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Beautiful distraction, p.45
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.45

           J. C. Reed
 

  “Bellagio?”

  She nodded. Motioning her to wait, I poured two cups of café latte, grabbed the cookie box, and returned to the sofa, where Sylvie sat cross-legged, eagerly awaiting my full account. I placed the cups on the couch table and passed her a cookie dipped in milk chocolate—my absolute favorite.

  “There better be lots of hiking opportunities, because I’ll need lots of it after this.” She held up a cookie before biting off half, and moaned with ecstasy. I laughed because it was our inside joke. Sylvie could eat like a horse and wouldn’t gain a pound.

  “So, did he take you to the same place?” Sylvie asked. The cold undertone in her voice surprised me and I remembered what she said about him moving in a different society.

  “Well, sort of. We stayed on the other side of the lake.”

  “But it’s still the same place, isn’t it?” she insisted.

  Where the hell was she going with it? I scanned her face for any clues. Her expression was impassive, all except for the strange glint in her eyes. I swallowed the half-chewed cookie inside my mouth, suddenly oblivious to the buttery taste of the dough dipped in the creamiest chocolate twenty dollars could buy. She took my lack of response as an affirmative.

  “Yes,” I said. As though I was confirming her suspicions, she nodded. “Why are you asking?”

  “That’s quite the coincidence.”

  “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

  She brushed her long hair back and moistened her lips as her blue gaze bore into me. “I know you’re still under the influence of his big dick and the dreamy stuff it did to you, but you need to switch on your brain. And pronto.” She raised her hand to stop the angry protest on my lips. “I’m not suggesting anything. But you’ve got to admit it’s a big world and he took you to the one place you’d inherit. Do you really think that’s a coincidence?”

  A cold shudder ran down my spine. She didn’t even know half of it. How could I possibly tell her the rest and not feel completely stupid? “Actually, it’s the same estate he’s been trying to buy.” And the same estate I, as the heir, probably would have given to him, just to see him happy—had he just asked. But he didn’t. Which led me to my next concern. Did he use me? Was I naïve to believe what we had was real?

  We stared at each other for a few moments. The magnitude of our words hung heavy in the air.

  “Maybe it’s a coincidence,” Sylvie said, breaking the silence. “Maybe he didn’t even know there were relatives.”

  According to Jett’s file, the company had watched Alessandro Lucazzone for ten years. Was it really possible the private detective never found out about a possible heir? Possible. And then he hired me? Unlikely. Coincidence?

  “I don’t know. This is fucked up.”

  “When was the will signed?” Sylvie asked.

  I grabbed the copy of the will Jake left me and scanned it once more until I found the date.

  Shit.

  “About six weeks ago.” Jett and I hadn’t met yet. The way I saw it, it must have taken Jake at least four weeks to prepare the necessary paperwork, double check my identity and heritage, and then contact me. Only I wasn’t around to receive the news because Jett had whisked me off to Italy. But why hire me to acquire the estate in the knowledge I was the heir? Unless he wanted me to fall for him in the hope I’d do anything to please him.

  “I think he tried to set me up,” I said slowly as the realization dawned on me. A pang of pain shot through my chest, threatening to kill me. I snorted and shook my head. Coincidence, my butt. You’re not usually hired on the spot without even applying for the job, get jetted off to a luxurious mansion, enter a relationship with the hot boss, and inherit an estate worth millions, which happens to be the one estate your boss can’t seem able to buy.

  “He tried to set me up,” I repeated. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”

  “Why would you say that?” There was no surprise on Sylvie’s face, no sign of disagreement, just caginess, as though she knew it was the truth but needed me to acknowledge it first so I wouldn’t blame her.

  Don’t shoot the messenger.

  I smiled bitterly. How very true. “Jett gets whatever he wants. He simply makes it happen. His tactic is to sweet-talk the owners with expensive trips and meals, and then get them to sign.” I wondered if he slept with all his female targets, or just me.

  “Maybe it wasn’t his intention. It could still be coincidence.”

