***Chapter Four***
Word Count: 6,165

John gave himself plenty of time to get to campus and find where he was going. He'd never done more than driven past the campus until today. He'd never had a reason to. He still wasn't entirely sure he should be here, but it was too late to turn back now. He found the visitor's parking easily enough and knew how to get to the University Center from there based on what she'd told him.

He was kind of surprised she agreed to meet him. Their lunch together had been a little awkward. It hadn't been terrible or anything, but it was pretty clear they were in totally different places. Claire wasn't even thinking about working yet, very much living for the moment. John's days of living for the moment had ended years ago now. He was very focused on work and succeeding at it.

He'd thought about whether he should talk to her over the weekend. He called last night, figuring if he didn't get a hold of her it was a sign that he wasn't supposed to talk to her. She'd answered on the fourth ring, though. He was kind of shocked by her being home, but realized being Sunday night she probably had to go to sleep at a decent hour to make up for being out all weekend long.

'Hello,' she said.

"Hi, it's John," he said.

'This is becoming a habit.'

"What is?" he'd asked, frowning at the comment. He'd only ever called her the one time from the jail. She'd shown up at his studio, he hadn't asked her to.

'Never mind, I was making a joke. You know, hearing from you more in the past couple of weeks than I have in years.'

"Oh, I see," he said.

'Obviously it wasn't very funny.'

"I just didn't get it, sorry. How was your weekend?"

'The usual. Yours?'

"I'd say the usual, too, but usual to you and to me are vastly different."


"I was wondering if you could meet me tomorrow. You name the place, there's just something I need to talk to you about."

'Something bad?'

"No," he said, not entirely sure that answer was honest.

He hadn't heard back from the lawyer, but only one business day had passed and certainly the guy had other things to worry about than this. He was probably thinking things through, dotting all of his I's and crossing all of his T's before involving John in anything. John had no criminal record as an adult and he'd paid an obscene amount of money to ensure his juvenile record was sealed. Of course, a lawyer could probably gain access to sealed files. It was all petty, minor stuff, but he could see that a lawyer may question the intelligence of counting on someone like what those records painted about the type of person John was. That was almost four years ago. He hadn't been in trouble of any kind since turning eighteen, outside of school anyway. Vernon had ridden his ass until he'd walked the stage to get his diploma.

'Sure,' she said. 'Um, maybe it'd be better if you meet me on campus. I have class most of the day and once I leave I'm kind of fair game. Especially after this weekend.'

"This weekend?"

She sighed. 'You haven't seen?'

"No," he said. He got the Sunday Tribune, but he hadn't done more than glance through it this morning. He didn't usually scan the pages she was generally featured on, perhaps he should start.

'It was awful. Some reporter got a picture of me holding my friend's hair while she was getting sick in an alley outside of a club.'

He shook his head. Of course she was the type to hold her friend's hair out of the way while she was puking up the night's overindulgence in whatever their drink of choice was.

'Of course, it's one of the clubs Dad owns so they're suggesting they let my friend drink more than they should have before cutting her off because she was with me.'

"Did they?"

'No! She wasn't even drunk.'


'She wasn't! She's pregnant.'

"Then what was she doing out clubbing with you?"

'She just found out like two weeks ago. She's pregnant not dead, but she was not drinking. She even volunteered to take a breathalyzer test, but of course the reporter didn't include that with the photo and disparaging blurb about my being a bad influence on yet someone else.'

"Why was she getting sick then?"

'How should I know? She has the flu maybe? She's pregnant? What am I a doctor?'

"Hey, I'm just asking the question, don't get mad at me."

'No, I know. My dad was irate because it's one of his clubs and he thinks it looks bad that my friends were getting so drunk they got sick.'

"Did you explain to him she wasn't drinking?"

'Yes! The picture is out there, though, and I'm in it, at his club.'

"I get it. I'm sorry. So, on-campus? I can do that, sure. Just tell me where to meet you and what time."

So, here he was. He couldn't help but observe the people walking around as he made his way to his destination. Along the way was the performing arts building he noticed, which must have included dancing because there were some pretty incredible looking, and incredibly fit, women going into and coming out of the building.

He'd never done the approach the stranger and ask them if he could take their picture routine. He knew people who did that, but he would just feel weird doing that. The last thing he needed was to get slapped with a title related to being a pervert and what he'd worked so hard at building would be gone. He could definitely see the benefit to that approach, though, as he passed more than a few women he would love to give that line to. He knew more than one guy who'd gotten dates from using that come-on. He'd need to have his camera on him in order for the line to work, though, and he didn't carry one with him usually.

