Hunter Cross adjusted his glasses, the ones he wore as seldom as possible but needed more often than he liked to admit. He pointedly kept his attention on his iPad and ignored the question altogether.
Hunter flipped between the two advertising proofs. Black watch on red background? Navy watch on gold background . . .
The iPad was snatched out of his hand.
“Are you listening?”
Hunter sighed and finally gave in to the inevitable, pulling his glasses off and fixing his gaze on the semi-irate blonde who’d been pacing around his office for the better part of the last half hour.
As far as employees went, Brit Robbins was one of Hunter’s best. His senior product manager was low-maintenance, efficient, and innovative in her proposed solutions. An excellent skill set, considering they were on the digital-operations team at Oxford, the country’s most popular men’s magazine.
As his best friend, however, she was spirited, fiercely loyal, and currently . . . demanding all of his attention.
“Sorry, what?” Hunter leaned back in his chair, knowing there was little chance of him getting back to work until she’d solved her problem. Which, best he could tell, was her irritation with the entire male population of New York City.
Brit sighed and plopped into his guest chair. “So, you weren’t listening.”
“Ahhh—” No good answer to that question, especially when it came from a woman.
“Never mind,” she said, setting the iPad she’d confiscated on the corner of his desk. “I should know better than to talk at you when you’re in the zone.”
He watched as she used the hairband around her wrist to pile her blond hair into a messy knot atop her head.
He’d known her long enough to know that she always started the day with her long hair down and perfectly styled, only to have it pulled back and out of her face by noon or so. Hunter didn’t know why she didn’t just start the day with her hair pulled back, but he’d asked once and gotten a disgusted eye roll. He chalked it up to one of the hazards of being best friends with a female.
“Sorry, but in my defense, it is two P.M. on a Friday,” he said, trying to reach for his iPad. “Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to be in a meeting with the design team?”
“Rescheduled,” she said, her voice distracted and a little bit . . . sad.
Damn. Friendship duty called. He leaned back. “Okay. Bring me up to speed. What’s the deal? Short version,” he added quickly.
She lifted a finger and waved it. “Nope. Do I ever short version you when you want to fill me in on every excruciating detail of the Yankees game?”
“You like the Yankees.”
“Um, no. Not really. I like the junk food and beer that usually come hand in hand with watching the Yankees. Crucial difference.”
“Do you want to tell me what’s making you pissy or not?”
“Lenny and I broke up.”
Ah. “Well, I did warn you about the hazards of dating someone named Lenny. . . .”
Her withering look silenced him. “Right. Too soon for that. What happened?”
“He dumped me,” she said. “Can you believe it? I mean, the guy lives next door to his mother, and she still makes him breakfast. And yet somehow I end up on the sad side of the breakup equation.”
“Oh, come on. You’re not actually brokenhearted over that dude. You guys dated for, what, a week?”
“A month. And, no, I didn’t think he was the one, it’s just . . . what is wrong with me?”
“Wait, I thought the question we were addressing was what was wrong with the men of New York?”
“Aha!” She pointed at him accusingly. “You were listening earlier.”
Hunter dragged his hands down his face and prayed for patience. “Brit. You know I’ve got your back. But if we’re going to talk in circles, can we do it after work when I can have a mammoth-sized beer in my hand?”
“Do what I do,” he said with a grin. “Don’t date unless you feel like it, and keep it casual.”
“Yeah, well, I do feel like it,” she said moodily. “But I don’t get to just snap my fingers like you when I’m in the mood. I’m not a six-foot dude with a six-figure bank account who can get anyone I want just by smiling.”
“You can too,” Hunter said emphatically.
And he meant it.
His feelings toward Brit had always been entirely platonic, but he wasn’t an idiot. This woman was one of the good ones, the type that any guy would be lucky to have. For starters, she was attractive. Very. Average height, but with curves in all the right places, blond hair, big old blue eyes. And a great smile. Which sounded clichéd only if you hadn’t seen Brit Robbins’s smile. The woman seemed to glow.
