It was strange, because for once she was dating someone with whom even her mother would have trouble finding fault, yet still she hesitated to bring him up. Perhaps she just didn’t want to jinx things.

“Actually, I just started seeing someone a few weeks ago,” Payton told her mother. “You’d love him.” And as she went on, describing Chase, it struck her once again what a great guy he really was. And she—being the logical, pragmatic person she was—knew that he was one of those men that no woman should let get away, even if the timing wasn’t the greatest. Even if she was presently sidetracked with other things.

Meaning work, of course.

ON THEIR WAY out of the restaurant, Payton and her mother stopped at the coat check. The unseasonably cool weather had provided the perfect opportunity for Lex to go off on another of her diatribes about the politics and economics of global climate change. Payton nodded along distractedly—yes, yes, suppressed scientific reports; certainly, the government had undermined efforts; of course, hidden agendas over oil; indeed, the planet was headed toward imminent catastrophe—as she collected their jackets and tipped the attendant with one hand. In her other hand she held the daintily wrapped but sizable box of food her mother had insisted they take for the “unhoused” people (her mother refused to say “homeless”) that they had passed on their way into the hotel.

Payton struggled with the cumbersome box as she tried to find the other sleeve to her jacket. She reached back, groping, still feigning interest in her mother’s lecture, when—

—someone held up her jacket and gently settled it across her shoulders.

Grateful for the assistance, Payton turned around—

—and unexpectedly found herself staring at J.D.

She blushed. No clue why. “Oh. Hello.”

“Hello,” he smiled.

“It’s you.”

“It’s me.”

Payton suddenly felt the need to appear casual. “So we’re here for the brunch,” she said breezily. “They said it was the best in the city for Father’s Day.”

“You’re here with your family, then?” J.D. asked. He appeared curious about this.

Before Payton could respond, she heard a not-so-subtle cough behind her. Shit!—her mother. She had completely forgotten about her.

Normally, Payton liked to give people a preparatory speech before they met her mother—topics of conversation to avoid, what not to wear, and if a meal was involved, what not to eat. Men introduced to her mother needed additional coaching, at least several days’ worth of Lex Kendall 101. Despite all this, very few people—even normal, perfectly harmless people—managed to come through an encounter with her mother unscathed.

From behind Payton came a second, more pointed cough.

J.D. and her mother could not meet.

And if they did, she absolutely did not want to be anywhere in the vicinity. Payton eyed the door. Was it too late to make a run for it?

J.D. pointed. “Um, Payton? I think someone’s trying to get your attention.”

Oh, bloody hell. Payton turned around and saw her mother’s fierce gaze—nobody put Lex Kendall in a corner—and reluctantly made the introduction.

“J.D., I’d like you to meet my mother, Lex Kendall. Mom, this is J. D. Jameson. He works with me at the firm.”

Payton watched as J.D. politely shook her mother’s hand. It felt strange, the two of them meeting. She quickly tried to think—was there any safe topic, anything they had in common? She came up with zilch. Nada.

Lex carefully looked J.D. over, suspicious from the outset. Payton knew she was making mental note of the expensive cut of his pants, the fine quality of his dark gray shirt, and the way he wore his jacket, without a tie, in an effortlessly stylish look.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Kendall,” J.D. said.

Payton winced. Already a screwup, and on the basics at that. Having kept her own name, even after marrying Steven, Lex Kendall was no “Mrs.”

J.D. smiled at her mother, obviously unaware of the shaky ground on which he stood. “I hope you and Mr. Kendall had a nice brunch.”

Oh . . . no. Payton saw her mother’s eyes flash.

“Well—J.D., is it?” Lex led in with what could only be described as a “tone.” “Putting aside your blatant patriarchal biases in assuming the necessary presence of a male familial figurehead, yes, I had a nice brunch, thanks.”

Payton rolled her eyes in exasperation. “He was just being polite, Mom.” She glanced over apologetically at J.D., expecting to find him annoyed, irritated, offended, or some combination thereof.

But instead, he seemed amused. “My mistake, Ms. Kendall,” J.D. corrected himself. “And thank you.” He looked over at Payton, his eyes dancing. “Suddenly, everything has become much clearer.”

Payton shot him a look. Very funny.

She was about to say something to extricate her and her mother as quickly as possible, before this encounter that teetered on the brink of disaster got any worse, when a voice, a woman’s, came from behind J.D.

“If you don’t intend to introduce us to your friend, J.D., perhaps your father and I should go ahead and be seated at the table.”

Payton turned to J.D., her eyes wide. Now this was interesting. “You have parents,” she said.

“Yes, shockingly, even I have parents.”

Payton laughed. She had forgotten that J.D. could actually be kind of funny every once in a while. If you liked that whole dry-humor kind of thing.

Tags: Julie James Romance