Peg heard ringing in her ears and a cough, then a sputter as though someone were choking. Her vision was hazy, but she could make out Samuel sitting with his hip on the edge of his desk, coffee dribbling down his chin. She should go over and help him, because the woman dabbing a napkin on his shirt was making it worse. Only, Peg couldn’t seem to move.
Her feet were rooted to the floor and the arm around her waist was vice-like in its tightness. That was good… and bad. Good in that it was probably the only thing holding her up. Bad in that the man the arm was attached to may not live out the rest of the day once the office cleared.
The stunned looks on the faces of the four women in front of her and Derek said everything she was feeling inside. Shock. Horror. Embarrassment. Disbelief. Anger.
Samuel had recovered and an amused look had taken over. She liked him. She really did. But if he didn’t do something to help save his friend’s life…
He said Derek was acting weird. Maybe what he’d really meant was that Derek was crazy. That could be it. She’d buy that Derek had lost his mind between the time he ran in and the moment his mother had confronted him.
“I wasn’t aware you were seeing anyone,” his mother said. She’d recovered her composure much more quickly than Peg, although Peg wasn’t sure when she might recover hers.
“Whirlwind romance,” Derek said easily, lightly. “I took one look at her and that was it for me.” He gazed down at her with what she was sure was supposed to be love and affection, but all she read was pleading in his eyes. “I was head over heels before I knew what hit me.”
Oh, something would definitely hit him. Something hard. Something sharp and pointy. Something he may not wake up from.
However, she would play along. She would make sure he paid for it, too, and paid big.
“Something similar happened with Samuel, as well,” one of the women stated, her blonde hair perfectly coifed around her head while Peg’s was bundled in a mess on top of hers and held in place with cheap chopsticks. She wasn’t sure if the comment was meant to be pleasant or biting, but the women looking at them, didn’t fill her with warm fuzzies.
“I guess love blooms in summer,” Peg said, pasting a smile on her face so big her cheeks hurt.
“Seems so,” Derek’s mother stated. “I simply hadn’t expected it to strike my son quite so firmly, but since you’re going to be part of the family, dear, that means you’ll be part of our small group of friends. Let me introduce you to Samuel’s mother, Bitsy Worthington, and this is Cricket, who was thought, at one time, to be the perfect match for Samuel, and this is Pamela, who has been a very dear friend of Derek’s for many years.”
“Perhaps tastes change with the seasons,” Peg offered, though she was most definitely out of her element with this particular conversation. She had no business fostering the idea in anyone’s head that she intended to marry Derek. Kill or maim him, yes. Marry him, no.
“Do they?” Samuel’s mother inquired.
That question wasn’t asked with friendliness and Peg watched as Samuel stiffened, then rose from the corner of the desk. “Yes, Mother, they do. Especially, when that taste was never there to begin with. Now, I hate to cut this short, but if you all will excuse us, Derek, Peggy, and I have a meeting to get to.”
“What sort of meeting could all three of you be attending? She doesn’t look like a business person.”
Meaning no tattoos or teal hair? Peg didn’t miss a beat. “A potential investor for my new company has asked to meet with us. Samuel is my advisor, and Derek is my attorney.”
“You own a company? Like the other woman?” the blonde asked. What was her name? Cricket? Who the hell named their child after a bug?
“Samantha? Yes, like her. Only a little different. I own The Tattooed Barista. It’s a mobile coffee business.”
“You didn’t get the tattoos just for the business, did you? That would seem a little extreme,” Pamela, Derek’s society intended, inquired, her delicate nose scrunching up ever so slightly.
Peg laughed at the absurd question. “No. I’ve had tattoos since I was sixteen.”
And that silenced them all, enough that the awkwardness became almost intolerable. Derek’s mother cleared her throat. “I believe then that we should go so you can make it to your meeting. Peggy, I’ll get your card from Derek and be in touch. If you’re marrying my son, I’d like to get to know you and help you… plan. Help you and your mother plan, that is.”
Oh. Joy. Peg started to say something, to correct Pauline, but chose to let it go. There wasn’t going to be any wedding, so there was no need to get into her family history. “Great.” Why didn’t she ask for a card directly from Peg? Why did she think she had to go through Derek?
Derek stepped away from Peg and she smiled at the stiff hugs that were exchanged between mothers and sons and the unfeeling little finger waves as they all exited the office, their heads close together in heated conversation. Peg could only imagine what they were twittering on about.
“Thank God, that’s over,” Derek said, slumping down in a chair across from Samuel’s desk and loosening his tie.
He was so gorgeous with his espresso colored eyes and his midnight black hair. He was taller than her, even in the heels she wore and she’d always been a sucker for guys who were taller. Then there was the little bit of skin he showed as he unbuttoned the top two buttons of his dress shirt that made her lick her lips. He would be a huge distraction if things were allowed to progress outside what had happened in the office. She couldn’t let that happen. No matter how much she wanted to drop to her knees and crawl between his and lick that spot on his throat that he’d revealed. No matter how much she wanted to undo each and every button on his shirt so she could lick and kiss and taste his skin from his chest to his belly.
No. No matter what. She couldn’t let that happen. Instead… “Yes, thank God, that’s over,” Peg agreed. She motioned with her hand. “Time to pay up.”
Derek looked up at her, those dark eyes raking her from head to toe much as she’d been doing to him. She never felt self conscious with a man before, but something in the way he appraised her, made her feel that way along with aroused and hungry. He was out of her league. It was just that simple.
“I know. What say we meet for dinner around seven?”
The man was out of his mind. “I’m not going to dinner with you.”
“Why not?” He also seemed genuinely shocked that she’d say no.
“Because that wasn’t part of the deal.”
“I’d like to take you out as a thank you.”
“What are you thanking me for? Not killing you in front of your mother and her friends? Because I can tell you that you came very close to dying with that little fiancé stunt.”
For the first time, he looked uncertain and she wasn’t sure she liked that look on him. “I’m sorry about that. It was all I could come up with.”
“Really? That’s all? You’re a lawyer, right? You can’t lie better than that when put on the spot?” Peg shook her head. “Your poor clients.”
“Hey, now. You don’t know me. You don’t know that I can’t lie better in a more normal situation. One that doesn’t involve my mother walking in with a woman she would like me to marry. You don’t know that I can lie convincingly at all. So, don’t go making judgements.”
Samuel chuckled and Peg scrunched up her face as she tried to figure out exactly what Derek had just said.“Is that who she was? Your hopeful fiancé? I thought she was a friend.”
“Once upon a time in fourth grade maybe. Today was the first time I’ve seen her in years.”
“Either way. You owe me and I don’t want to have to have dinner with you. Samuel? You’re welcome to chime in any time now. He’s your friend.”
Samuel finally let out a full laugh. “Why would I jump into the middle of this? It’s entertaining for me.”
“Samantha wouldn’t like you just sitting there while I’m being thrown under the bus.”
“No, she wouldn’t. But she’s not here. You handled yourself just fine, Peg. Derek handled himself like a coward.”
Derek not so discreetly gave Samuel the middle finger. “You took Samantha to meet the lioness in her den knowing exactly what you were walking into, what you were walking Samantha into, and didn’t bother to tell her.”
“Yep, and she was strong and beautiful and for every bite my mother tried to take out of her, Samantha bit back.”
“See? Coward.” Derek sounded pleased with himself.
“You two are pathetic. Are you sure you’re not still in college?”
“When dealing with the women who were just here, yes, we are pathetic cowards,” Derek confirmed. “So, dinner?” Derek stated, his tone serious. “Tower of the America’s? Chart House? I’ll see you at seven.”