ONE Once upon a time, Minerva Dobbs thought as she stood in the middle of a loud yuppie bar, the world was full of good men. She looked into the handsome face of the man she'd planned on taking to her sister's wedding and thought, Those days are gone. "This relationship is not working for me," David said. I could shove this swizzle stick through his heart, Min thought. She wouldn't do it, of course. The stick was plastic and not nearly pointed enough on the end. Also, people didn't do things like that in southern Ohio. A sawed-off shotgun, that was the ticket. "And we both know why," David went on. He probably didn't even know he was mad; he probably thought he was being calm and adult. At least I know I'm furious, Min thought. She let her anger settle around her, and it made her warm all over, which was more than David had ever done. Across the room, somebody at the big roulette wheel-shaped bar rang a bell. Another point against David: He was dumping her in a theme bar. The Long Shot. The name alone should have tipped her off. "I'm sorry, Min," David said, clearly not. Min crossed her arms over her gray-checked suit jacket so she couldn't smack him. "This is because I won't go home with you tonight? It's Wednesday. I have to work tomorrow. You have to work tomorrow. I paid for my own drink." "It's not that." David looked noble and wounded as only the tall, dark, and self-righteous could. "You're not making any effort to make our relationship work, which means . . ." Which means we've been dating for two months and I still won't sleep with you. Min tuned him out and looked around at the babbling crowd. If I had an untraceable poison, I could drop it in his drink now and not one of these suits would notice. ". . . and I do think, if we have any future, that you should contribute, too," David said. Oh, I don't, Min thought, which meant that David had a point. Still, lack of sex was no excuse for dumping her three weeks before she had to wear a maid-of-honor dress that made her look like a fat, demented shepherdess. "Of course we have a future, David," she said, trying to put her anger on ice. "We have plans. Diana is getting married in three weeks. You're invited to the wedding. To the rehearsal dinner. To the bachelor party. You're going to miss the stripper, David." "Is that all you think of me?" David's voice went up. "I'm just a date to your sister's wedding?" "Of course not," Min said. "Just as I'm sure I'm more to you than somebody to sleep with." David opened his mouth and closed it again. "Well, of course. I don't want you to think this is a reflection on you. You're intelligent, you're successful, you're mature. . . ." Min listened, knowing that You're beautiful, you're thin were not coming. If only he'd have a heart attack. Only four percent of heart attacks in men happened before forty, but it could happen. And if he died, not even her mother could expect her to bring him to the wedding. ". . . and you'd make a wonderful mother," David finished up. "Thank you," Min said. "That's so not romantic." "I thought we were going places, Min," David said. "Yeah," Min said, looking around the gaudy bar. "Like here." David sighed and took her hand. "I wish you the best, Min. Let's keep in touch." Min took her hand back. "You're not feeling any pain in your left arm, are you?" "No," David said, frowning at her. "Pity," Min said, and went back to her friends, who were watching them from the far end of the room. "He was looking even more uptight than usual," Liza said, looking even taller and hotter than usual as she leaned on the jukebox, her hair flaming under the lights. David wouldn't have treated Liza so callously. He'd have been afraid to; she'd have dismembered him. Gotta be more like Liza, Min thought and started to flip through the song cards on the box. "Are you upset with him?" Bonnie said from Min's other side, her blond head tilted up in concern. David wouldn't have left Bonnie, either. Nobody was mean to sweet, little Bonnie. "Yes. He dumped me." Min stopped flipping. Wonder of wonders, the box had Elvis. Immediately, the bar seemed a better place. She fed in coins and then punched the keys for "Hound Dog." Too bad Elvis had never recorded one called "Dickhead." "I knew I didn't like him," Bonnie said. Min went over to the roulette bar and smiled tightly at the slender bartender dressed like a croupier. She had beautiful long, soft, kinky brown hair, and Min thought, That's another reason I couldn't have slept with David. Her hair always frizzed when she let it down, and he was the type who would have noticed. "Rum and Coke, please," she told the bartender. Maybe that was why Liza and Bonnie never had man trouble: great hair. She looked at Liza, racehorse-thin in purple zippered leather, shaking her head at David with naked contempt. Okay, it wasn't just the hair. If she jammed herself into Liza's dress, she'd look like Barney's slut