The pages of the paperback in my hands were worn with age and the abuse of being stuffed inside my briefcase on a regular basis as I dashed to and from work, the coffee shop, the courthouse, and various other places in a never-ending rush. It was just passed five o’clock on a Tuesday night and I was lying across the midsection of my cappuccino colored couch, reading a romance novel. This was my usual post-work activity. Most evenings I could be found relaxing in bed or on the sectional with a book in my hands and a glass of wine.
Okay. Fine. Sometimes it was chocolate milk. We all have our weaknesses.
This was my favorite way to wind down after a long day.
I turned the partially wrinkled page as the loud click of a sliding deadbolt signaled my fiancé, Derek, unlocking my front door. I listened to the creak of the door opening and the sound of his all-too-familiar shiny black shoes on the freshly waxed wood floors as he made his way down the hallway toward me.
“Hey babe,” I heard from the archway behind me.
Derek smiled as he leaned over the couch to kiss me. A simple, sweet peck on the lips, though it sent an exceptionally delicious
warmth through my veins.
“Hey,” I smiled back, putting my bookmark between the pages and closing my current read. “How was work?”
Derek walked around the couch and plopped down next to me with a thud, followed by a heavy yawn that went hand-in-hand with the dark circles that had been under his eyes a lot lately.
“So you’re the reason the couch squeaks,” I teased, pointing a finger at him.
“I’m not the only reason,” he smirked, referring to our many sex-capades on that particular piece of furniture. “But to answer your question, work was productive. I finally got McCarthy on board as our client.”
“That’s fantastic!” I grinned, planting a big, sloppy kiss on his cheek.
Derek had been trying to convince McCarthy Investments to use the law firm he was a partner at as their new representation. After five frustrating months, his efforts had finally been successful.
“Yeah but we got a new guy that thinks he knows everything and won’t work with me. He’s kind of a jackass,” Derek snorted.
“There’s one in every crowd,” I shrugged, sipping my wine. “Am I going to meet this jackass tonight?”
We were going to attend a business dinner party that Derek’s boss, AKA his dad, was throwing to celebrate their firm’s recent achievements. Hampton, Burns and Hampton was one of the most prominent law firms in the Chicago area and Derek was at least half of the reason they were so successful.
The firm was started by his father and three of his colleagues twenty-two years ago. When Derek graduated from Harvard Law School at the top of his class, he turned down numerous offers from major firms all over the country, having known he had a guaranteed job waiting for him at Hampton. It took less than eight months before his father made him a partner, ignoring every voice that suggested Derek might be too inexperienced.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Derek so excited about anything, except maybe the day he proposed to me.
“Unfortunately, I’m sure you will,” Derek groaned, rolling his eyes. “We need to leave in about thirty minutes.”
I looked at the clock. 5:16. I was looking forward to going to the party. It’d been awhile since I’d been to a formal event and I really enjoyed dressing up for these things. Derek, however, hated them. He didn’t understand the point in attending events with your co-workers when you saw them every day already. I, of course, disagreed.
“You’re not going like that, are you?” I faked annoyance with a short laugh, pointing to what he called his “meeting suit.”
Derek liked to separate his clothes by categories. He had suits for meetings, suits for social events, suits for court, and so on. I thought that was kind of goofy, but then again, all my business attire was versatile enough that I could wear the same pantsuit for a meeting that I wore at last week’s hearing and it worked just fine. Dresses, however, were a different story.
“No, actually,” Derek huffed as though I was on his nerves. He was doing a terrible job of hiding the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I’m going to wear that one that’s like off-black or whatever it’s called. Not gray. I don’t know.”
I raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Charcoal?”
“That’s the one!” he said enthusiastically, quickly heading upstairs to my bedroom.
Derek and I basically shared a house. He had a fancy downtown apartment and I had this quaint two-bedroom home in the suburbs, but he was almost always at my place.
I certainly didn’t mind. I loved having him there to sleep with me most nights, and frankly I just loved being around him all the time.
We were about two months into what we planned on being a ten-month engagement. It was April and we were planning to get married in December. I’d always wanted a fall or winter wedding and December was my favourite month. I thought it would be wonderful to have an anniversary around Christmastime, and Derek didn’t seem to have a problem with it. We set the date for the third.
We’d been together for three years, having met during my second year of law school. I’d graduated from Harvard last year.
Ever since I saw a movie with a court scene in it when I was little, I’d always found law so fascinating and I thought it would be so interesting and fun to be an attorney. I liked the idea of cleverly overcoming the challenges of cases.
Of course, it wasn’t real fun working my way through school as a paralegal. That was too much paperwork and my co-workers were assholes, but I managed.
Derek had proposed in February over a candlelit dinner at my favourite Italian restaurant. I was beyond elated. He’d been living with me part-time for a year and we’d become very serious.
I was surprised when he proposed though. I’d expected to have the marriage talk at some point before the big question but it never came up. Derek was never much for planning things that weren’t in the real near future, whereas I was.
I made my way upstairs to see Derek getting dressed in the bedroom with the door open. Standing in the doorway, I leaned against the doorframe watching him pull his slacks up and button his white shirt. He knew I was staring, though he didn’t look up.
I started biting at my bottom lip. If we hadn’t been going to this party, I would be taking those clothes off of him in a heated frenzy by now. He looked good. Almost too good, if that was possible.
I strode to the closet to find my attire for the evening: a mid-thigh length dark red satin strapless dress paired with black four-inch heels. I stripped down in front of Derek, feeling his gaze fixed on my backside as I tossed my bra to the side and was left only in skimpy red lace panties. I was enjoying teasing Derek with the view, knowing my underwear left basically nothing to the imagination.
I stepped into the dress and slowly dragged the silky material up over my legs, stopping at my waist and suggestively asking him to come zip the back for me.
I held the thin fabric against my chest as Derek took his time pulling the zipper up behind me. His hands lingered on my back and I leaned against his body feeling the heat radiating off of him. He placed a hand on my hip and my legs instinctively parted slightly as I rested the back of my head on his shoulder.
“Why do you do this to me?” Derek groaned in my ear, sliding his hand further down my body.
“Do what?” I smirked playfully.
“Any chance we can just skip this party and stay in tonight?” he asked, hoping I’d say yes so we could go straight to bed.
“Nah,” I giggled, shaking my head. “But if you can manage to sit through the whole thing, I just might reward you tonight.”
Derek sighed, removing his hand from my thigh and stepped back to sit on the bed.
“You drive a hard bargain,” he chuckled with his eyebrows raised.
It took me a few more minutes to finish getting ready. I put in my usual diamond studs and freshened up my makeup, which was always minimal.
Within ten minutes Derek and I were out the door and on our way to the party. It was a fairly chilly evening. The sunset was a blur of pink, orange and purple splashed across the sky and the light breeze was just enough to send shivers down my spine.
The ride to the venue, a hotel ballroom in downtown Chicago, was mostly silent. I stared at the brake lights of vehicles in front of us and watched what was left of the sun fade away into a star-studded darkness.
It took a while for us to reach the parking garage of the Hilton once we made it off the freeway to the downtown streets. The traffic was so congested with the nightlife just getting going. I rolled my window down to feel the cool air on my face as Derek pulled into the garage entrance, handing the attendant a ten-dollar bill and proceeding to slowly make his way through the seven levels of cramped parking until he found a space to his liking to park his new Honda.
We stepped out of the car, my heels clicking against the pavement as Derek pressed the lock button on his keychain, sounding two chirp-like beeps from the vehicle. He wrapped an arm loosely around my waist and we found our way to the nearest elevator.
The party was being held on the first floor right above the level we parked on, making it a short and simple walk. We entered the ballroom and the smell of champagne was so strong I could almost already feel the headache I was sure to acquire within a couple hours. I recognized a few of Derek’s co-workers. Christine, a tall blonde civil defence attorney at Hampton, Burns and Hampton dawned a shiny silver floor-length gown with a wine-red sash around her midsection. She smiled and waved to us from across the room.
I noticed a few other people Derek had previously introduced me to at his office. Karen Reynolds was the receptionist, whom I probably got along with the best of his associates. She was in her mid-sixties but looked about forty-five and she had the personality of a comedian. Any time we spoke, I couldn’t stop laughing.
I also recognized Harry, a lanky older man who was responsible for the firm’s marketing strategies. He was clad in the same business suit he wore to everything. I’m pretty sure I saw him in the grocery store on a Saturday night in that outfit. I wondered if he owned anything else.
I felt somewhat uncomfortable not knowing many people at the event but I figured I’d follow Derek around like a lost puppy all evening and he’d introduce me to everyone.
“Carrie,” Derek spoke up for the first time since before we’d left my house, scanning the room for other familiar faces. “Would you like to go sit down?”
With Derek being a partner and the boss’s son, we always sat at the so-called executive table for these things.
“Sure,” I smiled, looking around for where that table might be.
I followed Derek to where his father was sitting, talking to a business associate.
“Dad,” Derek addressed him, shaking his hand and taking a seat to the side of his father.
I sat down beside Derek, awkwardly smiling at anyone whose eyes happened to meet mine while I looked around the ballroom. It occurred to me that this party was going to be horribly boring if Derek didn’t plan on socializing. I could go mingle myself but I’d always been more reserved and found it more difficult to go up to people and strike up a conversation, versus having someone else introduce me.
Derek’s father and his associate were still in deep conversation and Derek was visibly bored out of his mind. I knew he didn’t enjoy these events but he could at least try to have a good time. There were people talking and laughing and drinking all around us and there was a glittery-silver faux tile dance floor that I was itching to be on. Derek didn’t appear interested.
“Are you just going to sit here like a bump on a log?” I asked, resting my chin on my fist, my elbow on the white linen-covered table.
“I might.” He crossed his arms. “I’m just not feeling this. Why do you always make me attend these things?”
“Because you’re the boss’s son,” I answered in a dull tone.
“You’re supposed to be at these things.”
Truth be told, I didn’t always want to go either but I knew Derek’s father wouldn’t take too kindly to him missing an opportunity to wow associates and potential clients.
“Well I don’t see why I can’t skip one or two every now and then,” he huffed.
“You can. But most of them you should go to. Besides, I like going places with you. Try to have a good time. It’s really not that boring.”
“Alright ,” he groaned. “I’ll walk around with you on my arm and tell people how gorgeous my fiancé looks.”
