Authors: Lauren Layne
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Coming of Age
However, maybe a kiss . . . just to see where they stood with the whole physical attraction thing.
Benedict seemed to read her just right, because his smile went just a little bit sexy, and he took a step toward her.
Emma tilted her head up and watched his slow approach, evaluating his moves. (She couldn’t help it. At the end of the day, she was still a relationships columnist—always looking for material, always assessing.)
And this guy passed.
Very nice, Mr. Wade. Slow and sexy, and very nice indeed.
If there was a ripple of unease before his lips touched hers, Emma ignored it. She refused to hear that tiny voice in the back of her head whispering
wrong guy, wrong guy!
That little voice had been the pain in Emma’s ass for seven long years. Ever since things imploded between her and Cassidy.
That little voice was
. She mentally muted it. Smiled up at Benedict.
But then, just before the moment where he’d dip his head down, his eyes flicked over her shoulder and widened before a smile broke out.
“Alex fucking Cassidy.”
Emma blinked. She could have sworn she’d shushed that pesky little voice. Surely the voice hadn’t spoken out loud?
But no . . .
Benedict was no longer paying attention to her.
Alex Cassidy wasn’t just here in her
. He was here in the flesh.
She could kill Camille.
The two men were shaking hands like old friends. This was great. This was just
Emma was tempted to storm back into her apartment, help herself to the open bottle of Merlot on her counter, and pretend that the best first date she’d been on in months wasn’t chatting it up with her ex.
But that would give Cassidy too much power.
Instead, she pivoted on the heel of her Louboutin boots and moved toward the two men.
“Emma, this is Alex Cassidy,” Benedict said, when she stepped up beside him. “I played soccer against this guy in college. I’d completely forgotten that Camille mentioned they were neighbors!”
“Did she now?” Emma murmured. Apparently Camille had managed to mention it to
She felt Cassidy’s eyes on hers, but when she flicked her gaze toward him, his flicked away. Not before she saw that they were blue tonight. It had been a game they’d played back in the day.
she’d called them. She’d been forever trying to figure out which she’d preferred: the days when they glowed green or the days when they burned blue.
“Where’d you go to college?” she asked Benedict.
“Duke. I was goalie at the same time Cassidy here was striker.”
“I’m surprised you two are on speaking terms after the game. The one that went to penalty kicks?”
Benedict glanced at her in surprise at her knowledge of collegiate sports, and she gave a sheepish shrug. “Go Tar Heels?”
“Holy shit,” he said, looking from her to Cassidy. “You both went to UNC? Did you know each other?”
“We did,” Emma said, before Cassidy could open his fat mouth and say something horrid.
“Wow, small world,” Benedict said.
You have no idea.
“Camille actually asked me if I thought you two would click,” Cassidy said, his expression all pleasantries.
“Yeah?” Benedict asked.
Cassidy’s smile was quick. “I told her
Emma rolled her eyes, just as Benedict rested a casual hand on her waist. “Well, guess I should thank you then.”
Cassidy grinned. “Call it me making amends for the way that last game played out.”
Benedict laughed. “Do you know how many times I’ve replayed that moment? I was
you were going to go right. There was only a flicker of doubt that maybe you’d go left. . . .”
Emma knew how this story went. Knew Benedict had done what most keepers would have done.
But Cassidy had changed the rules. He hadn’t gone right. Or left. He’d aimed dead center, his kick securing UNC’s victory over one if its most bitter rivals.
Emma couldn’t believe she hadn’t placed Benedict as that poor goalie from that epic night. But then, perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised that she hadn’t recognized him.
Back then, she’d had eyes for only one guy.
Emma was spared more soccer talk by the arrival of a cab at the curb. The doorman at Camille’s building opened it, and Cassidy’s attention shifted.
A familiar brunette approached. Danielle.
Emma smiled reflexively as Alex’s girlfriend turned their awkward threesome into an unbearable foursome.
Cassidy’s hand found Danielle’s waist, mimicking the position of Benedict’s hand on Emma’s.
For the briefest of seconds, his gaze burned into Emma’s and she felt herself go hot, before going cold. Very, very cold.
