How could a man of the twenty-first century think he could arrange a marriage for his daughter? Was he insane? Then again, it was her father she was talking about, and Raymond Fairchild was in a league all his own.
“Certifiable, that’s what he is. My father has completely lost it. Thinking he can marry me off like this is the freakin’ eighteenth century or something.” Lucy Fairchild stormed the sidewalk with her relentless pace, kicking at the rocks in her path.
She knew she was talking to herself, but didn’t care. Not that anyone could hear her with all the noisy construction going on.
She ignored the sounds of jackhammers and maneuvering cranes. Coupled with the daily mix of trolley cars and traffic forever permeating San Francisco’s financial district, the sounds were just more white noise in an ever-busy city. Besides, her mind still whirled from the argument she’d just had with her father. Raymond Fairchild may be the president of one of the city’s most prestigious law firms, but that didn’t give him the right to control her life.
Right. Like that had ever stopped him from trying to control and otherwise lead her around as if she were too stupid to make her own decisions. She’d always gone along with him before. One, because he was her father and she loved him, and two, sometimes it was easier to do as he asked so he’d quit hounding her. Typically his machinations were harmless.
But marriage to a man of his choice? That’s where she drew the line. The entire notion was positively medieval. She’d pick her own damn husband. Some day.
When she was ready.
“Careful, darlin’, you might trip and break one of those pretty legs.” She halted at the voice shouting at her, her ire rising by the second. Lifting her head, she spotted a group of men loitering near a construction trailer, smiling in her direction.
This she did not need today.
“You lost, honey? I can help you find your way.”
She should just walk past, ignore them. But their catcalling made her feel more like a piece of meat than her father’s ludicrous statement that he’d just found the perfect husband for her.
Ignoring the clumps of dirt scuffing her black suede pumps, she stomped over to the group of five men, leveling her best courtroom glare.
“Do you know how insulting it is to be spoken to that way?” One of the men, surely old enough to know better, grinned at her. “We’re just bein’ friendly.”
“Those are not compliments.” She shook her finger at his nose. His eyes widened and he backed up a step as she closed in on him. She heard the laughter of the other men, but ignored them. If necessary, she’d deal with them all, one at a time. “They’re demeaning, harassing, and I have half a mind to report you to your boss.”
“Report away. I’m right here.”
She turned at the sound of the deep, resonant voice behind her and watched him stroll toward her. Obviously, the boss. Darn fine looking one, too. Mid thirties, she’d guess, with dark hair that ruffled lightly in the late afternoon wind. His dusty jeans and work shirt couldn’t hide the muscular physique that was most likely due to hours working on a construction site.
“Call off your dogs,” Lucy said. For a moment, she’d been so mesmerized by the man heading toward her that she’d forgotten all about her irritation at the cavemen who worked for him. His smirk brought all her frustration back.
“They’re just playing with you, having a little fun.” He turned to the group still loitering and hooked a thumb at the gigantic steel structure across the street.
“Break’s over. Back to work.”
With a great amount of laughter, elbow jabbing and mumbling, all obviously at her expense, they turned and headed toward the building.
A red haze of fury blinded her. “Can’t you do something about your men? Every day I walk this way to get coffee, and every day they whistle and call out to me.” He shrugged. “They think you’re good looking. Is that a crime? Believe me, they’re harmless.”
What a Neanderthal attitude. Were all men this dense? “Not to me they aren’t.” He raised a dark brow and pulled off his sunglasses, giving her a knock-her-to-the-floor gander at his warm, whiskey-colored eyes. Eyes a woman could get lost in.
She’d bet they’d probably turn a molten amber when filled with passion.
Okay, where had that come from? She tamped down the thought and focused on what he was saying.
“—and if you weren’t so uptight about it, you’d just let it go.”
“Excuse me? Uptight?”
“Yeah. Uptight. You know, like those pointy-toed shoes that I’ll bet are pinching your feet right now. And that skinny skirt that’s probably cutting off your breath. Want me to spell it out for you?”
She followed his gaze to her designer shoes that were squeezing her toes, and tried not to agree that the mid-calf skirt was a little more than uncomfortable. The man was beyond irritating. Coupled with her father’s treatment of her, she’d just about had it.
“Look. I don’t have the time to stand here and argue with you. Just keep your animals on a leash in the future.”
With a swift turn of her heel on the gravel, she made to leave, but her foot slipped on the rocks and she went crashing into his arms.
Nothing like hitting a rock-hard chest to knock the breath out of a girl. At least she could focus on her breathing instead of the horrendous embarrassment flooding through her.
“You okay?” he asked, his minty breath ruffling the side of her hair.
“Yeah. I think so.” What a klutz. He should be laughing at her right now. All full of righteous indignation the moment before she almost fell on her butt.
He still held her, much too close. And she was way too aware of how good it felt, which irritated her more than the catcalls from his crew. Then she made the mistake of making eye contact and saw the amusement crinkling the corner of his eyes.
“Are you sure?”
Even his tone spoke of laughter. At her expense.
She wrenched her arms away. “I’m fine.”
He dropped his hands and jammed them into the pockets of his jeans. “You’re welcome. Next time I’ll let you fall on your ass.”
“You’re just like those heathens over there,” she shot back, then instantly felt a stab of guilt. He had kept her from falling. She could have at least thanked him. Mortal embarrassment obviously outweighed politeness.
His eyes hardened, darkening to a rich, coffee color. “Wait just a damn minute.
These guys might not be the refined upper crust that you associate with, but they’re decent, hardworking men. Just because you don’t have a sense of humor is no reason to look down your nose at them.”
Lucy straightened the jacket of her suit and lifted her chin. “I’ve never looked down my nose at them. I just think it would be more appropriate if they kept their comments to themselves.”