“Be still, my heart,” I giggled, shaking my head and standing up along with him.
We made our way around the ballroom talking to everyone from Karen, the receptionist, to Lindsay, a recently hired file clerk, to pretty much everyone who had an office on Derek’s floor.
Christine told Derek about a plan she was going to present to his father in the coming weeks on how to better manage the firm’s private endeavours. I hadn’t a clue what those were. Derek obviously wasn’t paying attention to half of the conversation but it was small talk at least and that’s better than sitting idly at a table the entire evening.
After chatting with Christine, we decided to head back to our table. Halfway to our destination, Derek groaned and turned to guide me in the opposite direction.
“Don’t look,” he said, annoyed, as we headed back toward Christine.
“What am I supposed to not be looking at?” I asked, fighting the urge to look all over the place.
I briefly thought how convenient it might be to be able to turn my head completely around like an owl.
“Remember me telling you about that new guy that’s a total dick?” Derek’s voice was icy, reminding me of our conversation earlier.
“He’s talking to my dad right now,” he responded with a groan.
I shook my head in amusement. “So introduce me.”
Derek looked at me like I had three heads. “What? ”
“Introduce me,” I repeated. “I don’t see what the big deal is. You just met the guy. He might not be that bad. Maybe you should try getting to know him.”
“Maybe I don’t want to get to know him.”
“Well, right now it sounds like you’re the one who won’t work with your co-workers,” I said, knowing that would irritate him enough to get a reaction.
Derek sighed, closing his eyes for a moment, clearly frustrated with the situation, and then turned back toward our table with me following.
My eyes landed on a tall man in a black blazer and dark denim jeans that accentuated his ass. His back was to me as he animatedly spoke to Derek’s father. His hair was a deep brown, almost black that obviously hadn’t been cut in a-while. The man turned around as we reached the table and his gaze immediately landed on me.
My breath left my lungs in half a second when I looked into the eyes of the, without-a-doubt, sexiest man I’d ever seen. He had slightly longish hair with bangs covering most of his forehead, chocolate-brown eyes that you could easily get lost in, and a killer smirk that would get any woman’s attention. He was taller than Derek. Probably six-two.
I felt like I was in a trance. The room around us was a blur of crystal chandeliers, glasses clinking, laughter, and music. All I could see was this man. I wondered if I was the only one who noticed his eyes brighten with intrigue and the tip of his tongue glide across his bottom lip as he eyed me suggestively.
The tightening of Derek’s arm around my waist dragged me back to reality. He gave my side a light squeeze. I’d almost forgotten he was there.
Embarrassment flushed my cheeks and I crossed my fingers that no one noticed. I didn’t want to believe that anyone could be more attractive than the man I was going to marry, but there was no denying how gorgeous this man was.
“Dad,” Derek spoke up, ignoring the man’s presence. “Christine was telling us about a presentation she’s working on. Maybe we should go talk to her about it.”
I cocked an eyebrow. I thought this was an introduction, not a chance for him to bolt again.
“Derek,” his father’s tone signalled annoyance. “I’m not interested in that right now and I’m sure Carrie isn’t either.”
Well, he was right about that.
“Dad, I just think-”
“I know what you think.”
Mr. Hampton’s tone was hard enough to silence a few nearby conversations and draw wandering eyes in our direction.
“Now, I know you two have some sort of issue going on but I don’t see any reason why you can’t be men and fix it right now.”
I fought the urge to let my gaze travel back to the handsome man in front of us. He was leaning against the chair Derek had sat in when we’d first arrived. He had a boyish grin plastered across his flawless face.
Derek gave in and took his father’s advice, or rather, order. “Carrie, this is my co-worker.”
His words were blunt like he was spitting venom. I raised an eyebrow when Derek didn’t tell me the man’s name but I went ahead and extended my hand to shake.
“Nick,” the man said with a flirty smile.
He confidently leaned forward pressing his lips to the back of my hand, lingering a second too long before releasing his warm grasp on me.
I felt my face heat up again at the realization that this man’s lips had just touched my skin. His mouth curved into a devious smirk.
“Nice to meet you.” I forced myself to speak, hoping my voice didn’t sound as shaky to everyone else as it did to me.
“Likewise,” Nick said, keeping his smouldering eyes locked on mine.
I started to wish I had worn a dress that wasn’t so revealing. I loved this dress because it showed off my figure and my cleavage perfectly. It made me feel like a model. But under Nick’s stare I felt naked, and by the looks of his devilish smile, he probably wished I was.
Derek glared at Nick and for a moment I was sure he was about to lunge at the man. The silence between us was deafening. My pulse hammering in my eardrums was making me dizzy.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of Nick. I felt extremely guilty for finding another man attractive. I wasn’t supposed to look at other men this way. I was supposed to be infatuated with Derek for the rest of my life just like I’d been for the past three years. I
wanted to believe that Derek was the most attractive man in the world – and I had – up until this moment.
Never before had I felt so drawn to a man than in those few heated seconds.
I almost felt like I was cheating on Derek just by the way I felt such a pull to Nick. It was as if our bodies had suddenly become cloaked in a magnetic energy with only a chair preventing a physical connection between us.
I mentally snapped at myself to get a grip.
Stop staring at him!
I reminded myself that I was engaged. I reminded myself over and over that my fiancé was standing right next to me with his arm around me. I repeatedly told myself to walk away, or strike up a conversation with Derek’s father to break the silence, or at least get a damn drink to ease the discomfort. But I continued to stand there, mesmerized by the tall, muscular man before me.
“Derek.” His father’s voice shook me out of my thoughts. “I’d like a word.”
Derek mumbled a curse under his breath and hesitated for a moment before passing Nick, following his father to a spot across the room.
I felt overexposed without his arm around my waist. Scratch that. I felt like my head might explode if I didn’t sit down, get a drink, and relax.
“You look nervous,” Nick said.
He pulled the chair he’d been leaning on out from the table.
“Please, sit with me.”
I hesitated. A chorus of fictitious excuses chimed through my thoughts. I considered chasing after Derek or saying I needed to visit the lavatory.
Nick’s fingertips skimmed the edge of the table causing a hardly noticeable wrinkle in the tablecloth as they moved against it. He waited patiently for my answer, the slight dip in his wavered grin signalling that he was biting at his bottom lip.
I blinked hard, clearing my mind of silly escape plans. Taking a seat in the chair Nick had pulled out, I didn’t say a word at first, reaching for the ice water in front of me. I felt a gentle tug in the tablecloth as Nick sat down beside me resting his forearm on the edge.
“So, you and Derek.” He broke the ice. “How long have you been together?”
“A couple years,” I answered, staring at the melting ice cubes in my glass.
“How long you been engaged?” he asked.
I assumed he was having a hard time making conversation knowing nothing about me aside from the man whom I was engaged to. It was understandable, though I couldn’t help feeling awkward discussing Derek’s and my relationship.
“Two months,” I said. It felt more like a confession. “Why?”
Nick shrugged his broad, muscular shoulders. “What else is there to talk about besides work?”
My assumption appeared to be correct.
“Work?” I suggested.
“See, that would’ve made too much sense.” The edges of his mouth curved upwards in a cheesy smile. “So what do you do?”
I glanced across the room to where Derek and his father appeared to be in the midst of a heated discussion. “I’m an attorney.”
Nick’s eyebrows rose, disappearing beneath his sweeping bangs. His hair may have been unkempt but it framed his face in a perfect way with just the right amount of length brushing his collar.
“That’s a complex field, Miss Carrie.” His words awakened the nerves in the depths of my stomach. “What area of law do you practice?”
“Most of my clients are domestic violence victims,” I told him. A deep silence fell suddenly between us. I continued speaking to dissipate it. “Originally I’d gone to law school to learn contract law. I’d briefly considered real estate law as well.”
Nick’s smile had faded, intrigue splashed across his face. “What made you switch your focus?”
At first I didn’t want to say. My decision had been so personal I hadn’t even told my family. Or Derek, for that matter.
Nick’s thoughtful gaze warmed me and despite my reservations I felt like it would be easy to tell him.
“Two months into my first semester I went to visit my best friend’s sister in the hospital,” I explained. “Her boyfriend had gone on a tirade after finding her positive pregnancy test.”
His eyes widened, brows furrowing as he intently listened to me.
I continued. “He was arrested and charged but never convicted. The prosecution missed something somewhere and he got away with it. Witnessing the legal aspect of it and seeing how much more she hurt when he wasn’t put away made me want to change that. I decided to shift my focus to defending others in that position. I wanted – want – to make a difference in their lives.”
When I’d concluded my explanation, I wondered if my words had been too heavy for our first conversation. I was surprised to find Nick’s smile returning.
“That’s an admirable career move,” he said.
“It was more than a career move.” So much more. “What about you? What do you do for Hampton, Burns and Hampton?”
“Contract law.” He cracked a grin. “Ironically.”
I couldn’t restrain the smile tugging at my own lips as a soft laugh left my mouth in response. Nick’s eyes had brightened and the glittery crystals of the chandelier above sparkled in his chocolate orbs. His smile displayed his perfectly white teeth this time and I felt compelled to lean in closer.
As if reading my mind, he scooted forward in his seat staring into my eyes. I felt hypnotized.
I studied his features. The deep brown colour of his eyes reminded me of creamy melted chocolate like a Lindt commercial. His light pink lips looked so soft and kissable. I shivered as I watched the tip of his tongue glide over his bottom lip. Strands of his almost-black hair were hanging down over his forehead and I wanted so desperately to run my fingers through the silky, wavy mess.
He had the perfect jawline with just a shadow of stubble. For a split second I entertained the idea of shoving all the dinnerware off the table and straddling him on it.
I wondered if he could tell what I was thinking.
“You’re the most beautiful woman in this room tonight, Carrie.” His words were seductive. His eyes stared deeply into mine bringing a blush to my chest which I was sure he noticed. I felt lightheaded. I felt captivated.
“Th-thank you,” I stuttered, surprised at his statement, as well as the weak sound of my voice.
Nick obviously wasn’t concerned with the possibility of someone noticing that we’d broken the personal space bubble. He took my hand in his and rubbed his thumb back and forth over my knuckles. The gesture was soothing though my heartrate was frantic. I wondered if Nick was as tempted by me and I was by him.
He breathed out, glancing to my mouth for a second. “It’s rather dull here, don’t you think?”
