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“Can I buy you dinner?” Jason asked her, tapping his hip with his thumb as if he might actually be nervous.

Emma couldn’t dodge the stab of disappointment. As someone who aspired to be a serious reporter, she’d been shocked to enjoy her interview with the college football player and underwear model—yes, seriously—who was planning to join the Air Force after graduation. He’d been far more grounded, kind…modest than she’d anticipated. 

But Jason Chin had exactly the reputation you’d expect from a popular jock whose face and body appeared wrought by an immortal sculptor. “You think I’ll write a more flattering story if you feed me?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t impugn your journalistic integrity like that.”

She wasn’t so sure.

“Seriously, I’m hungry, and I think you’re good company.” He smoldered at her, even sexier in person than in the Hot Stuff underwear ad that was in nearly every magazine, and on countless billboards all over Virginia, probably the whole country.

A lone butterfly twirled in her stomach among the immobile skeptics.

Jason gave her a mock frown. “Wait, were you going to write an unflattering article?

This guy. He was both exactly as expected, and nothing like she’d expected. So beautiful she had trouble breathing around him, but intelligent, thoughtful, and a good listener. He was confident and charming, but also self-deprecating and seemed slightly uncomfortable being the focus of her attention.

Not being able to pin him down only made him more fascinating. So irksome. In journalism, she was drawn to things—and people—that couldn’t be pigeonholed, but she did not want to be drawn to a man who’d just see her as another breathless fan.

Smirking, she said, “Well, I have heard a lot about you. Not all of it positive.”

He frowned for real. “That seems unfair, because I know very little about you.” He ran a hand over his short, tight curls. “Let me change that by taking you out.”

Wow, this guy.

“Besides,” he said, “you should know better than anyone not to believe everything you read in the papers.”

God, no wonder he was so popular. But even if his interest was genuine, he never would have pursued someone like her without this interview forcing them together.

She was pretty enough—maybe a seven on a good day—but he was an eleven without even trying. They didn’t “fit.”

Which meant his interest most likely had more to do with her being convenient. He was probably used to women being eager and grateful for his attention.

Well, f*ck that. Regardless of his reputation’s veracity—and didn’t they all have at least a kernel of truth?—or how attractive she found him, she wasn’t interested in being another notch on his belt. Besides, she was a professional, here to do a story.

Hell, her boss had chosen her for the interview precisely because she hadn’t asked for it. She had, in fact, begged her editor to give the assignment to someone else. “This is a sports piece. Let Greg have it. Or I’m sure Molly would be happy to take this one.”

“You’re the only one who doesn’t want to do it, which makes you the best person for the job,” she’d said. “Plus, I think Molly may have a…conflict of interest.”

Emma barely managed not to wrinkle her nose. If one listened to the gossip, half the women on campus had a “conflict of interest” with Jason Chin.

While she didn’t see the appeal of players—in any sense of the word—she could admit that he was freaking gorgeous, and that his underwear campaign was hot enough to melt asphalt. 

She had journalistic integrity. She wasn’t dead.

Now, sitting close enough to Jason to reach out and stroke the skin of his deliciously muscled forearm, she ignored his light jab and tucked her notebook and phone into her backpack.

“Is that a no?” he asked, seeming genuinely perplexed. Poor guy probably wasn’t used to being shot down. In fact, he probably wasn’t used to having to do the asking at all.

But Emma wasn’t on a power trip, or out to avenge womankind, she was protecting herself. She was no more immune to his charms than any other coed, but hoping to tie down a man like Jason could only lead to heartbreak.

“I appreciate the offer,” she said, pushing away from the table to stand, “but going out with you would be a conflict of interest.”

“Forever?” he asked, rising from his chair.

She gave a helpless laugh and looked up at him. Didn’t he realize she wasn’t writing an exposé? This was a fluff piece, nothing more. Flirting would have no impact on her story.

She pushed in her chair and walked to the conference room door, only to have him beat her there so he could open it for her. Another of the butterflies in her stomach shed its skepticism and flapped its wings.

Jason walked her through the quiet hallways on the second floor and down to the exit. The clear skies and sun visible through the glass doors were deceptive. On her way over an hour earlier, the icy wind had nearly turned her into a popsicle.

Emma put on her cold weather gear, and pulled her gloves from her jacket pocket. “Thanks for your time. The story should be in next Thursday’s paper.” She held out her hand to shake.

“Thank you.” His rough palm skimmed hers, desire darting through her veins at the contact. “So, can I get your number?”

She studied his handsome face. Was he actually interested in her, or was this some kind of game? What sucked the most was that she’d fallen under his spell like everyone other fool on campus, and when he didn’t call, it was going to be hard to convince herself she didn’t care. “Sure.” She found her pen and notebook in her bag and jotted her number on a piece of paper before tearing it off and handing it to him. He probably had a stack of them on his dresser. Or in the trash. “If you still want to go out after the story’s published, give me a call.”

“Count on it,” he said with an easy smile that—annoyingly—softened her heart.

She wouldn’t, though. She had enough experience to know that guys’ feelings faded quickly, and probably the only reason he’d remember Emma next week would be her byline on the article.

Armor firmly back in place, she gave him a polite smile, pulled on her gloves, and pushed open the glass door into the cold.

pink and red heart with arrow drawn in crayon

THANKS FOR READING! If you enjoyed Lie With Me, would you be kind enough to leave a review? Just click on any link below for quick access. XOXO, Gwen

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