The sound of a phone being very roughly slammed onto its cradle made Francis sit bolt upright. Jennie was not, as a rule, someone who got upset easily; that sort of outburst probably meant something big was going on. He started saving his work.

He’d just closed his laptop and was pushing it away from him when she burst into the room. “Francis! Lara says she saw you making out with Vernon!

The accusation in her voice stung; he lurched back in his seat. “So?” he protested. “I thought we had an agreement – you don’t have to report the women you go with, I don’t have to get the guys in my life vetted!”

“This isn’t some random guy you just met, Francis! You know I don’t like him! Why else would you have been keeping so goddamn quiet about it?”

“I wasn’t…” Francis bit off the rest, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Both of them could get worked up way too easily. In a more measured tone, he said, “I wasn’t trying to be secretive about it, Jennie. I was just trying to be discreet. It’s obvious now I could’ve handled this better. Why don’t you have a seat,” he indicated the comfortable armchair, “and I’ll get us some drinks, and we’ll sort this out, okay?”

After a moment’s pause, she sank into the seat. Her expression could have scared off a stormcloud, but she didn’t object. Taking that as a good sign, he went into the kitchen.

Not alcohol – he didn’t want her to think he was trying to make her too drunk to argue, or that he himself was trying to forget the discussion that was to come. Iced tea for her, heavy on the mix, sweet like she liked it; apple cider for himself.

She was still surly when he returned and set her drink on the end table next to the chair, but seemed a bit less tense, at least. Hopefully a good sign.

“I’m sorry, Jennie,” he said as he sat down. “I never want to hurt you, and I didn’t want to rub your nose in this, but I didn’t realize you felt that strongly about him.”

She took a gulp of her drink and sighed. “Why him, Francis? Why one of my out-and-out enemies?

“He’s really not that bad, hon. Hear me out,” he added when she drew breath to object. “I know you don’t like him, and he doesn’t like you. But he doesn’t think you’re a bad person. He’s never tried to get me away from you – which is more than I can say for some of the guys I’ve run into. You two just… rub each other the wrong way. I’m sorry that it is that way, but honestly, he’s got more respect for you than plenty of guys who don’t know you at all.”

A snort. “And he is handsome, I’ll give you that.”

Francis left unsaid that Vernon was enviously drop-dead gorgeous – and that if he had a genuine flaw, it was that he knew it. “As enemies go, Jennie, you could have worse. He does understand that if he says a word against you, he’s not getting so much as a handshake from me ever again. He’s… not the one I want to be with, Jennie. If it really bugs you that much, I’ll stop…”

“…Talk to me in the morning, all right?” She sighed.

“Thanks, hon.” He leaned over to touch her hand. “I appreciate it.”