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The one whose name Bitty wasn’t even sure of … Run, or something.

It had to be spam. Like the president of Nigeria asking her to fix a money problem of his in return for 3 million USD deposited directly into her bank account. Or an offer for Viagra or Cialis. Maybe a porn site.

Telling herself to get a grip, she was nonetheless shaking as she moved the little arrow over to the red flag and double-clicked the mouse.

When she saw who it was from, her breath stopped in her throat and the world spun.

“Ruhn” was the name of the sender.

EIGHTEEN

When Elise re-formed in the parking lot of the Brazilian steakhouse, Ignacio’s, in Lucas Square, she checked her hair and smoothed the skirt she was wearing. There wasn’t much of a breeze, thank God, so things were still where they needed to be on her head and she wasn’t Marilyn Monroe’ing the lower part of what she had on.

Which was handy because Troy was just getting out of his car and locking up.

“Hi,” she called out, stepping free of the shadows.

His smile was so immediate, she felt a tinge of guilt.

“Hey!” he said. “You found this place.”

“I had to look it up on the Internet. I don’t get out much.”

Troy met her more than halfway across the lot, even though it meant he had to double back to escort her to the entrance. “Well, considering how much you work, I can see how that would be true. And wow … you look … amazing.”

“Thanks.” Oh, God. “So do you.”

Troy had left his hair down, the curling lengths just touching the shoulders of his wool peacoat. His pants were cream corduroys and he had his Merrells on. The scarf he had artfully tied around his neck was red.

But he wasn’t Axe. And that should have been a good thing.

Holding the door open, he indicated the way in with a gallant hand. “After you.”

“Thank you.”

Inside, the scents were heavenly and thick, and her stomach rumbled in approval and impatience. She hadn’t eaten much since the night before. Too distracted.

Not with Troy.

Unfortunately.

The hostess was a beautiful young human with dark eyes and hair that was out of a Garnier Fructis ad, and after she took one look at Troy, she didn’t bother sparing a glance at Elise. “Do you have a reservation?”

“Two. For Troy? Somewhere by a window?”

“Right away.”

Taking two menus, the woman sashayed through the completely empty restaurant. Well, almost completely empty. There was an older human couple on the far side, a group of three way in the back … and one other couple.

“With it being almost Christmas,” the hostess said, “we’re having a light night.”

“Thank you,” Elise murmured as she sat down and accepted her menu. “I’m surprised you’re open.”

“I’m getting paid. That’s all I care about. Your server will be right with you.”

The hostess walked off, glancing over her shoulder to see if Troy was watching her go. He wasn’t. He was smiling at Elise.

“I’m really glad we’re finally doing this.” He drew a hand through his hair. “And I’m glad you and I talked about what … you know, if something comes of it … I, ah, I think your switching to a different T.A. position makes sense. I wasn’t going to be on your doctoral committee anyway because of my advising you, so that’s also taken care of.”

He had texted her late in the afternoon and brought up the whole professor/student thing, and Elise had agreed with him on every point—while knowing, the entire time they were going back and forth, that they were never going to be in a relationship.

There was way too much Axe in her head.

Not that she was going to end up with him, either.

“This is not to pressure you,” Troy rushed in, putting his palms up. “I’m not taking for granted this is going anywhere. I’m just glad I’ve got a shot.”

Elise smiled and opened up the heavy menu, because she wasn’t sure what she should say to that. “Oh, look at all these choices.”

Okay, that was basic, granted. But the reality she couldn’t escape was that she’d spent all day thinking about Axe, remembering the way he’d met her eyes, that little half smile he’d sported when she’d called him out, the sound of his voice.

The way his body had lounged in that chair in the library—

Stop it.

She’d already wasted an entire day’s sleep on the guy. She wasn’t going to disrespect Troy by ignoring him in favor of a male who wasn’t even with them. Especially because what she really needed to be doing was figuring out how to let the human down gently.

What a great first date. Crap.

And P.S., she was never, ever going to give another person a hard time about opening up and expressing themselves.

“What are you going to have?” she asked.

“Steak.” As she looked up, Troy laughed. “You?”

“I don’t know. Probably … steak.”

This time, they both chuckled, and it was amazing how easy it was. Sitting across from Troy, looking into his kind eyes and his handsome face, she wasn’t jumpy or insecure. Wasn’t spoiling for a fight. Wasn’t thinking things that belonged in an erotic novel.

Being around her bodyguard, on the other hand?

“Elise?” Troy prompted as their waiter came up to the table. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

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