She forced her gaze to Danielle, ready with a
Nice to see you again
greeting, but Danielle wasn’t looking at her.
Nor was she looking at Cassidy.
Her blue eyes were locked on Benedict, and she looked dazed.
“Danielle, you remember Emma?” Cassidy said.
“Sure, hi!” Danielle said, her voice a little sharp as she gave Emma a wide, false smile. Her gaze immediately went back to Benedict’s and then she glanced at the ground.
Puzzled, Emma looked at her date and saw that he, too, looked shell-shocked before seeming to recover.
“Benedict Wade,” he said, extending a hand toward Danielle.
Emma’s nose scrunched in confusion. All night long, Benedict had been charming and jovial, but now his tone was almost reverent.
Danielle extended her hand, and Emma could have sworn she saw sparks when their fingers made contact. Actual sparks.
They both jerked back.
Emma lifted an eyebrow and her gaze found Cassidy’s just as he looked at hers. For once, their eye contact was free of subtext. For the first time in a long time, they were on the same page.
The page of confusion.
“Have you two met?” Emma asked, unable to keep her curiosity at bay.
“No,” Danielle said, still sounding dazed.
Benedict wordlessly shook his head.
Emma’s eyes met Cassidy’s again, wondering if he realized what was going on here. Emma was pretty sure that his girlfriend and her date had just stumbled upon the elusive insta-love.
Also know as love at first sight.
Also known as
They are complete idiots if they ever think it will last.
Still, Emma knew when she was beat. She and Benedict had gotten along fine. More than fine. But the air was practically sizzling with sexual tension, and it wasn’t between her and Benedict.
Emma’d bet that even Camille hadn’t seen
turn of events coming.
Emma cleared her throat, just as Cassidy glanced down at Danielle. “Shall we let these two get back to their date?” he said.
“Oh! Sure!” Danielle said, forcing a smile for Emma.
“It was nice meeting you,” Benedict rushed to say.
Danielle and Benedict held each other’s gaze for just a second longer than necessary before she followed Cassidy toward the lobby.
Danielle didn’t look back. If she did, she would have caught Benedict staring after her.
Emma sighed. All chances of a perfect first-date kiss had just evaporated.
His gaze swung back around to her. “They seem nice.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Emma said.
“They been seeing each other long?”
Emma didn’t bother to dignify that with a response. Ten minutes ago, she’d been ready to offer this guy her lips.
Now she offered him her hand. “Thanks for dinner. I had a really nice time.”
He glanced down at the hand, then back at her face. He wasn’t so gauche as to look relieved at the lack of good night kiss, but he wasn’t exactly disappointed, either.
Benedict took the hand and lifted it to his lips in an old-fashioned way that was sweet and gentlemanly, and did absolutely nothing for her.
He made a noncommittal statement about calling her soon, and she made a similarly noncommittal murmur about looking forward to it.
Five minutes later, Emma had poured herself a hefty glass of Merlot and an emergency handful of Goldfish crackers.
She headed to the guest room she’d claimed as her own and curled up cross-legged on the bed, cellphone in hand as she nipped a Goldfish between her teeth and texted her sister. After Emma had moved to New York, Daisy used to call her every three to four days like clockwork. They’d talk about their respective jobs, men, and whichever singing/dancing TV show was hot at the moment, and Daisy would gently remind Emma that “blond highlights don’t maintain themselves.” Emma had eventually given up on highlights altogether, something that Daisy lamented every year at their annual New Orleans weekend together, since Daisy hated the city, and Emma hated anything having to do with North Carolina.
But then Daisy had gotten married.
Emma had never been a fan of Gary. And she
hadn’t been a fan of the way he’d somehow talked her sometimes prima donna sister into a quickie wedding at the courthouse. But Daisy had been happy, and Emma had been determined not to interfere in Daisy’s relationship the way Daisy had in hers. In hindsight, Emma wished she would have spoken up.
