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Beautiful distraction, p.42
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.42

           J. C. Reed
 

  As if my words broke the ice, a hesitant smile replaced the wary curve of her lips. “You’re happy?”

  I nodded. “Happier than I’ve been in a long time.”

  “Then I’m happy too.”

  Ignoring the sudden lump in my throat, I began to recall my trip to Bellagio, omitting the sex agreement and steamy bits, so I mostly focused on the landscape and beautiful Italian views, the mansion, and Jett.

  “Shit, you’re fawning,” Sylvie said as I finally finished.

  “Am not.”

  Was I?

  “That’s what falling in love does to one.”

  I had been thinking the same, but to hear the truth coming from her mouth, full of conviction, scared me. Falling in love wasn’t meant to happen so fast…or so intensely.

  “I’m not in love.” My voice came out louder than intended. It was a lie. I could hear it, she could hear it. Heck, the whole world probably could.

  A few heads turned in our direction. Sylvie waved them to turn away before she focused back on me. Her blue eyes sliced into me with an unnerving intensity, and she leaned closer so no one would hear her. “Listen, darling, I’m sure Jett is a nice guy and all, but he’s also one of the richest men in New York. He might not want to hurt you, but others will. This is a whole different society. Even if you accompany him everywhere, wear and do what people expect of you, you won’t be accepted into their circle because of your background.”

  She couldn’t be serious. “What the heck are you talking about? You’re making it sound like I’m getting involved with the Mafia.”

  “Worse,” she mumbled.

  “What?”

  She raised her hands in defense. “Nothing. I just thought I’d warn you.”

  “About what?” The whole situation was so funny, I could barely contain my hysteria. Of course she knew everything about rich people and the high society. She had been born into it and spent eighteen years of her life trying to please her mother, before turning her back on it all. Apart from the regular check that came in the post and her fondness for expensive stuff, there were no reminders of her background. She never mentioned her past or family, and I didn’t ask.

  “Watch The Real Housewives, and multiply that by ten. And then you might get an idea,” Sylvie said.

  I didn’t want to point out she was referencing a reality TV show, and they usually come scripted to their teeth. They don’t film people doing normal stuff, like brushing their teeth and lounging around in their PJs because no one’s interested in that stuff. “I’m so jet lagged I need to get some sleep.” I stood and placed a soft peck on her cheek.

  “What about the party?”

  I shrugged. “Might be time to send them all home and call it a day.” I loved my friends and appreciated the fact that they turned up to congratulate me on my job and making it back from Europe, alive. But let’s face it, they were more interested in filling up their drinking cups than listening to my traveling stories. “But thanks for this. Did I ever tell you you’re the best friend ever?”

  Sylvie crossed her toned arms over her chest, still pouting, but for once she kept quiet. With an apologetic smile, I left for my room and locked the door behind me. I didn’t even bother to change, just stripped off my clothes and snuggled into my cotton sheets, ready to catch up on all the sleep I missed out in the last two weeks. But, as tired as I was, Sylvie’s words kept ringing inside my head. All I could think of was that I was in debt, with no savings left, and there were so many women richer than me, more beautiful, and more successful, who’d kill for a slice of Jett. If someone were to ask me what I could offer him on the long term, apart from my heart, the answer would be: I don’t know.

  ***

  The persistent tugging at my arm, followed by someone calling my name, jerked me out of my sleep. I blinked groggily against the glaring brightness and tried to pull the covers over my head.

  “Brooke, wake up,” Sylvie said, yanking my sheets off the bed.

  Aware of my half-naked body, I sat up and pulled the sheets back over my breasts to cover my modesty. “What the hell do you want?” My eyes threw daggers at her sheepish expression.

  “Sorry.” She wasn’t. “The guy I’ve been telling you about is on the phone. He insisted that I wake you, so—” She trailed off.

  I checked my watch and groaned inwardly. I had slept for a mere three hours. “So you, being a good friend and all, risked giving a very tired me a heart attack because some sales shark told you so.”

