"Come on, Jake. Everyone knows you, everyone likes you."
"Not everyone," he said knowingly.
"It's not that I dislike you," she clarified. "Maybe I just don't understand your choices."
"See? That's what I'm talking about. After you left the other day I realized that it's probably something personal for you."
"That's presuming a lot."
"Maybe. Of course, I thought for a minute that there was a chance you just really didn't like me, but then I knew that was impossible."
"Your ego isn't suffering, I see." Oh my. She was bantering with Jake and she was enjoying it. This really should stop. Other than working his case, she should have nothing to do with him. They were too different. She could never condone his choice of living.
"My ego is just fine." He winked at her, popping a dimple. "I don't exactly believe that your...disdain is probably the best word I can think of. I don't believe it's about the night you put me in jail. I deserved it. I was an idiot. A drunk idiot who deliberately provoked you from the back of your cruiser."
He had. The suggestion he'd made regarding her handcuffs still made her blush. "So that's not the real you?"
"Oh, it was the real me then. I was pretty messed up. Home on leave, didn't want to go back, my head screwed up... I was blowing off steam."
The head-screwed-up bit was the part that caught her attention. She knew he'd done a few deployments, but he'd always seemed so carefree and, well, disgustingly charming around town. Was there more to him than the cocky ex-soldier? She wondered what he'd seen. What he'd done. If he'd really struggled when he'd come back.
If he still did. She knew better than anyone that you couldn't escape your past.
"And you want me to know this why?"
They reached her car and she stopped, rested her butt against the back door of her cruiser. The angle made her that much shorter than Jake's full height, and she had to look quite a ways up to meet his gaze.
"Damned if I know," he said softly, his hazel eyes searching hers. "Except I think you formed an opinion that night. One that you still hold against me every time you get a call from one of my staff. I promise you," he continued as one corner of his mouth quirked upward deliciously, "I don't run around the parking lot in my underwear or make lewd suggestions about handcuff fantasies anymore."
A smile flirted with her lips.
"At least not in public."
Damn him. She didn't want to laugh but couldn't help it.
"That's better," he said, resting his weight on one hip and taking a long drink of pop. She watched his throat bob as he swallowed and her mouth went dry. There was no use pretending Jake Symonds wasn't gorgeous. He was.
"A smile. I wasn't sure if you remembered how. Well, except when you dumped me in the water this afternoon. You seemed to enjoy that well enough."
She had, and there was no sense denying it. "Well, now I've smiled, so it's time I left." She boosted herself away from the door and took her keys from her pocket.
"What are you doing next Sunday?"
The question took her by surprise, and she hesitated with her hand on the door handle, turning her head to look at him. He wasn't smiling now. In fact, he looked dead serious, his full, bowed lips unsmiling and his eyes earnest, without the saucy teasing she normally saw there.
"Just wondering if you have the day off. If you...well, hell," he said sheepishly, after a long pause. "If you aren't busy..."
"You asking me on a date, Jake?"
"And if I were?"
She shook her head. "Why on earth would you want to go out on a date with me?" It wasn't like they had anything in common. They argued more than anything else. Though she had to admit, she was starting to sort of enjoy their arguing.
He took a step closer. "Oh, I don't know." He started ticking reasons off on his fingers. "We're both single, about the same age, living in the same town. You're beautiful, and even though we appear to argue a lot, I think we both enjoy it."
He thought she was beautiful? But he always saw her in her uniform, which was about as un-feminine as it got. And her hair was always pulled back and braided for work. She was hardly what she would consider beautiful.
But the fact was she wanted to say yes, and that scared the hell out of her. Jake stood for just about everything she detested. How could she go on a date with him?
"Won't you have to be at the pub?"
"We aren't open on Sundays."
He smiled. "My employees have families and lives too. They deserve a day to themselves without having to worry if they're on shift."
Another surprise. Damned if he wasn't busting through a lot of her preconceptions today.
"Come on, Kendra. We'll keep it simple. A Sunday afternoon at the beach. A little R and R."
It did sound good. And a few hours at the beach wasn't really heavy-duty date material, was it? She'd been longing for such an afternoon for days now. He was making it very difficult to come up with a really good reason to say no.
Of course, it would also mean seeing Jake without his shirt. The idea had a certain level of attraction--if her memory was accurate and today's display was any indication. At least the beach would be public. Safety in numbers was looking pretty attractive right about now.
"I don't know, Jake. You've taken me a bit by surprise here."
"Hmm," he mused, tilting his head like he was trying to puzzle her out. "You wouldn't be chicken, would you?"
"Afraid of going out with you? That's absurd." She sniffed. "Fine," she said. "The beach."
"Meet me at the pub at noon, and I'll drive from there," he suggested. "And I'll pack us a lunch."
It was hard to argue with a man who looked like he did and threw a picnic into the deal. "Noon," she confirmed, trying her best to look nonchalant. Inside there was a bubbly feeling fizzing around in her stomach, like she'd just been asked to the prom by the cutest boy in school.
She was nearly thirty years old. She should be too old for those sorts of feelings. Except she'd never been asked to the prom, or gone to any school dance...ever.
She got in the car and put the key in the ignition. As she drove away, she checked her rear-view mirror. He was still standing there holding the pop can in his hands.
She had just agreed to a date with him. What more confirmation did she need that she was crazy?