He breaks off into silence and I stare down at the tablecloth, feeling hot with indignation. It’s all very well for him to say this now, I’m thinking furiously. It’s all very well for him to book a table at the Ritz and order champagne and expect me to smile and say “Oh, that’s OK.” But underneath all the bright banter, I still feel wounded by that whole episode.
“My piece in The Daily World had nothing to do with that lunch,” I say without looking up. “Nothing. And for you to insinuate that it did. .”
“I know,” says Luke, and sighs. “I should never have said that. It was a. . a defensive, angry remark on a day when, frankly, you had us all on the hop.”
“Really?” I can’t help a pleased little smile coming to my lips. “I had you all on the hop?”
“Are you joking?” says Luke. “A whole page in The Daily World on one of our clients, completely out of the blue?”
Ha. I quite like that idea, actually. The whole of Brandon C thrown into disarray by Janice and Martin Webster.
“Was Alicia on the hop?” I can’t resist asking.
“She was hopping as fast as her Pradas would let her,” says Luke drily. “Even faster when I discovered she’d actually spoken to you the day before.”
“Good,” I hear myself saying childishly — then wish I hadn’t. Top businesswomen don’t gloat over their enemies being told off. I should have simply nodded, or said “Ah” meaningfully.
“So, did I have you on the hop, too?” I say, giving a careless little shrug.
There’s silence, and after a while I look up. Luke’s gazing at me with an unsmiling expression, which makes me feel suddenly light-headed and breathless.
“You’ve had me on the hop for quite a while, Rebecca,” he says quietly. He holds my eyes for a few seconds while I stare back, unable to move — then looks down at his menu. “Shall we order?”
The meal seems to go on all night. We talk and talk and eat, and talk, and eat some more. The food is so delicious I can’t say no to anything, and the wine is so delicious I abandon my plan of drinking a businesslike single glass. By the time I’m toying listlessly with chocolate feulliantine, lavender honey ice cream, and caramelized pears, it’s about midnight, and my head is starting to droop.
“How’s the chocolate thing?” says Luke, finishing a mouthful of cheesecake.
“Nice,” I say, and push it toward him. “Not as good as the lemon mousse, though.”
That’s the other thing — I’m absolutely stuffed to the brim. I couldn’t decide between all the scrummy-sounding desserts, so Luke said we should order all the ones we liked the sound of. Which was most of them. So now my stomach feels as though it’s the size of a Christmas pudding, and just as heavy.
I honestly feel as if I’ll never ever be able to get out of this chair. It’s so comfortable, and I’m so warm and cozy, and it’s all so pretty, and my head’s spinning just enough to make me not want to stand up. Plus. . I don’t want it all to stop. I don’t want the evening to end. I’ve had such a good time. The amazing thing is how much Luke makes me laugh. You’d think he’d be all serious and boring and intellectual, but really, he’s not. In fact, come to think of it, we haven’t talked about that unit trust thingy once.
A waiter comes and clears away all our pudding dishes, and brings us each a cup of coffee. I lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and take a few delicious sips. Oh God, I could stay here forever. I’m actually feeling really sleepy by now — partly because I was so nervous last night about Morning Coffee, I hardly slept at all.
“I should go,” I say eventually, and force myself to open my eyes. “I should go back to. .” Where do I live, again? “Fulham. To Fulham.”
“Right,” says Luke after a pause, and takes a sip of coffee. He puts his cup down and reaches for the milk. And as he does so, his hand brushes against mine — and stops still. At once I feel my whole body stiffen. I can’t even blink, in case I break the spell.
OK, I’ll admit it — I kind of put my hand in his way.
Just to see what would happen. I mean, he could easily move his hand back if he wanted to, couldn’t he? Pour his milk, make a joke, say good-night.
But he doesn’t. Very slowly, he closes his hand over mine.
And now I really can’t move. His thumb starts to trace patterns on my wrist, and I can feel how warm and dry his skin is. I look up and meet his gaze, and feel a little jolt inside me. I can’t tear my eyes away from his. I can’t move my hand. I’m completely transfixed.