Skin of the Night

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Chapter 33: Touché

When I arrived at work the next morning, I was not surprised to discover a Starbucks Flat White on my desk. He’d always had nerve, but this time, I wasn’t annoyed by it – merely indifferent. But that changed when I raised the cup to eye the black ink on the side.

I’M SORRY, it read, in capital letters, followed by: Forgive me, please. I’m an idiot. My heart throbbed a little. That was surprisingly sweet. Though, I couldn’t help but wonder what the barista must have made of it. It inspired a quick trip down memory lane, of when I’d used to work at Starbucks myself. I’d had to write all sorts of weird things, and the assumptions I’d made were often hilarious in nature.

When I returned to the present, I had a shy sip and got settled into my seat. I did contemplate whether to have a word with him before I started my day, but I gathered it could wait. Besides, even though I had decided to give him a chance, he deserved to suffer a little. Mild punishment was surely in order, and I intended to deliver it by not commenting on the writing on my coffee.

“Morning, Cara,” Elisabeth’s voice called after I’d booted my MacBook Pro. Gazing over, I found her journeying toward her desk, arriving from the lifts. Elisabeth. Friday. Christ, that seemed like a lifetime ago.

“Ellie,” I called back and felt my eyebrows climb higher up my forehead.

“What happened to you on Friday?” she queried while she dumped her bright red purse on her desk. “I got worried. Sent you a text, but you never replied.”

“Shit, Ellie, I’m so sorry. I had such a rough night, and plenty of plans the day after, so it just slipped my mind.” I hoped my sincerity poured through my voice, because I truly felt sorry for having her worry. Knowing her, it wasn’t something she only said to be polite.

“Rough night? What happened?” she repeated.

“I got far too drunk. William found me and had to minister me home. It was awful. I’m still so embarrassed. After I lost you, I ordered a few shots of tequila, and, you know, things just got a wee bit out of hand,” I explained while a pink colour dusted my cheeks.

She blinked until she pursed her lips to stifle a smile. “Your boss had to bring you home? Good thing he’s your flatmate’s brother, eh? Christ, Cara.”

“Please don’t tell anyone. I’m still so embarrassed.”

“Of course I won’t. Has Will given you a hard time for it?” she countered and reclined into her seat beside me. “He shouldn’t. It was after hours. Might be unprofessional, but it was still after hours. You had every right.”

I was cocking my head from side to side when her eyes glued to my cup of coffee. With haste, I turned it so that she couldn’t read the writing, but I was too late. Her eyes looked about to fall out of her skull when they turned back to me.

“‘I’m sorry’?” she quoted. “Cara, what are you not telling me? Please don’t tell me you slept together.”

I turned bright red, eyes darting around myself to check if anyone were eavesdropping. “We didn’t.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. “It’s something else.”

“Something else? He looks desperate for your forgiveness. What did he do?” she pushed, quiet in her volume.

“It’s a long story,” I murmured. “On another topic,” I said, desperate to change the subject, “one of Brian’s mates tried to force me to kiss him.”

She gasped, and a look of horror crossed her face. “What? Which one?”

“I don’t remember his name, but he had somewhat long hair, brown, neatly groomed stubble. Brown eyes, too.”

“Fucking Jack. He’s such a dickhead! I don’t know why Brian bothers hanging out with him. Then again, he’s more George’s mate than Brian’s. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Cara. Trust me to have a serious word with him.” Her voice was seething. I’d never seen Elisabeth Tallis like this. Maternal protectiveness unleashed, was what it was, like that of a lioness.

“He could do with a correction,” I replied with a nod of my head. “And I suppose every squad has their uncontrollable idiot when under the influence,” I added, to defend Brian.

“Did William see it?” she queried worriedly.

“He came to my rescue, actually. Like a knight in shining armour. But I didn’t tell him that the bloke was Brian’s mate.”

“Thank God. William would have given me a thorough earful, had he known, and it wouldn’t have been necessary. He has no patience for that sort of thing. But trust me to deal with Jack,” she firmly responded.

“Sure,” I replied with a shrug of my shoulders. I wanted another sip of my coffee, but I was scared of reminding her. Thankfully, William stepped out of his office, providing me a loophole in Elisabeth’s attention. While her eyes were preoccupied with acknowledging his existence, I hurried to have another mouthful of the elixir. I completely ignored my pounding heart and focused on the delicious, truly reviving liquid. Apologies did taste wonderful.

“Elisabeth, good to see you,” William’s sensual voice murmured when he reached her desk. “How are you? We lost you on Friday.”

