Skin of the Night

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Chapter 24: Are You With Me?

Because I’d had no idea of what to wear, I’d settled for a maroon coloured Bardot dress that hugged my curves. In it, I felt opulent. Ready to seduce the night.

It was Friday now, and Elisabeth had warned me the day before that she had made plans to meet Brian after we’d had a few drinks with our colleagues. Apparently, he was going clubbing with a few friends, and Elisabeth wanted me to come along. That was why I had struggled with deciding what to wear tonight. It wasn’t easy to find a dress that would fit into a snobbish cocktail bar, as well as on the dance floor. But I was pleased with my choice.

I had just arrived, and was sitting with Elisabeth, when Lawrence came through the doors. I had barely met the man, but I liked him thus far. He was a quiet type, always brooding. His eyes were such a dark brown that they bordered black, while his skin was paler than even mine. He looked constantly sleep-deprived, but somehow, it made him look good. The dark circles under his eyes offered him a mysterious ambiance.

Narrow face and a narrow jaw he also had. He wasn’t very tall. We were around the same height of my five-foot-five. He was in his late thirties. Married with two young children, though I didn’t know their names.

Elisabeth called him over while I observed my circumstance. It was weird to be back. Last time I’d been here, I’d been swept away by William’s unconventional charms. My heart tingled at the memory. I’d wanted to strangle and praise him at the same time. That hadn’t changed. Odd how he managed to divide me like that. I liked to think I was a collected person, but William severed that notion apart. That night, he’d nearly ruined my defences. I was still working on mending them back to their original strength.

But when he walked through the door half an hour later, my beliefs were put to trial. Powerful and magnetic, he exuded a will that petrified those contesting it. He was unbearably elegant, and alluringly self-assured. I could see it in his strides. He carried himself with pride and grace, as if nothing could shake him.

While he put the whole place to shame on his way toward the bar, his magnificent eyes scanned the room. Browsing, browsing, and then they met mine.

My breath abandoned me, and my thighs squeezed together under the table. Merely by a glance, he made my knickers grow damp. Damn it. I thought I was over him. What was my body doing, getting all hot and bothered under his attention? It surely wasn’t being particularly cooperative.

Trapped in his seemingly unbreakable spell, I blatantly ogled him where I sat. He was wearing a shirt that matched the colour of my dress, and it made his eyes sparkle above. A grey waistcoat encased his powerful chest and torso, and the sight made me wet my lips. Beneath the red textile, I saw grey trousers that matched his vest. He was truly quite the vision. It wasn’t fair that he should be so well endowed when he was both my boss and my flatmate’s brother. I didn’t deserve to suffer like this.

Fingers snapped in front of my face, breaking me out of my trance. Blinking, I turned my head to find Elisabeth frowning at me.

“Shit!” I cursed and squeezed my eyes shut, wildly embarrassed. She’d caught me again.

“You’re hopeless,” she scolded me amused.

“Sorry. Thank you for... helping me out,” I replied through a pout and dragged my Espresso Martini back to my mouth.

She tossed her blonde head back while she laughed. “That’s what I’m here for, honey. And I don’t blame you. He’s been keeping a keen eye on you ever since you started. Honestly, I feel bad for you. Had I not been happily in love with my fiancé, I would have drooled after him all day long, too. Especially if he handed me that kind of attention.”

Her words held comfort. Then again, I could always count on Elisabeth Tallis to offer a sympathetic shoulder. She was made of it. I’d never encountered a more empathic soul in my life.

“Ladies,” Andy’s familiar voice greeted from our side then. “You look dashing,” he continued and grabbed himself a seat next to me. He turned toward me with a playful gleam in his kind brown eyes.

"Cara,” he emphasised, and I despised the reference. “That colour on you should be illegal.”

I arched my brow at him and proceeded to study his own choice of colours. White, grey and beige, he sported, and he looked positively edible.

“You look rather good yourself, Andy,” Elisabeth pointed out and tilted her head at him. “Still single? Or has that changed since last?”

“Semi-single,” he confirmed. What on earth did that mean?

“Elaborate,” Elisabeth requested.

He sighed and reclined to lean his back against the chair he’d grabbed. “Chloe’s difficult. She wants children. I’m not ready for that yet. Because we’re not on the same wavelength, she’s told me to make up my mind. Either I have to let her go, or go all the way with her. So while I make up my mind, we’re on a version of a break.”

I gaped at him, sympathising. What an ultimatum.

“You’ve been together a decade,” Elisabeth murmured. “It’s not surprising she’s reached that point.”

Andy looked displeased while he stared at her for a beat. “Well, when she puts it like that, I feel like my only purpose is to knock her up. It’s not romantic. I don’t feel... seen. I just feel like a bag of sperm she desperately wants. And I’ve always been scared of babies. I’m not ready to change nappies and clean up spew. And I am definitely not ready to sleep three hours a night. I’m building my career, Ellie. Children will have to wait until I’ve reached a stable point in it.”

“Well, do you reckon she’ll change her mind?”

“I’m negotiating it with her. I’m trying to make her give me a few more years. I started with five, but she drives a hard bargain, so I’m down to three at the moment. Keeps going on about female fertility depreciation, and that our children are more likely to have biological problems the longer we wait.”

I pursed my lips. I didn’t know why, but I found this hilarious. True to his title as a solicitor, he was treating it like a case of his.

“But do you love her?” Elisabeth brought herself to ask.

He stiffened. “Of course I love her. I can’t imagine my life without her in it. We’ve been together for ten years, Ellie. I’ve forgotten what it feels like not to love her.”

“Well, at least you’re certain about that,” she responded, visibly charmed.

William’s voice resonated through me then, originating from behind me. “Give her the bloody baby, Andy. Hire an au pair if time’s becoming a problem. You’ve got the money.”

My figure froze when I felt the heat of his body radiate against my own. How close was he?

I found my answer when he leaned across my shoulder to place a Gin and Tonic in front of me. Afterward, he relocated his hand to my naked shoulder. His touch burned like wildfire and sent delicious electricity throughout my body. Hyperaware of his hand on me, I didn’t dare to face him. I was much too overwhelmed.

Andy bent his neck over the back of his chair to acknowledge him from upside down. “I’ve already heard your opinion, Will. Ten thousand times. Give it a rest already. It won’t be your baby to deal with.”

William sent him a smirk. “No. But if I were in your shoes, I’d give her the baby. Andy, last time you and Chloe hit a bump in the road, do you remember what it did to you? You can’t manage without her. If you let her go, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

“I’m with Will on this one,” Elisabeth chimed in.

I remained completely silent, pretending not to exist. This was not a discussion I wanted to get involved in. I knew too little to be able to form an honest opinion.

“What about you, Cara? Are you with me?” William asked and successfully ruined my efforts to evade the topic. Bending my head slightly backward, I met his smouldering eyes. I wanted to submerge into them, swim in the sensual pleasures they whispered of. Bewitched, I watched him, and forgot all about his question.

“I think you’ve dazzled her,” Andy uttered through soft laughter when I failed to respond. His comment dragged me back. Whipping my head forward again, I looked toward the ladies’ room. I had to escape his attention somehow. He looked nothing short of devastating, and I was clearly susceptible to his allures.

“Excuse me,” I said and pushed my seat out.

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