A Case of the Mondays
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Part 1: Aria
“Seriously, what is up with these canapés?” Aria Romaine—Ari to her friends and you can keep the salad jokes to yourself—wrinkled her nose in disgust.
The cute guy with messy brown hair and a neatly-trimmed beard standing next to her raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”
She wasn’t really trying to strike up a conversation with the cute guy, but hey why not run with it. “These canapés. They taste like ass. You would think with all of the money that the Templeton-Grenvilles have, they could afford to hire a decent caterer.” Aria flicked the offending appetizer away and pointed to the rest of the spread. “They don’t even have the decency to have a decent quiche!”
“How indecent.” His smooth baritone voice held a hint of wry laughter.
“I know, right?” she said, warming to the topic. “Seriously, they could do so much better. Why, I hear that the Golden Dragon actually does catering. Dim sum for the new year. Now that would’ve been a good call. But no, they had to go with”—she held up a triangle square wrapped in phyllo dough—“this godforsaken abomination of spanakopita. Spanakopita should not be made with kale. It just shouldn’t.”
A chuckle. “I hear kale is in.”
“Well it can go right back out. Do I look like a woman who eats kale?”
His startling blue eyes slid up and down her form. She knew what he saw: a killer blonde and an even more killer little black dress. She’d heard ‘you should be a model’ enough times that she was sick of it. So she won the genetic lottery, that didn’t mean she had to make her looks a career. People needed to keep their noses out of her life. It was annoying. Worse, her looks opened up a whole other boatload of problems. Like the guys who expected her to go out with them because they desired her. She’d turned away more drinks and dates than she cared to think about. Not to mention that everyone assumed she lived on salads and water. She didn’t. Mostly because no one had ever made a salad that tasted as good as her mother’s lasagna.
“I wouldn’t presume to know what you eat.”
That response was a surprise. Most guys stammered and backed off the moment she brought up any food other than pizza. But Harry Potter Hair didn’t. “Well it sure as heck isn’t kale.”
“I will keep that in mind. So, what do you eat, Miss…”
And that was a clear invitation to exchange names if there ever was one. “Aria Romaine.”
“Romaine... like the lettuce?”
She rolled her eyes. “As if I haven’t heard that before.”
He had the decency to flush, the tips of his ears turning slightly pink. “Sorry.”
She waved it off.
“So you never answered my question. What do you eat?”
The dude was persistent; she gave him that. Polite and persistent. An unusual combination in her experience. “Not this. Otherwise I eat whatever’s cheap and easy. It’s not like I get paid enough to eat at the Four Seasons every night.” Or any night.
“Fair enough. What do you do for Templeton? Assuming you work here and aren’t here as a guest.”
“Not a guest. I’m a research librarian and all-around recluse.”
The assessing look was back. “I would not have pegged you as a librarian.”
“Very few people do. But I ask you, where do you think the whole trope of sexy librarian came from? Hello!” She motioned to her body. “Sexy librarian.” It was a trap. If he agreed, he was a dog. If he didn’t, he was an ass. She had yet to meet a straight man who didn’t fall for that one.
This time, his eyes didn’t leave her face, although they did crinkle at the corners like he’d spent a lot of time out in the sun or was older than his appearance indicated. “If I recall the cliché correctly, you’re supposed to be wearing glasses and have your hair in a bun.”
“I’m undercover.” Her glasses were safely at home next to her bed, and she rarely wore her hair in a bun, mostly because it took a whole field of bobby pins to hold the fine wavy strands in place.
He laughed, a full-bodied laugh that was unrestrained and utterly endearing. “You’re an interesting woman, Ms. Romaine.”
Part 2: Aria
And there was that lack of assumption again, which Aria was forced to admit did funny things to her insides. Funny things like make her heart flutter like a bird and cause her cheeks to heat embarrassingly. Time to tactfully change the subject and get back onto more familiar ground. “So what do you think about this spread?”
He looked down at the trays filled with finger foods. “I haven’t tried any.”
“Don’t. Save your appetite and taste buds for dessert. Even this caterer can’t mess up dessert. I hope.” She picked up what appeared to be a fried wonton and eyed it with trepidation. “I’m scared to see what new and disgusting surprises the chef filled this with.” She held it out to him.
He took the wonton in one long-fingered hand and popped it into his mouth. “Prunes,” he said with a grimace, swallowing as if he were attempting to stop himself from vomiting. “It’s been a day full of surprises, both good and bad. And before you ask, I haven’t made up my mind which one you are yet.”
“Are you flirting with me?” Aria liked to know what she was getting into. What the expectations were. Flirting was a whole different animal than friendly commiserating, and she’d learned the hard way that not everyone could tell the difference.
“I’m trying to. Whether or not I’m succeeding is entirely up to you.”
“Do you often come to corporate crushes to pick up women?”
“Considering I don’t get out much otherwise, would it shock you to find the answer is yes?”
Honesty. She liked that. “No, I get it. Dating is hard. Flirting is hard. Especially if you don’t have much of a life outside of work.”
“Which I most definitely do not.”
“Sorry. No offence, but that kind of sucks.”
“No offence taken. It’s a choice I’ve made.”
“Good on you for acknowledging that. So, Mister…”
“Rhys,” he said, emphasizing the long e so it sounded like Reese.
