“I checked my account before close of business and the money was there,” Cass told her partner over the phone. “That is it. Deal’s done.”
She rolled her eyes as her partner fretted some more. “You’re always like this, Matt. Will you relax? We both have twenty thousand reasons to take a vacation.” She chuckled. “Now you can get Francis that ring he’s always wanted, take him to Vegas, and make an honest man out of him.”
The waitress placed a drink in front of her and Cass smiled back in appreciation.
“I check out at noon tomorrow… Yes, I love me too. Remember this the next time you doubt me,” she said with a smile. “See you on Monday.”
She put down her phone and leaned back into the booth, resisting the urge to stretch her feet out and rest them on the bench seat opposite. She had volunteered to supervise the contract signing and the closing process for two reasons: it brought her back to Dallas—her old stomping ground—and she would treat herself to executive accommodations all the way. Usually, she travelled on a modest budget, but the payoff on this deal would more than cover the extravagance.
When she had arrived last Monday, it wasn’t a done deal—but she had gambled and opted to stay in one of the nicest hotels in Dallas. She was that confident the deal would stick.
Her gamble paid off.
The hotel restaurant was starting to get busy for seven o’clock on a Friday night. The place had the look of a hipster hotspot. The decor was what she called Atomic Age Contemporary. The furnishings had the sleek look of mid-century modern, but the color scheme was quite tame and muted with only the occasional splash of bright color. For example, the booth she sat in was a huge, canary yellow arrangement in a sea of teal and taupe.
At any other time she might have felt guilty about having such a large booth to herself when she could see others waiting. Frankly, she was amazed to have an appetite at all. But after having to deal with Richard “Headbanger” Harvey all week and fend off his less-than-subtle advances without offending him, she allowed herself to be selfish.
She didn’t mind using her sex appeal to seal the deal, but her partner Matt said, more than once, how it was her fathomless, dark gaze that cut through the bullshit of male posturing.
“It’s almost predatory,” Matt had said. “They think they’re dealing with some basic female and then discover that you got ’em by their short and curlies.”
Cass had laughed. She knew she could be intimidating, but she never heard anyone describe it so eloquently before.
Men these days made her tired. They either had too much nerve or not enough. Her relationships rarely lasted more than six months before it became wearisome, and after her final meeting with Headbanger that afternoon, Cass was tired.
But she still wanted to celebrate. She’d already seen her friends earlier in the week. They were all married now and had small kids, so they wouldn’t be free to hang out. It was probably for the best. Cass wanted to celebrate, but not party. The only thing she didn’t want to do was spend her last night in Dallas chilling in her hotel room.
There were plenty of things she could do alone: go to the movies, go bar hopping…or go to the adult theatre and see if any of her old playmates still haunted the place.
She started her celebration by ordering the flank steak with new potatoes. She didn’t want anything too heavy sitting on her stomach in case she got up to something later. When it arrived, the steak was perfectly tender and rare, exactly how she liked her meat.
Finishing her meal, she contemplated desert and took a sip of her Lemon Drop. The gin soothed her throat. An uproar of laughter from a group of young men sitting just inside the adjoining bar made her wince. She had noticed them when they came in an hour ago. It was hard not to: a dozen tall, good-looking twenty-somethings gearing up to paint Dallas red.
Cass smirked. From what she could see, most of them had that buttoned-down, loafer-and-khaki look of frat brats from the private university down the road. These guys will have all come from money; not bluebloods, but Republican Reds, the descendants of those who would have frothed at the mouth and proclaim, “Better dead than Red,” and yet, today…
“Democrat Crips and Republican Bloods,” she said. It made her laugh because she thought most politicians were thugs anyway.
Her phone vibrated on the table and she looked at the screen. It was a text from Matt.
“Geez, Matt, what the hell?” She picked up the phone and began typing her reply.
“Excuse me, Miss?”
She looked up and gasped. Standing next to her booth was a young man wearing a white button-down shirt, tight black jeans, and black cowboy boots. If she didn’t know better, she would have mistaken him for a server. His big, brown eyes looked back from underneath the dark bangs of his mop-top haircut like that of The Beatles.
She regarded him as “young” not because she considered herself to be old, but because he looked to be in his early twenties—a decade she could now see in her rear-view mirror, if only recently—that and the fact that he had been with those frat brats cloistered at the bar. Her look turned into a scowl and he continued.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way,” he said, “but I need to talk to you.”
Now she looked suspicious. “Usually when someone says that, it’s followed by something rude.”
“I assure you, ma’am, the last thing I’d ever want to be is rude to you.”
She nodded slowly. “OK…what is it you have to tell me?”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m here with my friends.” He threw a look over his shoulder towards the group of frat brats.
“Oh, I’ve noticed alright.” She frowned and didn’t care when he caught her doing it. “Fraternity boys leave me cold.”
“Well, I’d like to rectify that if I can,” he said. He put his hand over his heart and gave a slight bow that, were it anybody else, would look patronizing, but when he did it, the gesture seemed sincere. “Like I said: don’t take this the wrong way, but I think the best thing for me to do in this situation is to be honest.”
