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My words come out in a biting tone. “What if that’s not what I’m looking for?”
Her brow creases with tension as her eyes lift back up to my face. “What do you mean?”
“What if I want more than a game and a quick f**k in a secluded location?”
“Well, that’s not what I’m looking for. I told you that.”
“What are you looking for?”
She shrugs. “Not something I know will never work.”
“How do you know that if you’re not willing to see what happens?” I try not to sound insulted.
“Come on, Ben. We both know the only thing that will work between us is sex.”
“Well, shit, I guess you have it all figured out. Okay, then, I choose the john. Why don’t you go on into the bathroom and I’ll be in in a minute? Just tell me how much up front.”
She gapes at me in disbelief.
“What? You asked. I’m telling you. No need to finish dinner. Let’s f**k and get it out of our systems—for today anyway.”
She shrugs again with clear disappointment. “I’m not f**king you here.”
“Good, then. Can we finish our dinner and our date?”
“Are you testing me?”
“No. I’m trying to show you that maybe there is more and maybe you could at least give me a chance before you make assumptions about me.”
“Okay, then, so if sex isn’t the only thing you’re after from me, how about we start over?” There’s a strange twinkle in her eyes that looks a lot like a challenge.
“There’s nothing I’d like more,” I say, suppressing the urge to reveal the satisfaction I feel at her words.
“As friends only,” she adds as if it just occurred to her.
I try not to let my jaw drop. Obviously she thinks I can’t go without sex. She doesn’t know me as well as she thinks she does. “Fine. Friends only.”
“Since we agree, I think we need to set some guidelines.”
“Guidelines?” I raise an eyebrow in challenge.
She nods and her hair bounces effortlessly over her shoulder with her movement. “Yes, guidelines.”
“Do you set these guidelines with all the men you call friends? Matt? Dino?”
“No. But I haven’t slept with them either.”
“Okay, then.” It’s easy to agree because I’m beyond relieved to hear that.
She eats a few bites and I watch her, waiting to hear these guidelines, mostly because I’m intrigued.
“Are you going to tell me what they are?” I finally prompt.
She pats her lips with her napkin. “Oh yes, of course. One,” she says, holding up her thumb, “we can be friends as long as we keep it between us.”
I guess I understand. Only two people in my life know I’m interested in S’belle, and I got all kinds of warnings from them. But really I want to laugh that I’ve become a dirty little secret.
“Two.” She holds up her index finger. “We will not talk about my brother or his wife.”
She licks the sauce off her finger when she’s done speaking—and if she only knew how turned on I am watching her. This friends thing might be harder than I think. But I keep quiet and don’t argue. And besides, I have no intention of discussing my ex-fiancée and her husband with her anyway.
However, I do have to stop her before she moves on.
“Red, you can say Dahlia’s name. I’m fine with it and I think she’ll be fine with us as well.” I assume S’belle already knows Dahlia and I have talked and that she’s come to terms with the fact that I cheated on her with S’belle in college.
She shakes her head fervently. “I mean it, Ben. My family is not to know.”
I hold my hands up. “Okay, okay. I get it. What else?”
When she puts a third finger up and it’s her middle finger, I can’t contain myself. I don’t want to appear immature, but she is being so serious—setting guidelines for a friendship that we both know is much more than that. I can’t hold back as laughter escapes my lungs and I have to rest my hand on my stomach to try to stop myself.
She looks over at me before setting her hands on the table and pushing up. “You’re so immature,” she huffs.
“Wait, go on, I’m good. I’m sorry.”
She narrows her eyes at me. “I’m not joking around. I just got my life on track and I can’t be derailed.”
Okay, so again I’m going to be the bigger person and not take offense, but why does she think I would derail her life? I run a hand through my hair as I consider how to respond. “I hear what you’re saying.” I bring my hand down and rest it over hers on the table. “But, Red, you and I both know a friendship-only relationship isn’t going to be easy.” I inch forward and close my fingers around hers. Sparks ignite between us, and any anger I might have been feeling dissipates.
She pulls her hand away after a few seconds, but her trembling body tells me she feels what I feel. “And three, no touching,” she says quickly. Almost as though, if she didn’t say it right, then she would change her mind. She goes on to add to her list that we can go out but we will meet each other in public places only.