  She shrugged and turned to leave, calling over her shoulder, “He has a nice accent. And he said you’d want to hear what he has to tell you.”

  Of course.

  That certainly made sense.

  Ignoring the urge to crawl back into my bed, I wrapped a bathrobe around my shivering body and walked into the hall to get this admittedly extremely pushy sales clerk out of my life.

  “How can I help you?” My voice sounded a little hoarse from the lack of sleep, but you could still hear the frosty undertones.

  “Miss Brooke Stewart? My name’s Jake Clarkson from Clarkson & Miles. I’ve been trying to reach you for two weeks. Did you get my letter?”

  Holy cow, he didn’t beat around the bush. “I don’t think I have,” I said, slowly scanning the glossy magazines and newspapers stacked neatly next to the phone, when I remembered Sylvie had mentioned a mysterious envelope. I had asked her to leave it in my room so it wouldn’t freak her out. “Actually, I haven’t opened it yet since I only just arrived back home.”

  “No problem. We can discuss its contents. Would you be available to meet with me, preferably sooner rather than later?”

  His questions struck me as odd. Why would he want to meet with me, unless it was an emergency? “Did anything happen?”

  He laughed briefly, and I knew it was fake. “No, of course not, Miss Stewart. Please understand that I’m not in the position to discuss such important business with you on the phone. I’ve come all the way from London, and I really need to talk with you in private.”

  Important business sounded grave enough without the serious undercurrent of his tone. And if a person came all the way from wherever he came from, I figured it was double serious business.

  “What did you say your name was?” Regaining my wits, I grabbed a notepad and pen. As he repeated his details, I scribbled them down.

  “Jake Clarkson. I’m an attorney with Clarkson & Miles. London headquarters.”

  An attorney. And he seemed even more no-nonsense than me. I didn’t like lawyers. They had brought me nothing but bad news. My pulse sped up and my hands turned clammy. I wiped my palms on my bathrobe and cleared my throat to get rid of the sudden lump. The Britain part was pretty obvious from his accent.

  What would someone like him want from me…unless I did something wrong and the offended tried to resolve the issue with the help of an attorney before the whole thing escalated into something ugly?

  “Is everything okay?” I asked.

  “Everything’s fine. Are you available today?” he persisted. “Any time would work for me. Even evening. It wouldn’t take long.”

  “Today? It’s that urgent?” Given that the digital clock on our answering machine stated it was already ten past six, the guy sure seemed anxious to get a meeting. I briefly considered whether it was a bright idea to meet up at this time of day. It probably wasn’t, so I decided against it.

  “I could meet with you tomorrow after work. Maybe around six-ish?” I offered.

  A pause, then, “Let’s make it six.”

  I gave him the address of a café which was on my route home, about half an hour away. Good enough not to inconvenience me, but not close enough so he could follow me in case he had stalking tendencies.

  “Thank you. Have a lovely evening.” He hung up, leaving me no chance to ask him for his phone number in case I couldn’t make it.

  “Weird, huh?” Sylvie said from the doorway, not even hiding the fact she had been eavesdropping.
<
br />   “Hm.” I motioned her to follow me as I rushed into my room and found the envelope on my desk. With a quick flick of my wrist I tore it open, ignoring the look of dread on Sylvie’s face. When nothing blew up, she inched closer to peer over my shoulder.

  I pushed the white crisp paper into her hand. “It’s just a formal letter inviting me to get in touch with them regarding urgent matters.”

  Skimming the contents of the letter, Sylvie nodded slowly and then placed it on my desk. “What do you think he wants?”

  “No idea. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.” I couldn’t quite hide the worry in my voice.

  “Do you want me to accompany you?” She trailed off, leaving the ‘in case’ part hanging between us.

  I shook my head. “Looks like he is who he says he is, so I’ll be fine. It’s probably not important. Maybe I won the lottery or something.” In spite of my attempt at infusing humor to take off the heat, my voice didn’t quite manage to hide my nervousness. Luckily, Sylvie always knew when to make me feel better.

