“And what is your name, pretty?” Mel Crandall addressed the dinosaur bones in an undertone, bending nearly to face level. The skeleton displayed an open mouth and rows of fierce, sharp teeth.
“Roger,” a man standing next to her said in a low voice. Startled, she looked up. Up being the operative word. She stood a decent five feet ten inches, and he beat her by a good half foot. She studied him. He ignored her.
The guy had a solid profile, strong chin, chiseled cheekbones, and a straight back with muscular shoulders. Short brown hair. He wore glasses and stared straight ahead, but glasses couldn’t disguise the laugh lines that radiated from the corners of his eyes. His posture was near perfect and he was not overweight, as evidenced by the trim fit of his jeans and red polo shirt that clung enough to give evidence of a low body/mass index number.
As a doctor, she immediately noticed body characteristics before actual looks. But with this guy, examination in lieu of admiration was hard. Men were often put off by the fact that she paid attention to whether they looked sallow or flushed, or if their hands were cold or warm before she “saw” them. She noticed if a man’s eyes were dilated or glittered with fever before she registered eye color. Dates started with mini examinations before she relaxed enough to enjoy personalities, but that’s just the way she was. Men had to take it or leave it. Sadly, most left it. Which was why she talked to dinosaurs at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History all on her own.
Mel moved on to the next exhibit, a shorter built specimen but still tall and with a nasty spiked tail. “I wonder what you looked like,” she murmured. “What color were you, what did you eat, and what’s your name?” She bent to read the exhibit information.
“Gray. Grass.” That same guy had followed her. Rather than having a strong profile, she was beginning to think he was a weirdo. “Annnd, roger.”
Quickly, Mel moved to the next exhibit. “And you are–”
He stood beside her again! Mel started to look for a museum guard but saw none. Great. Planting her hands on her hips, she turned to him. “Stop following me,” she said loudly enough that people in the general area turned to see what was happening.
The guy said, “Hold it.”
Hold it? Hold it, as in “Wait a minute, little lady?” She opened her mouth to lay into him when he turned and removed his glasses, showing her the richest, most chocolatey brown eyes she’d ever seen. The words stuck in her mouth.
“I’m sorry, what?”
In a lower voice she said, “You’re following me from exhibit to exhibit and talking to me. I want you to stop.”
“I didn’t realize…” He wiggled the glasses at her. “I’m working here and I’m afraid I didn’t notice you.”
Well. What was worse, that he was a pervert following her place to place, or that he wasn’t a perv and hadn’t even noticed her?
His brow furrowed while he studied her. “Yes. Yes.” Then he shook his head. “Roger.”
Again with that Roger.
“Gotta go. Later.” Then he smiled at her. “Just a minute, okay?” He folded the glasses and put them first in a protective case. Squatting, he placed a briefcase on the floor and opened it. He stored the glass case inside a pocket. Then he removed something from his right ear—an earbud?—protected it and also put it in the case.
Mel watched all of this with curiosity. He expected her to wait for him? What arrogance. And yet, wait she did. When he stood, holding the case in his left hand and smiled once more, her heart stuttered. The guy was drop dead gorgeous—at least to her understanding of the word. Normally, she appreciated the male form, mostly from a medical viewpoint. This man she enjoyed with pure pleasure.
And Good God. He hadn’t been talking to her, he’d been talking to whoever was on the other end of that earbud. Embarrassment flooded her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you were…” She slid her hand between the two of them and then to the exhibits.
“No,” he said. “I apologize. I shouldn’t be testing this stuff around people. The last time I did it a kid thought I was calling him Roger.” His voice had a soft drawl to it. Western Virginia or North Carolina, maybe? Somewhere in the mountains. It felt like a cool stream as it ran over a body hot and tired from hiking: refreshing and invigorating, at the same time soothing and relaxing. She wanted him to talk more.
Stop that! She laughed. “I thought you were naming each dinosaur.” He smiled and dimples indented his cheeks. His eyes crinkled and Mel’s breath caught. This guy should come with a warning label. Approach with caution. Could bring on lustful intentions and ultimately, broken hearts. Take only in small doses and in public places.
He held out his hand. “David Stimson.”
She took it gingerly, half expecting lightning to bolt between them. Nope. Nothing. So much for romance novels. He had a nice hand, large and warm with healthy pink nails, and she grasped it firmly. “Melissa Crandall.”
“Nice to meet you. Do you mind if I wander along with you?” Grasping the briefcase with his left hand, he deftly, he moved to the left of her.
“No, please. It’s a free country.” She walked to the next dinosaur re-creation. “And this one is…” She half waited for his pronouncement.
“Not Roger,” he said, stopping her heart with that killer smile again. He leaned over to read the information. “Torosaurus latus. It says here that these bones were dug up in North Dakota, but that the Torosaurus roamed from Canada to Texas, and that he had the biggest head of any land mammal.”
“Well, I guess that’s something to be proud of,” Mel responded. David laughed and she found herself smiling back. When she moved to the next exhibit, he strolled along with her, hands behind his back.
