Frayed Page 34

My gaze latches on to his as Jagger continues to give us a rundown on the use of unrefined olive oils and dried fruits in the Moroccan cooking processes. Ben\s eyes don\ wander and my pulse races from his gentle but concerned stare.

’’Oh, and the sherry cobbler is the best you\ll ever have,’’ Jagger says, drawing my attention back to the conversation.

The waitress returns with our drinks and refreshes Aerie\s and Jagger\s wineglasses before asking Ben and me if we\d like a glass. We both shake our heads no. ’’Are you ready to order, then?’’ she asks.

’’How about we start with the les olives maison and rustic loaf?’’ Jagger says to the waitress. He looks at the three of us. ’’Anything else to start?’’

I shake my head no and Aerie does the same.

’’Sounds good,’’ Ben answers for all of us.

The waitress walks away and Aerie looks at Jagger, a little horrified.

’’What?’’ he asks.

’’That\s not going to taste like the artichoke bread, is it?’’

He laughs. ’’I hope not. We\ll see when we try it.’’

’’Artichoke bread?’’ I can\ help asking.

’’Long story,’’ Aerie says. ’’But Jagger always wants to try new things and ’’

Ben busts out laughing and so does Jagger.

Not getting what is going on, I say, ’’I hate vegetables.’’

Everyone\s eyes go to me.

I sit straight. ’’What? I do.’’

Ben shakes his head and Jagger does the same. Aerie just smiles at me.

’’So, what are you having?’’ I ask her.

She clears her throat. ’’I don\ know.’’

Jagger taps his menu. Her eyes go to where he\s pointing on her menu and she ferociously shakes her head no.

The waitress returns. ’’Have you decided on your main course?’’

Ben looks around the table and then up at her. ’’I think we need a few more minutes.’’

’’No problem.’’ She smiles at him.

Oh my God, is she flirting with him when I\m sitting right next to him? Is he flirting back? Was that a wink I saw? Okay, I need to calm down I\m just friends with him after all. Except telling myself that doesn\ help at all.

’’Hey, where are you?’’ Ben asks me

My eyes meet his ocean blue gaze and I try to push my haze of green jealousy away.

’’Trying to decide what to order.’’ I smile.

He points to the twenty-two-ounce cauliflower steak on my menu. ’’I guess you won\ be ordering this,’’ he whispers in my ear.

’’I\m thinking of eating dessert for dinner,’’ I whisper back.

’’I\ll take you for a juicy burger when we leave here. And I promise, no vegetables will be on it.’’ This time his mouth actually touches my ear.

A shiver that feels more like a yearning courses through me. ’’Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.’’

I get up quickly and walk as fast as I can to the bathroom. He remembers everything. Guys never remember details like that. I try to gather my wits. With my head bent over the sink, I take deep breaths, but tears are still prickling my eyes. I never knew how sweet he really was, and every minute we spend together just makes me want him more. What am I doing?

’’Everything okay?’’ Aerie asks me, and I look up to see her perfectly polished, beautiful reflection in the mirror.

’’Oh yes. I just really needed to use the restroom,’’ I lie.

’’It\s none of my business, but what\s going on between the two of you?’’ she asks.

And there it is judgment.

’’Nothing,’’ I quickly answer. ’’We just ran into each other last week at his awards banquet and started talking. It\s really nothing. In fact, if you could not mention it to anyone I\d really appreciate it.’’

Her hand covers mine, gripping the bathroom counter. ’’Bell, I\m not judging. I\ve just known Ben a really long time and have to tell you that I like how he is with you.’’

I turn around. ’’What do you mean?’’

She smiles. ’’Nervous, eager, maybe happy. I\ve seen many sides of him, but this one suits him. I don\ know how to describe it.’’

’’Well, we\ e just friends.’’

She raises her palms. ’’Remember, I\m not judging. And if you don\ like the restaurant we can go somewhere else.’’

I smile at her. ’’Oh no, we\ e staying. I\m pretty sure I saw Theo James in the corner on my way in here.’’

’’Come on, let\s go see.’’ She takes my hand.

We walk slowly through the dining room staring at the table and when we get to our own table, Ben looks at me with concern.

’’Are you okay?’’ He moves aside for me to take my seat.

I nod.

’’I don\ think that was him,’’ Aerie says, helping to lift the sullen mood at the table.

’’Who?’’ Jagger asks.

’’Theo James,’’ she says enthusiastically.

Jagger hovers over her in the booth. ’’That\s enough talk about other men.’’ Then he kisses her and practically pins her to the wall.

When I look over at Ben I decide I\ll take this piece of him while I can because he makes me happy.

He opens his menu again and points to an item. ’’What do you say to the côte de boeuf for two, minus the winter root?’’ He grins at me in his irresistible way.

I allow my finger to trace the words on the menu where his hands lie. ’’That sounds really good.’’


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