First Date Excerpt:

Cord suffered for three days, watching Mia walk by in the clogs, the rope wedges, and the purple patent leather peep-toes. He kept reliving every disastrous moment of their meeting. He didn't write her once.

When the phone rang, he was cleaning the sink. He put down the sponge and stared at the phone like it was an enemy sniper. Her number was on the screen. He stopped breathing. Pressed the call button. Had a hard time swallowing.

"Hello?" Her voice was high, thin. She was nervous. Not like when he'd gone to her apartment, when she'd lost her temper. He'd gotten to look her in the eyes. And he hadn't even run. He deserved another fucking medal.

He sucked air, couldn't answer.

"This is Mia. Is Cord there?"

Resting his forehead against the phone, he closed his eyes. "Yes."


"Well. I just, I wanted, I've been thinking... Is now a good time?"

It took three painful seconds but he was able to grind out, "Yes."


Silence. He staggered to his air mattress and sat.

He heard her breathe, and in the background, music. "You stopped writing."

He nodded. "Yes."

Silence. Then he managed to unlock his tongue from his throat. "You told me to stop. To be less creepy." And even though it had brought on intense stress, the self-control had apparently earned him a third chance.

Eventually, she said, "Thank you."

"I hated that I scared you. I apologize."

"Mmmm, okay."

Okay? Devon would be saying something glib right now. Something smooth and charming and slightly teasing. But Devon had died two tours ago.

"How did I get chosen to be your angel?"

He knuckled his temple, where one of his headaches was developing. "You're happy."

There was humor in the silence this time. "Excuse me?" And there was laughter in her voice.

"Like that," he answered simply. "You're a happy person. That's not normal."

"ExCUSE me?"

"I mean, it's rare. Special."

A choked laugh came through her muffled breath.

"And you're sexy as hell."


Don't blow it. Too much. "How was your day?"

Silence. Then she asked quietly, "Tell me about yours, first?"

The headache ripped into life full blown. "I woke at oh-five hundred. Warmed up with a hundred pull ups and two hundred sit ups. Did my yoga routine. Ran three miles then came back and had oatmeal. I saw you walk by. You looked pretty, and happy again, which was really good to see. I didn't like how sad you'd looked the last two days."

"Wait-Where do you live?"

"In the basement."

"Here? In my brownstone?"

"Yeah. Those purple heels are something else." He really, really wanted to fuck her while she wore them. He pulled his mind sharply from that thought. Discipline. Focus. Don't be creepy.

"They're super great, aren't they?" Pure glee in her voice.

"Yes. After you went to work, I went to the club. Taught a kickboxing class, worked the bag, the usual." He lay back on his bed. The synthetic sleeping bag hissed. Draping his arm over his eyes, he said, "No. I won't lie to you. It wasn't usual. During a bout, I failed to pull up when my opponent went down. He ended up with two cracked ribs. I've been pissed all day. I went for another run, but I'm still really disappointed."

"Why do you think that happened?"

He thought about it. "I go away, into the zone, and sometimes I get sucked back into other times. But today, I wasn't in a flashback. I was just looking for more, but going hard on someone less skilled isn't how to find it."

"Danger, huh? You like adrenaline?"

Nausea churned. "Not really. I like success. I like finishing a project."

Silence. He bet she was remembering that he'd called her a project.

"And your day?" he asked.

"I thought about you all day."

He was stunned enough to open his eyes. His bike stood in the corner opposite him. He looked at it blindly. "That's-" He had no idea what to say. "I'm surprised."

"Well, I've actually thought about you all day on several prior occasions, although usually not in nice ways. But I asked Burton about you. Last night, Mark and I went through all the emails. And I keep remembering the way you looked at me outside my door."

That was a lot of evidence. The pain in his head became excruciating. He rolled toward the wall in an attempt to block out the light from his laptop and the bathroom. "And?"

"Well, here's the thing." She took in a huge breath that sounded like the red train in his ear. "I think I like you."

The pain ceased. Euphoria rolled through his system, the same as finishing a 10k with a full pack. The shaking started in his abs and spread up to his burning face. Oh, God. God. Oh, Fuckin' Christ. "I like you, too."

"But you were totally out of line." She sounded quite nasty.

"Yes." He was a wrong mess.

"And you're not quite normal, either." There was her huffing laugh again.

"No." He thought his skin might split open.

"And I'd like to have coffee with you."

"When." Cord's whole body was rock solid, pouring sweat.

"How about... in an hour? At Sunshine."

He rolled over to his back, sprawled so loose he almost dropped the phone. Every muscle went to jelly in relief. "It's dark. I'll meet you at the front door and walk you."

A small beat of silence, then, "Okay. Great! Well, see you soon."

"Call Mark or Anne and tell them, so you feel safe."

He heard her swallow. "Anne's sitting right here."

"Good." And even though it killed him, he added, "Does she want to come too?"

"See you soon." She hung up.

Cord let the phone fall. He stared unseeing at the dim ceiling. His heart wouldn't take much more of this falling in love stuff.