Authors: Lauren Layne
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Coming of Age
“Right?” Camille said smugly. “His name is Benedict Wade, and he’s a VP of sales for some . . . actually, don’t remember, don’t care. I only see the dimples. But he’s one of the good ones, Emma.”
“Then why is he still single?” Emma asked, taking a closer look in spite of herself. The dimples really were first-rate. As was the slight wave to his dark blond hair, the even row of white teeth, and the tiniest bit of crookedness to his nose, as though it had been broken once or twice.
Camille heaved a sigh. “See? You’re cynical. But because I, too, have been cynical, I’ll be patient with you. Benedict’s only
single. He broke up with his girlfriend a couple months ago when she got a job offer in London just as he got one in New York, and he realized they were moving in different directions.”
“Not really,” Emma mused. “If they both lived in California, and he moved to New York and she to London, they moved the same direction. East.”
Camille’s eyes narrowed. “You’re doing that on purpose. Trying to throw me off the scent. Cassidy warned me you’d do that.”
Emma froze. “You talked to Alex Cassidy about this? About
“Well, of course. Who better to know your type than your ex-fiancé?”
Emma threw up her hands in exasperation. Does everyone know about that?”
Camille shrugged. “Pretty much.”
Emma gritted her teeth, just for a moment, at the thought of her private life being not so private. If it were up to Emma, the unpleasant past she shared with Cassidy would have gone to the grave with them, and she was pretty sure he felt the same. Without ever having talked about it, she knew that was part of the reason they both played the cold war game, frosting each other out whenever possible. It kept both of them from losing their temper and saying something they shouldn’t.
But then Emma had gone and let him get under her skin at a baseball game, of all places. Julie’s fiancé had overheard them, and though Mitchell Forbes wasn’t prone to gossip, he’d mentioned it to Julie, and Julie . . . well, God bless her, she’d apparently gone and told the entire world.
Emma didn’t really blame everyone for being interested. She knew that a failed engagement was juicy gossip. A failed engagement between a relationships columnist and a hotshot editor in chief was even
Still, just because Emma understood the interest in her personal life didn’t mean she had to
A grumble snuck out before she could stop it. “What happened to the genteel world where people didn’t talk to other people about their exes? Isn’t that off-limits in polite society?”
“You’re so cute when you go all Magnolia Manners,” Camille said gleefully. “Was that a little drawl I heard creeping into your voice?”
Emma pressed her lips together. She’d worked long and hard to banish the soft North Carolina lilt from her speech. She wanted no trace of the naïve girl she’d been back then to show.
Emma tried again. “I’m just saying—”
Camille gave another of those dismissive waves of her hand. “I know what you’re
. And don’t worry, I don’t usually go around throwing previous relationships in people’s faces. But you and Cassidy have always seemed so at peace with your past.” She paused. “Aren’t you?”
“Definitely,” Emma said. Firmly.
“So then,” Camille said with a shrug, “I figured there’d be no harm in getting his opinion on whether or not you and Benedict might hit it off.”
Emma remained silent, and Camille gave her a knowing look. “You want to know what Cassidy said, don’t you?”
Emma pursed her lips and made a deliberately indifferent face. “Not really.”
Camille leaned forward. “He thought you and Benedict would be
Not a trace of emotion flickered across Emma’s face. She was confident in that. When it came to Cassidy, she’d long ago learned to ward off pesky things like
Emma handed back Camille’s cellphone. “I’m not really looking for a relationship right now.”
“Fine,” Camille said with a shrug. “Doesn’t mean that you can’t date. Have sex. Have fun.”
“I can have fun without a man.”
“Of course you can. We all can. But, Emma . . .” Camille’s face was kind, and that was unnerving. “You’re young. You’re beautiful. And from one cynic to another . . . if you wrap yourself in bitterness too long, it
start to seep inside you.”
Emma swallowed. She knew she could be a bit . . .
at times. But bitter? She wasn’t bitter.
The thought chafed. Her eyes dropped to the phone in front of Camille.
Maybe she should ease off the whole ice queen thing. Give a guy a chance.
“I’m handing the reins over to Cassidy by the end of the week,” Camille said, her voice quieter than usual. “But I do have one last assignment for you before I leave.”