He crossed his arms and leaned against the light pole. “Why? Can’t take a compliment?”
She sniffed. “I can take compliments just fine, thank you, when they’re positive as opposed to degrading.”
“I heard what they said. Nothing degrading about it. You’re just a snob.” How dare he call her a snob? She was the least snobby person she knew, and she knew plenty of people who could easily be classified that way. His comment cut deep, because she’d always prided herself on trying to get to know people in all walks of life.
Unlike her father and grandfather, who turned up their noses at anyone not in their small social circle. She found that type of elitist attitude appalling.
And she wasn’t like them. Not at all.
“I am not a snob. I just don’t appreciate being ogled and harassed while walking down the street.”
“First off, you weren’t being harassed. Second, yeah, you were being ogled, and why would that bother you?” Amusement colored his eyes back to that dreamy whisky shade.
“Not used to the attention? Understandable, considering your attitude.” Why was she even having a conversation with this idiot? He was baiting her, she knew it, and still she stood her ground. If she had any sense at all she’d simply walk away.
But something about him got to her. “I get plenty of attention.” He snorted. “Yeah right. From those uppity suit types who wouldn’t know what to do with a woman if she fell right into the middle of their balance sheets.” Lucy resisted the urge to smile at that comment, knowing several men who fit that description. She’d even dated some of them. Boring as financial statements, too.
Instead, she decided to turn the tables. “And I suppose you know exactly what to do with a woman?”
Oh why couldn’t she learn to keep her mouth shut?
His full lips curled upward, transforming his tanned face into a work of art. A strong jaw sprinkled with a sexy dose of stubble lent him an outlaw look that made her pulse race faster. She felt the heat like a slap of lightning.
“Damn straight I know what to do with a woman. Would you like me to show you?”
She’d walked right into that one. Suddenly at a loss for words, her idiotic mind conjured up images of him doing just that. She shook her head, vehemently expressing her denial to both him and herself. “No, thanks.”
“Too bad.” He dug his well worn work boots into the dirt along the side of the road.
“You’ll never know what you missed.”
“Doubtfully anything,” she lied, unable to believe she was still there. But something about him compelled her to stay. Maybe it was the pure enjoyment of sparring with someone who wasn’t stuffy and boring. He had a generous wit and intelligence that belied his occupation. Plus he wasn’t half bad to look at.
“You’re not my type, anyway.” His eyes twinkled with amusement in the afternoon sun. He was enjoying this.
This was her own fault. She’d stayed. Now it was a game of one-upmanship. And she hated to lose. “And, what, exactly, is your type?”
“Someone who wants to have fun. You’re too straight-laced and tight a— Uh, uptight to enjoy anything but high tea or a rousing game of bridge.” She wrinkled her nose at the thought of having to endure either of those activities.
He knew so little about her. “I’ll have you know I am tons of fun.” Yeah right.
When was the last time she actually had a good time doing anything? She couldn’t remember.
“Prove it. Go out with me.”
Her heart thudded against her ribs before skidding to a complete halt. It took her a second to find her voice before she could say, “Excuse me?”
“Go out with me. Take a walk on the wild side. Or are you too afraid you’ll get your perfectly manicured hands a little dirty?”
She looked down at hands that fit his exact description, then back up at him. For a brief second she had actually felt guilty because of who she was. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
Great. She’d dug herself one incredible hole now. It would be easy to claim she’d been joking and merely walk away. She didn’t even know the man’s name, nor anything about him. Except the fact he was fine looking and had sent her hormones speeding in a direction they’d never been before.
He nodded, wiping his hands on his jeans. “Thought so. See you around.” He pivoted toward the nearby trailer.
Oh God, had she just said that? He stopped and turned his head. Lord was he sexy, giving her that half-lidded gaze over his shoulder. And what incredible shoulders they were. Now that she’d opened her mouth, what was she going to do?
No, Lucy. Walk away. Do not do this. But that little niggling reminder of her father’s excessive control over her life pushed her into doing something that was completely out of character for her.
“I’ll go out with you.” She waited for the feeling of dread to settle over her, but instead it felt right.
He tilted his head and smiled, then walked back to her and held out his hand.
“Well, aren’t you brave? Jake. Jake Dalton.”
Jake. Now he had a name. She slid her hand in his and immediately felt the searing contact. His rough, callused palms scraped against her sensitive skin, sending shivers up her arm. “Lucy Fairchild.”
“Okay, Lucy Fairchild, we’ll have a date and see how it goes,” he said with a charming grin.
Obviously he wasn’t taking this any more seriously than she was. And besides, what was the harm? It wasn’t like they were a love match or anything. It was a just a date.
Really, more like a challenge. A dare. Like playing chicken—see who flinched first.
She pulled out her business card, scribbled on the back and handed it to him.
He took the card and read both sides, his eyebrows lifting when he looked up.
“Esquire, huh? You’re a lawyer?”
She nodded, eager to get away from this man who made her think too much about what was lacking in her life. What she’d never experienced, but wanted to. “Yes. I really have to go. My home address is on the back of the card.”
“Fine. I’ll pick you up at eight.”
She started to walk away, but his words stopped her. She pivoted.
“Eight?” She swallowed. “Tonight?”
“Yeah. Tonight. You busy?”
“Um, well, that is…” Good heavens. Tonight? She hadn’t really thought about doing it so soon. Or really, at all.
“Yes or no?”
He was waiting for her to back down. Chicken. Flinch. No way. “Eight works for me.”
“Fine,” he nodded. “See you then. Dress casual. You do know what that is, don’t you? No evening gowns? Leave the tiara at home?”