He found her in the area she said she'd be. She wasn't alone. Why he expected her to be he had no idea. He approached her, though, trying to act like he didn't feel as though he didn't belong here. He'd be in debt up to his eyeballs if he enrolled at a place like this and had to take out loans, the only way he'd ever get to go to college.

"John," she said when she saw him. She stood then and gave him a kiss. "You found it."

"I did," he said, a little confused by the kiss.

"This is my friend John," she said to the few people sitting with her, settling her hand against his forearm. "And this is Tony, Jennifer, Sasha, and Evelyn."

"Hey," he said.

They said something about the same with as much enthusiasm. He noticed while she'd called him her friend she hadn't said the same about them in return. Probably he was reading too much into what she said versus didn't say, but he found it interesting just the same.

"Okay, guys, I'll see you tomorrow," she said.

She grabbed her coat, sliding it on followed by a scarf around her neck before grabbing her backpack. That surprised him, he was under the impression they were talking here based on her wanting to meet here.

He could see the surprise on the other people's faces, too, and he wondered how many times she just dismissed people or walked away from them as if they weren't important to her. These people clearly weren't used to that treatment from her.

She'd been sitting on a small couch in a pretty private area compared to the rest of the place he walked through to get to her. There was a chair to her left where one of the girls she'd introduced him to sat, another small couch, and two more chairs making a kind of cozy meeting place for a group who wanted privacy.

"So," he said once they were walking away from the area. "This is where the prom queen holds court in college then?"

"Something like that."

"They didn't look too happy about being dismissed."

"They'll get over it."

He smirked a little at that.

"So, we're leaving?"

"Yeah, I figured we could leave in your car and go wherever."

He glanced at a clock on the wall nearby. "You want to get that coffee we talked about the night I first saw you? Or if you're hungry, we could do that, too, I guess."

"Sure," she said.

"You could've just met me in the parking lot."

"I could've, but I kind of wanted to see what you'd look like on-campus."


She shrugged. "Curiosity? Something to amuse me?"

"I amuse you?"

"No, their reaction to you does, though."

"Why?" he squinted, regarding her. He wasn't sure if she was being insulting or condescending or not.

"Because you're not at all like they are or the people I'm seen with so I can tell they're wondering who you are to me."

"That was the reason for the kiss?"

"Kind of," she said, shrugging.

She slid a pair of gloves on, nice ones he noticed. Very nice ones. They probably cost more than his whole coat. She settled her hand against his arm again, though.

"Claire. I really don't want my picture taken. You do know that, right? I'm not a part of your game."

"There's not going to be anyone here to take your picture. They can't come on campus."


"Because my father and the company contribute a lot of money to ensure I'm left alone."

"I see," he said. "Must be nice."

"It's the only place I get to be completely undisturbed."

"I guess," he said.

He couldn't pretend to understand what it was like for her. Certainly, she brought a vast majority of it onto herself. She could have led a mundane, boring existence and no one would know the name Claire Standish or the very successful real estate corporation that went with the name. Then again, maybe her dad didn't mind the publicity. Bad publicity was still publicity, the name out there, and it wasn't about his buildings being roach-infested safety traps so business wouldn't take a serious hit.

"I have no idea what's around here, so you tell me where you want to go," he said once they were in his Jeep. He'd been to Evanston before, but never to actually go anywhere usually it was just driving through for various reasons.

"It doesn't suit you," she said.

"Huh?" he asked.

"The Jeep," she said.

"Oh," he said.

He forgot they'd walked to lunch the day she came to his studio so she wouldn't have realized which vehicle on the lot was his. "It's actually not my primary car. It's my company car, and I use it during the winter as long as there's snow on the ground."

"What's your primary car?"

"It's a 1985 Trans Am convertible. It's a roadster, made to order basically. There was only about two hundred fifty of them made. It's my baby and I don't drive it if there's anything remotely resembling snow on the ground."

It cost him way more than he should have spent on a car, but as he was single with no baggage it had begged to be bought. It was the most careless thing he'd plunked a chunk of money on, but he planned to have it for years yet so he didn't think it was a waste of money. It looked sweet, hauled ass, and he knew he looked very fine driving it. He'd gotten more than one date just from pulling up in front of a place driving it.


"Yup," he said.

