“You never said why you and the girls can’t come to the Catskills this weekend,” Bennett said to Max.
“Sara’s remodeling the entire flat,” Max said, running his palm over the top of his head. “Her designer is coming. I think walls are coming down and . . . oi.”
“Max, you’d better get a handle on that,” Bennett said in warning. “Do you remember when Chloe painted the apartment? A kid with a crayon would have done a better job.”
“Don’t you start with that, Ryan,” he said back. I was completely confused. “The green kitchen? Even you have to admit how terrible that was.”
“I will not. It was process of elimination; maybe I needed to try out a few before I knew what I really wanted,” she said, smiling sweetly at him. It was pretty clear they weren’t talking about paint colors.
George was already waving a finger at them both. “No, no, no, don’t you bring your foreplay to this table.”
“This remodeling with Sara is a very . . .” Max continued carefully, never one to criticize his wife. “A very ongoing situation.”
The waiter placed my pint on the table and asked if we needed anything more. I went ahead and ordered a second—best to be prepared, after all. The waiter looked at each of us and then, satisfied we were done, turned to leave.
Will leaned in as a strange hush overtook the table. “George. What about him? He’s cute . . . right?”
“No!” George hissed. “That would be like fucking beef jerky.”
“Good God,” Bennett muttered, wiping his palm down his face. “No one is even talking about fucking. It’s one party.”
“Wait,” Will said, shaking his head. “George, you’re a top?”
Groaning, Max said, “For the love of God, William, stop talking.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “What is happening here?”
George ignored all of us. “Seriously, he’s pickled! He’s so tan I bet it’s reached his liver.”
“I need someone to explain what is happening,” I repeated.
“These two are idiots,” Chloe told me. “George needs to find a date to an RMG party, Will here is suggesting he ask our waiter. Obviously George is suggesting he’s not a suitable candidate.”
“Ryan Media Group,” George said. “Bennett decided to throw a soirée, and here I am, dateless. These boys are trying to help. It’s embarrassing to all of us. I’d really rather talk about what you’re going to do about Ruby.”
I knew we would circle back to this. In fact, part of me needed to talk about it . . . oddly. I’d barely needed to talk about my divorce, but this had me twisted in unfamiliar ways.
“I . . .” I stared down into my pint. “I don’t actually know.”
Silence fell over the table. Finally, I admitted, “She told me she has feelings for me. In fact,” I said, looking up, “she’s had them for quite some time.”
“One look at her and I knew that,” Bennett said.
Max was the last to chime in. “I don’t really need to say anything, now do I?”
“We nearly kissed today in the office,” I blurted, and for some reason every head whipped over to Bennett, who displayed his middle finger in a wide arc around the table. “Suffice to say it’s all moving a bit fast for me. I’ve only, well, we’ve worked together for months but I’ve only known her a matter of days.”
“So what are you going to do?” Chloe said.
“Well, I . . .” I started, and she continued to blink at me like I must be dense. “Like I said, I—”
“She told you she has feelings. You almost kissed. You said it’s all moving a bit fast, so I’m guessing that’s why you’re here and she’s not.”
Chloe waved her hand. “None of that matters.” When everyone gaped at her, she said, “What? It doesn’t! Obviously I don’t know all the details, but from what I hear, she’s a pretty, smart girl, and eventually she’ll be noticed by someone a lot smarter than you. Don’t be an idiot.”
“As usual, Chloe cuts right to the chase.” My brother put a gentle hand on my arm. “Just call her. See if she wants to come down and join us?”
Nodding, I stood and walked over to a quiet area of the bar, dialing her mobile.
As it rang, it occurred to me that I’d never called her.
That we hadn’t made plans for tonight.
That she might have made plans, and maybe Chloe was right and someone smarter had noticed.
I startled, having somehow talked myself out of the possibility of her answering. Inside, I was an enormous knot.
I shivered at the sound of her voice. “Ruby. Call me Niall, yeah?”