“Are they always with you?”
“What about when you’re home?”
“Security’s there too. Or maids. My butler.”
“So you’re never just…alone? Can’t walk around naked if you feel like it?”
I imagine Fergus’s reaction to my bare balls resting on the sixteenth-century Queen Anne sofa—or even better, my grandmother’s reaction. And I laugh.
“No, I can’t. But the more important question is—do you walk around naked?”
She lifts one alluring shoulder. “Sometimes.”
“Let’s hang out at your apartment tomorrow,” I tell her with an urgent, straight face. “All day. I’ll clear my schedule.”
Olivia squeezes my hand like she’s telling me to behave, but the gentle flush on her cheeks says she’s enjoying the conversation.
“So, the first night we met, if I’d gone back to your hotel room with you, they would’ve been there while we were…”
“Fucking? Yes. But not in the same room—I’m not into audiences.”
“That’s so weird. It’s like the ultimate walk of shame.”
She lost me.
“How do you mean?”
Olivia’s voice lowers shyly, even though the boys can’t possibly hear her. “They would’ve known what we were doing, maybe even heard us. It’s like you live in a perpetual frat house.”
“You’re presuming they give a damn—and they don’t.” I raise her hand to my mouth, kissing the back. It’s soft against my lips, like a rose petal. And I wonder if she’s as soft all over. “When I head into the lavatory, on some level they realize I’m going to take a piss, but it’s really not high on their list of things to think about.”
She doesn’t seem convinced. And if tonight is going to end like I’m hoping, she’ll need to get over the security team. Challenge accepted.
I’m used to the curious stares and whispers of strangers when I go out in public—the way a lion at the zoo is used to annoying children banging on the glass enclosure, just waiting for the day it breaks. I don’t notice them much anymore and, as we’re led to the private room at the back of the restaurant, I don’t notice them now.
Except Olivia does. And she takes exception to it—staring the patrons down for their rudeness, until they’re forced to look away. Like she’s defending me. Sticking up for me. It’s very cute.
The overly friendly hostess leans closer than she should, flashing me an open invitation with her eyes. I’m used to that too.
Olivia notices as well, but, interestingly, seems less confident about how she should respond. So I respond on her behalf—resting my hand on the small of her back, possessively, and guiding her into the plush, cushioned seat. Then, after I’ve taken my own seat, I drape my arm across the back of Olivia’s chair, near enough to stroke her bare shoulder if I want, making it clear that the only woman I’m interested in tonight is the one beside me.
After the sommelier pours our wine—Olivia prefers white because red “knocks her on her ass”—and the chef comes to our table to introduce himself and describe the custom menu he’s created for us, we’re finally left alone.
“So, you run the coffee shop with your parents?” I ask.
Olivia sips her wine, her little pink tongue peeking out to clean her bottom lip.
“It’s just me and my dad, actually. My mom…died nine years ago. She was mugged on the subway…it ended badly.”
There’s an echo of pain in her words—one I’m familiar with.
She pauses a moment, seems to be debating something, and then confesses, “I Googled you.”
“The video of your parents’ funeral came up.”
I nod. “The search engines do seem to favor that one.”
Her smile is small and flutteringly self-conscious. “I didn’t watch it at the time, when it was on live, but I remember it being on TV all day. On every channel.” She raises those stunning, shining eyes to mine. “The day we buried my mom was the worst day of my life. It must’ve been awful for you, to go through the worst day of yours with all those people watching. Filming it. Taking pictures.”
Most people don’t think about that part of things. They focus on the money, the castles, the fame, the privilege. Not the hard parts. The human parts.
“It was awful,” I say quietly. Then I take a breath and shake off the sadness that’s seeped into the conversation. “But…in the immortal words of Kanye, that which don’t kill me only makes me stronger.”
She laughs, and like everything about her, it’s delightful.
“I didn’t think a guy like you listened to Kanye.”
I wink. “I’m full of surprises.”
Before our meal arrives, visitors stop by our table. I introduce Olivia and speak with them briefly about upcoming business. After they walk away, Olivia gives me an owl-eyed look.
“That was the mayor.”
“And Cardinal O’Brien, the Archbishop of New York.”
“They’re two of the most powerful men in the state—in the country.”
My lips slide into a grin because she’s impressed. Again. At times like this, being me isn’t so awful.