Ryan grinned at me from the doorway. "Wow, you look nice," he said. His smile went all the way to his eyes, and I was glad for the special pains I had put into my appearance tonight.
He'd also gone the extra mile to dress nicely, having traded his usual polo for neatly pressed dress pants and a button-down shirt. Sure, I'd noticed him before, but I had always refused to view him in a datable sort of light. Now that I'd started, I couldn't help thinking about him.
"Come on in." I opened the door wide and stepped back to let him in.
He glanced around my living room. "Am I the first guest to arrive?"
He didn't appear too confused by the lack of people, though. The game was up.
"Well, to tell the truth," I stammered, "it's only the two of us tonight." My cheeks must have been as red as boiled crawfish shells.
"You didn't invite me here today," he said. It wasn't even a question.
I shook my head.
"I see. This is your sister's version of a good deed?"
"Yeah," I said. "She loves to play matchmaker. I'm sorry." I'd have choked Rachel if she'd been there. I felt humiliated, yet part of me hoped he wouldn't leave.
"It's not your fault," he said.
We stood together in the middle of the living room, looking at each other and not finding anything to say.
"Listen," he said after a long pause, "we can forget about this if you want. I don't want you to be held responsible for any more mistakes your sister makes."
I was going to need a pint of Ben and Jerry's to cope. He called our date a mistake. I coached my face not to show my disappointment. "Okay," I said. "That's fine. Again, I'm sorry about my sister conning you into this. You probably had much better things to do tonight than dress up to humor me, er, Rachel pretending to be me, I mean."
Ryan's solemn expression changed to one of skepticism meshed with a glimmer of hope. "Not so fast. I'm not the only one here who dressed up."
I smoothed my hands over my skirt in a nervous gesture.
"I'm going to be honest with you, Janie," he said. "I was excited to get that message today. I've wanted to ask you out for awhile, but never got out the words."
My heart leapt at his admission. He paced a little and ran his hand through his hair, his nervous tell. This time, the gesture struck me as endearing.
"So, no," he said. "I don't want to call off the date. And I don't think you want to either."
"I don't," I said. I wasn't usually so direct, but I was sure about this. "My sister was crazy and impulsive to set us up like this. But I want to go out on this date with you. She has terrible taste in men."
Oh no, my mouth was running away without my brain's filter. Ryan looked askance at me, both eyebrows raised with amusement.
"Only usually, but she's trying to get better about it. I mean, she likes you," I stammered. Another mistake. "For me, I mean. She likes you for me."
Ryan took a step closer to me and stopped my rambling by placing his finger across my lips. It was one of the most sensual gestures I'd ever experienced. When I quieted, he lifted his finger from my lips, leaving a warm tingle in its wake.
I reflexively licked my bottom lip, as if tasting the texture of his skin. He looked into my eyes and lifted one side of his mouth in a little smile.
"What about you?" he asked. His words were quiet, and I strained to hear. "Do you like me...for you?"
My eyes slipped shut and a sigh escaped my lips. I loved the way his words rippled through my body. "Yes," I whispered. My voice sounded husky, like I'd been having sex and enjoying it. Why had I held myself back from this man for so long?
He shifted closer and leaned his head toward mine until he was so close to me I could feel his breath on the skin of my neck and a shudder coursed through me. The next moment, he stepped away. I opened my eyes and stared at him. His eyes had darkened to a whisky brown and pierced me with a heart–stopping heat.