“And you like it here?”
“I love it. Completely different, of course, but the business has been a great challenge. And I like the energy of the city. The possibilities, I guess.”
“You never know who you might run into.”
“You’re proof of that.”
She smiled and my heart twisted. Thank God for chance meetings.
“Are Olivia and Darren partners with the business then?”
“No, Darren’s invested in his own way, but he can’t commit to a woman, let alone a business. He’s a great help though. Gives me a break and does well with the training.”
“You two seem close.”
I shook my head, guessing she gathered that from me cussing him out at the bar. “Yeah, at the end of the day, he’s my brother. What are you gonna do? He’s a pain in the a*s, but somewhere under that thick skull he cares, I guess.”
I nodded. Olivia, Darren, and I were all independent in our own way, but knowing that we had each other meant the world sometimes.
“And Liv needed a change,” I continued. “She’d been working for our father’s private equity company upstate. Not surprisingly she started to feel kind of smothered. Dad was trying to set her up with guys at work. He means well, but Mom was making wedding plans before she could blink, trying to track out her whole life.”
“Of all of us, she’s been the one they wouldn’t really let go of. After a while they gave up on Darren and me, but she’s their little girl. You know how she is. She didn’t want to let them down. But the whole situation started eating at her, so I told her to come stay with me for a while, help me get things organized with the business until she was ready to make her next move.”
“How about you? Anything new with your family?”
She sliced off a hunk of steak and popped it into her mouth, shaking her head. I guessed she didn’t want to talk about that either. She’d always been vague about her family. Her father was out of the picture early on, and her mother seemed to be a bit of a rolling stone. I had a hard time believing that Eli and Vanessa were the only significant people in her life since I’d left though.
“So how does a beautiful, successful woman like you not have a boyfriend in this city?”
Her eyes met mine. “You’re intent on figuring me out, aren’t you?”
“Hell bent. Might as well start filling me in now.”
She spun her water glass by its base. Light flickered off the liquid like a prism. “You might not like what you hear.”
My body tensed in anticipation. “Let’s get it over with then. Spill it.”
“I don’t really date.” Her voice was clipped. Her pink lips pursed slightly.
“Ever?” I cocked an eyebrow.
“I’m not joining a convent, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
I tightened my jaw, not enjoying the fleeting thought of her with anyone who wasn’t me. I would have preferred the convent. “I didn’t think so, but what’s the alternative? Friends with benefits?”
“Benefits. Relationships all come down to sex, anyway. It’s just simpler that way. No games, no drama.” She sighed quietly. “No one gets hurt.”
Hell, who was this woman, and where was my Maya? I rubbed my jaw, no less tense, and tried to wrap my head around what she’d just told me.
“Isn’t that a bit pessimistic?”
“I like to think of it as realistic.”
“Assuming that every serious relationship you have will hurt you?”
“I’ve tested the theory enough to be convinced of it,” she said simply.
The remark shut me up for a while. I got the strong sense that her theories were now overlapping with our history. Had the outcome of our relationship inspired this cold and emotionless perspective? We finished eating in silence, and I tossed my napkin on the table.
“If you don’t date, I suppose technically this isn’t a date either. Am I interviewing to be the next notch in your bed post?”
I laughed, but I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know the answer. An imperceptible frown marked her brow.
“This is us getting to know each other.” She gestured between us. Our eyes clashed across the table.
“Sounds like that could get complicated.”
She rolled her eyes. “I thought you wanted to be friends.”
“I do. I also said I might want more. Call me crazy, but I thought that was something you were considering too.”
“I’ve managed to avoid being in a relationship for years. I don’t plan on making an exception now.”