cousin. "Diet Coke," she told the bartender. "He wasn't the one," Bonnie said from below Min's shoulder, her hands on her tiny hips. "Diet rum, too," Min told the bartender, who smiled at her and went to get her drink. Liza frowned. "Why were you dating him anyway?" "Because I thought he might be the one," Min said, exasperated. "He was intelligent and successful and very nice at first. He seemed like a sensible choice. And then all of sudden he went snotty on me." Bonnie patted Min's arm. "It's a good thing he broke up with you because now you're free for when the right man finds you. Your prince is on his way." "Right," Min said. "I'm sure he was on his way but a truck hit him." "That's not how it works." Bonnie leaned on the bar, looking like an R-rated pixie. "If it's meant to be, he'll make it. No matter how many things go wrong, he'll come to you and you'll be together forever." "What is this?" Liza said, looking at her in disbelief. "Barbie's Field of Dreams?" "That's sweet, Bonnie," Min said. "But as far as I'm concerned, the last good man died when Elvis went." "Maybe we should rethink keeping Bon as our broker," Liza said to Min. "We could be major stockholders in the Magic Kingdom by now." Min tapped her fingers on the bar, trying to vent some tension. "I should have known David was a mistake when I couldn't bring myself to sleep with him. We were on our third date, and the waiter brought the dessert menu, and David said, 'No, thank you, we're on a diet,' and of course, he isn't because there's not an ounce of fat on him, and I thought, 'I'm not taking off my clothes with you' and I paid my half of the check and went home early. And after that, whenever he made his move, I thought of the waiter and crossed my legs." "He wasn't the one," Bonnie said with conviction. "You think?" Min said, and Bonnie looked wounded. Min closed her eyes. "Sorry. Sorry. Really sorry. It's just not a good time for that stuff, Bon. I'm mad. I want to savage somebody, not look to the horizon for the next jerk who's coming my way." "Sure," Bonnie said. "I understand." Liza shook her head at Min. "Look, you didn't care about David, so you haven't lost anything except a date to Di's wedding. And I vote we skip the wedding. It has 'disaster' written all over it, even without the fact that she's marrying her best friend's boyfriend." "Her best friend's ex-boyfriend. And I can't skip it. I'm the maid of honor." Min gritted her teeth. "It's going to be hell. It's not just that I'm dateless, which fulfills every prophecy my mother has ever made, it's that she's crazy about David." "We know," Bonnie said. "She tells everybody about David," Min said, thinking of her mother's avid little face. "Dating David is the only thing I've done that she's liked about me since I got the flu freshman year and lost ten pounds. And now I have no David." She took her diet rum from the bartender, said, "Thank you," and tipped her lavishly. There wasn't enough gratitude in the world for a server who kept the drinks coming at a time like this. "Most of the time it doesn't matter what my mother thinks of me because I can avoid her, but for the wedding? No." "So you'll find another date," Bonnie said. "No, she won't," Liza said. "Oh, thank you," Min said, turning away from the over-designed bar. The roulette pattern was making her dizzy. Or maybe that was the rage. "Well, it's your own fault," Liza said. "If you'd quit assigning statistical probability to the fate of a union with every guy you meet and just go out with somebody who turns you on, you might have a good time now and then." "I'd be a puddle of damaged ego," Min said. "There's nothing wrong with dating sensibly. That's how I found David." Too late, she realized that wasn't evidence in her favor and knocked back some of her drink to ward off comments. Liza wasn't listening. "We'll have to find a guy for you." She began to scan the bar, which was only fair since most of the bar had been scanning her. "Not him. Not him. Not him. Nope. Nope. Nope. All these guys would try to sell you mutual funds." Then she straightened. "Hello. We have a winner." Bonnie followed her eyes. "Who? Where?" "The dark-haired guy in the navy blue suit. In the middle on the landing up by the door." "Middle?" Min squinted at the raised landing at the entry to the bar. It was wide enough for a row of faux poker tables, and four men were at one talking to a brunette in red. One of the four was David, now surveying his domain over the dice-studded wrought-iron rail. The landing was only about five feet higher than the rest of the room, but David contrived to make it look like a balcony. It was probably requiring all his self-control to keep from doing the Queen Elizabeth Wave. "That's David," Min said, turning away. "And some brunette. Good Lord, he's dating somebody else already." Get out now, she told the brunette silently. "Forget the brunette," Liza