Authors: Ciara Cole
Chace shook hands cordially with Zane Maddox who had his PA next to him.
“Glad you could make it, Chace,” said Zane.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Thanks for the invitation,” Chace replied.
“We certainly didn’t want to hold the benefit without you to give a speech. The city definitely needs to hear from the legendary entrepreneur and investor Chace Hammond. My personal assistant Peter will help with anything you’ll need. All you have to do is let him know.”
“I’ll do that,” Chace said, already feeling glad he’d chosen to attend. Zane Maddox was one of the few men he admired. They’d met a few months ago through business and had felt an instant affinity. Since then, they’d stayed connected and even had a few ventures they were considering jointly. Both men were dedicated to aiding other founders of startups to have the acceleration they needed.
Since getting to LA a few months ago, Chace was spending most of his time seeking promising ideas and creators in the increasingly crowded startup environment. As it happened, Zane was also interested in making more and more investments, so they made a perfect combination.
“I’m sure you’d like to circulate, why don’t I show you around? There are more than a few people I’d want you to meet – my wife, for example.”
“I’d be honored,” said Chace deeply. They advanced within the crowded ballroom with Chace already sensing they were the center of attention. He was indeed curious about meeting Zane’s wife. Little did he expect that in moments, he’d get rocked to his foundations.
Time seemed to stand still as suddenly, he came face to face with Emily, her velvet brown eyes widened in equal shock.
Emily literally wanted to just disappear – anything but having to go through the next few minutes. The introductions, the surprised looks and disbelief on everyone’s face, especially Zane and Chace…Emily would rather just be anywhere else than in that ballroom right then.
“Hello, Chace,” Emily finally said while dredging up a calm smile. “We really should stop meeting like this.”
He, too, gathered his composure and didn’t look flustered in the least, unlike Emily. She felt so flustered, she could choke on it. Of all nights and of all functions to run into him again!
“You two have met?” Zane asked incredulously.
Before Chace could respond, Emily hastened on to add, “Oh, we used to date – a long time ago.”
“True,” Chace said, his tone amiable. “As it happens, it seems I’ve met your beautiful wife, as well.”
Ciara’s smile was mixed with confusion at the whole situation, but Emily watched in admiration as her friend rose to the occasion and took Chace’s offered hand. “It’s great to see you again, Chace. I take it you and Zane are business acquaintances?”
“A little more than that, I hope,” Chace said while both men shared affable smiles that made Emily want to groan. If her best friend’s husband and her ex were going to be besties, where the hell did that leave her?
In big trouble, that’s where. Because then there’d be no chance of keeping him in the past where he belonged
, Emily realized.
“I agree,” said Zane. “We should be meeting for drinks or golf more often. It’s been a while since I’ve got to meet someone like-minded whom I esteem.”
“Likewise. I’ll be looking forward to taking you up on the offer of a round of golf, Zane,” said Chace while both men grinned.
Great, just great
, thought Emily. These two were all set to have a good old bromance going on. It would really have been cute, actually. Emily had hardly ever seen Zane talk of anyone in such glowing terms. They acted like they’d known for ages and seemed to complement each other the way only men who considered themselves equal could do.
They certainly made an eye-catching pair, one dark haired and the other fair. They both had chiseled good looks and were virtually the same height. Emily could just picture them on the red carpet at some snazzy men’s fashion week event in Paris or New York.
Emily wasn’t sure why fate seemed to be playing a cruel trick on her. Seeing Chace again was doing crazy things to her system. One part wanted to tackle his devilishly handsome self to the floor and mount him like a sex-starved wanton. He was just that freaking hot in his shawl neck tux. The other part wanted to grab him by the arm and wrest him out of the room while insisting he stay out of her life – for good this time.
If Emily didn’t know better, she’d think Chace had arranged all this just to get back at her.
