I take a drag off my beer and move into the small talk portion of the evening. “Kate tells me you’re a chemist. What’s that like?”

She nods. “It’s like playing with a chemistry set every day and getting paid to do it. I enjoy analyzing things—breaking them down to their smallest components—then f**king with them a little. Seeing what other substances they play nice with . . . or don’t. The don’t part can get pretty exciting. Sort of makes me feel like I’m on a bomb squad.”

She stirs her olives in the glass. “And you’re a banker?”

I nod. “More or less.”

“That sounds very unexciting.”

My head tilts left to right as I consider her comment. “Depends on your outlook. Some deals are a high-stakes gamble. Making money is never boring.”

Dee turns in her chair, facing me.

Body language is important. Typically, a person’s movements are subconscious, but understanding the feelings behind them can either guide you to the Promised Land or get your ass locked outside heaven’s door. If a girl folds her arms or leans back, that generally means you’re coming on too strong or she’s just not interested in what you’re selling. Eye contact, open arms, full frontal attention are all sure signs she’s feeling you—and is hungry for more.

Her eyes quickly trail my body, head to toe. “You don’t look like a banker.”

I grin. “What does a banker look like?”

She scans the other patrons at the bar and in the lounge. Her gaze settles on a middle-aged, balding dude in a cheap suit, hunkered down over a double scotch, whose expression implies he’s lost his life savings in a stock market crash.

Dee points at him with her crimson-nail-painted pinkie finger. “Him.”

“He looks like a mortician. Or a pedophile.”

She giggles and downs the rest of her martini.

Leaning close to her, I ask, “If not a banker, what do I look like?”

She smiles slowly and scrapes the olives off the toothpick with her teeth.

“You look like a Chippendales dancer.”

Fabulous answer. I don’t really need to explain to you why, do I?

In a low, seductive voice I say, “I do have some great moves. If banking doesn’t work out, Chippendales is Plan B.”

I motion to the bartender for another round. Delores watches him work closely, and he must not screw it up too badly, because she smiles when he places the drink before her.

Then, she says to me, “So . . . your buddy Drew—he’s been giving my girl a hard time. Not a smart thing to do.”

“Drew has a weird relationship with competition. He thrives on it, but it also pisses him off. Kate hasn’t exactly been taking it easy on him, either. She brings her A-game to the office—I think she can hold her own.”

“Well, you feel free to let him know he should watch his step. I’m very protective of Katie—we Ohioans stick together.”

“But you’re in New York now. We’re ‘Every Man for His-Fucking-Self.’ It’s the second state motto—right after ‘The City That Never Sleeps.’ ”

Her eyes shine as she laughs. And I think the first drink might be hitting her hard.

“You’re cute,” she tells me.

My head leans back in exasperation. “Great. Cute. The adjective every man wants to hear.”

She laughs again, and I’m struck by how much I’m enjoying myself. Dee Warren is a cool girl—unreserved, quick-witted, funny. Even if I don’t end up nailing her, the night won’t be a total loss.

That’s not to say I’m not dying to get her out of here and see what’s—or, preferably, what’s not—under those tiny shorts. But, it’d be like rich icing on an already f**k-awesome cake.

I veer back toward small talk. “You’re from Ohio?”

She tastes her drink and nods. “Yes, the original Podunk, USA.”

“Mmm, no love for the hometown?”

“No, Greenville was a great town to grow up in, but it’s sort of like the Hotel California. People check in, but they almost never leave. If all you want out of life is to get married and have babies, it’s the place to be. But . . . that wasn’t what I was looking for.”

“What are you looking for, Dee?”

She thinks for a moment before she answers. “I want . . . life. Newness. Discovery. Change. It’s why I like the city so much. It’s alive—never stagnant. You can walk down a block and go down that same block a week later and it’ll be totally different. New people, new sights and smells—the smells aren’t always good, but that’s a small price to pay.”

I chuckle.

Then she goes on. “My mom used to say I reminded her of a dog on a leash that never learned how to heel. Always pulling on the chain, raring to go. There’s a country song with lyrics I like: ‘I don’t want easy, I want crazy.’ ” She shrugs, a little shyly. “That’s me.”

Everything she said—they’re my favorite parts about the city I grew up in too. Life is too damn short to stay safe, to stay the same.

My cell phone buzzes, but I ignore it. Checking your phone in the middle of a conversation, even if it’s with a one-nighter, is just rude. Low class.

Dee asks me what my Zodiac sign is, but I make her tell me hers first. Some people are really into signs—I’ve been ditched on more than one occasion by a horrified Leo or Aquarius when they found out I’m a Capricorn. Since then, I’m not above fudging my birth date if needed.

In this case, I didn’t have to. Dee’s a Scorpio, which is supposed to be super hot with Capricorns in the sack. Personally, I think the whole thing is a crock of shit. But, if you want to play, you’ve got to know the rules of the game. Including potential fouls.

Dee nurses her second drink as the conversation turns toward family and friends. Without getting too deep, she tells me about Billy, her more-like-a-brother cousin, and her single mother who raised them both. She touches on her lifelong friendship with Kate Brooks and a few surprising wild-child incidents during their teen years that are just too embarrassing not to mention to Kate at the office tomorrow.

I fill her in on Drew and Steven and Alexandra and how growing up with them saved me from ever feeling like an only child. I tell her about the coolest four-year-old I know, Mackenzie, and that I would hang with that kid every day of the week if I could.

By the time I finish my fourth beer, two and a half hours have flown by. When Dee hits the bathroom, I whip out my phone.

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