I fidgeted, unable to form a response. “I…”
“I wanna show you something,” he smiled, standing up and pulling me to my feet with him.
I didn’t have a chance to think about what we were doing before he had me in an elevator heading to the top floor of the hotel. I realized we’d left and Derek had no clue where I was. Furthermore, I’d left my phone in his car. Great.
No words were spoken as the elevator rose. Only the faint ding ‘s of the digital floor numbers sounded as we waited.
Despite my concerns of Derek not being able to find me, I found myself fighting off the daydream of Nick pinning me to the wall and kissing me roughly. I wondered what it would feel like if he took the opportunity push me against the mirrored panels behind us and drag his lips down my neck.
I gasped when I felt his large palm flatten against my lower back. I could vaguely see our reflection in the metal doors. A smirk played across his lips.
The doors rolled open and Nick lead me down a narrow corridor. It occurred to me that he might be taking me to a room he’d rented for the night. My cheeks flushed and I slowed my pace.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we turned a corner.
Nick gestured to a door displayed a sign that clearly read
Confusion swept through me as he shoved the heavy door open. Cold air hit me when we stepped out onto the roof. All I could see were skyscrapers lighting up downtown and a few stars sparkling in the sky through misty clouds.
“This is what you wanted to show me?”
I walked closer to the railing in awe of the view. It was absolutely stunning.
“I thought this was a bit less lacklustre.” Nick’s voice came from behind me.
He made his way across the cold cement and stood beside me leaning against the metal railing.
I felt relieved. My worry had been for nothing. He hadn’t been trying to take me back to his room. And yet, a part of me felt disappointed. I would’ve never admitted it to anyone but I didn’t hate the idea of going back to his hotel room. Images of him lying on top of me, coaxing me to another orgasm danced through my head. I tried to ignore them but I could already feel the blush creeping to my face once more.
And then I felt guilty again. How could I possibly think such scandalous thoughts about another man? I vigorously shook my head as if to throw the thoughts from my mind, forgetting for a split second that anyone else was around.
“Are you alright?” Nick’s voice startled me back to reality.
I instantly regretted looking at him when the breeze caught his wavy bangs and blew them to the side. His gaze captured mine and I was right back to thinking about how stunningly attractive this man was. And then I began to fantasize about this man wrapping his strong arms around me and kissing me on this rooftop with a backdrop of the city lights spotlighting our actions. I wanted to kiss Nick. I wanted him to take me home. Or to a room at the hotel. I wanted him to put his hands and fiery hot mouth all over my body. I wanted to feel him inside me all night. I wanted him to fuck me.
I was surprised at myself. I had never felt that way before. I didn’t know what came over me. There was just something about Nick that had such an intoxicating effect. I wasn’t sure if it was his appearance, his attitude, or even just the way he said my name, but something about him – maybe everything about him – made me want to see what was underneath his clothes
“I-I’m fine,” I finally managed, clearing my throat uncomfortably.
“Pretty sweet, huh?” he said softly, staring at the antenna on top of the tallest building downtown, the Willis – or Sears, as I still called it – Tower. “The sky deck on that one is even better. You can literally stand over the street and look down through the glass.”
“I’ve always wanted to go up there,” I said, watching the flashing lights of an airplane descending over Lake Michigan toward the airport. “I just never find the time.”
“I can take you,” Nick offered. “It’s not that far and we’d be back before the party’s over.”
I actually considered this for a moment but decided against it, knowing Derek was probably already worried sick, and the longer I took to get back the more upset he was going to be.
“I shouldn’t.” I shook my head. “Derek is probably freaking out that he can’t find me right now.”
Nick scoffed. It was as if the mention of Derek left a bad taste in his mouth.
“What do you two have against each other?” I asked, curious.
He stared at me, taken aback by my sudden question. “We just have different work ethics, I suppose.”
His response was simple. Obviously, bullshit. I opened my mouth to speak again – to ask for the real answer – but decided against it.
Nick adjusted his body against the railing with a frustrated sigh and ran a hand through his hair, pushing his bangs back. Fuck , that was attractive.
“Why are you with him?” Nick suddenly broke the silence. His tone was calm but there was an underlying annoyance in his words.
“Excuse me?” I frowned. In a matter of seconds, I’d become equally as attracted to him as I was repulsed by him.
“You could do-”
“I swear to God, if you say so much better,” I snapped at him, clinching my fist.
Nick raised his hands in surrender.
Realizing the depth of the mistake I’d made – sneaking off with my fiancé’s co-worker while fantasizing about his face between my thighs – I didn’t bother with a goodbye as I made my way across the roof to the door we’d previously walked through. I was irritated, my heels were killing my feet, and Nick had managed to go from teasing my nerves to grating on them in point-five milliseconds.
Inside the elevator I repeatedly punched the button for the first floor and angrily waited for the doors to open. I was surprised that a man I’d only known for forty minutes could twist up my emotions so easily. I’d never lusted after someone immediately after introductions the way I just had with Nick and I didn’t know what to make of it.
“There you are!” Derek shouted from across the big, empty hallway between the ballroom and elevators. “Where have you been?”
“I’m fine,” I said with a wave of my hand, making a beeline for the ballroom doors.
“Carrie?” Derek followed right behind me.
“I’m just a little frustrated right now, Derek,” I huffed. “I’m sorry. Can we go have dinner so we can leave?”
That was new for me. A complete one-eighty from my attitude an hour prior. I enjoyed these kinds of events. I usually stayed for the entire thing.
“What happened?” Derek asked as we squeezed between dozens of people, making our way from one end of the ballroom to the other.
Derek’s father was back in his seat, having a lively discussion with Christine by the looks of it. I was anxious to go sit down, knowing they’d be serving dinner soon and I was hungry. I was angry. I was hungry
“Nothing,” I shrugged.
I didn’t want to tell him about Nick’s and my journey to the roof. Derek would probably flip shit and hunt Nick down.
I was fighting conflicting thoughts about it but I had to admit, the view was almost as gorgeous as the man and if I hadn’t been engaged, I’d have thrown myself at him right then.
To my surprise, Derek seemed to let it go. We took our seats at the executive table, Derek beside his father and me beside him. I fidgeted in my seat, glancing around the table at all the unfamiliar faces. None of them appeared to be in the mood for a conversation so I pretended to be interested in listening to Derek’s father and Christine discuss legal fees.
Twenty minutes passed uneventfully and a tall man in a blue Armani suit announced that dinner would be served shortly. Just as the waiter was setting down my steak and asparagus, I felt the vibration of the chair next to me being pulled out as Nick sat down to my right.
“Good evening,” Nick commented where only I could hear. He grabbed his water glass and took a long drink.
I nodded in acknowledgement but refused to say anything. He was close enough that I could smell his expensive
Calvin Klein cologne. It was rich but not overpowering like some of the ones Derek wore. I liked it.
Nick scooted slightly closer to me, brushing my arm with his. Oh , how I wanted him to touch me.
I tried to ignore his gesture and began cutting up my steak. I needed something else to focus on.
Everything was calm for a few seconds until I felt Nick’s palm rest on my knee. My knife made an unexpected clank against the plate. I glanced to my side, flashing him a disapproving look and bumping his arm with my elbow in attempts to remove his hand from my leg without anyone noticing. Derek was too enthralled in his conversation with Christine. No one had looked our direction, to my relief.
The last thing I wanted was to make a scene so I tried to ignore the fact that Nick’s hand didn’t leave my knee. I mentally cursed myself for wearing a dress that only came to my mid-thigh. I felt dirty, feeling Nick’s warm palm on my bare skin. I was never one for pantyhose but at the moment, I was wishing I’d at least worn a longer dress.
Nick was eating his dinner one-handed as if nothing was going on. Out of my peripheral vision, I admired the way he chewed his food and the way his bangs fell across his forehead. I glanced up occasionally to stare at the way his lips pressed against his glass when he took a drink. I wanted him to press his lips against my neck like that.
Judging by the way his hand slowly crept up my thigh, he’d definitely noticed me watching him.
“Stop,” I whispered, hoping only Nick could hear me.
His hand didn’t leave my thigh. He seemed to find amusement in tormenting me and slid his hand up another inch. Then two more. Part of me liked the way his satin palm felt inching its way up my leg. But once I realized what I was thinking, I felt like I was cheating on Derek.
I mentally slapped myself and told myself to get it together. I decided I’d put up with his hand on my leg for the length of time it took us to finish eating and then I’d ask Derek if we could head home. I wasn’t in the mood to start a confrontation between them by asking my fiancé to do something about the man currently feeling me up. I did say something to Derek, I knew it would end in them taking it outside and between the two of them, Nick obviously had the advantage physically and I didn’t want to see Derek get his ass kicked.
Derek was tall and thin. He exercised quite often but didn’t have much muscle. The way Nick’s clothing hugged his body, it was obvious he had quite a bit of muscle and was very well built. No doubt he went to the gym often.
“Relax,” Nick whispered, giving my thigh a light squeeze.
I could feel my face heat up. “Nick-”
I started to tell him as quietly as I could every reason in the book why what he was doing was wrong but he didn’t give me the chance.
“I wanna talk to you alone but I don’t think I’m going to get that chance tonight,” he blurted out in hushed tones.
I watched him move his asparagus around the plate with his fork.
“You already had that chance,” I hissed, slapping his hand off my leg.
Nick’s lips curved into a smirk and I heard him chuckle lightly under his breath. Oh great. He thought this was funny. I had a sudden urge to stab his thigh with my fork but decided against it.
“I apologize,” Nick whispered, setting his fork down and turning to look at me. “I shouldn’t have let Derek’s and my little issue get in the way of what could have been a very nice conversation.”
I was surprised he was apologizing. I was even more surprised at how genuine his apology sounded.
“I forgive you,” I mumbled where no one could hear, taking a bite of my steak.
“Can we have that nice conversation after dinner?” Nick asked, sounding hopeful.
I looked at him as I swallowed my food. “What?”
“I would really like to talk to you. I won’t be a jerk. Scouts honour.”
I raised an eyebrow, unsure of whether or not I should allow him another conversation after dinner. “What do you wanna talk about?”
On Wednesday morning I awoke in a daze. The early morning sun was blaring through the window, hot on my face. I had a tremendous pulsing migraine from the previous night’s drinks clouding my vision and adding to how lightheaded I felt.
