Hi! So many of my readers have requested a look inside our favorite Capricorn's mind, so I decided to have a little fun with Pres' POV in the trivia scene. Just like Rach & Pres, who doesn't love a little teasing? So be warned that it ends on a cliffhanger (aka, I plan to add more at a later date when I'm not plugging away on Sable's book). Enjoy, have fun, and if you liked it, let me know. 💖
The report that said everyone disliked me wasn’t wrong. I’d personally overseen the data collection process and reviewed the report before it was finalized. I’d written the methodologies section myself.
So of course it wasn’t wrong.
That not being a surprise was also not a surprise because I’d spent a majority of my adult life ensuring I wouldn’t be surprised.
But there was nothing foolproof about Rach Montgomery.
There were no plans prepared to help me navigate her asking me to join her on a double date with her ex because, apparently, she still cared what he thought.
Obviously, I had all the data points to prove this would be a massive mistake.
I’d known it would be a mistake immediately after she’d left my office, humming happily under her breath.
Of course, I needed proof for my assumption.
The first data point was discovered as soon as I googled the guy.
She’d mentioned the restaurant he worked at during a game of Truth Chicken, rolling her eyes when I’d asked. At the time, I’d had a headache and hadn’t done much looking into it because she hadn’t seemed very interested in talking about it anyway.
“Such a waste of a question,” she’d teased. “I can barely pronounce the name. It’s one of those fancy-schmancy places, you know? You’ve probably been tons.”
I had not.
But online it did look like a pretty nice place.
So I quickly found the man’s position, cross referenced that with the approximate average chef’s career trajectory and compared that to where he was, and then slammed my laptop shut.
Data point one: her ex appeared to have actual talent.
Under the current circumstances, this was not ideal.
The current circumstances being I was very much intrigued by Rach.
And for some reason that I couldn’t yet explain to myself, my curiosity about her was manifesting in inappropriate emails about creamed corn and the inability to focus whenever she walked into a room.
Somehow, in just a few short weeks, my incredibly infuriating, absolutely fascinating assistant had burrowed her way into all facets of my life. Even my spotless desk was affected by her presence, her atrocious cat mug just a hand’s distance away.
So when she’d asked me for a drink after work, I’d foolishly agreed. Of course I wanted to get a drink with her, listen to her talk, laugh, tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear, figure out the perfect combination of words to make her smile behind a curved palm.
And I didn’t want her fucking ex-boyfriend there.
Which led me to data point two—
“So in conclusion, I think what we found does represent a significant…”
I glanced up at Olivia as she stumbled her way through her presentation.
Had she been talking the entire time?
“You need to work on your confidence,” I said and reopened my laptop to show her my screen. “Have you ever dined here?”
She looked down at her notes like the answer would somehow magically appear in front of her.
“Um, uh, I don’t know?”
I sighed heavily.
My team was useless.
“Can you go right now and eat there then?”
She blinked a few times. “You want me to get food at that restaurant right now?”
I nodded and slid my personal credit card across my desk. “Yes, I’d like you to order every item on the menu then report back on the atmosphere and cuisine. You should take notes.”
Getting lunch didn’t seem like a difficult task to me, but a flash of concern appeared on Olivia’s face.
“You can bring a friend if going alone is your concern,” I added, feeling slightly guilty for threatening to fire her a few weeks ago over an Instagram post.
Yet another way Rach had affected my life, stepping in when I’d argued that the photo of us in my kitchen had been completely unacceptable for public consumption.
Except she hadn’t seen it that way.
“It’s just a photo, Pres,” Rach had said, words that stuck with me even after I’d ran nine miles that night and contemplated deleting it each quarter mile.
It hadn’t been “just a photo.”
It was damning evidence that I was losing my mind, standing too close to her, making stupid puns about can openers just to make her laugh, and seeing things that weren’t there.
She’d said it time and time again — she’d only agreed to this fake dating arrangement so I’d connect her with a better job after I announced my candidacy.
Olivia interrupted my thoughts again, “And this is … research?”
“I wouldn’t ask you to take notes if it wasn’t,” I said, nodding to my office door. “I look forward to reading them. Oh, and this is obviously confidential. You can leave now. Thank you.”
She left, visibly relieved, and I immediately turned back to my research.
A light knock on my door interrupted me.
