PROJECT DATE

 

projectdateI didn’t have to wait by Barry’s black BMW long before he strolled out of the gym and toward his car.

His eyes lit up when he saw me, and he hurried over eagerly. “Mena, I thought I was supposed to pick you up for our date. Am I late?”

“No.” He was never late. Actually, he was quite predictable, which was part of the problem. “I just needed to see you and I couldn’t wait—”

“I know what you mean.” He dropped his gym bag and grabbed me by the waist. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”

“Barry—” Before I could say another word he plastered me to his chest and laid a big wet one on my mouth.

I sighed in resignation and tried to give the kiss a chance. But it did nothing for me not even the smallest tingle of warmth. It was too soppy, too limp. Utterly uninspiring and, well, gross.

 

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SNEAK PEEK
PROJECT DATE—Chapter One

I didn’t have to wait by Barry’s black BMW long before he strolled out of the gym and toward his car.

His eyes lit up when he saw me, and he hurried over eagerly. “Mena, I thought I was supposed to pick you up for our date. Am I late?”

“No.” He was never late. Actually, he was quite predictable, which was part of the problem. “I just needed to see you and I couldn’t wait—”

“I know what you mean.” He dropped his gym bag and grabbed me by the waist. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”

“Barry—” Before I could say another word he plastered me to his chest and laid a big wet one on my mouth.

I sighed in resignation and tried to give the kiss a chance. But it did nothing for me—not even the smallest tingle of warmth. It was too soppy, too limp. Utterly uninspiring and, well, gross.

Only as much as I wanted to blame his kisses, that wasn’t why I needed to break up with him. Fact of the matter, we just weren’t right together. Yes, he was convenient and my parents liked him but, truthfully, we didn’t really get along. We didn’t click.

And the more I hung out with Barry, the more I realized I couldn’t settle. I wanted a soulmate. I wanted someone to understand me and like me despite that.

Barry deserved someone who liked him deeper than I did. He was a great guy—for the most part. He deserved to be loved as much as I did. Just not by me.

The problem was that even if we broke up, the chances that we’d get back together were high. Precedence had been set—in the year we’d been dating, we’d separated and hooked up again dozens of times (like I said, it was convenient), and that was doing us both a huge disservice.

So this time I was calling it quits for good. I’d been thinking about it for days, and I’d plotted just the way to end the madness.

Trying not to gag as he slopped his tongue all around the outside of my lips (his specialty), I pushed on his chest and pried myself loose. “Barry!”

He lifted his head and frowned. “Huh?”

“Stop.” Wiping my mouth, I shoved him and took a step back. I’d procrastinated long enough. It was now or never. “Barry, we need to talk.”

“Talk?” He combed his hair with his fingers. Like always, his blond hair flopped back into place perfectly.

Actually, everything about Barrington Emery Wallace III was perfect—his looks, his clothes, his job, and his background. He was a Ken doll come to life.

A Ken doll who kissed like a Saint Bernard.

With renewed purpose, I took another step back so I was pressed against the passenger door of his car. “Yeah, I have something I want to say.”

“I’m all ears.” He gave me the crooked grin that had attracted me to him in the first place.

Oh, this was going to be tough. “I think we should stop dating.”

His grin widened and he reached for me again. “I think you should come over here and give me another kiss.”

“Barry, I’m serious.”

“So am I.” He took a step toward me. “Come on, Mena. Let’s skip breaking up and get on to making up.”

I held my hand out to hold him back. “No. We’re breaking up for good this time.”

“We always break up for good. It’s our favorite game,” he said, taking my outstretched hand and crowding me against the car. “Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight?”

Beautiful? I looked down at the rags I’d put on instead of my usual colorful, funky clothes. A potato sack would have been more flattering.

“And your hair.” He fingered a lock that’d slipped loose from my intentionally messy ponytail. “Like spun wheat.”

I didn’t think wheat could be spun, but that was beside the point. Batting his hand away, I said, “Barry—”

“I love it when you get impassioned. Your eyes get stormy.” He leaned in. “Are they blue-gray or gray-blue?”

“Barry—” Damn him, why wasn’t he listening? I tugged my hand out of his and shoved him back. “I’m totally serious. This is it. We’re over.”

His grin faded and he crossed his arms. “Why?”

I blinked. Usually when we broke up, we respected the other’s wishes. It was clean with a minimum of fuss. Barry questioning the process was a new phenomenon. “This isn’t working. We aren’t working out.”

“Why not?”

“Because—” I grabbed the first excuse that came to mind “—I can’t stand your kisses.”

He frowned. “Excuse me?”

“Your kisses. I hate the way you slobber all over my face. They gross me out.” Then I thought I should clarify. “Just the mouth to mouth ones. When you kiss anywhere else it’s fine.”

“Good to know.”

