"What the fuck was that?!" Weston exclaimed from the front passenger seat of my service car as we pulled away from the curb.
Restraining myself from directing the driver--a habit of mine, surely not useful now when I'd been out of New York City for so long--I looked behind me out the rear window at the two figures we'd left behind. Donovan Kincaid, one of my partners at Reach Advertising, along with Weston King, was chasing down a girl who worked in the office — Sabrina Lind.
I had only just met Sabrina this evening. The woman was pleasant, smart, straightforward. Had a good head on her shoulders. Weston and I had dined with her and her younger sister and had just been finishing up when Donovan had come in, all blustering and noble and knightly.
"Donovan called himself her boyfriend," Weston said, incredulously, recalling the scene we’d just left. "Was I the only one who heard that? I can’t be that drunk."
It had been an out of character declaration for the usually tight-lipped and brooding Donovan, but I'd seen this side of him before, many years ago in the past. The last time he had given a woman his heart.
If anyone asked me, he was wasting his time with this one. Sabrina had said several things over dinner that suggested she was no longer entertained by the circus that surrounded romantic notions.
"I heard it," the young woman sitting next to me answered.
Now this one — Audrey, the younger sister whom I’d volunteered to see home — a man would have a much easier time trying to woo her. She'd made that clear over dinner as well.
Too bad she was that kind of girl. The kind of girl who wanted a man to love her before she lifted her skirt. Otherwise...
I turned my head slightly, imperceptibly, and slid my eyes down her form, pausing on the sweet curve of her breasts, watching her chest rise and fall with her breath. My gaze had traveled this journey several times this evening, but now I was lucky enough to have the added view of her legs which had been hidden under the table before. They were long and toned, a little curve in just the right place.
"I heard it," she said again, "and it was so romantic."
The swoon in her voice made me chuckle to myself. God, she was young. Younger than whatever ridiculous young age she actually was. Who the hell even believed in romance anymore?
"I don’t understand,” Weston muttered, combing his hand through his hair. “I'm Donovan's best friend. I didn't know he was into Sabrina. I was supposed to be into Sabrina. When did this happen? Where have I been?"
Oh. That was right. Weston King believed in love and relationships.
He turned his head to look at both me and Audrey in the backseat. “I’m seriously asking here.”
I glanced at Audrey. Her expression said that she had been in the know, but her lips were sealed.
That left me to console my partner. "You've probably been too distracted with that Dyson pussy you’ve been banging," I was definitely still intoxicated. I didn't normally use such crass language in front of a lady. Especially such a young lady.
"Hey," Weston said, pointing a stern finger in my direction. "Elizabeth is not just some pussy I've been banging. I'm going to marry her."
Never mind that their engagement was part of a business ruse. Despite the fact that it counted for nothing, Weston seemed to have grown fond of the girl--even as he bemoaned the loss of Sabrina.
It was exhausting.
"You're exhausting," I told him.
"I'm exhausting?" He seemed baffled by the idea that he would exhaust anyone.
"The entire lot of you. More exhausting than the flight across the pond. All of you are intelligent creatures normally. I wouldn't have gotten into business with partners who gave in to the whims and fancies of human nature. It takes a clear head, your feet on the ground, your priorities straight, to be as successful as we have been with our company.
"But now the lot of you have gone and eaten some fruit from the tree of temptation. Drank the potion number nine. Watched one too many Netflix Christmas specials, because you've suddenly all fallen into the ridiculous camp of men who fall in love with women."
"Wait," Weston halted me. "I never said I was in love with Elizabeth Dyson. I only said I was going to marry her."
"You spent the entire dinner pining after her. Pining, Weston King. Surely pining is a sign of love." I turned to the audience member that I knew would be on my side.
"Yes, indeed," Audrey nodded, with a bob of her head that was somehow both youthful and sexy as hell. "Pining is love 101. If a girl came to me and said the guy had told her he was pining after her? That's totally like popping the question."
"Exactly like," I said straight-faced. I was being sarcastic, of course, but the girl did make me want to smile.
Among other things.
I stretched my arm across the back of the seat bench, casually, making myself comfortable. Not making a move. No, not that.
