Olivia shakes her head, almost to herself. Then she comes up to my table holding the coffee carafe. “Refill?”
I slide my mug over. “Thank you, yes.”
I lean back in my chair, tilting my head as she pours.
Her cheeks go slightly pink. I think it’s an adorable reaction—my cock also goes rigid with approval.
“Yeah. Jack and I dated in high school.”
“Well, if Jack’s your only experience with dating, I understand now why you avoid it. He seems like a prat.” I look up into her lovely face. “You can do better.”
“Absolutely.” I point to the chair across from me. “Let’s talk more about that—the you-doing-me part.”
She laughs. “Okay, really—how do you get away with saying stuff like that?”
“I don’t say things like that—ever.”
“But you say them to me?”
She moves closer, leaning toward me, and my heart pounds so loud I wonder if she hears it. “Yes. I rather like saying…all kinds of things to you.”
It’s relaxed and easy, this newfound freedom I’ve allowed myself with her. The way I figure it, she’s already seen me act like a tool—in for a penny, in for a pound. A dozen inappropriate, wonderfully dirty comments come to mind—but before I can whisper one, Olivia clears her throat and straightens back up.
She glances at the empty chair across from me. “Where’s Simon?”
“He had to head home on an urgent business matter. The jet took off early this morning.”
“What’s his business?”
I bring the mug to my lips, blowing softly, and I catch her staring at my mouth as I do.
“He owns Barrister’s.”
“Which location—the one in Wessco?” Olivia asks.
“All thirty-seven of them.”
“Of course.” She laughs. “Silly me.”
A bit later I get up to take a piss—four cups of coffee in half a day will do that to you. On my way, I pass the waiter—Marty, I think Olivia called him—a bag of trash over his shoulder, walking toward the back door. He nods his head in a friendly way and I smile back.
Then, when the rear door closes behind him, a deafening shriek—like a thousand hogs squealing in unison—resonates from the other side.
It’s a typical reaction…and yet odd, every time.
When I walk out of the lavatory, the first thing that registers is the charged demeanor of my security team. Logan’s jaw is tight, Tommy’s fists are clenched on the table, and James is already half on his feet, ready to spring.
And it takes only a moment to understand why.
The dining area is empty except for one man—a small, bug-eyed man wearing a cheap suit and heavy cologne—standing too close to Olivia in the rear corner, practically boxing her in.
“That’s not good enough, Ms. Hammond. You can’t just ignore our notices.”
“I understand that, but my father’s the one you need to talk to. And he’s not here right now.”
He leans farther forward and her back touches the wall. “I’m tired of being jerked around. You owe us a lot of money, and one way or another you’re going to pay.”
Olivia tries to slip past him, but he grabs her arm.
My composure snaps like a twig. “Get your hands off of her.”
My voice isn’t loud; it doesn’t need to be. There’s a brutal authority to it, a side effect of being obeyed my entire life.
He looks up—they both do—and he drops his hand from Olivia’s arm as I approach. He opens his mouth to argue, but recognition makes the words pile up in his throat.
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” I bite out. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m…I’m Stan Marksum of Willford Collections.”
“I’ve got this under—” Olivia starts, but I push on.
“Well, Marksum, as the lady said, her father’s not here, so I suggest you be on your way. Now.”
He puffs his chest out, like some nasty little fish in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off shark. “My business is with the Hammonds. This isn’t your concern.”
He turns back to Olivia, but I move in front of her, cutting off his access.
“I’ve just made it my concern.”
As I said before, most people are fucking idiots—and this prick is a prime specimen.
“Nicholas, you don’t—”
It’s the first time she’s said my name. And I can’t even enjoy it—don’t get to savor the sound on her lips or see the expression on her face. And all because of this pissant in front of me. It’s infuriating.
I snap my fingers. “Card.”
I shift forward, making him step back—see how he likes it.
He fishes one from his pocket; it’s bent at the corner.
“I’ll pass this along to Mr. Hammond. You’re done here. There’s the door—use it or I’ll show you how.”
When he’s gone, I turn around to ask Olivia if she’s all right, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting a little show of gratitude. Perhaps with her mouth, hopefully with her hands—and just maybe if she’s really grateful, she’ll bring some hip-grinding action into the equation.