He pointed to the next specimen. “Poor guy. Starved to death.”
“Oh, yeah? How do you know?”
“Can’t you tell? He’s all bones.”
Mel covered her face, groaning. “Oh my gosh, that’s so bad.” She looked up into his smiling eyes and nudged him with her shoulder. “Admit it. You’ve been wanting to say that ever since you came in. You just needed a straight man.”
Giving a one-shoulder shrug he said, “And here you are.”
He took her elbow and she had to admit, while there was still no flash of electricity, she did feel a change. His hand was warm and there was a tingle going on. Yeah, definitely a tingle.
“Let’s go and see if that guy over there is named Roger.”
“David, truthfully? I don’t think any of these guys are named Roger.”
“Oh.” He slowed to a stop. “Well, I guess that decides it then.”
“Since I inadvertently caught you up in my test, I think I owe you lunch.”
“You don’t, really.”
His face fell just a little. “I wish you’d let me buy you lunch. Or… Let me put it this way, would you please have lunch with me? I heard about a great burger place just a little ways up Pennsylvania Avenue. Nothing fancy but good, I heard.” David stood back and held his hands up. “Totally platonic, all public.”
That voice. Mel was lost in the rich body of it, the smooth softness of the rounded consonants and muted vowels, like being in the embracing mists that creep through mountain glens, until one doesn’t know which way is front or back. If she didn’t watch it, she’d be falling in lust with the man just because of the way he sounded. She was not that kind of crazy woman.
Mel stared up into his hopeful expression. “If you make me go to lunch by myself,” he said, “I’ll only have my earbud and Roger to talk to.”
She took a moment. This was so like nothing she ever did. But he was cute and funny, and they’d be in public. Plus, his voice alone moistened her panties. She wanted to go, to see if that tingle remained. Certainly, she’d never met anyone quite like him or anyone who made such a huge impression—in more than one way. She didn’t live in D.C. and never had to see him again if she didn’t want to.
But… Taking his outstretched hand, she admitted that if tonight went well, she just might want to.
Melissa’s auburn hair had swished her shoulders when she tossed back her head to stare up at him when she thought he was following her on purpose, and her green eyes had glittered with indignation. But the magnetism that held his gaze had much more to do with her curves than with her eyes, beautiful as they were. David’s immediate reaction had been to wrap his arms around her and haul her up against his body. They were in the Museum of Natural History, and what could be more natural than a man’s instinct when it came to a woman?
They’d moved from exhibit to exhibit in a leisurely fashion until he couldn’t stand not touching her anymore. He’d taken her elbow to get closer and that bare touch tightened his groin. He wasn’t looking for any action while in D.C.—he was there for work, not play. Getting laid had been the furthest thing from his mind when he entered the museum to test their new equipment. Until he’d met the gaze of the woman he’d inadvertently stood beside.
As she’d turned back to give the last dinosaur and parting look, David had given her one. Curvy in all the right places, she showed her shape to good effect in tailored tan slacks and a green, fitted knit top. She wore low-heeled shoes and her head fit under his chin. In heels, he’d barely have to bend down to kiss her. She’d fit him well, body parts to body parts. Or close enough.
David couldn’t believe Melissa had agreed to lunch. She hadn’t let him hold her hand all the way to the restaurant, but he could wait for that. There was something about this woman, something special. He’d felt it right off the bat, and he sure as hell meant to stay around her long enough to figure out what she was all about.
They ordered burgers at a bar table while sipping a red wine for her and a beer for him. “To Roger,” he said holding his glass up to toast.
She gave a wry smile. “You didn’t make up that whole routine, did you?”
Grinning, David said, “What? Just to meet you, you mean?” Holding up three fingers like a Boy Scout. “I swear I did not pretend to be running a test just to meet you.” They clinked glasses and he tasted the draft beer he’d ordered. “I would have made something up to meet you,” he said, his voice low and a little growly. “But I’m ashamed to admit I truly didn’t notice you were there until you accused me of stalking you.”
“That’s not very satisfying to a woman’s ego,” Mel replied. “Suppose I’d been standing next to someone else who wanted me to believe he knew the names to all the dinosaurs in the exhibit?”
“If I’d seen you as you’d been walking off with someone else, I would have thought he was some damn lucky guy. Then I’d have had to trick him into trading places.”
“How else would a guy willingly leave you?”
Blushing, she focused on her wine. “Now I’ve embarrassed you,” he said. Hesitantly, he reached across the small table to wrap the ends of her fingers in his. To his relief, she didn’t pull back. “Sorry. When I see something I like I tend to get carried away.”
Her lips turned up. “You see something you like?”
“I think you know I do.” With a great deal of willpower, he removed his hand and picked up his glass again. “Tell me about yourself. Do you live here in town?”
“No, in Virginia. How about you?”
“Also in Virginia. What do you do?”
Mel twirled her wine and David tried not to envy the glass as she raised it to her lips. This attraction made no sense. He didn’t know the woman yet instinctively knew they’d launch fireworks in the bedroom. The question was, did she feel anything like the same?
