He shifted nervously. Then he saw the corners of Payton’s eyes crinkle with amusement.

“What?” he asked, immediately going on the defensive. “Is there something funny about what I said?”

Payton shook her head, studying him. “No, it’s . . . I just noticed that your nose is sunburned from golfing.” And she fixed those deep blue eyes on his.

It was the way she was looking at him.

Really looking at him.

J.D. would never admit it to another soul, but he knew what he was thinking right then.

It was her eyes. No, her smile—she never smiled at him. At least not genuinely, anyway.

Normally, J.D. was pretty damn skilled at reading female body language. Meeting women was not exactly a problem for him. He was a good-looking guy, he actually knew how to dress himself, he had a great job, and he came from a very wealthy family. He wasn’t bragging, just stating the facts. Whether any of those things should matter was a debate for somebody else.

Except for the part about knowing how to dress, that is. He took great pride in his attire. Call him old-fashioned (something she constantly seemed to hold against him), but he thought there was a certain civility lacking in his generation. Whatever had happened to the days when men wore jackets to dinner? When women carried pocketbooks and excused themselves to “powder their noses”? (And no, snorting cocaine off a toilet seat in the ladies’ room did not suffice here.)

At least Payton seemed to implicitly agree with him on this point. Again, not caving on the argumentative, defensive pill thing, but the woman always looked good. J.D. suspected that she made a point of this—almost as if she was trying to prove something. Although who she was trying to prove something to, he didn’t know. Because Payton Kendall certainly had a way about her that impressed almost everyone.

Not that he had particularly noticed the slim cuts of her skirts, or the way her legs looked in those three-inch heels she snapped to and from court in. Nor had he noticed the fact that, tonight, her shirt was unbuttoned right down to that could-I-sneak-a-peek? point . . .

Suddenly feeling how warm it was in the restaurant, J.D. reached up to loosen his tie. Then he remembered he wasn’t wearing one.

Maybe he’d better lay off the vodka tonics.

Regrouping, J.D. tried to make his face impassive and nonchalant as he gazed down at Payton. He didn’t know what sort of game she was playing—being friendly to him and all—but he was not about to be played for a fool.

Payton tilted her head at his silence. “Is something wrong?”

J.D. tried to think of something he would normally say, something that would regain him the upper hand.

“Everything’s fine,” he assured her, lest there be any doubt about it. “I was just wondering whether your fellow feministas would approve of you using your sexuality as bait.”

Payton pulled back. “I’m sorry?”

She appeared pissed. Good—this he knew.

J.D. pointed to the could-I-sneak-a-peek? V-neck of her shirt. “Planning on showing off the girls tonight, are we? Is that how you plan to impress the Gibson’s execs?”

He regretted the words the moment they came out of his mouth.

He saw the flash of hurt in Payton’s eyes, but she quickly looked away to cover it up. When she turned back to him, her gaze was icy.

“We’re asking Gibson’s to give us twenty million dollars in legal fees,” she said coldly. “If you think my boobs are going to land this deal, then they must be even more spectacular than I thought. Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .” She brushed past him in a hurry.

J.D. tried to stop her. “Payton, wait. I didn’t mean—”

“Well, there you are! We were startin’ to wonder what happened to you two!”

Payton and J.D. turned at the sound of Jasper’s voice.

Payton quickly regained her composure. “Jasper—we were just coming to join you,” she said calmly. “Did you save one of those cigars for me?” With her head held high, she followed Jasper to join the other men out on the terrace.

She didn’t look once at J.D. for the rest of the night.

DURING THE RIDE home, Payton’s mood was subdued. Tired and lost in thought, she’d barely realized that the cab had stopped, arriving at its destination, until the driver glanced over the partition and asked if there was somewhere else she wanted to go. After quickly paying the fare, she hurried up the front steps of the quaint two-flat row house she had bought and rehabbed three years ago. It was a cozy place, nothing extravagant, but the mortgage was in her budget and the place was within walking distance of the “L.” Most important, it was all hers. To her, home ownership was about stability and investment, and definitely not about hot trendy neighborhoods for which one paid a premium.

Payton let herself inside, tossed her keys on the side table by the front door, and headed back to her bedroom. Her heels clicked on the restored oak hardwood floors.

She didn’t know why she let it bother her so much, what J.D. had said. Yes, it was insulting of him to suggest that she was playing up her sexuality to entice the Gibson’s reps. The comment had come way out of left field—she had never done anything even remotely unprofessional to deserve such an attack on her character. But what bothered her even more was the fact that she had been completely unprepared for the insult. Normally she had her guard up around J.D., but tonight she had thought they were getting along—or at the very least, that they were tolerating each other, that they had put away the boxing gloves for the evening in the spirit of working together.


Tags: Julie James Romance
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