He glances up at the art installation in question. “Isn’t that the coolest thing?”

“It’s so weird, it’s like the perfect weird piece of art. I want to hang that in my apartment and have people come over and say, ‘What is that?’ And I’ll reply with ‘my innermost thoughts,’” I say, all haughty.

“You’re devilish,” he says in admiration.

“Perhaps I am.”

I stare at him, amazed that it’s already going this well. “By the way, why did you mention your name?”

His tone is softer, more direct. “I guess because I’m surprised you didn’t. Most dates bring up my name, since it’s unusual. They want to know if it’s a nickname, if it’s real, if it’s a family name that my mom had to give me. Or a mistake.”

“A mistake? Why would someone think it’s a mistake?”

He shoots me a steely glare. “Herb? Let’s cut to the chase. It ain’t Chase. It isn’t Hunter or Bennett or Foxface, or whatever cool names dudes have these days.”

A smile crosses my lips, warming me from the inside out. “I don’t give a foxface if your name is cool or uncool. But is there a story behind it?”

He chuckles in a self-deprecating way that’s thoroughly endearing. “Herb was my granddad’s name. It was supposed to be my middle name. But he passed away a few days before I was born, and well, my sentimental parents made it my first name.”

“Aww. That’s touching. A very sweet story.”

“I’m stuck with it, but he was a great man, so it’s all good. And I have the world’s simplest last name, so go figure.”

“I like both of your names. The juxtaposition of the old-fashioned next to the familiar is a refreshing combo. It makes you even more unique, like this date.”

“Normally on dates I count the seconds until it’s going to be over.”

“Ouch. The seconds, really? Is it usually that bad that you have to count the actual seconds?”

He nods vigorously. “It’s usually that bad.”

“What’s the shortest date you’ve ever been on?” I query as we stroll through another hall of the art gallery.

“I would say about twelve minutes and fifty-two seconds. We had nothing to say to each other, and it was evident when she wanted to talk about how to do her nails, then she showed me an Instagram video of how to do nails, and there was like sponges and glue, and it was Instagram. Have I mentioned it was Instagram?”

“I’m going to go out on a limb and admit it. I do not get the fascination with every single life hack for every single thing, for every type of makeup or every type of possible decoration you could put on your body or face, but it seems like everyone in a certain age range wants to do everything they’ve learned from Instagram.”

He smiles. “Is it too early to say this is the best date I’ve been on in a long time?”

My grin matches his. “I don’t think it’s too early at all, but I think we really should reserve judgment until we finish the main attraction.”

“Are you ready for it?”

“I’m so ready.”

We finish the appetizer portion of our date and head over to devour the main course.

4

Herb

As we walk to the warehouse, we talk.

“Ever been to an escape room before?” We turn down a lively block in Tribeca.

She wiggles her eyebrows. “That sounds like a come-on.”

“Maybe it is.” I dive into an exaggerated seductive voice. “Want to come see my . . . escape room, baby?”

She purses her lips then drags a hand down her chest. “Oooh, yes. Show it to me now.”

I growl, keeping up the routine, loving how easily I’m clicking with this woman. “Level with me. Are you an escape room virgin?”

She drops a demure expression on her face. “I am indeed.”

“Me too,” I say, returning to my normal voice. “But Evie thinks it’s perfect for us since I love puzzles and you presumably do too.”

“Crazy for them,” she says, emphasizing the words with passion. “My job is kind of like a puzzle. Being an ethical hacker. You have to get into everything backwards.” Then she talks more about some of the work she does, and it’s fascinating. She practices hacking into security for banks, then giving them advice on where they have holes. “And it’s sort of similar to what you do,” she says. “Which is a puzzle too.”

Instantly I know what she means.

“Since my patients can’t talk?”

She smiles and nods. “Yes, that does make it quite a puzzle. It’s like you need a whole other language.”

We chat more as we weave through the moonlit streets in lower Manhattan, and as we do, I take a moment to admire her. I was being honest when I said if she wasn’t pretty, it wouldn’t matter.

And I meant it. To me, this kind of chemistry—instant and electric—matters so much more.


Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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