“Do you want me to call her?” Hayden offered.
Brent shook his head before Daniel could respond. “Nah, just let her quit that horrible job in peace. Then we’ll all go help her pack.”
Hayden sent him a withering look, already formulating what she’d say to him when they were alone. Over the last two months, she’d become acquainted with the ball-breaking dynamic between the guys, but when it came to Story, Daniel had always been particularly vulnerable. When the two met in July, she’d only been planning on staying in New York for a couple weeks before returning to her home in California. Now that their relationship had progressed, she had no intention of going back, but Daniel still spent every free moment making sure she never regretted her decision to quit the teaching job she loved and move three thousand miles to be with him.
She tried once more to comfort Daniel. “You know Story. She probably stopped to pet every puppy between here and the school. She’s easily distracted.”
Daniel leaned back in his chair, eyelids drooping a little, transforming before her eyes into the playboy he resembled. “Don’t I know it?”
Satisfied that she’d taken his mind off the possibility her best friend hated her new job, Hayden took another sip of wine and continued to ignore Brent’s unwavering gaze. She hated it when he did this. Fixated on her and refused to look away. He looked like a hungry wolf stalking a lamb. As though he also couldn’t wait for the opportunity to tell her once again how pampered and pointless he found her posh, Upper West Side lifestyle.
Daniel, all restless energy once again, hopped up from the table. “You guys want another drink? I’m buying.”
“I’ll come with you,” Matt said, shooting a knowing look between Brent and Hayden.
The second Daniel and Matt moved out of earshot toward the bar, Hayden’s glass clunked down on the table. “Could you try just a pinch harder to be less of a spectacular asshole? He’s worried enough. You don’t need to make it worse with your douche-bag sorcery.”
“I’m making it worse? Why don’t you sew his name into his underwear and send him off to summer camp?” He tilted his head. “Not all of us had nannies growing up. Some of us can take care of ourselves.”
She felt her neck flush as the barb struck home, but she refused to let her reaction show on her face. It would be a cold day in hell before she let him know how much being summed up as a helpless socialite bothered her. “There’s a time and a place for insults. Learn the difference, dickhead.”
Brent leaned across the table, his jaw tight. “I don’t need lessons on how to talk to my friend.”
“Disagree. I think you need lessons on quite a few things.”
If she’d blinked, she would have missed the telltale tic in his cheek, a sign she’d come to recognize as his temper stirring. Brent might be lacking in polite social skills and empathy, but he made up for it in pride. “Yeah? And who’s going to teach me those lessons? You?”
His expression transformed with the sensual challenge, and he drawled the final word with such skepticism, her spine went rigid. Dammit, he always made it sexual. He knew it shut her down. Forced her to back off. She could throw around insults with the best of them—just not about sex. Though she was far from a blushing virgin, she’d never hit her stride in that department. When she dated, it was usually to keep her mother off her back. The dates very rarely ended up in bed. And if they did end up “shaking the sheets,” it frequently ended in disappointment.
Hayden couldn’t quite put her finger on what she needed. She just knew she needed more. Not love. No, no. Nor did she want polite sex. Or affectionate sex. She needed something…else.
“What’s wrong, rich girl?” Brent grinned and sipped his beer. “Afraid you’d like it too much?”
“No,” she responded a little too quickly. “I’m afraid you would like it too much and I’d never get rid of your lumbering ass.”
Hayden’s mouth snapped shut. It was the first time she’d ever responded to one of his endless sexual innuendos in kind. She tried not to panic when he did an interested double take.
“Is that right?”
She raised her chin in response, frowning when his gaze briefly landed on her lips.
“How…exactly…would you make me like it, duchess?”
A sarcastic brush-off sat poised on the tip of her tongue, but she held it back. This game had gotten old and he’d grown too sure of himself. A new idea began to formulate in her mind. One Brent wouldn’t see coming. She’d call his bluff. He insisted on turning their arguments sexual to quiet her down? He didn’t think the spoiled debutante could keep up? Well, this time she’d see just how far he was willing to take the game. Not far, she guessed. Hoped. The idea of voluntarily touching each other had to be just as abhorrent to him. Which is exactly what she wanted.