  “Don’t bullshit me, Sylvie.” My voice raised a notch. “He made me believe he cared for me, and I fell for it. I fell for his whole love, attraction, sex stuff.”

  “Are you going to let him explain?” Sylvie asked.

  I shook my head, wiping away the tears gathering in the corner of my eyes. What would be the point? Now that I had the entire picture, I knew I was nothing but a pawn in his game, and I had stupidly fallen for it. The guy was like poison. Getting near him was the last thing I wanted. I had fallen for the wrong person, even opened my heart to him. The realization of my stupidity hurt me more than anything.

  Sylvie hugged me as more tears streamed down my face. “Are you going to expose him for the rat he is?”

  Smiling bitterly, I shook my head. “And how would I do that? No, I’ll do something else. I’ll break up with him in a way he’ll never forget.”

  Jett might have broken my trust in him, and probably in all other men in this world, but he didn’t yet get what he wanted, which was Alessandro’s estate. He might usually win, but not this time. Alessandro Lucazzone wouldn’t sell; I’d make sure of that.

  “Just be careful,” Sylvie said, hugging me tight. “Guys like him always get far, but not without gathering a few skeletons in their closets.”

  “Thank you.” I placed a soft kiss on Sylvie’s cheek.

  “For what?”

  “For being honest. If you didn’t tell me, if you didn’t make me aware of it, who knows whether I would have seen through his lies.” I shook my head as I remembered how much I had wanted this man. I winced at the pang of pain rocking my chest, right where my heart was. It shouldn’t have hit me so hard, but it did. Maybe because he was the first person I trusted after what happened to Jenna. Maybe because I thought if we shared our life stories, the good and the ugly, we might indeed be kindred spirits. Maybe because I thought he knew me and liked me for who I was, rather than for who I pretended to be.

  I needed to get away from here. Leave him and the pain behind. Forget everything that happened.

  Forget him.

  I jumped up from the couch, pulling Sylvie with me. “Come on. We need to pack.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  Now that it was over, I wished I had seen all the things I didn’t see: Jett’s enthusiasm to be with me, to listen to my life stories, and deal with my commitment phobia. He had been trying to get me to fall in love with him, which I had foolishly let happen when I should have listened to my gut feeling instead. After years of putting up defenses I let my guard down, trusting the one guy who’d go on to conquer me with beautiful words and attention, only to betray me.

  He always acted so composed, so perfect. Was it because he never really cared about me? Irrespective of how I tried to see it, what excuses I gave him, he had broken my heart in a million pieces. And to think of all the times I trusted him. All the hours I prayed we’d last forever. How I thought he might be ‘the one’. The way glass shatters—so did my trust.

  How stupid of me. Why did I always end up loving the person who hurt me the most? Why was love so cruel?

  I wanted to banish and forget the moments we spent together, I needed to erase him from my mind and heart. But the harder I tried, the more I thought about him. His image had been engraved into my mind, invading every fiber of my being like poison. I couldn’t tell Sylvie how much his actions had hurt me, so I kept my head high in the hope she wouldn’t guess how broken I felt inside. I smiled at my best friend, telling her that I’d find a way to hurt him; that the worl
d didn’t end with him...but the truth was, I wasn’t okay.

  I couldn’t see him without feeling the magnitude of his betrayal.

  I couldn’t speak to him without thinking of the way he kissed me. And how little it meant now.

  Our past together was nothing more than a bottle tossed out into the ocean, its message never reaching the owner.

  Although Sylvie had put things into perspective, I had recognized the kind of man he was the moment I met him. I should have trusted my instincts rather than listen to his sweet words. It had all been too good to be true. I should have known the moment he lavished me with attention, the way he cooked for me, and swept me off my feet. I should have known deep in my heart it wasn’t real.

  He was nothing but a lie.

  A terrible, hurtful lie.

  But the heart is foolish, and I had been a fool to let it lead the way. It had made me blind, leaving me with no option to get out before I got too involved. Surrendering to love was a mistake, just like letting Jenna visit Danny, even though I knew it wasn’t right.

