Skin of the Night

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Chapter 23: That's Not My Problem

“She steps by every Wednesday she’s in town,” Elisabeth murmured by my side when I’d returned to my seat. “She won’t be leaving for at least half an hour,” she continued amused.

She hadn’t been lying. Francesca departed half an hour later. With a pout on my face, I watched her exit his office, her long blonde hair tied into a ponytail now. He’d obviously messed up her hair.

Elisabeth struggled to stifle a giggle beside me, while she shook her head to herself, endlessly amused by her boss. I didn’t share her feelings. I was slightly gutted. Part of me wondered if he’d done it on purpose, just to get back at me.

“I’m just going to have a quick word with Will,” I said after Francesca paid me a wave on her way to the lift. I returned it with a smile, before I scurried toward William’s office. It was time to apologise for my earlier actions, and I hoped he had it in him to forgive me. I’d spoken out of turn, even if my intention had been to fend him off.

He was just so awfully stubborn. I hadn’t seen another way to reject his efforts, because before I’d boldly shared that piece of information, he hadn’t expressed any sign of respecting my wishes, regardless of how many times I’d tried to tell him, in a gentler way, that it wasn’t going to happen. Simply, gentle hadn’t worked, so I’d resorted to being harsh.

I didn’t bother to knock. Opening the door, I found him in front of one of the windows, which he’d just opened to exchange air with the outside. Immediately, he turned toward me, and a guilty expression covered his face. His lips were slightly swollen, and redder than usual, no doubt due to the things he’d been using them for.

With a heavy breath, I shut the door behind me and leaned defeated against it. It took me a few seconds to gather what I wanted to say.

“I’m sorry about this morning.”

His eyebrows formed surprise. “Are you?”

“Yes.”

“Does Francesca have anything to do with that?” he queried and went for his desk to have a seat.

“No.” I was sort of lying. Seeing him send away another woman had been more painful than I expected, but my apology was still genuine, and not inspired by his session with Francesca.

“That’s regretful. I wouldn’t have had to shag her, then.”

My breath hitched. I was about to reply when he sighed long and loud.

“See, this is where you lose me. I don’t understand how you’ve managed to switch off your interest in me. I realise how conceited that sounds, but I’m honestly confused, because I can’t seem to switch off my interest in you at all. That makes me wonder what I did, because it’s obvious that I did something.”

“Like I said, Will, you were yourself. Your cynical, player self.”

He didn’t even stir. “That’s bullshit. Quit lying to me, Cara. I haven’t behaved like that until today. You changed yesterday."

I reeled in a deep breath. “William, does Francesca know that you’re sleeping with Violet?”

He stiffened. “How on earth–” he cut himself off, “Fucking Elisabeth.”

“That’s not the point, Will,” I reminded him.

He resorted to glare at me. “No, she doesn’t know, but it’s none of her business.”

“William, she’s obviously in love with you,” I argued, upset on her behalf. Had Robby been in love with me, I would have ended our arrangement immediately, so not to string him along. That was what bothered me about this. I hated to bear witness to the fact that William was toying with her feelings. To make matters worse, he was hiding the fact that he was seeing other women from her. Robby was well aware that I might be sleeping with other people on the side, but we had mutually decided not to tell each other about them to avoid potential conflicts. We had managed our expectations to a fault. As it looked now, William wasn’t managing Francesca’s at all, and I found it seriously disrespectful.

“That’s not my problem.”

I gawked at him, disbelieving. “If everyone were like you in this world, there wouldn’t be a world. Ever heard of altruism?”

His head tilted. “Is that what this is? You were put off by how I’m supposedly treating other women?”

“Yes!”

He nodded as he leaned backward. “Fine. I’ll quit seeing them both, if that’s what you want, but I haven’t done anything wrong, Cara. I’m not theirs. I realise that you consider my actions to be disrespectful, but that hasn’t been my intention. I haven’t been stringing them along. In fact, I’ve given them both fair warning. Francesca is fully aware that I won’t ever want anything serious with her, and so is Violet. If Francesca still can’t help herself, that’s not my fault. Violet doesn’t give a shit, because she doesn’t want me either. I’m merely easy access to her.