said. "Look at the guy in the middle. Wait a minute, he'll turn back this way again. He doesn't seem to be finding David that interesting." Min squinted back at the entry again. The navy suit was taller than David, and his hair was darker and thicker, but otherwise, from behind, he was pretty much David II. "I did that movie," Min said, and then he turned. Dark eyes, strong cheekbones, classic chin, broad shoulders, chiseled everything, and all of it at ease as he stared out over the bar, ignoring David, who suddenly looked a little inbred. Min sucked in her breath as every cell she had came alive and whispered, This one. Then she turned away before anybody caught her slack-jawed with admiration. He was not the one, that was her DNA talking, looking for a high-class sperm donor. Every woman in the room with a working ovary probably looked at him and thought, This one. Well, biology was not destiny. The amount of damage somebody that beautiful could do to a woman like her was too much to contemplate. She took another drink to cushion the thought, and said, "He's pretty." "No," Liza said. "That's the point. He's not pretty. David is pretty. That guy looks like an adult." "Okay, he's full of testosterone," Min said. "No, that's the guy on his right," Liza said. "The one with the head like a bullet. I bet that one talks sports and slaps people on the back. The navy suit looks civilized with edge. Tell her, Bonnie." "I don't think so," Bonnie said, her pixie face looking grim. "I know him." "In the biblical sense?" Liza said. "No. He dated my cousin Wendy. But-" "Then he's fair game," Liza said. "-he's a hit and run player," Bonnie finished. "From what Wendy said, he dazzles whoever he's with for a couple of months and then drops her and moves on. And she never sees it coming." "The beast," Liza said without heat. "You know, men are allowed to leave women they're dating." "Well, he makes them love him and then he leaves them," Bonnie said. "That is beastly." "Like David," Min said, her instinctive distrust of the navy suit confirmed. Liza snorted. "Oh, like you ever loved David." "I was trying to," Min snapped. Liza shook her head. "Okay, none of this matters. All you want is a date to the wedding. If it takes the beast a couple of months to dump you, you're covered. So just go over there-" "No." Min turned her back on everybody to concentrate on the black and white posters over the bar: Paul Newman shooting pool in The Hustler, Marlon Brando throwing dice in Guys and Dolls, W. C. Fields scowling over his cards in My Little Chickadee. Where were all the women gamblers? It wasn't as if being a woman wasn't a huge risk all by itself. Twenty-eight percent of female homicide victims were killed by husbands or lovers. Which, come to think of it, was probably why there weren't any women gamblers. Living with men was enough of a gamble. She fought the urge to turn around and look at the beast on the landing again. Really, the smart thing to do was stop dating and get a cat. "You know she won't go talk to him," Bonnie was saying to Liza. "Statistically speaking, the probable outcome is not favorable." "Screw that." Liza nudged Min and sloshed the Coke in her glass. "Imagine your mother if you brought that to the wedding. She might even let you eat carbs." She looked at Bonnie. "What's his name?" "Calvin Morrisey," Bonnie said. "Wendy was buying wedding magazines when he left her. She was writing 'Wendy Sue Morrisey' on scrap paper." Liza looked appalled. "That's probably why he left." "Calvin Morrisey." Against her better judgment, Min turned back to watch him again. "Go over there," Liza said, prodding her with one long fingernail, "and tell David you hope his rash clears up soon. Then introduce yourself to the beast, smile, and don't talk statistics." "That would be shallow," Min said. "I'm thirty-three. I'm mature. I don't care if I have a date to my sister's wedding. I'm a better person than that." She thought about her mother's face when she got the news that David was history. No, I'm not. "No, you're not," Liza said. "You're just too chicken to cross the room." "I suppose it might work." Bonnie frowned across the room. "And you can dump him after the wedding and give him a taste of his own medicine." "Yeah, that's the ticket." Liza rolled her eyes. "Do it for Wendy and the rest of the girls." He was in profile now, talking to David. The man should be on coins, Min thought. Of course, looking that beautiful, he probably never dated the terminally chubby. At least, not without sneering. And she'd been sneered at enough for one night. "No," Min said and turned back to the bar. Really, a cat was a good idea. "Look, Stats," Liza said, exasperated, "I know you're conservative, but you're damn near solidifying lately. Dating David must have been like dating concrete. And then there's your apartment. Even your furniture is stagnant." "My furniture is my grandmother's," Min said stiffly. "Exactly. Your butt's been on it since you were born. You need a change. And if you don't make that change on your own, I will have to help you." Min's blood ran cold. "No." "Don't threaten her," Bonnie said to Liza. "She'll change, she'll grow. Won't you, Min?" Min looked back at the landing, and suddenly going over there seemed like a good idea. She could stand under that ugly wrought-iron railing and eavesdrop, and then if Calvin Morrisey sounded even remotely nice-ha, what were the chances?