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by Robyn Carr

Genre: General Contemporary Romance, Contemporary Romance

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"Let's get a corner table like that one over there, near the fireplace. Damn, it's cold," he said. "I've been in the Gulf too long, I think. What's winter like around here?"

"Colder," she said with a laugh. "We just moved here this summer from North Bend, right up the road. But I did three years in Kodiak, three in Michigan. This is nothing. You have no fireplace in that trailer of yours."

He maneuvered her toward a table in the corner, not far from the restaurant's hearth. Only a few tables in the whole place were occupied, all of them far enough away so that no conversations would be overheard. He helped her out of her long, black coat and folded it over a vacant chair. "No fireplace and it rocks in the wind. Even though there's been sun almost every day, the wind off the bay can get chilly. I've been cold since the day I got here. I'm going to have to buy some sealskin or something."

The second she sat down, the bartender was standing beside their table with menus. Cooper was shrugging out of his jacket, draping it over the back of the chair. "Bring me a beer, Cliff. This is Miss Dupre — Sarah." Cliff gave a nod. "Sarah, what would you like to drink?"

"A Chardonnay will do the trick."

"Draft and Chardonnay," Cooper said. Then he sat down, his back to the room, and loosened his tie. He removed his cuff links, slid them into his shirt pocket and rolled up his sleeves to just under his elbows. He leaned those elbows on the table, looked at her with a half smile and said, "I'm sorry that it was some difficult business for your brother that introduced me to him, but I'm glad it led to meeting you."

It was that comment — combined with the fact that the small tuft of hair peeking out of his opened collar and his muscled forearms were achingly sexy — that caused her to say, "I've been divorced for nine months."

He lifted one brow. "Wanna talk about it?"

"Not particularly."

"And you brought it up because…?"

"If you have an idea that this chance meeting is going to lead to something, you'd be mistaken."

He shook his head. "Sarah, we're both over thirty. Hopefully, we've overcome the idea that dinner means sex. Unless it's an exceptional dinner."

"We'll split the check," she said.

"Don't be ridiculous. You pay for dinner. Believe me, you'll feel more in control that way."

"You know, I can tell you think you're funny, not taking me seriously."

"Oh, you're wrong!" he said. "I think it would be a catastrophe to not take you too seriously. A disaster of unparalleled proportion."

"Hilarious," she said.

Cliff put her wine in front of her first, then put the draft down.

"Ah," Cooper said. "Liquor. Thank God."

"Have you decided yet?" Cliff asked.

"We'll have the grouper," Cooper said. "Salad starters, please. Ranch for me."

"Oil and vinegar, on the side," she said.

"And make sure Lieutenant Commander Dupre gets the check." He winked at her, and Cliff ran for his life.

She took a sip of her wine. "How do you know I won't expect sex if I pay."

"Well, cheers," he said, lifting his draft. "Although I'd feel cheap and dirty the whole time, I can live with that."