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Undercover Love(7)

By:Lucy Score

He handed her the water bottle. “You’re quite the competitor.”

She took a swig and passed the bottle back to him. “College. Four years of intramurals. That’s actually how I met Steven.”

“He doesn’t seem like a racquetball man.” Jason opened the bottle and drained half of it before passing it back to her.

Ashley studied him. “You don’t think much of him, do you?”

He shrugged, but kept his eyes on her.

A man of few words. Interesting. “So, what was it like growing up with Victoria?”

“Do you mean was she born this way or was she dropped on her head in childhood?”

Ashley laughed. “I’m going to apologize in advance for this. I don’t know you very well, so maybe you’ve got some creepy ascot collection in a dresser drawer. But from what I’ve seen, you two seem like ...” Mortal enemies? “I just can’t imagine the two of you playing hide and seek together.”

He was quietly studying her again.

“How about I make you a deal? For the rest of the night, I’ll answer your questions if you answer mine,” he said finally.

Uh, what? “Um, what?”

Jason smiled.

“Hmmm.” Oh she had questions for him, but she wasn’t sure she really wanted answers. “Don’t you have hosting duties to attend to?”

“You’re stalling.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Do you want access to my deepest, darkest secrets or not?”

It was another challenge. And she desperately did.

“Okay, but let’s lay some ground rules first.”

“Fair enough. What kind of ground rules?”

“Like the topless incident, and me sneaking away from the party to hide in your racquetball court, all answers will stay between the two of us.”

He nodded.

“And we each get one free pass to not answer a question.”

His eyes narrowed as he considered.

“Fine,” he agreed, gracefully sinking down on the narrow bench. He patted the spot next to him. “Sit.”


She sat, careful to keep at least an inch or two between them.

“Okay, I want to ask you the first question,” Ashley said, loosening and tightening the lid to the bottle. “Why are you willing to answer my questions and why do you want to ask me questions?”

“Doubling up on the first question?” Jason watched her ministrations with the water bottle before taking it from her.

She crossed her arms to still her nervous hands.

“I mean, you seem like a very private person.” He seemed like a freaking fortress of solitude.

Jason smiled wryly as if he had heard her mental clarification. “A few reasons. As you so astutely guessed, I hate cocktail parties and have no interest in making small talk with a bunch of strangers. Two, you seem to share my aversion as evidenced by your decision to hide in the basement. And three. I find you interesting.”

“Interesting?” Ashley repeated. Interesting awesome? Interesting weird? Interesting smart? Interesting I-want-to-strip-your-clothes-off-and-have-my-way-with-you?

“Interesting,” he repeated. “My turn. What do you do for a living?”

Relieved — and maybe a little disappointed — at the not-too-personal question, Ashley told him about working at Dwell. He, as it turned out, wasn’t entirely kidding about his security system. Jason was the owner of a tech company that developed high-end, high-tech security systems for commercial and residential clients.

His favorite color was green, and when he was seven he wanted to be a cowboy or an architect.

She told him about getting detention for starting a food fight in the junior high cafeteria and about her neighbor’s cat, Fatty, that she used to dress up for Halloween. And about how she met Steven.

“How is it you light up when you talk about work and look so sad when you talk about your fiancé?”

Ashley balked. Should she pass? No, because then he would pass when she asked him about whether he had even been married or what his relationship with Victoria was like. She cleared her throat and stared at the lockers.

“Well, I love my job and find a lot of fulfillment there. And with Steven ...” she trailed off for a moment. “With Steven, things are different now compared to just a year or two ago. He’s different.”

“Different good or different bad?”

Ashley puffed out the breath she didn’t know she had been holding. “I don’t know. I guess just different different. And I feel like maybe I have to make a choice now to either be me, or be different, too.” It came out in a rush.

“Always be you,” Jason said flatly.

“Are you always you?” She glanced at his profile. It was his turn to stare at the lockers.