Chapter 91: Going For His Neck
“Cara,” he repeated, and I could not reconcile the amused tone of his voice with the exasperated expression he was wearing on his face.
“It’s right by the lamp, you moron. For the last time,” I replied in my frustration from where I stood opposite of him in the living area of his flat, animatedly motioning toward the item at the centre of our argument. How hard could it be for a man to find his bloody wand. It was right next to him, for crying out loud.
“Use your eyes, William,” I moaned.
“Cara, you seriously need to wake up.”
Baffled at his response, I stirred awake about a nanosecond after he’d led me to grasp that I was only dreaming. My eyes sprang open a breath later, and with the speed of light, I fetched my phone off my nightstand to see his amused person smiling at me through the screen of it.
What a beautiful view to wake up to.
“Good morning, sweetheart.”
“Oh, my God.” Groaning, I rubbed my face and shook my head to myself. What a vivid dream.
“Sorry to wake you in the middle of REM,” he murmured. “Although, I am flattered to know that you were dreaming about me. Something about a wand?”
Focusing on my screen again, a faint pink took to my cheeks. Did I talk while asleep? I’d never known. I thought only he was guilty of that. “You were a wizard,” I explained. “And blind at that, apparently.”
Charmed laughter echoed through the speakers. “That’s nice. Were you a witch, then?”
“Suppose that’s no different from reality.”
“Don’t be a tit. It’s too early for banter.”
He smirked. “Only joking. But you need to wake up. It’s half past six.”
I passed him a dispirited nod. “I really wanted to finish my dream.”
“I know the feeling.”
I studied his serene expression for a few seconds, only to notice that he looked freshly showered and very much awake. It made me suspicious. He only looked like that – radiating as if he’d just swallowed the sun for breakfast – whenever he’d just worked out, or fucked me senseless. And since he hadn’t done the latter in far too long, “Did you work out this morning?”
My eyebrows climbed higher to express my surprise. “Oh. When did you start doing that again?”
“Yesterday. Dr Fielder’s orders.”
I chuckled. “I gather this must be the first time you’re genuinely happy to obey an order.”
“Indeed. I can’t remember the last time I felt quite so out of shape. I really ought to hop back on my high protein diet.” He looked sideways for a moment, presumably to contemplate his eating habits. Meanwhile, I resorted to admiring the view of his sharp jawline and prominent cheekbones.
“I’m glad for you,” I responded through an unflattering yawn.
He faced me again. “I’m not hanging up till you’ve crawled out of bed, Cara.”
Wearing a petulant pout, I pushed my duvet aside and stood. “Happy?”
“Nicely done, love. I’ll see you in a bit. Wish Jason happy birthday again, from me.”
The reminder sucked a dramatic gasp out of me. “Fuck! I’ve got to make him breakfast! I’ve got to go, Will, or I’ll run late! Thanks for waking me, I love you, bye!” and with that, I hung up.
I’d just tossed my phone onto my bed when I realised what had slipped out of me just then. Again, I’d told him I loved him, after he’d specifically requested that we take things slow last night.
“Shit,” I mumbled under my breath and rubbed my face yet again. Well, alas, I did not possess the power to rewind time and change what I’d done. Besides, I was positive he’d survive. I couldn’t imagine it would be a shock for him to hear it. In the end, it wasn’t the first time I’d told him.
Waking Jason with breakfast in bed to congratulate him on his day had made me forgetful of the time this morning, so I was late to work by half an hour, and the stress of it was evident from my strides, as I stalked out of the lift and headed with tunnelled vision toward my desk. A familiar paper cup awaited me there, and because the sight of it momentarily distracted me, I failed to notice that Frederick – who was also quite distracted – was walking perpendicularly toward me, leaving us to crash. Fortunately, Frederick was like a cushion to bump into, given his generous amount of fat.
“Oh, my God,” I uttered and lifted my head to look apologetically into his warm brown eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry.” He chuckled and placed his hand on my shoulder to pay it a gentle squeeze. “I wasn’t minding my path. You alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine, thanks. Just a bit late.”
“You? Late? So you’re actually human, then.” I could tell he was joking, but I wondered what he meant. Why would he imply that I didn’t strike him as human?
His thin lips spread apart with his massive grin, and a few dimples presented themselves in his plump cheeks. “I was convinced you were a machine for some time.”
My figure stiffened. A machine? Was he insinuating that I came across as calculated and unfeeling? If so, that was hardly pleasant news. “Oh.”