  “Brooke? Are you okay?” Sylvie’s hushed voice carried through the quiet room a moment before she peered through the door, hesitating. “Can I come in?”

  I barely managed a choked “Yeah”.

  “Oh, sweetie,” Sylvie said, grabbing me in a tight hug. “I’m so sorry.”

  I melted into her motherly embrace, my face turned away from her, hiding the tears I had thought depleted.

  ***

  Nearly twelve hours later, I stepped into the elevator riding up to the Mayfield Properties head office, knowing it’d be a brief visit. I had risen at four a.m., unable to sleep, and spring-cleaned the apartment to keep my mind from venturing onto dangerous terrain. By six I had finished and drove through the pre-rush hour traffic to reach the office as early as possible. My back pressed against the smooth metal wall, I forced conditioned air into my lungs to calm my racing heart. Less than three weeks into the job, and I was already searching the classified ads for another position. But this time it wasn’t the prospect of unemployment that sent hot and cold shivers down my spine.

  I tilted my chin up to inspect myself in the narrow mirror strip on the left side of the elevator. My navy skirt and the white ruffle top that emphasized my narrow waist looked presentable enough, and certainly didn’t reflect the way I felt inside. Soft ringlets of dark hair cascaded down my shoulders. My lips were painted a sheer red tint, and my cheeks were dusted with just a hint of bronzing powder to highlight my new tan, courtesy of the lovely Italian weather. Come to think of it, I had paid way more attention to my outfit and hair than I should have. I didn’t want to be pretty for him. I wanted him to look at me and acknowledge what he couldn’t have anymore, what he was losing out on. That was how I want him to remember me...composed and poised, as though his actions never hurt me.

  Deep down I knew I had to get him out of my system as fast as I could, but the thing with love is, you cannot choose who you fall for. Falling in love often happens at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong person. Just as much as you cannot stop growing feelings for a certain man, there’s no switch to turn off your heart. And even though my mind knew better, it was powerless against the weak, sappy fool I called my heart. To me, love was a drug. Jett was my drug. It kept me addicted to him, making my thoughts circle back to him and him alone. The best way to escape was to get away, which was the plan, right after breaking up with Jett.

  The elevator doors opened, spitting me out into the chic reception area. Emma was nowhere in sight, and I used the opportunity to dash for my office. Not that I didn’t like Emma, but in my twisted logic she belonged to Jett’s world, and if I was to push him out of my life for good, I had to ensure I was getting rid of all accessories in the process. If I could erase all traces and memories of ever being here, then I would. As much as I liked this building and some of the people working here, I didn’t like that everything belonged to him. Forgetting the past involved leaving everything behind—everything I’d ever associate with him.

  I squeezed all my belongings into my oversized bag and searched the drawers for the rest of my stuff. It wasn’t much, just a bunch of pens and notepads, a diary and address book, a digital voice recorder for taking notes on the go, and the cactus I brought over from Sunrise Properties. It wasn’t much, and from all the belongings I probably would have only missed my plant, but I didn’t want to forget anything.

  At ten past seven the hallway was quiet, with only a handful of people sipping their morning coffee in the company’s own kitchen cum bar area. I used the opportunity to leave my office and sneak behind their backs into Jett’s office with no one noticing, and closed the door behind me. Luckily, Jett didn’t lock the door. I closed the drapes, and then moved over to his desk. I knew he hadn’t arrived yet because he never started work before eight, and I would have seen him pass by my office. I figured doing what I was about to do would scare me.

  It didn’t.

  My heartbeat remained surprisingly calm as I sat down in his chair and began to open one drawer after another, skimming through his files. People say the truth can set you free. I hoped that by finding evidence in a written form I could finally force my heart to let go of its foolish hopes. By knowing the truth, I could maybe free myself from Jett’s magic and expose him for the bastard he was. A few minutes later I found three files, all marked as Lucazzone’s estate. My heart hammered in my chest, as I picked up the largest one.

