“Give me a break,” I murmur, hoping she won’t keep badgering me for not going to the Fleur offices. I want a guilt-free night, not one where my sister is trying to make me feel bad.
“All the single guys in here are going to give you the eye, what with the short skirt,” she continues as she pulls me through the pub. It’s already crowded, filled with plenty of the work types who are just off for the weekend, many of the men clad in fashionable suits and with equally fashionable haircuts. The place practically breathes GQ.
“Maybe I’m trying to attract a few guys. Looks like there are plenty to choose from,” I observe.
Violet flashes me a smile from over her shoulder. “Well, you’re a breath of fresh air compared to the corporate working girls who usually fill this place up. You’re all cute and flirty tonight.”
I feel cute and flirty tonight. And I like it.
“Okay, here we are. This is my sister Rose, everyone. Rose, this is … everyone,” Violet announces as she stops at a round table filled with people. I stand at her side, releasing her hand as Ryder gets up from where he’s sitting and approaches me, giving me a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Rose,” he says with a cheeky smile before he releases me and kisses Violet full on the lips, making her wobble a little on her feet.
I’m so caught up in my sister and her future husband that when I finally check out the friendly faces sitting at the table, my gaze snags on one in particular. A rather familiar face. One I had just been thinking about, believing I’d never see him again.
My mysterious stranger. The man who kissed me senseless, squeezed my ass, and then walked away from me as if I were a brief pit stop.
“Rose.” Ryder slings his arm around my shoulders, the grin on his face infectious despite my shock. I think he’s had a few beers already. “I’d like you to meet our friends.” He starts the introductions and I nod and smile at them, murmuring a hello as I try to avoid my stranger. Because really, this is incredibly embarrassing and weird considering the last time I saw him I was naked.
In his arms.
His hands on my ass and his tongue in my mouth.
“And this is Whitney,” Violet pipes up, going to stand beside a beautiful, very blond and very icy woman who’s wearing a brittle smile that could shatter at any moment. Her eyes are big and blue, her hair shaped into a stylish bob that frames her heart-shaped face perfectly. I think I hate her. “She’s my dearest friend since arriving in London. I know you’ll adore her.”
Considering the proprietary way she’s snugly pressed against my mysterious stranger, I’m sure I’ll just adore her too.
“So nice to meet you,” I say weakly at Whitney, and she nods and murmurs much the same. Not that I really hear her.
My gaze is stuck on my stranger, who’s staring at me with the same sort of bewilderment that I’m feeling. He looks completely different tonight compared to the last time I saw him. Wearing jeans and a faded red T-shirt, his light brown hair mussed, stubble covering his cheeks, those intense brown eyes locked on mine. He looks like … a regular guy.
A gorgeous regular guy, though, most definitely.
“And this is Whitney’s friend Caden. He just came into town,” Violet says, patting Caden—hearing his name just made me shiver, oh my God—on the shoulder.
“Caden.” I repeat his name, liking the way it feels on my tongue, how it sounds when I say it. It’s a good name, strong and sexy, and it fits him. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” He smiles but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, and the disappointment that hits me as I watch Whitney put her arm around his shoulders and nuzzle his cheek with her nose almost makes me sag in defeat.
Instead, I stand a little straighter and glance over at my sister, giving her a look that says plenty without having to utter a word. She rushes over to my side, asking Ryder to order me a beer, and I let her take over, finding me a seat, offering me a menu as she settles beside me and leans in close, her gaze imploring.
I tilt my head, my lips at her ear. “I know him.”
“Who?” She scrunches her brows, confused.
Dipping closer, I practically eat her ear as I whisper, “Caden.”
Pressing my lips together, I move away from her, shaking my head. Can I tell her who he is? She’ll be shocked and heaven forbid, she might go to Whitney and ask about Caden. The last thing I want to happen.
He doesn’t deserve my attention and least of all, my interest. I am absolutely, 100 percent not interested in him. Not at all.
So it means nothing that I polish off my beer in about five minutes after receiving it. And that I order a steak dinner—make that rare—and eat it with relish, drinking another beer … and then another. I’m laughing and joking with Ryder and one of his friends—his name is Nigel and he’s cute as can be, but I’m afraid he might play for the other team. Or maybe he doesn’t; I don’t know. But they help me forget, Ryder and Nigel. And Violet.
Yes, I’ve forgotten all about my mysterious, handsome not-a-stranger. How every time I glance in his direction he’s watching me. At first he looked away, as if he didn’t want to be caught.
But after about the tenth meeting of gazes, he doesn’t even blink. He’s blatantly staring at me and I can’t look away. Violet is engaged in some deep conversation with Whitney—God, I hate her and I don’t even know her, what is wrong with me?—and Ryder is listening to some work story Nigel is telling.