“There’s so much you’re not aware of, Cara. You’ve only seen the surface. Please don’t judge me so harshly when you’re clearly not properly informed.”

Well, that changed the entire dynamic, didn’t it? Obviously, I’d jumped the gun when I passed judgement earlier. He wasn’t stringing either of them along.

I stared blankly out of his windows. For the first time since I’d arrived here, a moment of serenity gripped me. The traffic of London hummed in the background, reminding me of why I never really fancied the city. Above the pulsating metropolis, I saw the clear blue sky on this serene summer day. The breeze flirted with the white curtains of his office, and I closed my eyes to savour its dance across my cheeks. In the face of it, my drama with William seemed trivial.

His sigh brought me back. “I’m just testing methods here. I’m sorry – I’m going to fuck up every now and then.”

“Pun intended?”

His lips twisted. “Don’t make light of this, Cara. I’m being serious.”

“I’m not making light of it,” I assured him. “Just leave me alone, okay? You exhaust me.”

He grimaced, and I could tell he was not inclined to oblige. “I’ll leave you alone if you promise not to mention Robby again. I get jealous. Territorial. The idea of you two turns me into a caveman.”

“No shit. Had I known, I never would have done it. I meant to apologise for it even before you went and had sex with Francesca.”

His head tilted. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Bollocks,” he cursed and allowed his eyes to sweep over my figure the once.

“You really aren’t very good with women.”

“I’m not good with people in general. It’s always a conscious effort. Jason didn’t tell you that?”

I wasn’t very surprised. If he was clever enough to get into Cambridge, it was a given that he’d be lacking in some other department. Evidently, his social antennas were the ones suffering the defect.

“He didn’t need to. I realised the first time you opened your mouth.”

He grinned at the memory. “You’re the only one that can handle me, Cara. It’s what I admire the most about you; what impels me to pursue you.”

“You mean I’m the one teaching you proper etiquette?”

“Yes. You dare to challenge me. Very few people do that.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t had any reports filed against your behaviour.”

“Well, nobody stirs me in the way that you do, so it’s never been a problem before. I might rub people the wrong way, but it’s usually because I just don’t give a monkey’s. With you, it’s different. I do care.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t,” I murmured and looked away from him. My heart was tingling in a manner that I did not welcome. Was it possible that he was infatuated with me? The idea boosted my ego, and I found myself tempted to explore the possibility. However, sensible as I was, I ignored my feelings. He was clearly toxic; a bomb wrapped in what resembled a beautiful present.

“Well, I’m afraid that’s out of my control, but I’ll try and channel it from now on.”

“Please do.”

He was silent for a while, but eventually, he gestured toward his desk. “I need to get back to work, but feel free to stay until you’re ready to face your desk again.”

“I’m okay.”

“Are we?”

I frowned for a second, contemplating, until I nodded my head. “Yes.”

I paid him a small smile and turned for the door, but he stalled me by saying, “On Fridays, the office tends to grab a few drinks at the cocktail bar where we first met. You should come. We’ll celebrate your first week with us. And I promise I won’t try and get in your knickers.”

Elisabeth had already mentioned it yesterday.

“I’ll be there.”

“Good,” he replied. “And, Cara... I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For being with someone else. For doing to someone else what I should only be doing to you.”

My nostrils flared. What? Turning toward him, I watched him with a puzzled expression on my face. “You’re not mine, Will.”

“I am. So again, I’m sorry.” His face didn’t even twitch. Resolute, he stared fixed at me.

Disbelieving of what he had just said, my body started to tremble. A crimson blush reached my cheeks, and when he saw it, he smiled to himself.

I felt like I was suffocating under his stare. Without a word, I whirled around and ripped open the door, out of touch with reality. Everything seemed bizarre. My body felt like a gooey mess, all because of his amorous declaration. Had he truly meant what he said?

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