He still had a ways to go toward paying it off, but he'd taken excellent care of it so it still looked new. He kept it in his garage, covering it in the winter so it was protected. Since he only drove it about five or six months out of the year the mileage wasn't bad either. Any long trips outside of going to and from work or errands around town he took the Jeep. Unless it was a trip he was taking with someone who liked riding in it then he chose the car.

"That sounds very nice, but can't be very practical for your equipment."

"I don't have to take equipment with me very often, but that's why I have the Jeep for company use if I need to. I just leave it at the studio during the summer so it's there if I need it. Obviously, for things like graduation pictures and stuff I'm not going to take someone else's kid out in my two-seater convertible."

"That makes sense."

"I mean, I guess there's no reason I couldn't, but obviously if I ever got into an accident the Jeep is a better vehicle from the standpoint of survival than that tiny thing."

"You drive them to locations?"

"Yeah, sometimes they want to drive themselves, but I don't make them. Some of them want to do three or four different outdoor locations."

He stopped at a place she said was good not far from campus. It was early enough yet the place wasn't packed. The early dinner crowd wouldn't show up for another hour or so. For now, though, they were going to have their waitress' undivided attention for the most part. They ordered their drinks and food, talking about nothing in particular in between. Claire didn't take her sunglasses off until after their food order had been given to their waitress. He wondered if the sunglasses actually worked. He supposed in the dimmer light of a restaurant they made it less obvious who she was. She told him about her classes, but as she was a senior and taking pretty advanced classes for her major she may as well have been talking Chinese for all he understood what she was talking about.

"What's going on, John? Obviously, you don't need me to bail you out again."

"No, though I think it might be you who could use some bailing out."


He sighed softly, explaining the conversation he'd had with her dad's lawyer last Thursday. It was still unbelievable that anyone thought he would … expect compensation for doing what he'd done. Now, if he'd had to go to the hospital or something, maybe then he could see it, but he'd refused the stitches he probably should have gotten. His lip was only just now healing thanks to him applying Carmex to the damn split generously every chance he got. He used Vaseline at home, but thought walking around with a jar of Vaseline in his pocket would seem a little odd. So, he'd gone the Carmex route away from home. It was working so far, anyway. He was able to smile for more than a minute without the damned thing splitting open.

"My dad tried to give you money?"


"And you refused to take it?"

"Yes," he said with a shake of his head. "This surprises you?"

"Well, kind of."

That answer surprised him. He was known for being a sarcastic jerk, but he didn't think he'd ever given the impression to her that he was out to make money off of other people. He much preferred making his money the old-fashioned way, earning it by building a business that would make it. True, his little studio wasn't going to ever turn into the behemoth her dad's company was, but he was going to do his damnedest to make a go at being very successful. One person gave him something to latch onto, a glimmer of hope, and John planned on doing everything in his power not to disappoint that person's efforts.

"Do you know me at all?"

"I'm just not used to it," she said.

"Yeah, that's kind of what whatever his name said."

"So, what is he going to do?"

"I don't know. He told me he wasn't going to tell you or your dad. I could see not telling your dad, but not you. I mean you'd freak out if I just started showing up at places or events you were. You'd accuse me of stalking you or something, and I assure you I have better things to do with my time."

"Thanks a lot," she said.

"Come on," he said. "You know what I mean."

She had to know he didn't mean that in a 'not interested' way. He'd kissed her more than once in the past couple of weeks. Maybe kissing didn't mean anything to her anymore, but oddly it meant a lot to him. He didn't just kiss anyone. He never had, really. Kissing, to him, was reserved for relationships with feelings involved with them. He'd never had one of those because he'd decided a long time ago he wasn't wrong to not let his heart get involved in things. He saw what things like love did to his parents and his friends who were otherwise sane and rational people.

"I'm not entirely sure I do, but I guess I can see your point."

"Good," he said, relieved she hadn't really taken offense to what he'd said.

"So, what does that mean exactly?"

"Well, I presume it'd mean I'd be around when you did some of the good things you do. You know like your volunteering or whatever to offset the bad."

"It's too bad you can't come out with me."

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, you wouldn't take pictures like that."

"Of course I wouldn't, but I couldn't stop anyone else from taking them."

"No, but," she said and stopped.

"What?" he prompted. He was curious what she was thinking.

"I don't know. I don't always think rationally when I go out and none of my friends do either, because none of us have to."

