I could feel my face heat with angry tears. Young girls cry; I didn’t want him to feel justified in his insult. I blinked several times, determined that no matter what happened, I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing what this was doing to me.
“Can I speak to Mr. Corbett?” I said as smoothly as possible. “I think I need someone else to explain what’s happening.”
“Richard has given me the power to make any and all decisions affecting my department.”
Fire lashed through my blood. I couldn’t hold it back. “So, to be clear, you urged Niall to get a leg over on me, and now you’re firing me because you think he has.”
Anthony’s head whipped up, eyes full of blazing authority. “I dare you to say that again.”
“Clearly,” I said, seething, “I choose to leave the internship. This has been one of the most unreal conversations of my life.”
“In that case,” he said absently, scribbling another signature, “I’ll put a letter in your file. I’ll see that you have a copy before you leave.”
The rain had stopped and I took a walk to clear my head, far enough away that I could hear the chimes of Big Ben in the distance. Out of instinct I reached into my pocket to find my phone, only to realize it wasn’t there. I’d left it on my desk before talking to Anthony, thinking I was just going down the hall but then rushing out before I could get it. I wondered if Niall had made it in yet, if he’d come looking for me, if he’d called.
And that’s when I realized how far this had gone, and that maybe there was a kernel of truth to what Anthony said. My first thought wasn’t about my job or the fact that I was five thousand miles away from home. It wasn’t where would I live? How would I buy food or pay the electricity bill? It wasn’t about my fucking spot at Oxford, either, or how long and hard I’d worked, or how much I’d sacrificed to get there.
It was about Niall Stella.
The object of my attention was pacing in his office when I returned and made my way down the hall toward my cubicle. He jumped when he saw me, reaching out to pull me inside.
“Where have you been?” he asked, closing the door behind us.
I must have looked even worse than I thought, because his eyes moved in a circuit from my wet hair and pale face, to my damp clothes and broken expression.
“That depends on what you mean,” I said. “First, I walked to work in the rain because I wigged out in your flat thinking I’d inadvertently manipulated you into having sex with me.”
He started to speak, eyes wide and incredulous.
But I held up a hand to bid him wait. “Then, I was in Anthony’s office being berated. And most recently, I was out for a walk.”
“We’ll talk about the manipulation thing later. Honestly, Ruby.” He inhaled, taking a step closer to me. “What’s this about Anthony berating you?”
“Nothing I want to talk about here. What I want is to go home, get a little day-drunk, nap, and then have dinner with my boyfriend.”
He winced. “About that . . .” Niall wiped a hand down his face and then met my eyes. “I’ll need a rain check, I’m afraid.”
I slumped down into one of his plush chairs near the window. I didn’t want to talk to him here about quitting, and why. And I most certainly didn’t want to be alone in my own head after all this. “Really? There’s no way you can cancel? I need to freak out, with your rational brain on hand.”
He sat opposite me, looking . . . okay, if I was being honest? He looked petrified.
He swallowed, and looked up at me. “You left this morning when Portia called.”
“Yeah,” I said, wincing. “That was part of the freak-out.”
“Completely understandable, darling,” he began, leaning toward me a little. “It’s just that . . . it may have been a good thing that you left. The conversation went on for some time.”
He didn’t answer immediately and I felt my heart squeeze painfully. I’d initially been upset that he didn’t say he would call her back. He must have heard the front door close and he didn’t even bother to come after me. But it occurred to me only when sitting in his office that something awful might have happened while we were away in New York. Was Portia sick?
Licking his lips, he said very quietly, “She called because she wants to reunite.” He pulled a face—like maybe I should commiserate over the awkward unexpectedness of this . . .
But instead my world stopped, split in half, and then splintered into a million pieces.
“She wants to reunite,” he repeated, sighing heavily. “I’m just as surprised as you are, believe me. She said she’s had a lot of revelations and wants to talk to me.”
“And . . . ?” I started, feeling like my stomach was climbing into my chest, pushing my heart into my throat. “You agreed?”
“Not to reconcile,” he hedged. “But eleven years married is a long time. We were together when we were teenagers. After my conversation with you last night, and hearing you ask whether we’d ever actually discussed any of this, I feel obligated to at least hear what she wants to say.”
He paused to give me time to reply but I honestly had no words in my head. None.
“Given how things are between you and me, I felt I needed to tell you that I would be having dinner with her tonight,” he continued carefully, “and make you aware that Portia wanted to talk to me about why she thinks she deserves another chance.”