He closed his eyes in suppressed amusement, shaking his head at me.
“You know,” I said after swallowing a giant bite, “if I didn’t occasionally catch you smiling in that little secret way you have, I might assume you were either the most disciplined emotional being on the planet, a Replicant, or Botoxed.”
“It’s Botox.” He took an enormous bite of his hot dog.
“I knew it,” I said. “You can barely hide your vanity.”
He choked-laughed, and reached to steal the napkin I had in my hand. “Too right.”
We returned to the office, but with the phone lines not working yet and the heat (I may at one point have complained that I was melting), nothing was really getting done. Meetings started the next day, we’d unpacked a few boxes of files, but we both seemed distracted—for different reasons, I’m sure—and by two that afternoon, he was already packing his things up to go.
Niall had plans he needed to look at and phone calls to make, all of which he could take care of in the hotel.
We walked back in silence, on the opposite side of the street from Radio City, but I could have sworn I saw his lips twitch the tiniest bit as we passed.
The next morning, I woke before my alarm clock, anxious to start the day and—you know, because I’m pathetic—walk to work with a certain someone. But there on my phone, next to a text from my brother and three from Lola, was one from that Someone: Take a car and go on without me. I’ve a few things to do and will be there later.
The hope inside my chest crumbled like a dry cracker. I replied that I’d see him there and then walked the few blocks instead of taking a car, choosing a different route and taking a few photos for my mom along the way. When I reached the office it was still sweltering, and I sent a silent prayer of thanks for the short sleeves I’d worn and that I’d been smart enough to ditch my Spanx. It wasn’t like there was anyone there I’d need to look marginally slimmer for, anyway.
It was boring as hell being there by myself, but the phones were working and I was finally able to get some work done, assure Tony that we were here and everything should be up and going soon, and meet a few of the other people sharing the offices with us. Niall showed up around noon, his arms full as he walked into the office.
He unloaded everything on his desk and chair, and I watched him with curious eyes.
“Morning,” he said, hanging his coat on a hook near the door. “Or, afternoon, rather. Still hot as Hades in here, I see.”
“I’ve called someone and they’ll be here to fix it tomorrow, but you’re lucky I kept my pants on.”
Or at least I thought he did.
He ignored this, putting a large shopping bag on his desk, and getting distracted by whatever he had inside. He wore his glasses, today. Good God. On anyone else, those particular frames—dark rims and a thin band of chrome slicing down the arms—would communicate a certain carefully crafted designer individuality. But I knew Niall Stella dressed impeccably because he bought the best and probably had a really picky, perfectionist tailor—not because he paid much attention to trends.
“A woman picked out your frames,” I said, pointing to his face.
He looked up from his bag, setting a folder down on his desk and looking confused. “I’m sorry?”
“A saleswoman picked out those frames. You walked into the store, she descended in milliseconds because”—I glanced down his body in a gesture meant to communicate I mean, obviously—“and she insisted on finding just the right pair for you.”
He studied me for several breaths and then lifted his gigantic, splendid Niall Stella hand to lower his glasses and asked, “What does this mean?” while repeating my gesture, his eyes on my body, his mouth suppressing a little smile.
“It means, ‘a hot man in a suit walks into a store, and he doesn’t have a wedding ring? Like a starter pistol to a greyhound.’ ”
“How do you know that when I bought these, I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring?”
He was testing me. He was amused. Holy shit, Niall Stella was still being flirty today.
“You’re suggesting my sleuth skills are subpar. That I don’t know your timeline? I thought we established early on that my creeper dial goes up to eleven.”
His eyebrow twitched in a tiny Well?
“You got those new glasses in November.” He waited for the last piece of information. The one that made me sound completely insane. “Fine,” I groaned. “You stopped wearing your ring in September.”
He laughed, putting his glasses back on and returning to his digging in the bag.
“Do you think I’m weird?” I asked, voice weaker than I’d attempted.
He nudged his glasses down his nose again, letting his eyes move over my face before murmuring, “Yes, weird in the sense that you are unexpected and I am rarely surprised by people. I think you rather exquisite.”
Exquisite? That was certainly an interesting adjective.
Before I had a chance to respond to this—and let’s be fair, it probably would have taken me a decade—he stood up straighter, grinning. “I’ve brought you something. Reckoned it was almost lunch, so . . .” He pulled a white—albeit greasy—paper bag from his chair, and lifted a hot dog from inside. Covered in regular mustard.
“You lowered yourself to my classless mustard standards,” I cooed, taking the dog happily.