“Same, but we put cocktail umbrellas in them and shout a lot,” she said. I laughed.

“I’ve missed you.”

“I’m right here,” she said, finishing her nachos and sipping her drink.

“So you celebrate whether you win or lose?”

“Yeah, we’re for the team no matter what. Together in triumph and defeat alike.”

“So, the one with the overalls that flipped me off—,”

“Layla, and I’m sure you deserved it,” she put in.

“I wouldn’t argue that. Anyway, I was wondering if you’d like to get out of here. Go have dinner.”

“I thought we settled this,” she said, her eyes too bright for mere exasperation.

“Does it feel like we have?” I challenged. She shook her head.

“There’s a place over in Pendleton that has the best Indian butter chicken you’ve ever tasted,” she offered.

“Well, if you’re trying to evangelize me into loving this town too much to shut the factory, you really should show me the sights. Including the best Indian restaurant around,” I said teasingly.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“I’ll drive. I haven’t had anything to drink but water,” I said.

“I had half a rum and cola and a ton of wings. I’m good,” she said.

“Good,” I said. “Still driving though.”

“It’s like you don’t trust me.”

“Nope, I’m afraid it’s all a ploy to drop me in the middle of nowhere and make me find my way back.”

“Damn, you read my mind.”

I drove us to the restaurant, and we squeezed in at a high table in the crowded room. We gave our orders to the waitress, and Maggie started ripping into the naan. Her mood seemed to have shifted a bit since her flirtatious comments at the bar. I wasn’t sure what had changed on the ride over.

“Are you carbo-loading for later activities?” I quipped, trying to lighten the mood.

She frowned. “I’m stress-eating. It stresses me out to look at you.”

“Because I’m hot?” I deadpanned.

“Exactly!” she said too loudly. “And because you’re a horrible human being. You’re a stuck-up city boy who thinks you’re better than us. You’d rather get more profits for your shitty corporation than protect the welfare of an entire community, a community that welcomed you despite who you are,” she said. She was ranting a little, waving her hands around. I tried not to laugh.

“Couple of points here,” I said. “One, it isn’t my corporation. If I owned it, somebody else would be here doing this crappy job. Two, it’s not what I’d rather do, It’s what I have an obligation to do. What I’d rather do is forget dinner and go straight to dessert. And by ‘dessert’ I mean teaching you a thing or ten with your legs over my shoulders. So don’t act like you know everything about me.”

“But you do think you’re better than us,” she said, pouting a bit.

“No. But I know my duty, and I take pride in doing the right thing.”

“Pride keeping you warm at night?” she joked.

“No. But I’m not sleeping that great,” I admitted. “I’m not cold, me and my pride. I’m blazing hot because I’m thinking about you. Because as soon as I lie down at night, on those pretty white sheets you put there, the first thing I do—do you want to hear this?” I said, having a sudden pang of maybe offending her.

“Yeah, yeah I want to hear it,” she said, nodding vigorously. Her eyes were suddenly dark, her pupils dilated.

“As soon as I lie down, all I can see is you. You behind the desk the first night I saw you, and you with that hair falling all over my hands when I kissed you, and dancing at the potluck. All of it rushes in on me, and I’m so hard in an instant that going to sleep is impossible. There’s no chance.”

“So what do you do?” she said a little breathlessly.

I left her in suspense while the food was delivered. The incredible, fragrant dish caught my attention, and I started eating what was undoubtedly the best butter chicken on earth. She kicked me under the table. “Then what do you do?” she said insistently.

“You realize that I haven’t been able to get you off my mind for a single minute since we met,” I said.

“Maybe that’s my plan. Distract you so you can’t do your job,” she snarked, chasing the last of the sauce around her plate with a piece of naan.

“Then you’re very good at it. Because I’m completely distracted by you,” I said.

“You are impossible,” she said, throwing her scrap of naan on the plate. “I can’t sit here and banter with you and not like it. I get so wound up,. This was the worst idea.”

“It was literally your idea,” I said.

“No, you were the one who said we should get out of there and go to dinner,” she grumbled, drinking some of her water.

“Fine, I’ll take the blame,” I said.

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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