’t spoil my eighteen-year-old sister, but I couldn’t help it. With her beach blonde hair and emerald green eyes, I knew too many boys lusted after her. I shudder to think of the last comment I heard about my sister when we were vacationing in Cabo. The guests at the resort believed she was a playboy bunny shacking up with her sugar daddy. That was when I told Lexie to put on a long cover-up and to keep it on the rest of the trip.
“What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked again.
Lexie turned toward Jenna and then turned back to me and asked, “Why do you keep looking at that girl?” I hadn’t realized I was looking at her. In fact, I thought I was doing a damn good job of ignoring her. “Do you know her?” Silence was the answer I gave. “I don’t know who she is, but I know the guy she’s with. His name is Jason and he’s a member of the frat house our sorority had a social with last month. He’s cute, huh? Maybe I should go up to him and introduce myself.”
Before I could say, “No!” my sister was off and running.
I felt him. I saw him. I yearned for him.
Even though we were seated a couple tables away, Xander Blane had no clue I was here. It was all the better. How embarrassing to be seen at the same place, same time, and in the same dress. It was almost like Groundhog Day. I hoped we could go the rest of the evening being blissfully unaware of one another. Unfortunately, my hope expired the moment a gorgeous blonde—Xander’s gorgeous blonde—decided to join our party.
“Hi, Jason.” She spoke with exuberance. “Do you remember me?”
It took my date all of two seconds to answer, “Yeah! You’re Lexie, right? Didn’t you and I dance the night away at our party?”
“Oh my gosh!” she was overly excited, “you remembered! I thought, crazy me…what would I do if he had no clue who I was?” The conversation continued. “I had such a good time at your frat party. I hope you’ll invite me to your next one.”
“I’d be happy to invite you to our next party.”
Seriously! Really??? Was this happening to me? My “date” was asking out Xander Blane’s date? This Downtown Club was starting to hold some of my worst date night memories.
“Lexie.” I heard Xander call out to her but I purposely didn’t look up. His voice was a soothing song to my ear, regardless of what it was doing to my heart.
“Sorry. Gotta go. Call me?”
“Sure.” I saw Jason take out his phone and I could see Lexie’s legs running away and then running back. The two exchanged phone numbers and more giggles. “Sorry about the interruption. That was not what it seemed.”
“OK.” I was skeptical and a little mad that he thought I was stupid enough not to understand what had just occurred.
“Really, it wasn’t.” He knew I didn’t believe him. “One of my roommates has the biggest crush on her. She’s actually his little sister, in the fraternity/sorority sense, but he can’t get up the nerve to invite her to our parties. He made our other roommate and me dance with her all night so she couldn’t get to know any other guy. When I asked for her number, it was actually for Robbie.” I must not have looked convinced. He added, “Honest.”
“Has it occurred to you that she might have a crush on you?”
“All that enthusiasm doesn’t come from nowhere. You might want to be careful, or your roommate Robbie should make his move soon.”
Jason chuckled. “All right. I’ll let him know.”
“What the hell was that?”
“What?” My sister played the innocent.
“Did you just interrupt Jenna’s dinner and ask her date out?”
“Who’s Jenna?” Shit, I was getting careless. Lexie zeroed in on Jenna and said, “I knew you knew that girl. Who is she? An ex-girlfriend? Ex-lover? Present-enemy? She’s much too innocent for you, Xander. I can’t see you with a girl like her.”
“I wish you would look a little more innocent yourself, Lexie,” I complained. “You still have yet to tell me why you had to see me tonight.”
“Oh. That’s right!” For a bright girl, she sometimes owned the dumb-blonde title. “It’s Mom and Dad’s anniversary next week and I wanted to surprise them.”
“Surprise them, how?”
“Surprise them by showing up in Paris.”
Finally. Here was the real reason my sister wanted to see me. “Don’t you have school?”
“Do not. We’re on spring break after midterms are done.”
“Why are you out here with me when you have midterms to study for, Little Sister?”
“Calm down, Old Man. I’m done studying. You’ll be shocked to know that I might even make the Dean’s List by the end of this semester.”
I snorted. “Yeah. Call me when that happens. Anyhow, I don’t know if I can leave the office next week.”
“Why the hell not?” I gave her a scary big brother look. At least I thought I had. She didn’t give a shit. “You work for yourself and you manage your own money. Why can’t you leave whenever you want? You can work from Mom and Dad’s in Paris.”
She was right on all accounts. “I have meetings scheduled.”
“So reschedule them. Come on, Xander. This’ll be great bonding time for you and me. Puleeezzz!”
Lexie was an “oops” baby. Our parents gave up having any more kids after me. When Lexie happened twelve years later, they were too thrilled to care about the consequences of spoiling a child. I, too, was guilty of spoiling my little sister.
“What will you do for me if I cancel my meetings and take you to Paris?”
“Shopping spree, too?” she asked eagerly. I couldn’t help but laugh at my “conniving” sister. What she didn’t realize was that a shopping spree was always included for her.
“If your end of the deal is good enough, you can shop to your heart’s content.”
“Eek!” She squealed like a mouse. She then got up and ran over to Jenna’s table.
