He runs a hand lightly down my arm. “Judge me some more. I should be so lucky.”

He drops his arm and I smile, the kind that stretches across my whole face. “In fact,” he adds, “I hope you have a long list of traits you’re going to be evaluating me on, like a checklist?”

I wave a hand dismissively. “I have that list on my smartphone. I’ll fill it out tonight. After we see how this goes.”

“How long is that list?”

I stare up at the ceiling, pretending I’m deep in thought. “I’d say it’s about five or six pages.”

“You’re a woman after my own heart.”

“Do you have a long checklist?”

“I do, and it’s incredibly long.” He takes a beat, his baby blues strolling up and down my body. “Lots of things are incredibly long.”

“Who’s forward now?” I ask, acting all aghast, but I’m not aghast at all. I like long things.

“What can I say? It seemed apropos. By the way, I’m not imported. I was actually locally grown.”

“Ah, so you’re a farm-to-date man?”

“Yes, I was homegrown within a fifty-mile radius. Raised in Westchester. So you’re really able to tick a ton of boxes tonight. Presuming farm-to-date is on that long checklist.”

“I’m adding it now and checking it off,” I say, and inside I am punching the sky.

This is the best date ever.

As the pink glow from the neon light installation flickers behind him, I decide to opt for more honesty since it seems to be working so far—and way better than sabotage, it turns out. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but dating can seriously suck, and in the first ten minutes, you’re more fun than anyone I’ve gone out with in a long time, and on top of that, you’re an insanely handsome guy.” I park my hands on my hips, narrowing my eyes. “What’s wrong with you?”

He heaves a sigh. “Fine. I’ll admit it. I’m terrible at following IKEA directions for putting furniture together. I know, you just follow the steps. But it’s hard, and I am bad at it. Can you live with that?”

I frown, scrub a hand across my chin. “If I have to.”

He steps closer, his eyes taking a tour again. “Also, you beat me to it. You’re beautiful. But honestly, even if you were average looking, that would be fine too, because looks aren’t the most important thing, and these first few minutes are my favorite too. In a long time.”

Holy shit. He’s a breath of rarified air. I’m smiling, he’s grinning, his eyes are sparkling, and my insides are shimmy shimmy bang banging. “I agree. Looks aren’t all that.”

“So we’re good, then? If you bore me, I’m gonna be out of here in like a half hour.”

“That long? I’d have thought sooner. But I’m glad that the challenge is on, and it goes both ways. You better keep up with me, Herb Smith.”

“Oh, I intend to. I absolutely intend to keep up with you.”

We wander around the gallery, checking out the bizarre installations made of neon lights, and as we go, my skin warms, my heart squeezes, and my hope skyrockets. I like this guy, I like his ease of conversation. I like the way he snaps, crackles, and pops when he talks.

I bet there’s something wrong with him though.

Except I can’t go looking.

I need to maintain the anti-self-sabotage shield.

We stop in front of a bright yellow pair of neon lights that look like a balloon animal at certain angles. “Also, can we get one thing out of the way real quick?” he asks.

I slice a hand in the air. “There’s not going to be any sex tonight.”

Laughter seems to burst from him. “That’s not what I was going to say, but it’s good to know your ground rules. Just so we’re clear, are all types of sex off the table?”

Twin spots of pink form on my cheeks. “Probably.”

He steps closer, and I can smell him—his aftershave is woodsy and intoxicating. “What about kissing, can we kiss? Let’s say that I meet some of the marks on your checklist, do you want to have a kiss at the end?” he asks, and I’m nearly drunk on him already.

I want a kiss right the hell now. “That seems reasonable,” I say a little breathy. Then my mind trips back to his comment. “What did you want to get out of the way, then?”

He takes a deep breath. “Yes, Herb is my real name.”

“I didn’t think it was a fake name.”

“Who would pick that as a fake name, unless you were trying to scare somebody off?”

“Your name doesn’t scare me,” I say, because I’m 100 percent unperturbed by his old-school name.

“Are you sure?”

I point to the light sculpture on the white wall. “I’m still standing here under this weird, bizarre, twisty-turny collage of rainbow neon lights. I’m sure.”

Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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