I sighed again, wondering if my team would ever just leave me alone for once—
“Hey, sorry, I’ll be out in two jiffies,” Rach said, her smile so bright it nearly gave me a headache.
I closed my laptop gently this time and leaned back in my chair, watching her sit down my mail on my desk. I barely had time to read the peer-reviewed political science journals she'd leave since I rarely had free time for fun. At some point, I really needed to tell Rach she didn't need to hand deliver them or interrupt me with her silly words or radiant smiles or shirts with little lemon prints.
Instead, I found myself asking her, “Specifically, what measurement of time is a jiffy?”
She laughed, this beautiful sound that would replay over and over in my head until it would feel imperative that I hear it again straight from the source. The phenomenon was absolutely maddening.
“I don't know, I just made it up. It sounds fun and fast though, right? See you later tonight,” she said, giving me a little wave as she bounced out of my office.
My number one goal, always, was to win.
But when Rach was around, my goals shifted immediately, chaotically, and veered right into the unreasonable — my only focus suddenly on wanting to make her laugh, to make her smile. And I really, really wanted to fucking kiss her.
Data point two.
I was a goner.
“In theory, Sable,” I said, taking a deep drag on my cigarette before repeating myself again. “In theory, if I wanted to look more down-to-earth, what would you suggest? You know suits don’t always resonate in all situations. There’s a reason Jimmy Carter was always seen in sweaters during his campaign.”
“Pres, I don’t think anyone is going to look at you and think you’re the next Jimmy Carter,” Sable said flatly. “You dress fine, that’s the least of my concerns.”
I scoffed. “Oh, I’m sorry, would you rather list your other concerns?”
“I don’t really have time for that right now, but we can schedule a call for later, if you’d like.”
“I wouldn’t actually. Does that make the list?”
“Why are you really calling me, Pres?”
I glanced at the ashtray that had magically appeared on my terrace weeks ago. Rach, of course.
“What about,” I paused to strategize internally. Sable was one of the few people I knew who was actually good at their job, which meant I couldn’t just directly ask her advice, “to seem more relatable? Let’s walk through a scenario.”
“So theoretically, I’m at a place that serves beer, such as a brewery—”
“Why? We don’t have any events like that on your calendar.”
“Just pretend,” I snapped. “And I want to make a good impression. So there is beer and … people are there.”
“Oh, people are there? In the place that serves beer. Wow, this is riveting. Fine, you wear jeans, a nice shirt, and a cool jacket.”
I could select the perfect suit jacket for any occasion, professional or formal, at any point in time.
But I didn’t know if I owned a “cool” jacket.
Sable groaned at my silence. “Just send me a picture of your closet. You do own jeans, right?”
“Of course I do,” I said, taking another drag on my cigarette, needing all the nicotine I could get. “Have you ever dated a chef?”
“Is this question related to your others?”
She didn’t believe me, but Sable and I worked well together because it was understood that we didn’t always tell each other the truth. Like she didn’t tell me that she sometimes used my last name to get into nice restaurants in DC, and I had no plans to inform her that I’d agreed to an unsanctioned double date that had the chance to mess up everything we were working toward.
I’d run the scenario in my head countless times, and yet every time I got to the part where Rach and JD smiled at each other across from a table, hinted at a spark, I couldn’t finish the simulation.
“Well, if I found the free time to actually go on a date instead of having phone calls like this with you, no, I don’t think so,” Sable said. “Chefs are kind of cocky. And if they’re any good, they’re probably stressed as fuck, too. I don’t really need that drama in my life.”
I considered her answer carefully.
Cocky and stressed.
I was cocky and stressed.
Why did Rach need to go through the effort of meeting up with her ex at a Chinese food place the one day she had off and then want to get a drink with him under some ruse to impress him when she already had unrestricted access to someone who was cocky and stressed?
“Wait, Pres, you aren’t … you can’t date someone if you’re pretending to date Rach,” Sable said quickly. “Are you going on a date? You have to tell me.”
“No you aren’t telling me or no you aren’t going on a date?”
I hung up on her before she asked me any other frustrating questions, grumbling, “It’s not a date.”
Data point three this was a massive mistake: There has been no date in the history of the world recorded where the woman basically tells the man that he needs to get a “real girlfriend” and that interaction concludes happily for the man who can’t take his eyes off of the aforementioned woman. Never.