-she could go up and say something sweet to David and get an intro, and Liza would not have movers come in while she was at work and throw out her furniture. "Don't make me do this for you," Liza said. Standing at a roulette wheel bar sulking wasn't doing anything for her. And with all she knew ahead of time, it wasn't likely that he could inflict much damage. Min squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. "I'm going in, coach." "Do not say 'percent' at any time for the rest of the night," Liza said, and Min straightened her gray-checked jacket and said a short prayer that she'd think of a great pick-up line before she got to the landing and made a fool of herself. In which case, she'd just spit on the beast, push David over the railing, and go get that cat. "Just so there's a plan," she said to herself and started across the floor. Up on the landing, Cal Morrisey was thinking seriously about pushing David Fisk over the railing. I should have moved faster when I saw them coming, he thought. It was Tony's fault. "You know, that redhead has great legs," Tony had said. "See her? At the bar, in the purple with the zippers? You suppose she likes football players?" "You haven't played football in fifteen years." Cal had sipped his drink, easing into an alcohol-tinged peace that was broken only slightly when somebody with no taste in music played "Hound Dog." As far as he was concerned the only two drawbacks to the place were the stupid décor and the fact that Elvis Presley was on the jukebox. "All right, it's been a while since I played, but she doesn't know that." Tony looked back at the redhead. "I got ten bucks says she'll leave with me. I'll use my chaos theory line." "No bet," Cal said. "Although that is a terrible line, so that would shorten the odds." He squinted across the room to the roulette wheel bar. The redhead was flashy, which meant she was Tony's type. There was a little blonde there, too, the perky kind, their friend Roger's dream date. Behind the bar, Shanna saw him watching and waved, but she didn't smile, and Cal wondered what was up as he nodded to her. Tony put his arm around Cal. "Help me out here, she's in a group. You go over and pick up her chubby friend in the gray-checked suit, and Roger can hit on the short blonde. I'd give you the short blonde, but you know Roger and midget women." Roger jerked to attention at Cal's elbow. "What? What short blonde?" He peered across the room at the bar. "Oh. Oh." 0"Suit?" Cal looked back at the bar. "The one in gray." Tony nodded toward the bar. "Between the redhead and the mini-blonde. She's hard to see because the redhead sort of dazzles you. I bet you-" "Oh." Cal squinted to see the medium-height woman between the redhead and the blonde. She was dressed in a dull, boxy, gray-checked suit, and her round face scowled under brown hair yanked back into a knot on the top of her head. "Nope," he said and took another drink. Tony smacked him on the back and made him choke. "Come on, live a little. Don't tell me you're still pining for Cynthie." "I never pined for Cynthie." Cal glanced around the crowd. "Keep an eye out for her, will you? She's in that red thing she wears when she's trying to get something." "She can get it from me," Tony said. "Great." Cal's voice was fervent. "I'll even go pick up that suit if you'll marry Cyn." Tony choked on his drink. "Marry?" "Yes," Cal said. "She wants to get married. Surprised the hell out of me." He thought for a moment of Cynthie, a sweetheart with a spine of steel. "I don't know where she got the idea we were that close." "There she is." Roger was looking over Cal's shoulder. "She's coming up the stairs now." Cal got up and tried to move past Tony to the door. "Out of my way." Tony stayed in his chair. "You can't leave, I want the redhead." "So go get her," Cal said, trying to get around him. "Cynthie's got David with her," Roger said, and there was great sympathy in his voice. "Cal!" David's voice grated over Cal's shoulder. "Just who we were looking for." He sounded mad as hell, but when Cal turned, David was smiling. Trouble, Cal thought and smiled back with equal insincerity. "David. Cynthie. Great to see you." "Hello, Cal." Cynthie smiled up at him, her heart-shaped face lethally lovely. "How've you been?" "Great. Couldn't be better. You, too, looking great." Cal looked past her to David, and thought, Take her, please. "You're a lucky man, David." 