"I am not in love with Eliza—"
"And on top of your pining," I said, speaking loudly over Weston. His denial, which he was surely about to deliver in full, was infuriating and, frankly, patronizing, and I refused to listen to more than a second of it. "We have Donovan, who declares a relationship with a woman on a public street, for crying out loud, in front of his partners. I thought for sure that man, of all of you, had reason.” He must have forgotten how miserable he’d been the last time he’d given his heart, albeit ten years ago.
Soon enough, he’d remember.
“And then we have Nate," I continued. A man of varied sexual pleasures and interests, Nathan Sinclair had been another fly I'd never expected to drop. "When I’d had drinks with the man last night, he was talking about one woman like she hung the moon. Soon it will just be me and Cade.”
I leaned closer toward Audrey, since she probably didn’t know anything about our fifth partner who headed the Tokyo office. "No one will ever love Cade, even if he goes pansy on us. That's a man that even a mother wouldn’t love. He's one of my best friends. I ought to know.”
Weston harrumphed from the front seat, completely indignant, but I noted a hint of optimism, as though he hoped I were right about his future, and that he’d be leaving the bachelor life for good.
He really had gone bananas over that Dyson girl. Poor sucker.
I stole another glance at Audrey, curious at how badly I’d offended her with my speech, love-cheerleader that she was.
But when I turned in her direction, I hadn’t expected that she’d already be staring at me. The flush in her round cheeks as she looked quickly away sent a jolt to my todger.
I should have been ashamed of myself.
But I wasn't.
She was a very attractive young lady. I couldn’t help how my body reacted. I'd been respectful. For the most part.
"This is me," Weston said, pointing out the window to his building.
My driver pulled over next to a large bank of snow. To be fair, the entire street was banked with snow, lingering from the storm the day before.
"Guess I’m going snowshoeing,” Weston said with a sigh. He stepped out of the car and immediately cursed, the door slamming before I could make out the full extent of his blaspheme.
I leaned over Audrey, and not just because I wanted to smell the rose bouquet in her perfume, but so that I could roll the window down and call after my partner.
"Have a good Thanksgiving," I said, "if I don't see you again before the holiday." He was flying off somewhere later in the week--Utah or Kansas--the United States Midwest was always a blur to this Hampshire native.
"You too, friend. It was good seeing you. If even briefly. And nice meeting you, Audrey." He turned, stepping into the snow. "Fuck. These were a brand-new pair of Giacomettis."
"You can put them out with the rubbish, along with your balls. Since you're obviously not using them anymore." I rolled up the window before he could throw back a dig of his own, but he got me with a simple flip of the bird.
I sat back in my seat, accidentally grazing my hand along Audrey's bare knee.
Perhaps, not so accidentally, but I played it perfectly--the shocked drawback from the touch and an immediate apology, stammering so that she would indeed believe that the brush was innocent. With all the predators these days, I certainly didn't want to be confused for one.
Or at least I wanted to be my own breed of predator. The kind that knew when to behave. Though the shock of the touch had sent fire through my blood, it wouldn't be followed up with any pouncing.
We drove in silence for several minutes, a thick silence. Too thick. Too heavy, making the car hot and stuffy and tense.
I loosened my tie and stole another glance in her direction. She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. Had I offended her after all with my touch?
Then I remembered the conversation from before Weston exited the car. That was more likely the cause of any hard feelings.
Normally, I would brush the whole thing off. Let her be offended. I wasn’t changing my stance on romance to please her.
The tension between us, though, wouldn’t dissipate. It seemed filled with more than just the words of what I had said. It was growing and breathing, and I felt the need to claw through it, the way you claw through bedsheets when they've twisted around you during a nightmare.
"You've been quiet,” I said. Obvious. To the point. “Have I rained on your love parade?"
She twisted her head in my direction, her eyes catching a reflection of a streetlight making them spark in the darkness.
"You can't rain on my parade," she proclaimed with a smile, as though she were old Dolly herself. "I am firm in my faith." She swiveled a little more in her seat, angling herself so that her body was pointing in my direction. "Are you quite sure that you’re firm in your disbelief?"
Heat traveled down my spine, liquid and molten. That's what this tension was, then — not of a disgruntled nature, but of the sexual. I’d been attracted to her, yes. I hadn’t allowed myself to believe it might be mutual.
I studied her face. She had light almond eyes that were deep set in a pear-shaped face, her pallor flawless. Not a single line marred her skin. She was lovely. Delicious, I imagined. Fresh, like a peach. Her bee stung lips, turned up on both sides below her apple cheeks, portrayed her as innocent.