“Yes, I heard about your adventure. I’m sorry about that. I did text you where we were located, but I suppose we moved before you saw your chance to fetch us.”

“Adventure?”

“I heard you had to aid Cara back to hers.”

“Oh. Yes. That was quite the scene. She puked her guts out.”

I wrinkled my nose to myself, and regretted the fact that he’d been forced to see me like that. I didn’t want to imagine how dreadful I must have looked.

Ellie giggled beside me, probably at the mental picture. “Poor thing.”

“Yes, she looked positively helpless.”

“You’re a gentleman for helping her home, Will. But you always take care of the weaker ones.”

“Do I?” There was a smirk in his tone.

“You do. I’ve seen it.”

“I’m not weak,” I muttered.

“It speaks!” he replied amused, and his eyes darted to the cup I was holding. Anxiety licked his magnificent eyes for a moment, and I relished the sight. Though, I did detect a hint of relief as well. Was it because I was drinking it? Did he read it as apology accepted? Probably. But it wasn’t quite right. Not yet.

“‘It’?” I echoed. “Are you referring to my divine status?”

Ellie burst out laughing at my joke. It was blasphemy, but yes, I had just compared myself to God. While I wasn’t religious, I didn’t usually fancy making light of religion. Generally, I was one for respecting religious beliefs. My personal persuasion was that tolerance was the cure to all viciousness across the globe. Live and let live, simply. But in the face of William, I would resort to any mean capable of challenging him. I demanded the last word.

“I call narcissist,” William countered with a humoured twinkle in his arresting eyes.

“Bow at my feet, you useless mortal,” I teased and had another sip of my coffee.

“Useless?” He barely managed to suppress a chuckle. His lips were another story. They formed a drop-dead-gorgeous grin, and it made my heart tingle to know that I had placed it there. I adored a smiling William. When it wasn’t at the expense of other people, he was delightful when he smiled.

“You heard me.” I nodded and showed him the writing on my cup. Useless, indeed.

His smile faded immediately. Instead, he cleared his throat. “Right. About that; might I have a word with you in private?”

“Mm, let me check,” I replied with a tone of scepticism and opened the window of his virtual calendar. “You have paperwork at the moment, Mr Night. Looks like a word in private will have to wait. The Porter & Co case isn’t going to complete itself. Artificial intelligence just isn’t quite there yet. You’re a few generations too early, I’m afraid. Tough luck.”

“Cara.” He sounded despaired.

“Mr Night,” I countered.

Ellie pressed her lips together and focused on her screen, clearly eager to hand us a version of privacy.

“I’ll stay after hours,” he argued.

“I’m sure it can wait, Mr Night. Besides, God’s busy. You’ll have to manage without me for a while,” I teased and showed him my to-do list.

He arched a brow at me. “As my legal assistant, it’s in your job description to aid me with my work to your best ability. That, right now, is seeing me in my office, so that I might put my mind straight. If you don’t obey,” obey, “it will ultimately affect my work, because my mind is all over the place at the moment, and you’re the cure. So if you’d please,” he finished and gestured toward his office.

“I hear your prayers, my mortal subject, when you put it like that,” I muttered and pushed my seat out. “I shall do God’s work,” I said while I grabbed my cup of coffee to bring it with me.

“Good luck,” Ellie murmured beside me.

“Thank you,” William replied before I could, as though she’d been speaking to him. It made me look at him with a confounded expression on my face, before I resorted to laughter. He was certainly on edge today, wasn’t he?

While groaning, he gripped my elbow to guide me away. Behind us, Ellie’s snort of a laughter echoed through the space.

After opening the door, he dragged me into his office and locked it behind us. High on my horse, I strode toward his black leather sofa and reclined into it, leisurely. As I crossed my bare legs, I rested my left elbow across the back of it and sent him a confident smile.

He blinked at me for a few seconds. “You don’t seem remotely angry with me.”

“I am.”

“Then what’s with the banter?”

I scoffed at him. “I’m angry, Will, not boring.”

His lips twisted. “No, you certainly are not,” he confirmed with a nod of his handsome head. Ah, he was such a vision. What a beautiful man. He was dressed in dark colours today, and it made me wonder if the choice was subconsciously linked to his funeral mood. I could see him in front of me, waking up this morning, thinking he’d dug his own grave this past Saturday.

I had another sip of coffee while I watched him string his thoughts together. Blank in his expression, he’d dropped his gaze to his Italian black leather shoes. He looked to be struggling. Hard.

“So...” I murmured after a minute had passed. “I should warn you, I’m not a certified psychologist, but I do make a hobby out of it. I’m also very expensive, but I’m sure we can come to an agreement on the price. With that out of the way, what can I do for you?”