But that was too far-fetched, of course. Chace had looked just as shocked to see her again. So how on earth could this be happening? Emily went through the next hour wondering if coincidences like this could really be believed. A week ago, she was bumping into him at a night club and the next thing she knows, he winds up at a benefit being organized by Emily’s best friend’s husband?
“That’s why they call it a small world, I guess,” Ciara said in response to Emily’s fretting. Chace had just given his speech, much of which Emily had to admit went right over her head. She didn’t know much about what went on in business, but she did know Chace had made a striking impact on the crowd. His bearing and confident, classy tone spelled fine breeding and years of getting things done his way.
Wasn’t that exactly what she’d seen in him all those years ago, making her fall so heedlessly for him?
“It still hurts, doesn’t it?” Ciara said softly, watching Emily’s face as she watched Chace and Zane make the rounds to the other guests while the ever-handy Peter stood by to make sure intros and link ups went smoothly.
Emily didn’t have to ask what Ciara meant. “I didn’t know how much till I saw him again tonight,” Emily said with a deep sigh. “Of course it still hurts. More so because he doesn’t even know it, doesn’t have a clue what he’s done.”
“Now that it’s all water under the bridge, maybe this is just karma’s way of getting you to tell him,” suggested Ciara. “Who knows, you might end up being friends.”
. That was the last thing Emily wanted where Chace was concerned. Judging by the looks she’d caught him sending her when he thought she didn’t know…could be Chace wasn’t down for any of that, either. His gaze had travelled over her in her red dress and the one way she could describe that look was smoking. It had been only for an instant at a time, but Emily was woman enough to know Chace wanted her still.
A fact that seemed to have reached the notice of the astute Ciara who said, “Or maybe there’s something in the air for a lot more between you two. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, honey. I get that look from Zane all the time. As if they could peel the layers of clothes off you with just their eyes. Would you ever consider, you know, hooking up with Chace again?”
“No freaking way,” Emily said vehemently. She gave Ciara an accusing look. “Like seriously? Thanks, but no thanks, girl. I think I’ll stick to familiar territory.
friend set up with a white guy is enough. No hating, but I think I’m done experimenting out of my race. Too much hassle.”
Ciara bit on her lip. “I never knew you felt that way. You’re far more open-minded than that, Em.”
“I know,” Emily said, looking guilty for a moment. “I’m sorry. More so because Chace never gave me that vibe, you know, of us being different. At least in matters of color, I always felt on equal footing with Chace. It just wasn’t ever an issue for us. But everything else was.”
That much was true, as Emily remembered. The major problem she’d faced being with Chace was the lack of acceptance by his parents of Emily. They’d always considered her lower in social status than their precious first son. She couldn’t say it was because she was African-American, but solely a class thing. Considering Chace’s family were much like royalty with the most high-level pedigree, it was no surprise the parents had found Emily wanting.
Emily remembered how defensive she was of her best friend when Ciara had faced much the same thing not just with Zane’s parents, but his former PA. And she remembered how she had wanted to smash the woman’s face in for trying to put Ciara down just because her background didn’t come in shiny flowing script like Zane’s.
Emily had known exactly how Ciara must have felt. That sensation of realizing you were found lacking or had nothing to offer.
. And with Chace, Emily’s heart got broken to countless pieces mainly based on that.
But what would be the point of letting him know now? About how she’d once overheard a conversation Chace had with his father during one of the few times Emily had come over to the Hammond home?
“I know sometimes a young man would like to experiment. That’s okay, son. I can get you all the beautiful young girls you need, but understand this – it’s not going anywhere not with Miss Cortes.”
“Why is that – because she can’t meet your standards of high-class heritage? I love her, Dad. And I won’t forgive anyone who tries to jeopardize that,” Chace had said.
Those words from Chace had warmed Emily to the bone as she’d retreated back to the living room before Chace and his father emerged from the study. Emily had felt grateful to Chace for sticking up for her and her love had grown in leaps and bounds. That is, till she caught him with someone else and it all went downhill from there.