I liked believing she was that innocent. It made it more fun to imagine what those lips could be taught. What they could be introduced to.
I'd sworn off love years ago, but not sex. Never sex. And Audrey Lind was all sorts of temptation, the kind I knew better to stay away from. She was too romantic. She was too American. She was too young. Much too young. I was definitely old enough to be her father. Probably.
I didn't want to think about that.
She was also the sister of a subordinate, which felt highly inappropriate since I was only in town for the week. Donovan might have gotten involved with the staff, but at least he'd seemed serious about it. A fling was another thing altogether, not as polite.
And none of that mattered since she was so very young.
"You're hesitating," she said, her smile broadening as though she'd won some sort of trophy. "Are you unsure of your answer?"
I had to remind myself of the question. "No. My commitment to refute love and relationships in all forms remains unwavering." My eyes flickered to her plump lips. The delectable mouth.
"I wonder if you're lying." Before I could offer a protest she went on. "Which isn’t why I was quiet. I was thinking about Weston's situation. Not the current one, but how he was before he met Elizabeth. I’m normally not into players, but he’s reformed. And his past has advantages.”
Her words were a fishhook. If I were a smart little fishy I would swim away as fast as I could.
I was a smart fishy. I was.
But I liked to swim as close to the bait as possible. Just to see what it was.
"What exact benefits does Weston King have in being a former playboy who now thinks he’s head-over-heels for a woman he’s fake-engaged to? The first woman he’s ever spent more than a night with, might I add." It was one of the messiest messes I had ever imagined.
"Well. Um." Her eyes fluttered downward and her cheeks darkened a bit. "Weston figured out what he was doing before he fell for Elizabeth. So when they were together, it was...You know." She rubbed her lips together — believe me, I was watching everything she did with that mouth. "In the bedroom, I mean."
"Are you saying that you are not…? That you haven’t…?" I cleared my throat, floundering a bit with how I was asking this near-stranger about her virginity. It was like the opening of a poorly written porno.
Holy mother of god, I was going to be fantasizing about this for quite some time.
"Oh, no,” she said in a rush.
And to my relief. I couldn’t handle the weight of knowing that and later having to get out of the car to see her to the door of her apartment building.
“I’m not that innocent,” she went on. “I’ve had boyfriends. Two serious. Long-term, each of them. Very committed, very in love with both of them. And, maybe, even, either one of them could have been the guy. You know, The Guy? The Forever Guy?"
The fairytale. Yes, I knew that story.
She was in a car now with me though. Not with me, but she wasn’t with anyone else either from what I’d gathered during the night. So those fairytales had obviously ended. The way that every fairytale eventually does and life returns back to reality.
"So what happened?”
"Our sex life happened. Or didn’t happen. My friends used to tell me about all these filthy, hot, dirty things they were doing with their boyfriends. Really sexy adventurous things. You know the way girls share everything. And my guys? Missionary. Every time. I swear to God."
My trousers were suddenly much too tight. Oh, the things I could show her. The ways I could be with her. If every man had only ever been on top of her, rutting around inside like some horny little teenager — had she ever even had an orgasm? My body pulsed with the want to show her the sweetness of expertise.
But that couldn't happen. For all the reasons I’d gone through before. Whatever those reasons were. They had left my mind at the moment, but there had been many. Good reasons.
Yet, even as I knew where this little car ride couldn’t go, it seemed we were suddenly closer to each other. Audrey had unbuckled her seatbelt and smoothly slid across the bench toward me, and I hadn’t even noticed.
"I think your story of two men who could've been the one but ended up not, proves your theory of there being a one at all as flawed." My voice was still surprisingly steady. Fortunately. It didn't belie the pounding of my heart, the tingling of my skin. The rock hard state of my cock.
"No way. The one still exists. The theory isn't flawed. I had simply jumped to conclusions too soon. Maybe because I wanted it too much. Maybe because I wasn’t ready yet. I still most definitely believe in kismet."
Her hand was on my thigh, like a hot iron burning through the material of my trousers to the skin underneath. It was a warning sign. A flash of silver threaded through a dead worm.
She lifted her delicate face up toward me, blinking her eyes innocently. "I'm pretty sure I can convince you kismet exists too, if you'll just do one thing."
I didn’t swim. "What's that?"