Home > Rascal (Rascals #1)(10)

Rascal (Rascals #1)(10)
Author: Katie McCoy

She was followed by Bryce and a man and woman, who I assumed were their partners.

“So good to see you,” Lucinda said, taking my shoulders and giving me two loud, air kisses next to each ear. “This is my husband, Roland.”

Roland looked as polished and prim as his wife, his lips pursed as he shook hands.

“Lovely to meet you,” he said politely, but also like he was better than us.

No doubt the partners loved him.

“This is my fiancée, Meredith,” Bryce introduced the petite redhead at his side.

She looked sweet, but a little overwhelmed.

I introduced Emerson to everyone, and he handled it like a pro, shaking everyone’s hand and making good, confident eye contact. First impressions were everything in our business and I could tell that Emerson understood that.

“You look familiar,” Bryce told him. “Are you from Chicago?”

“Born and raised,” Emerson confirmed.

It was then that I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Emerson’s background—not exactly ideal when we were pretending to be in a serious relationship. Hell, I didn’t even know his last name.

“Cubs or Sox?” Bryce asked him.

“Cubs, of course,” Emerson said with confidence, and I could see Bryce warming up to him. Roland too, seemed, interested.

Meredith and Lucinda gave me a grin. “Men and their sports teams,” Lucinda cooed, rolling her eyes.

I couldn’t bring myself to play along. I mean, come on. Were we supposed to hang on the sidelines swapping cookie recipes or something?

“Cubs are looking good this season,” I joined the guys’ conversation. “What do you think about Chatwood starting?”

Emerson gave me a smile. “I didn’t know you like sports,” he said in a murmur.

“There’s a lot about me you don’t know,” I smiled back.

“So, Emerson, where did you go to school?” Lucinda asked.

I sighed. I had gone to a state school, while Lucinda and Bryce had gone to private universities—and they sure didn’t want to let me forget it.

But it was my turn to be surprised.

“Northwestern,” Emerson replied. “Go Wildcats.”

Bryce’s eyes lit up. I sipped at my champagne as the two of them bro’ed out about college sports and fraternities at Northwestern. Even though I could tell that Lucinda didn’t care about either, she was obviously impressed with Emerson’s pedigree. Already, he was impressing them more than I ever had.

I spotted Arthur standing at the other end of the room with the partners.

“We should go say hello,” I pointed out, taking Emerson’s hand. “Thank our hosts.”

Lucinda sniffed. “We’ve already done that,” she said.

“All the more reason for us to excuse ourselves to do the same,” I said, giving her an aggressively friendly smile. “Don’t want to seem rude.”

I practically had to drag Emerson away from Bryce, his new best friend.

“You’re good at this,” I noted as we headed over to the partners. “And I didn’t know you went to Northwestern.”

Emerson shrugged. “That kind of stuff matters to some people.”

“Tell me about it.”

He gave my hand a squeeze. “Chin up, kid.”

“You handled them pretty well though.”

He shrugged. “I’m not the competition,” he said.

It wasn’t just that. Clearly, Emerson was way better at this whole schmoozing, small-talk thing than I had given him credit for.

“Alex,” Arthur greeted as we reached him and the other partners. “And Emerson, right? Good to see you again.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Emerson said, shaking his hand.

This time, it was Arthur who made the introductions, but paused before he formerly introduced Emerson.

“I’m not sure I ever got your last name,” he said.

“Hayes, Emerson Hayes.”

Suddenly, he had everyone’s attention.

“Are you Malcolm’s son?” one of the partners asked.

Emerson nodded. “Yes, sir.”

I didn’t know who Malcolm Hayes was, but I got the impression that I should. I made a note to google it on my phone when I had a moment.

We all chatted for a few minutes, but I could tell that the partners were looking at me with a newfound interest. Clearly, I had done something right by bringing Emerson. I just didn’t know what.

Emerson’s phone buzzed, and he excused himself to take the call. The minute he was out of earshot, Arthur pulled me aside.

“You didn’t mention that he was a Hayes,” he said.

I gave a non-committal shrug, hoping not to give away the fact that I’d had no idea that he was a Hayes and continued to have no idea what that meant.

“His father is exactly the kind of client we’re looking to take on. His company is very influential, and very wealthy,” he told me.

