Dark garnet liquid reverberated in the wineglass as I circled my finger around the rim. With every swirl, the motion of the wine increased. The effect was almost hypnotic.
The flicker of fingers snapping in my face drew me from my entranced state.
“Elizabeth, are you even listening to me?”
Truthfully, I’d tuned out the conversation a while back, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. There was only so much a girl could listen to when it came to what it took to make ugly people beautiful.
For the most part, this date had been a complete and total failure. At least he had good taste in restaurants, however, with the location being inside one of the most elegant hotels in Dallas, I was sure he had more than dinner on his mind. He could think again.
“Of course I am,” I schmoozed, gracing him with my most polished smile.
Dr. Jack Gamble had met all my criteria on his dating profile. First and foremost, I needed a professional man. Having been out of the dating game for far too many years, gainful employment was pretty much my main criteria. I didn’t have time to babysit a man who didn’t have a job and I certainly wasn’t going to become someone’s sugar mama. Work took up a lot of my time and I would never apologize for loving my job. If a man couldn’t understand that then he wasn’t the one for me.
My second criteria – he had to be good looking, and Jack fit the bill there. He was handsome with his ocean green eyes, wavy black hair, and perfect smile. While the black suit and red button-down shirt hid his body, it was easy to see he spent many hours at the gym ensuring he stayed fit.
And my third criteria, which was probably the most important of all, was he had to be a Democrat. There was no way in hell I’d be caught out on a date with a Republican. I’d never hear the end of it. I worked too long and too hard to make a name for myself as the political strategist of the Democratic Party. I might’ve enjoyed the occasional tryst with a Republican, but dating one, nope. Not gonna do it.
“Oh, really?” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. The luxurious white linen table cloth bunched beneath the Italian silk of his well-tailored jacket. His dark brow lifted and his lip curled into a half grin.
“Yeah, really.” I batted my eyelashes and widened my grin. Another tactic I’d learned while working with politicians. Lie all you want, but do it with a smile on your face.
Taking my wineglass by the bowl, I swirled the alcohol twice and took a sip, savoring the rustic flavor on my tongue. Up to this point there had been food sitting in front of me, which allowed me to keep busy. Now, the only place to direct my focus was on Jack and my wine.
This wasn’t the first date I’d been on since my daughter, Jordyn, persuaded me to get out there again, but this might very well be my last for a while. Men my age were full of themselves. They wanted a little thing, more like my daughter’s age, that they could dangle on their arm as a trophy, not a successful woman who spent her life raising a child and making a career for herself.
Yep. It’s certain. Perpetual bachelorette life for me.
And why couldn’t I remain alone? What was wrong with it? I was happy. I had a full life. Just because I didn’t have a man didn’t mean I was incomplete. No. Dr. Jack Gamble had officially made me realize that finding Mr. Right wasn’t in the cards for me. Mr. Good for Right Now was all I needed. At least with him, I could toss him back when I was done. No harm, no foul.
Jack stroked the stem of his wineglass between his thumb and index finger. It took all the self-control I had not to roll my eyes at his unconscious sexual suggestion. He leaned back in his seat, continuing to tease the stem of the glass. As if to challenge me, he lifted an eyebrow and rolled his tongue along his bottom lip. “Okay. What did I just say then?”
Dammit! He had to ask that.
I had no clue what he’d said. For most of the date I’d been off in La-La land. He talked so much that I really didn’t need to worry about doing anything more than nod and ask the occasional appropriate question. This man was dull and entirely full of himself. He even had the audacity to mention his last girlfriend was only thirty. Who gives a fuck? I sure didn’t. It was right about then when I completely tuned him out.
I positioned myself so that my cleavage would draw in his attention. Just because the guy wasn’t getting any, didn’t mean I couldn’t use the gifts the good Lord gave me. I might be forty-five, but I still had a great rack. Pursing my lips, I peered over the rim of my wineglass as I took a sip. “You were talking about a patient,” I guessed.
He didn’t waver. His eyes flickered down to my breasts, but only for a moment. Those blue-green eyes remained locked on mine as a smirk curled the corners of his mouth. “Which one?”
I gulped down the last of my wine without so much as enjoying it. My gaze dropped to the black screen of my cell phone. If only it could give me the correct answer. “The one who had a facelift.” It was a viable answer, and I had a fifty/fifty chance of being right.
“Wrong,” he snapped. “I was talking about the penial extension I performed last week. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said all night, have you?”
Every inch of my skin crawled at him admitting to discussing such a terrible topic. In my line of work, it was customary for me to go to places no one else wanted to go. Dark, dirty, sweaty, smelly, seedy, or forbidden. I’d seen it all and did it all in the name of a win, but for him to discuss this, well, that was too much for even me.
My fingers drummed against the screen of my cell phone. The one night I wished it would ring, it was silent.
“Okay. You caught me.” I released a sigh. “I’m sorry. I just have a lot on my mind.”
Jack leaned forward and took my hand in his. “I can tell by the way you stare at that phone; you’re anticipating it to ring. Trust me. I know the feeling. My life is a constant on call fiasco.”
On call? Who was this guy kidding? He’s a plastic surgeon not a heart surgeon. Good grief!
His thumb rubbed along the outer shell of my index finger. “I turned mine off to be with you. So, how about you put it away for the night?” His thumb continued to rub along my fingers. “We can get a room and I can help you relax a little.”
