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Authors: Sherri Hayes

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance

Trust (9 page)

BOOK: Trust
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I pushed away from my desk and stood, forcing the tears that beckoned back where they belonged. Crying wouldn’t help anything. It wouldn’t bring Brianna or my parents back. I had to be strong, do what needed to be done, and stop worrying about what I couldn’t change.

At five minutes before twelve, Jamie informed me that Ross had arrived. I’d gotten myself back under control from earlier, but hearing his name sent mixed feelings rushing through me—excitement, dread, fear . . . and something close to joy. No matter how much the man irritated me, he would have news of Brianna. If nothing else, he could give me something no one else could.

Ross strolled into my office looking less cocky than usual. “Coleman.”

“Ross.”

He walked to the center of the room and glanced around the office as if taking it in for the first time.

As much as I wanted to demand to know why he was here, I bit my tongue. For now, at least, I would wait him out.

“I was wondering if you’d join me for lunch.”

It was a good thing I didn’t have anything in my mouth, because I would have choked. “Excuse me?”

He sighed, clearly frustrated. “Lunch. You know, the meal one typically has in the middle of the day.”

“I’m aware of what lunch is, Ross. What I don’t understand is why you want me to join you.”

“I’ve . . . made a deal with Anna.”

“What kind of a deal?”

He waved me off. “That’s not important.”

“I assure you, it is. Now what ‘deal’ did you make with Brianna that has you wanting to have lunch with me?”

He stared at me, the anger burning behind his eyes. Ross didn’t like that I’d questioned him.

“I told her I’d show my . . . support. For you. Publicly,” he said through gritted teeth.

I didn’t answer right away, trying to digest what he’d said. “You’re trying to help me?”

“Yes.” Ross almost spat the word.

“And what does this entail exactly?”

He threw up his hands. “For goodness sake, Coleman. I’m trying to do you a favor here.”

I was still skeptical. “All right. We’ll go to lunch.”

“Good.” Ross turned toward the door while I picked up my suit jacket. He didn’t wait for me, and that was just as well. I was still trying to wrap my head around this turn of events and why, all of a sudden, Cal Ross wanted to help me. Brianna was no longer testifying against Ian, so what exactly did he have to gain from it? One way or another, I was going to find out.

As soon as Ross and I emerged from the building, we were surrounded by the local media. To my surprise, Ross planted a smile on his face and continued walking. I quickly realized what he was doing and followed suit. Cameras were flashing everywhere. Ross wasn’t as well-known as I was, but he wasn’t a hermit either. It wouldn’t take long for the reporters to realize who he was, and then not long after that to make the connection between him and Jonathan Reeves.

I followed Ross, allowing him to take the lead. Lunch was going to be uncomfortable at best. We didn’t get along, and I wasn’t sure we ever would. This was just for show, and we both knew it.

He turned the corner and slipped inside an upscale seafood restaurant. The place was filled with businessmen and women, all in suits. A few of them glanced up briefly at our entrance before going back to whatever they had been discussing prior to our arrival.

Ross gave his name, apparently having planned ahead and made a reservation. We were immediately taken to a table.

Taking a seat, I glanced around and realized instantly what he’d arranged. We were seated at a corner table by a large window. The placement of the table gave us some privacy, while the window allowed the photographers outside a clear and unobstructed view. It was the perfect photo opportunity. I had to hand it to him. He’d put a lot of thought into this.

Our server approached our table, and we both placed our orders. Once he was out of earshot, I planted a smile on my face and asked what I’d been dying to know since he’d walked into my office. “How is she?”

Ross dragged his gaze away from whatever he’d been looking at across the room. “She’s as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

I nodded and let out a lungful of air. “Is she eating?”

He paused before answering. “Most of the time.”

The server came back with our drinks. I thanked him and returned my attention to Ross, ready to ask my next question. He beat me to it, though.

“I know you want to know about Anna. And since she knows I’m with you today, she’s probably going to have a million questions for me when I get home. The problem is I’m not sure how much I want to tell you. I don’t trust you. Not with her. But you already know that.”

“Yes. You’ve made that quite clear.”

He was getting agitated, but I saw him trying to school his features so that his irritation wouldn’t show to anyone observing our conversation. “You’ve made her dependent on you. I can’t support that.”

“Why are you here, then? Isn’t showing your support for me to the press contradictory?”

“No. As much as it pains me to say this, you don’t deserve to have your life ruined. You got her out, got her away from that . . . that . . . monstrous bastard. For that, I will play nice—at least as far as the public is concerned. You and I both know, and I want to be clear, I don’t approve of this . . . relationship—if that’s what you want to call it—you have with her. It’s messed up, and it’s not what she needs.”

Our food arrived, preventing me from responding. After thanking our server, I took a few minutes to consider my words carefully. “I suppose since we are being honest here—laying our cards on the table—I should reiterate that I couldn’t care less what you think of my relationship with Brianna. With that said, however, I also concede that at the moment you are able to give her something I can’t. But that doesn’t mean my feelings for her have lessened. And whether you believe it or not—whether you understand it or not—I
do
love her.”

“You love to hurt her, you mean.” Although his words were said pleasantly enough, there was no disguising the animosity behind them.

“I would never hurt her. Ever.”

He took a deep breath and smiled. “You’d better hope you can keep that promise, Coleman.”

Very little was said for the remainder of our meal. We fixed pleasant looks on our faces and pretended to be enjoying each other’s company. Although I wasn’t looking at it from the outside, I thought we were pretty convincing.

The server arrived with our checks, and I got an idea. “Would you come back up to my office with me?”

