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Authors: Portia Moore

Tags: #Romance

If I Break THE COMPLETE SERIES Bundle (10 page)

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Jason looks at him with a perplexed expression.

“No, have we met b—” His question is cut off by Michael’s fist in his face, knocking him to the floor.

“Michael! What the hell!” I scream. I immediately jump out of the way as Jason stands and rams into Michael.

“Steven, Dan! Do something!” I call.

Hearing the commotion, Angela rushes our way. “Dan! Dan, get out here!”

Soon Dan runs out to break them up, followed by Steven.

“Let go! Let go, guys!” Dan growls as he tries to pull the two of them apart.

Steven grabs Jason and succeeds in separating them right as Ryan walks in.

“What the hell is going on here?” he yells angrily, his usually subdued British accent flaring.

Everyone looks at Ryan, none of us knowing what to say.

“I don’t know! This—this lunatic just attacked me!” Jason yells.

“What the hell happened, Michael?” Steven asks.

“He hung up on me when I called Lauren!” Michael yells.

Oh my God, I can’t believe this. I cover my face in embarrassment.

“I have never spoken to this guy!” Jason yells. “I hang up on a lot of people, but you don’t see them coming up to me and punching me in the face! For the record though, I’ve never spoken to you before!”

“Jason, I am so, sooooo sorry for this,” I say, walking around the bar to get a cold towel for his eye.

“Jason? Your name isn’t Cal?” Michael says as stupidity takes over his expression.

“No,” he says sharply.

I hand Jason the towel. “No, Michael, this isn’t the guy. But even if it were—oh, God! I can’t even believe you!”

“What is this, 
Melrose Place
?” Ryan yells. “I haven’t even opened and I’m already breaking up fights. From now on, no one who is not currently employed here is allowed in before opening unless I personally approve it!” Ryan frowns at all of us.

“I-I’m sorry,” Michael murmurs.

“Michael, get the hell out!” Ryan yells.

“I’m sorry, Ryan, and I’m sorry to you too, Jason.” Michael glances at them briefly before scooting quickly out the door, escorted by Steven and Dan.

“Jason, I am sorry about this, mate,” Ryan says, dusting off Jason’s suit.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Jason utters, rubbing his eye, which is already purple.

“I’ll be back,” Ryan says angrily and walks out, cursing Michael under his breath.

“I’m really sorry again. He can be a douche sometimes,” I tell him sincerely.

“Don’t apologize. You aren’t the one who punched me in the eye,” he says.

“I know. But still…” I feel bad about the entire situation.

“So is it always this hard to ask you on a date?” He laughs slightly.

“Y-you’re asking me on a date?” I chuckle.

“Yeah, I was about to when that guy—who I take it is your ex-boyfriend?—attacked me.”

I stuff my hands in the back pockets of my jeans. This has been a busy week; two 
sober
 guys asked me out in the same week.

“I, well…” I’m thinking hard about it. This could be fun. Another date wouldn’t hurt. I mean, this guy did just get punched in the face for me. I can’t turn him down after that. And Cal hasn’t called, so… “I would love to.”

“Well, maybe this day won’t turn out so bad after all.” He smiles broadly.

“I can’t Friday night, but how about Thursday?” I ask.

“My eye should be down by then. Hopefully.” He laughs.

“That’s great. I’m sure it will,” I agree. Well, I’m sure the swelling will be down, at least. Whether his normal color will be back, I doubt it, based on the way it looks now. I’m still shocked Michael hit him. He’s studying to be a police officer; you’d think he would know better.

“Great!” he says with enthusiasm.

It’s eleven o’clock. I can’t sleep. That’s what working the night shift will do to you on your days off. I had planned on catching up on my sleep, but I’m utterly restless. Switching on the lamp beside my bed, I pull out the sketchpad I keep under my bed and start to draw. The phone rings suddenly, startling me.

“Hello?” I answer hesitantly.

“Hey, gorgeous.” The voice is a familiar one and it immediately awakens the butterflies in my stomach.

“I guess that would be me,” I say, a grin spreading across my face.

“I’m not calling too late, am I?”

“No, it’s fine. I’m a bit of a night owl myself,” I tell him.

“Note this: me working on the asking thing.” He chuckles.

I think back to his earlier promise and grin. “Look at you, sir. I am so very proud of you,” I tell him playfully.

“Well, you’ll have to show me how much,” he flirts back. I bite my lip at the thought. “I was going to text you. I didn’t know if you’d be at the club or not.”

“No, today’s my night off. But yesterday I was. I restocked the bar, had to help clean the stock room… watched an innocent man get punched in the face over the stunt you pulled with my cell phone the other night.” I chuckle.

“Really? This is a first, me causing a fight I didn’t get to be in. Well, maybe next time.” He laughs. “And you said I was trouble. It seems trouble follows you, Ms. Brooks.”

“Ha-ha,” I say dryly.

“Listen, if you’re not too busy breaking up fights around Chicago, I wanted to ask if you were going to the AIC opening Saturday?”

