Morgan Moran adjusted her fuchsia baby doll top to expose her modest cleavage and her pierced navel. Once it was arranged to her satisfaction, she wove through the candlelit tables to a corner booth where Jack waited. Even in the dim flicker cast by the candles, she could tell he was annoyed. His shoulders were bunched with tension, and his fingers drummed on the table as he scanned the restaurant. When his eyes zeroed in on her, his jaw clenched. Morgan's stomach fluttered with uncertainty. She hoped he wasn't going to spoil their night out.
She slid across the leather seat and brushed a kiss against the stern slash of his mouth. "I'm a little late. Have you been here long?" She peered at him through lowered lashes, praying he wasn't going to make a big issue of her tardiness. She had a darn good reason for being late and besides that, she was worth waiting for.
"I tried to call you. You didn't answer your cell." Jack took a sip of his vodka tonic.
"I couldn't. Ramon gets testy when people talk on the phone while he's working."
"Ramon?" Jack's eyebrows rose.
"Myhairdresser." Ramonwasanartistwith thetemperament to match. Morgan's golden highlights had desperately needed his creative TLC, but Ramon had been booked weeks out.
It had been a stroke of luck when the salon called with a cancellation. Before she had known it, it had been time to meet
Jack, but she'd still had foils in her hair.
Yes, she was late, but it wasn't like it was her fault.
"Ah." Jack stirred his drink. "Your hairdresser. What else could you have done?" He glanced at his drink, then back at her face. "You look beautiful, by the way. But you always do."
Morgan beamed. Jack understood. He always did. His gentleness, acceptance, and loving nature were his best traits.
A veterinarian with his own clinic, he never turned away a sick animal whose owner couldn't afford to pay. In his spare time, he volunteered at a local animal shelter. His kindness for others had melted a little soft spot in her heart, even though Jack wasn't her usual type.
Morgan always had had a stomach-fluttering weakness for bad boys, emotionally unavailable men with commitment issues or users who discarded her after they got what they wanted.
She'd met Jack when she took her agitated cat, Mr. Whiskers, to his veterinary office for a recurring hairball problem. She had been captivated by the gentle way he calmed Mr. Whiskers' fears. Weary from having her heart broken repeatedly, she had been ready for a gentleman like Jack.
When he'd asked her out, she'd accepted. They had dated for six months before they'd moved in together. That had been a year ago.
Then Morgan had discovered that Jack's gentleness, acceptance, and loving nature were his most irritating traits.
When she got cranky with PMS, he rubbed her back and brought her chocolate. When she forgot to pick up the dry cleaning like she promised, he did it instead. When she burned dinner, he took her out to eat. Every time he did something nice, rather than make her grateful, it made her feel bitchy. She didn't understand it.
She loved him and knew he loved her. Recently he'd hinted about making their relationship permanent, but Morgan wasn't ready for the big M. She worried that in a few years she would crave more excitement than Jack could deliver.
"You ignored me so you wouldn't upset your hairdresser." His eyes sparked.
"Jack!" Morgan gaped at him. "I had bleach on my hair!"
"I've been here for an hour, wondering if you were injured in a traffic accident."
"I'm sorry. I should have called." Morgan tried to sound contrite. She bowed her head. She was a teensy bit late. Why was he was making a federal case of this?
A vein pulsed in his temple. "You always say you're sorry, and promise to do better, but you never do."
Morgan pressed a palm to her fluttering stomach. All she wanted was to have a nice romantic dinner, and he was scolding her like she was a naughty child. What was next? Was he going to ground her for a week? Take away her television privileges? She lifted her chin in defiance. "You act like I'm late all the time."
"You are late all the time!"
Morgan flushed. "I don't mean to be. Something always comes up." Between her job, volunteering with foster care children, and selling antique buttons on eBay, there weren't enough hours in the day. She was always rushing, careening from one appointment to the next.
"You're never late for work."
"Of course not. I'd get fired." Her boss at the plumbing supply company where she was office manager and bookkeeper was a stickler for punctuality. First offense, you got a warning. Second offense, he docked your pay. Third offense, you were out.
"Were you late to your appointment with Ramon?" His tone held an edge.
She flushed. "That's different."
The waiter arrived with menus, but Jack waved them aside. "She'll have the Caesar salad with chicken. I'll have the steak, medium. Baked potato. Butter, sour cream, no chives."
Morgan's eyes narrowed. She wasn't sure she liked him ordering for her. She wanted a take-charge man, but she was capable of choosing her own meal. "Maybe I want a menu."
He drained the remainder of his drink and peered at her over the glass. "Maybe you should have arrived an hour ago." His tone reminded her of a bulldog refusing to give up a bone.
"I explained that."
"All I know is that when there are consequences, you tow the line." He set down the glass and regarded Morgan steadily. "I love you, and I want to spend my life with you, but your rudeness pisses me off. It hurts when you treat other people-- your boss, your hairdresser--better than you treat me."
"That's not true!" She shook her head.
"I'm not going to put up with it anymore. The next time you're late, Morgan...there will be consequences."
Something almost sexual fluttered within her, but annoyance overruled it. She'd wanted him to act more forceful, more authoritative, more macho, but he was pushing it now. She rolled her eyes. "Like what?"
"I'll paddle your ass!"
Shock ricocheted through her, and she fought to control her reaction. She didn't know what surprised her more--that he'd made such an uncharacteristic outburst or that the idea of his hand striking her bottom had her stomach clenching, not in fear, but in arousal. She took slow, even breaths. "You won't do that," she said, unsure if she was stating a fact or challenging him.
"Try me." The cocksure glint in his eyes was a dare and her anger ignited, overriding her quickening desire. He had no right to treat her like a disobedient child. He wasn't the boss of her!
She glared at him, but her anger drained away when she realized he would never lay a finger on her. He wasn't the physical type. But instead of relief, she felt strangely disappointed.