I slipped my hand from his, resting it in my lap, creating distance. “It’s a sweet offer, Jack, but we’ve only just met.”
“But I feel as if I’ve known you all my life.”
Face meet palm. Of all the pick-up lines he could choose from, he went with that one?
I scratched the back of my neck looking for the waiter. It was time for me to make my exit and fast. “That’s sweet, but I think we need to get to know one another a little better first. Besides, I told you when I agreed to this date that I’m leaving town in the morning. I have to get back to DC for work.”
Jack ran his fingers through his perfectly coiffed hair. “I know what you said, which is why I want to spend the night with you,” he stated in a slight huff. “And quite honestly, you’re making me feel like a sleaze here. I only want to help you relax. You seem so tense.”
“Thanks, but really, I’m fine.”
“Okay. Fine. I understand and I’d never take advantage of a lady.”
I nodded, my eyes searching the room for the waiter.
Jack reached into the pocket of his jacket, retrieving his wallet. He pulled out a little black card and handed it to me. “How about you stop by my office tomorrow before you leave for some Botox.”
My smile dropped and my brow furrowed. “I beg your pardon?”
“Many of my patients tell me it’s very relaxing, and it’ll take about ten years off your face. It’s only an hour of your time and you’ll feel like a million bucks afterward.”
This asshole was serious!
My perfected persona dropped. It was a rare person who could cause me to break my polished demeanor, but somehow, Jack Gamble had managed it.
“Listen here, buddy, I don’t know who you think you are…”
Just as I was about to tell this prick what I really thought of his offer, my cell phone started playing the Star-Spangled Banner and flashing the name Guy Harper across the screen.
Saved by the bell, dickwad!
“Hold that thought.” I paused and took in a deep breath. “I need to take this.”
Without giving Jack a chance to respond, I grabbed the phone from the table, slid my finger across the screen, and answered, “McNeal.”
“My, my. So professional,” came Harper’s jovial tone.
“Oh, right. I forgot. Tonight’s date night! I take it’s not going very well.” Harper’s chuckle only added to my bad mood. He was taking too much pleasure in my torture.
“Wow! This guy must really be a doozy.” Harper chuckled low.
I glanced up at my date. A look of frustration brightened his tanned skin. Served him right after insulting me like he did.
“You don’t know the half of it…”
“Well, then, ditch him, Bet, and get over here. We have business to discuss.”
Harper and I had known each other since high school. He was my ex-husband’s best man and Jordyn’s godfather. It was safe to say, he was pretty much family. I trusted Harper with just about everything, which was saying a lot. Trust was a high commodity in politics, and was never given freely. While I worked my way through college, Harper coasted through life on his family’s dime. He came from a long line of old money, but no one would suspect it if they’d seen him on the street. When I entered the realm of politics, he joined me by donating to campaigns for many of my most promising candidates. He always said his donations weren’t wagers on the candidates, but on me, because I was the safe bet. Hence, the nickname. Over the years, he’d developed a good eye for finding the right person for the job, so when he said we needed to talk business, I knew exactly what he meant.
I didn’t have to look up this time to know I was being stared down by the man across the table. Frankly, I didn’t care. Harper had given me the out I needed. “I’ll be there in forty minutes or so.”
I ended the call and slipped my phone into my clutch.
“So that’s it? I try to help you by offering my services and you’re going to give me the brush off?” Jack sneered.
My eyes jolted up to meet his death stare. I stood up and leaned over the table, coming nose to nose with him. “My dear, Jack, your services are not necessary.”
“I beg to differ. Not only do you need some work on those crow’s feet, but I can help you get rid of those extra ten pounds you can’t seem to run off in the gym.” His mouth bowed and his thick brows lifted as if he’d actually one-upped me.
I took in a deep, cleansing breath and plastered a smile on my face. “I’ll have you know I look damn good for my age. Now, if you’re interested in spending your time with a twenty-year-old blonde bimbo, go find one, but don’t you dare try to Dr. Frankenstein a woman to meet your stereotypical idea of perfection.”
“At least a twenty-year-old woman would know how to be engaging on a date. She’d listen to me.”
“Jack, if you’d had anything interesting to say, I might’ve listened to you.” I let out a half-hearted laugh. “But from what I did hear, I can tell you this. You and I are on the same side of the coin. We both tell people how to look, but the difference between us is I tell them how to act. So, the next time you try to tell a woman how she should look or what standard she should try to achieve, think of me and what I do. Because no matter how pretty you make her, she’ll never be what I turn my clients into. You see, Jack, I create power.” I moved in a little closer to him. “I create legends…” I paused for dramatic effect, “I create gods!”
I reached into my purse, pulled out a one-hundred-dollar bill from my wallet and dropped it on the table. “Don’t say I never paid for your services.” I dusted my hand over his shoulder, pretending to remove lint from his jacket. “It was nice meeting you, Jack.”
With a flick of my blonde locks, I grabbed my belongings and started to walk away. “Oh, and Jack,” I called out without so much as a glance back to see the baffled expression on his smug face, “the next time you want to implant something, how about you implant some brains in that head of yours, because you’re thinking with the wrong one, buddy.”
Throes of laughter reverberated behind me as I slipped into my frock coat and exited the building with my pride intact.