Two years later . . .
“Oh, hell no.” I stood completely still in front of the driver. “This has to be some kind of joke.”
I hadn’t seen him since he’d brought me home that day years ago, but had since learned his name and a few things about him – Nathaniel Bradley, my father’s favorite pet. He was currently putting himself through business school in NYU, which I’d admit was impressive. What wasn’t impressive was hearing my father talk about him all the time. That was just annoying. It was surprising that when I went to visit my father, Nathaniel wasn’t sitting on his damn lap like a dog enjoying being pet or something.
Seeing him now, I realized that he couldn’t possibly fit on dad’s lap. He’d clearly filled out his formerly boney frame and morphed into someone who looked like he belonged in cleats, shoulder pads, and smack in the center of every woman’s fantasies. He grinned as I gaped at him, and I snapped out of my stupid thoughts. Yes, he was devastatingly handsome. No, I didn’t want him and I definitely didn’t want him to think I wanted him.
“I’m here to drive you to prom.”
“I’d rather walk.”
“In those heels.” His eyes traveled slowly down my body until they reached my shoes. I fought the urge to cover myself up. It wasn’t like he was looking at me in a creepy-I-want-you way or anything, but this guy, as annoying as he was, was really damn good looking and the whole thing was weird. Why was my father hiring hot guys to drive me around anyway? Not guys – plural – because I highly doubted there were very many who looked like this. I took in the amused expression on his face and remembered how obnoxious he was last time and shook off the attraction, meeting his gaze full-on.
“I’ll take them off if I have to.”
“You?” he scoffed. “Have you ever walked barefoot in your life, princess?”
“Don’t call me that.” I rolled my eyes and walked past him, letting myself into the backseat of the car.
If he was going to drive me, there would be a clear line between us – he was my father’s employee which meant he was sort-of my employee too and I didn’t have to answer to him. In truth, most of dad’s employees were family, and even the ones who weren’t treated me like I was one of their own so I’d never thought to draw a line between us. I wouldn’t dare. Not the farm workers, not the brewers, not the higher-ups. It was this guy who brought out the ugly in me, with his untamed dark hair and his chiseled jaw and that stupid arrogance his blue eyes gleamed with.
“Isn’t it customary for the guy to pick up the girl for prom?”
I bit my lip to keep quiet. I wouldn’t respond. I wouldn’t respond. I wouldn’t respond. Truth was, Ben and I had broken up last week but decided to go together anyway and the prom was happening in his building, so it seemed like a waste of time for him to go to my house all the way across town and he was a self-absorbed asshole who felt like if he wasn’t getting something out of the exchange, he’d rather not make an effort. Not that I would say any of that to Nathaniel Bradley. He’d probably just side with Ben anyway.
“Cat got your tongue, Presley Rose?”
“Why aren’t you at some college party or something? Don’t you have anything better to do on a Saturday night?”
“Sure I do, but I’m having so much fun driving a little overprivileged brat around.” His eyes twinkled as he looked at me through the rearview.
My fists clenched so hard my nails dug into my palms. “You know what would make this night a whole lot better? If you weren’t in it, so can you just shut up for the rest of the night?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“He’s not good for you.”
Those were the first words Nathaniel Bradley said to me when I got back in the car at the end of the night. I sat in the front seat this time and instantly regretted my move when he spoke the words.
“You literally dropped me off here. How would you possibly know whether or not he’s good for me?” I rolled my eyes and shook my head as he drove away from the Ritz, where the prom had taken place and Ben’s parents had a penthouse apartment.
“He didn’t even walk you to the car.”
“Because he lives in the building.”
“He should’ve still walked you to the car.”
“Maybe he wanted me to stay.”
That shut him up for all of ten seconds. He cleared his throat. “Why didn’t you? Isn’t that what people do on prom night?”
“What year do you live in?” I made a face. “People don’t wait for prom night to fuck anymore, you know?”