0"I am?" "Dating Cynthie," Cal said, putting all the encouragement he could into his voice. Cynthie took David's arm. "We just ran into each other." She turned her shoulder to Cal and glowed up at David. "But it is nice seeing him again." Her eyes slid back to Cal's face, and he smiled past her ear again, radiating no jealousy at all as hard as he could. David looked down into her beautiful face and blinked, and Cal felt a stab of sympathy for him. Cynthie was enchanting up close. And from far away. From everywhere, really, which was how he'd ended up saying yes to her all the time. Cal glanced at her impeccably tight little body in her impeccably tight little red dress and then took a step back as he jerked his eyes away, reminding himself of how peaceful life was without her. Distance, that was the key. Maybe a cross and some garlic, too. "Of course," David was saying. "Maybe we can do dinner later." He glanced at Cal, looking triumphant. "Well, don't let us keep you." Cal took another step back and bumped into the railing. Cynthie let go of David's arm, her glow diminished. "I'll just freshen up before we go." Tony and David watched as her perfect rear end swung away from them, while Roger ignored her to peer across the room at the pixie blonde, and Cal took another healthy swallow of his drink and wished he were somewhere else. Anywhere else. Dinner, for example. Maybe he'd stop by Emilio's and eat in the kitchen. There were no women in Emilio's kitchen. "So, David," Tony was saying. "How'd our seminar work out for you?" "It was terrific," David said. "I didn't think anybody could teach some of those morons that new program, but everybody at the firm is now up to speed. We've even . . ." He went on and Cal nodded, thinking that one of the many reasons he didn't like David was his tendency to refer to his employees as morons. Still, David paid his bills on time and gave credit where it was due; there were much worse clients. And if he took over Cynthie, Cal was prepared to feel downright warm toward him. David wound down on whatever it was he'd been saying and looked toward the stairs. "About Cynthie. I thought that you and she-" "No." Cal shook his head with enthusiasm. "She left me a couple of months ago." "Isn't it usually the other way around?" David arched an eyebrow and looked ridiculous. And still women went out with him. Life was a mystery. So were women. "Aren't you supposed to be the guy who never strikes out?" David said. "No," Cal said. "He's losing his edge," Tony said. "I found an easy pickup for him, and he said no." "Which one?" David said. "The gray-checked suit at the bar." Tony motioned with his glass, and David looked at the bar and then turned back to Cal, smooth as ever. "Maybe you are losing it." David smiled at him. "She shouldn't be that hard to get. It's not like she's a Cynthie." "She's all right," Cal said, cautiously. David leaned in. "After all, nobody says no to you, right?" "What?" Cal said. "I'm willing to bet you that you can't get her," David said. "A hundred bucks says you can't nail her." Cal pulled back. "What?" David laughed, but there was an edge to his voice when he spoke. "It's just a bet, Cal. You guys love risk, I've seen you bet on damn near everything. This isn't even that big a bet. We should make it two hundred." That was when Cal had contemplated giving David a healthy push. Tony turned his back to David and mouthed, Humor him, and Cal sighed. There must be something he could ask for that would make David back down. "That baseball in your office," he said. "The one in the case." "My Pete Rose baseball?" David's voice went up an octave. "Yeah, that one. That's my price." Cal slugged back the rest of his scotch and looked around for a waitress. David shook his head. "Not a chance. My dad caught that pop-up for me in seventy-five. But I like your style, upping the stakes like that." He leaned in closer. "Tell you what. The last refresher seminar you ran for us set me back ten grand. I'll bet you ten thousand in cash against a free seminar-" Cal forced a smile. "David, I was kidding-" "But for ten thou, you have to get her into bed. I'll play fair. I'll give you a month to get her out of that gray-checked suit." "Piece of cake," Tony said. Cal glared at Tony. "David, this isn't my kind of bet." "It's my kind," David said, drawing his brows together, and Cal thought, Hell, he's going to push this, and we need his business. Okay, clearly booze had shut down David's brain. But once it was back up and working again, David would back down on the ten thousand, that was insane, and David was never insane about money. So all he had to do was stall until David sobered up and then pretend the whole thing never happened. He stole a glance across the room to the bar and was delighted to see that the gray suit had disappeared some time during their conversation. Cal turned back