“Derek,” I groaned, keeping my eyes shut tightly. “Close the fucking blinds.”
I yanked the covers over my head and buried my face in the pillow. I lay there waiting for Derek to climb out of bed and shut the blinds but I never felt the rise of the mattress or heard the familiar sound of him pulling the string on the blinds.
“Derek ,” I mumbled again tiredly, hugging the sheets to my chest. “Shut the fucking window,
Still, Derek didn’t get up. I groaned out of frustration, not wanting to get up myself, and tossed the covers off my body, opening my eyes to reveal a room that I wasn’t familiar with at all.
I jolted straight up in the bed. Confused, I closed my eyes tight and shook my head as if that would wake me up from what I was hoping was a dream. A very, very bizarre dream.
This wasn’t my bedroom. This wasn’t my house. And this certainly wasn’t Derek’s apartment either. Where the hell was I?
“Derek?” I called, pulling the sheets back up around my naked torso.
Derek didn’t answer.
I climbed out of bed, shivering at the feeling of the cold hardwood floor under my bare feet. Across the room I noticed my heels lying neatly against the baseboard of a cream coloured wall. I turned in a circle to take in the room.
The bed was king size with black Egyptian cotton sheets and a puffy black comforter. There were matching mahogany nightstands on either side, one with a lamp and the other with a cell phone, a note and my engagement ring.
This definitely wasn’t a hotel room. I was in somebody’s house but I had no clue whose.
“Derek!” I yelled, angst creeping up my spine more and more as the seconds ticked by. “Derek!”
Still no answer.
I sat back down on the bed wrapping the sheets tightly around my body. I didn’t see my clothes anywhere and I was way too exposed in just my panties. I mentally cursed myself for not wearing a bra the night before.
I picked up the note from the nightstand and glanced over the scribbles. I didn’t recognize the handwriting.
Hope you’re feeling better when you read this. Last night was interesting. There’s water and aspirin in the kitchen if you wake up before I get back.
There was no name at the bottom. I glanced back to the nightstand where a black iPhone lay. It wasn’t mine. I felt kind of bad for snooping but I figured the phone might have a name or something in it that would help me figure out who wrote me the note, or where the hell I was.
There was no name at the bottom. I glanced back to the nightstand where a black iPhone lay. It wasn’t mine. I felt kind of bad for snooping but I figured the phone might have a name or something in it that would help me figure out who wrote me the note, or where the hell I was.
I flipped through the contacts, recognizing several names from Hampton, Burns and Hampton. I also noticed several contacts that started with “Detective,” “Officer,” and “Agent.”
I was getting more confused by the second. I decided to look through the person’s texts.
The most recent conversation was between the phone’s owner and someone named Detective Reese. There was a lot of back and forth on whether or not this person should talk to her , whoever she was.
Detective Reese never mentioned the name of the person texting them from this phone so I was still at square one.
I was about to start searching through apps. Maybe they were logged into a Facebook account. That would tell me a name. But I heard footsteps coming up the wooden staircase and hurriedly set the phone back where I found it, tugging the sheets even tighter.
I was nearly shaking, anticipating meeting the person who lived here. I hoped I hadn’t done something ridiculous the night before and gotten myself abducted. I didn’t recognize this as any of my friends’ bedrooms. I knew it wasn’t any of mine or Derek’s family’s homes.
“Oh good,” came a smooth manly voice from the hallway as the person stepped into the room. “You’re awake.”
Confusion and worry quickly turned to anger as I stared into the eyes of the man in front of me. Much to my dismay, it wasn’t Derek.
“Where the hell am I?” I spat, glaring at him.
“Relax,” Nick said calmly. “You’re at my house.”
Worry was hurriedly surging back. Why was I at his house? How did I end up here when I was supposed to be at my house with Derek? Why was he so calm about this?
“Why am I here?” I asked, my grip tightening on the sheets that shielded my body from view.
Nick stepped toward me and took a seat on the bed a couple feet from me. It was then that I realized he was shirtless and only wearing jeans that hung scandalously low on his hips. His dark hair was tossed into an attractive mess of bedhead and he looked tired.
“You don’t remember last night, do you?” he asked, adjusting his leg on the bed.
I thought about the night before and all I could come up with were memories of Derek talking to Christine, my steak dinner, being pissed off at Nick, and Nick’s hand on my thigh.
“I remember being mad at you,” I snapped. I scooted further away from him.
“That was before the alcohol,” Nick smirked. God, that smirk.
I frowned, wondering what on earth I’d done. “What are you talking about?”
“You downed a ton of champagne and at least two martinis,” he chuckled. “You don’t remember any of it, do you?”
I shook my head. “No.”
Nick scooted closer to me and leaned forward, resting an elbow on his knee. “Should I refresh your memory?” he asked flirtatiously, glancing to my mouth.
I was immediately offended. This man thought he was hot shit and I was more than ready to smack the smirk right off his face.
At the same time though, I refused to admit that he was easily turning me on with that devious smile. I wanted to feel him smirk against my lips while he kissed me. It was driving me crazy that he had this effect on me!
“No!” I shouted, suddenly coming to my senses and pushing him back.
Just as bad luck would have it, pushing Nick away allowed the sheets to fall in a heap in my lap, revealing my braless chest. Nick took the opportunity to enjoy the view as I scrambled to pull the thin material back up around my body. I felt so exposed but in the back of my mind I was aroused by him seeing my bare breasts.
He chuckled, shaking his head. “Why are you bashful, Carrie? I saw enough of your body last night.”
Suddenly it hit me that if I had been drunk enough something might have happened between Nick and I. A horrible feeling settled in the pit of my stomach when I realized I might have cheated on Derek.
“Nick,” I breathed, starting to shake. “Di-did we…?”
“About six times,” he shrugged as if there was absolutely no problem at all. “Maybe more.”
“Oh my God,” I gasped. I felt like I was about to vomit. “Please tell me you’re joking. Please tell me this is some sick joke!”
As much as it turned me on to fantasize about wrapping my legs around Nick’s waist, it was a completely different situation if it actually happened. Thoughts were harmless. Cheating was not.
He sat there calmly watching me freak out. This didn’t seem to bother him in the least bit. If I ended up puking, I was definitely going to aim for him. This was his fault. It had to be! I would never cheat on Derek! I’d never cheat on anyone. I’d never cheated in my life! What the hell was I going to do? What would Derek think? How would I even be able to tell him?
My mind raced with a thousand thoughts a minute. I imagined the horrified look on Derek’s face when I would have to tell him what happened. What if he broke off our engagement?
I wished last night never happened. I wished I hadn’t made Derek attend the party. I wished I hadn’t drank, or worn a revealing outfit. Most of all, I wished I hadn’t woken up in the bed of the man my fiancé apparently despised.
Nick shook his head, lying back on the bed with his arm folded behind his head. I tried to ignore the thought creeping into my mind of how attractive he looked lying there shirtless. I had been right about him being more built than Derek. His biceps were thick, his abs appeared rock hard, his chest perfectly chiselled, all his muscles toned. A small line of dark hair travelled teasingly downward from his just below his navel and disappeared into his jeans. I wanted to run my fingers over it. He redefined sexy .
I groaned, leaning back against the headboard. “I can’t believe I did this…”
Nick breathed out audibly and sat back up. I admired the way his stomach muscles flexed. He moved to sit only a few inches in front of me and slowly placed his hand on my leg, stilling any movement I was making.
He stared into my eyes with a cautious expression, seeming unsure of what he was about to say or do. “It’s not your fault,” he finally said.
“I don’t even know your last name!” I wailed, covering my face with the sheets and fighting back tears.
He reached up to slowly and gently pull the material away from my face. In that moment, he didn’t seem like the same man I’d been angry with. He was a caring, concerned man who genuinely wanted to assure me that everything would be okay. I wasn’t about to believe that though. I’d messed up so bad, there was no way I could fix this. I was dreading facing Derek but somehow Nick’s soft gaze and his hand clasping mine made everything feel less dramatic.
He raised his hand and I flinched. He placed a gentle palm on my cheek, slowly rubbing his thumb back and forth over my skin.
“Granger,” he said quietly.
“My last name is Granger.” He brushed my bangs behind my ear.
Nick got up and walked across the room to the closet, riffling through drawers and pulling out a white shirt and some grey sweatpants.
“They’re clean,” he said, setting the clothes on the bed and putting his hands in his pockets. “You can wear them until the dryer finishes.”
I looked from the clothes folded neatly in front of me to his soft expression. I was finally beginning to relax a bit.
“You hurled all over your clothes and mine last night,” Nick explained. “Pretty sure it’s a total loss but I tried to wash everything anyway.”
I was surprised he cared enough to wash my puke-covered dress. “T-thank you.”
He nodded and turned to leave the room. “I’ll be in the kitchen.”
I watched him walk down the hallway and listened to his footsteps descending the stairs before I finally climbed out of bed and padded across the room to shut the door. I didn’t want him seeing me naked – even if it wouldn’t be the first time.
I hurriedly pulled his oversized shirt over my head and yanked the sweatpants up my legs. Nick’s clothes were baggy on me but comfortable. I ran my fingers through my hair trying to undo any tangles I could find and after a few minutes of arguing with myself, I finally decided to go downstairs, mostly because I was starving.
I opened the door with a creak and peered down the hall. A small cherry table occupied the narrow walkway. I made my way toward the staircase, biting my lip to silence my nerves as I got closer to the kitchen.
Nick’s house was extremely clean. He had a large couch in the living room, almost the same shade of brown as mine. There was a big flat screen resting on top of an oak table that housed a DVD player, and in the centre of the room was a glass-top coffee table.
“Morning,” he said, standing in front of the stove, still shirtless.
He was flipping over an egg with a long black spatula. To the side of the stove were two white plates. One had two eggs over easy and a waffle. The other had a waffle with chopped strawberries on top of it.
“You made breakfast?”
“I figured you’d be hungry,” he smiled, shovelling the eggs onto the plate that didn’t have any. “I didn’t know what you like so I just took a guess.”
“You’re actually right on point,” I said, thrilled to see waffles and eggs over easy. “But I usually have bacon with my breakfast.”
“Alas,” Nick sighed dramatically. “I’m not perfect.”
I couldn’t help the smile that was creeping onto my face. Nick may have been a jerk, but when he wasn’t showing off his asshole side he seemed to be a fairly nice guy.
