My heart knocked on my ribs. “Well, he says he’s Luke’s cousin. Pretty weird guy. His name is William.”
Jessica’s eyes went round. “Oh, him. Yeah, Luke talks about him a lot. He’s the youngest of his brothers. Apparently, he’s a bit of a dick.”
Yeah, I think that I got that impression.
I didn’t want to tell her what happened outside. It had been such a strange conversation.
“Come say hi to Luke. He’s been wanting to see you.”
I was dragged back into the suffocating crowd. I really doubted that Luke cared whether he saw me. He looked immaculate in his pinstripe suit. An involuntary wave of heat flushed my skin when he smiled at me. Jessica raced forward into his arms and I realized with a sickening feeling that he was smiling at her—not me.
Don’t fucking crush on your best friend’s boyfriend.
“Natalie, how’ve you been?”
I hated the undertone of concern, the wrinkles creasing around his eyes.
“Fine.” I knew that Jessica probably told her boyfriend all about how I spent my nights sobbing into my pillow. “Congratulations on your deal.”
His face lit up. “Thanks. I never thought that it would take off like this. We’re expanding the campaign worldwide, you know.”
“No, I didn’t!” I said in a horribly cheery voice.
Jessica squeezed Luke’s waist and he looked at her with an adoring expression that made me cringe.
He had a sad look on his face. “I just wish my dad could have seen this.”
“Your dad wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass.”
A reedy voice suddenly joined the conversation and I looked to my left to see William looking utterly mad in his gray shirt, like a handsome demon. He sneered at Luke, who looked like he smelled something foul.
“William, so nice of you to join us.”
“You all can relax, I was just joking around.” His voice suddenly matured and the sneer dropped from his face. “Seriously, Luke. Congrats. I can’t wait to begin the campaign. It’s going to be great.”
Luke hesitated before he took Will’s hand, which he shook with a slight frown on his face. William, apparently at ease, looked at me and smiled warmly.
“There you are! I was wondering if I’d get my jacket back.”
“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled as I slipped it from my shoulders.
He helped me take it off and when I looked at him, he winked.
Wipe that fucking smirk off your face.
Luke wore an uncertain smile. “You know each other?”
“I’m taking her out to dinner tomorrow night,” Will said matter-of-factly.
All of them gaped at me.
Did I hear that correctly? “What?” I stammered.
The background music sounded like it was too low. Our small circle ignored the party to stare at Will and me. He ignored the bemused looks around him and addressed me with a scorching look. Blood careened through my veins.
“Bring your portfolio. I want to see your work.”
“No,” I muttered. I didn’t want to see the disappointment on his face. My cheeks were like embers and I walked away with Jessica close on my heels. Oh, crap.
I stopped near a table with a row of glasses and I took one, frowning as Jessica cornered me, looking excited.
“He asked you out on a date?”
“Yeah, but I’m not going. He’s a bit strange.” I looked back at the group. William and Luke were exchanging words and Luke looked uncharacteristically serious. I couldn’t imagine what they were talking about.
I just don’t want to be hurt again.
And he looked like just the man who would do such a thing.
I tried to forget about the man I met on the way home, but he kept popping up in my head. I couldn’t get over how weird the whole thing was—how he looked drunk but wasn’t, and his wildly inappropriate behavior. He has issues.
There was something about him that made me intensely curious. What kind of rich guy goes to a party looking like he had just been mugged? There was something refreshing about his open honesty, even if it was rude as hell.
As I dove into bed, yawning, I decided that the party hadn’t been so bad. It had been worth it just to meet the strange man who asked me out minutes after insulting me.
No way, buddy.
Then why couldn’t I stop thinking about him
I went to work on Monday, my mind churning with the bizarre encounter at Luke’s party. It was one of the weirdest conversations I ever had with a stranger. Briefly, it interrupted my obsessive, self-pitying thoughts and gave me something new to stew over. I walked to my cubicle and caught a faint tinge of cologne and suddenly Will’s fingers were stroking my face, making me hot all over.
“Just stop it,” I muttered to myself.
My coworker, Janine leaned out of her cubicle and my cheeks purpled.
“Oh, I was just talking to myself. One of those days.”
I grimaced at her and she returned the smile reluctantly.
My gaze returned to the email from my boss requesting a meeting at three. My heart pounded. What does she want to talk about? I had a feeling that I knew what it was going to be about. Lately, my job performance wasn’t at its best. She sent my designs back multiple times, telling me that they lacked inspiration. They were too simple. She’s probably going to talk to me about it.
The last year killed my creativity. It wasn’t that I had to be happy to be creative, but it was hard to think about art after cutting out a major part of my life. I was physically and emotionally drained all the time.
Oh, poor you, I imagined my Mom saying. Poor baby. Shut up and work.
I made the finishing touches on my tablet and sent the graphic to her, hoping that she would find it acceptable. Two fifty-five. Might as well start walking over there. I turned my monitor off and noticed in the black screen how pale and sickly I looked. My limbs shook as I stood up and walked towards her office. I kept imagining her leaning over the desk, screaming at me. I wonder what this is about. There was someone already in her office; I could see their bodies behind the frosted glass.
The door flung open and Mark, one of my colleagues, sped out of her office without a backwards glance. I closed my hands to relieve some of the coldness and opened my boss’ door.
Mary waved me in from behind her desk, looking uncharacteristically serious. Uh-oh. Does she hate my last design?
“Hello, Natalie. Have a seat.”
I sat down on the seat painfully. It was like being called to the principal’s office. Jessica and I were sent there once for throwing a boy’s jacket into the mud in middle school. Jessica and I debated whether we would be sent to juvenile hall while we waited outside his office. I never forgot how horrified I felt. The same uneasy feeling coursed through my veins.