“I’m just saying, getting a real girlfriend doesn’t have to be complicated for you,” Rach said with a laugh as I stared at her, unable to understand how she’d reached this conclusion. “You’re a great problem solver.”
“I’m busy. I don’t have time.”
She laughed again and shrugged, her peppermint-scented hair spilling over her shoulders in a very distracting way.
“You have nights like tonight—”
Was she completely unaware that I was with her tonight?
“I have you,” I reminded her, suppressing the urge to tell her that she also had me.
All she had to do was ask.
“Well, yeah, you’re stuck with me now. But after—”
I didn’t want to think about after.
I was excellent at future modeling, and yet, every time I thought about our arrangement ending, I couldn’t find a way to agree with the outcome. I was supposed to be objective, just focus on facts, but there was something about Rach disappearing from my life that didn’t sit well with me.
And I hated that she thought I was stuck with her. The negative connotation of the word confused me — as if it were possible that being around her could be a bad thing.
Who had told her that she wasn’t worth someone’s time? Who had led her to falsely believe that anyone wouldn’t want to always be by her side?
I reached out, wanting to touch her hand, to tell her this, but then I remembered why we were really here.
She hadn’t invited me out for a drink.
She’d invited James Prescott St. Clair IV out to impress her ex-boyfriend on a double date.
So instead, I adjusted the menu in front of me to buy myself time to find the right words, “I’m not stuck with you. You know what I want. In meetings. In conversations. Or, like, this. So I have a hard time following why I need someone else. When I have … you.”
Just like how I was losing in our long-running game of Truth Chicken, I had to yield to her surprised gaze, looking away before I did anything else to possibly jeopardize our arrangement.
So I glanced at the entrance and wished JD or JP or PJ or whotthefuckever would have some sort of chef emergency and not walk through those doors.
Instead, he did.
Some loser with a stupid face would be my technical assessment.
Of course I knew what he looked like, even if he hadn’t updated his profile picture in a few months, assumedly too busy being a terrible boyfriend and hopefully subpar chef.
Based on all the information I’d gathered before this moment, before I’d locked eyes with Rach's radiant face in a crowded brewery, she didn’t hold any ill will to the guy who had somehow dumped her. Why did they want to go on a double date in the first place? What if he’d never broken up with her? Would she still be with him?
I faced her, ignoring JD who was looking around like it was so hard to spot us in the back corner.
He could figure it out himself, I wasn’t a map service.
Instead, I took Rach’s hand.
“Are you nervous?”
“We’re good at this. We’re a total power couple,” she replied, her lips forming a little teasing smile she was so fond of that made me weak and, inexplicably, want to run my lips across her neck.
“You look incredible, Rach. I don’t say that enough.”
As she mumbled something about jeans that I didn’t quite understand, I glanced back to JD, wondering where his date was.
A horrifying thought crossed my mind: Rach believed the best in people no matter what. It was both an irritating and endearing quality. But in this scenario, if her scummy ex had asked her out on a date, it was highly probable that he was asking only her out and she’d just assumed it was a double date.
The fury that hit me in the chest was unacceptable.
But since Sable would probably caution me that acting on it would be a PR disaster, I had to do the next best thing.
Play the game to win.
The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to decide if they’d blow everything up or give me everything I wanted: “Do you want me to kiss you?”
When her face flushed, gorgeous green eyes wide, and nodded, the pleasure that overtook me was almost indecent for a public place.
She had hit on me once before.
It was unclear why.
It was also unclear what would have happened if I had kissed her that night in the least sexual place in the world — an alley way with a dumpster in front of us. I found myself running the hypotheticals in my mind much too often. Would she have let me take her home? Would she have let me taste her, praise her, fuck her so hard that she’d forget all her awful puns and finally say something real to me?
Maybe she still liked this guy.
Fine, she was free to like whomever she wanted.
I’d just prefer it be me.
As JD approached, finally cracking the code of where we were seated in a room of less than 40 people, I turned to Rach and leaned in to finally claim what I wanted, to give her what she’d asked for all those weeks ago.
I may not have been likable, but I could be an obedient man with unlimited aspirations. And if Rach wanted me to kiss her, I’d give her that, everything, and maybe even more.
To be continued...