I was really enjoying the way his jeans hung low on his hips, showing off that damn happy trail to his crotch.
I took a seat at the kitchen table. There was a large window to the side of it that didn’t have any blinds and the sunrise was painting streaks of orange, red and pink across the wall and cabinets.
Nick set our plates down, followed by a glass of water and a glass of orange juice. The water was for me.
“Do you remember anything about last night?” Nick asked, sitting beside me.
I stared at my food trying to remember what on earth I’d done. Once I started eating and got some water in my system, I started to recall bits and pieces of what happened.
“You alright?” Nick questioned. He rested a hand on top of mine.
“I don’t know. I remember some things, I think.”
I thought about it for a minute and then, with the gentle rub of Nick’s thumb over my knuckles, it hit me. Something about that little gesture sparked a ton of memories.
I remembered Nick saying he wanted to talk to me after dinner. We had left the ballroom to talk in front of the elevators and he had told me something that infuriated me, but I couldn’t recall what it was. I vaguely remembered asking a waiter for an entire bottle of champagne and drinking the majority. I remembered arguing with Nick about something involving Derek but I couldn’t recall most of that conversation either.
The one memory that stuck out above all the rest was the image of Derek and Christine groping each other against a wall. Her hands were in his hair. His hands were beneath her dress. They were vigorously making out.
I frowned so hard it hurt. Surely I was imagining that. That couldn’t have been real. Could it? Anger and jealousy seeped into my bones as I racked my mind for a detail to prove whether or not Derek had cheated on me too.
I couldn’t remember
I frowned so hard it hurt. Surely I was imagining that. That couldn’t have been real. Could it? Anger and jealousy seeped into my bones as I racked my mind for a detail to prove whether or not Derek had cheated on me too.
I couldn’t remember.
Everything after that was a blur of Nick’s hands on my body, his lips on my neck, and the feeling of his fingers unzipping my dress. I could still feel his mouth on my breasts and his breath on my skin. I could feel him between my legs. I could see him hovering over me in his bed. I remembered his teeth grazing my neck as he entered me over and over.
I felt so guilty for cheating on Derek but thinking about the way Nick had touched me and fucked me was turning me on and I could feel a growing ache in my p**y.
I had a very detailed memory of wrapping my legs around his waist as we fucked against the pantry door. I could feel his fingers inside me. Just thinking about it sent shivers down my spine and a blush blossomed across my cheeks. I remembered the way he moaned and the feeling of my own fingers tangled in his hair.
I began to feel my heartbeat quicken as I sat there remembering the details of the night before beside the man who had done those things to me. I wanted him to do those things to me again. I wanted to feel him inside me again.
“Carrie?” Nick asked, staring at me curiously.
“I remember some things,” I finally replied, sipping the water he’d provided me in attempts to cool myself. I felt feverish.
“What do you remember?”
“The sex,” I admitted. “At least most of it.”
Nick appeared to be fighting back a smirk. He squeezed my hand as if to assure me everything was alright.
“Why did you take advantage of me?” I asked, beginning to feel the rage again, hating the idea that he’d probably just used me.
“I didn’t see it that way or I wouldn’t have,” he answered. He removed his hand from mine.
“What do you mean?”
“You told me you were going to leave Derek and you basically threw yourself at me,” Nick explained. “I was fairly drunk myself so I guess I just went with it.”
I sighed, closing my eyes tightly. “Now I have to explain all this to Derek who will probably never forgive me.”
Nick frowned. “If he’s any kind of man, he’ll come beat my ass and forgive you. The question is, will you forgive him?”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I assumed he was referring to Derek and Christine. Maybe he’d seen it too. Maybe I hadn’t imagined it.
But I couldn’t think straight. I was confused, hurt, and horny all at the same time and I just wanted to take a fucking shower and scrub the previous night’s events off my body.
“For what it’s worth,” Nick cleared his throat. “You have a gorgeous body.”
That was a poor choice of words for its timing.
“For what it’s worth,” I mocked him. “You’re a jackass.”
His expression softened. “Carrie, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he defended, slouching in his chair.
Part of me wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t. It was mostly my fault. I couldn’t put all the blame on him.
I wished I could rewind everything and redo the night.
We finished our breakfast in an uncomfortable silence, the only sound being that of a robin chirping on the fence in Nick’s backyard. I gazed out the window at the tall birch tree draped over the fence, momentarily wondering how old it was.
I cringed at the occasional scrape of Nick’s knife on the plate. He didn’t seem to notice. My nerves were shot and the longer I sat there having breakfast with the man I’d cheated on my fiancé with, the worse I felt. I wished do-over buttons were real.
I ate the last few chunks of strawberries on my plate and drank the rest of my water. I’d barely touched my food. All the strawberries were gone but I hadn’t touched the eggs and only ate half the waffle. I’d lost my appetite and didn’t see it returning any time in the near future.
I pushed my plate away and scooted my chair back, looking around the house as if a neon sign would magically pop up pointing me to the bathroom.
“You done?” Nick asked, setting his fork down.
“I’m not hungry anymore. Do you mind if I use your shower?”
“Not at all. It’s the first door on the right heading back to the bedroom. Want me to check on your dress?”
Knowing I’d puked on a satin dress and then it had been thrown in the washing machine by a man whose idea of doing laundry was probably to spray air freshener on everything, I didn’t have much hope for that particular outfit.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, getting up and heading for the bathroom.
I heard the sink faucet turn on in the kitchen as I made my way back up the stairs. Nick was scraping my leftovers off the plate.
I found the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I stripped down in front of the mirror and was startled to notice all the hickeys Nick had apparently left on my body. They were on my neck, across my chest, there was one on my stomach, my hipbone, and even a couple on my inner thighs.
I laid his clothes on the counter in a messy pile as I slid my panties off. Even with the door locked I still felt extremely exposed, like I was on display and hundreds of people were staring.
I turned the water on, impatiently waiting for it to heat up while I searched through the cabinet under the sink for an unused razor and soap bar. Luckily, I found what I was looking for and hopped in the shower with a washcloth I’d plucked from the towel rack over the toilet.
I tried to relax as I let the hot water cascade over my body. I breathed in the steamy air, trying to imagine I was in a sauna, hoping it would help calm my nerves. I grabbed a handful of Nick’s shampoo, which I wasn’t thrilled about but would have to settle for, and lathered up my hair. It felt so good to wash my hair, as if the bad memories of the night before were being washed down the drain with the shampoo.
My mind wandered to memories of the previous night and the man who placed so many love bites on my body. I took a deep breath, soaping up the washcloth and slowly running it over my arms, chest and stomach. I fought the moan that threatened to escape my lips as I ran the washcloth over my hipbones and down toward my most sensitive spot. I exhaled slowly, feeling the thin fabric slide over my clit, and continued washing my body, sliding the cloth down my thighs and legs. I washed my face and just as I was about to shave, I heard a knock at the door.
“Carrie?” Nick’s voice came from the other side.
I froze. “Yeah?”
“I need to use the bathroom,” he said in a strained voice.
“Can you wait a few minutes?” I began scrambling to finish my shower. “I’m almost done!”
“I really can’t.”
“What are we doing?” he mumbled in almost a whisper.
“I think you were seducing me.”
Nick cocked an eyebrow and a slight smirk appeared on his lips.
“And you weren’t exactly complaining, or pushing me away…”
That was the trigger that brought my common sense back. I pushed him back so I could get up and immediately started throwing the shirt and sweatpants over my body.
“Until now,” he chuckled, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly.
“I have a fiancé,” I snapped, tying the drawstrings in a messy knot. “I have a fucking fiancé and you’re
not my fiancé.”
“I’m not sure I see the problem.” He took a step toward me and I turned to leave the room but his hand caught my arm, preventing me from exiting the uncomfortable situation.
“What ?” I glared at him.
“Don’t get all snappy with me,” he raised his voice just slightly. “I’m sorry shit happened last night and your fiancé is a piece of crap but I think we can work this out. I made you breakfast. I washed your fucking puke dress. I even cleaned off those dagger high heels you were wearing and-”
My palm collided with his cheek making a smacking noise. His hand immediately let go of my arm and raised to his cheek, rubbing his jaw slowly. “Ow.”
“I hope it hurt,” I glared.
I passed him to grab his phone from the nightstand, searching through his contacts to see if Derek’s number might be in there. I’d never bothered to memorize any phone numbers, having relied on a contacts list for so long. Right now I was really regretting that.
“What are you looking for?” Nick asked, snatching the phone from my hands.
“My fiancé’s number,” I said. I rested my hands on my hips and tapped my foot expectantly.
“I don’t have it.”
“Then you’re going to take me home,” I ordered and crossed my arms over my chest.
He chuckled. “Oh, am I?”
Nick pushed passed me, heading down the stairs to the kitchen with me right behind him. He seemed to be ignoring my presence as he fished through the refrigerator for a Ginger Ale. I spotted a Coke beside the can he’d grabbed and caffeine sounded like heaven. I reached in front of him, taking it and popping the top open. Nick cocked an eyebrow, watching me chug half of it in ten seconds. Caffeine was usually the best thing to help me lose a headache and right then, my headache was killer.
“You’re reminding me of one of those football players who takes a sip and then pours the whole drink over their head,” Nick chuckled.
I leaned against the counter, unamused. “I have a headache. Caffeine helps.”
“I see,” he nodded. “Come on.”
I followed him to the laundry room where he was going to get my dress. “Just leave it,” I shook my head. “God knows it didn’t survive last night’s torture.”
“I’m pretty sure most of the torture was just me throwing it in the wash,” Nick admitted, sliding his phone into his back pocket as he made his way down the hall to the entryway.
He grabbed his keys from a small oak table across from the front door and fiddled through what looked like about fifteen keys until he found the one he was looking for.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Are you taking me home?” I hoped that was all he had in mind.
He nodded, opening the door and waiting on me to step outside.
I stepped onto the porch and a chilly breeze blew passed me, making me wish I’d dried my still-damp hair. I watched Nick lock the front door and then followed him to a shiny new black Audi.
“Really ?” I stared at the car with my eyebrows raised.
“Really,” he smirked.
Once inside the car, an awkward silence fell over us and I busied myself with untangling the ends of my hair as Nick backed out of the long driveway. I took in the scenery as we drove away from his house. There were lots of trees everywhere and the houses were spaced pretty far apart. I guessed Nick owned about three acres of land.