  I sat down in his chair and opened it with trembling as ice cold dread settled in the pit of my stomach. The first page provided a summary of everything he needed to know about the estate, from its value to its size, to the current owner.

  My name was right at the bottom, marked as the heir. A small sob escaped my throat. There was my answer and all the proof I needed. I had no more excuses left for him. Instead of immediate relief, more pain shot through me because I knew some part of me had still hoped, prayed, wished that I was wrong, even though I had known all along I wasn’t.

  Unshed tears pricked the corners of my eyes as I closed the file and returned it to its drawer, and then I resumed my seat in his chair, mentally preparing my words. I knew I couldn’t possibly mean anything to him; it was just a ploy to get what he wanted. His feelings for me weren’t his weakest point, but his ego was. I wanted to hurt him as much as he had hurt me.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

  Eyes closed, my forehead pressed against the cold glass window to cool my feverish skin, I didn’t know how much time passed or how long I just sat there, lost in the dark void of my emotions. When reason finally pushed through, urging me to leave this place, I re-arranged the files in his cabinet and grabbed my bag to leave. The door clicked open and Jett entered. As usual, he looked divine dressed in one of his business suits with his hair all messed up, his green eyes twinkling at my sight, leaving me weak and exposed. A sharp pang of pain cut off my air supply, and I turned my gaze onto the soft rug beneath my feet so he wouldn’t see the damage he had inflicted upon me. I didn’t want him to see all the uproar he had caused. He didn’t deserve the knowledge.

  “Brooke?” His voice came gently, as he inched closer. “Are you okay?” He wrapped his arms around me and tried to pull me to his chest. I took a step back, putting some distance between us.

  “Don’t touch me.” I tried to keep my voice as nonchalant as possible “And it’s over.”

  He didn’t say anything. Several moments passed by and I looked up to see his reaction. Our eyes connected, and for one minute I could feel the spark. It was still there. Along with my feelings—my stupid, cursed feelings. But much stronger was the pain that I cared so much about him while he couldn’t give a crap about me.

  “You found out,” he whispered, his beautiful eyes slicing into me, begging me to understand a truth that was a lie. “I can explain.”

  “You’re not even denying it?” I raised my voice as anger consumed me. The dam was breaking. I couldn’t hold it inside a
ny longer. “You’re an asshole, a liar. You’re worse than the lowest scumbag. I trusted you, while you were planning to use me. I don’t need your fucking explanations, not now and not forever.”

  “Brooke, please calm down. I wasn’t planning to use you. Just listen to me.” He grabbed my arm to pull me to him. I pushed him away and took a step toward the door, as tears gathered in my eyes, clouding my vision.

  “Don’t touch me.”

  “Brooke, please listen.” He inched closer but didn’t attempt to touch me, probably knowing I’d run out the door the moment he so much as laid a finger on me.

  “You’ve destroyed everything I thought we had. You’ve broken my trust. There’s no way I’ll ever listen to any more of your lies. And there I was thinking you cared about me, when it was all about money.”

  “I care about you, Brooke. It wasn’t a lie. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You have to believe me.”

  “I can’t, I don’t trust you. You lied about everything,” I spat, unable to contain my voice.

  He shook his head and for the first time I could see pain reflected in his features. A stubborn glint appeared in his eyes. “Not everything.”

  “No, you’re right. You didn’t lie about everything. You just chose to keep the truth to yourself. That’s not better than lying. It’s worse.”

  “Okay, I admit I didn’t tell you everything. But I had a very good reason. I didn’t tell you that I’m in love with you, and I didn’t tell you the whole story, but I was afraid, for you, for us. You don’t understand.”

  For a moment, the fact he said he was in love with me almost made my heart flutter with renewed hope, until I realized it was a lie. He was trying to wriggle his way out of the situation. I had made myself too available, let him sense my growing feelings for him, and he used that as an advantage. He wasn’t going to manipulate me again.

  “How can you say you love me when you lied to me?” I moistened my lips to gather my thoughts. “How can you say you care for me when you only care about yourself and money?”

 
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