Emma’s eyebrows lifted. “Assignment? I pick my own stories.”
“Not this time you don’t.”
Emma slumped back in her chair. “I was wondering when you’d try to pull this.”
“Pull what?” Camille fluttered her eyelashes—or tried to—but the effect was . . . ghastly.
“Well, let’s see,” Emma said, tapping her nails against the arm of the office chair. “You assigned Julie a story about what comes after the first kiss . . . she got engaged. Then you had Grace work on a battle-of-the-sexes story with Jake—”
Camille held up a finger. “Hey, Grace volunteered for that—”
“So you had nothing to do with Grace and Jake getting together?” Emma pushed. “Didn’t get involved at
Camille made her eyes go wide and innocent.
“Uh-huh,” Emma said knowingly. “And
you set Riley up to spill her guts and she ended up with Sam—”
“I fail to see the problem,” Camille said. “Your three besties are all in happy relationships. I refuse to apologize.”
“Fine. But I’m not looking for a relationship,” Emma said.
Camille’s lips twitched. “Neither were they.”
Emma’s fingers found her temples. She knew there’d be no winning this argument. “Just tell me. Tell me what you want me to do so I can get it over with.”
“A blind date story. Julie told me you’ve never been on one—”
“Because they’re a terrible idea,” Emma muttered.
Camille continued as though Emma hadn’t spoken. “So spin it. Do whatever take on the story you want. “My First Blind Date.” “Are Blind Dates a Thing of the Past?” “The Horrors of a Blind Date.” Do it however you feel moved. . . . Just . . . give Benedict a chance. At least
“It doesn’t feel fresh,” Emma said, as a last-ditch effort. “Surely
has done a million blind date stories over the years.”
“Oh, you know how that goes,” Camille said, standing up as though the conversation was over. “Everything old is new again, et cetera.”
“Camille—” Emma begged, standing so they were eye to eye.
“It’s one date, Emma.” Camille’s voice was impatient now. “A mere two hours out of your life.”
“So this is nonnegotiable?”
Camille nodded once.
Emma ran a tongue over the front of her teeth as she inhaled a long calming breath through her nose.
Camille was right. A date with a good-looking guy wouldn’t kill her. Worst case, it’d be a disaster and her story would all but write itself.
“All right. Set it up.”
“Already done,” Camille replied, her attention on her phone.
Emma rolled her eyes. “So this entire conversation was just a formality?”
Camille glanced up. “Next Friday at eight. Benedict will text you the location.”
“Can’t wait,” Emma muttered, heading toward the door.
“Oh, Emma,” Camille called, just as Emma had nearly made her escape.
“I’ve all but moved in with Kenny. To his place. And we leave next week for Australia.”
Camille shrugged. “Stay at my place. Until yours is back to normal. If you want.”
Emma jolted a little in surprise. The offer was unexpected and generous. She’d been to Camille’s place once or twice for staff dinner parties, and the apartment was gorgeous. She’d be crazy to say no to a luxury high-rise on the Upper West Side with a view of the park, and just steps from the
office. Plus, she was guessing the repairs on her apartment would take weeks, if not longer.
she had a blind date on her calendar. Camille owed her.
“Okay,” Emma said. “I accept. Thank you. I appreciate it.”
Camille shrugged as though it was no big deal, but just as Emma turned to go back to her office, she could have sworn she caught a flash of triumph on her boss’s face.
And Emma had the unsettling feeling that she’d just walked into some devious master plan . . . that her staying in Camille’s apartment had been the endgame all along.
counts as an upgrade from your last place,” Grace said as she accepted the mimosa Emma handed her and took in the panoramic view of the city.
“You mean because you don’t need rain boots to be in there?” Emma asked.
“Emma, honey, even before the flood, your apartment was . . . um . . .” Julie broke off and looked at the other women for help.
“Smelly? Cold in the winter, hot in the summer? Noisy?” Riley suggested, throwing herself onto Camille’s white living room couch.
