A/N: Love that people are still reading this, and sending me lovely feedback. Sorry you didn't get an update last week - I got sick, it couldn't be helped. Back now, and whilst I know J.D. is bugging everyone, he won't be around for long. Just wait til you get to the end of this chapter... ;)
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
Dani liked J.D. Aldridge, she genuinely did. After their first date, she was sure she wanted another and had graciously accepted when he asked. Now she was actually here and something wasn't feeling right. For a woman that made her living helping others to puzzle out what their true feelings were and how to handle them, the great Dr Santino was really struggling with her own emotions right now.
There was absolutely no reason for her not to be having a wonderful time in J.D.'s company. He was a good looking man, sweet and attentive, good sense of humour, she could find no fault at all. He had brought her to a nice restaurant, been a complete gentleman, and treated her like a lady. Dani was failing to find a reason not to be completely happy and in fact head over heels by now, but she wasn't.
To start off with, she just figured she was still feeling down about Jeanette. Losing her best friend to a new man and a whole other continent, that was bound to make anyone feel less than happy, and yet that didn't seem to be the problem right now. Dani's mind wandered when J.D. got to talking a lot, and honestly, it wasn't her best friend that was on her mind, but another man.
Nico Careles, the original mystery man. Dani had always wondered about him, trying to figure out exactly what his deal was. He was pretty secretive, but then she guessed he had to be for the kind of work he did. Still, if she asked him a question he did always answer, and assured her he would never lie. Being a pretty good judge of character (except when it came to husbands perhaps) Dani was sure he meant it when he told her that, and that everything he said to her was the complete truth.
It wasn't that J.D. wasn't as honest as Nico, Dani would never accuse him of that. He was probably a lot more straightforward to deal with than her fixer friend, and yet her brain wouldn't focus on the man in front of her, only on the one she had lately started to lean on.
"Dani?" J.D. prompted when she failed to answer his question.
"I'm sorry, what?" she checked.
"Are you okay?" he asked then, as she shook off the daze she seemed to have fallen into.
"Sure, yeah. I'm fine," she told him, knowing it was a complete falsehood.
This was not right, and by now Dani had firmly decided it was all her mother's fault. She had not thought about Nico in any kind of romantic or sexual way until Ma put the idea in her head. Well, that wasn't strictly true, Dani thought to herself then. When they first met, she noticed he was hot, she'd have to be blind not to. Being a man of mystery, it did have a certain allure, and nothing was as attractive as a man that cared, not only about a woman but her kids as well. There was a dopey smile on Dani's face that she removed the moment she realised she was wearing it. There was no way to explain to J.D. what the look as for and if he thought it was for him, well, that just might complicate things later when... when, what? When she dumped him?
The thought raced through Dani's head unbidden, and then raced back in and refused to leave. This date was not as fun as it should be. Half the time when J.D. was talking, she wasn't listening, and the amount of time she spent with her mind on another man was just inappropriate when out on a date like this.
Maybe all the signals were telling her she had made a mistake in ever agreeing to go out with her ex-professor. Jeanette had been all for it and Dani let herself get steam-rollered into the decision when she wasn't entirely sure about it in the first place. Even then, she had Nico on her mind. Not that she blamed her BFF. Jeanette had Dani's best interests at heart and had admitted she only wanted to see her friend settled before she jetted off to Europe, leaving her effectively alone. Still, it was no use Dani being with a guy for the sake of not being single. If she couldn't feel deeply enough for him, then dating him became more than a little pointless.
The waitress came to take away the dessert dishes and Dani took her elbows off the table to let her clear it.
"Er, two coffees please?" said J.D., startled when his date cut in to disagree so suddenly.
"No! Thank you... er, just the cheque please," she smiled politely at the waitress, hoping she hadn't just made a fool of herself. "I'm sorry," she told J.D. as he looked at her with confusion hen. "I'm getting a headache."
That part was at least true, her head did hurt, but Dani suspected that was mostly her own fault for just over-thinking everything tonight. She felt guilty when J.D. gave her sympathy for her pain, swiftly paying their bill, and then taking her arm to lead her outside to the car.
A part of the good doctor knew she didn't deserve his kindness when she was just now seriously considering the best way to tell him they probably shouldn't see each other anymore. She had to be crazy, Dani knew that, as J.D. opened the passenger door for her and she slid into the car. He was such a great guy, and he clearly wanted to make her happy. Already she was planning on ending things, after just two dates, and all because she couldn't get another man out of her head, who had made no moves to get closer to her himself!
They were almost back to the Santino house when Dani had a thought.
"Um, could you maybe drop me off at the corner?" she asked J.D. before he got too close to her home.
"Sure, if that's what you want," her date agreed. "Can I ask why?"
"It's the kids," she half-lied. "I mean, they seem okay about me dating and all but... well, I don't wanna rub it in there face right now. They're still pretty upset about their Dad leaving and everything."
"I get it, Dani. I do," he assured her, only serving to make her feel worse.
It would be so much easier to end things with J.D. if he was unreasonable in some way, but he just kept on being so decent. Dani had no idea what she was doing anymore. Tonight would not be the night she dumped J.D., that much she was sure of, but she was going to have to give it serious consideration before she agreed to a third date. Right now, she really couldn't see that next outing happening.
Pulling up the car around the corner from the Santino house, J.D. killed the engine and turned in his seat to face Dani.
"Well, I had a great night," he told her with a winning smile. "I'm only sorry you can't really say the same."
"I can. I did," she floundered. "I mean... it's just this darn headache," she sighed, hoping she didn't sound like a complete idiot, and was at least a little believable right now.
J.D. seemed to buy it. He pulled Dani a little closer, leaning over to plant a kiss on her forehead.
