By Athena Grayson
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.
After making a fool out of herself too many times over bad boys with no responsibility and nothing but heartbreak on their minds, Barbara Whitehall developed a philosophy to help women like herself get over the bad boys and find good men. And it works. Her DateSmart workshops have become so popular that she’s leased a storefront and is now giving them on a weekly basis. Hundreds of women have been helped through DateSmart, and while she hasn’t found her Forever Material yet, she’s confident that she’ll recognize him when she sees him.
Jake Mancini’s life was going just fine until his good-looking new neighbor walked into his life on killer legs. But those legs are nothing next to her lethal tongue. Her “DateSmart” workshops have cheated him out of several mutually enjoyable Saturday nights with attractive women.
But Barbara’s always had a soft spot for bad boys, even though she knows they’re bad for her. If she lets Jake get too close, she’ll end up losing her heart to one more bad boy who’ll toss it in the trash when he’s done.
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Jake Mancini was a swearing man. He’d have been swearing right now if it weren’t for the wrench clamped in his teeth. Even a strong swear word might push him off his too-thin perch. A few bolted together two-by-twelve roof trusses supported him and the sea of acoustical tiles making up the dropped ceiling beneath him.
He ought to be just above the wall between his studio and the business next door. If I measured right. He edged forward. At one time, the space that would become his martial arts studio and the space that made up DateSmart had been one big store, especially its ceiling. Now, in order to fix one aluminum strip that held one row of acoustical tiles crookedly, he had to make the harrowing journey to No Man’s Land.
The sultry voice of his nemesis–DateSmart’s founder and head man-hater–drifted up from below. “The first thing you ladies will learn in this seminar is that smart women make smart choices, and that means kicking that loser to the curb.”
He shook his head, the wrench in his teeth keeping him from cracking a smile. Barbara Whitehall claimed her seminars taught women how to date. That was a joke. He’d bet a six-pack that she hadn’t had a date herself in at least ten years.
Which was a damn shame when you thought about it. The woman was a looker, no doubt about that–black hair and green cat’s eyes and a toned, sleek body. The makings of a pin-up if he ever saw one. Until she opened her mouth.
In spite of her looks, the woman was one hundred percent shrew. She’d make somebody a doozy of an ex-wife someday, if she wasn’t an ex-missus already.
He sucked in air around the wrench in his teeth, trying to avoid the inevitable drool that happened anytime you were working on something that involved gripping by mouth. The end of the wall was within reach, if he could just inch a little further.
He looked down to determine where to put his hands next and through some dumb luck, happened to see through to the floor below. Nausea oozed over him, causing sweat to pop out in rivulets that tickled in places he dare not try and scratch.
He froze. Barbara’s flinty voice filtered up to him and for once, he was grateful for its biting harshness. He wasn’t a fan of heights, but he’d rather be up here than down there.
“There are two ways to approach the finding of a compatible mate–the haphazard way and the DateSmart way. One of these could take you through a lifetime of losers before you find a suitable match. The other will weed out the losers before mistakes can be made.
“I’m going to teach you ladies how to make smart relationship decisions that will result in smart relationships. Now the first thing I want you to do is this.”
Her voice stopped. He picked up the faint squeak of an erasable marker writing on a whiteboard. Just like her to have a whiteboard. Never trust anyone whose desk was clean and who actually used a whiteboard for something besides semi-pornographic doodles and silly quotes. One of the hard lessons his former life had taught him.
The shakes subsided from his muscles and he continued to edge forward, this time careful not to look straight down. Almost there. Soon he could look forward to not one flimsy set of two-by-tens under him, but two–and a rickety T-joint if he was really lucky.
In the meantime, nothing else up here entertained enough for him to stop listening to Barbara’s lessons on dating.
“The first thing I want you to do is forget about love. Love is a myth, an excuse, and has nothing whatsoever to do with making smart relationship decisions.”
Jake blinked. Damn, but the woman was vicious. Cold was the woman who didn’t believe in love, man. Thankfully, a few murmurs of protest came from the Stepford manhaters in training down there.
Barbara’s voice rose over the others. “I’m not saying people don’t fall in love. But if you use love to direct your relationship decisions, you have a much greater chance of making a decision you’ll come to regret. Do any of you want to date a loser?”
Some scattered and meek “no’s” filtered up.
“I didn’t think so.” Her voice took on a satisfied edge. “For whatever reason, we women haven’t yet evolved out of our ability to fall in love with losers. Making good relationship decisions involves logic, lucidity, and most importantly, leaving love out of it.”
“But how can you control who you fall in love with?”
Saints be praised, a protester, Jake thought wryly. At last, he came to the cross-beam and settled himself on it gingerly.
The poor girl was shot down just after takeoff. “You may not be able to control who you’re in love with, but you’d better be able to control who you’ll be with. Which is where the DateSmart philosophy comes in.”
Oh, enlighten me, Dating Diva. He didn’t have to wait long. Barbara plowed on. “There are two kinds of men in this world, ladies. There’s Forever Material–which we’re all looking for–and there’s Fling Material. What I’m here to teach you is that you will never make the one into the other, no matter how hard you try. There are men made in this world that can never give you what you want in a good, solid relationship. Don’t waste your time trying to make them into something they’re not.”
He snorted around the wrench. She sounded like a nature show host, classifying apes. The thought that she might be talking about him entered his mind and he scoffed.
Sure, he hadn’t dated the same woman for more than a few months in years, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of it. He just wasn’t some dweeb to follow around a woman and say, “Yes, Dumpling, no, Dumpling, I’ll-do-whatever-you-want, Dumpling.” He silently dared her to try and fit him into her little pigeonholes. She had no idea what she was talking about.
“Who here has ever dated a man in a leather jacket?”
Jake thought of his own beat-up buddy hanging downstairs. There was a rip in the sleeve that needed fixing.
“Did he ride a motorcycle?”
Unfair, he thought. There were dentists and accountants who rode those silly little Japanese things on weekends. He had a bona fide Hawg–a Fat Boy parked out back, all gleaming chrome and supple leather, babied like an only child. Besides, he didn’t ride the bike all the time. It slumbered safely through the winter in his garage. He drove the Corvette instead.
“Or drive a Corvette?”
Wait just a damn minute, here! This was out and out libelous behavior. She was casting aspersions on his character as part of her seminar!
“Aren’t they wonderful?”
“Isn’t that leather so masculine? Don’t you just love the way he moves? Like he owns the world? Isn’t he so sexy your knees shake?”
Murmurs of assent–some very enthusiastic–drifted up. He wondered if he should put on the jacket and hang around outside with the bike after the seminar to see which of the participants really meant it.
“What about the tough guy? The one who would start a fight for you? Whose hands are so…powerful.” Did he imagine it, or did her voice drop a husky octave?
Not Barbara the Ice Queen.