Anyone but You Read online

  “Anytime,” Alex said, touched by his big brother’s faith in him. “Hey, anytime.”

  “Well, don’t go mushy on me,” Max said. “Now let me give you some advice about Nina.”

  Nina. Alex groaned and fell back against the couch again. “There is no advice. I have known that woman for three months. If she was at all interested, she’d have said so by now.”

  “No, she wouldn’t have,” Max said. “She’s ten years older than you are.”

  Alex glared at him. “That doesn’t—”

  “Not to you, it doesn’t matter,” Max said. “It does to her. Women do not handle turning forty well.”

  Alex looked at him with contempt. “And you know this because of your vast experience in dating hundreds of women twice.”

  “No,” Max said, sounding not at all perturbed. “I know this because I’m a gynecologist.”

  “Oh,” Alex said. “Right.”

  “Forty is when they start rethinking plastic surgery,” Max said. “They look at magazines and see all those damn seventeen-year-old anorexics in push-up bras, or they go to the movies and see actresses with tummy tucks and enough silicone to start a new valley, and then they look at their own perfectly good bodies and decide their sex lives are over.”

  Alex thought of the Jell-O mold conversation he’d had with Nina a couple of weeks back and winced. “Oh, hell.”

  “And if you tell them their bodies are normal and attractive, they think you’re being nice,” Max finished. “Sometimes, I swear to God, I’d like to set fire to the fashion industry. They’re screwing with my women’s heads.”

  Alex raised an eyebrow. “Your women?”

  Max looked philosophical. “I like to think of all women as my women. I’m just here looking out for them.”

  Alex nodded. “The way you couldn’t look out for your mom when Dad dumped her.”

  Max pointed his last beer at Alex. “Don’t try to be Freudian. It’s not only useless, it’s out-of-date. Think Jung.”

  “I don’t want to think young. That’s the reason Nina won’t look at me now.”

  Max looked at him with disgust. “And you wonder why I drink when I’m around you.” He finished his beer and put the can on the table. “I haven’t met Nina, so I’m sort of working in the dark here, but my guess is that if she’s spending that much time with you, she’s interested.”

  “We’re friends.” Alex picked up his beer again, needing the alcohol. “She likes me.”

  “Well, that’s a hell of a good start, Alex,” Max told him. “What you have to do next is kiss her.”

  The thought of first Nina’s mouth, soft and pink, lips parted, and then of his mouth on Nina’s mouth, hot and hard, was such a jolt to Alex’s system that he shivered.

  “Boy, you’ve got it bad,” Max said.

  “I can’t kiss her,” Alex said, recovering. “She’d slap me silly and never let me back in her apartment.”

  Max shook his head. “Nope. You just have to pick your moment. Sooner or later, if she’s interested at all, she’ll give you an opening. It may be just a little one, just the way she holds her head when she looks at you, or a hesitation at the door, but she’ll give you one.” He picked up his last beer and leaned back. “And then, my boy, you take it and run with it.”

  Alex thought about Nina and the way she always looked over his shoulder when they watched movies. Sometimes he’d turn his head and her mouth would be so close, he’d almost go for it until he’d think of the look that would be in her eyes if he tried it: startled, insulted, upset. Nope. “I’ll lose her. One wrong move and I’m history up there.”

  “Wait for it,” Max said. “There’ll be a moment, trust me.” He took another drink. “There’s only one real problem.”

  Alex closed his eyes. “Only one? I see about twelve.”

  “When you finally get your shot,” Max said, “don’t blow it. You’d better be the best damn kisser in North America, or she’s going to remember the ten-year difference and say no.”

  “Thank you, Max.” Alex drained his beer and cracked another one. “I’m going to drink these next two beers and throw up now.”

  “You can do it,” Max said. “Hell, I did it under a lot worse circumstances.”

  “Did what?” Alex sat back with the rest of his beer. “Kissed North America?”

  “No, seduced an older woman.” Max smiled, remembering. “Betty Jean Persky.”

  Alex swallowed more of his beer, trying to remember Betty Jean Persky. “I have no recollection of this woman.”

  “She was a senior, I was a freshman,” Max said. “They said it couldn’t be done.”

  Alex frowned. “You’re talking about college? Hell, Max—”

  “I’m talking about high school,” Max said. “And if you think ten years is a big difference now, you try getting a senior cheerleader to look at you when you’re a freshman science geek.”

  Alex thought about it. “You may have a point.”

  Max nodded. “That’s what I’m telling you. You pick your moment, and then you make damn sure she’s never been kissed like that before.” He shrugged. “Of course, I was a damn good kisser even at fifteen.”

  Alex nodded. “I remember you practicing on the dog. So how did you get Betty Whosis to kiss you?”

  “Kissing booth at the Spring Boosters Carnival,” Max said. “I paid a buck.”

  Alex grinned at him. “And?”

  Max grinned back. “And that was the last time I paid a buck to kiss Betty Jean Persky. Hell of a set of lips, that Betty Jean.” He grew reflective. “Helluva summer before she went off to college. She’s a prosecuting attorney in Columbus now.” He shook his head. “I do remember her fondly.”

  “I don’t think Nina is going to volunteer for a kissing booth,” Alex said.

  “Well, then, you’ll just have to wait until she volunteers for something else,” Max said.

  UPSTAIRS, a couple of hours later, Nina had her own problems.

  “Really, Guy,” she told her ex-husband. “I’m fine. It was a bad cut, but the ER stitched it up. I’m perfectly okay.”

  “Nina, if you were at the emergency room, you weren’t perfectly okay.” Guy sat relaxed on her couch, tall, dark, handsome, sure of himself and annoying as hell. “I was stunned when they called my office for your insurance number. My wife in the hospital and nobody calls me until the next day?”

  “Ex-wife,” Nina said automatically. “They shouldn’t have called you but they got confused. And I’m fine. See?” She held her bandaged hand up in front of her. “All fixed up and taken care of. Thanks for coming by, but—”

  “But you’re not taken care of.” Guy leaned forward, earnest and patronizing. “You can’t take care of yourself, Nina. You never have. You need someone to look after you. That’s why I kept up the insurance after the divorce. I knew you wouldn’t think to get any. See, I’m still taking care of you. You need me.”

  He looked very smug as he spoke, and Nina repressed the urge to throw something heavy at him. It wasn’t his fault he was convinced she couldn’t exist without him. She’d spent a good part of their marriage convinced of the same thing. She felt sad for him suddenly, for the boy she’d married so long ago and laughed with so long ago and made love with so long ago, a boy who’d worked night and day until he’d grown up to be a successful suit without a sense of humor. That was one of the many good things about Alex; no matter how successful he became, he’d never lose his ability to laugh.

  Poor Guy.

  She shook her head at him. “I did get insurance through Howard Press, Guy. I’m covered. I appreciate it, but I’m covered. And I can take care of myself perfectly well. In fact, I have ever since the divorce. I like taking care of myself.”

  “Yes, I’m sure you do,” Guy said, obviously not listening to a word she’d said. “And now that you’ve proved that to yourself, I think it’s time we talked.”

  Nina gave up on tact. “We have nothing to talk about, Guy. We