to David and said, "Well, I would, David, but she's gone." And God bless you, gray suit, for leaving, he thought and picked up his drink again. Things were finally going his way. Min had walked across the room, telling herself that it was a real toss-up as to which would be worse, trying to talk to this guy or enduring Di's wedding unescorted. When she neared the landing, she edged her way under the rail, catching faint snatches of conversations as she went, not stopping until she heard David's voice faintly above her, saying, "But for ten, though, you have to get her into bed." What? Min thought. It was noisy up there by the door, maybe she hadn't heard him- "I'll play fair," David went on. "I'll give you a month to get her out of that gray-checked suit." Min looked down at her gray-checked suit. "Piece of cake," somebody said to David, and Min thought, Son of a bitch, the world is full of sex-crazed bastards, and forced herself to move on before she climbed the railing and killed them both. She headed back to Liza and Bonnie, fuming. She knew exactly what David was up to. He assumed she wouldn't sleep with anybody because she'd turned him down. She'd warned him about that, about the rash assumptions he made, but instead of taking her advice, he'd kept asking her out. Because he thought I was a sure thing, she realized. Because he'd looked at her and thought, Overweight smart woman who'll never cheat on me and will be grateful I sleep with her. "Bastard," she said out loud. She should have sex with Calvin Morrisey just to pay David back. But then she'd have no way of getting even with Calvin Morrisey. God, she was dumb. Fat and dumb, there was a winning combo. "What's wrong?" Liza said when she was back at the bar. "Did you ask him?" "No. As soon as you finish your drinks, I'm ready to go." Min turned back to the balcony and caught sight of them, just as they caught sight of her. David's face was smug, but Calvin Morrisey clutched his drink and looked like he'd just seen Death. "There she is," David crowed. "I told you she'd be back. Go get her, champ." "Uh, David," Cal began, consigning the gray-checked suit to the lowest circle of hell. "A bet's a bet." Cal put his empty glass down on the rail and thought fast. The suit did not look happy, so the odds weren't impossible that she'd go for a chance to get out of the bar if he offered dinner. "Look, David, sex is not in the cards. I'm cheap, but I'm not slimy. You want to bet ten bucks on a pickup, fine, but that's it. Nothing with a future." David shook his head. "Oh, no, I'll bet on the pickup, too, ten bucks if you leave with her. But the ten thousand is still on. If you lose . . ." He smiled at Cal, drawing out the 'lose,' "you do a seminar for me for free." "David, I can't make that bet," Cal said, trying another tack. "I have two partners who-" "I'm good for it," Tony said. "Cal never misses." Cal glared at him. "Well, Roger isn't good for it." "Hey, Roger, you in?" Tony said, and Roger said, "Sure," without looking away from the blonde at the bar. "Roger," Cal said. "She's the prettiest little thing I've ever seen," Roger said. "Roger, you just bet that I could get a woman into bed," Cal said with great patience. "Now tell David you don't want to bet a ten-thousand-dollar refresher seminar on sex." "What?" Roger said, finally looking away from the blonde. "I said-" Cal began. "Why would you bet on something like that?" Roger said. "That's not the question," Tony said. "The question is, can he do it?" "Sure," Roger said. "But-" "Then we have a bet," David said. "No, we do not," Cal said. "You don't think you can do it," David said. "You're losing it." "This is not about me," Cal said, and then Cynthie slid back into the group and put her hand on his arm. She leaned into him, and he felt his blood heat right on cue. "She's over there waiting for you," David said, an edge in his voice. "She?" Cynthie's glow dimmed. "Are you seeing somebody?" Oh, hell, Cal thought. "Cal?" David said. "Cal?" Cynthie said. "I love this," Tony said. "What?" Roger said. Cal sighed. It was the suit or Cynthie, the rock or the soft place who wanted to get married. He detached her hand from his arm. "Yes, I'm seeing somebody. Excuse me." He pushed past Cynthie and David and headed for the bar, wishing them both the worst fate he could think of, that they'd end up together. Min watched Calvin Morrisey move toward the stairs. The beast. He thought that he could get her in a month, that she was so pathetic she'd just- Her brain caught up with her train of thought, and she straightened. "Will you tell us what's wrong?" Liza said. "A month," Min said. He walked down the steps and made his way through the crowd, ignoring the come-hither looks of the women he passed. He was coming to pick her up. Suppose she let him. Suppose for the next three weeks she made him pay by stringing him along and then took him to Di's