Home > Hard Rules (Dirty Money #1)(10)

Hard Rules (Dirty Money #1)(10)
Author: Lisa Renee Jones

“How’s Jeffrey’s Restaurant two blocks down?” he asks.

“I’ve never heard of it,” I say, “but I’m sure it’s fine.” Because I’m not going with him for the food. It’s for him. No. It’s for me for once.

“It has a mixed menu, a full bar, and it’s relatively quiet,” he replies, releasing my arm to open the building’s exterior door, and wave me forward.

“Sounds perfect,” I say, and somehow our eyes collide, and I don’t know how or why, but that tiny connection has my stomach fluttering. I dart forward and outside, a cold breeze lifting my hair and sliding along the bare skin of my neck. Shivering, I hug myself, chilled on the outside but pretty darn warm in all those intimate places he continues to awaken. I start to turn to face Shane, but suddenly he is beside me, his arm draping my shoulder, dragging me closer, his big body sheltering mine from the cold, and my chest hurts with the silly idea he’s protecting me. No one protects me and suddenly, this dinner seems like a bad idea. I deal with being alone by being alone.

“Don’t you just love Colorado in May?” he asks, angling us left and into the heart of downtown Denver and a cluster of restaurants and shops. “Random snow showers, cold at night, and warm in the day.”

I open my mouth to tell him this is new to me, and snap it shut, frustrated at how easily I almost invited questions about where I came from, and why I’m here. “I should have brought a jacket,” I say simply instead.

“I’m glad you didn’t. Gives me an excuse to keep you close.”

“Somehow, I doubt you’re a man who needs an excuse for much of anything.”

“And you make that assessment based on what?”

“Pretty much every one of the limited, but colorful moments I’ve known you.”

“Colorful,” he says. “There’s an interesting description.”

“I’m just glad it was you whose coffee I stole and not some really cranky person who would have yelled at me.”

“I have my moments, but never over something as trivial as a cup of coffee.”

“The world would be a better place if everyone thought like you.”

“There’s a cynical statement.”

“You’ve obviously not worked retail or you wouldn’t call that cynical.”

“And you have?”

“As a college student,” I say, quickly wishing I could pull back the words that invite questions into my past.

But I am saved as he announces, “And we’re here.” He leads me under a covered overhang toward a wooden door, where he surprises me by stopping, facing me, his hands coming down on my arms. “I’m glad it was me who found you in that coffee shop,” he says, the dim glow of overhead lights catching like fire in his gray eyes, but what steals my breath are the shadows banked behind that fire. He doesn’t want to be alone tonight either, and I find myself wanting to know why.

I dare to reach up and press my hand to his chest. “I found you,” I say, giving him a smile, wanting him to smile. “And you should know that I’m on a roll of mishaps today. The chance that I will spill, dump, or break something during our dinner is high.”

His eyes and mouth soften, any residual effect of those shadows I’d spied disappearing. “Then we’ll laugh and clean it up,” he says, motioning toward the door. “Let’s go inside.”

“I’d like that.”

He opens the door, allowing me to enter the dimly lit restaurant, where I pause to wait on him, glancing around at my surroundings. To my left is a padded leather wall, and directly in front of me are rows of uncomfortable looking wooden tables and chairs with flickering candles in the center of each table. Shane steps to my side, his hand intimately settling at my back as we advance toward the fifty-something dark-haired woman dressed in all black who is manning the hostess stand in the right corner.

She offers me a friendly smile and then glances at Shane. “Good evening, Susie,” he greets.

“Good to have you in tonight. Jeffrey will be sorry he missed you.”

“He’s still giving me a hard time about the Broncos losing this year anyway. Tell him he lives in Denver. He can’t root for Texas.”

Just hearing the name of my home state, which I can’t claim, twists me in knots. I have to get over this reaction.

“We’ve been in Denver for twenty years,” she replies, giving me the impression she might be Jeffrey’s wife. “He’s never giving up the Cowboys. You want the bar or restaurant?”

“Is there a booth in the bar available?”

“You’re in luck considering it’s been a busy Wednesday night,” she says, grabbing two menus. “We just had one open.”

“Excellent,” Shane says, and with his approval given, Susie motions for us to follow her.

Shane urges me forward, his fingers flexing where they’ve settled on my lower back, and we round the leather wall to a rectangular room with fully occupied high tables in the center, a bar to the right, and cozy booths set on high pedestals to the left.

Susie directs us to the fourth booth of eight lining the far wall. “Can I get anything started for you?” she asks before we sit, her gaze falling on me. “Wine or a cocktail, perhaps?”

“Wine would be great,” I say. “Can you suggest something sweet?”

“I have an excellent German white I recommend often,” Susie replies.

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