Until He Met Meg(5)

By: Sami Lee

Bryce twisted his lips. ‘But how to do you get experience without a job?’

‘Exactly.’ She smiled at their shared understanding. Bryce felt a camaraderie settle between them, as disrupting to his ability to speak as the sight of her sweetly curved lips. Her smile completely lacked artifice. In his experience smiles were so often born of pretence, and Bryce was taken aback by Meg’s genuine grin and its impact on his blood pressure.

Suddenly, he could find no words to continue the conversation and a strange sense of alarm rose in his chest.

He needn’t have worried. Meg Lacy had no such difficulty with easy banter. She tilted her head to the papers he’d left, once again ignored, in his lap. ‘So, what do you do? Are you a stockbroker?’

Her blonde brows were hiked ever so slightly over her sparkling grey-blue eyes, her rosebud of a mouth still upturned in that amiable smile. ‘Of a sort.’ Bryce dragged his gaze away from the distracting appeal of her lips. ‘I’m the CEO of DCA.’ At her blank expression he elucidated. ‘Drake, Carlton and Associates. It’s a wealth management firm.’

The second largest in the country, and on track to take out the lead position within five years, Bryce thought with some pride. His decision to merge the medium-sized company left to him by his father with the larger organisation, Drake Incorporated, had been a smart one. All his father’s dreams were finally being realized.

‘Wealth management?’

She spoke as though the term was entirely alien to her. ‘It’s a growing market. More and more people are beginning to see the benefit in having their assets professionally managed. People are living longer so they need more to provide for their retirement…’ He trailed off as he realised that now he was rambling, and probably boring her out of her wits. He’d never rambled in his life.

‘It sounds interesting.’

That was another new experience — being patronised. He stiffened. ‘I think so.’

‘I meant it,’ she insisted. ‘Did you think I didn’t mean it?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ But for some reason it did. People were always pandering to him, telling him what they thought he wanted to hear. For a moment he’d found his companion’s forthrightness refreshing.

‘Somehow I’ve offended you. I didn’t meant to. You seem like such a nice man.’

Bryce was so surprised he couldn’t respond. No one had ever called him nice before. Sensible, dependable, trustworthy — but never nice. Certainly his ex-wife Isabelle had never used such a word to describe him, or many charitable words at all, at least not after the first year of their six-year marriage. Cold, unfeeling, neglectful. Those were more her words of choice.

‘You know what?’ Meg said suddenly. ‘I bet you are a nice man, underneath this imposing exterior of yours. I can tell.’

‘Don’t be so sure.’ Her determination to think well of him made him uncomfortable. He didn’t deserve it. He’d been a terrible husband, that much Isabelle had been right about. As an ex-husband he wasn’t much better, given that he could barely stand to be in the same room as his child’s mother for more than a minute. And as a father… well, he had a daughter who had nannies running scared in droves. Enough said.

All he could cling to was the knowledge that as a son he was at least doing what had been expected of him. Running the business that was the legacy left to him by his father was a much easier undertaking than running his personal life. Since his divorce, he’d found it less complicated simply not to have a personal life.

The cab travelled forward through the driving downpour for several silent minutes. The rain beat against the car, turning the windows to sheets of opaque grey that enclosed them in an unnerving intimacy. Dwelling on his own thoughts, Bryce lost track of time until the cab turned into his quiet avenue.

He instructed the driver to park in the driveway of his tri-level, cream stucco home. Architecturally designed in the 1970s, the house had been bought by his father soon after, when Carlton and Associates had started showing substantial, consistent profits. Save for a brief period while he’d been at university, Bryce had lived here all his life. It would always be home to him, and none of Isabelle’s many complaints that the five-bedroom, three-bathroom house was too small to host any sizeable parties had prompted him to move. He always felt a sense of peace and serenity returning here after a day at the office, but he’d never felt the kind of wonder that he saw come over Meg as she stared at his home.

‘Wow,’ she breathed at last. ‘This is your place?’

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