He presses the call button for the elevator. "It's not bullshit. I'm hurt that you think that's what it is."
I sense the grin on his handsome face before I see it. "Why am I even here? You could have offered me the job on the phone."
"You always say no when I ask you on the phone."
"That's because I'm never going to work for you." I push the call button again. "Is the elevator broken again?"
"It looks that way." He gestures towards a door a few feet from us. "You can take the stairs or you can wait until they fix it."
"I have a lot to do today. I can do the stairs."
I follow him through the doorway into a long and narrow hallway. "Do you want me to walk down with you?" He raises a brow.
"I'll be fine." I reach to open the door to the stairway but it doesn't budge. "Is this broken too? You'd think a building on Park Avenue would have a better maintenance man."
"The door is fine." He grabs hold of the door handle and gives it a quick twist. He swings it open effortlessly. "You're sure you don't want me to walk down with you?"
"Of course not." I brush past him into the stairwell. "Promise me you're not going to keep calling me for nothing. I have important things going on in my life right now."
"More important than me?" He swings his arms in the air as he walks into the small space. "Don't try and tell me that our friendship doesn't mean everything to you, Rowan."
"It doesn't." l laugh as I look up at him. "You know that it doesn't."
"You've broken my heart." He pulls both hands to his chest as he takes a heavy step back. "You can hear it breaking, can't you?"
I turn towards the concrete stairs. "I came here for nothing. I need to get back to work."
"Wait." He pulls lightly on the side of my skirt. "There is something I need to tell you."
I roll my eyes. "Why do you insist on wasting my time? It's just a game to you. You're lucky my boss doesn't care when I leave in the middle of the day."
"This isn't a game." He swallows hard. "I do need to tell you something. I have to tell you something. I just don't know how to."
I've known Caleb Foster my entire life. I know the instant when something is wrong. A sudden darkness has overtaken his face. It's not just the lighting in this dim and musty stairwell.
"Row." His jaw tightens. "I'm sorry, Rowan. I can't believe I have to tell you this."
"Tell me what?" I grab onto the lapel of his suit jacket. "Just tell me. You're scaring me now."
His hands clench at his sides. His lips move faintly but nothing comes out.
"Caleb, tell me."
He cups his fingers around my chin and looks directly into my eyes. "Promise me you'll still be my friend when I tell you. Promise me you won't stop talking to me."
"I promise," I whisper softly. "I'll always be your friend."
"You're the only person I can tell this to. You're the only person who'll understand," he starts before he pauses to draw in a deep breath.
I feel my face heating. I know that the words that he's about to say to me are going to impact me deeply. I see it in his expression and I feel it in his touch. I don't like being this close to him. I've learned skillfully how to avoid being alone with him. He makes me feel things I don't want to acknowledge. I may be able to convince him that he's just a good friend when we're sitting in a room filled with others, or when there's a desk between us. When we're like this, alone, without the welcome barrier of other people or things, I feel vulnerable and exposed.
I lick my bottom lip. I want to say something that will coax the truth out of him. The tone of his voice gave absolutely nothing away when he called me earlier. He didn't sound panicked. There was no urgency woven into his words. He simply and directly told me he needed me and I came. I always come when Caleb needs me and he's never failed to race to me if I need him.
His brow furrows slightly as he stares at my lips. His own tongue darts out and for the briefest of moments I wonder if he's about to lean down to swipe his full lips over mine. He shakes his head slightly before he tips his head back to look at the grey painted ceiling of the stairwell.
"Just tell me," I whisper. "What is it? Did you do something?"
"I was pushed into a corner," he pauses as his hand drops to his side. "He didn't leave me a choice."
My eyes fall to the floor. I brace myself for what I know is coming next. I don't know why I didn't see the freight train that is Caleb's completely dysfunctional family barreling down the track right towards me. The brothers haven't gotten into an argument in weeks. That's what this is about. It has to be. "It's Asher, isn't it? Is he alright?"
"He's fine," he says through a heavy sigh. "Give me a minute to explain and I'll…"
My stomach twists into a tight knot as I brush past him to reach for the handrail. "What happened? What did you do to him? Is he at the office?"