Home > Right Where I Want You(4)

Right Where I Want You(4)
Author: Jessica Hawkins

A few hot, frustrated tears slid over my cheeks. I quickly turned my face away, horrified that I’d given him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Without looking back, I turned on my heel and bolted out of the café.

2

Sebastian

With handfuls of soggy napkins and coffee splatter on my freshly pressed Tom Ford shirt, I stared out the door after a woman who’d just called me an entitled asshole in front of a café full of people.

Life was really testing me this morning. It was one of the first days of fall, the crisp, colorful kind that would’ve normally made for a great start to the week—but not this one. Not even a beautiful woman or a grenade of an insult could make me forget the date.

As I’d hung up with Justin moments ago, my first instinct had been to call my mom and ask for advice. It didn’t seem fair that I couldn’t.

Not that anything about her death had seemed fair.

Could it really be possible that as of today, she’d been gone one whole year?

Each time that reality came crashing down, it was no less crushing, but this morning, I needed her more than ever. As if I wasn’t already navigating an emotional minefield of memories, I’d just found out my job was under threat too. The universe had pretty much dumped an ice-cold, extra-cream-and-sugar coffee on my Monday—and all over an auburn-haired beauty whose freckles disappeared when her face reddened.

A fact I only knew because I’d upset her. I’d made her cry. Me.

What would Mom have said to the way I’d spoken to her? Without a doubt, there would’ve been a verbal ass-whooping. The hole in my soul deepened a little with the knowledge that my mother would never put me in my place again—then hug me and tell me how to fix it.

A mop appeared in my line of sight. Luciano, the barista.

I stood to take it from him, but he held it back. “I’ve got this,” he said. “There’s a new iced coffee on the counter. You can take it and go.”

I reached for my wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

He sighed and passed me the drink with a short, “We’re square.”

The redhead, who’d gone from shy to merciless in a moment, was a friend of his. It made my gut smart that I’d offended him. It was hardly the first time I’d stepped in to diffuse a confrontation like that, and in this city, it definitely wouldn’t be the last. I just couldn’t remember a time where I’d ended up the bad guy.

That seemed to be a theme with me lately, falling off a pedestal into a pile of bad.

I took the coffees and headed to work at a quick clip, hoping I could still salvage the last few minutes I had to save my team—and my own ass—from the mistake my boss was about to make.

I tried not to think about the fact that I’d overreacted. I had enough on my plate today, and I didn’t have the time or attention to devote to a woman I’d never see again. Yet, during the short walk, she remained on my mind. It didn’t help that she’d been enticing enough to get me flirting before caffeine.

Or that if Justin hadn’t called, I would’ve kept up the conversation—if not because she was cute, then to find out why she was in the habit of befriending baristas, or why she’d had a back issue of Modern Man magazine sticking out of her bag.

Or that even the aroma of iced coffee couldn’t mask her scent, something fresh and sweet, as if she’d frolicked in daisy fields and fallen asleep atop rainbows.

That was good, the rainbow thing. I’d have to keep that in my back pocket for a future piece.

I’d mistaken her silence for timidity, something the girls I normally dated didn’t possess. I needed that—a clean break from my normal type, but was this woman more like them then I’d initially thought? She’d seemed nervous by our interaction, shivering as my sleeve had brushed her leg—but after our collision, she’d really let it rip. Perhaps my interest in her should’ve fizzled because of what she’d said to me, but then there’d been that slight tremor in her voice. Something about her personality didn’t click into place, which left me wondering why . . .

“Pardon me,” I said, pushing through a group of camera-toting tourists disembarking a huge red bus—because that was what good people did, even New Yorkers. We said excuse me, thank you, and you’re welcome. New Yorkers had a reputation, but the world had it wrong. Were we direct and concise? Yes. Did we have somewhere to be five minutes ago? Yes. Was it likely we’d give directions every single time we were stopped? No. But we weren’t rude about it. Despite being born and bred in Boston, I figured I’d earned the New Yorker title over a ten-year history that had spanned six apartments, three boroughs, twelve roommates, a summer internship, and four different positions at Modern Man. But the city drew all kinds of people, and some people, like the blonde woman who’d gone ape-shit over a stupid drink order, were just fucking rude.

And I had little patience for those who didn’t stand up to rudeness, especially when it was directed at a friend. I’d gone too far if I’d made the mocha latte girl cry, but there was no excuse for staying quiet.

I’d needed that ass-kissing coffee as much as I’d needed the extra few minutes. It was a good thing I hadn’t hung up on Justin as I’d been tempted to since Vance had gone from number one boss to traitor and changed the entire course of my morning—and my career. Now, instead of the charming plea I’d been practicing all weekend to get him to rethink his strategy, I’d be heading into a shit storm without an umbrella.

I gripped the coffee tray in my hands a little too tightly and strode on. People were relying on me to keep the integrity of the magazine intact. Not just my team, but our readership too.

Justin and I hit the lobby of Dixon Media Tower at the same time and made our way toward the turnstiles. “You shouldn’t have,” he said, attempting to pluck the iced coffee from the tray right before I pulled it back.

“That isn’t for you, asshole.”

“Aha. Then it must be a last-ditch attempt to change Vance’s mind.”

I punched the elevator call button. “How do you know I’m not waving the white flag?”

“Because ten minutes ago, you were bitching to me about the ‘hack’ he hired. By the way, who were you talking to that made you forget I was on the phone?”

“A woman, of course.”

We boarded the elevator. “Was she hot?” Justin asked over everyone’s heads.

“She called me an asshole.”

“So you asked her out?”

“Why would I?”

“Hot and scary?” Justin blew out a breath. “It’s a well-documented fact that Sebastian Quinn dates assholes—pardon my French, ladies.”

A woman I recognized from the building rolled her eyes as if even she knew the type of women I went for.

My gut twisted as the elevator’s digital numbers rose. Justin wasn’t wrong—I’d made some questionable choices throughout my life where women were involved. That was in the past, though. One of the reasons I’d been drawn to the stunning redhead was that at first glance, she’d seemed the opposite of that. I’d caught her staring at me by the pick-up counter, but instead of fluttering her lashes, she’d shyly lowered her eyes and resumed studying, looking so damn cute murmuring to herself. Was she a student, newly arrived in the big city? I hadn’t meant to insult her by suggesting she might get run over but warn her. This place wasn’t for everyone.

Then again, it seemed she could handle herself just fine.

Shy? Cute? Polite? Maybe. I wasn’t sure I’d call her scary, but my judgment was clearly off this morning.

“The only asshole on this elevator is the one with verbal diarrhea,” I shot back.

“Oh, if you want to go poop jokes, let’s do this thing,” Justin said. “Conference room, one hour. Bring your shittiest material.”

The woman grimaced, and the elevator eased to a stop, allowing her and most of the riders to exit. I wondered if it was actually their floor, or if they just wanted to get out of Justin’s presence.

“So, did you?” Justin asked.

“Did I what?”

“Ask her out?”

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