[chapter five]

Disclaimer: If you've heard of them, I don't own them. Everything else is mine, so no stealing, pretty please. ;-)

**

"I don't believe it."

Alana's back stiffened as she heard his voice behind her. She had been nervously pacing the hallway, trying to get rid of the jitters when she heard Dale Earnhardt Jr's voice echoing behind her.

In the name of all that was holy, what was he doing here? Alana wondered. She had been invited to be a panelist on the Oprah show, just a week after her somewhat shaky publicity debut on Jay Leno. Though she'd taken some heat for the way she'd talked to Junior the week before, most people she spoke to were applauding her for sticking to her guns and trying to explain the female perspective.

And now he was here? In Chicago? Minutes before Oprah? THE Oprah?

Alana slowly turned and faced him. "Nor do I." She gave him a curt nod. "How are you, Dale?"

"What are you doing here?" Junior questioned, looking around.

"I'm on the Oprah show today. What are you doing in Chicago?" She asked curiously.

Junior gesturing with his head towards another studio. "Filmin' a commercial."

"Ah."

"Yeah."

The conversation ground to a halt as both Alana and Junior searched for something to say. Junior broke the silence first.

"I've been gettin' made fun of a lot this week." He said, shifting from one foot to the other and looking at her uneasily.

"Because?" Alana asked politely.

"Because of the way I got bitch slapped on Leno." Junior answered honestly, but with a hint of humiliation.

"As a 'man's man', that must have been painful for you." Alana agreed sweetly, making Junior narrow his eyes.

"Why do you talk like that?" Junior asked, cocking his head to one side.

"Like what?" Alana asked, caught off balance at his question.

"Like you got a rod up your ass." Junior answered without thinking, blushing slightly as the words spilled from his mouth.

Alana considered him for a long moment. "I guess from all the time in the Ph.D department at Stanford. Most of us talk like…that." She said, with a vague hand gesture and a purse of her lips.

"You got a Ph.D?" Junior asked, secretly impressed but not daring to let her know that.

Alana nodded. "Yes. My specialty at Stanford was counseling psychology, obviously with a focus on male-female relations. I also have a Master's and a B.A., if that matters to you."

Junior snorted. "Sounds fancy, and like a waste of time." He puffed up his chest a little and tried to sound tough and man-about-town. "I got a degree in life, honey."

Alana's eyes tightened at his use of the word 'honey'. She debated engaging him in yet another argument, but she wanted to be at her best for the Oprah show. "Fantastic." She said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Listen, I really need to…" She gestured towards the studio and Junior nodded.

"Sure. Don't wanna delay the touchy-feely-chick-show." Junior shot back, and Alana had to bite her tongue, nearly drawing blood.

"You still have my card?" She asked after a long moment of locking eyes with Junior.

"Yeah." He said arrogantly.

"Call me." Alana said softly. "Or email. Really."

"Yeah. Whatever." Junior said hastily as he turned and walked away. He could hear the door snick shut behind Alana, and he leaned up against the wall and took a deep breath.

Why the hell were his palms sweaty and his breath all raspy?

Why was his heart pounding, and not just in anger?

Why did this chick have this…pull over him?

Why did he have to be so argumentative with her? Why did he have to try and impress her?

And why did he feel like such a bonehead around her?

This wasn't right at all.

chapter six