“I meant it as a compliment.”
“For certain. You’re an efficient worker.”
My eyes might as well have been replaced by stars. Frederick was an eminent, celebrated, and much esteemed solicitor within this firm, and he had just complimented my abilities. Suddenly, being late stood no chance at ruining my day at all.
“Oh. Well, thanks. That actually means a lot coming from you,” I bashfully replied.
Soft laughter drifted out of him. “As it happens – if you end up working here once you finish your degree – I’m hopeful I’ll be appointed as your mentor. Since you’ve been delegated a few tasks pertaining to my current case, I’ve been reviewing some of your work lately, and I must say, I’m quite impressed. It holds the standard of an actual and professional legal assistant. You’ve clearly made good use of your time here. Shame it’s coming to an end next week.”
Blood rushed to my face at his heartfelt statement. “I... I’m happy to know that you’re pleased with my efforts.”
Letting go of my shoulder, he eyed his wristwatch. “I’m actually on my way to a meeting with my client, but before I forget, I should say that you mustn’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need any help at all with your dissertation. I’d be happy to help.”
His offer rendered me momentarily speechless, and once he noticed the same, another chuckle slipped out of him. “Just something you ought to be aware of. Catch you later,” he said and, after offering my arm an encouraging pat, got on his way.
As I turned to watch his departure, I glimpsed a familiar figure standing just outside the door to his office. With his hands tucked into his pockets, he regarded me with an unreadable expression on his face, but I paid no further mind to it, because once our eyes met, all I could notice was the ridiculous amount of butterflies that suddenly fluttered their wings in my chest. So swiftly, and so effortlessly, he made me forget everything but him.
After that initial glance of acknowledgement, a crooked smile crept onto his tempting mouth, and he continued to wear it while he approached with that characteristic and confident grace of his.
Seeing him walk reminded me that I was very much capable of the same, so I decided to meet him half-way.
“Morning,” he greeted and halted by my desk.
“Morning,” I replied enthused and made sure to hold his gaze while I dumped my purse on the surface of my desk.
His eyes strayed from mine toward the lifts where Frederick had just vanished, and soon enough, his smile faded. “What was that about?”
“Frederick? Oh, he just brightened my morning. He’s such a sweet man. Said he’s impressed with my work and that I shouldn’t hesitate to contact him if I need any help with my dissertation, and that he hopes he’ll be my mentor one day.”
The responding arch of his left eyebrow was a statement in itself. He was suspicious. “Did he?” His tone was entirely flat and lacked any trace of enthusiasm.
“Don’t you like Frederick?”
“He’s a brilliant solicitor.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
Withdrawing his hand from his pocket, he eyed his Rolex and dodged the subject with, “Suppose my brother had you running late?”
“Yes. But it was my fault. I forgot to watch the time.”
“Or mine. Knowing how you two are with each other, I should’ve accounted for it and woken you up sooner.”
An impulsive smile gripped my mouth upon the reminder. “I’m delighted I woke up with you. Thanks for staying on through the night. I slept like a baby, knowing you were sort of there.”
A shy version of his smile returned, and I could tell from the sudden warmth that shined from his eyes that my affectionate statement had reached him, but he said nothing to requite it. “Here’s your coffee,” he said instead and gripped around the cup to hand it over. While I wrapped my hand around it, feeling the content warm my fingers, he continued, “As you may already know, my schedule is filled to the brim today, so I won’t be able to lunch with you. I doubt I’ll have time to even catch my breath.”
His remark inspired me to have a proper look around. Where on earth was Ellie?
“I see. That’s fine. Let me know if I can be of help,” I replied distractedly. “Where’s Ellie?”
“Where Frederick was headed, I believe.”
“Right. Ugh, I truly detest being late. It makes me feel bloody disoriented and disorganised,” I complained and slumped down in my chair to get started.
I’d just placed my coffee aside to bring out my computer from my purse when I noticed something strange about his demeanour. He wasn’t moving, but he looked like he wanted to say something.
“Everything alright?” I queried and halted with my hands around my computer to regard him.
While glancing at me from the corner of his eye, he pressed his lips together for a beat. His gaze then fled while he mumbled something inaudible.
“I’m sorry?” I leaned closer. “I didn’t catch that. You’ll need to speak louder.”
“I said I think Frederick wants to fuck you,” he whispered harshly.
