“You’re a thief.”
I go completely still and unfortunately, become completely sober just with those three words. “What makes you say that?”
“You’re a sly motherfucker, that’s why. Fucking wanker, distracting me from texting the most impossible girl on the planet so you can get me drunk.” Nigel shakes his head and smiles. He saw right through my plan. “I bet that’s how you trick all the defenseless people you steal from.” He laughs hysterically and I know I should join right in with him.
But I don’t. I feel like absolute shit. Nigel’s right. I’m a sly motherfucker who tricks defenseless people and then I steal from them. I’m a terrible person, a terrible fucking man. I don’t deserve Rose. Not at all.
It’s at that particular self-loathing moment when I see her. Rose. She’s just entered the pub, Violet by her side, Ryder right behind them and accompanied by another man. I don’t know who the man is, but I know in a second I can’t stand him. He has his hand on Rose’s shoulder, his fingers pressing into the skin of her upper arm since the dress she’s wearing is sleeveless and jealousy fills me, blocking everything out until all I can see is that asshole’s hand on my woman’s arm.
She laughs at something he says, glancing over her shoulder at him, and he gives her arm a squeeze—fuck me—and she’s never looked more beautiful. The white dress fits her to perfection, showing off her every curve, and I can see why that dick has his hands on her because right about now I’d have my hands all over her too.
Hell. I need another beer.
“Jeeves. I do believe you’ve been replaced,” Nigel says, his English accent becoming more pronounced. He chuckles and shakes his head.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Uh … looks like Watson has his hands all over Rose. I thought you were the one who serviced her.” At my blank look, Nigel continues. “You’re her butler, right? Servicing her? That’s why I called you Jeeves. Get it? Huh. Well, it appears you have some competition from Hugh. He can’t seem to stop touching her.”
“Who the fuck is Hugh?” I can’t tear my gaze off of them. They’re making their way toward our table and the smile on Rose’s face is aimed right at me. But is it really for me? Or was it spurred on by whatever Hugh-the-fucker-Watson said?
“He works at Fleur. Right arrogant bastard, too. The women love him,” Nigel mutters. “Probably even Clare.”
“If she does then she’s not worthy, Nigel. Don’t forget that,” I say, putting on my best phony smile for the group of four that approaches our table. Rose stops right in front of me, her eyes clouded as she stares at my face. Am I scowling? Hell, I hope not.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
I up the watts on my fake smile and take her hand, pulling her close so I can kiss her cheek. “I’m great,” I whisper close to her ear. I glance to my right, see that Hugh is watching our every move, and I want to kick his face in. “Who’s this?” I ask casually.
“Oh, Caden, this is Hugh Watson. He works in marketing at Fleur. Hugh, this is my—friend Caden.” She smiles toward Hugh, who takes a step forward so he’s standing right next to her. Like he belongs at her side. I must admit they look good together. They look right. Two young professionals, dressed expensively and working their way rightfully up the career ladder.
“Great meeting you.” He reaches out a hand and I take it, the both of us in a who-can-give-the-firmest-handshake standoff.
“A friend of Rose’s, eh?” He gives me a grim smile as he releases my hand. I have a feeling he believed he was going to be Rose’s special friend this evening. “Nice meeting you as well.”
More rounds are ordered—though Rose chooses a mixed drink because she is not much of a beer drinker after all—and chairs are taken, Hugh making sure he’s sitting on the other side of Rose when she scoots her chair close to mine.
“How was the meeting?” I ask her, keeping my voice low, wanting our conversation to be just between us. Having her gone even for a few hours … I missed her. Sappy but true.
Missed her after going through her stuff and stealing the most valuable piece of jewelry she owns? Nice, asshole. Real nice.
I ignore the mean-ass voice in my head.
“It went really well. My father was a part of it via Skype and it was … good to talk to him.” She smiles and nods, but that pretty smile doesn’t quite meet her eyes and I know she’s not telling me everything.
Which is fine. Really. I’m not telling her everything, either. How can I? My life is fucking chaos at the moment. I should be home, back in the States. I should be cleaning up the mess Mom made, I should be meeting with Cash so he can give me the lowdown on the interview he’s setting up for me, but no. I’m in London, because I don’t want to leave this beautiful woman sitting by my side.
My priorities are all fucked up. I want what I can’t have, the story of my life.
“How many beers have you had anyway?” she asks when I make a quick grab for the fresh one the barmaid delivers.
“Too many.” I point at Nigel, who’s laughing hysterically at something Ryder is telling him. “It’s all his fault.”
“Nigel?” She sounds surprised. “He’s harmless.”
“Not really. Wait until you have to hear him drone on about a certain Clare. Then you won’t think he’s so harmless,” I mutter against the rim of my glass before I take a swig.