Chapter 1





“SHE more than meets the criteria… don’t you dare try to deny it, DeSalvo.”

“Don’t you go forgetting who came up with the fucking criteria in the first place.” Nonetheless, Mikey took one last long look up and down the silhouette of the female in question and conceded. “But, yeah, she’s smoking hot…. You gonna do her or is it gonna have to be up to me again?”

With balled-up fists, I drilled him a couple times on his shoulder, pleased with my best pal’s admission that the girl I’d dragged him over to this less-than-five-star diner to check out had sailed right through the stringent requirements of his very own Michael DeSalvo Hot Chick Test. “Nah, man, I wouldn’t want to put you to any extra trouble. I’ll take care of it myself this time.”

“Okay, but jot down lots of notes, Robby.” After a wide yawn followed by an exaggerated stretch, Mikey dragged himself from his stool. “’Cause I’m gonna want all the dirty details.”

Glancing several stools over at the lady in question, and hoping like hell that she hadn’t heard my buddy’s last comment, I gave him a shove toward the door. “Go ahead and get out of here, Mikey!”

Yes, she was indeed a vision of hotness. White-blonde curls, nearly long enough to brush the rounded top of a fine, curvaceous ass. And as far as this babe’s face was concerned, her most notable features were her sea-green eyes: wide-set, but not even slightly innocent, as I didn’t go for that pure-as-the-driven-snow type of girl… never had. And a strong jaw, none too eager to allow even a hint of a smile; this girl was much more comfortable sporting an unyielding, and by now, rather predictable, scowl. Thought-provoking, slightly intimidating, and at the same time incredibly easy on the eyes. To seal the deal, my best pal, Mr. Michael Joseph DeSalvo, connoisseur of the female face and form, had been hard-pressed to control his salivation in her magnificent presence. And since I had a brain in my head, I wasn’t about to let this golden opportunity pass me by.

I’d bumped into this lovely young lady at this very café at least ten times since the flood in the Tardiff Building’s top-floor science lab, which had occurred right after the university opened for the fall semester. They’d needed a small commercial construction firm that was available on short notice to fix the damage, and my company had been ready and willing. And yes, Dalton Builders was just about as able as a small construction firm could be; I’d spent the better part of the past five years ensuring that. Including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Anyways, if this girl’s gradually more frequent half-smiles, which I assumed were in direct response to our semiweekly, increasingly cordial banter sessions, hadn’t exactly become what you’d call inviting, they had at least given me the distinct impression that I was, in her opinion, tolerable. Maybe even mildly interesting. That was enough for me to work with, seeing as it had been at least six months since I’d last had a date. Past time to make my move, unless I was moving toward the priesthood. For which I had no immediate plans.

I’d never claimed to fully understand it, but I had this peculiar “little quirk” when it came to the ladies. More specifically, in order for me to possess even a hint of interest in a woman, she had to be compelling in some nonphysical way. In other words, she had to possess more assets than a pretty face and a well-shaped backside. And I could tell this girl was complicated, in a more-than-meets-the-eye way I was drawn to. Deciphering this puzzle of a lady might even keep me mentally occupied for more than the standard three or four dates I normally endured before I typically lost interest in a woman.

But I was probably putting the cart before the horse; I didn’t even know her name.

“Seems that you like the coffee here as much as I do.” She spoke first again tonight.

If that wasn’t an invitation to chat, I didn’t know what was. “It’s more of a need-the-coffee kind of thing.” I let my best sideways grin fly across those two unoccupied barstools separating us, knowing fully well the effect my smile had on females. “I merely appreciate its stimulative qualities.”

Honestly, I don’t know if I was trying to be suggestive with my choice of words or not, but neither my flirtatious words nor my devastating grin seemed to make even a bit of impact. The girl nodded blandly in response. “Caffeine addiction? I can totally relate.”

I lifted my mug, as if to toast her. “So what brings you to this cozy café, every… let’s see… most every Tuesday and Thursday night, am I right?”

Blonde hair pooled up on top of the bar as she nodded again, this time pensively. “I have an evening class at Somerville U, and I always stop here for a latte before I catch the bus to my apartment. Good coffee makes the ride seem shorter.”

Those no-nonsense eyes returned my gaze, and I knew she was waiting for my explanation of my own rather frequent evening caffeine fixes. And since I always aim to please, I replied, “My company is renovating the classrooms in the Tardiff Building… and it’s a rush job, so we’ve been holding fairly regular evening job meetings, you know?”

That nod again. But this time her chin stayed down and just her eyes lifted to mine. “Your company?”

Apparently I’d caught her interest; it was my turn to nod. “Yeah…. Robert Dalton Builders. I’m Robby Dalton, CEO and president… and vice president and treasurer… and, well, I guess I’m the secretary too.” Feeling my cheeks burn with embarrassment at my disclosure, I held out my hand. “Management for Dalton Builders is sort of a one-man show at this point, or, well, a one-and-a-half man show since I hired my buddy. I don’t know if you noticed me talking to a guy a little while ago—he helps me part-time with the estimating. But I subcontract all of the labor.”

After a brief hesitation during which she kept her stony eyes leveled on mine, the girl very loosely clasped my extended hand in her small one. “Isn’t that kind of a big job for such a… a tiny company?”

“No, not really; it’s only five upstairs classrooms, a length of the hallway, and a ladies’ room. Water damage from a leaky roof… but they found a big name contractor to do the roof part. I still have to go to all of the meetings, though, so I’ve been stopping here for coffee before I drive home.” I’d never been more certain of the fact that I was being sized up. The way she was examining me made me feel like a lab rat. And, at the moment, a nervously rambling lab rat. Oddly, in all of my past experience with women, I had always considered them my lab rats.

“Well, Robby, my name is Savannah.” I must say, in my humble opinion, Savannah certainly wasn’t the breeziest girl I’d ever come across, but since she was still examining me with the detached interest of a scientist, I allowed myself limited hope. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Okay, so this girl unnerved me. “D-do you have a l-last name, Savannah?”

Very patiently, she answered, “Of course I do.”

“Oh.” I mean, how does a dude respond to that? “Uh… well, yeah.”



“It’s Meyers…. Savannah Meyers.”

Here’s where I demonstrated my witty and well-polished conversational skills. “Oh… sure. Right.”

But my awkwardness, which I thought would’ve sunk my chances at a date with a girl like her, seemed to be the factor that won her over. Savannah finally smiled at me, her expression alive with either approval or pity (hard to tell which in the heat of the moment), and she said brightly, “We should meet here for dinner tomorrow night. How’s seven o’clock for you?”

I have to admit, I was thankful she’d made the first move. Despite my alleged all-American good looks, agreed upon by a general consensus of collegiate, coworking, and bar-hopping females, my confidence when dealing with the opposite sex was minimal at best. I just had such a hard time connecting with them—all except for my sister, that is. But sisters don’t really count. If Savannah hadn’t asked me to dinner, I’d have been destined to lurk around this cozy café for an indeterminate number of Tuesday and Thursday evenings, waiting for her return to coincide with a fleeting moment of courage on my part. So it was with great relief that I bestowed upon Savannah my most Brad Pitt-like smile. “S-sounds r-really g-good.” Yes, it seemed that I had quite recently acquired a minor speech impediment.

Savannah just stood up, shook her head as if she’d had enough of me already, and turned toward the door, glancing back once to say, simply, “Oh, Robby….” And then she tossed back her unruly waist-length curls one more time and headed for the door.