It takes me a few seconds to register he’s talking about the Chicago Museum’s eighieth anniversary charity ball. I wish I were, but unfortunately, it’s an exclusive, invitation-only event. It’s the only thing my classmates have been talking about the past month. They’re furious that Crestfield Industries, one of the largest companies founded in Chicago, weaseled their way into sponsoring the event and privatized the entire affair.

“I wish. It’s invitation-only.” Too bad I’m not rich or famous, since those were the people on the invite list.

“Well, I guess you’re going to have to come with me.” He sighs.

“Wait. Are you telling me you have an invitation?” I ask, my voice rising with excitement. I hear him laughing. “How did you get that? You’re not screwing with me, are you, Cal?” I don’t want to sound like an art geek, but attending would be an absolute dream come true.

“We’re on the phone, you know—what would be the fun in that?” His voice deepens with insinuation, making my skin tingle.

“I would love to go!”

“I’ll have you picked up at eight,” he says.

Have me picked up? Is he not coming? “You aren’t picking me up?” I ask.

“Well, I’m in New York, and I won’t be getting back until that night, so I’ll have a limo pick you up, then it’ll swing by the airport to get me. Is that okay?” he says.

Of course it’s okay. I’m going to the Chicago Museum’s anniversary ball! “Yes, it’s perfect. I can’t wait!” I really should tone down my enthusiasm just a few notches.

“Look, I’ve got to go. But I’ve been thinking about you, Lauren…” He quietly trails off.

I grip the phone a little tighter, feeling my heart rate speed up. I didn’t expect to hear that from him. “I-I’ve been thinking about you too, Cal.”

“Good,” he says. I can hear the smile in his voice, and one spreads across my face as well.

After I hang up the phone, I twirl around like a seven-year-old on Christmas. I rush to my closet and start to rummage around, hoping there’s something there. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to get off work. I’ll have to trade shifts or something.

I sigh, disappointed with the contents of my wardrobe. Jeans, jeans, and more jeans, along with a few dresses I used to be able to wear to work. Nothing seems worthy of the occasion. I come to the conclusion that I’ll have to buy something. I have a Visa card for emergencies with a couple hundred dollars I’ve never used. Cal has been thinking about me! I want to make sure my dress leaves a lasting impression.

I wonder if he’s been thinking about me as much as I’ve been thinking about him. I rush to the door, ready to tell Hillary all the details. Then I remember her telling me to keep it simple and fun with him, and the thought stops me in my tracks.

What if Hillary is right? He said he was thinking about me. He didn’t say in what way. I ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach. Well, right now it doesn’t matter; it’s just a date to one of my favorite places on earth, and on the arm of an incredibly handsome man. And here I am trying to find something wrong with it. I’m not going to let anyone ruin this for me, not even myself.

“S
aginaw, Michigan.” I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic as I read the sign welcoming me back to my hometown. It’s as if I’m watching a home movie, picking up random memories as I drive.

The last time I was here was right after Cal and I got married. I sigh while driving past the endless rows of cornfields. In fifteen minutes, I’ll be on my aunt’s doorstep, lying about why I’m there and putting up with her well-meaning bullshit. Well, maybe ten if I rush it, but speeding through Saginaw in an Audi isn’t the best idea.

When I come to a stop sign, I riffle around in my purse for my cell phone before I remember I dropped it out the window. My stomach’s growling. I’ve only eaten a bagel all day, and that was four long hours ago. I see a gas station a few blocks down and decide to stop for a bite.

After I park, I turn off my car and lock the door. Even though there’s really no need to lock it, living in Chicago has changed my habits. Walking in, my eyes gravitate to my favorite strawberry shortcake roll-up. I grab it, walk to the counter, and wait for the clerk to come to the front. She approaches the counter with a warm smile, reminding me of the friendliness of Saginaw.

“Good afternoon. Is this all you’ll be having?” she asks.

“Yes, that’s all.” I smile and hand her a dollar.

She puts it in the register and hands me back a quarter. “Have a nice day.”

“You too,” I tell her, leaving the store while opening the wrapper of the cake.

I break off a piece and pop it in my mouth before stuffing the rest in my purse and getting into the car. As I drive off, my thoughts drift to Cal. I wonder what he’s doing right now. He’s probably pissed, or maybe he isn’t. Maybe he doesn’t care that I left. I’m usually clueless as to how he feels.

I hate the fact that I’m thinking about him at all or even considering his feelings. I shouldn’t, but how do you stop loving someone in an instant? It’s almost ludicrous how many times I’ve tried to do that. It never works because the feelings just pop right back to the surface moments after my anger has subsided. It would be so much easier if he weren’t so complicated. Cal is the most complex person I’ve ever met. He always has this air of mystery to him, which is beyond frustrating after all these years, but that’s what attracted me to him.

When I moved to Chicago, it was a totally different world from Saginaw. In my hometown, almost everyone knew each other, or at least of each other. I had grown up with most of the guys I went to high school with, so I never had the excitement of meeting a new person or having to learn about someone from scratch.

When I transferred to my school in Chicago during sophomore year, it was like the men there could smell fresh meat. I was asked out by so many different types of guys, especially when I started working at the club. Some had tattoos and piercings, others wore expensive suits and glasses. Black, white, tall, short, it was so much to take in.

BOOK: If I Break THE COMPLETE SERIES Bundle
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