“Well.” She had ordered it, even if only in jest. “No?” I hoped that was the right answer.
“And that whole bomb thing,” she whispered, waving a hand in front of her as if to push the thought away. “I am such an idiot around you.”
She slumped and I realized how it had sounded.
“No. I . . . that is, I take issue with what you’re saying: I’ve never seen you act like an idiot around me.”
This twisted something inside me. “Is there anything I can do?”
She blinked up to my face and gazed at me with a familiar sort of fondness.
And then she blinked, shaking her head once, and it was gone. “I’ll be fine. Just nervous about a trip with the director of planning and blah blah.”
Wanting to put her more at ease, I asked, “Where did you do your undergraduate work?”
She took a deep breath, and then turned to face me fully. “UC San Diego.”
I acknowledged this with a small lift of my brow. “He’s tough.”
A sharp curl of interest spiked through me. “Only the brilliant ones come out feeling that way.”
“Push through or break,” she said, shrugging as she accepted her orange juice from the flight attendant with a bright smile. “That’s what he said the first week in the lab. He wasn’t wrong. Three of us started in there at the same time. I was the only one still there by Christmas our first year.”
“Why are you in London?” I asked, though I suspected I already knew.
“Hoping to make it into the Civil program. I’m already in the engineering general but haven’t heard from Margaret Sheffield yet whether I’m in her group.”
“She doesn’t decide until just before the term starts. Makes the students completely barking mad, if memory serves.”
“We engineers like our calendars and spreadsheets and plans. Not the most patient bunch, I guess.”
She pulled the corner of her lip into her mouth and smiled back. “You didn’t study with her.”
“Not officially, but she was more a mentor to me than my own mentor was.”
“How long after you finished did Petersen retire?”
I felt my eyes widen. How much did she know about my old department? About me? “I suspect you already know the answer to that question.”
She sipped her juice and apologized quietly after swallowing. “I knew you were his last student but I guess I was curious to hear how bad it was.”
“It was abysmal,” I admitted. “He was a drunk and more than that—a ruddy awful person. But that was nearly ten years ago. You were a child. How do you know all of this?”
She pursed her lips slightly and I felt my skin flush warm. Christ. She was so beautiful.
“One answer,” she started with a small smile, “is that I learned about Maggie Sheffield’s work when I was a sophomore and we toured the Stately building. I grew kind of obsessed with getting to study under her before she retired. When I asked Emil about her, he also shared some of the history of your old department.” Shrugging, she said, “I heard a few stories about Petersen.”
I tilted my head, wondering which ones still floated around.
Ah. The one story that would never die. “He did, but it wasn’t me. The worst I ever got from him was a verbal berating . . . or ten.”
She’d said one answer was this. “And the other answer?” I asked.
She looked out the window for a few breaths before saying, “I joined R-C and found out you’d studied at Oxford, and wondered if you’d been in Maggie’s program. You hadn’t but . . . I learned a bit about you anyway.”
There seemed to be an extra layer to what she was saying, and I thought for a beat I understood the look of fond familiarity she’d given me only a moment before. But then she turned back, wearing a sweetly devious grin. “You’d be amazed how much you can pick up just by paying attention.”
Sitting up in her seat, she said, “You came over from your position at the London Underground to start up an urban planning division. You went to Cambridge for undergraduate, Oxford for graduate school, and were the youngest executive in the history of the Tube.” Ruby gave me a shy smile. “You nearly moved to New York to work for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority but turned the job down to come to R-C.”
Lifting a brow, I murmured, “Impressive. What else do you know?”
She looked away, blushing further. “You grew up in Leeds. You were a star on the Cambridge football club while you were there.”
Had she looked any of this up last night? Or had she known all of this about me before this trip? And which answer did I want to hear? I suspected I knew which would make this small thrill in my stomach grow more intense. “What else?”
Hesitating, she said, “You own a Ford Fiesta, which I find endlessly amusing given that you probably make more money than the queen and are known to be a staunch public transportation advocate, so you never use it. An aside? I have no idea how you would even fit in a Ford Fiesta. Also, you’re recently divorced.”