"Good, then we're on the same page. Look, you're right, I'm not the sort of guy that dates. I don't have the time or the inclination to be tied down, and I make no apologies for that. But that doesn't automatically make me some asshole who just uses women and then throws them away. If there's no spark, I'm not interested. And this right here, this has got me very interested."
I laughed. "Ah, the playa with a heart of gold. How touching. But unfortunately, I'm not good at sharing. I have this weird thing about wanting the men I sleep with to only be sleeping with me."
He let out a long breath. "Well, I don't usually do exclusivity."
I recoiled in mock surprise. "I'm shocked!"
He studied me for a few seconds, his expression hovering somewhere between frustration and amusement. "This doesn't have to be complicated, Sophia. There are so many things I want to do to that body of yours, and I promise that you'll enjoy every exquisite minute of it. Why do you need anything more than that?"
Something in my lower belly clenched. Despite how crude his approach was, I believed him. And a rather loud voice in the back of my head was begging me to let him have his wish.
But somehow, I rallied one more time. "It's not complicated for me. It's incredibly simple. I'm. Not. Interested! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to my friends. I'll extend you the same courtesy you extended me and let you walk yourself out, but if I see you here again, I'm calling security. I don't care who your friends are, if you're harassing an employee, you'll be out of here before you can blink. Goodbye, Sebastian. It's been... interesting." And with much more confidence than I felt inside, I spun and marched away.
I could hardly blame him for the way my body reacted to his, but it was still immensely satisfying to storm off like that. That'll teach him to get into my head. Bastard.
I expected maybe a parting shot, but no words followed me. I resisted the urge to turn and look back. I was proud of myself for not caving to him, although there were very specific parts of me that were emphatically venting their disappointment. I suspected I'd be delving into my underwear drawer later for a little relief.
"Jesus Christ," Elle said, as I returned. Miles was nowhere to be seen, but she was peering over my shoulder with an awestruck gaze, her lips hanging slightly open. At least it's not just me.
"Who the hell was that?" she asked.
I shrugged. "I'm not sure actually. Just some guy."
"Seriously? That's like calling Ryan Gosling 'just some guy'!"
I shrugged again, trying to feign disinterest. The sooner we stopped talking about him, the better.
"Well, whoever he was, he looked hella into you," she continued.
"You think?" I asked.
She stared at me like I'd gone mad. "He was practically eye fucking you from the moment you guys started talking. How could you not notice that? I even bet Miles ten bucks he'd get your number."
I winced. "Sorry, no dice."
She shook her head slowly. "Fuck. Well, I guess that means he's still fair game, then."
I laughed. "If we see him again, he's all yours."
Our conversation turned to other things. Despite my best efforts, I found myself glancing around every so often, checking that Sebastian wasn't still lurking nearby. It seemed like he'd taken my warning seriously, but I got the sense such threats may not really mean much to him. After all, he'd tracked me down and infiltrated my office as easily as walking through his own front door.
The effortlessness with which he'd done that frightened me a little. When he'd shown up, my mind had been reeling too much to really think it through; but now the reality of the situation was becoming apparent. In a way, it was vaguely flattering that he'd gone to such efforts, but it also made me suspicious. Between that and the bizarre events of the previous night, I got the sense that there was more to Sebastian Lock than he was telling me.
I spent the next two days on autopilot. Soon, we'd be starting work on the Wrights case, but at that point, it was just business as usual. It felt a little like the calm before the storm. There was already a noticeable buzz around the office, like that frenetic pre-Christmas energy that fills the air as December rolls around. I was excited, but also a little intimidated. We had those people's futures in our hands. Winning wouldn't magically fix the damage, but it would mean hospital bills paid, carers hired, and a huge quality of life improvement for all those affected.
Even without Wrights, we were busy. I usually did my best to at least get out of the office for lunch — there was only so much monochrome decor and recycled air I could take in one day — but my workload meant I just didn't have the time.
So on Saturday, when my boss called asking me to go and meet a new prospective client, I jumped at the chance. I normally hated those schmoozing business lunches, but anything that dragged me away from my screen was a win at that moment.
The meet was at an upmarket steak restaurant in Martin Place named Cuts. It was one of those places that looked like it'd been pulled straight out of the fifties. Dimly lit and dominated by leather and sandstone, it gave off the impression of being expressly made to host boozy lunchtime business rendezvous. I half expected to find the cast of Mad Men hunched in one corner, smoothly wooing prospective clients and chortling over their scotch. I'd been told that the sophisticated aesthetic wasn't just a bluff. The steaks were apparently some of the best in town, although in all honesty, one cut of meat was much the same as any other to me.
I arrived a little early. The restaurant was quiet. There were just a handful of groups dining inside and a lone guy sitting at the bar. I made a beeline for the main room, longing to get a glass of red into me before my client arrived. We hadn't met before — all I had was a name; Mr Keys — but it seemed like a good idea to loosen up a little first.
But as I approached, the man at the bar spun to face me. I froze.
"Are you fucking serious?" I said.
"Not much for traditional greetings are you?" Sebastian asked, clearly enjoying having shocked me for a second time.
As usual, a pang of desire rushed through me at the sight of him. I had no idea how I hadn't noticed him immediately. Even in the simple act of sitting still, that masculine poise was unmistakable.
"Not when I'm talking to men who appear to be stalking me," I replied sharply.
He gave a little laugh. "You arrive after me, but I'm the one stalking you?"
He had a point. I shifted uncomfortably. "Well, whatever. I don't have time for your games today, Sebastian. I'm here for a meeting."