  She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and leaned in conspiratorially. “Tomorrow’s your first day at the new office, huh?” I nodded, unsure where she was heading with this, and let her continue. “We never really got a chance to celebrate.”

  And that’s when her intentions became clear. She wanted to party. Of course.

  “Oh.”

  She nodded, and a huge smile lit up her big blue eyes. “Yeah.”

  I shook my head, laughing. “No, Sylvie. I can’t. Not today.”

  “Just one drink. I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.” She pursed her lips and scrunched up her face to give me a puppy look worthy of an Oscar. I knew her tricks. One drink never ever literally equaled one drink, but she was my friend, and I hadn’t seen her in two weeks. Vowing to stick with soda and be back before nine, I grinned at her. “All right. But if you get drunk, I’m not helping you home.”

  “You won’t have to. You know I’m not a lightweight. Unlike you. I should text Jett to join us, just in case you need a hot guy to tuck you into bed.” She winked. “Like last time.”

  “You texted him?” My cheeks flamed up.

  “Someone had to invite him to join our crew. After your hot night together, I thought I was doing you a favor,” Sylvie said, sheepishly.

  Oh, god.

  “As my best friend, it’s your duty to ask me before making such a huge decision.” I pondered whether to be grateful, angry, or downright mortified. In the end, a mixture of all three won. “And you should have told me you got his number.”

  “Well, someone had to get it for you since you didn’t have the guts to ask him about it. Thank me later.”

  I stared after her, open-mouthed, as she rushed out of my room sporting a self-satisfied smirk.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  Manhattan was abuzz with life at any given time of the day, but this morning it seemed as though half of it had gathered in the elevators of Trump Tower, waiting to be beamed up into the corporate world. Waving my temporary security clearance card, I swooshed past security, and fought my way through the crowd of expensive haircuts, tailored suits, and high-fashion accessories. At eight a.m. sharp, I pushed through the heavy glass double-door to enter the Mayfield Realties lobby, holding my head high and my back straight, even though the throbbing pain in my temples was nearly strong enough to make me puke. Of course joining Sylvie in her quest to get hammered had been a mistake, and I shouldn’t have trusted she’d stop after one drink, but as usual I had let her persuade me. And while I stayed true to my conviction to stay away from alcohol, the jet lag and subsequent lack of sleep had pretty much the same effect on me as an all-night bender. It had taken me an hour to shower, dress in one of my best suits, twist my hair up in a presentable knot, and apply makeup—enough to cover the dark circles around my eyes and the unnatural pallor of my skin, but not so much I would look like I was trying to woo the boss.

  The brunette who had greeted me on my first visit was standing behind the reception desk, whispering into a sleek silver device I assumed was the newest and probably one of the most expensive phones on the market. Soft music intermingled with the sound of splashing raindrops echoed in the background, giving the impression I was entering my doctor’s office. I swallowed hard and neared the brunette receptionist, not really expecting her to recognize me. To my delight, instant recognition sparked in her eyes, and she rewarded me with a pearl-white, warm smile.

  “Miss Stewart—”

  “Please call me Brooke,” I said, figuring I could use a new friend at work.

  Her smile widened. “Brooke. I’m Emma. Mr. Townsend hasn’t arrived yet, but I’d be happy to show you to your office.” Not waiting for my answer, she led the way down the corridor, and then turned the right corner at the huge plant I admired the last time. I followed a step behind her, through a broad corridor with see-through offices on both sides. The glass walls provided no privacy from prying eyes. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. Since my desk at Sunrise Properties had been situated in the middle of a wide, open space within James’s shouting range, I was used to having people around me at all times.

  “Did you have a nice trip?” Resuming her small talk, Emma shot me a glance over her shoulder. My face caught fire as countless memories flooded through my mind. It had been a great trip, definitely one I’d never forget.

  Grateful she couldn’t see me, I nodded. “Yes, thank you. Italy’s beautiful.”