Shaking off the memory, Emily saw Ciara staring at her worriedly. “Not that I’m trying to push you into doing what you don’t want to do, but…Since Chace and Zane might be forming a friendship, it means you just might be seeing a lot more of Chace. Don’t you think it’s time you two sorted things out?”
“There’s nothing to sort out,” Emily said while setting down her wine glass on the nearest surface. “Chace and I will do just fine if he keeps his distance.”
Ciara shook her head, but didn’t comment further as Emily then said she needed to get some fresh air. She made her way through the crowd and stepped out into the terrace.
The first thing Emily did was drag in a grateful breath. She’d really had to get out of that stifling room. Though it was huge, filled with music and gaily dressed people from all walks of life, it had felt like she’d been drowning in quicksand. Every time she caught a glimpse of Chace within the crowd, her mind went into a haze.
Why now, why him
And how come I just can’t get myself together
, wondered Emily? What would be so hard about being civil around Chace and maybe even straightening things out between them as Ciara had suggested?
Dragging her hand through her curls, Emily gave out an even heavier sigh. Maybe she needed to go on a long trip – preferably to somewhere far enough to keep her from thoughts of ever running to Chace and begging him to give them another chance.
Because maybe deep down somewhere, that’s what I truly want
Emily shuddered and drew her arms around herself, vigorously shaking her head as if to ward off any more insane thoughts.
“Has tonight been that much of an ordeal?” rumbled a deep, silken voice just behind her. Emily started, spinning round to face Chace.
“I’ve been standing here about a minute and you’ve been sighing all through. I have a feeling I might have something to do with it,” said Chace mildly. Emily let out an impatient sound and turned away again.
“I’m not accustomed to rejection. But I’ve never had to force my attentions on a woman. If you want me to leave right now, I will. I’ll ensure I never have to darken your presence again. Even if it means keeping my relationship with Zane strictly business in which case you would never have to worry about me showing up in your circle. Is that what you want?”
For some reason Chace’s sober words brought Emily shame. She turned to him quickly just as he spun to walk off.
“I’m sorry,” she said instantly. “I’ve had a deplorable attitude since we met again.”
Chace turned slowly to face her again and she let out a breath. “It was mostly shock – and the fact we didn’t exactly part on the best of terms. Still, that gave me no cause to act so appallingly. Of course I don’t expect you to cut yourself out of Zane and Ciara’s lives because of me.”
Emily’s eyes blinked wide when Chace flashed that killer grin for a moment. “That’s good to know. Because I’m getting along great with Zane and I’ve certainly always liked Ciara. She’s grown even more beautiful. I learned they have two children.”
“Yes,” Emily said, her tone more subdued as she looked over the night scenery before her. “They have a beautiful baby boy and girl. Ciara juggles family with a successful pastry business.”
“And you? What do you do?”
Emily had to smile, turning to lean against the stone railing to face Chace’s speculative gaze. “Oh, I do this and that. My wish to be a jet-setting air hostess never really…took off so to speak.”
“I thought you always wanted to be an author,” Chace said with a slight frown.
“That didn’t work out so well, either,” Emily said. She glanced away from Chace again and thought back to her writing days. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d bothered to write anything. As a teenager, she’d planned on becoming a best-selling fantasy writer. For some time during her early twenties, she’d tried to get published, but the constant rejections got her down. Then life happened, with so many distractions keeping her creative juices at bay. Before she knew it, her dream had slipped away and she sought other pursuits.
Shaking her head slightly to herself, Emily wondered when she’d stop being so flighty and get her act together. She chose not to look at Chace and find his disdainful expression. Being successful in his own right and rich to boot, he wouldn’t understand why someone would choose to be like her. Flitting through one career choice after another and never really standing for anything.
Emily sighed and bit on her lip.
Suddenly, Chace gripped her elbow in a gentle grasp and half-spun her to face him. “One more sigh and then I’ll have to kiss you.”
Emily’s eyes snapped defiantly up at him. “What makes you think I’ll let you get away with something like that?”