He started shaking his head to himself, and all of the sudden, laughter rumbled from the depth of his lungs. A huge grin split his face apart while he tossed his head back and surrendered to his fit. Startled, I watched him in awe. Was I truly that hilarious to him?

“My God, Cara,” he uttered and wiped a fallen tear away. “You’re something else.”

Since I was fighting back a grin, it turned into a crooked version. “You were saying you were drunk, Will. I think that’s where you wanted to start,” I prompted him.

“Right.” He nodded and approached his desk to have a seat on the corner of it. After folding his large hands together above his crotch, he turned to study me. “Like I was saying,” he smirked, “I was very, very drunk. Had I not been, I would have handled it better. I wasn’t prepared to meet him, and I’m very sorry for how I behaved. Truly, you’ll never know how sorry I am.

“I spent all of yesterday thinking I should come over with some sort of compensation, but then I gathered you’d never agree to see me, so I didn’t. It was torture to have to wait until today. I haven’t been able to think about anything else. I swear, Cara, my heart was in my throat all of yesterday. I felt like vomiting. I’ve never felt quite so despicable. I’ve been in utter distress. A complete train-wreck.”

“I’m sure they call that angst, but I’ll have to check with my colleagues,” I replied, feigning professionalism.

“Cara, don’t make light of this. I’m being serious.”

“Apology accepted,” I assured him with a shrug of my shoulders.

His eyes widened and his lips parted. “Really?”

I rolled my eyes at him. “I’m not one for wallowing in the past, Will. I prefer to move on. There’s very little I can do about what you did. I believe in second chances. But if you mess up again, I won’t be as merciful.”

“I’m subscribing to whatever religion you’re the God of.” He sent me a wink.

I smirked back at him. “Of course you are. You have ever since we met.”

A shy chuckle leapt out of his mouth while he looked to his hands. “Touché.”

“Let’s get to the hard part, shall we?” I tilted my head.

His head whipped around again. Alarmed, he stared at me. “Hard part?” he breathed nervously. “I thought apologising was the hard part.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “Coming from you, that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Then enlighten me.”

I arched my brow at him. “What are you going to do to mend your ways? Like I said, I can forgive you the once, but not twice, Will.”

I wasn’t really sure where I was going with this, but I had a faint idea. I was trying to gauge his current position in regards to Robby. Perhaps I could keep them both, if I played my cards right. Obviously, I would still want Robby in my life, even if we couldn’t have sex anymore. He was one of my dearest.

“Mend my ways? You mean if I meet him again?” His joy transitioned into frustration in the span of a mere breath.

“Yes.”

“I won’t punch him, but I won’t be nice, either,” he muttered like an impudent child.

I curled my neck over the back of the sofa and studied the ceiling for a while, wondering where to go from here.

He sighed where he sat, but it didn’t make me look at him. “Cara, I know he’s your best mate, which is why I’m sorry. I have no right to be interfering with your life like that, and I know it. But you have to understand that when you’re about to sleep with another man, I’m not going to like it. Especially not after what happened between us on Friday. Frankly, I found it disrespectful. I feel used.

“Honestly, Cara, you’re doing my head in. One moment you’re with me, and in the next, you’re running for the hills. You’re the most fickle lover I’ve ever encountered. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do. All I know is that I want you, and I’m not ashamed of it.”

Again, that sweet but weird feeling slipped through my heart, leaving it to clench. An alien feeling, it was, and it felt to occupy my entire chest, making it difficult to breathe normally. It tickled, too. Delicious, profound, and yet so delicate.

In that brief moment in time, I felt entirely alive. Dynamic and full of life. I could feel my blood course through my veins, while the sound of my heart drummed behind my ears. Every scent, every sound, every taste and every sight increased.

Suddenly, life wasn’t just something that I had been tossed into and emotionlessly endured. It was vibrant, it was vigorous, and it was magical. The present had never felt more real to me than in that moment.

I hadn’t noticed my blush until he pointed it out. My entire body felt hot, so I hadn’t paid a thought to the fact that my face would be, too.

“You’re blushing, Cara,” he said, and it was through a beautiful, unsullied smile.

“You’re very blunt,” I mumbled for explanation.

“Just,” he sighed, “give me a chance. That’s all I ask. Just one chance. I swear you won’t regret it. I’ll make your time worthwhile. I guarantee it.”

“You sound very confident, Mr Night. Why do I feel like I’m interviewing you for employment?”