What on earth? Utter confusion descended upon me. Since I had no idea how to react, I did the only thing I thought appropriate, which was to laugh, something he didn’t seem to appreciate.
“William,” I spoke his name with patience, “mind your jealousy.”
“No, you misunderstand. I’m not jealous. I don’t think... Well, he’s not your type, is he? He’s a tad round around the edges, and a bit old. I was only saying.”
I gaped at his insolent remark. “I beg your pardon? Are you implying that I’m so shallow that I could never consider someone with a bit extra weight?”
He grimaced. “‘A bit’ is kind of you. He’s got a rich amount of excess fat.”
“He’s a bit fat,” I agreed, “but he’s bloody clever, and you know, whatever floats his boat.”
“Quite sure his boat would sink like a hammer with all that extra fat.”
“Christ, Will. You’re going for his neck, aren’t you?”
“He’s been eye-fucking you ever since you started, but you’re too oblivious to notice. I don’t like it. It rubs me the wrong way.”
“Why? If you’re not worried that I’ll act on it, why care about it?”
“Because I find it disrespectful.”
Suspicious of his genuine thoughts, I scrutinised him with my eyes, but after a quick assessment of both his tone and behaviour, relief found me. I wasn’t looking at the jealous and possessive version of him right now. I was looking at the protective one, which I had always adored.
“You eye-fuck me all the time,” I countered and rested my head in the palm of my hand. Stealing another glimpse at him, I watched him struggle to repress a smile.
“Is it, though?”
“Yes, because you know damn well that I care about you; who you are.”
“And Frederick doesn’t?”
He eyed me incredulously. “’Course he doesn’t. He hardly knows you. Frederick is rather cynical, more so than myself, which I honestly think is how he’s come so far. Besides, he’s known to pursue younger women.”
I blinked from slight surprise. “Really?”
My curiosity, although harmless and innocent, was piqued. Frederick was at least fifty years old, so that led me to wonder if there were plenty of women out there willing to ignore the considerable age gap. My personal persuasion was that age shouldn’t play much of a role in matters of love, as long as both parties were consenting adults. However, my personal preference was not men considerably much older than myself.
“Do you know if it tends to be a fruitful pursuit?” I asked.
He arched a brow at me again. “You’d be surprised. Violet told me he’s a sugar daddy, or whatever they call it.”
“Point is, just be mindful of the fact that he might have an ulterior motive. As long as you’re aware of that, I see no harm in taking him up on his offer. He’s an excellent solicitor, so you should use his knowledge for what it’s worth. I’ve learned a great deal from him.”
I gasped. “At last, it all makes sense! That’s what you’ve been doing all along, spoiling me without end. You’ve been grooming me to be your sugar baby!”
An involuntary chortle leapt out of him upon hearing my joke. “Why do you think I bought you those concert tickets?” he countered playfully.
I tutted at myself. “I can’t believe I could be so blind. Frederick has surely taught you well.”
“Honestly, though, I’m correct when I say he’s not your type, right? I mean – us aside, and work aside – would you truly consider someone as old as Frederick?” he asked, grossly curious and audibly scared of my answer. “He’s nearly Dad’s age, for crying out loud.”
My smile became that of the Cheshire Cat. What a wonderful opportunity to taunt him. “For your information, you would be most lucky if you end up aging as well as your father.”
His eyes noticeably widened. “You find Dad hot?”
“Well, taking his actual age into account, then yes, he’s certainly good looking. I can imagine he was quite the vision a few years back. In the end, the resemblance between you two is uncanny. So I can see what Daphne fell for. Especially if I remove thirty years.”
His nose wrinkled. “I’ve no idea how you managed it, but I’m not sure whether I’m flattered or disgusted right now.”
I laughed wholeheartedly. “That was my intention. Nevertheless, yes, you are correct. John’s unfortunately a bit too old for me. In an alternative universe, perhaps.”
He shook his head in despair of me.
“But don’t worry about Frederick. If you’re right, and he does want to get in my knickers, the closest he’ll get to achieving it will be in his dreams.”
He offered a nod of approval. “Good. Anyway, I should get back to work. One last thing, though. How are you getting to my parents’ house tonight?”
“Uhm, I planned on a taxi, actually, with Phoebe and Livy, since we’re getting ready together. Why?”
“Are you getting ready at yours?”
“Then I’ll arrange for a driver to collect you at eight,” he stated.