As he drove, I found myself paying less attention to my tumbleweed hairdo and more attention to how attractive Nick’s jawline was. Eventually spying through my peripheral vision turned to stealing glances which became staring at him, watching him drive. I was sure he could feel my eyes on him but he didn’t act like he noticed.
We made our way onto the interstate, Nick flooring the accelerator with a small smirk as we climbed the ramp to merge. I found that extremely sexy. Maybe it was just the sound of the car picking up seventy miles an hour that I liked. I wanted that to be it. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I thought the way Nick drove was sexy.
Cold coffee and a halfway stale doughnut weren’t exactly what I had in mind for a mid-week brunch. Nick had pulled into a corner cafe ten minutes from his house and since then, we’d been sitting at a small wooden table by the floor-to-ceiling windows, not saying a word to each other. This was supposed to be his way of “making up for last night.” However, not discussing the issue at hand and allowing my mind the free time to swim with concern was not helping anything.
I had ordered my favourite, a peppermint mocha, and what I thought would be a fresh, warm, glazed doughnut. I ended up with the complete opposite.
I stared blankly at my partially-eaten doughnut until I began to see spots in my vision. I felt numb. I wanted nothing more than to go home, crawl in bed beneath a pile of pillows and blankets, and sleep the rest of the week away. Memories of last night and this morning were mimicking my washing machine’s spin cycle as they danced through my head. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts, but I also didn’t want to be alone with Nick. I needed to get home. I needed to clear my head.
I needed to talk to Derek.
“Will we be leaving anytime in the near future?” I asked Nick in the most unenthusiastic tone I could muster.
His brows were drawn together in a frown as he typed away at a text, not bothering to acknowledge me. I was growing impatient. I wanted to go home.
“Nick ,” I said sternly. “So help me, I will pour this coffee on your head.”
Nick finally looked up from his phone through messy, partially side-swept bangs. He glared at me, setting his phone on the table and adjusting his position in the flimsy wooden chair.
“Yes,” he answered simply and sipped his latte. Judging by the cringe that followed, his coffee wasn’t what he’d expected either.
“Oh, how I just adore sitting in a coffee shop with a one-night stand, having cold coffee and stale food when I should be at work, or at least home .” I fluttered my eyelashes, my expression bathed in sarcasm.
Nick breathed a laugh and ran his fingers through his bangs.
“You don’t like me very much, do you?”
“I’m not your biggest fan. No.” My response was calmer as I picked at my doughnut. That was a lie.
“All this time I thought you loved me.” He faked horror with his hand on his chest. “I’m heartbroken. How will I ever survive?”
“With any luck, you might not,” I retorted. Okay, maybe that was a little harsh.
Nick cocked an eyebrow but didn’t respond. He scooted back to stand up and the chair made a loud scraping sound against the tile, similar to that of nails on a chalkboard, earning a grimace from me.
“Come on,” he groaned, tossing his barely-touched coffee cup in the trash.
I disposed of my order as well, following him out the door. As I walked behind Nick, I found myself absentmindedly staring at his ass and the way his jeans hugged his thighs. They fit him a little too well.
A gust of wind rushed passed me as a car spun around the corner of the building, driving too fast for being in a parking lot. When the chilly air brought a tightness to my nipples, I cursed myself once again for not wearing a fucking bra. In Nick’s thin white cotton shirt, I felt like I was wearing a clear plastic bag. I was positive everyone and their grandmother could see through the fabric and I probably looked like I was about to enter a wet T-shirt contest.
We hopped back in Nick’s Audi and I became even more frustrated when he sat behind the wheel texting instead of driving the vehicle.
“Is that all you can do?” I asked. The longer he took, the more anxious I was to get home.
“It’s work,” he mumbled.
“Work can’t wait a few minutes?” I questioned, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Not this particular issue.”
His scowl had returned as he replied to the party responsible for the incessant beeps sounding from his phone. I got the idea he wasn’t pleased by whatever the person was saying. My curiosity peaked, I inched just a tad bit closer to him in an effort to catch a glimpse of his messages. Just when I got close enough, he pressed the power button, blackening the screen.
“Now we can leave.”
We didn’t make eye contact but his knowing expression told me he was onto me. I slumped back against the seat and shifted my focus back to Derek. Well, Derek and Christine .
The vague image of them touching and kissing and pressing their bodies together like tectonic plates forming a damn mountain was enough to bring my migraine roaring back in seconds. I so desperately hoped that I’d dreamt it. This whole thing had to be just one terrible nightmare. I refused to believe that my fiancé had cheated on me – or that I’d willingly cheated
on my fiancé. It couldn’t be real.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to throw up
“I’m sorry,” Nick’s voice jolted me out of my daze. “I didn’t mean to be a dick. I’m just under a lot of pressure right now and I let it get to me for a sec. I’m sorry.”
His apology seemed sincere but the stubborn part of me didn’t want to accept it or forgive him. All Nick Granger had done since I’d met him was screw up my life. I didn’t want to buy that he was anything more than a man who’d bewitched me into cheating on my fiancé.
I knew that wasn’t true, though.
He sighed, turning the key in the ignition. “I’ll take you home now and you’ll never have to deal with me again, alright?”
That seemed fair enough. I never wanted to deal with him again.
Or did I?
“Yeah,” I muttered, looking at the traffic as he backed the car out of the parking space and made his way onto the main road.
Neither of us said anything for a long time until we were within four blocks of my house and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never told him my address.
“How do you know where I live?” I instantly demanded, turning to look at him. Why did he know my address?
Nick’s jaw seemed to tighten, telling me he was clinching his teeth. “You told me.”
My frown deepened. I knew I hadn’t. “No. I didn’t.”
“You did,” he insisted more calmly, turning the wheel as we rounded a street corner.
“When?” I thought there was no way he could fool me when I knew for a fact, I hadn’t given him my address this morning.
“Last night,” he said in a duh tone.
Oh, no. What all had I told him last night? What other private information had I divulged? I couldn’t remember half of the night. I may not have told him my address at all. He might be using my cloudy memory as a cover. What if he’s actually a stalker? I had no way of knowing if he was telling me the truth because I couldn’t fucking remember. What if-
“Relax,” Nick frowned. He’d noticed the concern sweeping across my face. He could probably guess what was on my mind.
“This is about as relaxed as I’m going to get right now,” I snapped. I felt like my nerves had been battered and deep-fried about six times.
We turned another corner and I knew we were only a block from my house. I was nervous. What if Derek was there? I’d have to explain where I’d been and why Nick was bringing me home after a night of no one hearing a peep out of me. Derek was probably worried sick.
“Nick, how did I end up going home with you last night? Why didn’t I go home with Derek?” Had I been too drunk and Nick had taken advantage of the opportunity? Had I even known where he was taking me? Had I protested?
“Because Prince Charming was sucking face with What’s-Her-Name,” he answered too casually, leading me to believe he was making it up.
Derek wouldn’t do that to me. Derek loved me. Why would he cheat on me? He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. There was no way that was true. Nick was fucking with my emotions, probably thinking he could get me back in bed. No way that was going to happen. No way.
But I still couldn’t explain away that stupid image of them together. Maybe Nick had spiked my drink and I was simply dreaming it up based on what he wanted me to think.
“Bullshit,” I challenged. I didn’t know if it was bullshit or not, though.
“It’s not bullshit,” Nick chuckled. “That’s the whole reason you kissed me to begin with. You went to find Sweetie Pie and you saw him and Christine making out. Then you came back to me crying about how much you hated him.”
He had to be lying. This had to be a sick joke.
“No way that happened,” I shook my head and swallowing hard.
“Derek wouldn’t do that to me.”
“Let me guess.” The corners of Nick’s mouth were turned up in amusement. “Because he loves you, right? He wouldn’t hurt a fucking fly because he loves you. Guess what, babe. Any man who cheats on you doesn’t fucking love you. At all . He doesn’t care. He’s probably just using you because you put out.”
I’d officially had enough. I opened the door in a fit of rage and stepped out of the car while it was still in motion causing Nick to slam on the brakes. I decided I was going to walk that last fifty feet just to get the hell away from him.
He put the car in park in the middle of the road and chased after me. I had a flashback to two hours prior when he’d tried to seduce me in his bedroom as he caught up to me in the street and grabbed my upper arm, halting me in front of my neighbour’s house.
“What?” I spat, spinning around to face him. If looks could kill, Nick Granger would already be six feet under.
“Don’t even start!” I yelled, half expecting one of my neighbours to come outside to investigate where the noise was coming from. “In fifteen hours, you’ve managed to ruin my relationship, my clothing, my day, and probably my professional reputation! If you think you can-”
I was silenced by the swift action of Nick’s lips pressed against mine. I was stunned. The voice in my head screamed for me to break from my trance and run but I was frozen still in the middle of the road where all my neighbours could see me kissing a man who was not my fiancé, in a practically see-through shirt, and I knew my hair looked like a fucking tumbleweed.
Nick’s lips were soft against mine. Something about him smelled like cinnamon. I loved cinnamon. His grip on my arm loosened and he moved his other hand to rest on my lower back, pulling me flush against him. My body involuntarily melted into him as I began to kiss him back. His kisses became more urgent the longer we stood there. My free arm snaked around his neck, tugging him closer and deepening the kiss. He tasted like perfection, despite the subtle hint of that latte on his breath.
I felt a couple raindrops land on my shoulder and somewhere off in the distance I heard police sirens, probably pulling someone over on the nearby freeway. Nick only stopped kissing me when a car honked at him for blocking the road with his vehicle.
Embarrassed, I tried to stay behind Nick, hoping the driver wasn’t anyone I knew. The car aggressively hopped the curb around the Audi and sped past us quickly. Nick didn’t seem to mind that he’d inconvenienced the driver, or that his passenger door was still open and it was beginning to rain.
He turned back to face me and I was surprised at the hurt in his eyes. I shivered as the cold raindrops started to tap against my skin faster. If the shirt I was wearing wasn’t see-through before, it was certainly about to be.
“You didn’t push me away,” Nick said. He sounded disappointed, which surprised me.
I wiped the raindrops off my cheek. “Why do you seem upset about that?”
“I’m not so sure I can give you a comprehendible answer on that one,” he responded, pushing his bangs back, revealing his forehead.