“Let’s not talk about jobs,” she said. “Let’s guess what we each do. Since you were testing some new gadget, you must be a mad scientist working on a device that will control colors.”
David rested his chin on his fist. “Colors? Why would anyone want to do that?”
“To change perceptions. I heard you say ‘Grass. Gray.’ Obviously you are trying to make us all see things in gray scale. It would make the whole world grumpy.” She jerked up in her seat and snapped her fingers. “Oh! You work for a pharmaceutical company that produces anti-depressants. So first you make us all depressed, living without color and then your company sells the pills to correct the problem they created.”
“Damn! Now I’ll have to kidnap you because you’ve guessed our nefarious plans.” Actually, running off with her didn’t sound like all that bad a plan.
“Smart ass,” she said with a laugh. “So what do you think I do?”
“Novelist, obviously. You have an active imagination.” He took up his beer.
Melissa preened. “I did win my fifth grade writing award.”
He tipped his glass to her. “See? I read people very well. And what do you write?”
“Romance,” she said. “Sexy, steamy romance.” She smiled at him from under her lashes. His cock rose at record speed, crashing into the zipper of his jeans. He held his breath for a moment, willing himself to relax and knowing he couldn’t arrange himself without her noticing.
“I’ll have to get you back for that, Melissa,” he whispered.
Impishly she smiled. “Call me Mel,” she said.
“I’ll definitely be calling you. Mel.” He flashed her a smile.
Thankfully, their food arrived, giving him a needed distraction. “Man, that is good,” David said after taking a bite and swallowing. “So, are you visiting our nation’s capital for the day or longer?” Say longer.
Mel used her napkin to dab at her mouth. “I was in town for a lecture and decided to take a few extra days. I’ll be leaving on Sunday.”
Sunday. Two days away. “Do you have plans?”
“Not really. Whenever I’m up here I like to hit whatever special exhibit the museum has going. But today that was interrupted by a man who likes to name the dinosaurs.”
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly.
She laughed and picked up her burger. “No worries. I’m enjoying this. And it’s not like I haven’t been to the museum before. I like archaeology and paleontology and all that old stuff so I take advantage whenever I can to learn about it.”
“Me, too. It’s one of the great things about living in Virginia—history of all kinds is everywhere. Have you visited the Ruther Glen site?”
“No, but I’ve read about it. Fascinating.” She picked up her wine glass and looked at him over the rim. He couldn’t help but feel that he was being studied, just like those whale and dolphin remains in Ruther Glen. “So, are you a Virginia native?”
David couldn’t hold back a tiny internal smile. She was interested in him as more than a specimen to examine. Thank you, God! He liked this woman—her scent, her smile, her intellect. “West-by-God-Virginia.”
“Ah! Country roads lead you home much?” She bit into a French fry.
He held out his hands to stop her. “Please! There should be a limit to the number of times any West Virginian has to be reminded of that song.”
She glanced down and then back up, looking a little shy and ridiculously sexy. “What are your plans? Are you going to be in town for a while?”
I definitely have plans. “I still have a bit more work to do, but just for the afternoon. I’m free for the rest of the weekend. Can I see you later, maybe take you to dinner?”
Mel rested her wrists against the table edge, hands on the table. Leaning forward she focused her gaze on his and he felt the intensity. “I don’t do this, you know. I don’t go out to lunch with strange men and certainly not to dinner. But…” She bit her bottom lip and David couldn’t help but focus his gaze there. He wanted to do that. He wanted to take that full bottom lip between his lips and bite down gently. And then he wanted to take her mouth and stroke her with his tongue. The whole notion was fucking crazy.
Instead, he reached across the table and took her hand. “Look, Mel. I feel something going on between us. You might not believe this, but I don’t do this kind of thing either. I have never asked a woman I don’t know—someone I just met—out to lunch.”
She choked out a laugh. “Somehow I doubt that!”
David shook his head and tightened his grip on her fingers. “I don’t, I promise. But with you…? It’s like I’ve known you forever. Like we aren’t strangers. Do you feel anything like that?”
It felt like forever before she squeezed his fingers and nodded. “I like you, too. Where would you like to meet for dinner?”
Relief rushed through him. “Where are you staying?”
“Hey, me, too. I just arrived yesterday and wanted to try that place on M Street. It’s… um… Hmm. It’s a guy’s name. It’s…”
“Yes! Actually, I already have reservations there for seven. Will that suit?”
She raised her brows. “You have reservations for a place but can’t remember the name?”
He smiled. “Don’t need to know the name. I know how to get there.”
“Touché.” She thought a moment. “I think seven will suit.”
“Great. That’s great.” David hoped his grin didn’t look too stupid. He was a grown man but for the first time, he felt something settle inside. This woman was special. He could see a relationship in her. Hell, if he were more romantically inclined, he might see his future in her, but it remained to be seen if anything could take root. Maybe tonight she’d give him a reason to find out.