“The word you’re looking for is
” Emma said, sitting across from Riley. “It’s romantic.”
prewar is romantic,” Grace said. “Otherwise it’s just
“And damp,” Julie chimed in. “And—”
“Okay! I get it!” Emma said, laughing. “My apartment sucked. But it was cheap, and it had a fireplace—”
“That you couldn’t use,” Grace muttered.
Emma glanced around at Camille’s luxurious apartment. She took in the granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, the corner windows with their abundance of natural light and stunning views. . . .
“Yeah, okay,” Emma admitted. “This is better.”
“Excellent. We’re all in agreement then? We’ll hang out at Emma’s for the next three months,” Julie said, standing to fetch more champagne.
“Do you think Camille and Kenny did it on this couch?” Riley mused.
. Why are you so okay sitting there?” Grace asked.
Riley shrugged. “You guys have all sat on
couch, and Sam and I—”
Emma held up a hand. “No. Don’t finish that sentence. Let’s all live in an happy, ignorant world where nobody
on couches where their friends sit.”
Julie returned with the champagne bottle and carafe of OJ and began topping everyone off. “So what’s on tap for the rest of the day?” Julie asked. “I thought helping Emma move was going to take longer.”
“I guess that’s one of the perks of all your stuff getting ruined,” Emma said, licking up a trail of champagne running down the outside of her glass. “Not much to move.”
“Do you have any idea when the insurance paperwork will get all worked out?”
“No,” Emma said. “I’ll give them a call on Monday.”
Her friends exchanged a look at Emma’s cavalier tone, but she truly wasn’t worried about it. Sure, most of her furniture had to go, and a good portion of her clothes had been tossed, but Camille’s apartment had everything she needed for the short term. Although, Emma had
ignored Camille’s insistence on taking the master bedroom. The smaller guest room would be just fine, and came with fewer horrific mental images of Camille and Kenny “doing it,” as Riley would say.
And while Emma couldn’t help but feel a
stressed by it all, there was also something very freeing about being forced to start over from scratch.
Despite the fact that she didn’t have a home and had only about five outfits to her name, Emma felt lighter than she had in months. Like something
was about to happen. Like, maybe, for the first time in . . .
“Did I tell you guys I have a date on Friday?” Emma blurted out.
“Yeah? Who with?” Grace asked.
Her friends looked curious, but not completely surprised. Emma may not be looking for a relationship, but she
date occasionally. She liked getting dressed up. Liked conversation with men.
She liked sex, if the mood was right. Although it hardly ever was.
But this time . . . this time felt different.
Emma fiddled with her wine glass. “His name’s Benedict. Camille set it up.”
“Camille?!” Julie said. “So
why she let you stay here. It was a bribe!”
Emma shrugged. “Basically.”
“Is he cute? And I thought you forbid us from setting you up on blind dates?” Grace said.
“Well, if you guys had a twenty-fourth-floor apartment overlooking Central Park to bargain with, maybe I would have reconsidered,” Emma said.
“Touché,” Riley mused, tapping her nails against the arm of the couch. “Want us to tag along on the date? We can hang out at the bar and work out some sort of SOS code if it all goes to hell?”
“What kind of dates have you been on that require an SOS code?” Emma asked.
“You’d be surprised, pet,” Riley said mysteriously. “You’d be surprised.”
“What are you going to wear?” Julie asked. “I saw what survived your apocalyptic flood adventure. The options aren’t great.”
Grace sat up straight. “Oooh, I think I just figured out what we could do with the rest of our day!”
Riley pointed to her glass. “I’m good with this. Day drinking’s legit when there’s fruit involved.”
Grace stood excitedly, gesturing for Riley to finish up. “Bottoms up, McKenna. We’re going shopping.”
Riley and Emma groaned as Julie squealed.
As far as shopping was concerned, their group was split down the middle. Grace and Julie practically lived at Bloomingdale’s, and their idea of a PMS cure was a stroll through Saks.
Riley and Emma, on the other hand, shopped only out of necessity. They enjoyed a good pair of Manolo Blahniks as much as the next girl, and they weren’t immune to one of those rare finds that made your boobs look huge and your waist look tiny, but there had to be a damn good reason for venturing out into a world of pushy salespeople, scary price tags, and unflattering dressing room lighting.