Home > Right Where I Want You(13)

Right Where I Want You(13)
Jessica Hawkins

“Creole. I grew up in Louisiana. You can call me Frank, my friends do.”

“You’re not an Astros fan?”

“Nope. Still root for the Saints, but even before I moved here for work, I was a Yankees fan.”

“I’m from upstate,” I said. “It’s a tense time at home right now.”

He smiled, popping a few peanuts. “I hear Aaron Judge might return to the lineup this month.”

“Let’s hope.” We watched the game a couple minutes, exchanging opinions about the season. When the conversation stalled, I glanced over my shoulder and met eyes with Sebastian, who dropped his to his beer. Most of the guys made no secret of the fact that they were watching. Justin even had out a notebook and pen. What, was he keeping score? He gave me a thumbs up.

They were out of earshot at least, so I turned back to Frank, took a bolstering sip of lemon drop, and said, “Can I ask a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Those guys I’m with—who are mostly a mix of Mets and Sox fans, by the way—they made this bet.” He eased back on the stool to see behind me, but I said, “Don’t look.”

He stopped himself and met my eyes with a spark of curiosity in his. He had the kind of ruddy cheeks that made him look cheerful, though at the moment, he just seemed curious. “What kind of bet?”

Having to say it aloud was a little harder than I thought. To keep from blabbering through my nerves, I just said, “They don’t think I have the guts to pick up a guy in a bar.”

He worked his jaw back and forth a moment. Fine lines formed around his eyes as he thought. “So I’m the target. Did you choose or did they?”

“I did.” I shrugged a shoulder. “You’re a Yankees guy—I figured I’d find an ally in you.”

“Anything for a comrade.” He shifted to one side, took his phone from his pocket, and unlocked it. “Can I get your number?”

I smiled gratefully and leaned subtly to one side to make sure the guys could see. I took Frank’s phone, opened the phone app, and pretended to type.

“You could actually put it in there,” he said.

Oh . . . crap. It was either naiveté, poor planning, or a bit of both, but I hadn’t anticipated that my target might actually want me to pick him up. If I’d come into the interaction that way, I would’ve chickened out. I glanced up at him. “The thing is, I just started a new job that takes up all my time, so I’m not really dating right now.”

“I only asked for your number, not a date,” he said.

“Oh.” Flustered by my mistake, I nodded hard. “Duh. Sorry.”

“I’m kidding.” He grinned. “I actually have tickets to an upcoming game and nobody to take. So, if you were dating, then this time, I’d be asking.”

The phone dimmed as I hovered my fingers over the keypad. I’d had no intention of actually getting a date out of this. My “common interest” theory had worked too well. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure I’m in the right place.”

“Does this have anything to do with the guy staring daggers at me right now?”

I wrinkled my nose. “Who?”

“Tall, expensive-looking suit, seems like he belongs in a cologne ad.”

Sebastian. I could just picture his scowl as I not only beat him to the punchline, but did it in under ten minutes. “That’s just my coworker,” I said. “His face always looks like that.”

“He’s not your boyfriend?”

“No, but—”

“Let me see your phone.” I hesitated but slid my purse from my shoulder, typed my passcode into my cell, and passed it over. As he navigated to my contacts, he said, “Imagine how much more impressed they’ll be that you not only got a phone number, but an actual date too.”

I didn’t want that. I had enough on my plate as it was, and I was still recovering from Neal. Though Frank seemed nice, could I really trust my judgment?

Frank smiled as he finished adding his number. “If nothing else, you’ll get to see the Yanks play.” Within seconds, his phone vibrated in my hands with a text from my number. He leaned over to read the screen. “There. Now we have each other’s info. I’ll contact you with the details next week.”

“Okay,” I said, handing back his phone. The Yankees hadn’t even played a full inning since I’d sat down. That had to be some kind of record for scoring a date—it was for me, at least. “I’d better get back so I have sufficient bragging time.”

He took his wallet from his suit jacket. “I’ve got to take off anyway. I’ll be in touch.”

I slid off the barstool with my phone in one hand and the dregs of my lemon drop in the other, a little fuzzy about what’d just happened.

When the guys saw me coming, they parted. “Well?” Albert asked.

I set my glass on the bar and unlocked my phone to show them. “I got the number.”

“Nice work, Keller,” Justin said. “Record time.”

Sebastian’s eyes darted over the screen, and then to me, barely visible under his heavy eyebrows. “How do we know you didn’t just tell him about the bet?”

“Does it matter if she did?” Garth said. “Maybe that’s one of her moves.”

“That’s cheating,” he replied.

Justin shook his head. “Judge rules—not cheating. The guy would’ve blown her off or given her a fake number if he wasn’t into her.”

“And it isn’t fake,” I said, navigating to my texts. I opened the one from François that read, Looking forward to the game.

“What game?” Sebastian asked, reading upside down.

“We’re going on a date.” I smiled, reveling in the chance to finally be smug. Sebastian’s knuckles whitened from gripping his beer bottle. François was right—having the date in my back pocket was much more fun. “My theory works. We bonded over the Yankees, and now we’re going to see them together. How’s that for game?”

“If the date’s for real,” Sebastian said, “why would he let you walk back over here right into the middle of a group of men?”

“Because I didn’t ask for his permission,” I said.

Justin snickered. “It’s bright outside the cave, huh, Sebastian?”

“Well, she definitely got his attention,” Garth said, nodding toward Frank. “He’s looked over here probably ten times while paying his bill.”

“François from Louisiana.” Sebastian snorted. “Sounds like he belongs in an Anne Rice novel.” There was no way Sebastian could’ve heard our conversation from where he’d been standing, which meant he’d gleaned Frank’s location from the area code. He finished off his beer, put it on the bar, and handed me back my blazer. “Excuse me,” he grumbled, walking away.

