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That Which Does Not Kill Us
The dozen blood red roses in the center of the table mocked her, a tangible reminder of the date.
She fucking hated Valentine's Day and all its pointless artifice. Why the hell had she agreed to this blind date? Honestly, she didn't have enough trouble in her life without adding a man into the mix? Two teenage girls…a demanding job…and an addiction she was currently only just controlling. Life was unbearable enough already.
But her sister had been insistent. Evidently, "Mr. Right" was a much lauded author of crime novels. Tall, dark and devastating had been her younger sibling's description. According to her, he came armed with both charm and intellect, two of her preset requirements in matchmaking. And per Alison's unflinching assessment, he was drop dead gorgeous. She and her Wall Street husband had met him at some book signing in uptown Manhattan. Apparently the guy was from the DC area.
Plucking one of the candy coated hearts from the glass dish decorating the table, she stared at it with disdain before popping it between her lips. A girl had to eat, after all. And this jackass was already fifteen minutes late. Five more, and she could go without any familial repercussions.
Her nose wrinkled as the background music changed to yet another sappy love song. Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Really? Now she was being forced to listen to Elton John singing about opening your heart to love. "Somebody just shoot me?" she muttered as she clenched her fist in her lap.
"Oh, that I could," a familiar voice drawled behind her.
No! This couldn't be happening to her. Not him.
Mr. Right had suddenly become Mr. Oh So Wrong.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Erin Strauss ground out as she stared in shock at mirage that was pretending to be David Rossi. Perhaps this was an after-effect of detox that had never been seen before. She must be sure to share this in her next AA meeting and see if others had experienced such frightful phenomena.
"Well, hello to you, too, Erin," David Rossi said with a widening smile as he cocked his head. Raking his eyes up and down her, he added with a grin, "So you're the woman that was described to be beautiful in a regal sort of way, but not afraid to be a little rough around the edges, huh?"
Oh, God. She pressed a hand to her forehead as she muttered, half to herself, "If you're my blind date, then I need to find the nearest AA meeting before I drown one of us in a bottle of scotch."
"Listen, babe, if you're my date, you might want to order up two bottles just to be safe," Dave shot back. Leaning against the doorframe, he muttered, "I obviously should have asked James a few more questions before I agreed to date his sister-in-law. Like if he realized he was related to Attila the Hunette."
"I think we've both been cheated, Rossi," Erin snorted, her fists clenching at her side in a rather un-lady-like manner. "My sister clearly needs to have her eyesight checked. You're not exactly the Prince Charming playboy I was promised for this evening."
Dave smirked. "Yeah, well, you're exactly what I was told to expect either."
"And what exactly might that have been?"
"Think Grace Kelly meets Adolf Hitler," Rossi replied snidely, rolling his eyes as he waved a negligent hand in the air. The truth was, however, that Erin Strauss held herself with an elegance that belied her Jersey girl origins. A great strategist always knew a worthy opponent inside out and he knew almost everything there was to know about the she-devil before him.
He hadn't known she was in trouble…not until it was too late.
"I never did like that jackass my sister married," Erin muttered, her cheeks flushing slightly as she balled the napkin in her lap and threw it on the empty plate in front of her. "This is an hour of my life I'll never get back," she grumbled, pushing her chair back as she began to rise.
Stepping forward quickly and capturing her wrist, Dave stilled her movement. "Sit down, Erin. It's Valentine's Day. Neither of us should be forced to eat alone."
Cocking one eyebrow, Erin leveled him a look that could have melted steel. "I've eaten most of my meals alone, Agent Rossi. It's no hardship for me. Release my arm," she ordered.
"Sit down," Rossi countered easily, completely unperturbed. "Or would you rather make a scene? Won't bother me," he added as he shrugged. "After three wives, I'm fairly adept at them," he warned.
Erin's eyes darted around the packed restaurant. Filled almost to capacity, she realized that there simply wasn't any way to make a tactful exit. Not if the arrogant ass she'd been unfortunately paired with this evening decided to make good on his threat. And with a quick glance at his impassive face, she recognized that humiliating her wasn't something he was above. Quite the opposite. He'd relish the opportunity.
Subsiding into her seat again, Erin glared at her nemesis. "What's the point in this, David? You don't like me any better than I enjoy your company. A meal isn't going to change that. What the hell is your angle here?"
Lips quirking, he had to respect the fact that she was a woman that knew how to cut to the heart of the matter. No frills and no bullshit. "So suspicious," he chided. "I was just as surprised as you were regarding the identity of my so-called perfect match."
"Fine," Erin snorted. "But you're buying. And I'm a lot of things, David, but cheap isn't one of them," she said with a smile that promised retribution if only to his wallet.
Dropping into the seat on the other side of the small table, Dave rolled his eyes as he reached for the water goblet in front of him. "Hell, Erin, you've cost me more than any woman I've ever known, so I'm not exactly surprised."
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