Dating by Numbers

By: Jennifer Lohmann

CHAPTER ONE

MARSIE PENNY GLANCED out her office door one last time before turning to her computer and entering her password into the dating website. She didn’t want to be filling out the profile now—especially at work—but one of her New Year’s resolutions was finishing the stupid thing. She’d promised herself that she’d have it done by today and, with the way things were looking at work, she wasn’t going to get home until after midnight. She was already behind schedule at work. Being behind schedule in her personal life as well would be beyond the pale.

The temptation to close the door was strong, but she never closed her door. If she did, someone was sure to comment. So, certain the coast was clear, she turned her back on the gaping maw of her open door and hit Enter.

“I know those colors.” At the sound of Jason Ellis’s voice, Marsie’s butt left the cushion of her chair and, once it made contact again, she spun around and slid her chair so her body blocked her computer. Not that she was embarrassed to be using an online dating service—everyone was doing it these days but…

Okay, she was embarrassed.

That wasn’t exactly right. Lots of the women at the research firm where she worked partook in online dating of one kind or another. Her cousins shared funny stories on the family’s Facebook group. She followed people on Twitter who talked about their experiences with online dating. But they were all using it casually. “To meet people,” they said. “It’s a good way to make friends.”

Marsie met enough people. She had enough friends. She wanted a husband and two children and, at thirty-five, she had to act fast.

None of which she would admit to Jason, who leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed over his usual office clothing. Today’s T-shirt was gray and long-sleeved, but no matter the color, the building’s manager and general handyman looked fit and manly. All he needed was a hammer to hang from the loop of his cargo pants to complete the image.

But regardless of how good Jason always looked, time was slipping away from her, and the research firm’s general fix-it guy wasn’t the person to help her keep the clock in her grasp. She recovered and shrugged. “It’s a good way to meet people,” she said, managing not to wince when the inane lie came out of her mouth.

“That’s what they say.” One corner of his mouth kicked up in a smile—a smile that seemed to put everyone but her at ease. His lopsided grin made her wonder what he knew that she didn’t, and she hated that feeling. “You know, if you want to meet people, you’re going to have to leave work. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this office when your car hasn’t been in the parking lot.”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “All the more reason to meet people online.”

“Ha,” he said, with the smile of his that she preferred of all of them. This smile widened his eyes and showed his teeth. Jason had straight, white, magazine-worthy teeth. It was one of the first things she had noticed about him. “You could…you know…go to the gym or join a hiking club or go to a bar.”

She gritted her teeth to suppress a shudder. She’d tried the bar scene a couple times. She’d gone alone, willing to be “picked up” if the right guy came along. The dresses she’d worn had been cute, summery and flirty. She’d ordered glasses of white wine and smiled at random people.

Her friend Beck said it wasn’t the dresses or the wine or the smiles that had failed her, but the fact that she’d brought books to the bar each time. Marsie’s excuse—sitting in a bar alone is boring—didn’t stop her friend from laughing until she cried. “It takes a lot of guts for a guy to approach a woman and, you know, not be a creep. Sit there with a book and the hurdle’s even bigger. And you probably brought something like Dataclysm or another book about statistics and math with you.”

She and Beck had been friends for a long time.

Marsie hadn’t gone back to bars after that. She could read and drink wine at home. It was quieter there, and the wine was both cheaper and better quality.

But her experience with dating—or trying to date—was cringeworthy, and only Beck knew the whole story. She repeated a different bland lie for Jason. “I do get out beyond these office walls. But if you want to meet people, it’s best to keep your options open. The machine-gun approach, rather than a rifle.”

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