We were halfway through dinner when we saw that same body rushing toward us. Without an invitation, Lexie sat in the seat next to Jason.
“Lexie. Can we help you with something?” Jason was about to ask her another question when I saw Xander pull up.
“Lex.” We heard the warning loud and clear.
This “Lex” woman was obviously immune to the imminent danger. “Sit, Xander. You’re blocking traffic.” As we were seated right by the kitchen door, Xander was standing in the pathway of the servers. He came around and sat next to me, but ignored me.
“Hi. I’m Jason and this is Jenna. I apologize if you thought I was hitting on your date, earlier. It wasn’t what it appeared.”
“Lex is my sister,” he answered bluntly.
Oh! I didn’t know why that news gave new life to my heart. It wasn’t as if the man sitting next to me even acknowledged me.
“Hi. I’m Alexie Blane. I think we go to school together but I’m only a freshman.”
Did I look as shocked as I felt? Why was this statuesque blonde introducing herself to me? “Hello. I’m Jenna Ashe.” I forced out a response.
She giggled. This girl was full of unexpected surprises. “You and my brother know each other, right?”
What was up with this girl? Why was she putting me on the spot?
“Lex.” The warning bells rang again.
I looked to Xander and asked, “Do we know one another?” I asked in an accusing way. Since he wouldn’t admit to knowing me, there was no need to tell the truth. Xander’s stare was as lethal as the warning bells. I told myself not to cower. After a few more seconds, I beat him to an answer and said, “I guess not.”
The giggling continued from the only person who apparently thought she understood what was happening here. “Jason, are you and Jenna dating?” Now she was pinning me with the other man at the table. For reasons completely foreign to me, Xander glared at Jason and me.
Jason stuttered his way through an explanation about his roommate and the secret crush. Then, he tried to explain us.
Rather than leaving my dating status to a guy I didn’t know too well, I answered, “As you know, Jason’s on the baseball team and he misses a lot of classes. I lent him my notes. He was kind enough to invite me to dinner, and here we are.”
“So this isn’t your usual M.O.?” There was an accusation in his tone, but I couldn’t figure out what Xander would be accusing me of—we hardly knew one another. What had I done wrong?
“The dress, the innocent look, a different man each night of the week. Is this what you do when you’re not preparing for nursing school?”
What the fuck?
I felt anger, maybe even rage, coming off the woman sitting next to me. Outing her in front of people she hardly knew wasn’t tactful on my part, but if she was embarrassed about her profession, perhaps she shouldn’t be in it.
“What the hell is your problem?” Before I could say another word, she held her hand in front of my face and whispered, “Stop. Please. Just leave me alone.”
She turned to her cold steak and started cutting it up into pieces. I didn’t know this woman at all, but I could feel how hurt she was by my accusations. I felt like a complete dick again.
“Why don’t we let you finish your meal?” My sister quickly stood up and urgently pulled me off my seat. “Sorry to have bothered you.”
Fuck! Why was I so bothered by this Jenna Ashe? Why couldn’t I just leave everything alone? I was never cruel to women. Never would I have cut a dinner short or allowed a woman in my care to take a taxi home. I all but called her a slut in front of her date and a stranger. My actions put me in a foul mood.
“Why Xander?” My sister asked once we were back in our seats. “You’re always so sweet to me. Is this how you treat other women?”
I had nothing to say. “Sorry, Lex. That was uncalled for; I’ll apologize to Jenna.”
My sister stopped me from getting up. “Why don’t you let her finish her meal with Jason?” I looked over to see a forlorn woman trying to smile for her companion. “What was that with Jenna? Do you know her well?” I drank my wine and kept my mouth shut. The last thing I wanted to do was explain myself to my sister. “Well???”
“I was here last night for a business meeting with that sleaze, Jackson White. Unbeknownst to me, he invited his escort ‘girlfriend’ and she brought Jenna along as my companion.”
“No!” My sister yelled in a whisper. “Jenna does not look like an escort. There’s no way she’s in that business.”
“She looked the exact same last night as she does tonight. She told me she was an English major heading to nursing school.”
“OK. I don’t get it. Why would you think she accompanied men for a living?”
“Her roommate gave Jackson a hand job as soon as we sat down. Then, the two of them went off somewhere to fuck. What else would Jenna be?”
Lexie’s pretty face warped into an ugly frown. “Who’s her roommate? I’m so confused, Xander. Start from the beginning.”
“Jackson’s escort and Jenna live in the same apartment. Last minute, Jenna subbed for a woman who was to be my ‘date.’”
“Did it ever occur to you that Jenna and Jackson’s escort are just roommates and nothing else? If she was the sub, maybe she had no idea what she was walking into?”
I didn’t buy it. “How can you live with someone for three years and not know what kind of profession she’s in? Can anyone be that clueless?”
“I think you’re the clueless one, Big Brother. Jenna seems lovely and not at all like a woman who sells herself for a living. Just because you live with someone doesn’t mean you know everything about her life.”
What my sister said made sense. When I thought back to last night, there was nothing in her demeanor that was flirtatious or seductive.
Hell! Was I wrong about Jenna?