At the end of the conversation, Payton checked her voice mail and discovered—to her pleasant surprise—that she had a message from the Perfect Chase, asking to meet her for a drink later that week.
Payton decided to meet him. She needed the distraction.
By the time she arrived home, she had managed to convince herself that the only thing she needed distracting from was work.
J.D. WAS THE last person to leave the office that night.
About twenty minutes ago, he had glanced up from his computer and seen Payton packing up her briefcase for the evening. She hadn’t once looked in the direction of his office as she left.
Good, J.D. thought. He preferred it when they weren’t talking. Things were much simpler when they weren’t talking.
He still didn’t understand why he had followed Payton to the library in the first place. Clearly, that had been a mistake.
Stay away from me, Jameson.
As if he ever had any intention otherwise. Sure, their argument in the library had gotten a little out of hand. And there was that moment when . . . well, that was nothing. And even more important, in light of her reaction, he most definitely would not be interested in ever trying nothing again. He—J. D. Jameson—could easily find more amiable trysts to divert his attention than that angry shrew of a woman.
Oh, and by the way . . . that partnership spot is mine.
Hmm . . . let’s think about that. He was one of the top lawyers in the city, she had said so herself. Should he be scared? Should he throw in the towel, toss eight years of hard work down the drain and cede the partnership all because of some woman in a fitted skirt and high heels?
Not bloody likely.
PAYTON ARRIVED AT the restaurant ten minutes late.
She blamed this primarily on Laney, who had been micromanaging the date ever since Payton had spoken to the Perfect Chase and set it up two days ago. Thankfully, Laney had approved of her choice in locale, SushiSamba Rio, which was upscale (“no feminist BS, Payton—let him pay”) although not overtly flashy (“but don’t order anything over twenty-five dollars; you don’t want to look like a materialist hussy”) and had a separate lounge and dining area. This way, Payton figured, she and Chase would start with drinks and, if things went well, could stay for dinner.
Now anyone who has ever been on a blind date is well familiar with “The Moment”—that moment where you first walk into the bar or restaurant or coffee shop and scan the crowd and suddenly your heart stops and you say to yourself: oh, please—let it be him.
And then you immediately think, wait—it can’t be him, why would anyone who looks like him be on a blind date? But you allow yourself to hope anyway, until—inevitably—some equally gorgeous woman comes back from the rest-room and sits down at his table, and you realize that—lucky you—your date is the schmoe at the bar with the lame blue button-down shirt and high-waisted khaki pants who obviously just finished his shift at Blockbuster.
Which explains why, when Payton first walked into the restaurant that evening, she immediately noticed the guy at the bar in the dark shirt and jeans, but then just as quickly turned her attention elsewhere, having written him off as far too delicious.
Seeing no other likely prospects, Payton figured the Perfect Chase was at the very least not so perfect by running even later than she, so she took a seat at the bar to wait. She hadn’t even had the chance to order before she felt someone tap her on the shoulder from behind. Payton turned around and had to stifle her gasp.
It was The Delicious in the dark shirt and jeans.
“Payton, right?” The Delicious asked with a friendly smile. “Laney asked Nate to call and tell me what you were wearing. That girl thinks of everything, doesn’t she?”
Laney—that sneaky little Republican—had knocked it out of the ballpark with this one.
Payton grinned. “You must be Chase.” As she extended her hand in introduction, she took the opportunity to give him a more thorough once-over.
He had dark wavy hair and warm brown eyes. Very Pat-rick Dempsey/McDreamy-esque. Good build, not terribly tall, maybe only five-ten-ish, but since Payton measured in at exactly five-three and one-third inch, she could work with this.
Chase took her hand. His grip was firm. “It’s a pleasure, Payton,” he said, still with an utterly genuine, easy smile.
Uh-oh. Payton’s bullshit radar went on high alert. He was too nice. She eyed him cautiously as he took a seat next to her at the bar.
But as they talked and ordered drinks, Payton began to have a sneaking suspicion that Chase’s nice-guy routine wasn’t a routine at all. He seemed genuinely friendly and—even more shocking for a blind date—completely normal.
“So, Laney tells me you’re a lawyer as well,” Chase said as the bartender set their drinks down in front of them, a French martini for her, a Tom Collins for him. Payton made a mental note to ask what was in his drink they next time they ordered. (Oh, yes—she had already decided there would be a second round.)
Payton nodded. “I do labor and employment litigation.” She told him a little about her practice, then asked about his.
“I just moved here to be the new general counsel for the Chicago Legal Clinic,” Chase said. “Perhaps you’ve heard of us? We’re a private not-for-profit firm that provides legal services to individuals who meet the federal poverty guidelines.”
Payton was impressed. How altruistic of him. Her mother would love this guy. “General counsel? Laney hadn’t mentioned that.”