The Billionaire's Embrace Page 38

I laughed. “Did Carolina make you think I’m a complete ogre? I’ve got my work cut out for me, in that case.” I pulled out her chair for her while the maitre d’ uncorked and poured the wine, and she sat and smiled up at me in thanks.

She really was very lovely. Even if the date went horribly, at least I would have a nice view. I could think of worse ways to spend a Friday night than admiring Jenna’s cleavage.

“So, how did you and Carolina meet?” I asked. Not the most interesting opening, but I’d found that the simple approach was often the best—both in business, and with women.

“Summer camp, actually,” Jenna said, smiling. “In high school. Well, I was in high school. Carolina was my counselor. We stayed in touch, and when I told her I was moving to New York, she helped me find an apartment and get settled in. She’s been so helpful. I would be completely lost without her.”

“That’s right, I’d forgotten about her camp counselor days,” I said. “She did that all through college, didn’t she? I still can’t believe that anyone put her in charge of helpless children.”

“Miraculously, none of us died,” Jenna said. “Don’t tell Carolina I said that! It’s just, she was afraid of everything—”

“The snakes, the pine needles,” I said. “I can imagine. Well, I’m glad you survived that experience.”

“Only a little worse for the wear,” she said. She picked up her glass and swirled the wine around. “Is this any good?”

I pressed a hand to my chest in mock affront. “I would never order anything but the very best.”

She grinned. “That’s right, you’re some kind of fancy businessman, aren’t you? Carolina told me you run some sort of company, but I’ve made it a policy not to go digging around on the internet before the first date.”

“You’re a wise woman,” I said, amused. “Did you move here to be a model?”

“Wow, you think I look like a model?” she asked. “I’m flattered. No, I’m an actuary. I’ve been living in Boston for the last few years, but my job gave me the option to transfer to the New York office, and I thought it would be nice to have a change of scenery.”

I raised my eyebrows, impressed. Beautiful and intelligent? This woman was the full package. “Tell me about your work,” I said. “How did you decide to become an actuary? I thought all little girls dreamed about riding horses professionally.”

“What a horrible stereotype,” she said, laughing and shaking her hair over her shoulder. “See, I took this statistics course...”

She told me about how she started college intending to be an English major and ended up with a degree in mathematics, and how she loved her work even though it wasn’t glamorous or exciting. Her hands moved as she spoke, and I watched her, thinking about that I should have been plotting to end the night with her in my bed—but I wasn’t. There was no spark. The first time I saw Regan, it was like sticking a fork in an outlet. Talking to Jenna was more like looking at the outlet, knowing that it held a current, and seeing no reason to investigate further. I could already predict how the evening was going to play out. We would have a nice meal and an interesting conversation, and at the end of the night, I would leave alone.

I didn’t know what in God’s name was wrong with me.

Or, more accurately: I knew, but I preferred not to think about it.

It wasn’t Jenna’s fault, though, and it wouldn’t be fair to punish her for my inability to move on with my life. I had agreed to this date; it was my responsibility to ensure that Jenna had a good time. I did my best to be entertaining and attentive company, asking her questions about herself, how she liked New York so far, whether she had picked a baseball team yet. And she made it easy for me, laughing at my weak attempts at humor, teasing me about how she thought fancy businessmen were supposed to rent out the entire restaurant when they had a date. If I had met her six months earlier, I would have been completely smitten.

But I didn’t. I met Regan, and now there was an empty place in my chest where she used to be.

I resented her for it. She had drawn me in, made me care about her in a way I hadn’t cared about anyone since Prentice, and she hadn’t cared about me at all. I was a diversion to her, an amusing pastime.

It wasn’t worth thinking about.

The food was excellent, as always. This was one of my favorite restaurants for a reason. We ordered creme brulee and coffee to finish off the meal, and I watched with great amusement as Jenna devoured her dessert.

“It’s so good,” she said, a little sheepish.

I said, “I will never judge a woman for enjoying her food. You can even get another one, if you’d like.”

“Don’t tempt me!” she said, smiling. Then she cocked her head to one side and looked at me, sobering.“You aren’t going to ask me out again, are you.”

I hadn’t expected her to say that, but there was no point in trying to deny it. I would be a disaster of a businessman if I couldn’t cope with unanticipated events and respond to them appropriately. I took one of her hands in mine and looked into her eyes. “It’s nothing about you. You’re an incredible woman, and any man would be lucky to have you.”

She chuckled wryly. “It’s not me, it’s you?”

“It’s me,” I said. “I’m... I haven’t quite gotten over my last relationship.”

“Ah,” she said, and nodded. “Haunted by the ex. I understand.”

“I wish that weren’t the case,” I said. “You’re a delight. If I brought you home to my mother, she would pass out from joy.”

“Heaven forbid,” Jenna said. “I couldn’t have your mother’s fainting spell on my head.” She sighed. “Well, I suppose I’ll just have to ask Carolina to set me up with some other eligible bachelor of her acquaintance.”

“Jenna, you are funny, smart, and drop-dead gorgeous,” I said. “I can’t imagine that men aren’t falling all over themselves to talk to you every time you step out your front door.”

“You really are dangerously charming,” she said. “Carolina should have warned me! Don’t worry, Carter. I’m sure I’ll find true love with one of the delinquents who meows at me while I walk to the subway station.”

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