“So, Mr. Reese, what are you looking to gain with this awkward flirting of yours?”
“Other than a respite from what has been an otherwise boring evening, whatever you’re up for, honestly.”
“What am I up for?” she voiced aloud his unspoken query. “Good question. I like that you don’t beat around the bush. Maybe a date? Coffee? Movies?”
“If you’d be up to it, I’d like a date. Dinner, ideally. Possibly someplace with better food, although if you want to sit there and critique bad food places, I know of several.”
“Eat out a lot, huh?”
“More like eat takeout a lot. After all, I am a New Yorker.” Those blue eyes crinkled again. Definitely over thirty, maybe heading toward thirty-five, possibly even forty. “My mother’s been on my case to hire a personal chef; she fears for my arteries.” That told her something. This Reese guy had money. Personal chefs, like live-in nannies, were a status symbol. Wage-slaves like her could barely afford food, let alone hiring someone to prepare it. That told her that Reese was high-ranking… possibly a VP of something or maybe a department head. “She doesn’t want me to go the way of my grandfather: dead at forty-eight from a massive coronary.”
“Definitely don’t want to have a heart attack. I hear heart attacks are bad.”
“They’re not good. So, do you think you’d be up for having some non-heart-attack-inducing food that’s made of decent quality some night with me?”
“I could go for some real Greek or something Mediterranean.” She glared at the fake spanakopita and shook her head when she saw one of her coworkers pick up a piece and eat it with what appeared to be actual enjoyment.
“Say… Wednesday after work? Like, seven-ish?” He seemed adorably unsure. Like he was fourteen and not nearing forty.
“Maybe.” She needed to lay out a few ground rules first. “Unfortunately, I’ve got this policy that I don’t date guys whose full names I don’t know.” She didn’t. After Mike, Googling prospective boyfriends was a time honored tradition. One never knew what was hiding in their closets… like a wife and kids in Connecticut.
“Oh. I’m sorry.” His cheeks tinged with a hint of pink. “I figured you knew.”
“Why would I know? It’s not like you’re famous or anything.”
“Except that I am.” He said it without any hint of pride, just like it was a fact. The sky was blue, water was wet, and Reese was famous.
“You are?” She let all of the doubt she felt come through in her voice.
He scrubbed a hand through his hair, messing it up even more. “So... Rhys is my first name, not my last. Rhys Templeton-Grenville.”
A slow dawning horror spread through her like a slime mold. “You mean Templeton-Grenville as in the owners of the company?”
“Yes.” His tone was almost apologetic.
And right he should be. She’d been flirting with the owner of the company while insulting him in the same breath. Could this night get any worse? “Excuse me. I think I need a drink.”
Part 3: Aria
One drink was had. Then two. And then Aria lost count.
She vaguely remembered someone pouring her into a cab and handing the cab driver a fifty. She wasn’t too sure of that because she was too busy bopping along to Tunak Tunak Tun. She wasn’t sure how she managed to slur out her address, but apparently she did, because the next thing she remembered was the cab driver opening the door and helping her up the steps of the converted brownstone.
She leaned on the buzzer, unable and unwilling to even attempt to find her keys.
A few minutes later, a bleary-eyed Lucy opened the door. “If I didn’t know you were out, I would’ve never come down here. Stupid busted intercom.”
“Are you drunk?”
“Most definitely.” Her words were slurring.
“Are you going to puke?”
“Well, I don’t wanna…”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
Aria considered it for a moment. She’d stuck to vodka tonics and avoided shots like the plague. “I should be good. I’m only drunk ‘cause I didn’t eat.”
Lucy wrapped an arm around Aria’s waist and with a nod to the waiting cabbie started assisting her up the stairs to their apartment. “What kind of half-baked company do you work for that doesn’t offer food for its mandatory employee mixer?”
“There was s’posed to be food. But it was a lie. There were prunes in the wontons.”
“Sounds disgusting.” Aria couldn’t see Lucy’s grimace, but she could hear it.
“So you’re telling me that you basically had booze for dinner.”
“Yup.” Aria nodded a few times but stopped when it felt like her head was going to go flying. Yay drunkenness.
“Any particular reason why you only had booze for dinner?”
“Prunes in wontons. Kale spanakopita. Open bar. You do the math.”
“No, no. You misunderstand what I’m asking. Why booze? Why not juice or soda or even water? What made you decide that being falling down drunk was a good life choice tonight?”
“I insulted the buffet to the owner’s son. And then asked him out on a date. I am so fired. I figured drowning my sorrows was called for.”
“Did he say yes?”
“Yeah.” The nodding started back up again.
Lucy paused and stared up at her, her pixie-like features showing her disbelief. “So, let me get this straight. You dunked on the food. Baby boss boy hears you. And instead of tattling to mommy-kins agrees to go out with you.”
“Well, you’re definitely not getting fired for insulting the food. Getting laid? Now that’s a distinct possibility.”
Aria shook her head until she was dizzy. “Nope. I didn’t give him my number, and he didn’t get mine.”
“I think you meant you didn’t get his number. But you’re drunk so you get a pass.”
“Yup. So I’ll never see sexy Rhys again. And his sexy hair. So no sexy times for me.” That thought made her sad for some reason.