He shook his head. She had a point, though. None of them were going to get arrested. How many pictures had he seen plastered over the local papers of her and her friends, many times they'd clearly had too much to drink or smoke? Yet, none of them were ever arrested. As far as he could tell, they were never even pulled over. Now, he supposed it helped when she went out she had a driver to take her wherever she needed to go so she wasn't the one driving. Another perk of being a Standish. It was a limo company, not a private limo, but for all the work the family and corporation gave the company, they may as well be private because there wasn't room for doing much other business when all was said and done.

"No, really, sweets? I would never have known you weren't at all concerned about your or your name's reputation."

"Stop it. That's not fair. I do care about my dad's name. A lot. I don't have sex in limos, strip down naked in the middle of the street, or anything like some people I know do."

"Well, that is very good to know," he said.

And that idea bothered him – and her admission she didn't do it relieved him – more than he cared to admit. True, her kisses didn't imply her having gained a vast amount of experience doing that in the past four years. He knew first hand, though, there was nothing saying you had to do the rest of the stuff with kissing involved. Women usually weren't like that, and he stayed far away from the women who expected it out of the deal.

"I have some class."

He wasn't sure class was the issue when it came to the type of publicity she was getting. Bad press was bad press no matter if she looked good and followed some set of rules while getting it.

"You could stop drinking so much."

"I don't drink that much. I just like to have a good time, you know?"

"Claire," he said.

He didn't believe her. He'd seen more than one picture of her over the years where she was obviously really drunk or on something. He didn't think she was into drugs, but he certainly didn't claim to know what she had gotten into the past four years.

"What's wrong with it?"

"Clearly, you seem to acknowledge there's something wrong with it or you wouldn't think you need a conscious to accompany you on your nights of clubbing."

"You should come out tonight," she said. "It'd be fun."

"Claire, I have other things to do with my nights."

"Things or people?"


She shrugged. "Never mind."

He smirked again at that. "Where are you going tonight anyway?"

"I don't know, I haven't decided yet. It's February 29, though. That only happens once every four years so I have to go out. There's tons of stuff going on."

"And you don't have class until later tomorrow morning?" He thought he remembered her saying that about Tuesday and Thursday.


"I wish I had your life, sweets."

"I'm inviting you to come with me. Come on. You can't have to be at work real early."

She was right. He didn't have to be there until ten o'clock. It was rare he had an appointment before then, but it happened on occasion. He only did that on very rare instances when people had legitimate reasons for not being able to schedule appointments during his regular hours. He'd, in general, rather an appointment be scheduled in the evening than earlier in the morning. He hardly ever got out of the studio as soon as the doors were locked and Ronda went home. He tried to get things ready for his first shoot of the morning before he left at the very least.

"I don't," he said. "I don't really do clubs, though."

"I don't have to go to a club," she said.

"But it's February 29."

"There are parties," she said.

"On a Monday night?"

"Sure," she said with a shrug.

"I appreciate the invitation, but no. You'll have to find someone else to act as your Jiminy Cricket tonight."

"That's not why I'm asking."

"What then?"

"Maybe I just wanted you to come out with me."

"You want me to come out with you?" He sounded as suspicious as he felt about that. "No offense, Princess, but you haven't given me a thought in close to four years. I call you to bail me out of jail because of a mess you got yourself into, and now you want me to go out with you?"

"I didn't say a date."

"I didn't say a date either. You said maybe you just wanted me to come out with you."

"Yes, you said go out. Go out implies a date."

"I see. So, dates are reserved for top-notch, stellar, club-going guys like Pete, but not guys like me?"

She frowned. "I didn't say that."

"Oh, but you don't have to say it outright. I get how it works. Don't worry about it. I don't want to go out with you either, sweets. I'd end up in jail again and probably at least once a week for doing something stupid to a photographer who got in my face all for being seen with you."


"No, forget it. I drove out here because this is where you felt safer meeting. Fine, though why I'm accommodating you when you're the one who's done the deeds to make yourself feel not safe anywhere baffles me. I've told you what I felt I should. I didn't have to. I could have let your dad's lawyer make whatever arrangements he wanted and let you freak out over the fact suddenly I'm around. I didn't want that to happen, though. I was trying to be nice. If that's not worthy of your time, I'm sorry."

"That's not what I said. You're twisting what I said to mean what you want it to."

"I am? So you do want to go out with me?"


"Well, then, what did I say that's inaccurate."

"Nothing," she said with a sigh.

"Don't look so miserable."

"I was sincerely asking you to come out with me tonight."

"To what end? To be someone to think things through for you? To stop you from holding your friend's hair out of the way for her while she heaved all over the parking lot?"

"No. Just because. It'd be fun."

