The Billionaire's Embrace Page 46

The decision, then: to take the chance, or to retreat now and always wonder.

It was hardly a choice.

I replied to Regan’s email while my dinner cooled to an edible temperature. I suggested a place—my favorite hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, for an inexpensive meal and, if necessary, a quick getaway—and a time—Friday at noon. She wrote back later that evening to confirm.

And that was that, except I spent the next two days kicking myself for suggesting Friday. It seemed endlessly distant, a foreign shore I swam toward but would never reach. I found it impossible to focus on work, and was equally restless at home in the evenings, wandering aimlessly around the apartment and cleaning things that my housekeeper kept in pristine condition.

Friday would change everything, one way or another.

On Friday morning, I sequestered myself in my office with a pot of coffee and tore through a pile of paperwork I had been avoiding. I hated paperwork so much that my rage propelled me clear through until lunch, and occupied my attention so thoroughly that I had no time to fret over my impending meeting with Regan. When my phone beeped at a quarter to 12, I emerged from my fugue state with a sense of dim panic, as if I had forgotten something vital. But I hadn’t; I would be on time.

I told Nancy that I would be back in an hour, and walked the few blocks to the sandwich shop. It was a nice day, sunny and not too cold, and I tucked my hands in my pockets and felt—hopeful. Maybe it was premature, and maybe Regan would crush all of my dreams and leave me a miserable wreck of a man, but I was all in. All of my cards were on the table.

Regan was in line at the counter when I walked in, staring up at the menu board. I recognized her even from behind: the long sweep of her hair, her navy coat, the way she cocked her hip to one side as she thought.

My heart rolled over in my chest, just from seeing her.

I walked up behind her and, gently, not wanting to startle her, placed one hand on her shoulder.

She turned and looked at me, and gave me a smile so shy and sweet that I ached to hold her against me. “Hi, Carter,” she said.

“Regan,” I said, and then simply stood there, gazing at her, every word I wanted to say turning to dust in my mouth. I swallowed. “If you need help choosing a sandwich, I can give you a recommendation.”

“I was thinking about the hummus wrap,” she said, tucking her hair behind one ear, and I stared down at her, numb, joyful, and said, “That’s a good choice.”

“What are you getting?” she asked. Such a mundane question, when my universe was in the midst of expanding from a single point of white heat.

I pretended to consider the menu board. I ordered the same thing every time I came here—dull and predictable, maybe, but I knew what I liked. “Oh, maybe the pastrami.”

“Yuck,” Regan said, wrinkling her nose adorably.

Christ. I didn’t stand a chance.

We ordered our sandwiches and took our trays to a table by a window, overlooking the lunchtime foot traffic outside. I watched as Regan shed her coat and arranged it over the back of her chair, along with her purse and scarf. She wore a green blouse in a shade that my mother probably would have described as “emerald,” and silver earrings that dangled toward her shoulders.

She looked beautiful.

I didn’t know where to begin. “So,” I said.

She smiled at me. “This is kind of weird, isn’t it? I feel like I haven’t seen you in a million years, but also like I saw you yesterday. And I have so many things I want to say, but I don’t know where to start.”

“I feel exactly the same way,” I said, grateful that she had expressed the sentiment and spared me the task.

She unwrapped her sandwich, her hair falling in her eyes and concealing her face. She seemed—calm. Older. Like she had grown up, somehow, in the two months since I had seen her last. “So, um. How have you been?”

She wanted to play this game, then: polite phrases that meant nothing, changed nothing. Maybe lunch had been a mistake. “Fine,” I said. “Staying busy. Business as usual. What about you? Germaine told me that you aren’t working at the club anymore.” Was that a tactical error, admitting that I had spoken to Germaine about her? Surely she expected that I would, or at least considered it as a possibility.

“Yeah, I’m—I got a new job. I’m working as a legal secretary now.” She shrugged, still looking down at her tray. “And I started back at school. I’m taking two night classes this semester. It’s not a lot, but, you know. Baby steps.”

“A legal secretary,” I repeated. “That’s wonderful, Regan.” I was selfishly glad that she hadn’t taken another job that involved men viewing her as a sexual object—even though I had, at one point, been one of those men.

She glanced up at me, shy as a wild animal. “I thought about—you know. What you said, about how there had to be something I wanted to do with my life, instead of just working at the club. And I decided that you were right, that I’ve been hiding from—from life, I guess, and so I sent my resume around to a bunch of law offices, and I got a job. Somehow.”

“What type of law firm?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Finance stuff. They do a lot of things.”

There was no doubt in my mind that Regan knew exactly what type of practice she was working for, and could have listed every major client and case. For whatever reason, she always seemed to find it easier to play dumb. I didn’t understand the impulse, and didn’t like it. I didn’t want her to hide her intellect around me. I unwrapped my sandwich and opened my bottle of iced tea. “What sorts of cases are you working on?”

“Well,” she said, and hesitated. “Right now I’m helping with some intellectual property stuff. Just doing some basic research and filing paperwork, basically. It’s not anything very complicated. But I’m—I like the lawyer I’m working for. A woman. She’s nice to me. She told me that—I did good work on the last case, and so she’s going to give me more responsibilities now.”

I was proud of her, and still hurt, and angry that she underestimated her own potential so severely. “Of course she’s going to,” I said. “Why wouldn’t she?”

“I was really afraid I would screw it up,” she said. “I mean, maybe I still will. I hope I won’t. I really like the job.”

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