"Go, get some sleep," he advised. "Feel better."
Dani nodded and then let herself out of the car, quick as she could.
"Thank you, J.D." she smiled back through the open window at him.
He gave her a wave before putting the car in gear and driving away.
Dani watched him go, and then shivered against the cool night air. Out in the dark was not a good idea, she really did need to get home. Her bed was beckoning and she hurried down the street to her house as fast as she could in the heels she wore.
When Dani got inside and went looking for them, she found the kids in the living room, watching a movie together on TV.
"Hey Mom," Ray Jay smiled as he spared her a brief glance.
"You're back kinda early for a date," Lindsay frowned some as she checked the mantle clock again. "Do you not like this guy anymore?" she asked, just this side of hopeful somehow.
"No, it was fine," Dani insisted, unable to carry on her headache untruth to her children - they mattered too much to even tell a little white lie right now.
"Really? It was fine?" her daughter checked, much to Ray Jay's annoyance as he turned up the volume on the TV to hear better. "The weather is fine. Dates are supposed to be fun, at the very least, right?"
"It was fine," Dani repeated, looking a little exasperated. "Seriously, Linds, you want a blow by blow of your mothers date?"
"Eeeeew!" both kids responded in unison, much to their mother's amusement.
The truth was there was no real detailed description to share about her date anyway. They ate a decent meal and J.D. had talked a lot about... things. Then they came home again. Nothing exciting, nothing fun, just fine.
Shaking herself out of another momentary daze, Dani headed upstairs to clean off her make up and change into more comfortable clothes. Staring into the mirror as she brushed out her hair and wiped off the last of her lipstick, Dani sighed.
Lindsay was right, dates were supposed to be fun, and the first one with J.D. had felt as if it were. What had changed, Dani wasn't entirely sure. Maybe she just let herself get all swept up in the moment last time, or perhaps it really was what her mother had said that made the difference. Reality had set in on her fantasy of falling for J.D. and she suddenly realised he was actually kind of ordinary. Maybe whatever she felt for him was purely an old crush mixed up with Jeanette's encouragement. She didn't blame her friend, or her Mom, or anyone really. Dani just didn't feel for J.D. what she thought she did, and that wasn't a crime. She refused to worry too much about it. Instead, she would spend a little quality time with her kids and then get herself a good night's sleep so she could face a new day of work.
Heading downstairs, Dani forced herself in between Lindsay and Ray Jay on the couch, settling in to see the remainder of the movie. With her arms around both her kids, Dani finally felt comfortable and happy this evening.
Screw men, she didn't need them.
Dani woke up on the couch with a start. The kids were gone, and a note stuck to the table told her they had headed to bed but hadn't wanted to wake her. She was pretty sure she fell asleep before the movie ever finished, since she had no clue about the ending. Dani ran her hands over her face and sighed - she seriously hadn't realised quite how tired she was.
A knock on the door had her on her feet in a second and rushing to see who was there. She did pretty well, even in her tight dress and high heels, and was soon there by the door, pulling the curtain aside to see who was calling. A smile lit up her face when she realised it was the one man that had been on her mind all night.
"Nico," she breathed as she opened the door, but he didn't reply.
There was an intensity in his eyes that might have been scary if it wasn't so thrilling. In a second he was across the threshold, his hands at her waist and his lips on hers. Dani couldn't breathe and didn't care to as he kissed her until her knees started to buckle and the whole world went away. Man, she hadn't felt like this since she was a teenager, but Nico was no amateur high school boy, he knew just exactly what he was doing.
When Dani's feet left the floor without her hardly noticing, Nico still didn't let up kissing her. Without a word, he carried her up the stairs to the bedroom and laid her down on the bed, joining her there. It never occurred to Dani to stop, even though this was crazy and all happening so fast. She wanted this, so badly that it hurt. As her own hands pushed his jacket from his shoulders, Nico's fingers got tangled up in her hair. His lips moved from her own to trail kisses down her neck, and her whole body felt as if it were on fire when...
Dani woke up on the couch with a start. The kids were gone, and a note stuck to the table told her they had headed to bed but hadn't wanted to wake her. She was pretty sure she fell asleep before the movie ever finished since she had no clue about the ending. Dani ran her hands over her face and sighed - she seriously hadn't realised quite how tired she was.
A knock on the door had her on her feet in a second and rushing to see who was there. She was glad she had changed out of the restrictive clothes and shoes she had worn on her date, even if that did mean late-night company seeing her in her sweats. She was soon around at the back door checking through the window to see who was there. She forgot how to breathe when she realised it was the literal man of her dreams.
Shaking her head and forcing a neutral kind of smile onto her lips, Dani opened the door.
"Hey, Nico," she greeted him, trying her best to look and sound as normal as she could be.
"Dr Santino, I apologise for the late hour," he told her, all professional as ever, "but I brought you a visitor," he smiled then, a rarely seen genuine grin that was not usually suitable for his line of work.
Just as Dani was about to ask what on Earth was going on, T.K. stepped into view, looking equal parts pleased to be here and suitably shame faced for his recent behaviour.
"Hey, Dr D," he greeted her with an awkward smile. "Happy to see me?"
"Actually, T.K., I am," she told him with a smile of her own, stepping aside from the door to let him in to her office.
She hadn't really noticed her own sigh of relief until Nico asked her if she was okay.
"You look a little flushed," he said as she glanced his way.
"I'm absolutely fine," she told him, trying to remember to breathe as her dream came back to her full force the moment she met his gaze.
A moment later he was gone, bidding her goodnight with a wink and a wave. Dani closed the door and leant her back against it for a moment, before remembering that T.K. was here and needed her help. At least she had some ideas on how to fix his head problems. Her own might prove much trickier to figure out!
To Be Continued...