"I'm not sure our ideas of fun gel."

"You could try."

"To what end?"

"To hang out."

"Yeah, and your friends would stare at me like the ones back there on campus did."

"No, they wouldn't. They were staring because they'd never seen you. I never get visitors on campus. Well, I guess my brother's come a couple of times, but seeing me is usually an afterthought to visiting some of his professors."

"Your brother went there, too?"

"Sure. So did Dad and his brothers. Grandpa Standish did, too, and I'm pretty sure Great Grandpa Standish did as well."

"I see, no wonder your dad's money can talk around there."


"Did you even want to go somewhere else?"

She shrugged.

"Claire," he said.

"I didn't have a choice, so it didn't matter what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go."

"Do you have a choice about going into your dad's business?"

"Well, sure, I could walk away from it."

"But?" he prompted. Something told him there was more to that than it being as simple as that.

"He'd probably cut me off, and he won't leave the business to my brother so he'd make me feel incredibly guilty that a business that has survived generations, including the Great Depression, would end because of my frivolousness."

"Why can't your brother have the company?"

"It's not important."

"So, you do all this stuff you do for your brother. To protect him or something you said that night. You're going into your dad's business because of your brother's inability to have the business, whatever the reason."

"More or less."

"I think I understand a little better why you behave the way you do. Was your life set out for you before you were even conceived?"

"Well, no, Christopher is the oldest so obviously my dad took one look at him and assumed he'd hit the mother lode. I was just the cute daughter he indulged."

"Until something happened?"

"More or less."

"I see. You're not going to tell me?"

"Not here. Not now. Maybe some time. I swear to God, though, John. If I tell you and it gets out I will never talk to you again and you can find someone else to bail you out of jail the next time." She ran a fingertip over the back of his hand. "Maybe if you came out with me tonight."

He chuckled at her attempt at flirting with him. He imagined on most guys a touch from her was enough to get them to move mountains for her they claimed they couldn't five minutes before.

"Don't worry, I wouldn't tell anyone what whatever you're hiding is. I don't really care other than morbid curiosity why the younger daughter is in line to inherit the business over the son who does nothing in the public eye to suggest he's not worthy of being given the business. It's a good try, though, Princess. No amount of information is worth that."

"You're no fun," she said.

"I'm plenty of fun. You just don't like being told no. It doesn't happen to you very often, I suspect."

"Not really," she admitted. "Would you if I wasn't going to a club or a party?"

"Where else do you go?"

She shrugged.

"We're here. We had a decent meal the night you bailed me out of jail. We had lunch the day you came to my studio. So, clearly being in the same proximity as you isn't abhorrent to me. I just don't do clubs. And parties, no offense, are so high school to me."

"You don't go to parties?"

"Not the kind you're talking about. I go to my share of, say, Super Bowl parties. I've gone to a few Christmas parties for corporate clients who use my services."

"Oh," she said.

"I guess I got my partying out of my system four years ago. I did it enough to last me most of the rest of my life."

"I remember."

"Unless your dad's lawyer never calls me back, and I'm guessing he's going to. I'd say our paths will cross again and probably more frequently than either of us may enjoy. He seemed to like the idea, and I can't say I'd snub my nose at that opportunity."

"Why not?"

"I'll bet your dad's lawyer will pay a lot better than most of my clients getting Easter pictures taken of their kids this time of year."

"I suppose, you're kind of at a lull. Senior pictures have been done for months. Weddings don't really start to pick up until May."

"I'll get some last minute senior picture requests, but overall yes they were done months ago. I'll get a bit of a boost around prom, but those don't start until April."

"Really? You do prom pictures?"

"I do any kind of picture someone is willing to pay me for my time to take. If they want me in their house, taking pictures of their kids all dressed up before they get a room at the Hilton and take those same clothes off a few hours later. Who am I to say no?"

"So, you'd do this because of the money?"

"No, I mean certainly that's part of it. I have to eat. You do realize that, right? I run a business, so clearly my end goal is to make a profit."

"I know how it works."

"I don't see anyone else knocking on your door to do what I'm offering to do."

"Of course not, because what you're offering to do doesn't really sell."

"I'll sell it," he said.

"You sound awfully confident."

"I'm confident because I know the subject I'd be taking pictures of and I know my abilities."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, but my point wasn't to compliment you but to say that likely our paths will cross again at some point and more than once. You have a lot of bad press to make up for."

"I know," she said wryly.

"So, you think of something that's not going to a club or a party on a Monday night just because it's leap year and I'm in."