wedding. He wouldn't leave her; he had to stick for a month to win his damn bet. All she had to do was say no to sex for three weeks, drag him to her sister's wedding, and then leave his ass cold. Min settled back against the bar and examined the idea from all sides. He more than deserved to be tortured for three weeks. And in that three weeks she could figure out a way to make David suffer, too. And her mother would have somebody beautiful to point out to people at the wedding as her date. It was a plan, and as far as she could see, it was all good. The bartender came back and Min said, "Rum and Diet Coke, please. A double." "That's your third," Liza said. "And fourth. The aspartame alone will make you insane. What are you doing?" "Was he mean to you?" Bonnie said. "What happened?" "I didn't talk to him." Min waved them away. "Move down the bar a couple of feet will you. I'm about to get hit on and you're cramping my style." "We missed something," Liza said to Bonnie. "Move," Bonnie said, and pushed Liza down the bar. Min turned away when the bartender brought her drink, so when The Beast spoke from beside her, she jerked her head up and caught the full force of him unprepared: hot dark eyes, perfect cheekbones, and a mouth a woman would betray her moral fiber to bite into. Her heart kicked up into her throat, and she swallowed hard to get it back where it belonged. "I have a problem," he said, and his voice was low and smooth, warm enough to be charming, rich enough to clog arteries. Dark chocolate, Min thought and looked at him blankly, keeping her breathing slow. "Problem?" "Well, usually my line is 'Can I buy you a drink?' but you have one." He smiled at her, radiating testosterone through his expensive suit. "Well, that is a problem." She started to turn away. "So what I thought," he said, his voice dropping even lower as he leaned closer to her and made her heart pound, "was that we could go somewhere else, and I could buy you dinner." The closer he got, the better he looked. He was the used car salesman of seducers, Min decided, trying to get her distance back. You could never get a good deal from a used car salesman; they sold cars all the time and you only bought a couple in a lifetime so they always won. Statistically speaking, you were toast before you walked on the lot. She could only imagine how many women this guy had mutilated in his lifetime. The mind boggled. His smile had disappeared while he waited for her answer, and he looked vulnerable now, taking a chance on asking her out. He faked vulnerable very well. Remember, she told herself, the son of a bitch is doing this for ten bucks. Actually, he was trying to do her for ten bucks. Cheapskate. Suddenly, breathing normally was not a problem. "Dinner?" she said. "Yes." He bent still closer. "Somewhere quiet where we can talk. You look like someone with interesting things to say. And I'm somebody who'd like to hear them." Min smiled at him. "That's a terrible line. Does it usually work for you?" He froze for a second, and then he segued from sincere to boyish again. "Well, it has up till now." "It must be your voice," Min said. "You deliver it beautifully." "Thank you." He straightened. "Let's try this again." He held out his hand. "I'm Calvin Morrisey, but my friends call me Cal." "Min Dobbs." She shook his hand and dropped it before it could feel warm in her grasp. "And my friends would call me foolhardy if I left this bar with a stranger." "Wait." He got out his wallet and pulled out a twenty. "This is cab fare. If I get fresh, you get a cab." Liza would take the twenty and then dump him. There was a plan, but Liza didn't need a wedding date. What else would Liza do? Min plucked the twenty from his fingers. "If you get fresh, I'll break your nose." She folded the twenty, unbuttoned her top two blouse buttons, and tucked the bill into the V of her sensible cotton bra so that only a thin green edge showed. That was one good thing about packing extra pounds, you got cleavage to burn. She looked up and caught his eyes looking down, and she waited for him to make some comment, but he smiled again. "Fair enough," he said, "let's go eat," and she reminded herself to ignore what a beautiful mouth he had since it was full of forked tongue. "First, promise me no more lame lines," she said, and watched his jaw clench. "Anything you want," he said. Min shook her head. "Another line. I suppose you can't help it. And free food is always good." She picked up her purse from the bar. "Let's go." She walked away before he could say anything else, and he followed her, past a dumbfounded Liza and a delighted Bonnie, across the floor and up onto the landing by the door, and the last thing she saw as they left was David looking outraged. The evening was turning out much better than she'd expected. Copyright (c) by Jennifer Crusie Smith Excerpted from Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.