The Hating Game Page 35

I have to appreciate his perseverance in the face of my weirdness and present appearance. Just because I have developed a fascination with Joshua, doesn’t mean I should say no. I look at Danny. If I’d thrown a torn-up wish list into a fireplace, he’s the guy Mary Poppins would have delivered. “Dinner sometime would be nice.”

He parks in a twenty-minute zone and I sign him in as a visitor. As the elevator doors open I realize too late he has delivered me all the way to the tenth floor.

“Thanks.”

He steps out with me and tugs me to a halt. “Take it easy today.”

He straightens the collar of my coat, his knuckles brushing my throat. I resist the urge to look to my left. Either Joshua is at his desk, witnessing this tableau, or he’s not in yet. The tension of not knowing is excruciating.

“Dinner? What about a little dinner tonight? Couldn’t hurt?”

“Sure,” I agree just to get him to leave. He gives me the daisies with a little flourish, and I manage a smile. I slowly pivot.

Once upon a time, this moment would have been a triumph. I’ve had daydreams like this. But when I see Joshua sitting at his desk, sharply tapping paperwork into straight stacks, I wish I could rewind time.

We’re playing a new game. While I don’t know the rules, I do know I’ve made a major misstep. I lay the daisies on the end of my desk, and shrug out of my coat.

“Hi, buddy,” Danny says to Josh, who slouches down into his chair. It’s a boss-type power pose he has perfected.

“You don’t work here anymore.” Josh isn’t one for pleasantries.

“I gave Lucy a ride in and thought I’d come by and make sure I’m not treading on your toes.”

“What do you mean?” Josh’s eyes grow knife-sharp.

“Well, I know you’re pretty protective of Lucy. But I’ve been treating you right, haven’t I?”

I’m floundering under their collective gaze. “Sure, of course.”

For a guy facing off against someone Joshua’s size, Danny certainly does have a remarkable amount of courage. He tries again.

“I mean, you’ve clearly got some kind of problem. You were a real asshole on the phone on Friday.”

“She’d got vomit on her tank top. I had enough to deal with without being her secretary.”

“Your protective big-brother thing is something we need to talk about.”

“Voices down,” I hiss. Mr. Bexley’s door is open.

“Well, no one is good enough for my kid sister.” Joshua’s voice is heavy with sarcasm, but I still deflate. This morning is the absolute worst.

“And you’re right. I don’t work here anymore, so I’m free to date Lucy if I want.” Danny looks past me at my desk and raises his eyebrows. “Well, well. What do you know. Romance isn’t dead.”

Joshua scowls darkly and picks at his thumbnail. “Get out before I throw you out.”

Danny kisses my cheek, and I am almost certain he did it because of our audience. It was a petty move on his part.

“I’ll call you later today about dinner, Luce. And we’ll probably need to talk more, Josh.”

“Bye, man,” Joshua says in a fake voice. We both watch Danny get in the elevator.

Mr. Bexley makes a bull-calf bellow from his office and I finally notice the red rose on my keyboard.

“Oh.” I’m a complete and utter moron.

“It was there when I got in.” I’ve more than a thousand hours in the same room as Joshua and the lie in his voice is crystal clear. This rose is velvet-red perfection. In comparison, the daisies look like a tangle of weeds growing in a sewer.

“They were from you? Why didn’t you say so?”

Mr. Bexley bellows again, more annoyed. Josh continues to ignore him and impales me with his glare. “You should have had Danny stay with you. Not me.”

“He’s . . . We’re just . . . It’s . . . I don’t know. He’s nice.” Olympic-level floundering.

“Yeah, yeah. Nice. The ultimate quality in a man.”

“It’s right up there. You were nice to me on the weekend. You were nice to send me roses. But you’re back to being a total fuckwit.” I am hissing like a goose by this point.

“Doctor Josh,” Mr. Bexley interrupts from his doorway. “My office, if you can possibly spare me a moment. And mind your language, Miss Hutton.” He huffs off.

“Sorry, boss, I’ll be right there,” Joshua says through gritted teeth. We’re both blazingly frustrated and mere seconds away from mutually strangling each other. He sweeps past my desk and whips away the rose.

“What is wrong with you!” I make a grab for it and a thorn drags across my palm.

“I only sent you those fucking roses because you looked so cut-up after our fight. This is why I don’t do nice things for people.”

“Ow!” I look at my palm. A stinging red line is forming. I’m holding drops of blood. “You scratched me!”

I catch him by the cuff and squeeze his wrist in a death grip.

“Thank you, Nurse Joshua, you were wonderfully kind. And thank your gorgeous doctor brother.”

He remembers something. “I have you to blame for the fact I now have to go to his wedding. I’d nearly gotten out of it. That’s your fault.”

“My fault?”

“If you hadn’t been sick, I would never have seen Patrick.”

“That makes no sense. I never asked you to call him.”

He examines the line of blood I’ve left on his cuff with a look of complete and utter revulsion. He stuffs a tissue into my palm.

“Just wonderful,” he tells me, tossing the ruined rose in the trash. “Disinfect that.” He disappears into Mr. Bexley’s office.

I open my inbox and see our interviews have been scheduled for next Thursday. My stomach makes a little heave. I think of my rent. I look at the empty desk opposite me.

I then lift up my mouse pad where I have hidden the little florist’s card from the bunch of roses. I’d peeked at it last week whenever Joshua wasn’t looking.

I stare at the card and wonder how I could have ever thought it was from Danny. It’s Josh’s handwriting; but I didn’t notice the way the letters slashed and swooped.

You’re always beautiful.

There’s one red petal on my desk and I press it onto the pad of my thumb and breathe it in deep while the daisies blur at the corner of my eye. My palm stings and itches. Josh is absolutely right. I’ve somehow injured myself due to my own carelessness.

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