Authors: Ava Hayworth
I can feel his eyes on me, and I give in to the impulse to look back at him. When he has my full attention, he continues, “I know I owe you more of an explanation, but can we just relax and eat and save the discussion for after dinner?”
Still off balance from his earlier comment, I find myself agreeing. “It has been a long day. I guess we can eat first.”
His easy smile reminds me of the James from the train.
“How’s Sam?” he asks.
“You remember the name of my roommate?” I ask in surprise.
“I haven’t forgotten anything about our time together.” He tells me in a low, husky voice that sends memories of our night together shooting through my head. “So how is she?”
Refocusing on James, I take a sip of the cool beer before answering. “She’s fine. She has taken a job at an investment firm as house counsel, so we are both pretty busy.”
James nods his head in understanding before tipping his bottle back for a drink. My eyes are drawn to his Adam’s apple as he swallows. That shouldn’t be sexy. I’ve never paid the slightest attention to that part of a man’s anatomy before. I notice that the silence has gone on for a while and find James regarding me closely. “How old are you anyway? Twenty-four?”
“Twenty-three.” I swear his face pales, and I decide I shouldn’t tell him that I just turned twenty-three in June.
“My God, you’re practically an infant.”
“I think that might be a bit of an overstatement, counselor. How old are you? You can’t be that much older.”
“Huh.” An age difference of nine years isn’t that bad. He’s acting like he’s eighty or something.
Our food arrives, and I begin to relax as we eat perched on tall chairs at the kitchen island.
I tell James about spending a few weeks with my mother and visiting Sam’s family. He tells me a few amusing anecdotes about a friend he visits in the Hamptons on the weekends when he can manage to get away. I am reminded of the James that I spent those hours with on the train. The sushi is delicious, and I am in a much better frame of mind after eating.
After clearing away our dishes, James pours us both tumblers of what looks like scotch. We carry our glasses back to the couch. James charmed me all through dinner, and I relax even further as I slip off my sling backs and curl up on the couch to face him. I am curious about where this conversation will go. I am not entirely certain what I want to come out of it.
James sits down on the couch, closer to me this time, and surprises me by taking my hand. He pulls it up to his lips and kisses the inside of my wrist. I hope that he doesn’t hear my sharply indrawn breath. The simplest touches send heat pouring through me. He brings my hand down and holds it on top of the couch before speaking. “I apologize again for how I behaved that morning.” James clears his throat before continuing. “At first I told myself it was for the best. You are young and sweet, and I… Well, let’s just say… my lifestyle… I wouldn’t be right for you. I buried myself in my work like I always do, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you.
“I am sure that if I had made an effort I could have discovered your number, but I took the fact that I didn’t have a means to contact you as a sign that I needed to leave you alone. Then I saw you last week, and I knew that I had just been fooling myself. I am drawn to you, and I won’t lie to you. I want to fuck you again… badly… and soon.”
I withdraw my hand from his so that I can think clearly about all that he has said. I can’t help but be gratified that he had been thinking of me and thought about calling me. That I wasn’t some forgettable one-night stand. Of course, he could just be saying these things to get me back into bed with him. Admittedly, the sex had been great. “What are you suggesting – something like friends with benefits?”
James brings his hand up and brushes my hair behind my ear. “Listen, Lainey, I know you probably would like to have things clearly defined. To be honest with you, this is all new to me, and I would prefer not to try to analyze it to death.”
“What exactly is new to you?”
James sighs. “In the past,” he stops and starts again. “I fuck women. I am not friends with them, and I do not date them. That is, I don’t date them unless it leads to sex. I never pursue them. Christ, I am probably blowing this,” James says as he runs a hand through his hair in frustration. “I sound like such an asshole.”
I am surprised by James’s revelations. The person who James claims to be does not correspond to the warm, compassionate man that I spent hours with on a stalled train. “You’ve never had a girlfriend?” I ask incredulously.
“Well, they may say otherwise, but no, I have never called a woman my girlfriend.”
“What do you mean they may say otherwise?”
James sighs again. “Sometimes women have thought – or maybe
is a better word – that we were a couple, but I have never encouraged this. I usually cut those women loose as fast as possible.”
“Huh.” I am apparently sitting across from the biggest commitment-phobe on the planet. “Why are you telling me this?” I ask, and I know that he can hear the bewilderment in my voice.
“Because I want you to trust me,” he responds immediately. “I want you to understand why I blew you off last spring. What happened between us was unexpected, and it… threw me.”
“So, you are telling me that if I call myself your girlfriend, you will cut me loose.”
“Can we not go back to the labels? Listen, I told you that I was fucked up, and I meant it.”
“I am not sure this will work, since you don’t do relationships, and I only do relationships.”
“What about the night we spent together?”
“What about the fact that we work at the same law firm? Isn’t that an obstacle?”
James shrugs. “I don’t see why it should be. As long as I am not your boss, there shouldn’t be a conflict.”
He says that so easily, but I know that it is more complicated. Did I really want to risk my career for a guy who sleeps with me, then doesn’t contact me for three months, and then only because he happened to see me again? I cannot discount the possibility that he is playing me. If that were the case, surely he would have attempted to contact me in the last three months, and more importantly, come up with a better plan to lure me back. The one he has chosen is not exactly inspiring me to run back to him.
When I don’t respond, James continues. “Listen, I am not asking for anything serious, just a chance to get to know you better. You go out with other co-workers, don’t you? Why should this be any different?”
“Well, for one thing, I am not thinking about sleeping with any of them.”