  “That’s true.” Her brief chuckle and sudden bounce to her stride made me avert my attention from my surroundings to gawk at her. She was tall with slim legs, a well-defined waist, and glossy brunette hair that reached down her back. She was pretty, and I wondered whether she was Jett’s type. The thought of Jett kissing her sparked an instant pang of jealousy.

  “Have you been?” I asked, focusing hard to keep the bite out of my tone. Even if Jett took her with him to Italy, it was before we met. His past was none of my business, and I wouldn’t concern myself with it, just like he wouldn’t meddle in my affairs.

  “Last summer.”

  I swallowed hard to get rid of the sudden choking sensation in my throat. I was over analyzing. A few friends of mine had been to Europe, so what? Her statement didn’t have to mean anything.

  “Lake Como was divine,” Emma continued. “And even though it’s just a lake and doesn’t really have a proper beach, I liked the privacy of it.”

  Shit. She was there—at Jett’s private place, which meant they most certainly spent the night in the same house rather than in a hotel. Bile rose in my throat, and the throb inside my head turned up a notch, as I imagined her in his bed.

  “His place is heavenly, isn’t it?” she gushed. “He showed me everything.”

  My stomach twisted into tiny knots as pangs of jealousy hit me with full force. Emma stopped in front of another glass office and turned to face me, unaware of the hurricane wracking havoc with my insides. Her smile was still in place, and a tiny glint played in her eyes as she continued down memory lane. “Did you get to visit the beach?”

  “Once.” I blushed again at the memory of Jett perched between my legs, lapping at my lady parts for the first time. He had such a gifted tongue, it couldn’t possibly be an innate talent. He must have gained the experience from somewhere, which drew my attention back to Emma, and my initial fondness for her began to dissipate into thin air. Maybe being friends with her wasn’t such a bright idea after all. I walked past her into the room, suddenly intimidated by her infectious smile and her perky ass.

  “Is this my office?”

  When she nodded, I tossed my handbag on the desk and slumped into my swivel chair. Booting up the desktop computer, I figured she’d get the hint and leave. Unfortunately, Emma seemed to have taken an instant liking to me and harbored no such plan. She popped into the leather guest chair opposite from me and crossed her sky-high legs, triggering another pang of jealousy. It wasn’t her fault she was so gorgeous, and I sure co
uldn’t blame Jett for being attracted to her. Heck, even I liked what I saw, when I had never been one to show bisexual tendencies.

  Emma leaned forward and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Between you and me, Mr. Mayfield has hinted he might be taking me again this summer.”

  My breath caught in my throat.

  Over my dead body.

  I smiled a saccharine smile so sweet I felt sick just imagining it. “Isn’t he generous?”

  “Yes.” Sighing, she brushed her hair back. “The house belongs to his son though, and he’s not so keen on Mr. Mayfield popping over.” She trailed off, letting me fill in the blanks.

  Son?

  My eyes narrowed on her as my head put two and two together, and a flash of relief washed over me. She was talking about Jett’s father.

  “Isn’t Robert Mayfield married?” I was vaguely aware of the idiotic grin on my face, but I couldn’t help it. Jett wasn’t a whore—his father was, which was perfectly acceptable as long as he hadn’t passed that trait to Jett.

  “He’s been divorced for a few years. Told me he was heartbroken because his wife cheated on him, and this is the reason why he won’t remarry so soon again,” Emma said, probably believing every word that womanizer told her. She didn’t even know he was the cheater and not his ex-wife.

  I nodded, playing along, because having one Sylvie in my life was enough. I didn’t need more friends who’d drag me to the local bar whenever yet another unfaithful guy broke up with them. But she was the only person I knew here and, most importantly, she wasn’t sleeping with Jett, so I figured I wouldn’t mind her tagging along. “Do you drink?”

  “Not often.”

  An evening in Sylvie’s company and that would change in a heartbeat.

  “I’m meeting a few friends for after-dinner drinks on Friday night. You should come. You and my friend Sylvie will have lots in common.”

  Her smile beamed back into place. “Thanks. I’d love to.”

 
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