Hidden Heart (Windy City #1)

By: Measha Stone

CHAPTER ONE

The Meet





True love was a myth spread among generations of single women to encourage them to continue their search for the man of their dreams. Jessica Stanley knew better. She’d called off the hopeless scavenger hunt a year after turning twenty-five.

Men weren’t what the romance novels promised. Jake had educated her about the death of chivalry during their six months together their senior year at UIC. Harrison had explained with each lying breath how honesty and honor no longer made the modern man. Several others had taught her the same lessons over and over until she finally closed up shop and decided it was better to remain single.

This wasn’t to say Jessica didn’t love men. She did. They brought many physical attributes to a relationship; however, those could be replaced by quality batteries and well-crafted machinery.

No, she would stick to nights out with good friends and lonely weekends buried in books.

Friday nights were reserved for dinner out with old friends. A small group that banded together during college and still lived near the city. Alex was one of her closest friends, so she was able to forgive him for being a part of the male cult of society. He had nursed her through several break-ups, and never once did he mutter the words I told you so, even though—more than once—he had in fact told her so.

It was Alex’s pick for dinner, and Jessica was thankful he chose the Italian restaurant down the street from her apartment. She hated fighting for a cab on the weekends with all of the newly twenty-one crowd jumping from bar to bar. The walk to the restaurant provided a nice release from her day at the law firm. The grind of working as a paralegal for one of the partners had left her mentally drained. The crisp air of autumn calmed her and cleared away all of the stress of the previous week. She was ready for relaxation and fun.

Most of her group beat her to the restaurant. The hostess pointed her in their direction, the back corner of the bistro, hidden from most of the restaurant. Jessica wiggled between chairs and tripped over someone’s coat before she managed to get to them.

“Jessica!” Erin, her old roommate at UIC, stood up and threw her arms around her. White Diamonds perfume enveloped her as much as Erin’s arms did.

Jessica took a deep breath through her mouth and grinned.

“I wasn’t sure you’d make it! Alex said you were working on some big case this week.” Erin took her seat.

“It’s nearly finished, and I’m not thinking about it tonight.” Jessica shimmied out of her coat and took a seat beside Jonathan, Erin’s fiancé.

“I hear Alex is bringing a new guy tonight.” Kelly, Erin’s perpetual third wheel, chimed in after a long sip of her appletini. Her tone suggested more than an offering of information.

“I think he mentioned something. I haven’t really talked to him this week. Maybe you’ll find your true love.” Jessica rolled her eyes at Kelly, who seemed to perk up at the idea.

“You aren’t still thinking to stay celibate the rest of your life, are you?” Jonathan asked as he tried waving down a waiter with his empty beer bottle.

“No. I’m just not wasting time on searching for the catch of my life.” Jessica smoothed down her windblown chestnut hair.

“Look at us.” Erin linked her arm through Jonathan’s and smiled. “We’re happy. It is possible to find a great guy who makes you happy.”

Jessica rolled her eyes at the sappy sentiment, fully ignoring her own twinge of envy pulling at her heart. Jonathan continued his search for a waiter.

“Ooh, now that is a good looking man.” Kelly straightened her shirt and rushed a finger comb through her thick red curls while keeping her eyes fixed on her prey.

Jessica followed Kelly’s stare. Alex was pushing his way through the tables toward them, a man walking behind him. A tall man. A tall man with undeniably handsome features. A tall, hot man, wearing a suit and looking very much a like a character straight off the set of Mad Men. His hair was a dark shade of brown, too dark to be brown and too light to be black. Whatever the name of the color, it accentuated his azure eyes.

Jessica found herself holding her breath and had to remind herself to breath. He was just a guy.

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