“I guess I wanted you to push me away so I’d know you weren’t interested,” he explained, staring up at the sky as thunder cracked overhead. “I thought I could confirm for myself that I had no chance with you. But now… Now I feel like I do.”
I watched the way the rain cascaded over his body, soaking his hair and clothes. I watched the tiny water droplets run down his arms and face. I studied the way his light gray shirt suddenly became almost as see-through as mine.
I was cold, shivering, and I knew Nick could see my hardened nipples through the thin material. I could see every feature of his upper half through the miniscule layer covering him. Every muscle and curve of his perfectly sculpted body was visible. He looked like a model for a Giorgio Armani cologne commercial. He could certainly win a wet T-shirt contest given half the chance.
Despite the intense longing in my gut to touch him again – to kiss him again, I knew this wasn’t right. “I can’t do this, Nick,” I finally said, looking deeply into his eyes. “I can’t do this to Derek. I can’t put myself in this position. I’ve already screwed up enough. I just want to forget last night ever happened.”
But I didn’t really want to forget.
Nick exhaled and looked down at the pavement. “You might be able to forget last night, but I don’t think I can.”
All I could do was stare at him. No words formed on my lips. Had a one-night stand caused Nick to have feelings for me? That didn’t make sense. Men were supposed to love one-night stands because they didn’t entail feelings and relationships. Nick was supposed to be thrilled he got that one night and never talk to me again. That’s how it was supposed to go. Right?
“Why not?” I asked hesitantly. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear the answer.
“Because I don’t want to forget what happened between us, Carrie,” he frowned, gripping the tail of his shirt. “I don’t want to forget the fights or the sex or the after-sex conversations until four. I’m sorry you think I fucked everything up for you with your fiancé , but as far as I’m concerned, he’d already fucked it up with his own affair.”
That damn vision of Derek and Christine played through my head again like a low-quality porno. I still didn’t want to accept the possibility that it had really happened. But if it had, I couldn’t be too pissed at him because I’d gone and done the same thing. Surely, we’d be equally as livid with each other. Maybe that would make us even and we could move on.
I mentally slapped myself. What the hell was I even thinking? Making shit even doesn’t fix a damn thing.
My thoughts ventured to what else may have transpired between them. I shuddered at the possibility that Derek might have taken Christine back to his apartment. A spurt of rage burned through my veins like gasoline igniting within me.
One-night stands were not supposed to happen. Derek and Christine was not supposed to happen. Nick Granger was not supposed to happen.
This wasn’t supposed to fucking happen!
“Nick, I need to go.”
I didn’t think I could stand talking to him much longer without breaking down into a crying mess. I was probably going to do that once I got inside anyway, and I’d rather cry in the privacy of my home than in the middle of the street where anyone could watch my horrible soap opera of a morning.
“I’ll go,” he said softly, looking as if his words felt like a bee sting on his tongue.
I watched him walk back to his car slowly, slamming the passenger door and speeding off like he couldn’t get me out of his rear-view fast enough. I watched his brake lights as he slowed to turn at the next street.
Watching his car fade into the distance sent my emotions from bad to worse. I immediately missed him.
Trekking up the driveway to my front door, I found it unlocked. Normally I would’ve been worried but I figured Derek had come by to see if I was here and he’d probably left the door unlocked out of courtesy, knowing I didn’t have my keys with me.
At least I hoped that was the reason.
No one was there and nothing was missing or vandalized, so it was safe for me to assume no one had picked the lock and broken in.
I wandered into the kitchen, opening the fridge. My appetite had returned and I desperately needed sustenance. Unfortunately, I was running low on groceries, having not been shopping in a couple weeks. I grabbed the first thing I saw: an orange.
I peeled and ate my fruit quietly, standing in front of the sink. I didn’t hear the front door open but I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard boots on the wooden floor. I froze against the counter, waiting for the Ax Murderer to enter my kitchen.
To my relief, it was Derek
“Derek!” I exclaimed, dropping the remnants of my orange in the sink and running into his arms.
His clothing was damp from the rain and his sandy brown hair was stuck to his forehead. I squeezed his waist tightly, resting my chin on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms protectively around me.
“Do you want to explain to me why you ran off last night?”
Derek’s words were muffled against my hair but I could detect a tone in his voice that indicated he was pretty pissed.
I let go of his waist and stepped back to look at him. He appeared fairly calm, though his eyebrows beginning to furrow showed otherwise.
“I was drunk, apparently.”
“Do you realize I spent two hours walking all over that fucking hotel trying to find you? When I couldn’t figure out where you were, I called the fucking police!” Derek shouted, throwing his hands in the air.
I was taken aback by his outburst. “You… you did?” My voice sounded frail.
“Oh, you bet I did! But they told me I couldn’t file a missing person’s report because you hadn’t been missing long enough! So I’ve spent all fucking morning driving around town, going to your office and anywhere else you might be, and here you are at your fucking house eating a fucking orange like nothing is the fucking matter! You couldn’t call me or something?”
Guilt quickly consumed me. No one had yelled at me like that before. Derek had never yelled at me at all.
“I-I’m sorry,” I stuttered in shock.
The air was full of tension. I felt like I couldn’t talk to him. Suddenly, the man I’d been in love with for years felt like someone I barely knew.
All my life I’ve never been afraid of anyone, and I’d certainly never been scared of Derek, of all people, but the way he blew up at me scared me
All my life I’ve never been afraid of anyone, and I’d certainly never been scared of Derek, of all people, but the way he blew up at me scared me.
“Where the hell were you anyway?” he asked, slightly softening his tone.
Oh, God. Should I tell him I was with Nick? What if he freaks out and decides to hunt him down? What if he breaks off our engagement? What if he-
“Carrie, are you going to answer me?” Derek huffed. He crossed his arms impatiently.
“I… I was with… a friend,” I decided against telling him the whole truth.
I didn’t want to lie to Derek, and it wasn’t a total lie. Nick was sort of a friend. Maybe. I decided it was best if I just didn’t tell him which friend I’d been with.
“Which friend?” he demanded like he didn’t believe me.
“Monica,” I blurted out, hoping he would buy it and let it go.
Monica had been my best friend for seven years. We’d gone to law school together and she’d been hired by the same firm I had. I spent a tremendous amount of time with Monica, and Derek knew that, so I thought he would believe that I’d been out with her.
“Why didn’t you come tell me you wanted to run off with her?” Confusion creased his forehead.
“I-I wasn’t thinking,” I shook my head, wondering why the hell I’d been stupid enough to leave without him. “I drank too much and… I don’t know.”
Derek eyed me sceptically. It was obvious he wasn’t really buying it but he didn’t attempt to pull any additional information out of me, much to my relief.
“Oh.” He reached into his back pocket. “Here’s your phone.”
I quickly glanced through all my missed calls, texts and emails. I had yet to call the firm and let them know that I would be taking a sick day. The day was already halfway over and I just knew I’d be getting called into one of the partners’ offices as soon as I stepped off the elevator the next day.
“Anything important?” Derek asked as he sauntered into the kitchen for a drink.
“Well, I didn’t even wake up until I was already late for my first meeting and I’m sure I lost that client,” I groaned. “I can’t believe I screwed up like this. I
never do this. I’m always so professional. What’s my boss going to think? And I’m still missing meetings right now! I’ve stood up like four people today.”
“Calm down.” Derek walked over to stand in front of me, resting a hand on either side of the spot I’d planted myself on the counter. “I’ll call your office and explain that you’re horribly ill with the hangover bug – not necessarily in those words – and then you can take the rest of the day off. Your secretary can reschedule your meetings. Just relax, babe.”
There’s the Derek I knew. Caring, helpful, supportive, willing to lie for me so I wouldn’t get in too much trouble…
“Thank you.” I breathed a sigh of relief and rested my forehead against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” he said quietly. His thumb rubbed circles over my thigh. “Hey. Where did you get these?”
I looked down as he stepped back and I realized he was pointing to Nick’s clothes I was wearing. Shit. I should’ve changed the second I walked in the house.
I quickly made up an answer that would avoid another shouting match.
“Oh, I’ve had this forever,” I shrugged. I hoped he couldn’t tell I was lying.
“I’m surprised,” he frowned. “If you wear sweats, they’re always tight yoga pants or something.”
“Sometimes I like to be a little more comfortable.” I tried to explain it away.
“This is a man’s shirt.” Derek gestured to Nick’s white shirt.
I lightly squeezed the hem of the shirt, feeling how damp it still was. “It’s one of my dad’s old shirts.”
“I don’t remember your dad being that thin,” he said, perplexed.
My muscles relaxed when he stopped asking questions.
Derek left the room to call my office and I started trying to wind down and rid myself of the so-called hangover bug.
I hopped off the counter, looking through my phone again. Six missed calls from work. Two missed calls from Monica. Seventeen texts from Monica. Emails from multiple clients. And an unpleasant text from my boss asking where in the living fuck I was.
I texted Monica first. I told her I was safe at home with a nasty hangover.
She responded, relieved to hear that I hadn’t been kidnapped, and told me she’d been worried sick when I hadn’t shown up for work or answered my phone.
In the other room I could hear Derek’s voice as he talked to my secretary, Hannah. She was a sweet girl, always trying to help me with anything and everything. Of course, it was her job, but she took it a lot more seriously than most people would. I could tell how much she cared.
“Yeah. I was surprised too. It’s not really like her.” I heard Derek say.
Listening to Derek talk about how my actions in the past several hours were unlike me caused memories of the night before to make another appearance in my thought stream.
I thought about when I met Nick at the party. He was so handsome. He was hands down the best-looking man there. I was sure every woman in the ballroom secretly wanted to go home with him. I couldn’t remember if I’d wanted to or not, but I’d certainly let the man take me home.
Memories of this morning and Nick’s lips on my neck flooded my thoughts. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I had enjoyed that. The illogical part of my conscience had begun to miss the feeling of his hands on my hips and his mouth on my neck.
I hugged his baggy shirt to my chest. I knew I couldn’t cheat on Derek again, and I wasn’t about to leave him for a man I barely knew, but something about Nick made me want to ignore our one-night sex-capade and actually try being friends with him. I wanted to get to know him better. I wasn’t sure why but something drew me to him. Maybe it was his smooth words, or his soft lips, or his gorgeous body. Maybe it was the way he smirked, or how his bangs fell in his face, or the way he said my name. I couldn’t narrow it down.
