A Twist of Date

By: Susan Hatler

Chapter One

Some women believe in for better or worse. My mother preferred to kiss my dad arriverderci to go “find herself,” and she’d chosen the most awkward phase of my life to do this. I’d been fifteen when she left us. As a teen Barbie look-alike, I had hormone-driven guys calling constantly, and no mom to give me advice.

To emblazon my misery, my dad married my stepmom Janet, and I’d spent the rest of my teen years being compared to her can-do-no-wrong daughter, Kaitlin.

Not my fondest memories.

Despite my parents’ failed marriage and my own fleeting relationships, devouring romance novels had given me the hope of love—the kind that lasted a lifetime. So, I’d never given up, and now I had Brad.

After years dating the wrong men, I’d finally found a keeper. Brad Jones and I had been inseparable for three weeks. He was fun, gorgeous, and a total gentleman. Ready to take the next step with him, I hit the mall yesterday, purchased the perfect lingerie, and tonight I’d put it to good use.

Although it was five-thirty in the morning, I strode through the front door of Totally Fit, ready to rock my Zumba class like I’d never taught it before. “Good morning!”

“Morning, Mel.” Matt Thompson, my co-worker and friend, smiled from behind the front counter, and closed the thick book he’d been reading. “What’s the word?”

I dropped my athletic bag on the tattered linoleum floor and set my portable iPod docking station on the counter. “The word of the day is yumzy.”

Matt stood, leaned against the counter, and raised a brow. “Yumzy?”

Visions of my date last night with Brad danced through my head. We’d gone to the Sacramento Kings game at Arco Arena, which had been a blast. Afterward, we’d stopped for drinks at a posh bar downtown, then strolled hand in hand to my place where things had gotten hot and heavy.

Remembering his delicious kisses made me smile. “Yumzy.”

Matt rapped his fingers on the cheap, white countertop. “Is it safe to assume you’re not talking about food?”

I shook my head, and my ponytail flopped to the opposite shoulder. “Actually, he could be considered dessert.”

Matt frowned. “Is he that guy you’ve been flirting with over in free weights?”

“Brad.” I sighed, picturing how our names might look in Monotype Corsiva on our eventual wedding invitations. Melanie Porter and Brad Jones—forever.

“Mel.” Matt slipped his hands around mine and traced my knuckles in slow circles, sending goose bumps up my neck. “When are you going to give up on other guys and realize I’m the one for you?”

Matt loved to flirt. But, thanks to Erica, I knew not to take him seriously. Erica Conner, the other aerobics instructor at Totally Fit, had dated Matt a few times after he’d started working here last year. She’d told me, confidentially, that she’d broken it off after finding out he was seeing other girls. Playing the field was so not my scene. “Aren’t you already dating someone, Matt?”

His eyes locked with mine. “I’d drop all women for you.”

“No, really,” I said, ignoring the electric zap bolting through me from his intense gaze. Instead, I focused on the image of a petite brunette, wearing a sexy red dress, and dancing very close to Matt. “You’re dating that girl. You introduced her to me at The Oasis a few weeks ago, when the girls and I were out celebrating Erica’s final laser hair removal.”

“Laser hair removal?” His shoulders jerked spastically as if ants were crawling up his neck. “That’s way more than I needed to know.”

I rolled my eyes. “My point is you had a girl with you.”

“Eileen. That’s over.” He continued caressing my knuckles with the perfect amount of pressure. “So? Let’s go on a date. Anywhere you want.”

As he expertly massaged my hands, a tingle curled up my spine, and I couldn’t help wondering what his other talents might be. But, at twenty-seven, I couldn’t afford the distraction from a meaningful relationship—no matter how tempting. Regretfully, I slipped my hands free. “You know, Matt—”

“I know only what you tell me.”