“Ah, so young. And so incredibly smart.” I see the interest flare in his eyes again. It’s hard to miss. He’s not being inappropriate or anything, but he’s definitely flirtatious. “Beautiful, too.”
There go my cheeks again. “Thank you.”
“How much longer are you in London?” he asks.
“I’m not sure.” I’m hedging because I honestly don’t know how much longer I can stay here and avoid my father and my job. I need to return to New York. I have things I need to take care of there. The plants in my apartment are probably dead, though Lily just texted me a few days ago, asking if I wanted her to stop by and check on things. I did and thanked her profusely.
Good thing I don’t have pets. I got so wrapped up in Caden and our whirlwind holiday romance I forgot about everything but … him.
“I could show you around if you like,” Hugh says casually, his expression neutral. “I’ve lived in this city my entire life. I could take you to the best restaurants—”
“The food here isn’t that great, you know,” I interrupt, earning a laugh from him. “Sorry, just being brutally honest.”
“You’re right. That’s why if you stick with me, I’ll steer you to the best food this city has to offer.”
He’s being so nice. If circumstances were different, if Caden weren’t sitting next to me, if I were here on my own and this friendly, handsome, kind man was asking me out I would readily say yes.
But I feel Caden stiffen beside me. He’s gone unusually quiet and I didn’t even notice. He’s probably heard every bit of my conversation with Hugh. I feel sick to my stomach, as if I’ve somehow betrayed him, and all traces of happiness evaporate from within me, just like that.
“Thanks for the offer,” I say sadly, “but I’m afraid I have to decline.”
Hugh’s eyes dim the slightest bit, but otherwise he appears completely unruffled. “No worries. Some other time perhaps?”
“Yes. That sounds good.” I nod and slide from my chair, smoothing out the wrinkles from my dress. I don’t make eye contact with anyone as I say, “I’m going to the restroom. I’ll be right back.”
I leave the table without another word, not looking back, keeping my head held high as I make my way through the crowd. The pub is full of young professionals just off work, most of them dressed like we are. Suits and dresses, ties loosened and high heels kicked off. Lots of raucous laughter and pounding of their beer mugs on tabletops; everyone’s having fun.
So why do I feel so miserable?
Shoving the women’s bathroom door open, I rush to the sink and turn the faucet on so I can splash water on my face. It’s total déjà vu, remembering this almost exact moment from a week ago, when I hid in the bathroom to escape Caden and he followed me in here.
The door swings open and my heart lightens in my chest, only to come crashing down with a dull thud when I see Violet standing there.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
I turn away from the sink and grab a few paper towels from the dispenser, drying my hands before I toss them into the trash can. “Hugh basically asked me out on a date.”
Violet smiles. “That’s wonderful.”
Ugh. Of course, she would say that. “He asked me out in front of Caden.”
“Violet, God. You’re being awful.” I shake my head. “I’ve just spent the last week with him, pretty much the entire time naked in bed. And now you’re encouraging me to agree to go on a date with another man, while sitting beside Caden? That’s low.”
“Rose. Listen to me.” She comes to stand directly in front of me, grasping hold of my shoulders and giving me a firm shake. “Sometimes we meet people in our life and they’re exciting. Different. Unlike anything or anyone we’ve ever experienced before.”
“Like Ryder for you?” I throw at her.
Nodding, she presses her lips together. “Yes,” she admits. “Like Ryder. But sometimes these people you meet, they’re not meant to be in your life on a permanent basis. They come in at the right time, send you spinning, lift you up, and then they leave. A pleasant diversion to help you realize what you really should be doing with your life.”
“So now you’re saying Caden is nothing but a pleasant diversion while I figure out what I want next,” I say dully.
Violet nods. “Exactly. Yes, Ryder has turned into a permanent part of my life, but I can’t see Caden being there for you when you really need him.”
“Why not? And how can you say that? You don’t even know him,” I accuse, my voice small, my thoughts all over the place. Would Caden be there for me during my time of need, like … now? If I asked for his undying support, would he give it to me? I think he would.
But I’m not sure.
“I know there are—things to him that he’s not telling you. I’ve done a little Google research …” She lets her voice trail off, but I hear all the doubt and worry in her tone.
“Of course you have,” I say, pushing away her hands so I can step around her.
“And Ryder has this … sense about him. That he’s not being honest with us,” Violet continues. “Says he knows the signs of a con man since he was once one himself, and Caden reminds him of … himself, when he was younger.”