From The Experiment (Not yet published) Maggie Simmons is failing her freshman level psychology class (she put it off until her senior year). If she fails, she'll have to be in school and extra semester. So when her professor tells her she can earn a perfect score simply for participating in an experiment, she jumps at the chance. Little does she know that for this experiment, she'll be married for six weeks to a total stranger. When she meets Jaeger Jeffreys, the idea of being his wife isn't so bad. This is from their first date, sponsored by the people running the Experiment. All the couples are there.
"I'm glad to see you're not a vegan," he said as he cut into his steak. "I dated a girl for awhile, only to find out she didn't eat meat. Considering she didn't share that fact with me when I invited her to dinner at the steak house, it was somewhat. . . ."
He winked, pointing his fork at her. "Bingo. I enjoyed my meal and she took a cab home."
"Yeah, it was our third date too. Subject couldn't come up before that?"
"You'd think so. What's significant about the third date?"
Jaeger stopped eating, glancing up at her over his glasses. His fork and knife were poised to cut and framed his face in glittering steel.
"Um—the third date. After the third date. . . .." He tilted his head from side to side indicating she should fill in the blanks.
"Oh, my God! I'm dumb. I don't—date—a lot. Like—ever?" Embarrassed, she attacked her pork chop with renewed vigor.
Jaeger's laugh made her ears burn. She glared at him.
"I'm sorry. Just, it's kind of refreshing to find someone who's not jaded. You don't know how rare that is, Maggie."
"I suppose that could be a compliment. At least you didn't call me naïve."
"Now why would I do that? Being naïve isn't a bad thing, but it implies being cut off from reality and not familiar with the bad things in life. You're not sitting in some ivory tower, you're out here with the rest of us, but you haven't let the association with the bad things tarnish you."
Maggie stared at him in silence, a bite of pork in her mouth. She had no idea how to reply to that. He'd summed up her life entirely in a few sentences. Not only that, he made her sound strong, positive and self-possessed. Everyone else treated her like a silly little child. She smiled.
"Thank you. I believe that's the nicest thing anyone's said to me in a long time."
"Then you don't hang out with the right people." He concentrated on his food.
"You're very perceptive for an accountant."
Jaeger laughed, nearly spewing his bite of pineapple. "I'm not just a number cruncher. I go out, do things, see actual people. And it's interesting to observe, when others discount you as unimportant."
Maggie leaned toward him in a conspiratorial fashion. "You do that too? Watch people?"
"Don't make me sound like some kinda stalker," he replied, matching her aspect and tone.
"No, nothing that twisted. Just. . . . Well, look at the blond guy to your right." Her eyes flickered over to the golfer and back to Jaeger.
"Plays golf, bad taste in pants and is probably gay."
"You base that on the fact he's wearing a pink shirt?"
"No, on the fact he's sitting with a very hot woman and isn't staring at her tits."
Maggie glanced at her own chest and at the young woman next to them. Both showed about the same amount of cleavage. Her eyes flickered over to Jaeger, who pointedly looked away.
"Were you just—?"
He chuckled, averting his eyes. "Baby, I'm a guy. You wear a shirt like that, I'm gonna look. Hell, if you were in a bulky fisherman's sweater, I'd look. You have—very nice—assets." It was now his turn to blush.
Maggie burst out laughing, drawing the attention of the entire room. She tried to swallow, sooner than she should have, and felt the food lodge in her throat. She gasped, going red in the face. Jaeger grew suddenly alert as she continued to gag.
"Maggie? Oh, wow. Someone help!" He stood, bumping the table.
The girl with the golfer stood. "Hold on, I can do this. I'm pre-med."
She put her arms around Maggie and two quick jerks later, Maggie coughed up the bite of pork chop that had tried to strangle her. Everyone cheered, including the golfer, who looked at his intended with new admiration. Maggie thanked her and they hugged. Jaeger helped her sit.
"You feel like staying for dessert after that?"
Maggie nodded. "Might as well. I'm completely humiliated anyway. Best to ride it out."
"Could have happened to anyone, Maggie."
"I know. But how are these folks gonna remember me? As the girl who choked on her pork chop. None of them will know my name, but they'll know what happened at dinner."
"Well, there's worse things to be known for. Could be the boy who couldn't climb the rope in P.E. Or the guy whose asthma was so bad, he couldn't try out for anything except chess and debate club."
"I was the girl who nearly drowned at the swim meet—and I wasn't on the team! I got shoved in the pool as a joke and hit my head on the ladder."
"Whoa! Who did a thing like that?"
"Someone who thought it was hysterically funny until she got expelled from school and nearly was arrested for attempted manslaughter."
"So not funny. Sounds like we've both been the butt of the jokes, huh?"
She nodded, forcing down the tears that the memories brought with them.
Jaeger raised his glass. "I make you a promise, Margay Simmons. I will never, purposely, make a fool of you, hurtfully tease you or humiliate you."
She raised her glass too, clinking it against his. "I make the same promise, Jaeger Jeffreys, the man with the mysterious and awful first name."