"You sound surprised."

"Why would you want to?"

"Why wouldn't I?" he asked, confused.

"My life is such a mess."

"It is," he agreed. "You can clean it up if you want to. You can still go out and not do stupid shit while being places. And for God's sakes, pick better boyfriends."

"He wasn't my boyfriend. We went out a couple of times."

"Come on, that's splitting hairs, isn't it?"

"Maybe, but I wasn't serious about him. He'd never, like, been to my house or anything."

"I can't help but think for the amount of money your father was willing to pay me to do what I did with those pictures, I wonder how much Pete got to shut up and go away. He made those pictures once, he could likely do it again if he wanted to be a dick. He'd certainly know not to hit me up to sell them, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't mail them to the Tribune or Sun-Times on his own. Then again, he probably already has his sights set on his next target. I'm betting you weren't his first rodeo based on what he was able to do."

"They'd have to verify them, though, wouldn't they? I mean, you knew they weren't me. You said…"

"I know what I said, and I would imagine so, but it might be one of those things given your reputation that they print first and work on verifying later. The worst thing that could happen? They could have to print a retraction or an apology. The best thing? They got the scoop of the century."

"I hope not."

"I bet your dad's lawyer scared him sufficiently. Maybe no money changed hands, maybe he just put the fear of God into him. I thought for sure he was looking for my dad, you know? That the old man had really fucked up good this time if a guy in a suit was coming around looking for him."

"I'm sorry he made you think that."

"It's all right."

"I think his lawyer has an agreement with them."

"The papers, you mean? Like?"

"Anything truly disparaging, like those pictures…"

"They contact him first?"


"Have they had to contact him first?"

"No! I've never done anything like that. The idea of taking off my clothes so someone can take my picture doesn't appeal to me at all."

He regarded her for a minute. "I bet I could make it appeal to you."

"You could not."

"You want to make a bet?"

"You want to bet me that you can get me to take my clothes off?"

"I won't have to do a damned thing. All right, maybe you wouldn't take off everything, but I bet I could get you to come awfully damned close."


"Because I told you. I'm good, Princess, I'm very good at my job."

"Did that woman get the job she was going for?"

"Suzanne? I don't know. It doesn't work that quickly. Especially for those magazines. They have hundreds of girls wanting to be their next centerfold."

"I suppose."

"You want to take me up on my bet one day, Princess. You let me know. We'll go to my studio on a Sunday, just the two of us, so not even Ronda could walk in."

"It is tempting just to prove you wrong."

"Let me know, but be careful."


"You may like it."

"You taking my picture."

"That, too," he said.

"Oh," she replied.

He had to admit he'd be intrigued if she ever took him up on his offer. He had no doubt she'd enjoy it. She had the personality whether she wanted to admit it or not. He knew by now who would and wouldn't be able to pose for pictures like that. If she realized that it wasn't classless debauchery but something fun if the person got into the right mood he could see her really getting into it.

"How would I know you wouldn't just turn around and do what Pete was going to do?"

He stared at her for a minute, processing what she'd just asked him. Had she really just asked him that? Did she really think he'd do that? That he was that type of guy? Forget they hadn't seen one another since graduation. He still could've revealed some pretty embarrassing, intimate, and telling, things about her from that day at school and the brief time they hung out afterward if he was out to make a buck at her expense. Not to mention, what he'd done to be sure the pictures Pete had for sale weren't seen? Jesus, did she think he enjoyed getting into a fight and arrested? Unbelievable.

He pulled his wallet out from his pocket, set enough money down on the table to cover their meal. Why he was buying her lunch and dinner all of the time he hadn't a clue. Money certainly wasn't a rare commodity for her. It was innate in him, though, to pay for a woman whether it was a date or not. It was just how he worked. He supposed that said a lot more about him than he wanted to think about today.

"That should be enough to cover it. If not, well, something tells me you've got a credit card in that purse of yours somewhere to take care of whatever's left."

"What are you doing?" she asked.

He grabbed his coat from the space next to him and slid out of the booth.

"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm leaving. Find your own way back to your car. If the lawyer ever calls I'll let him know I've rethought being involved. Have a good life, Claire. Really."

She grabbed onto his sleeve.

"John, I'm sorry."

"No, you're not. You either trust me or you don't. Obviously you don't. I've done nothing to suggest I have some sinister plot in my head regarding you. I don't need this shit. Really. I have better things to do with my time than mop up the mess of someone who can't even be nice to the person offering to clean up after her."

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