So yeah, any guy who didn’t get that, didn’t get her, was a moron. At least as far as Hunter was concerned.
“Um, my track record with men says otherwise,” she said.
“I don’t know why you keep putting yourself through this,” he said as gently as he could, considering he always felt out of his depth with this sort of talk.
“Um, because my eggs are rotting?” she said, waving a palm in the general area of her midsection.
Hunter winced. “Oh God. Never mind.”
She laughed. “I love that look you get on your face whenever forced to acknowledge that I am, in fact, female.”
“Oh, trust me,” he said emphatically, “I’m well aware that you’re female. This very conversation is irrefutable proof. You think any of the guys come in here demanding to discuss their latest relationship problems?”
She lifted her eyebrows in challenge. “You’re telling me that you and Nick didn’t talk about him and—”
“Nick doesn’t have eggs,” she pointed out pragmatically. “And Taylor’s are in fine working order, as evidenced by the fact that she wasn’t even trying to get pregnant and she got—”
“Wait, hold up. Are you dragging yourself through the putrid dating pool because you want a kid? Aren’t there other ways for that? Adoption, or—”
She held up a hand. “Yes. And if it comes to that, I’ll explore them. But I don’t just want the kid. I want the romantic part too.”
“Well. Quit dating guys named Lenny.”
Brit laughed, but then shook her head. “Their names aren’t the problem. I am. There’s something about me, something that’s . . .” She pursed her lips. “I dunno. It’s as though guys don’t see me like that.”
“Like what?” he asked, not at all sure he wanted to know.
“Girlfriend material. It’s like I’m locked in the perpetual friend zone.”
“You are not,” he said, checking his watch.
“Oh, really,” she said, crossing her arms. “What about you and me?”
He glanced up. “We’re different.”
“Because we’re . . .” Shit. He did not want to have this conversation. Ever. He and Brit simply were what they were. Friends. Good friends. Analyzing why they were the way they were would only complicate one of the best things in his life.
“My point is, you’ve never seen me as more than a friend. From the very beginning, I’ve only ever been BFF.”
“To be clear,” Hunter clarified, “I’ve never used that phrase. Most dudes don’t.”
“But am I wrong?”
“Well, it was the same for you,” he pointed out. “You labeled me as a friend too, but I don’t come to your office whining about it.”
“My office is smaller.”
He rubbed his forehead and grinned. “Could be conversations like this one. Believe it or not, guys do not love to talk about other dudes ad nauseam. Hell, half the time we don’t even like to talk at all.”
He was joking, but he was surprised to see his best friend taking him seriously, tapping her fingers thoughtfully against her jaw. “I do like to talk a lot. . . .”
Hunter got up and walked toward Brit, took her by the shoulders, and coaxed her to a standing position, then turned her around toward the door and shoved her playfully. “And any guy worth dating should like to listen to you talk. I do. Just not right now?”
“All right,” she muttered. “I should have known I wouldn’t get any help from one of you.”
“One of who?” he asked in a bemused voice, ushering her to the door.
She pointed at his crotch accusingly. “Someone with one of those.”
“Uh, can we not talk about my dick like it’s some sort of disease?” he asked with a wince.
Her finger lifted to point at his face. “Later. Later, I will get you drunk and make you explain to me what I’m doing wrong.”
“Fine. And I will continue to repeat the it’s not you it’s them line and tell you to be patient.”
She didn’t seem to hear him. Or at least chose to ignore him.
“I feel like I need a plan.” Her expression had turned speculative.
Hunter groaned. Brit’s plans were often . . . extensive. When they applied to her work tasks, he welcomed them. When they applied to her personal life, things tended to get complicated.
“Fine,” he said. “Go get a plan. Just promise me one thing.”
“Sure. What?” She looked up at him.
“Leave me out of it?” He grinned to soften the request.
She patted his cheek. “Sure. Of course.”
Brit turned and flounced down the hall, and Hunter shook his head. No way was she going to leave him out of it.
Best he could do was to go get some work done before whatever it was came roaring at him.