Home > Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2)(14)

Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2)(14)
Author: Lauren Layne

I refuse to admit, even in my own head, just how close I came to letting that kiss turn into something more. To letting him back me against the wall. To having a quickie in a dressing room, for crying out loud.

It’s everything rash and crass that I’ve spent my adult life trying to avoid. I’ve gotten to where I am not so much from smarts, or even hard work, but from impulse control. I stay in control, always.

Well, almost always. The man sitting next to me is the one exception.

“Something besides water?” the blonde bartender asks with a friendly smile.

Matt nods to me to order first.

“Belvedere martini. Three olives,” I say.

“Same,” Matt echoes. “But with a twist.”

“You got it.” The bartender moves away to fetch the vodka.

“Belvedere, huh? Thought you were a Goose girl.”

“I’m a vodka girl,” I clarify, picking up the menu. “Equal opportunity.”

“And here I thought we had nothing in common.”

“Having nothing in common’s never been our problem,” I say as I peruse the salad options. Seared ahi or chicken? Decisions, decisions.

“Yeah? What is our problem?” he asks, turning toward me.

I set the menu back on the bar and fold my hands. “Well. Off the top of my head, I’d say it starts with the fact that you’re a presumptuous ass, and I’m—”

“A grudge-holding shrew?”

“It’s not like I’m holding some imagined slight,” I say through gritted teeth.

“No. But you are holding on to something that happened four years ago. That I apologized for about a hundred times.”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“See, that’s our problem,” he says, raising his voice slightly. “You never want to talk about it, so here we are, years later, still hating each other’s guts.”

“Are you forgetting who’s currently helping you save your job?”

“Are you forgetting how much fucking money I’m spending to get you to do that?” he snaps back. “You hardly volunteered out of the goodness of your heart.”

“I don’t have a heart. Weren’t you the one who told me that?”

“Jesus,” he mutters, dragging his hands over his face. “It never stops with us, does it?”

I don’t answer.

The bartender appears with two blissfully large cocktails. “Any food today, or just the drinks?”

Screw the salad. Lettuce isn’t going to cut it if I have to fuel up for dealing with this guy. “I’ll have the French Dip sandwich,” I say. “With fries.”

Matt gives me a surprised look. “I’ll take the same. Extra horseradish.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask when the bartender takes our menus and leaves.

“Sort of had you pegged for a salad, dressing on the side order.”

“Yeah, well, fighting with you works up an appetite.”

He grins. “You know what else works up an appetite?”

I laugh a little, because his expression is so classically horny dude. “We’re not doing that. Have you already forgotten our plan to move away from the fight-and-hookup thing?”

“Your plan,” he mutters. “I was just fine with how things were.”

I sip my drink. “Do you ever think that maybe the reason we are the way we are is because we hooked up too soon?”

“You mean, do I regret sleeping with you the first night I met you? Absolutely not.”

“Bet you regret the morning after,” I say, giving him a bland look out of the corner of my eye.

He looks back at me. “You already know that I do.”

I take another sip of my drink. He’s right. I do know that. To give credit where it’s due, he did apologize for what he said that morning. And a dozen times after that, too.

Hell, I don’t even doubt that he meant the apologies a hell of a lot more than the off-the-cuff insult that landed us in our roles of adversaries in the first place.

So now you’re thinking he’s right. That I am a shrew who holds a grudge.

I’ll cop to the first one. I’ve never pretended to be a nice, sweet type of female.

As for the grudge part, it’s not a grudge so much as . . . self-protection. Matt Cannon hurt me that morning in a way I’ve always promised myself I could never be hurt.

I have no intention of letting it happen again. I’d rather be angry than hurt, and though he may not even realize it, I think Matt feels the same.

“Okay, let’s talk business,” I say, popping an olive in my mouth. “Setting the foundation is good, but I can’t imagine The Sams are reading Page Six or clubbing with Georgie and crew. We’re planting seeds to make this whole thing believable, but how do we get to the people who matter?”

“You mean the clients who are threatening to leave because they don’t like how I spend my weekends?” he growls into his martini.

“These people aren’t trusting you with their piggy bank, Cannon. You’re handling millions on a daily basis. They don’t have any insight into what your life looks like, except what they saw in the Wall Street Journal. No one wants to imagine the guy in that picture as the one holding the keys to their retirement.”

“I’m not sure they want the guy who makes his credit card sweat buying clothes for his ‘girlfriend,’ either.”

I pat his arm with a smile. “I’ll take it all back tomorrow if it’s going to break your budget.”

He clinks his glass to mine in a toast. “Don’t worry about it. I can afford it, and it was worth every penny knowing you’ll think of me each time you get dressed. Or undressed.”

My smile slips, and his grows. “Well played,” I mutter.

“I thought so,” he says with a wink. “Okay, so about this gala I’ll need you to accompany me to . . . It’s a big fancy fund-raiser—”

“I’ve been to the Wolfe Gala before, Matt.”

“Sure. As Ian’s date.”

“As Ian’s friend,” I correct, even though I shouldn’t have to. Matt of all people knows that Ian’s and my relationship is, and always has been, completely platonic.

“Well this year, you’ll go with me. As my girlfriend.”

“Fake girlfriend,” I clarify, moving my drink out of the way to make room for the sandwiches the bartender’s setting in front of us.

“Right. If we don’t kill each other before then,” Matt mutters, taking an enormous bite of his French Dip.

Yeah, well. There’s that.

We both lapse into silence, and I’ve got a feeling the train of his thoughts is probably pretty close to my own:

How the hell is this going to work?

How can we pretend to be in love when we can barely stand to be in the same room together? I’d been so sure that the forced proximity would change things between us, but so far, our relationship feels more complicated than ever. God knows my emotions feel . . . jumbled. And I hate that. I hate that it—

“This isn’t going to work,” Matt says, interrupting my thoughts.

My stomach drops at his words, though I don’t know whether it’s the blow to my professional pride or the personal implications. “What do you mean?”

He pushes away his plate, wipes his mouth. “We drive each other crazy.”

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