“I don’t do after-lunch rendezvous, Coleman.”

I snorted. “Not exactly what I had in mind, Ross, but thank you for the clarification. I’d like to write a letter for you to take to Brianna.”

“Why?”

“It’s been three months.”

For a moment, I thought he was going to refuse.

“Fine. I don’t like being your messenger boy, but maybe it will put a smile on Anna’s face.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m not doing it for you, Coleman.”

“I know. You’re doing it for Brianna. I’m still grateful.”

Ross stood, tossing his napkin and some money down on the table. I did the same. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

Chapter 8

Brianna

“What if they got into a fight? What if they hurt each other? It would be
all my fault.” I knew my voice held a hint of hysteria, but I couldn’t help it.

Jade took hold of my hand and laced our fingers together. She’d skipped her classes today, knowing how nervous I’d be about Stephan and Cal’s meeting. “I’m sure it was fine. They’re both grown men. I’m positive they can control themselves.”

“Cal doesn’t like Stephan. He doesn’t understand.”

She continued to try and soothe me. “He made you a promise, Anna. He’ll keep it.”

I looked up at her and saw she earnestly believed what she was saying. In her view, the goal would outweigh any perceived obstacles. I only hoped she was right.

The afternoon dragged on as Jade tried to distract me. Cal had said he would be home early, but it was getting close to three and there’d been no sign of him. Jade had even tried to call his cell, but it went straight to his voice mail. With every passing minute, my anxiety increased. If Jade hadn’t been with me, I probably would have retreated into myself.

As it was, when we finally heard him arrive, I was shaking due to nerves. They were supposed to have met for lunch. No one had lunch this late, did they? Where had Cal been? What had he been doing? What had taken so long?

Jade held tight to my hand while we waited for Cal to make his way to my bedroom.

He caught sight of us on the bed and stopped. “Everything okay?”

“I don’t know.” Jade’s tone made Cal raise his eyebrows. She didn’t raise her voice, but it had that “I’m not happy” inflection I remembered my mom had used with my stepdad sometimes. “Is there a reason you didn’t come home right after your lunch or, at the very least, pick up your phone to let us know how everything went?”

“Oh.” For the first time in . . . well, ever . . . I saw Cal look somewhat guilty.

“Oh?”

“Sorry about that. I-I needed to clear my head and think about a few things.”

“And your phone?”

He sighed. “I turned it off. Like I said, I needed time to think, and I didn’t want the office calling me.”

Instead of responding to Cal, she rubbed my arm and spoke to me. “I don’t see any marks on him, do you?”

Cal stood at the end of my bed, and I took a long minute to look him over from head to foot.

“No.”

“What are you two talking about?”

“Anna was afraid you and Stephan would get into a fight. She’s been a nervous wreck all day.” The look Jade sent him gave me chills. “Which you would have known had you
called
.”

Cal stood motionless, staring at me, before pulling up a chair beside my bed. He reached out but didn’t touch me. “I’m sorry, Anna. I didn’t think, and I should have.”

“It’s okay,” I whispered. My reaction probably wasn’t normal. I didn’t want him to feel bad because I wasn’t strong enough to deal with things. It wasn’t his fault.

“No. It’s not. Jade’s right—I should have called.” He paused. “I have something for you.”

Cal reached into his back pocket and handed me what looked to be a folded piece of paper, careful not to let our fingers touch.

“What is it?”

When he remained silent, I looked up at him. “It’s a letter from Coleman. He asked me to give it to you.”

My eyes opened wide, and my hands began to tremble. Stephan had written me a letter?

I started to open it and then stopped, noticing my audience.

“Let’s give her some privacy,” Jade said, standing. Cal was reluctant to go. Eventually Jade grew tired of his stalling and reached for his hand, dragging him with her out of the room.

Alone, I glanced back down at the letter. For a split second, fear raced through me. What if this was it? What if he’d finally realized I was too much to deal with? We’d been apart for three months—the same amount of time I’d lived with him. What if this time apart had convinced him—had shown him how much he’d given up for me?

I let the paper drop from my hands and watched as it landed on top of my thighs. As I continued to stare at it, the fear lessened and was replaced by a mixture of joy and sadness. What if he missed me even half as much as I missed him? It was difficult for me to accept, but I couldn’t deny how much I wanted it to be the truth.

Reaching out, I skimmed my fingers along the folded edges. I had to know. No matter what he said—even if it was that he didn’t feel for me as I did for him—I had to find out.

Before I could stop myself, I picked up the letter and opened it. Stephan’s handwriting filled the page, and as I began reading his words, my eyes filled with tears. I had to start over twice before I was able to get through it.

Brianna,

I hope this letter finds you well.

Ross came to see me today—he’s sitting on the couch in my office as I write this, bouncing his leg impatiently. I was surprised he agreed to deliver this letter to you, but grateful. He says you’re doing as well as can be expected. I’m not sure what to take from that, and he isn’t elaborating. I asked him if you were eating, and I wasn’t encouraged by his answer. You need to eat, Brianna. Do you understand?

He says you’ve made some sort of deal with him. This worries me. I don’t want you doing something you don’t want to do just to make things easier for me. I knew the risks, and I chose to take them. If I had to do it again, I would. You’re worth it. Remember that.

There is so much I want to say, yet I know I shouldn’t. Please take care of yourself.

Yours,

Stephan

Flipping over the letter, I hoped to find more of his writing on the back, but there was nothing. I wanted more. Then again, I wanted Stephan. I wasn’t picky about which parts. I’d take anything he was willing to give me.

BOOK: Trust
13.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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