I watched him, flummoxed. “What? No. Don’t be ridiculous. That’s such an unnecessary expense, Will, and you know I don’t like it when you spend–”
“Eight,” he echoed, successfully cutting me off, and turned on his heel to return to his office. “Enjoy your coffee, my sugar baby,” he added and paid me a cheeky smirk across his shoulder.
Regardless of how little I wanted to, his witty end to the conversation sucked a chuckle out of me and left a smile on my mouth.
“No, he’s brilliant, actually. I really do fancy him. In general, he treats me like a princess. I’m only saying that whenever maths is relevant to a conversation, he gets a tad bit arrogant in his attitude, as if I’m not as clever as him because I never really enjoyed maths or physics in school,” I vaguely heard Olivia respond to Phoebe from my bed behind me, where she lay sprawled in her cute and baby pink dress. I’d signed out of socialising with them a while ago, mainly because I was minding my own business as we got ready for the bash together, but from the few times I tuned in, I could tell they were discussing Olivia’s latest love interest, Caleb Farrington, who was the architect she’d met a while back.
“What do you mean?” Phoebe queried.
“Well, like, let’s say we’re at a restaurant, right? I’ll volunteer to pay the bill, or at least tip the waiter, and he’ll refuse. It made me uncomfortable last time, since he always insists on paying, so I asked if I could please at least stand for the tip, and he asked, ‘Well, how much do you intend to leave for a tip? Unless you plan to leave more than ten-to-fifteen per cent, I’ve got it covered.’ And I looked at him, trying quickly to do the maths, and he could tell I was working on the equation, so he said, ‘That would mean you intend to leave more than twenty quid, Livy’. And, I don’t know, it made me feel quite dumb, especially because of the tone he used.”
“That’s just people, Livy,” Phoebe reassured her. “Any person will enjoy talking about something they’re skilled at, specially if it’s something they’re passionate about as well, and from the sound of it, Caleb sounds quite passionate about maths. Remember he’s an architect. If you think he’s bad, you should meet an engineer. They’re the epitome of it. And I wouldn’t take it personally if I were you. I mean, I study business. I know the type of person you’re on about from first hand experience. For an example, Chase is always going on about maths as well whenever he can.”
“But you’re not like that.”
“I’m humble when it comes to maths. It’s not my best friend, but I’m trying to force it to be.”
“I suppose I’m just not used to it. Colin never liked maths, nor did he plan to get a degree in anything. He’s fulfilled just being a bartender for now.”
“Well, you’re now dating a nerd. You’ll need to get used to it if you mean to last.”
“It’s a bit weird, actually, because while he sometimes makes me feel dumb because of it, it also turns me on so much.”
“That is weird, yes,” Phoebe confirmed. “And you can always return the favour. Make him feel dumb about some legal issue.”
“Do it,” Phoebe cheered her on.
“No, don’t make him feel dumb,” I suddenly objected. “That’s just rude, and such an unhealthy approach. Impress him with your legal knowledge; don’t patronise him.”
“Or you could listen to Cara,” Phoebe muttered, audibly reluctant to admit that my counsel was wiser.
“But returning the favour could be rhetorical,” Olivia argued.
I snorted. “In your case, I say to hell with rhetoric. Have you tried telling him that he makes you feel dumb when he talks about maths to you that way? That should be your primary tactic in trying to solve an issue between you. Always.” I stole a glimpse at her in the mirror to see her biting on her lower lip while a frown covered her face.
“Ugh, you’re so sensible,” she commented after a chuckle.
Suddenly, Phoebe laughed as well. “From the sound of it, you’d think Cara was the one to have been in a long-term, steady relationship. Not the two of us.”
I scoffed. “I don’t know about that, but thanks, I suppose. And considering who I’m in love with, sensibility and patience are requirements if I mean to stand a chance.”
“Yeah, now that you mention him, are you all right?” Olivia asked, and I sensed my sister’s eyes stray in my direction to observe my reaction.
Since I was seated with my legs crossed in front of the full-length mirror, I turned my head to look at Olivia, and I was certain my confusion was blatant from the look on my face. “Yes. Why?”
“You’ve been awfully quiet. You’ve hardly said a word all evening.”
“She’s nervous,” Phoebe chimed in. “Best to leave her alone with her thoughts.”
“Nervous because of Will?” Olivia carefully inquired.
“Will and Robby, probably,” my sister answered.
I chuckled and focused on applying my mascara again. “Phoebe, get out of my head, yeah?”
