He winked. “Fishing? Seeing if I’m available?”
Penelope patted his arm. “Definitely not. You’re pretty, but don’t worry. You’re safe with me.”
Cole lifted an eyebrow. “How’s that?”
She pursed her lips and tilted her head to study him.
Cole laughed. “Why do I feel like I should be giving you my good side? To see if I pass muster?”
“Oh, don’t fret, this is quite nice,” she said, lifting her hand to gesture over his face.
“But you’re still not feeling the pull, huh?”
Penelope took a sip of beer. “Are you?”
He blinked in surprise. “What?”
She shifted in her bar stool to face him. “Take it all in. Are you feeling light-headed? Dazzled by my feminine charms?”
“Exactly,” she said, looking strangely satisfied with his nonreaction. “You’re out of my league, Sharpe.”
He opened his mouth, and she shocked the hell out of him by leaning forward and tapping a finger over his lips very matter-of-factly.
“Don’t even,” she said. “This is how it’s going to be, okay? I don’t have any illusions about the fact that I’m a friend-zone kind of girl, and I’m okay with that. Plus, lucky for you, I’m a darn good friend.”
He opened his mouth, but she kept right on talking.
“Plus, we have a career in common, and let’s be honest, there aren’t that many sportswriters out there, so we should stick together, right?”
“You can’t say no,” she chattered on. “Because I’m new to the city and desperate for a friend, and I like you. But that’s where it ends, okay? At like. You don’t have to worry that I’ll get the wrong idea about what this is because I won’t. But in return, you have to promise not to flirt.”
Cole could only stare at her.
It was the strangest conversation he’d ever had with a woman. He wasn’t sure he’d ever had a woman tell him quite so plainly that she didn’t want anything romantic from him.