“I take it he’s not good at losing,” I said to Justin once Sebastian had disappeared around back.

“Not really,” Justin said. “But I wouldn’t count him out yet.”

8

Georgina

In the half hour since I’d gotten Frank’s number and sent Sebastian sulking, I’d learned more than I cared to know about Fortnite from Derek. He was mid-sentence when he paused and looked behind me. “Looks like you might have some competition, George.”

My heart sank. I knew instantly what Derek was referring to. Maybe Sebastian wasn’t sulking after all. There were generally only three reasons for a man to separate from the pack—food, alcohol, or sex—and since the bar was fully stocked on the first two, I wasn’t surprised to turn and find Sebastian alone at a table with an attractive woman.

A very attractive woman with a nose ring, a sleek, winding forearm tattoo most people could never pull off, and long, honeyed hair to match her long, golden-skinned limbs.

“Damn, she’s fine,” Albert said. “Sorry, George, but Sebastian’s going to score higher in that department.”

Justin agreed as he made a note in his pad. “Attractiveness of date,” he murmured. “Ten out of ten.”

I frowned. They didn’t have to rub it in, although I suspected they’d given Sebastian grief as well. No wonder he’d looked so cranky after my ten minutes with François. What had I expected, though? I was clearly out of my league. Sebastian had what women wanted, and he knew it. I hadn’t needed to experience much of his charm to know its potency. Not to mention his actual job was curating a style, conduct, and sex bible for men all over the world.

Did he have all the answers? No, otherwise Vance wouldn’t have called me in. But was he miles ahead of the pack? Probably. Exhibit A—he’d been the first man in a long time to spark my curiosity and pebble my skin with just his words.

It was safe to say where women and sex were concerned, he knew what he was doing. The woman’s eyes sparkled as she set her elbows on the table and laughed. Sebastian turned her forearm up and traced the lines of her tattoo. She bit her bottom lip and I almost did too just wondering how it would feel for him to touch me with such focus, such interest.

He was making my attempt at game look like child’s play, and I didn’t have to stick around to watch. Not only was I about to get pummeled, but the jealous thoughts forming in my head weren’t going to help anything.

I turned and signaled for Santino to close my bar tab.

Justin leaned over to me. “You’re not going to sit back and let him win, are you?”

“This has been fun, but I should get home,” I said and thought, Bruno, Luciano, and Tim Gunn are waiting for me.

“But he’s had it too easy for too long. If I know Seb, he’ll have this girl hanging all over him by the end of the night.” Justin ducked his head to catch my eye. “Provided he doesn’t encounter any, ah, turbulence.”

It would take more than a few bumps and jolts to knock Sebastian out of the sky. Justin thought I could still win this challenge, but in order to do so, I’d have to pull out all the stops. I looked back over my shoulder at the new couple that could only be described as beautiful. Had it always come as easy to Sebastian as Justin had said, or had he battled through an awkward stage like the rest of us?

“Is sabotage against the rules?” I asked.

“Hmm, let me see.” Justin pretended to check his notepad and said, “Nope.”

I had a choice. Slink away like I normally would and let Sebastian win, or prove that my strength carried outside the office. It would’ve been much easier to resign myself to the life I was clearly meant to have—knitting in a rocking chair, Bruno at my side, empty ice cream pints scattered on the floor. If I were an alien, my mothership would be a Dreyer’s pint. And, okay, I didn’t knit, but that was a minor detail. I’d have plenty of time to learn. At age thirty, I was probably about halfway to retirement, and then I could really lean in. It wasn’t such a bad life.

Unfortunately, the idea of Sebastian winning got under my skin almost as much as the thought of him taking the golden goddess home tonight. I’d had the pleasure of his attention once, and Monday morning was already beginning to feel like a lifetime ago, but I hadn’t forgotten how it’d felt to have Sebastian flirt with me. That alone wasn’t enough to get me out on a limb, but I’d known this job would be a challenge, and apparently that didn’t stop at the office. I owed this to myself.

I racked my brain for a reason to interrupt them. Judging by the way the woman’s eyes were glued to his face, it would take a lot to unstick her. When Santino set the bill holder in front of me, I slid it back to his side of the bar. “Never mind,” I said. “I’m staying.”

“Atta girl,” Justin said. “Take that arrogant asshole down.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “I thought he was your friend.”

“I love the guy, but I love to fuck with him more.”

I sucked in a breath and started toward them before I could chicken out. The woman looked up first, and then Sebastian. His eyebrows rose higher the closer I got. I grabbed a chair from the next table over, pulled it up between them, and planted my ass right on it. “Bravo, Sebastian,” I said breathlessly and began to applaud. “That was excellent work. You’ve come so far.”

His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “I’m sorry . . . what?”

“Oh, no. I’m being rude.” I turned to the woman and stuck out my hand. “Georgina Keller.”

“Um, hello.” She took my hand. “I’m Isabella?”

“Are you?” I asked. I got a scratchpad from my purse, flipped it open, and pretended to read the field notes I’d made a few days back while observing customers in the magazine aisle at Barnes and Noble. “Isabella, can I ask you some questions?” As she opened her mouth, I continued, “On a scale of one to ten, how well would you say Sebastian did at starting a conversation?”

“I’m sorry?” she asked in an accent far lovelier than anyone deserved. Italian, like my mom’s side of the family.

Sebastian drew back. “Georgina—”

“God, where is my brain tonight?” I asked. “I should’ve mentioned this since Sebastian obviously wouldn’t. I’m his coach.”

“Coach?” she asked. “What does that mean?”

“Sebastian and I have been working on some . . . tactics,” I said gently, emphasizing the word as if it were a dirty one. “I’m a renowned pick-up artist—and Sebastian’s dating coach!”

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