“I don’t think they ever did.” He glanced over at me. “I meant, why didn’t you stay out later? It’s not even midnight.”
I shrugged. “I was bored.”
“Bored at your boyfriend’s house?”
I sighed heavily. “Can you just drive me home in silence?”
My night hadn’t gone as planned at all. For starters, Nathaniel wasn’t wrong. I should’ve still been in that building, preferably upstairs in Ben’s room, naked. Instead, I’d left the minute things started getting hot and heavy. Everything felt off. One minute I wanted him to rip my dress off, as usual, and the next I felt cold as stone and wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as my heels would allow it. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but something was definitely wrong with me. It’d been that way since my parent’s finalized their divorce last year.
My emotions had been all over the place. My therapist said it was normal. She said I had to give myself time to heal. I’d felt like I’d been sucker-punched with the news of the divorce though and everything that followed was a bit of a blur, though I’d done everything I could to cope with the heavy guilt I felt in a healthy way, but sometimes I just wanted to numb the pain and those were the times I got myself into things that made me feel like I was in over my head. Tonight would have been another one of those nights if I hadn’t bailed on Ben. I pressed the back of my head on the headrest and turned my face to look out the window. It was definitely for the best that I left when I did. I was so lost in thought, that I nearly jumped out of my seat when Nathaniel spoke again.
“What are you going to do now that you’re graduating?”
“Go to college.” I snuck a glance in his direction. “Duh.”
The side of his mouth twitched and I decided I’d pay good money to see his full smile. “What college? What are you going to study?”
“Business,” I said slowly, wondering if there was a catch to him being nice to me. “NYU, actually. Dad said that’s where you are now, but if we run into each other there you can just pretend you don’t know me.”
He chuckled, a deep sound that made my pulse kick. “Not a problem, princess. I wouldn’t be caught dead hanging around with a lowly freshman anyway.”
“I’m surprised you have anyone to hang out with at all.” I glanced at him at the same time that he looked at me and our eyes locked. For a second, as I looked into his eyes, I forgot what I was going to say. I blinked away when I remembered who he was and why he was even here to begin with. I cleared my throat and added, “Don’t call me princess.”
“Is your boyfriend also going to NYU?”
“Not really.” I make a face.
Most of our classmates are going to Ivy League. I had a really bad junior year, so I had no chance at that. My senior year hasn’t been any better, if I’m being honest, which I wouldn’t be with Nathaniel. He didn’t need to know that I’d been skipping school and let myself go from potential valedictorian to “only has a chance at a public university because her dad is a major donor there” status.
“Are you planning on working for your dad at some point?”
“I guess that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
He pulled up to the curb outside of my dad’s building and looked at me as he set the gear in park, leaving the car running. I met his gaze only because I was confused as to why he wasn’t turning it off, and found him just staring at me. If I wasn’t in such an awful mood all the time I know I would have appreciated this guy paying attention to me, employee or not, but I was in a mood all the time and I didn’t like anyone looking at me so I didn’t appreciate it. Therefore, I snapped.
“What do you want to do with your life?”
I opened my mouth and closed it, frowning. No one had ever asked me that before. Not even the school college counselor had asked me that. Everyone just assumed I’d take over my dad’s beer business. People would think I was a complete idiot if I didn’t. It’d been my grandfathers, handed down to my father, and was assumed to be handed down to me. Even dad didn’t ask me whether or not I wanted to be part of it because he knew I felt like I had no choice and he liked it that way. I always tried to tell myself that if he owned something cooler, I’d be okay with working there for the rest of my life, but beer? I hated beer. I’d never say those words aloud, but I hated it. If I had a choice I guessed I’d open up a restaurant or a lounge, some place that people could meet at and let go of their trying everyday lives.
“Presley?” Nathaniel’s voice brought my back in the moment.
“I want to work for my father. It’s what I’m supposed to do.” I smiled. I’d never smiled at him before, so I knew he’d be surprised. It didn’t matter that my smile was fake. It was the only one I had to offer.