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“Hey, one dick move doesn’t make me a dick,” I protest. “And look, you have to admit, self-interest was your sole motivation tonight, too. You wanted to talk to Mulder about the internship and prove that you were fit for the job. Well, I wanted to prove that I was fit for my job.”

“Self-interest was never your motivation, though. You didn’t even know Theo Nilsson was going to be there tonight.”

“Yeah, it’s called adapting. Nils was there, and I decided to take advantage. You would’ve done the same thing.”

“You were supposed to be my hype man, Connelly. And instead you hyped yourself up the whole time. This was such a waste of time,” she grumbles. “I should’ve asked somebody else to come with me. I should’ve brought McCarthy.”

“First off, you wouldn’t have even been invited if you hadn’t name-dropped me,” I point out. “So there’d have been no need to ask anybody. And secondly, I’m pretty sure the McCarthy train has left the station. Last I heard, he hooked up with some girl after the semifinals and has seen her every day since.”

Brenna glowers at me.

“What?” I say with a shrug. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

“You think I care that McCarthy is seeing someone else?” She gives me an incredulous look. “I was over that guy the second he let you decide what he could do with his dick. What I care about is the fact that you didn’t have my back in there.”

“Only at the end,” I argue. “The rest of the time, I was totally hyping you up. You know I was.”

She doesn’t answer. And then our car arrives and she stomps toward it. Originally I set the drop-off location as the train station for Brenna, but now I lean into the front seat and tap the driver’s shoulder. “Hey, we’re actually going somewhere else first. Could you drop us at O’Malley’s on Boylston?”

Brenna swivels her head. “No. We’re going to the station.”

The man’s gaze shifts back and forth between us.

“Come on,” I murmur to Brenna. “You know you need a drink.” I don’t think she consumed a single drop of alcohol tonight. The other women were all sipping on rosé. “A real drink,” I coax.

“Fine. O’Malley’s,” she mutters to the driver.

A short while later, we’re sitting across from each other in a cramped booth. The pub is stuffed to the gills with the Friday-night crowd, but we lucked out and showed up at the same time another couple was leaving. Neither of us says a word as we wait for the waitress to come and take our order. It’s so loud in here that the curly-haired redhead has to shout just to say hello.

Brenna examines the menu, then lifts her head. “What did you guys drink in Mulder’s study?” she says tersely.

“Cognac,” I admit.

“Remy Martin?”

“Hennessy, neat.”

“We’ll take two of those, please,” she tells the waitress.

“Coming right up,” the redhead chirps.

Once the server’s gone, I gaze at Brenna with genuine regret. “I’m sorry I went to the man-cave without you. I really do feel bad for that.”

“Sure,” she says.

Her tone is lacking in sarcasm, so I think she’s being sincere. Only I’m not clear on what she’s being sincere about. “Is that you accepting the apology or just acknowledging it?” I demand.

“It’s whatever you want it to be, Jakey.”

Thank God. The Jensen I’ve come to appreciate is back in full form, complete with the tiny smirk curving her lips. I missed seeing it tonight.

“Mulder was a douchebag,” I say frankly. “Do you honestly want to work for someone like him?”

“I guarantee you that every network in the world employs a douchebag or two. And I wouldn’t be working directly under him. I’d report to one of the lower-level producers and probably wouldn’t have much contact with Mulder. I hope.” Her expression becomes bittersweet. “They gave me a tour of the station on Monday and I got to see the Hockey Corner set. It was so cool.”

“Kip and Trevor? I love those guys! Imagine how sick it would be to guest on their show?”

“Hey, a guest spot might very well be in your future, Mr. Hockey Star.”

“What about you? Would you want to be on camera or behind it?” I wink. “I recommend on camera. Think of all the boners you’d inspire in the male demographic.”

“Gee, the idea of all those hockey fans jerking off to me is so thrilling! Every little girl’s dream.”

I’m gratified to see that she’s starting to relax. Her shoulders are finally loosening after being stiffer than boards all evening. When the waitress returns with two tumblers of cognac, I raise my glass to Brenna’s.

“Cheers,” I prompt.

After a beat of hesitation, she taps my glass with hers. “Cheers,” she echoes.

We drink, eyeing each other over the rims of our respective glasses.

“I’m curious,” I say.

She takes another sip. “About what?”

“Is your father the reason you want this internship so bad? Did he push you into it? Or maybe you’re hoping to impress him?”

Brenna rolls her eyes. “No, no, and no. Obviously my dad is the reason I started watching hockey, but he couldn’t make me love it. The game itself was responsible for that.”

“What was it like growing up with him? He seems like such a hard-ass.”

“He is.”

She doesn’t elaborate, which triggers a rush of wariness.

When she notices my face, she says, “Relax, my childhood was normal. Dad wasn’t abusive or anything like that. We’re just not as close as we used to be. And yeah, he can be a total ass sometimes. His way or the highway, you know? I guess it’s a coach thing.”

I think of my own coach and the expression he gets any time someone mentions Chad Jensen. “Coach Pedersen hates your dad.”

“The feeling is mutual. They have history, though.”

“History,” I echo, shaking my head at the concept. “History is such bullshit. I don’t get why people can’t let things go. Why can’t they leave the past in the past? It’s over—what do we gain from stewing about it?”

“That’s true.” A pensive glimmer crosses her gaze. “I try not to think about the past, ever.”

“Didn’t you just tell me that your past wasn’t dark and twisted?”

“No, I told you my childhood was normal. I never said there was nothing dark and twisted in my past.”

Because that’s not intriguing. “Let me guess. You’re not going to tell me about it.”

“Good guess.”

We sip our cognac. I watch her lips, the way the bottom one clings to the rim of her glass before she sets it down. Her tongue peeks out to lick at the drop of moisture left on that lip. I’m obsessed with her lips.

“What are you thinking about right now?” Brenna asks.

“You don’t want to know.”

“Try me.”

“I’m thinking about your lips.”

The lips in question curve slowly. “What about them?”

“I’m wondering what they taste like.”

“Probably like cognac.”

I put down my glass and slide out of the booth.

“Where are you—” She halts when I squeeze my big frame in beside her. “I’m not in the mood, Connelly.”

“Not in the mood for what?” We’re sitting so close that our thighs are touching. I stretch one arm along the top of the booth, rest my other forearm on the table, and angle my body towards hers. “Come on, don’t you want to find out?”

“Find out what?”

“If there’s sparks.”

“Sparks are overrated.”

“I disagree.” I lick my bottom lip, and her gaze tracks the movement of my tongue.

Brenna sighs. “You’re very sexy.”

I grin. “I know.”

“You’re very cocky.”

“I know that, too.”

She sweeps her hair over one shoulder. I don’t know if she’s intentionally trying to draw my attention to her neck, but that’s where it goes. I want to bury my face against that long, sleek column and breathe her in.

“You’re very sexy.” I echo her previous remark, my voice coming out hoarse.

She smirks. “I know.”

“And cocky.”

“That, too.”

“Guess that makes us two peas in a pod?”

“Maybe. And that’s probably why we’d never work.”

I tip my head. “Work…what do you mean, work?”

“As a couple.”

My answering laugh is low, seductive. “Who says I want us to be a couple? Right now I want to see if there’s chemistry.”

Brenna leans in closer, her warm breath tickling my jaw. She places one hand on my knee and strokes me with her thumb before gliding her hand very slowly toward my crotch. There’s no possible way she can miss the bulge in my pants. She doesn’t cup or squeeze it. But one fingernail scrapes along the edge of the hard ridge, and I groan out loud.

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