“Hire me, please.” He groaned and leaned forward to stare intensely into my eyes. “Please, just fucking hire me. I’ll be the best partner you’ve ever had, and I will work day and night to ensure that your needs are met. Cara, I will make you the happiest you’ve ever been. I swear it to you.”

“Heavy promises, Mr Night.” I could hardly hold my smile back any longer.

“I don’t make promises I can’t keep.” His voice was resolute, and his eyes were glowing like never before. He must be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

I pursed my lips at him. So self-assured. Tantalising and alluring, he was, and he wanted to be mine. I had already made up my mind this weekend, but I was dragging things along because I fancied him grovelling.

“On your knees, please,” I teased, but I knew he wasn’t going to do it. He was much too prideful for it, which was why it brought me such joy to tease him about it.

“Cara.”

I arched my brow at him. “Hello? God?” I pointed to myself.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” He moaned and ran his hands through his hair. I envied them. I wanted to do that, too.

Shocking me, he slid off his desk and straight onto his knees beside it. I was sure my eyes had never been wider, nor my mouth, for that matter. William Night was kneeling in front of me, just for a chance to make me happy. I would never forget this moment. My heart was beating so fast that I wondered if it was just static.

“Fine.” I snickered. “You can bring me on a date.”

He reclined onto his heels and exhaled long and loud. It looked like an entire mountain had been lifted off his shoulders. “Really?” he asked disbelievingly.

I paid him a shy smile and a nod of my head. “Really.”

“Oh, my God. I can’t believe this.” He sounded overwhelmed.

“That makes two of us,” I muttered under my breath.

“You’re... Cara... Fuck,” he uttered in his disbelief and shook his head to himself. “I thought I’d completely fucked my chance this weekend.”

“You’ve got a nice brother you should thank,” I pointed out and tilted my head. “But in all honesty, you have yourself to thank first and foremost. You drive a hard bargain, Will. Trial won. Your methods are a wee bit controversial, but they seem to have worked.”

“I’m honestly speechless,” he said, though it bordered a whisper, and raised his hands to rub his face.

“I should warn you, though,” I murmured and wrinkled my nose. “I’m not familiar with dating. I’ve never really done it before, so you’ll have to cut me some slack.”

“What?” His hands fell away from his face. “You’ve never had a boyfriend?”

I scoffed. “No. I’ve always been religiously committed to my studies.”

“Well, shit. Even I’ve had a girlfriend,” he remarked perplexed.

“Even you. Wow.” I rolled my eyes at him. “Anyway, we should probably discuss a few details. Manage some expectations. But we can do that over our first date.”

“Tomorrow?” he suggested immediately. I giggled at his eager. He resembled a chap on Christmas Morning.

“Sure. Tomorrow. If you stand me up, that’s it,” I warned.

“I wouldn’t dream to do that,” he grumbled. “I’m not self-destructive.”

“Saturday begs to differ,” I twitted.

He smiled in defeat and nodded his head. “I’ll take care of planning our date.”

“No cinemas. I’d like to be able to talk,” I pointed out.

“I’m not ten, Cara,” he retorted sarcastically.

“You act like it, sometimes, so excuse me for having low expectations.”

“May I kiss you?” he asked then. My breath hitched. I hadn’t seen that one coming.

“No. It’s going to escalate,” I peeped and stretched up.

“It isn’t,” he argued.

“It is. Trust me,” I mumbled and gave him a strict look. It wasn’t him I didn’t trust. It was myself. He flashed me a cocky grin and nodded when he understood.

“Well, then,” I murmured and looked to the clock on his wall. “I’ll leave the bill for my service on your desk by the end of the day. I hope you found my expertise worthwhile.”

“Best shrink in London, without a doubt,” he replied amused and stood onto his legs again.

“Seriously,” I said a little concerned. “Did I put your mind straight? Honest question. Porter & Co case is a tough one.”

He sent me shrewd smile, seemingly touched by my genuine concern. “I guarantee I’ll be the most efficient I’ve ever been. But a quick shag wouldn’t-”

“Good,” I interrupted and rushed for the door. He was much too tempting, and when he said things like that, I was rendered nearly powerless against this allures.

I heard him laugh behind me while I scurried out of his office. When Elisabeth met my eyes, I couldn’t help my besotted grin. I was reeling, and my insides had melted into a gooey mess. Truly, I had never felt more alive. In all fairness, I felt liberated. After what had been a dreadful process, I could finally allow myself to enjoy him. I could hardly wait. Already, I wanted to explore the entire of him. Tomorrow couldn’t happen soon enough.

William Night was mine to devour. Mine.

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