“Oh,” I said.
“Oh? That’s it? I represent a multi-billion dollar company and that’s all you have to say?”
Well, I was a little disappointed that I completely misread the reason why he drove all the way to the East Bay. He was oddly contained, as if he laughed inwardly from a private joke.
Is he fucking with me?
“I just thought that…” I blushed and didn’t finish the sentence under his intense stare. “It’s a bit strange to drive all the way here just to talk about a job. On a Saturday. You could have emailed me.”
“There are a lot of Natalie Porters on LinkedIn,” he said gruffly. “And I’m impulsive.”
It was strange that I felt so upset that he changed his mind about me. What is it about me that is so horrible? My mother would be able to tell me in a few seconds flat. I felt an incredible urge to look into his eyes and ask him. He would tell me, but did I want to hear the answer? At least there was a silver lining in all of this. Working for Pardini Worldwide would be an incredible opportunity for me. I couldn’t pass it up, no matter how weird William was.
“Well, what’s the job?”
“Ah-ah,” he tutted. “Not yet. I want to get to know you first.”
Taken aback, I leaned into my chair. “Okay. What do you want to know?”
“Do you get drunk often?”
My mouth hung open. “That isn’t any of—” I stopped as he gave me a sharp look. “I don’t get drunk. That ended in my sophomore year of college. I’ll have a beer or a glass of wine occasionally.”
He nodded approvingly. “How do you feel about cats?”
“Cats? Um, they’re okay, I guess?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question,” he barked.
“They’re nice,” I said with a bit of an edge.
“Tell me about a difficult person you interacted with.”
You. I glared at him, and then realized I probably should look friendlier to my potential boss. “Well, there was this one guy at work who—”
“—Never mind. I hate boring questions. What do you do on weekends?”
Nothing. A stinging feeling dug into my brain. I was tired of being interrupted. “I hang out with my friends, I see movies, go shopping.”
Will was looking more and more bored with my answers. “Why?”
“Why what?” He’s starting to piss me off.
“Why do you want this position?”
I gave a frustrated laugh. “How am I supposed to answer that when I don’t even know what the job is?”
Will glanced up coolly. “You’re supposed to kiss my ass and tell me how wonderful my company is.”
“Do you want ass-kissers to work for you?”
He raised an eyebrow. “No. Good point.”
“What would you do if your head of department screamed at you in the hallway?”
“Probably nothing,” I murmured without thinking. Gathering from Will’s extremely shocked expression, I realized I said the wrong thing. “Well, uh—obviously, that’s a really unprofessional thing to—”
“Wow, that says a lot about you,” he chuckled.
Heat flushed my face. This was really unfair. He gave me no time to prepare. “You really blind-sided me with this interview. I don’t know what you expected. I don’t even know what the job is!” I slammed my fist on the table, making our glasses rattle.
He coughed. “I guess that answers that for how easily you can be provoked.”
I simmered as he gave me another grin. This couldn’t possibly be real.
“I’m getting the feeling that this entire thing is your idea of a sick joke.” I threw my napkin on the table and grabbed my purse, feeling close to tears as I got up and stormed out of the restaurant.
Everyone’s always laughing at me—I won’t take it anymore. I won’t deal with this. All I wanted was to eat my meal in peace, to have a nice evening with him.
Half-crying, I walked forward blindly on the rain-soaked streets, not caring where the hell I was going.
Heavy footsteps jogged next to me and I didn’t need to look to see who it was.
“Natalie, hold on for a second!”
Rough fingers encircled my arm and stopped my rapid escape to my car. William stood under a streetlight, his normally handsome features harsh under the glare.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you. This definitely isn’t a joke.” He spoke in a slow, clear voice. “I have an unorthodox way of interviewing people to see if they’ll be a good fit. It was just a stress interview.”
I nodded and pressed my lips firmly together. Suddenly, I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes were stinging. Well, I guess I failed his test spectacularly.
“Ah, shit. Don’t be upset.”
I heard him lean forward and then his fingers were at my throat, sweeping upward until they gently clasped my chin and tilted it up. My first instinct was to pull away, to shout, because it was such an invasion of my boundaries. Instead, I melted into his hand. The need to be touched overwhelmed my pride. I couldn’t look at him because I knew I would see pity in his eyes and that would be enough to shove me over the edge.
Dark, self-critical thoughts raged inside me, most of them with the voices of my parents. You’ll never find someone.
“I’m really sorry. Please don’t be upset.”
Don’t let go of me. I shook my head. My face felt like it was about to burst. “It’s not you. I’m just having a hard time.” I’m just lonely as hell and overly emotional these days.
“Natalie,” he began in a gentle voice. “You’ll get over this. I promise.”
I finally looked at him, my hands clinging to his hands, which were still wrapped around my face. His gaze was warm and I knew that he felt for me; he understood the darkness swirling inside my head and knew that it wasn’t about him. I choked a bit from the strength blazing in his eyes and a single tear rolled down my face, but his thumb caught it and stroked my cheek, almost as if he adored me.
No, he was just being kind to the strange, sad girl he had been interested in.
“Take care of yourself.”
His body heat left me abruptly as he backed away, his hands dropping from my face. I couldn’t even utter a goodbye. I just stared at this magnificent, strange man and I felt my heart ripped out when he turned around and walked away.