Sure Thing(16)


by Jana Aston

“I’m going to be honest with you, Jennings.”

“Please,” he agrees, the hint of a smirk on his cheek.

I might as well be honest, since I’m lying to him about almost everything else. “Oh, by the way, I love carrot cake,” I add as an afterthought. Daisy hates it—says carrots should only be consumed when dipped into ranch dressing.

“Carrot cake.” He nods. “Noted. Thank you for being honest about that. It must have been quite difficult for you. Dicey topic and all.”

“Hush, that was just a side note,” I say, waving my hand. “I’m going to tell you something else.”

“Please. I’m fascinated.”

“I want to have a career and a family and sometimes I’m afraid I’m going to wake up at forty with neither.” I glance in his direction. “No offense.”

“Very well.” He nods with that same smirk on his face. “None taken.”

“You’re a man so you have more time,” I point out. “I’m sure it’ll work out for you. I mean, assuming you want those things.”

“The compliments just keep coming with you, don’t they, love?”

“I just meant everyone has their own life path, you know? It’s okay to be a free spirit. My sister is a free spirit. It works for some people, I’m just not one of them.”

“Sure enough,” he agrees. “So you think you’re running out of time? Your biological clock is ticking, is it?”

“Oh!” I laugh. “No, not yet. Not ticking. I want to re-establish my career first. But I can see the clock, you know? I can’t hear it ticking, but I’m aware that it’s there. That it might need a battery at some point.” I shrug before continuing. “It turns out that I’ve wasted the last couple of years and now I’m starting over. Which is fine, it just feels like the starting line got pushed back, that’s all.”

“Well, then,” he says quietly. He looks pensive and I wonder if I really have just ensured I won’t be coming again this week, which was so not my goal.

“No, I don’t wish I could start over,” he says after a moment. He slides his arm behind my headrest and leans in. “I’m good. I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. As are you.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Jennings

I am exactly where I’m meant to be. If I’d settled down earlier I wouldn’t know how Daisy sounds when she comes. What she feels like wrapped around my cock. What she tastes like on my tongue. And not knowing those things? That’s what regret would feel like.

Do I wish I’d settled down in my twenties and filled a nursery? Fuck no. I’ve still got time for all that. I’m youngish, loads of time. So what if I’ve worked hard and put family off? I’ve never questioned it before, yet suddenly this woman has me thinking. This woman who thinks I’m a free-spirited playboy with a dodgy career.

I might be guilty of one of those things. It’s not as if I’ve ever had issues finding a woman to spend time with. But my career is solid—ten thousand employees rely on my career being solid—and I’m far from a free spirit. A structured workaholic is more like it. To a fault.

My parents had me just out of university, before my dad finished his legal training. Too young to my way of thinking. I was in short trousers by the time he qualified as a solicitor. A picture of me in one arm and his new practicing certificate in the other has been on his desk as long as I can remember. I used to look at it and think how exhausting it must have been to have a toddler at that stage in his life.

My mum must have agreed, because it was too much for her. The one who gave birth to me, not the one who raised me. My birth mum was gone before I was out of nappies. “She was too young to settle down,” my dad would say when I asked about her, skipping over the fact that he was the same age. “She needed time to find herself.” She found herself in Scotland, as it turned out. Married a Scotsman and had a couple of babies. Perhaps she was ready by then, as my half-sisters are both well over a decade younger than I am.

We did okay though by all accounts. Dad and I on our own. And then he met Elouise and she stepped in and became Mum. I’m not sure I remember a time before her. It’s her I see in my childhood photos, a huge grin on her face as we posed in front of one tourist spot or another. Her soothing words I remember when I scraped my knee or broke a bone or lost a game. She’s the only mum I’ve known and I’m okay with that. She really loves my dad. Must do, to have been so willing to accept me along with him.

So do I want a family of my own? Of course I do. Who doesn’t? And having a family business does sort of require a family to pass it along to, doesn’t it? Not that I don’t have cousins who can take care of that. But I’ve got plenty of time. Loads.

No need to rush.

Daisy’s got plans. Timelines. Goals. I’m a planner too—in business if not my personal life. It occurs to me now that I’ll be forty in four years and this moment is the first time I’ve given it a second thought. Why has this girl who was supposed to be a one-off suddenly got me questioning my goals? I’d like to blame the memory of her on her knees with my cock in her mouth for my temporary insanity, but the truth is she’s hypnotized me since the moment she gave me that shy smile at the hotel bar and then glanced away three seconds later. She’s captured my attention more than I care to admit.

“I own a home,” I tell her, and dammit if I don’t sound a little sullen even to my own ears.

“You do?” She looks surprised. Likely because she thinks I’m some sort of jobless tosser living on contributions from my nan. I do own a home—a huge pile in one of the most expensive districts in London, bought for investment and location purposes as opposed to any actual need for it. I use one of the six bedrooms and bathrooms. I’ve never even sat in the formal dining room, choosing instead to eat at a stool at the kitchen island. The entire place could use a renovation but I’ve been loath to proceed. Loath because the space was more than I needed and I didn’t want to bother customizing it for myself. I didn’t see the need when I didn’t have a family to fill it—a family there’d be plenty of time to have. Later.

“Yeah.” I wave it off. “It’s a fixer-upper.” A fixer-upper with a current value of twelve million pounds. I paid under ten for it less than three years ago, but that’s London for you. “Historic properties, you know how it is,” I add so I don’t sound like I’m living in a heap. I sound like a right wanker instead.

“Oh! I love old buildings!” Her entire face lights up at the mention. “I majored in urban planning but my focus was on honoring historic preservation while incorporating modern design. I’d have died to do an internship in Europe but I couldn’t afford a semester overseas.” She sighs before continuing. “Whenever I see an old building in disrepair I imagine what it must have looked like when it was built. And then I immediately envision its potential in today’s age.” She’s talking with her hands and she pauses with one hand in front of her as if she’s picturing a particularly enticing old pile of bricks. “What it would look like restored and how we’d use the space today. You’re so lucky to live in a country with such a rich architectural history,” she gushes. “When I see pictures of old European castles my mind races with ways to incorporate an HVAC system and how I’d retrofit bathrooms into the design. How I’d integrate a kitchen suitable for today with materials honoring the past.” She sighs again when she’s finished talking, a little smile on her lips as she daydreams about turning a dungeon into a wine cellar or some nonsense.

“So you’re a designer? When you’re not running tours?” I say because no, I’ve got no vision for piles of old rubble. When I see an old building, all I see are drafts and a bevy of maintenance costs. Issues with building regulations and delays on planning permission.

She snaps her mouth shut and flushes and it occurs to me that I might be coming across like a dick. Which wouldn’t normally bother me, but I find that it does when it comes to Daisy. Her opinion matters to me more than it should. I can’t figure her out—she glows when she talks design, and looks nothing short of uncomfortable when leading this tour. So why is she wasting her time on this job? Has she been unable to find employment in her chosen field? She must be several years out of university. It doesn’t add up. She doesn’t add up, yet with every word out of her mouth all I want to know is more. Anything more. Everything more.

She bites her lip and closes her eyes briefly before opening them again only to glance away. “I had a job in design, but the company was sold and my job was eliminated. It was mostly CAD work anyway, drafting the designs and schematics for the project managers. I didn’t get to do much creatively.”

“So you’re working as a tour guide until something else comes up?” I ask. But that can’t be right. She said she’s worked at Sutton Travel for years. How was she doing this while also working at the design company that went under? The guide positions are by contract, meaning they work when they want to and based on tour schedules. But it still doesn’t make sense.