At first Emma thought her sister’s phone calls had stopped because she was a distracted new bride, but when the text messages began, Emma knew it was the opposite. Daisy was
She and her husband lived in a tiny apartment in Raleigh. Daisy’s only free time to talk was in the evenings after work, which was also when Gary was most likely to be home. So Daisy had texted. Casual complaints at first. He was irritable. Would get mad when she hadn’t made dinner, and then wouldn’t show up when she had. The television was always turned to sports and changing the channel was “not up for discussion.” Then things had gotten worse. He wouldn’t come home at all. He’d leave the room whenever he took a phone call. He’d yell at Daisy whenever she mentioned the prospect of starting a family. The best text Emma had ever received was the one saying Daisy was getting a divorce.
But Emma and Daisy had never gone back to their hours-long phone calls. Daisy said it was because she’d simply grown accustomed to texting, but sometimes Emma worried it was something darker—almost like Daisy knew she could hide behind a text more than she could a phone call. Because if anyone could read into the tone of your voice, it was your twin.
Still, when it came to griping about a bad date, texting did just fine, Emma thought as she chomped her Goldfish and let her fingers fly across the screen as she began to her sister in on her evening.
Just got back from the blind date.
Daisy’s response was immediate.
Uh-oh. It’s early. Was hoping for love at first sight.
Oh, it was love at first sight all right,
Emma texted back.
Wait, what? Do I get a do-over on my maid-of-honor gig?
Don’t buy your bridesmaid dress just yet. He fell in love with someone else. I think I actually WATCHED it happen.
As Emma and Daisy texted back and forth, and as the wine level in Emma’s glass got lower and lower, something dawned on her.
She was annoyed by the entire evening, true.
But what was
eating at her wasn’t that she and Benedict hadn’t hit it off.
It was that Emma couldn’t bring herself to care.
Not even the tiniest bit.
There was a knock at Alex’s office door.
“Yeah?” he called.
He glanced up to see Cole Sharpe standing in his doorway. Not who he’d expected.
“Where’s Jake?” Alex asked.
Cole entered the office uninvited and ambled toward Alex’s desk with the easy stroll of a man who never hurried anywhere. Why would he? Everything came to
. The prime stories. The prime women . . .
“Jake Malone,” Cole answered, picking up Alex’s stapler and clicking it a few times as he sat down, “was last seen entering the stairwell.”
“The stairwell?” Alex leaned back in his chair, not following.
“You know . . . to meet Grace?” Cole said, wiggling his eyebrows.
Alex clicked his pen. “They do that a lot?”
“Maybe,” Cole said, reaching across the desk and snagging a PowerBar Alex had never gotten around to eating. “Why, got some voyeuristic tendencies?”
Actually, Alex couldn’t care less whether one of his top columnists was copulating with his new bride in the stairwell, but he and Jake
have a meeting scheduled.
And Alex needed Jake’s advice.
More specifically, he needed Jake’s
But Jake wasn’t here, and Cole was, so . . .
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard about me taking over
for a few months?” Alex asked.
“Of course I heard that,” Cole said around a bite of PowerBar.
Alex threw up his hands. “How?
did you hear that? You don’t even work here full-time.”
Despite Alex’s best efforts, Cole Sharpe insisted on maintaining his contractor status. He was
’s best sports columnist by a long shot. He had connections in the NFL, NBA, NHL . . . college sports, high school sports, you name it.
Alex was dying to get Cole on an exclusive basis, but so far the man had clung hard and fast to his freelancer status. As far as Alex could tell, Cole Sharpe wasn’t the type of man to settle down in any aspect of his life. Tall, broad shouldered, with the slightly scruffy good looks of a Hollywood romantic comedy hero, he managed his career like he did his women:
Enthusiastically and noncommittally.
Still, Cole’s reputation with women might be exactly what Alex needed.
There was an enormous stack on the corner of Alex desk. He pulled it toward him and rapped the papers with his fist. “You know what this is?”
Cole glanced at the stack. “Your diary?”
articles,” Alex said, thumping the papers again. “Page after page about exfoliants and multiple orgasms and lipstick.”
Cole leaned forward and reached out a hand. “Lemme see the orgasm bit.”