“That’s just his version of pulling at your pigtails.” She laughed, taking a sip of her water. “You must know how much he adores you. He thinks you’re gorgeous.”
He does? It was not far fetched to think Chase found me attractive—he had dated me for a while—but he rarely ever commented about my looks, unless it was to point out how awful my fashion sense was.
“Sometimes I think he’d like me to look more put together,” I mused about my fake relationship with my fake fiancé to my fake almost sister-in-law. I had no idea what made me say that. It wasn’t like it mattered.
Katie snorted, looking up from her menu. “I don’t think so at all.”
“You don’t? Someone like Amber seems more fitting.”
I was not so subconsciously baiting Katie for more information, but I knew it wasn’t constructive. The waiter came to take our order. I let Katie order for both of us, mainly because I couldn’t pronounce most of the things on the menu but also because I was too nervous to take a good look at it in the first place. Once the waiter was gone, Katie snapped the napkin open and spread it in her lap. “Well, we all know how that went.”
“How what went?” I pressed.
Stop, Maddie, stop.
“Chase and Amber.”
There was a Chase and Amber? And we all know how it went? Really?
Feeling my pulse punching the side of my neck unpleasantly, I nodded, confirming I knew all about Chase and Amber. Panic climbed up my throat.
“Yeah, they don’t get along,” I finally squeaked. A flashback from the Hamptons ran through my head. Of Amber visiting our room while I’d been in the shower. Hushed voices, followed by an intense silence. They shared a secret. I was sure of it.
“That’s an understatement.” Katie snorted, then chugged San Pellegrino. “Sometimes I’m surprised Mom and Dad accepted her into the family after what she did to him. Then again, they didn’t really have much choice, did they?”
“No,” I agreed, feeling my body coming alive with too many emotions to identify exactly what it was I felt in that moment. Anxiety? Excitement? Anger? “I agree. That . . . that wasn’t nice of Amber.”
What the hell did she do to him?
“Anyway, I’m so happy he found you. I’m going to be honest: I didn’t think he’d ever bounce back from this. Not after things went down. He never had a serious girlfriend after Amber and before you.”
Chase and Amber were dating? But how could that be? She’s with his brother.
“That’s me.” I clinked my overpriced sparkling water glass to hers with a smile. “Full of surprises.”
And lies. And guilt. And probably irritable bowel syndrome, thanks to all the built-up aggression and remorse my body contains.
I was about to try to dig deeper into #chamber (the Chase-and-Amber shipping name I’d made up on the fly), when Katie sprang up to her feet, waving her hand excitedly. I whipped my head backward to see who she was looking at.
Making his way to us.
With a cocky, I-dare-you-to-say-anything smile plastered on his face.
He looked so ruthlessly stunning I allowed myself two seconds to appreciate the Chris Hemsworth-ness of him in one of his signature black suits—tall and broad and bigger than life—before I returned to my usual program of being furious with him.
What the hell was he doing here?
“I’m so glad you could make it! Gosh, look at her face. She is surprised.” Katie laughed, mistaking my shock for delight. “We just ordered. Are you hungry?”
“No, I had lunch with a shareholder,” Chase said casually, leaning down to where I sat, grabbing my neck (grabbing my neck!), and planting a firm, hard kiss ([email protected]#^%$!) on my mouth. His lips were on mine. Warm and hard and full of conviction. It was a kiss that said, This is happening, not Thank you for all you did. Have a good life. It was a continuation of something we’d started when I’d found him sitting on my stairway. It was destruction wrapped in a toe-curling moment I wanted to erase from my memory.
It. Was. Perfection.
He leaned back, smirking devilishly at me as he took the seat next to mine, straightening his dress shirt and adjusting his cigar pants as rich men who knew how to dress did. I glared at him, still feeling that close-lipped kiss everywhere. My mouth. My cheeks. My chest. That place under my belly button he knew how to make throb.
“How did the meeting go?” Katie chirped. Chase launched into a rant about something Julian had failed to do and he’d had to clean up on his behalf. I took the opportunity to pluck my phone from my bag and write him a quick message. Yes, I’d been supposed to delete his number right after I’d come back home from dinner on Friday, but I guess I’d forgotten. It wasn’t like Chase was the center of my universe or anything.
Maddie: Did. You. Just. Kiss. Me?!?!
I knew my message would be left unanswered, so I placed my phone in my lap and tucked into my starter, an extra cheesy onion soup. Chase took a breath from his business meeting story, and it was Katie’s turn to tell him about how someone from the marketing department had screwed up so badly they’d had to can the entire fall catalog and start from scratch. Chase’s eyes drifted down, a small grin tugging at his lips as his fingers began to fly across the screen of his phone.
Katie finished her story. Chase countered it with a story about how Julian and Ronan had once gotten food poisoning in the middle of an event and thrown up directly into an investor’s lap. There was still no message back from him. I looked down to my phone every few minutes, confused.
“Do you have any embarrassing stories, Maddie?” Katie asked.
My head snapped up. I felt like I’d been called out on not being present in the moment. I cleared my throat, trying to recover. “Sure do.” I side-eyed her brother. My blood was boiling with rage, but Katie didn’t know that. She perched her chin on her hand, ignoring the main course they’d just served us—ratatouille—waiting for my delightfully funny input.
“You want an embarrassing story? Okay. So I was dating this guy back in the day . . . he was a real tool,” I added, letting out a metallic laugh. Katie followed along, sending Chase an oh-my-God-so-juicy wink. “I have to say, we weren’t exactly a match made in heaven from the get-go, but I wanted to see where it was going. Plus, I was under the impression we were serious. He gave me a key to his apartment, like, three months in.”