He sounded shell-shocked, but I wanted to make sure I nipped this relationship in the bud, so I went on. “And we don’t rock each other’s boats. Essentially, you, um, don’t turn me on.”

His face drained in shock.

I crossed my arms to keep the guilt at bay (no, it didn’t work) and considered what to say next. It had to be something that would bruise his ego enough not to ever come back to me. I took a deep breath, told myself that this was in Barry’s best interest, and went in for the kill. “When we have sex, I think of other men to get excited.”

“What other men?”

“MacGyver,” I blurted without thinking.

Actually, that wasn’t far from the truth. I’ve had a wicked crush on MacGyver since I was eight. MacGyver is my idol. A guy who can solve any problem with a paper clip and a stick of gum? Shiver.

Barry would believe it too. My best friend Matt always teased me about the posters of Richard Dean Anderson I had pinned all over my office.

“I have to confess, Barry, I agreed to go out with you because you kind of look like him.” Outright lie. He didn’t look anything like MacGyver. “Only you lack the, um, inventiveness. In bed.”

He frowned. “How do you know what MacGyver’s like in bed?”

“Oh, I know. It’s all in the hands.” I glanced disdainfully at Barry’s. At least I hoped it was disdainful—I’m not a great actress. “Your hands are kind of, um, small. And you’re not spontaneous. I mean, don’t you think it’s overkill to lay out all your clothes for the week? What if the weather changes? You know how mercurial the weather is in Portland. And why do we have to go to the same restaurant all the time? I know the food at Hurley’s is supposed to be the best in Portland but there are hundreds of other restaurants we never go to. What if I feel like Lebanese for a change? What if I want McDonald’s?”

Even though it seemed like I’d given him enough reasons for never seeing me again, I was on a roll and it was impossible to stop. Before I could control my mouth, I heard myself say, “And your feet smell.”

Barry blinked and staggered back.

I’d never been deliberately mean in my life. Well, okay—except for the time I washed all my sister Daphne’s whites with a red T-shirt. On purpose. Oh, and that time in high school when Aaron Jackson (who I’d had a crush on) called to ask Daphne (who was visiting from college) to the winter formal and I “accidentally” lost the message.

I tried not to feel bad by how I was undoubtedly making Barry feel. I was justified—this was for his own good. And if I told myself that another, oh, couple hundred times I might actually believe it.

“You know what, Mena? I think you may be right.”

I tripped, which was no small feat considering I was standing still. “I am?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “I’ve been thinking the exact same thing.”

“Oh, you have, have you?” Then why did he look so angry?

He must have missed the doubt in my voice. “I’ve been thinking of breaking things off myself. You’re a great woman, Mena, but the sex is rather lackluster between us, isn’t it? I’ve found myself fantasizing a time or two myself. About, uh, Cameron Diaz.”

Which is why two seconds ago you were trying to give my face a tongue bath? Can we say defense mechanism? And I was positive he picked Cameron Diaz because he knew I couldn’t stand her. “At least MacGyver has brains.”

“Cameron’s got ingenuity,” he countered. “Like in that movie when she used sperm for hair gel. You couldn’t come up with something like that.”

Well, he had me there. If that was the difference between inventive and unimaginative, guess which I’d take.

But that was beside the point. This was my break up scene. He had his turn the last time. I glared him. “Can’t you have any original thoughts?”

His brow furrowed. “What?”

“You’re just repeating everything I’ve been saying to you. Haven’t you been listening?”

Barry’s eyes narrowed. “No need to get snippy. Can’t we end this on a friendly note?”

I gaped at him. He wanted to end this on a friendly note? He’d just told me I was boring in bed. No one had ever said that to me. In fact, I’d been complimented a time or two. Not to brag, but I’ve got skills.

I was just about to give him a piece of my mind when I realized my objective had been achieved. Barry and I were on the same page. There was no chance we’d get back together in a weak moment. Not after these revelations.

Somewhat appeased now that I had the situation in hand once again, I blinked hard enough that my eyes teared. I looked up, pouting a little. “Fine.”

“Fine.” He stared at me. “Will you be okay?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

He looked like he didn’t believe me but he nodded.

“Is everything okay here?”

I looked up to see Barry’s friend and boxing instructor, Rio, not two feet away and watching us with concern. I didn’t know Rio except in passing, and I was glad he hadn’t arrived sooner because I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression of me. I really wasn’t heartless. Or sexually unexciting.

Not that I liked Rio or anything. I mean, sure, he was Latino-hot with thick ropey muscles, latte skin, and sky blue eyes. Not to mention his melted Snickers voice. But he was Barry’s friend and, therefore, out of bounds. Plus, he wasn’t my type. I went for brainy, not brawny.

My eyes drifted down to the bag Rio held in his hands. MacGyver hands. I blinked. How come I’d never noticed before?

 

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