“Slow? The Bomber?” Jodie opened her mouth to tell Dr. Jane that the Bomber was the smartest, trickiest, most talented—not to mention meanest—sonovabitchen quarterback in the whole freakin’ NFL when this big dizzy rush hit her smack in the middle of her head, an idea so wild she couldn’t believe it had even come into her brain.
She sank back into the couch cushions. Holy shit. She fumbled for the remote and pushed the mute button. “Are you serious? You’d choose somebody like Cal Bonner to be the father of your baby?”
“Of course I would—assuming I could see his medical records. A simple man like that would be perfect: strength, endurance, and a low IQ. His good looks are an added bonus.”
Jodie’s mind ran in three different directions all at once. “What if . . .” She swallowed and tried not to get distracted by an image of Kevin Tucker standing naked right in front of her. “What if I could arrange it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“What if I could set it up so you could get Cal Bonner in bed?”
“Are you joking?”
Jodie swallowed again and shook her head.
“But I don’t know him.”
“You wouldn’t have to.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Slowly, Jodie told her story, leaving out a part here and there—like what a badass the Bomber was—but pretty much being honest about the rest. She explained about the birthday present and the kind of woman the guys wanted. Then she said that with a little cosmetic enhancement, she thought Dr. J. herself could fit the bill.
Dr. J. got so pale she started looking like the little girl in that old Brad Pitt vampire flick. “Are you— Are you saying you think I should pretend to be a prostitute?”
“A real high-class one because the Bomber doesn’t go for hookers.”
She rose from her chair and began pacing around the room. Jodie could almost see her nerd brain working away like a calculator, adding up this and that, pushing plus buttons and minus buttons, getting a look of hope around her eyes and then sagging back against the fireplace mantel.
“The health records . . .” She gave a deep, unhappy sigh. “Just for a moment I thought it might actually be possible, but I’d have to know his health history. Football players use steroids, don’t they? And what about STDs and AIDS?”
“The Bomber doesn’t touch drugs, and he’s never been too much for sleepin’ around, which is why the guys are setting this up. He broke up with his old girlfriend last winter and doesn’t seem to have been with anybody since.”
“I’d still have to know his medical history.”
Jodie figured between Junior and Willie, one of them could sweet-talk a secretary into giving her what she needed. “I’ll have a copy of his medical records by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“His birthday is in ten days,” Jodie pointed out. “I guess what it all comes down to is whether or not you’ve got the guts to go for it.”
What had she done? Jane Darlington’s stomach took a turn for the worse as she made her way into the ladies’ room at Zebras, where Jodie Pulanski had brought her to meet the football player who was driving her to Cal Bonner’s condominium that very night. Ignoring the women chatting at the basins, she headed into the nearest stall, latched it, and leaned her cheek against the cold metal divider.
Was it only ten days since Jodie had shown up at her door and turned her life inside out? What insanity had possessed her to agree to this? After years of orderly thinking, what had convinced her to do something so reckless. Now that it was too late, she realized she’d made a high-school student’s mistake and forgotten the second law of thermodynamics: order inevitably leads to disorder.
Maybe it was a regression. As a youngster, she was always getting herself into scrapes. Her mother had died several months after her birth, and she’d been raised by a cold, withdrawn father who only seemed to pay attention to her when she misbehaved. His attitude, combined with the fact that she was bored in school, had led to a series of pranks that had culminated in her elementary-school principal’s house being painted a bright shade of pink by a local contractor.
The memory still gave her satisfaction. The man had been a sadistic child-hater, and he’d deserved it. Luckily, the incident had also forced the school authorities to see the light, and they began to accelerate her through the system so that she had no more time for mischief. She’d buried herself in her increasingly challenging studies while she shut herself off from a peer group that regarded her as a freak, and if she sometimes thought she liked the rebellious child she had been better than the intense, scholarly woman she had become, she’d simply regarded it as one more price she’d had to pay for the sin of being born different.
Now it seemed that rebellious child still lived. Or maybe it was simply fate. Although she had never placed any credence in mystical signs, discovering that Cal Bonner’s birthday fell exactly at her most fertile time of the month had been too portentous for her to ignore. Before she’d lost her courage, she’d picked up the telephone and called Jodie Pulanski to tell her that she was going to go through with it.
By this time tomorrow, she might be pregnant. A distant possibility, it was true, but her menstrual cycle had always been as orderly as the rest of her life, and she wanted this so badly. Some people might think she was being selfish, but her longing for a baby didn’t feel selfish. It felt right. People saw Jane as a person to be respected, to be held in awe. They wanted her intellect, but no one seemed to want the part of her that she most needed to share, her capacity to love. Her father hadn’t wanted that, and neither had Craig.
Lately she had imagined herself sitting at the desk in her study lost in the data being displayed on the computer screen before her—the intricate calculations that might someday unlock the secrets of the universe. And then in her vision a noise would disturb her concentration, the sound of an imaginary child coming into her study.
She would lift her head. Cup her hand over a soft cheek.
“Mama, can we fly my kite today?”
In her vision she would laugh and turn from her computer, abandoning her search for the secrets of the universe to explore the heavens in a more important way.
The flush of the toilet in the next booth brought her out of her reverie. Before she could fly any kites, she had to get through tonight. That meant she had to seduce a stranger, a man who would know far more about seduction than someone who’d only had one lover.
In her mind she saw Craig’s pale, thin body, naked except for the black socks he wore because he had poor circulation. Unless she had her period or he had one of his migraines, they’d made love nearly every Saturday night, but it was over quickly and not very exciting. Now she felt ashamed of having spent so long in such an unsatisfactory relationship, and she knew loneliness had driven her to it.
Male companionship had always been a problem for her. When she’d been in school, her classmates were too old for her, a problem that had persisted even after she had her degree. She wasn’t an unattractive woman, and a number of her colleagues had asked her out, but they were twenty years her senior, and she’d been vaguely repulsed. The men who had attracted her, the ones her own age, were the graduate students taking her seminars, and dating them violated her sense of ethics. As a result, she’d earned the reputation of being aloof, and they’d stopped asking.
That had finally changed when she’d received the Preeze fellowship. She was investigating top quarks as part of the ultimate quest for every physicist, the search for the Grand Unification Theory, that simple equation, much like Einstein’s E=mc2, that would describe all the parts of the universe. One of the scientists she had met at a University of Chicago seminar had been Craig.
At first she’d thought she’d found the man of her dreams. But, although they could rethink Einstein’s Gedanken experiment without ever growing bored, they never laughed, and they never exchanged the sort of confidences she’d always imagined lovers should share. Gradually, she accepted the fact that their physical relationship was little more than a convenience for both of them.
If only her relationship with Craig had better prepared her to seduce Mr. Bonner. She knew men didn’t consider her sexy, and she could only hope he was one of those awful creatures who didn’t care very much with whom he was sexually engaged as long as he was physically satisfied. She feared he would recognize her for the fraud she was, but at least she would have tried, at least she would have a chance. And she had no alternative. She’d never use a sperm bank and risk having a brilliant child who would grow up as she had, a lonely freak of nature who felt disconnected from those around her.
The sound of chatter faded as the women left the rest room. She knew she couldn’t hide out forever, and she hated the image of herself cowering, so she finally opened the door. As she slipped out of the stall, she caught her reflection in the wall of mirrors and, for a fraction of a moment, thought it belonged to someone else.