Cass felt the hair rise on the back of her neck. Just what the hell did this kid have to say to her? Whatever it was, he’d better do it fast. Her inner alarm system was starting to wake up. He must have picked up on her agitation because he leaned forward and lowered his voice.
“The guys dared me to go out into the restaurant and pick a woman to start talking to.” Her blank stare made him continue quickly. “I hate to intrude, but may I sit down?” He made a move to slide into the booth opposite her.
Cass had half a mind to cuss him out and embarrass the shit out of him in front of his friends, even if it made her look like a fool too, but at that moment his expression was pleading, and those big, brown eyes so full of apprehension, it made him look both endearing and sexy. Not an easy task, considering her jaded opinion of men.
After letting him hang there, propped against the seat, half standing, she finally nodded. “I would hate for you to lose face. What’s your name?”
“Adam Pierce.” Sliding into the booth, he held out his hand and she shook it.
“Cass Malloy. Where are you from?”
“Really? What brings you all the way to Big D to go to school rather than closer to home?”
“The full scholarship, for a start. That and how I’d never been to Dallas apart from driving through it.”
“Scholarship, eh? Football?” He didn’t have what she’d call the typical physique of a football player. He was maybe six feet tall, if that, with an average build. Perhaps he was a kicker. But when Adam pressed his lips into a grim line, Cass figured her assumption was one everyone made—and it was wrong.
She nodded, impressed. “Aren’t you a bit old to be playing Truth or Dare? Or is this what passes for entertainment for you frat guys these days? Cruising the bars and restaurants and scoring for points?”
She didn’t mean to sound like an interrogation, but couldn’t help it. Although polite, he was bold. Bolder than most men she’d encountered lately—“Headbanger” Harvey notwithstanding. Harvey wasn’t bold—he was a nuisance and lacked the charm and composure young Mr. Adam Pierce exhibited.
“Well, for starters, I’m not in the fraternity—my roommates are. Several of us live in The Village. Besides…I would have approached you anyway.”
His admission caught her off guard and it made her study him closely. Small-town boy gets a full academic scholarship to a ritzy private institution…no wonder he exhibited a quiet assuredness. This young man had it going on and he knew it; he didn’t have to boast about it.
She wasn’t going to mention how Adam didn’t “sound Southern,” because she didn’t either. She lost count of the number of times people were surprised to find themselves talking to a black woman who didn’t sound “Southern” or “black.” His voice didn’t carry a nasal Texas twang but had a smooth articulateness that people in general didn’t seem to have anymore. If he wasn’t a math major, Cass would have guessed him to be in broadcasting.
His fresh face enticed her. If there was anything to suggest he was an adult and not just a kid masquerading as one, it would be his eyes. They were big and brown but had a hint of tiredness from long hours of reading and studying resulting in slight darkness and puffiness under his eyes. But this detail, something women like her spent lots of money trying to camouflage, on him added a depth and sultriness to his smoky gaze.
His lips were inviting too. His lower lip had a fullness making it jut out ever so slightly from the upper lip, which mimicked the shape of a recurve bow, thin but shapely and expressive.
She knew she was staring but didn’t care, and if he did, he didn’t let on.
“Plus, you’re doing me a favor,” he said.
“You’re saving me from having to spend the night with a bunch of fraternity brothers. I can handle two or three at a time—but any more than that? Pass.” He drummed his fingers on the table and leveled a gaze on her. “Now it’s my turn to ask questions. What brings you here?”
“Really? What kind?”
“Real estate. My partner and I just closed on a deal.”
“Oh.” And for the first time since their meeting, he looked uncertain. “Do you mean ‘partner’ as in business partner or…” He let the rest trail off.
Cass’s mouth twisted up into a wry smile. “Business partner.”
“Where are you from?”
She took a sip of her drink. “Originally, I’m from DeSoto. But me and the family moved to San Antonio years ago. I do manage to come to Dallas quite often, though.” She looked him in the eye, giving him that “fathomless” gaze Matt said she had. “So, Adam Pierce…are you picking me up?”
Adam could have been playing poker, his face was so calm. It wasn’t until he nodded that he gave his intentions away.
“Out of all of the women in the restaurant, why me?”
“Because I’ve been watching you.”
She froze. She didn’t know whether to be flattered or unnerved. Yeah, she did. She tried to suppress a smile.
“Apart from being the sexiest, you are definitely the most intriguing woman here.”
Cass blinked. She didn’t consider herself a cougar because younger men never registered on her radar. Then again, she never paid them any attention. But this young man had honed in on her like a torpedo, and he would definitely be the youngest man she’d ever hooked up with—should it go that far. She swirled her drink in her glass and willed herself to slow down. Looking at her drink, she realized something.
“You need to eat. You and your pals have been in that bar for a while, but I doubt you’ve had anything substantial.”
Before he could say otherwise, Cass got the attention of a waitress.
“I’d like another Lemon Drop and an apple cobbler. My friend would like dinner and a drink, please.”
With a flourish and a beaming smile, the waitress gave Adam a menu.
“What do you recommend?” He opened the menu and began to scan it.
“Well…” Cass levelled her gaze on him. “I wouldn’t get the chicken.”
He looked up from under his hair and met her gaze.
“Nor…I should think…the lamb,” he said.