“Yes,” Niall finally croaked. Her eyes widened when he continued to stare at her.
“I don’t have your number. It’s not listed,” he said after a silence that lasted for only a few seconds, but seemed like eons to Niall.
He’d wanted to call her? He’d tried to call her?
“I’ll get it for you,” Niall managed eventually when her shock faded.
She fumbled in her bag, finally pulling out her business card and a pen. She wrote her cell phone number on the back, pointedly avoiding the significant looks and barely repressed smug grin that Anne was giving her from across the table. “Either work or my cell is fine. I never had a line installed in the apartment. Too temporary,” she stated lamely as she handed him the card.
He nodded once before he took it and followed the dark-haired woman away from their booth.
“It’s okay, Niall,” Anne said as she choked back laughter once he was out of hearing distance. “You can breathe now.”
Anne took the first cab in the queue outside of The Art; Niall, the second. Niall adored Anne, of course, but she was all too glad to escape her friend’s nearly nonstop questioning in regard to Vic Savian. By the time Anne had gotten into the cab and waved good-bye, Niall was fairly confident the older woman knew that Vic and Niall’s relationship consisted of more than occasional glimpses of one another and neighborly hellos.
Niall’s proclivity to blush at the most inopportune moments ensured that.
Her cabdriver rocketed down Randolph Street at an alarming speed, but Niall didn’t even notice. She was too busy picturing Vic as he looked down at her while she sat at the booth, too preoccupied with replaying his request for her phone number.
It had been wrong of her to give it to him without a shred of hesitation, just as it had been wrong of her to give him her body without a thought of refusal.
Both things had felt so right and natural that refusing him had never even occurred to her on either occasion.
Her phone started to ring at the same moment that the cab made a tight turn down Wacker Drive, making her purse slide along the backseat. Niall lunged for her bag before she’d righted herself. She swallowed heavily when she saw the 217 prefix of the caller’s phone number.
Wasn’t that an area code from downstate Illinois?
Surely Vic wasn’t calling her already. He’d just walked away from their table not ten minutes ago!
“Oh . . . hi,” she said breathlessly. The cabdriver made another wild left turn down Lake Street, causing her to grip tightly at the opening of the hard plastic window that separated the driver from his passengers in order to keep her body upright. The way the guy drove, he was lucky to have a little protection from what Niall assumed were frequently irate customers.
She floundered both physically and mentally in the seconds of silence that followed.
“You headed back home?” Vic finally asked.
Niall closed her eyes and let his voice wash over her, allowing it to still her wildly chaotic emotions. She loved the sound of it. The vague thought struck her that Vic Savian was not a man who should use the phone. Phone talkers couldn’t abide extensive silences, feeling the need to fill the unbearable void of nothingness. His words were as spare and lean as the man himself, calling to mind a stark, rugged landscape that was far, far from being simple.
“Yes. It’s going to be an early night for me. I’m a little tired after my trip,” she murmured.
“Tokyo, you said, right?”
Another short silence followed. This time Niall sank into it . . . embraced it instead of fighting it. Her eyes remained closed. Her whole world narrowed down to the fragile, temporary connection with a man via the means of a technology she couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
Where, exactly, was he as he talked to her? In the entryway of The Art, protecting himself from the cool November wind? Or perhaps on the sidewalk with theatergoers strolling by, arm in arm?
Outside, Niall decided unequivocally. A man like Vic embraced the elements, never shunned them. She could picture him perfectly—his broad shoulders hunched slightly, his back angled to the street in an unconscious gesture of self-protection . . . not from the elements but from people’s prying eyes.
What did his attractive, dark-haired companion think about Vic’s absence as he talked to Niall and she sat alone at their table, waiting?
Those were all distant thoughts that had nothing to do with what she asked him next.
“Where did you grow up?”
“In a li’l pissant town called Avery, South Dakota, just outside the Black Hills. I’ve lived in Montana for the past fifteen years, though. Why?”
“No reason,” she murmured. “I like your accent, that’s all.”
“I don’t have an accent. You do, though.”
Niall laughed softly at his matter-of-fact declaration. She could picture the small smile curving his lips perfectly. She pressed the phone tighter to her ear, thoroughly mesmerized, wanting him closer, even in this nonphysical sense.
“What accent is that, exactly?”
“The one that sounds like you grew up on the North Shore . . . Glencoe? Lake Forest?”
Her eyelids popped open. His assumption and something in the tone of his voice had stung her—although he had been entirely correct . . .
The cabdriver made another wicked right into the circular drive in front of Riverview Towers. It hurt, his little grunt of acknowledgment, as if she’d suddenly confirmed something nasty about herself to him, as if growing up in an affluent neighborhood was a shameful crime.