Oh. OH.

I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea that Emerson came from an important Chicago family—and how could I? We hadn’t exactly traded backgrounds, not with all the flirting. And kissing. Ahem. Either way, what difference did it make? This thing between Emerson and me was only for tonight, and it wasn’t even real. His father could have been the richest man in the country and I still wouldn’t be able to do anything to get a meeting with him. Because after this evening, Emerson and I would go back to being neighbors. Nothing more.

A few hours later, the party was starting to wind down and I was definitely ready to go home. Small talk and socializing with my co-workers was exhausting, especially after only one glass of champagne and the world’s tiniest appetizers that only seemed to leave me hungrier than when I’d arrived.

Emerson, however, showed no sign of flagging. He was doing amazingly, but now that I knew more about his father and about his upbringing, I shouldn’t have been surprised. According to Google, which I consulted when I went to the bathroom, the Hayes family were one of the oldest and most influential families in Chicago, a fact I probably would have known if I grew up here, instead of moving all over Illinois while my mom looked for work.

I took his arm and leaned in close so only he could hear me.

“Ready to get out of here?” I asked him. “I’m starving and could use a real drink.”

He gave me a look, his eyes twinkling. “I thought you’d never ask.”

We quickly said our goodbyes and retrieved his car from valet.

“What do you feel like eating?” he asked as he headed away from the restaurant.

“As long as it’s more filling than those little spinach puff things. Grease and carbs, baby, all the way.” I leaned back against his leather seats and he laughed.

“I know just the place.”

I wanted to bring up his family, but I also sensed that it would start a larger conversation. One that was probably too serious for the kind of fake relationship Emerson and I had. Besides, he’d done me a huge favor by coming to this party—he didn’t need to get hounded about his family any more than he already had.

Emerson took me to the divey-est of dive bars, and I immediately felt more at home. This was the kind of place I had gone to drink as soon as I was old enough, with sticky floors and cheap beer and peanuts on every table.

“They’ve got amazing hot dogs,” Emerson told me as we grabbed a booth.

“As long as they’ve got beer,” I responded.

He grinned at me and my stomach got all fluttery. Damn, that smile.

Once we were settled with some good Chicago dogs and a pint of beer each, I finally felt myself relax. Tugging the pins out of my hair, I let it fall free, releasing a sigh as it tumbled down my shoulders.

“Feel better?” Emerson asked, waving down a waiter for another round of beer.

“So much better,” I told him, rubbing at my scalp. “Thank you again for coming along tonight.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a shrug. “I had a good time.”

I laughed. “You’re kind to say that, but I know how stuffy those parties are.”

He took a gulp of beer. “Yeah, I’ve had plenty of experience with stuffy parties. That was only mildly stuffy in comparison.”

I raised an eyebrow. Had he just given me permission to ask about his family? I had a pint of beer on a mostly empty stomach, so I decided to go for it.

“Yeah, it seems like your family is well known,” I said, knowing I didn’t sound remotely casual.

“They’re well known by most of Chicago,” he said, cracking open a peanut. “But we’re not close. Different priorities, I suppose.”

I nodded.

“My baby sister is always trying to broker peace, but things are better when we keep our distance,” he continued.

“You have a sister?”

He nodded. “Hayley. You actually saw her the other night. At the bar?”

The petite brunette was his sister? Immediately I could see the resemblance, and I felt foolish for the twinge of jealousy I had felt when I saw them together.

“Oh,” I said.

Emerson gave me a knowing look. “Did you think she was someone else?”

“Maybe.” I was doing a terrible job pretending not to care.

Emerson’s grin widened. “Were you jealous?”

“No!” I said quickly. Too quickly.

“You were jealous!” Emerson leaned back, his arms crossed, a pleased expression on his face. “That’s adorable.”

I threw a peanut at him and drank the rest of my beer.

“To be fair . . .” Emerson sat up, his eyes focused on me. “If I saw you with another guy, I’d be jealous as well.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just ordered another beer, all the while trying to ignore the sparks that were flying between us.

It wasn’t until Emerson parked outside my building that I realized that I was a little drunk. And it wasn’t until I almost fell onto the sidewalk trying to get out of the car, that I realized I was more than a little drunk. One glass of champagne, two beers, and I was drunk. Full stop.

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