The Firstborn Prince

By: Virginia Nelson

“I think you need a better understanding of my brother and myself to do your job well,” Foster began. “And, although you’re the image consultant, I would like to give you some tips and tricks to really get under his skin.”

“I can’t get under his skin if he isn’t here,” she pointed out, leaning back when the waitstaff placed a plate in front of her.

“That’s scallops with caramelized cauliflower, in a caper-raisin emulsion,” Foster explained, gesturing to the dish. “I didn’t ask, but do you like seafood?”

She sipped her water again, trying to put as much consideration into her words as he seemed to put into his. Sadly, spending that much time thinking over every word just wasn’t her way, so she finally shrugged and snarked, “What would you do if I didn’t?”

His smile was slow, and he pointed at his own plate. “I would offer to trade you. I got the pork trio, just in case.”

“You like to think ahead, yet you invited me to lunch with your brother and didn’t manage to foresee him leaving the minute I entered the room.” She dipped a fork in the emulsion and tasted it. Flavor exploded on her tongue, and she barely resisted rolling her eyes back in pleasure. It was good, especially since she had skipped breakfast to research the Boyd brothers and their holdings a bit more. “This will do nicely, thank you,” she said.

“I anticipated him leaving,” Foster admitted. “I also anticipated that he wouldn’t take much note of you on the first encounter. Which is why the first few are going to be like this. He’s going to see you, preferably with me, at least four or five times, if I get my way.”

She furrowed her brow as she cut a scallop in half. “Care to explain why we’re doing that?”

“Sure,” he said agreeably. “But eat up while it’s hot. Scallops taste better right off the heat, in my opinion. They lose flavor as they cool.”

She didn’t point out that he was bossy and overbearing. She thought about his dog, and made the unsavory comparison to everyone in Foster Boyd’s life and the animal. He expected things to be there at his convenience, to wait for his precious attention. It was a common enough behavior, based on her experience with the super wealthy, but it grated on her nerves a little anyway.

A basic understanding of psychology was probably the most important skill for an image consultant to have, in Natalie’s experience, and she prided herself on being able to get a read on people pretty quickly. In the case of Foster Boyd, she wasn’t fully clear on his motivations, other than those he outright stated.

And he didn’t look at her as she would expect a client to. Then again, she could just as easily be projecting her own attraction onto him. Something about him hit all the right buttons for her. Self-defense required distance.

Recognizing her own behaviors and controlling them were two different things, sadly.

“They’re delicious. Please explain why we’re going to dangle me like— Oh,” she said, putting the pieces together rather quickly. “I’m bait. Attempting to intrigue him without shoving me in his face so he thinks being distracted by me is his own idea.”

Foster pointed his fork at her. “Bingo.”

“But if he knows what my job is, how will that work?”

“The next part is tricky. Eat up,” he suggested again.

Shoving her plate a bit away, she replaced her napkin on the table. “You’re stalling.”

“People who have eaten are generally in a better mood and more likely to cooperate,” he said. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking about who I was talking to and that you’d see through it that fast. My mistake.”

“Do you usually try to manipulate people over lunch?”

His smile was whiplash fast and charming as hell. “I don’t reserve my skills for just lunchtime.”

“Save it, Mr. Boyd,” she said.

He shook his head. “Foster.”

“Pardon me?” She put the napkin back in her lap and grabbed another forkful of the scallops. She hated to admit he was right, but he was. She wanted to eat them while they were still warm and buttery and perfect, a delicious counterpoint to the emulsion, which had a bite of sour, and the unexpected sweetness of the cauliflower.

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