Playing the Game (Neighborly Affection #1)

Meet Alice, Henry, and (in absentia) Jay from Neighborly Affection: Playing the Game.

Playing the Game: Neighborly Affection Book 1 by M.Q. Barber

Henry opened the door at her knock, casually dressed, for him, in khakis and a short-sleeved green polo shirt that matched his eyes. She let her gaze roam, flirtatiously, because it was Henry, and he was as safe and harmless as they came.

“Looking sharp. Testing out new date threads?” She circled him as he closed the door.

Exquisite. The slacks hugged him enough to remind her of his masculinity but not enough to feel obscene. The shirt draped just so across the breadth of his shoulders. Yum.

Not that his attractiveness surprised her.

No, the only surprising thing was that he’d opened the door himself. Usually that task fell to Jay while Henry cooked.

“Jay on strike tonight? Or busy sampling the food while your back is turned?”

Henry smiled. His gaze skated over her own form, lingering on the scoop neck of her top, presumably because the view wasn’t one Jay’s lanky body offered. She hid her smirk.

“You’re looking lovely this evening as well, Alice. Perhaps you’re intending to test your date-appropriate clothing out on me? I deem it a smashing success.” He gestured her toward the kitchen. “Although I wouldn’t put it past Jay to sample the food behind my back, he is not doing so at the moment. It’s rather difficult to do when one is not present.”

Jay wasn’t here? That couldn’t be right. She’d shared meals with just Jay or just Henry before, but never at their apartment and always while they were out doing friend stuff.

“What, you ran out of wine and sent him for a bottle?”

“No, I have a delightful bottle of wine for us right here, a Chablis, to complement the cream sauce for the scallops and linguine.”

Henry raised the heat beneath a saucepan simmering on the stove, drained pasta water in the sink and added the noodles to the sauce. He was quick and competent, with elegant motions that always made her wonder if he’d taken dance lessons, though she still hadn’t asked.

“There’s a bit of the wine in the sauce, actually. If you’ll open the refrigerator, you’ll find our salads. Would you mind bringing them to the table?”

“As long as you don’t tell Jay I’m usurping his role as waiter.”

She opened the refrigerator and scooped up two salad plates. No third, not on any shelf. She closed the door, carried the plates to the table, and attempted a casual tone. “So where is he tonight, anyway?”

“Help yourself to some cutlery, Alice. You know where everything is.”

She carried forks. Napkins. Wine and glasses.

Henry sliced bread fresh from the oven and plated their pasta. He seated her formally, holding her chair for her, and followed up by pouring the wine before seating himself.

They’d both had a few bites, and she’d expressed her appreciation for the rich sauce and the wine’s tart citrus before she asked again.

“So Jay’s not watching the fireworks with us?”

“I’m beginning to think you’re unhappy to be dining with me, Alice.”

His smile told her he was joking, though she cringed at her own rudeness.

“No, sorry, not at all. I’m just intensely nosy. When you invited me over for the Fourth, I assumed…”

“That Jay and I were joined at the hip?”

Literally. She sipped her wine to stop the laughter bubbling in her gut.

“Something like that, I guess.”

“Ah. Well. As it happens, Jay will be taking in the fireworks picnic-style in the park with a young woman he met while kayaking last month. I packed them a superb supper, if I do say so myself.”

“He’s on a date?” Fuck. She hadn’t meant to sound quite so disbelieving.

But Jay? On a date? With a woman? Okay, he flirted with every woman he saw, but he was with Henry, wasn’t he?

Read the whole story in Playing the Game (Neighborly Affection #1), now available at retailers including:

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