Found in You: Page 14
I took his hand, my fingers wrapping limply around his. "No, the pleasure's mine." That's what you say to new business affiliates when you meet them, right? Because nothing I could think of sounded correct or harmless. Did it sound like I was flirting? Because I was not. Was. Not. There wasn't any interest in my body for him except to be far, far away.
I pulled my hand away first, unwilling to touch him longer than necessary.
"Paul, you've got to see this place. Can we repeat the tour?" She looked at me, wide eyed and expectant.
Hell, no. That's what I wanted to say. What I should say. But I was numb and no response came at all.
Again, Paul came to the rescue. "Actually, honey, we've really got to get going."
She took his wrist in her hand and twisted it to look at his watch. "Yeah, you're right. We have a thing tonight. Last minute details and all. Mind if I use the little girl's room before we take off?"
She blinked at me twice before I realized that the question was for me.
"Not at all, it's back at the top of the ramp, to-"
She cut me off. "I remember."
I watched as Julia climbed the ramp and disappeared around the corner. Then I found my voice. Words fell like the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. "Paul, I had no idea, I swear. I didn't have a clue that Julia was your partner or that you worked at Party Planners Plus or that you'd be here today or ever. I would have canceled if your name was anywhere attached to the business website, and how the hell would I ever know that you'd become an event planner anyway? Because when I knew you, you were an accountant in that stupid firm on Forty-Seventh-"
"Stop, Alayna." He let out a huff of air as he ran his hands through his hair. "I know you didn't plan this. There's no way you would have known." I wasn't sure if he was acknowledging my innocence in our meeting or reassuring himself. "I'm still an unofficial partner. I've been doing Julia's accounting and we only recently decided..."
His hand dropped to his side. "Anyway, that's not important. The important thing is-"
"That we absolutely don't work together. I know." As I said it, my heart sank, the ideas I'd had for teaming up with Julia rupturing like a popped balloon. "The restraining order was for five years, and I think there's two years or so left."
"A little less than two years," he corrected. "But that doesn't matter. We have to work together anyway."
"What?" I think I actually jerked in surprise.
His hand went back to his dark blond hair, brushing through it like he always did when he'd been stressed or exasperated. "I can't ruin this deal for Julia. She's hired new people recently and she's trying to expand the business. It's a good time for her, but she needs connections like this club. Connections with people like Hudson Pierce."
"But I can't be anywhere near you, let alone working with you." Hudson's name in the air made me even more uncomfortable with being alone with Paul Kresh.
I didn't like Hudson being connected to my past mistakes. I was in serious violation of a restraining order that I'd already violated once. My hands balled at my sides, my fingernails digging into my skin at the thought of what would happen if the cops found out.
As if reading my mind, Paul said, "I'm not going to report you. You didn't know. And going forward I'm not going to say a damn word." His eyes narrowed. "Unless you f**king show up on my doorstep, or in my office-"
"I'm not!" I clasped my hands together and put them to my lips, calming myself before speaking again. I counted to ten in wicked speed. "I'm not like that anymore. I'm better. I got counseling. I haven't even thought about you since..." Since the night before when I'd told Hudson about him. "Well, I'm better. And I'm with someone."
I was so much better. There was a time where I would have been dizzy and heartsick over even the slightest thought of Paul Kresh. Now he was nothing but a mistake. A problem I couldn't wait to go away.
"Good. That's good to hear. I'm glad you're better." Paul looked me over. "And I believe you. You look better. I don't know...healthy or something."
"Thank you." Getting emotionally and physically better had improved my physical being. I'd gained weight-mostly muscle-and my skin tone had improved.
Paul seemed to be taking those changes in and my stomach clenched with the urge to throw up.
He must have caught himself, because he suddenly turned away, gazing up the ramp where Julia had gone. "Look, Julia knows nothing about you or Melissa or that I was engaged before."
"Nice. Secretive relationships for the win," I said sarcastically.
He ignored my remark. "We'll simply have to agree to keep all the past under wraps. Not a word that we've ever met before today. We can do that. I know you can." His tone was caustic, as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. "You were always good at acting like things were just fine."
I fought the urge to kick him in the shins. "Paul, this is a bad idea. A really bad idea for me."
He stepped toward me, a finger pointed in my direction. "You owe me. You owe me this at least. Don't you think?"
Fuck. He had me there. Didn't I owe him a whole shit load? Sure he'd been a dick at every opportunity, but that didn't excuse the way I'd invaded his life. And paying him back, cleaning the slate-it sounded awfully appealing.
Against every warning siren blaring in my head, I said the words I hoped I didn't live to regret. "All right." I swallowed and said it again. "All right. I'll pretend we just met."
"Fine. You'll be working mostly with Julia anyway. We won't see each other. It shouldn't be an issue."
I put my hand over my churning stomach and nodded weakly.
"Alayna, hey!" The female voice came from the opposite direction of where Julia had gone.
I squinted toward the sound and found Celia making her way toward us. Really? Could this day get any more complicated? Or filled with people I wasn't supposed to be with?
"What-what are you doing here?" My voice was dazed.
"You never called me for coffee and I didn't have your number so I stopped by."
I hadn't called her because Hudson and I had agreed not to see her without each other. I certainly hadn't expected her to show up out of the blue. And, how had she gotten in anyway? I frowned. The door had been locked and should have stayed locked after Julia let Paul in. Maybe they hadn't shut the door hard enough.
"How did you know I was here?" Was my head muddled or was her appearance as baffling as Paul's?
"Jordan told me."
Of course. Her endless connections to Hudson's life. Why was I even surprised anymore?
"Is something wrong?" Concern laced Celia's question.
"No...I...well." My head hurt, my stomach hurt, my mouth was dry and I felt shaky. "Everything's fine."
I followed Celia's questioning glance to Paul. Oh, yeah. Fucking Paul. "Celia this is a potential business associate, Paul Kresh." I turned to Paul, unable to look him in the eye. "This is a friend of my boyfriend's, Celia Werner."
Paul's brow rose. "As in, Warren Werner?"
"Uh-huh." Celia straightened at the mention of her father's name, ready to be the show pony that she was raised to be.
Paul broke into a smile. "We did an event for your mother once. I didn't actually talk to you, but I saw you around."
"What company did you say you worked for?"
"Party Planners Plus. My girlfriend is the owner and I recently joined on board as her partner." Paul's eyes traveled toward the ramp. "Here she is now." He turned his focus to his girlfriend. "Julia, this is Celia Werner. You remember when we did that event for Madge Werner."
Julia's eyes brightened. "Totally. It was at the MoMA last spring."
"Ah, that was you? How nice to meet you. It turned out lovely, no matter what my mother said."
Julia and Paul exchanged a glance that said there must have been a story behind the matter. Frankly, though I would usually be curious about the gossip regarding Celia's mother, at the moment I couldn't care less. There were too many conflicting pieces of my life trying to meet up in one place-Celia, Paul, trying to land my first great business deal for the club-once again, I felt the urge to throw up.
"I hope you don't mind, but as Paul said, we've got to be running." Julia smiled brightly. "It was so awesome to meet you."
I did my best to recapture the enthusiasm I'd had earlier when it was just Julia and me. "You, too. I'll draw up those packages and get back to you by tomorrow."
Paul seemed ready to leave without saying anything to me until Julia cast him a stern look. "Yes, we look forward to working with you. A joint venture would be beneficial to both of us."
I read his subtext, the reminder that I should go along with his ridiculous plan to pretend we were strangers. "I certainly hope so," I said, my face plastered into a businesslike grin.
I held my breath until the door shut behind Julia and the unwelcome ghost of my past.
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