No wonder I’d barely had any dates in the past six months, as Amanda so frequently reminded me. I would bet money that she’d never had this problem in her life. The woman projected appeal and confidence, and even when she was dressed in ultracasual clothes, her hair and makeup still made her look attractively put together. I’d seen Amanda take fashion risks of mad genius, selecting clothes that made me wince when I saw them at the mall but then drew admiring stares when she wore them in public. I, on the other hand, was just discovering I owned four navy skirts and two pairs of nearly identical low-heeled pumps.
Miriam, you trendsetting daredevil, you.
Cosmetics weren’t my forte, either. As one of the bridesmaids in my cousin Beth’s wedding last summer, I’d tried to use an eyelash curler for the first time and had almost put my eye out. All right, so I’m a tragic spaz when it comes to girlie tools of grooming, but I’m poetry in motion with an herb mincer. And I’d pit my potato-ricing skills against anyone at the CIA—the Culinary Institute of America, not the group with the spies.
The loud buzz of my nonmelodious doorbell left me with mixed emotions. While I regretted not having changed, at least now I could stop fretting in front of my closet, feeling like an idiot because I had zero idea what to wear.
I turned toward the front of the apartment, pulling out the alligator clip I’d had my hair tucked into and fluffing the liberated locks with my fingers. Perhaps it was for the best that I didn’t have time to check my handiwork in a mirror.
Dylan was looking yummier than anything I’d ever cooked, in a pair of gray slacks, a loose-weave mid-night-blue sweater and the same leather jacket he’d worn yesterday. A black camcorder bag was slung over one broad shoulder, and in his hand he held a spiral notebook along with—yipes—a copy of Six Course Seduction. I ushered him inside thinking that here was someone who had probably never felt like an idiot. He had the air of a man who always knew the right thing to say or right tie to wear or right wine to order with a meal. This last analogy reminded me of Trevor the Annoying, but I managed not to grit my teeth as I spoke.
“Hi, your timing’s perfect. I just got back from my parents,” I told him, omitting my flirtation with wardrobe-induced nervous breakdown.
Dylan set his bag on the sand-colored linoleum long enough to shrug out of his jacket. I breathed in the faint whiff of cologne, inhaling as deeply as if I were judging the aroma of a simmering stock.
“I hope you didn’t rush home on my account.” His words distracted me from olfactory nirvana.
“Just the opposite, you did me a favor. I love my family dearly, but…have you ever wanted to move far, far away from your relatives?”
He grinned, his green eyes crinkling at the corners in that unfair way that makes men look rugged and sexy, and women just plain old. “Mine live in London.”
“Ah.” I experienced a spark of kinship over our respective kin. “So you do know the feeling?”
“Intimately.” He leaned down to pick up his camcorder, then straightened, raising his eyebrows in question as he hoisted his jacket on a couple of fingers. Maybe he was used to women who had coatracks. And who wouldn’t blind themselves with eyelash curlers.
I gestured past the four-by-four foyer and into the living room that made up the front of my place. “You can just throw it on the back of the armchair, if you like. I always toss every—”
My words broke off in horrified silence as I glanced into my mostly tidy living room and realized that a bra lay forgotten and partially wedged between two cranberry-striped sofa pillows. I’d shrugged out of it last night while watching an old television movie with incredibly bad special effects.
I grabbed his arm, propelling him farther into the apartment, toward the kitchen. “You hungry? I’d be happy to whip us up something.”
“I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Or there’s pie,” I said, feeling unbelievably grateful to my mother. “Homemade, brought it back from my parents’.”
He eyed the container that I’d dropped on the kitchen counter while speeding through my apartment. “I could go for pie.”
Great. I’d dish him up some dessert and excuse myself just long enough for a lingerie recon mission.
As he sat on a bar stool on the other side of the kitchen counter, I pulled out a plate. “Want anything to drink with it? Coffee, maybe?”
“Thank you, no. Water will be fine.” He smiled. “I’m here to work for you, not the other way around. Unless you wanted some coffee…”
Hardly. I felt jittery enough without the full-octane caffeine.
I was en route with a cup of ice from the refrigerator to the filtered faucet on the sink when he announced, “I loved the book, by the way.” The cup in my hand made an abrupt detour toward the floor—thank God for plastic. Perhaps “jittery” had been an under-statement.
Dylan stood immediately, obviously ready to come around the counter and assist me.
“It’s all right,” I said, more to appease my tattered pride than to answer any unspoken questions he might have, such as whether or not I always startled this easily. “It wasn’t glass. No damage done.”
I bent to retrieve the three ice cubes I’d spilled, chunking them in the sink. On the bright side, they didn’t bounce off the water spout and boomerang back to hit me in the head. So I had that going for my one remaining shred of dignity.
As he sat down, Dylan observed, “I seem to throw you off. I take it this image consulting wasn’t your idea?”
I bit my lip, realizing how little had been my idea lately. What was up with that? The restaurant had been Trevor’s, as had the initial cookbook attempt. Breaking up had been his idea, the few dates I’d been on in the last few months had mostly been Amanda’s…Outside of the kitchen, where I was ingenious and in control, my last independent, rebellious idea had been to sex up my book.
Hm. Maybe that’s why I’d taken a holiday from free-thinking. God knows what I’d come up with next.
“No, it was my publisher’s,” I confirmed as I opened the utensil drawer and grabbed a fork. “But I certainly recognize the wisdom behind it. You don’t have to worry about my being a hostile client or anything.”
He grinned. “Hostile isn’t how I would describe you. Just a bit unstrung. If it makes you feel better, most people are nervous about being on television or radio. Which provides me great job security, so I quite appreciate it, actually.”
I smiled, thinking that I liked this man. Then again, his occupation was based largely on putting people at ease and teaching others to do the same, so I shouldn’t read much into our interactions. “Here.” I handed him the plate of pie and glass of water, managing not to do anything as Lucy Ricardo as dump his drink down his front.
“Sorry I don’t have any ice cream,” I said as he took the first bite. “It’s even better à la mode.”
He sighed. “No, it’s heaven already. You know how often a bachelor in New York City eats something home-cooked?”
“So you—” Don’t have a girlfriend? As if that was any of my business! “—live in New York? Joan mentioned something about Atlanta.”
“Right. Just moved. The weather’s far warmer than either England or New York. So far, I love it, but we’ll see how I fare during the summer. If I stay that long.”
I leaned my elbows on the counter. “Planning to leave already?”
He shrugged one shoulder as he polished off more pie. “Not planning, precisely, but I tend not to sign long leases. I didn’t have what you would call a…a settled childhood. I