“So you are thinking about it?” he asks.
“I need some time.” I force myself not to squirm under his steady regard.
“That’s probably a good idea. Give me your phone.” Contrarily, I am a bit put out by his easy capitulation.
I look around for my bag and see it sitting next to the door. I take out my phone and hand it to James, who taps out something and hands it back to me.
“Now you have my number. How much time do you think you will need before you come to a decision?”
“A few days?” I decide, but it comes out sounding more like a question than a statement. I berate myself. Show some backbone, Lainey, or he will run right over you with his good looks, charm, and sexual magnetism.
“How about a week? I’m going to the Hamptons next weekend. If you decide to pursue this,” he waves his hand back and forth between us, “then you can come with me. We will leave Friday after work and come back on Sunday. I will have to meet a client on Saturday, but that shouldn’t take very long. My friend Rex has a house there, and I usually stay there. He won’t be there that weekend, so we will have the house to ourselves.”
A whole weekend with James at the beach is a heady thought. “You have to meet a client on the weekend?”
“Yes, this client requires kid gloves, but we should still have most of the weekend to ourselves." James cups my face with his hands and rubs his thumbs along my cheeks. His eyes darken and his eyelids droop. “Your skin is so soft.”
I think he is going to kiss me, but then he lets go of me and steps back. “You must be tired. Let me call a car and get you home.”
The car is out front waiting for me in less than ten minutes. I can’t help but be a little hurt that James makes no effort to convince me to stay. It seems like he is big talk but little action.
He must have read my mind, because at the door he takes my elbow and pulls me to him. “I promised that if you came over we would only talk tonight, so I am letting you go. If I hadn’t made that promise, there is no way you would be walking out that door right now.”
The burning intensity in his eyes almost makes me throw my arms around his neck and beg him to let me stay, but my doubts and uncertainty hold me back. I need to think of everything that he has said without his overwhelming presence.
He pulls me more tightly to him, and his lips meet mine for a short hard kiss. “I want to fuck you, but if I don’t let you go right now, you won’t be leaving.” He turns and guides me to the elevator. It arrives and I get on, turning back for one more glimpse of James before the doors shut in front of him.
As I am chauffeured home, my mind goes back over what he has said to me, and one point stands out. He said he never pursued women. Have they always pursued him? And what does it mean that he seems to be pursuing me?
The next morning there is a buzz of excitement running through the office. Curious about what has happened, I head down a floor and over to Alex’s desk. It flashes through my mind that the buzz could be about me and James. I watch to see if there are any unusual looks directed my way. Several of the new junior associates cluster around Alex’s desk, and Alex calls me over. “Lainey, have you heard the news?”
“No, what’ss happened?”
“Do you remember Sonia from orientation?” he asks.
“Sonia with paralegal experience?”
“Yea, her. She was ‘let go’ this morning. Security just escorted her out.”
I look around at the shocked expressions on everyone’s faces. “Why? Does anyone know the reason?”
A junior associate who works in family law answers in a hushed voice. “No one knows exactly, but it could have to do with the case she was working on for Boyd. She and Becca were helping with the research, and Becca says that there have been problems.”
I wonder what kind of problems he could be talking about when another associate chimes in. “I saw security come to get her and she started sobbing. I felt really bad for her.”
The junior associates continue to speculate, but I realize that I need to get some work done, so I walk back to my desk. Elizabeth calls me into her office a few minutes later. She gives me a smile that does not quite reach her eyes. “Elaine, hi, take a seat. I just wanted to touch base with you. How do you feel you have been doing?”
I give a pat answer. “I think it is going well. The contracts are straightforward, nothing that I can’t handle.”
“Yes the contracts are looking good, and I have some good news. It is still uncertain, but it looks like we will be getting a sizable class action suit. I am going to need your help with it if it comes through.”
“That’s exciting. Can you give me any details?”
“I am going to hold off on the details until it is a sure thing, but I can tell you that we will be working together with a team of lawyers. I expect that it will move quickly and be a lot of hard work once we get the ball rolling.”
Elizabeth appears to be finished. Should I leave now or wait to be excused? I take the initiative and stand up.
“Oh, Elaine, I would like you to do some research for me this afternoon. I am sure you can use a break from contracts.”
“Sure, Elizabeth. Just get me the details, and I would be happy to do it.” I smile again before exiting her office and going back to my desk.
Sam’s office is in Midtown too, and we meet at my building so we can walk home together. It is still hot but not unbearable. It is a long walk, but it feels good to move about after sitting at a desk all day. We have both changed into flip-flops so that we don’t have to cover the distance in heels. After talking about our workday, Sam asks, “So, did you see James today?”
I had told her yesterday about going to James’s apartment. She thought I should give it a chance. “I saw him for a second this morning going into a meeting.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“No, it was from a distance, and he was with a client.”
“Workplace romances can be tricky. Maybe it is better that way.”
“You mean we shouldn’t acknowledge each other at work.”
“You don’t want everyone making a big deal out of it... especially if things don’t work out.”
It’s true I didn’t want to be a source of gossip. I could just imagine the reaction of the other junior associates, not to mention his fan club. Perhaps it would be better to keep things low key if I decided to give James a chance. Besides, I wasn’t even sure he was proposing anything more than occasional hookups. “You’re right. It’s nobody else’s business anyway, right?”
“Right. You should definitely go for it, Lainey. You are only young once, after all. It will do you good to get outside of your comfort zone, especially if James is as hot as you say he is.”