Elizabeth - Page 38

I had no idea where my outburst had come from, but I was no longer backing down from this. So many emotions coursed through my veins. Hurt. Sadness. Distance. Anger. I didn’t enjoy failure; it wasn’t in my veins. Everything I did, I did with passion, with the intent to succeed. And I was staring at a man who was willing to pay me six figures to try and pull this off, and he wasn’t carrying his own damn weight.

His stern look grew hard on me as he set his fork in his plate. Then, he wiped his lips off with his napkin and sat back.

“My introduction into high school was being tossed into a dumpster by the captain of the football team. The cheerleaders gathered around to laugh at me, and I smelled like garbage my entire first day. But my favorite moment from high school was when I got the courage to ask one of the cheerleaders out. I thought she was beautiful, and she told me to meet her at the football goalpost after her practice for her answer. I waited, and I waited. Then she appeared with some guys from the team. They stripped me down, duct-taped me naked to the goalpost, and left me there.”

My fork fell from my hand and clattered against my plate. They did that to him?

To this beautiful man sitting in front of me?

“Does that give you enough information, Elizabeth?”

“Enough, yes,” I said breathlessly.

“So, you play piano.”

“I do.”

“How long?”

I felt tears rising to my eyes, and I blinked them away. I pulled my gaze away from his and tossed it out over the grounds we were on. Oh, Phillip. I closed my eyes and imagined that poor high school boy. Shivering in the cold and taped to a damn post with all eyes on him. My heart broke. I felt it bleeding into my stomach. I settled my trembling hands in my lap and gave myself a moment to try and gather what was left of my jaw off the floor of the balcony.

“Since I was six,” I said.

“I’ve always been envious of people who can play an instrument. I tried violin one time. It didn’t go very well.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I couldn’t get the fingering down.”

I snickered and shook my head before I turned my gaze back to him.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Never be sorry, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of weakness. You said what you needed to say, and you had every right to say it. If you’re going to hold yourself in high regard, at least stand on the hill you made for yourself.”

I nodded and reached for my champagne, taking a long sip of it.

“How does it feel to be New York City’s most eligible bachelor?” I asked.

“No more different than it feels to not be such,” Phillip said.

“How do you stay single with that kind of title? How does a man like yourself not have an actual fiancée to bring on a trip like this?”

“I stay focused on my work.”

“Do you ever do anything simply for pleasurable purposes?”

I brought my champagne back to my lips and finished the flute before I caught his stare. He was still leaning back in his chair, but his eyes had locked on to me. There it was again—that look from the forest and the fountain. And instantly, the air between us changed. He shifted in his chair and rested his arms along the outskirts of his seat, as if he was opening himself up to me, attempting to fill the space around him and appear larger than he already was. I cleared my throat and set the glass down, trying to ignore the wetness pooling between my legs.

“Do you enjoy the movies? Or...?”

“You’ve already asked me that question.”

I watched a sly grin crawl across his cheeks as I nodded.

“I suppose I have.”

“Do you remember my response?” he asked.

I thought back to that conversation on the airplane, but I couldn’t seem to recall it. The only thing that flooded my mind was the heat of his leg. How his foot came to rest against mine underneath the table. How quickly his demeanor had shifted from “closed off” to “invader.” My eyes fluttered closed as the toe of his shoe slowly worked its way up my ankle.

“Not currently,” I said.

“Seems as if I wasn’t the only one struggling to pay attention on that plane.”

“I paid attention just fine.”

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