“No, no, don’t call me ‘sir,’ ” he said, waving a hand in protest. “It makes me feel like I could be your dad, remember? Call me Anthony.”
“I’m not your father, you know,” he said leaning forward, and there was a pregnant pause. “Not nearly old enough.”
I tried to be subtle about the full-body shudder that rolled through me. I’m fairly certain that were it possible, Anthony would literally ooze over the desk, to pool at my feet. And then he’d look up my skirt.
“But that’s not why I called you in here.” He straightened and pulled a file from a stack on his desk. “I called you in here because there’s been a change in plans.”
“As it happens, something’s come up and I’m not able to go to New York.”
What did this have to do with me? Did he really think I’d been so worried about him being gone that he needed to personally update me?
I swallowed, trying to look interested. “You’re not?”
“No,” he said, smiling in a way I assumed was meant to look generous, indulgent even. “You are.”
I adjusted the phone so I could hold it between my ear and shoulder and tapped a stack of papers together, placing it neatly in front of me. “I see.”
“You see?” Portia repeated in a voice that had grown tight and thin. “Are you even bloody listening?”
Had she always sounded so impatient with me?
Sadly, I think the answer to that was yes.
“Of course, I’m listening. You’ve told me you’re stuck. But I don’t see what I can do about it, Porsh.”
“It’s what we agreed, Niall. You agreed to let me keep the dog if I agreed to let you watch him when I went on holiday. I am going on holiday and need you to watch him. But if it’s a bother . . .” Portia’s voice trailed off but the echo sizzled across the phone line like acid dripped on metal.
“Under normal circumstances, taking Davey is no bother,” I answered calmly. Always calm, always patient, even when we were discussing who should care for her pet while she went to Majorca for a week to recover from the stress of our divorce being finalized. “The issue is simply that I will be out of the country, love.”
After nearly sixteen years together, some habits died hard.
Her answering silence was weighted, dense. Two years ago, the quiet ticking across the telephone line would have had me in a panic. A year ago it would have made my stomach sour and tight.
Now, nine months after I’d moved out of the home we’d shared together, her angry silence simply made me weary.
I looked up, at the load of emails in my inbox, at the stacks of contracts on my desk, and then at the clock, which told me it was long past time to head home. Outside, the sky had gone dark. Once I returned home tonight I would need to start packing for New York and would barely make a dent in the work in front of me before then.
“Portia. I’m sorry. I really must go. I’m sorry about the dog but I can’t make it work next week.”
I stared at my desk for several seconds after she’d hung up, feeling faintly sick, before setting my mobile down. I had only two breaths to recover before the door to my office flew open and Tony stepped in.
I looked up, lifting my brow in silent question.
My siblings had enough children for me to know that Tony’s wife wasn’t far enough along for this. “She’s all right?”
He shrugged. “Sentenced to bed till the kid is here. Hence: I’m staying in London.”
Relief spread through my blood. Tony was a decent colleague, but a business trip with him usually meant nightly visits to strip clubs, and it was honestly the last thing I wanted to do for a month in New York. “So I’ll go it alone, then,” I said, my tone already lighter than it had been only a moment ago.
It took a couple of ticks for me to place who he meant. Richardson-Corbett wasn’t a large firm, but Tony hired as many pretty young interns as his budget allowed. There were a few on his team now and I could never quite keep them sorted. “She the brunette from Essex?”
His expression of disappointed envy was so pronounced it was nearly audible. “No. The delectable bit from California.”
Oh. I knew which one he meant. The one who came to my rescue today when I’d experienced an uncharacteristic stumble.
Ironically, I’d been flustered over the sight of her. She was lovely.
Alas . . . “She’s the one who seemed concerned you were leaving for a month?”
I could practically see Tony’s head growing, and he smiled proudly. “That’s right.”
“Is it really necessary to send someone, though?” I asked. “Most of the meetings will be logistics anyway. Engineering was only going to advise.”
“Aw, ya prat. I’m sure you can get her to go to the titty bars with you.”
“And besides,” he interrupted, “she’s fit as all fuck. You may not need a girly bar if you’re getting a leg over on Ruby. All legs, good tits, bloody fantastic face.”