Despite the fact that she was already worrying over how she was going to squeeze in a quick at-least-I-won’t-look-like-a-total-jackass golf lesson that evening—she strode confidently into J.D.’s office.

He glanced up from his desk as the door opened, surprised by her sudden entrance. “That was fast.” He leaned back in his chair and beckoned with his hand. “Okay, let’s hear it, Kendall. Give me your best shot.”

Payton saw the stapler near the edge of his desk and had to fight the urge to take him up on his offer.

“I’ll do it,” she declared. “Count me in for tomorrow’s game.”

J.D. appeared surprised.

Payton nodded in response to his silence. “Good. That’s settled, then.” She turned to leave, her mind already running in a hundred different directions. She needed to find a set of clubs; perhaps Laney had some she could borrow. And of course there was the matter of attire—should she wear shorts? A polo shirt? A jaunty little cap, perhaps? Were special shoes required? The details surrounding this event were—

“You can’t go.”

J.D.’s words stopped Payton right as she reached the door. She turned around to face him. “You can’t be serious. You’re that desperate to get some alone time with the Gibson’s reps?”

“No, that’s not it,” J.D. said quickly. He hesitated, and for the briefest second Payton could’ve sworn he looked uncomfortable.

She put her hand on her hip, waiting for him to finish. “Then what, exactly, is it, J.D.?”

“We’re golfing at Butler,” he said.

Butler? Oh . . . of course, Butler, Payton thought sarcastically. That meant bubkes to her.

“And?” she asked.

“Butler National Golf Club?” J.D. said, apparently believing this should ring some sort of bell with her.

Payton shook her head. No clue.

J.D. shifted awkwardly. “My family has a membership there. Ben suggested it because it’s a nationally ranked course. But, as it happens, it’s a private club.” He emphasized this last part.

Payton failed to see what the problem was. “But if you can get the Gibson’s people in as guests, I don’t see why I can’t come, too.”

J.D. cleared his throat uneasily. He shifted in his chair, then met her gaze.

“They don’t allow women.”

The words hung awkwardly in the air, drawing a line between them.

“Oh. I see.” Payton’s tone was brisk, terse. “Well then, you boys have fun tomorrow.”

Not wanting to see what she assumed would be the smug look on J.D.’s face, she turned and walked out of his office.

“WILL I SOUND like a total crybaby if I say it’s not fair?”

Laney patted Payton’s hand. “Yes. But you go right ahead and say it anyway.”

With a frustrated groan, Payton buried her head in her arms on top of the coffee shop table they had just sat down at moments ago.

“I hate him,” she said, her voice muffled. She peered up at Laney. “This means he’s going to get twice as much time with the Gibson’s reps.”

“Then you will have to be twice as good when you meet them for dinner,” Laney replied. “Forget about J.D.”

“Screw him,” Payton agreed. She saw Laney’s eyes cast nervously around the coffee shop at this.

“I mean, it’s bad enough he plays this card with the partners,” Payton continued. She lowered her voice, doing a bad male impersonation. “Hey, J.D.—you should come to my club sometime. I hear you shoot a two-fifty.”

“I think that’s bowling.”

“Whatever.” Payton pointed for emphasis. “The problem is, getting business is part of the business. It’s like a ritual with these guys: ‘Hey, how ’bout those Cubs’ ”—the bad male impersonation was back—“ ‘let’s play some golf, smoke some cigars. Here’s my penis, there’s yours—yep, they appear to be about the same size—okay, let’s do some deals.’ ”

When the woman seated at the next table threw them a disapproving look over the foam of her jumbo-sized cappuccino, Laney leaned in toward Payton. “Let’s use our inside voices, please, when using the p-word,” she whispered chidingly.

Ignoring this, Payton took another sip of her vanilla latte. “In the business world, what’s the female equivalent of going golfing with a client?”

Laney gave this some thought. Payton fell silent, too, contemplating. After a few moments, neither of them could come up with anything.

How depressing.

Payton sighed, feigning resignation. “Well, that’s it. I guess I’ll just have to sleep with them.”

Laney folded her hands primly on the table. “I think I’m uncomfortable with this conversation.”

Payton laughed. It felt good to laugh—she’d been very cranky since her encounter with J.D.; she couldn’t believe he had managed to exclude her from the golf outing with the Gibson’s reps by taking them to a club that didn’t allow women. Wait, back up: what she really couldn’t believe was that there was actually still a club around that didn’t let women in. Once the existence of said club had been established, however, she had no problem believing that J.D. was its Grand Poobah.

But enough about J.D. already. Payton resolved not to let him ruin another minute of her day. Besides, she saw a prime opportunity to engage Laney in one of their “debates.” The two of them couldn’t have been more opposite on the social/political spectrum. Having herself been raised by an ex-hippie single mother who was as socially radical as one could get while staying inside the boundaries of the law (most of the time, anyway), Payton found Laney’s prim-and-properness fascinating. And strangely refreshing.

Tags: Julie James Romance