“Erm, why would you ask that?” He tugs at his collar, pulling at the already loosened tie that hangs limply around his neck. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit.” Rose points her finger at Nigel, and he looks caught in the crosshairs and scared shitless. “Caden told me you’ve been texting her.”
Nigel sends me a look. “Traitor,” he mutters, and I consume my beer, feigning innocence.
I’m enjoying this, as weird as it is to admit. It feels good. It feels … nice, hanging out with friends at a pub and drinking beer and eating bad appetizers. I’ve got a good buzz on, but no one’s buzz is as good as Nigel’s. The man is clearly feeling no pain, hanging on Hugh, asking him what the secret is, which sends them into a twenty-minute deep discussion about increasing Nigel’s sex appeal among the ladies at the office.
But I let it slide because hey, I can get along with the best of them. I’m excellent at faking it. No matter how much it infuriates me.
No matter how much it hurts.
After the meeting at Fleur and dealing with my father—his disappointment in me palpable even through the computer screen—I needed to escape. I needed a drink. I needed to laugh and let loose and feel free.
More than anything, I needed Caden.
I thought Daddy would be pleased, seeing me there with Violet, working at Fleur even after I gave my notice, but he actually said to Violet, “What is she doing here?” and that about broke my heart.
Something Daddy is becoming quite an expert at.
Hugh asked if he could accompany us to the pub and I readily agreed, though Violet shot me a look. One that said, You should consider this man. He’s perfect for you.
Yes, I’m that good at interpreting my sister’s looks. After living with her my entire life, I’ve become somewhat of an expert.
Talking with Hugh in the cab we took over to the White Swan, sitting snugly against him on the bench seat, Ryder on my other side while Violet sat across from us on the fold-down seat chattering away on her phone, I could sense Hugh’s interest.
If Caden weren’t around, I could be interested too. Hugh is almost unbearably handsome. Brilliant blue eyes, dark, almost black hair, and a finely tuned body beneath the expensive suit. He’s intelligent, good at engaging in eye contact and easy conversation, and he has a nice smile, a pleasant laugh, and a deliciously deep voice with a lovely accent.
But I don’t want Hugh. I want Caden. I like Caden. The moment I saw him sitting at the table with Nigel inside the pub, the both of them apparently drunk and laughing and looking like they were having so much fun, my heart leapt. His gaze caught mine and when I saw the disappointment there for the briefest second, the guilt hit me, swift and strong, stealing my breath. Did he see something between Hugh and me? I’d laughed at something Hugh said when we first walked in, and he touched me, but I didn’t feel any sort of sizzle, no connection from his fingers on my skin.
Not like when Caden touches me. He looks at me and my knees grow weak. They’re weak now, while I’m sitting in the chair next to him, leaning my head on his shoulder, the alcohol buzzing through my veins. He’s talking to Ryder about soccer or some such nonsense and his voice vibrates in his chest, I can practically feel it in his shoulder, and I close my eyes and smile blissfully.
“Rose, are you all right?” Hugh asks.
My eyes pop open like a doll’s and I sit up, offering him an embarrassed smile. “Just a little tired,” I admit.
His smile is warm. “You were magnificent in the meeting this afternoon.”
Hmm. There’s a word I don’t think anyone’s used to describe me before. They usually save that sort of praise for Violet. “Thank you,” I murmur.
“No, really. Your ideas are very innovative. We need more new blood here in our office, especially American blood.” His smile fades and he leans in closer. “Fowler blood is especially good, since you are the leaders of this company.”
I really hope he’s not trying to butter me up because he’s wasting his breath. “How long have you worked at Fleur?”
“Three years. I came here from Harrods.”
“The department store?”
He nods. “I was one of the perfume buyers. I started out working in the men’s department when I was sixteen. I got hooked into the retail cycle but was promoted rather quickly, and was working at corporate within five years of my starting work there.”
“That’s amazing.” I have no idea how old he is and I’m not about to ask, because that would be rude.
“You’re probably wondering how old I am, aren’t you?”
I feel my cheeks heat with embarrassment. “Maybe. But that would be awfully crass of me to ask, right?”
“I’m twenty-nine.” His lips quirk to the side. “Older than every one of you at this table, I bet.”
“I suppose.” Definitely older than me and Violet and Ryder. Nigel, he can’t be over twenty-five, twenty-six, and Caden … I have no idea how old he is. And that’s just weird. Why haven’t I asked him? Why hasn’t he told me?
He doesn’t tell you a lot of things.
Isn’t that the truth?
“How old are you?” Hugh asks.
“You should never ask a lady her age,” I chastise teasingly, making him grin.
“Forgive me, madam.” He bows and I laugh.