“Move it to seven and have him join us. That way it won’t be just us two.” When she remained quiet, he told her, “I want to see you, all right?”

“I’ll see if he can change his schedule. If so, I’ll see you then.”

“Bring your big wallet. Since you’re paying, I’m going to go for the triple-decker.”

“For sharing your commercial producer with me? I’ll even let you order fries.”

Another busy day made the time pass quickly. Monique had asked the producer to meet her at six-thirty, so she’d have a half hour to talk over strategy before Niko arrived. Scott was a young, bright recent college graduate with a degree in film production. He worked at the public station to hone his chops with plans to move to a bigger commercial market next year. Most importantly, he was passionate about what he did and obviously very good at it. She told him her goals and overall vision. He presented ideas on how to best convey that in thirty seconds. By the time Niko joined them, just after seven, Monique felt confident about the plans that had been made.

“Well,” Niko said following their greeting, “I see my opponent didn’t want to show her hand.”

“Nothing personal,” Monique replied, a sly smile matching her devilishly twinkling eyes.

“Of course not!”

The three got down to the business of ordering, but just as the waitress came over, Scott’s phone rang. He listened, a slight frown instantly marring his face. “Does she have a fever?” He gathered his things. “No, it’s okay. I’ll stop by the store and be home in a minute. Okay. Love you, too.” He hung up and gave Monique and Niko an apologetic look. “Sorry, guys. I’ve got to run.”

“Is everything all right?” Monique asked.

“I’ve got a little one who’s teething. She’s not too happy right now. I’d like to stay, but the wife needs some things from the store.”

“No worries, man,” Niko said, rising to shake Scott’s hand. “Go take care of your daughter.”

Once Scott left and Niko sat back down, he picked up his menu. “Sorry about that.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Monique perused the menu, as well.

“True, but I know how you hate to be seen alone with me.”

She looked around. “It’s pretty crowded and nice and bright in here. Plus, we’re on opposite sides of the table. I think we make an innocent-enough-looking tableau.”

“I concur.”

The waitress came back over and took their orders. “You weren’t kidding about the triple burger,” Monique said with a laugh. “A pound of ground sirloin? That would last me for days.”

“I have a voracious appetite, what can I say?”

Thoughts of what she was hungry for could get her in trouble. Time to change the subject. “I finally had real conversations with Buddy and Dick.”

“What’s your impression?”

“They were a lot as you said they’d be. Dick was pleasantly patronizing. I don’t think he very much likes the idea of my running against him. Buddy is passionate about his causes, which I admire. He’ll be good for this town.”

“I agree with everything you just said.” He nodded at one person, waved at another. “There’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“What’s that?”

“The guy you were with the other night, Rob. I haven’t seen him in town before. Who is he?”

“An ex who is still a good friend.”

At least he’d been before they’d argued. She still hadn’t heard from him, and the concert was next week. Lance might get his wish after all.

“I admire people who can remain friends after dating. That has rarely worked for me.” The increasingly irate messages Ashley had left during the week because he’d refused her invites were solid proof.

“It’s not easy. But Rob and I were friends before we began dating.”

“They say being friends before lovers is the way to go. What happened, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Rob wanted to get married.”

“And you didn’t?”

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