Book Lovers by Emily Henry

            He can’t be much past his midthirties, with the kind of face you might describe as boyish, if not for how tired he looks and the gray that thoroughly peppers his black hair.

            Also, he’s scowling. Or pouting. His mouth is pouting. His forehead is scowling. Powling.

            He glances at his watch.

            Not a good sign. Right before I left the office, my boss, Amy, warned me Charlie is famously testy, but I wasn’t worried. I’m always punctual.

            Except when I’m getting dumped over the phone. Then I’m six and a half minutes late, apparently.

            “Hi!” I stick out my palm to shake his as I approach. “Nora Stephens. So nice to meet you in person, finally.”

            He stands, his chair scraping over the floor. His black clothes, dark features, and general demeanor have the approximate effect on the room of a black hole, sucking all the light out of it and swallowing it entirely.

            Most people wear black as a form of lazy professionalism, but he makes it look like a capital-c Choice, the combination of his relaxed merino sweater, trousers, and brogues giving him the air of a celebrity caught on the street by a paparazzo. I catch myself calculating how many American dollars he’s wearing. Libby calls it my “disturbing middle-class party trick,” but really it’s just that I love pretty things and often online window-shop to self-soothe after a stressful day.

            I’d put Charlie’s outfit at somewhere between eight hundred and a thousand. Right in the range of mine, frankly, though everything I’m wearing except my shoes was purchased secondhand.

            He examines my outstretched palm for two long seconds before shaking it. “You’re late.” He sits without bothering to meet my gaze.

            Is there anything worse than a man who thinks he’s above the laws of the social contract just because he was born with a decent face and a fat wallet? Grant has burned through my daily tolerance for self-important asshats. Still, I have to play this game, for my authors’ sakes.

            “I know,” I say, beaming apologetically but not actually apologizing. “Thank you for waiting for me. My train got stopped on the tracks. You know how it is.”

            His eyes lift to mine. They look darker now, so dark I’m not sure there are irises around those pupils. His expression says he does not know how it is, re: trains stopping on the tracks for reasons both grisly and mundane.

            Probably, he doesn’t take the subway.

            Probably, he goes everywhere in a shiny black limo, or a Gothic carriage pulled by a team of Clydesdales.

            I shuck off my blazer (herringbone, Isabel Marant) and take the seat across from him. “Have you ordered?”

            “No,” he says. Nothing else.

            My hopes sink lower.

            We’d scheduled this get-to-know-you lunch weeks ago. But last Friday, I’d sent him a new manuscript from one of my oldest clients, Dusty Fielding. Now I’m second-guessing whether I could subject one of my authors to this man.

            I pick up my menu. “They have a goat cheese salad that’s phenomenal.”

            Charlie closes his menu and regards me. “Before we go any further,” he says, thick black brows furrowing, his voice low and innately hoarse, “I should just tell you, I found Fielding’s new book unreadable.”

            My jaw drops. I’m not sure what to say. For one thing, I hadn’t planned on bringing the book up. If Charlie wanted to reject it, he could’ve just done so in an email. And without using the word unreadable.