Olivia sighed. “I don’t think Will’s going to be a problem, and certainly not Robby. You shouldn’t feel nervous, Cara. Everything’s going to be fine,” she said to reassure me, and I was charmed by her attempt, even if it wasn’t entirely successful.
“How was he at work today?” Phoebe queried.
“Brilliant.” I shrugged. “All sexy smiles and witty jokes, those few times we spoke. He’s had a busy day.”
“Well, that sounds promising.”
I would have agreed if I had not already experienced how rapid the tides of William’s mood could be.
He was not here yet. Constantly, my eyes scanned the area, searching for any sign that he might have arrived. Every time a person appeared from the foyer, my heart would take a leap, only to settle again with a strange blend of disappointment and relief. What was taking him so long? Had he been forced to stay behind at work? Apart from the few times we’d crossed paths, I’d hardly seen him all day, and he’d been in a meeting when I took my leave. It had to be work, I told myself. Nothing else could explain his delay.
Seated between Olivia and Phoebe, we sat chatting with Robby as well as Stephen and his girlfriend Giselle. Because everyone were competing for Jason’s attention on his big day, I had decided a swift greeting would have to do, so I’d barely seen him since we had arrived about an hour ago. Then again, I got to see him every day, and I had already spent quality time with him this morning, so I felt no obligation to shower him with my attention. In fact, I would probably just be a burden to him at this point, since he had so many other friends to greet, friends which he didn’t meet all that often.
During another visual sweep of the space, I halted on a group. However, it wasn't just any group. It was William’s group.
There sat Andy and Chloe, companied by Alexander and Ivy. The sight of them instilled me with a strange feeling I struggled to untangle, but it was the way they interacted with each other that particularly affected me. They seemed so familiar, like old friends who were happily settled into the life they wanted for themselves, and now rejoiced in a reunion that happened too rarely. They were laughing and, presumably, sharing inside jokes that I wanted to be part of.
It hit me like a revelation. I wanted to belong. How badly I wished I could belong, with them. I wanted to hear silly stories the lads would share about the childhood they had spent together, and I yearned to nurture a true friendship to Chloe and Ivy. The latter thought inspired me to study the two women in particular with an uncomfortable idea resting at the back of my mind.
If William and I failed to reconcile our differences, I would be to them, in a few years’ time, just that girl he dated for a short while. I would hardly fill even the smallest of space in their memory. It was quite the sobering idea. The vacant spot they currently reserved for William’s love interest would be occupied by someone else, and I would pale completely in comparison. Instead of receiving my attention and friendship, someone else would take my place. Would they like her if that happened? Worse, would they think her more suited to him than I ever was?
Since William and I had started speaking again, I hadn’t really noticed the crack in my heart much. I had shed very few tears, and it hadn’t felt like my chest was tearing at the seams when I had tried to sleep at night without his presence by my side. Instead, I’d mainly been numb, trapped in the shadow that falls between hope and despair. But all at once, I was made acutely aware of that crack that had yet to heal, because I couldn’t imagine anything worse than him giving up on us, only to replace me with someone else.
He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.
No, we had to solve this, and we would do it together, as the partners we were meant to be. I refused to accept any other outcome. I belonged with them; with him. I had never been more sure of anything. All we required was time, but we would prosper. I believed that with all my heart.
“Cara, are you alright?” Robby suddenly asked from where he sat opposite of me. Leaning slightly forward, he searched my eyes once I met his.
“Yes,” I replied automatically, yet I was unaware of how wide and wet my eyes were.
He frowned back at me and replied just as someone entered, but the identity of the arriving person completely muted out every other sound, so I failed to hear him.
It was William. At last.
Immediately, all my senses tuned in on nothing but him. At first, I felt light as a feather. Even a smile had started to make its way across my mouth, but it never made it to full bloom, because soon enough, I noticed that he had not arrived alone. He had a lady on his arm, and for the first time in all my life, I was genuinely intimated by the sight of another woman.
Her skin was dark and glowed so beautifully in the soft light that you’d think the sun had left part of itself within her. Covering her was a deep green dress that revealed how long and toned her legs were. I knew without a doubt that I had never seen her before, because I would not have forgotten such a beautiful face. Her features were impeccably symmetrical, and she had warm brown eyes that would trap any observer, which long lashes complemented to perfection.
A small voice whispered in my head that she was the reason behind his delay. Promptly, I sucked in a sharp breath.
Who was she?