Something about Nick Granger had a scandalous part of me hooked, and I started to wonder if I had been more intoxicated from the alcohol or from him.
I searched through my phone absentmindedly, pressing the button to create a new contact. We hadn’t exchanged numbers but I assumed Derek would have Nick’s. However, I couldn’t very well ask Derek to give me his phone, and I knew he wouldn’t be okay with me looking for Nick’s number. I remembered he had a company contacts list on his computer which I recalled him leaving in my study before we’d left for the party.
I tiptoed down the hall toward my home office, cringing slightly when one of the French doors made a pop as I opened it. I hoped Derek didn’t notice, knowing he’d be mad if he caught me on his computer. This was one object Derek never liked anyone touching but himself.
I sneaked over to my desk and took a seat in front of the laptop. I was surprised, but relieved to see he didn’t have it password protected when I opened it.
I went to the search bar, typing “contacts list.” Finding no results, I tried again with “company contacts.” Still nothing. I decided to search through his documents, hoping to locate the list in his files.
I finally came across a file titled HBH Employees and clicked on it, bringing up a list of all the people working at Hampton, Burns and Hampton, and their email addresses, phone numbers, and home addresses.
I scrolled down to the last names that started with G, finding three people with the last name Granger. There was a Michael Harper Granger, a Jennifer Granger, and – bingo – Nicholas Granger.
I quickly entered Nick’s information in my phone and closed the file. I was ready to shut the computer and go back into the kitchen as if I’d never left the room, but something on the home screen caught my eye. Derek had a desktop shortcut titled D&C. I automatically assumed it stood for Derek and Carrie. Curiosity clawed at me and I couldn’t help myself. I double clicked the file, opening up a spreadsheet. I was confused. I expected it to have something to do with our upcoming wedding. The more I stared at the screen, the more perplexed I became.
There was a long list of dates going back to July of the previous year. Next to the dates were large sums of money anywhere from five thousand to twenty-two thousand. I frowned, scrolling through the spreadsheet. There was a list of locations beside the amounts of money. The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Switzerland… I realized this was a list of wire transfers to offshore accounts in multiple countries. Derek had never mentioned any involvement in something like this.
It didn’t list where the money was coming from. I knew Derek didn’t earn that much on a monthly basis, but I didn’t want to believe he could be doing anything illegal.
I shook my head, closing the file and the computer. I could hear Derek saying goodbye on the phone and I quickly made my way back into the kitchen where I began washing what little was left of my orange down the drain.
“Hannah’s going to reschedule all your appointments,” Derek said.
“Thank you,” I said softly, turning off the water.
He leaned back against the door facing, concern etched in his expression. “Are you okay?” he asked.
There was no way I was going to tell him I’d been going through his computer or ask him why he was transferring money to offshore accounts. He’d likely blow a fuse before I uttered half the sentence. I finally understood why he’d never been okay with anyone else using his laptop.
“Yeah.” I put on my best fake smile. “Fine.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You sure?”
“I’m fine, Derek,” I nodded. “I’m just going to go work on a presentation. I have a long list of notes to write for court.” That much was true.
“That case you’ve been working on for three months?”
“Yeah,” I sighed, already exhausted just thinking about it. “I’m sick of Mrs. Wembley calling me every other day to tell me the same old shit I’ve already heard sixteen times. It doesn’t give me any new information to work with. It’s maddening.”
Derek chuckled. “Let me just move my computer so it’s not in your way.”
I nodded, watching how quickly he left the room to retrieve it. I was growing very suspicious. I really hoped it was all a big misunderstanding, but from what I’d seen, it didn’t look like Derek was involved in anything good, or legal for that matter.
I couldn’t imagine where he was getting such large sums of money. I knew his father wouldn’t pay him that much because he always wanted Derek to appreciate working hard for your income and seeing the tougher side of making a living and building a career. I was worried Derek had gotten himself into something really awful.
Despite my nagging curiosity, I decided to act as though I had absolutely no idea about it and hope he never caught on that I knew anything. I figured if he wanted me to know about it he would’ve told me, and he hadn’t, so he obviously didn’t want me to find out. To an extent, I could understand why he wouldn’t, but that didn’t make the ache in my heart lessen any.
I wandered into the study again as Derek was walking out, his computer under his arm.
“I’ll be in here a few hours probably,” I said, expecting the document I was about to type up to take me awhile.
Derek nodded. “I’m actually going to run to the office. I have a meeting in about an hour and then I’ll come back and check on you.”
Part of me wanted to tell him not to come back. At least not for the rest of the day. Between the way he’d snapped at me earlier, the fifty-fifty chance that he’d cheated on me with Christine, and the offshore accounts I’d discovered, I almost felt like I couldn’t trust him. But I knew if I told him not to bother coming by, he’d get suspicious, and I didn’t want to light the fuse on another argument. It had been a stressful enough day already.
Part of me wanted to tell him not to come back. At least not for the rest of the day. Between the way he’d snapped at me earlier, the fifty-fifty chance that he’d cheated on me with Christine, and the offshore accounts I’d discovered, I almost felt like I couldn’t trust him. But I knew if I told him not to bother coming by, he’d get suspicious, and I didn’t want to light the fuse on another argument. It had been a stressful enough day already.
“Okay,” I faked a smile, plopping down at my desk once again.
Derek didn’t kiss me or hug me before he left. That was unlike him. I tried to shrug it off as my mind overthinking things.
I opened my computer to begin typing once he’d left. Two bullet points into my work, I remembered I now had Nick’s number. I looked at my phone, staring at his contact for a good five minutes before finally deciding to call him. We needed to talk, I told myself. We needed to fix this mess somehow.
I immediately wished I’d opted for texting him when I got nervous hearing the first ring. I kind of hoped he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t even sure what to say. My heart started pounding on the second ring and I could feel my pulse in my throat and that horrible nervous feeling in my stomach.
I was just about to chicken out and hang up when a voice came on the line.
“Granger,” Nick answered simply.
I hesitated. Half of me wanted to hang up and half of me wanted to talk to him.
“Hello?” he asked.
“H-Hi…” I finally spoke up, cringing at the way I stuttered.
“Yeah.” I was staring a hole into the wall.
“What, uh… why are you calling me?” He sounded equally confused and surprised.
I sighed, playing with the hem of his shirt. “I got your number from the employee contact list and I guess I just wanted to talk to you – clear the air. I probably shouldn’t have called though. I’m sorry.”
“No. No. It’s fine,” Nick said. “I’m glad you called.”
“Of course.” He sounded like he was smiling. “Hey, I’m actually about to go into a meeting right now but I do want to talk to you. Meet me for dinner tonight?”
Dinner? That couldn’t be a good idea. How was I going to explain it away to Derek when he asked where I was going? But I wanted – needed – to have this talk with Nick. I had to try to mend the issue, for the sake of Derek’s and my relationship.
I considered the offer quickly and agreed to have dinner with him. Although I shouldn’t have, I couldn’t help the smile playing across my lips.
“How ’bout eight o’clock at that little Italian restaurant on Grand Avenue?” Nick suggested.
“I’ll see you then.”
I finished my notes around five o’clock and decided to send a mass email to all my clients I was supposed to have seen today. I typed a brief explanation for my absence, apologizing for having to reschedule, and telling everyone that an unexpected issue had come up that morning. I didn’t like admitting I’d screwed up, or addressing it with the people I’d stood up, but it was the professional thing to do. I received two replies, thanking me for my explanation and saying they didn’t mind and looked forward to our rescheduled meeting.
I concluded my work, considering it a fairly productive day, though I’d only worked about three hours. I watched the clock impatiently, anxiously awaiting eight. I planned on leaving around seven-thirty, knowing that would give me just enough time with the traffic to arrive about five minutes early.
I closed my laptop and I headed upstairs to my bedroom to search for something to wear. The restaurant Nick had chosen was an upscale place. I certainly didn’t intend to show up in jeans and a shirt but I knew Derek would be extra suspicious if I left the house in a dress. I didn’t necessarily want to wear a pantsuit either, thinking it didn’t jive with having dinner with a hot guy. It was too business-y. However, I rarely met clients for dinner, and when I did, I always wore a pantsuit. Derek knew that.
I decided to wear a classic black dress with a suit jacket over it, knowing it fit the professional appearance but also the dressier, fancier look. The dress I picked came to my mid-thigh and had a lacy flower design at the top. It was strapless and looked incredible. I paired it with red heels and a black blazer.
By the time Derek arrived around six-thirty I’d already taken a shower, which had been beyond relaxing. I was so glad to be able to shave my legs and use my own shampoo since I didn’t get to that morning at Nick’s. I was lounging on the couch, watching the local news when Derek walked through the front door.
“How was the meeting?” I called over my shoulder, not looking away from the TV.
Derek entered the living room, flopping down next to me and loosening his tie. “Fine.”
“Just fine?” I frowned. “What happened? You look irritated.”
“You know that guy Nick you met at the party last night?” Derek asked, making a disgusted face.
A nervous pang shot through my stomach at the mention of Nick’s name. “Yeah.”
“The asshole kept wanting to talk finance and I kept telling him it wasn’t his business and then dad got pissed and called us in the hall,” Derek explained.
I remembered Nick saying he was about to go into a meeting when we’d talked earlier.
“How’s it not his business?” I asked. “Doesn’t he-”
“Because it’s not!” Derek snapped.
“Alright. I’m sorry.” I scooted away from him. He didn’t have to be such an asshole about it.
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I’m just really fucking pissed. I don’t like this guy. I don’t want him working there and I should be able to fire him but I can’t because my dad fucking likes the piece of shit!”
“Maybe he’s not really such a bad guy,” I said, trying to casually defend him. “Maybe you should try getting to know him and see if you can work things out. He can’t be that bad.”
Derek looked at me incredulously. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you like this guy.
“I quickly shook my head. “No. I just think there’s a way to work it out where you guys can do business together without fighting all the time. You don’t know. He might actually have some good ideas.”
“He doesn’t.” Derek’s tone told me to drop it.
Silence overtook us and with it came a flurry of emotions to me. The more Derek talked about his dislike for Nick, the more I seemed to like Nick. I wanted to tell Derek that Nick was a good guy, even if I wasn’t entirely sure of that myself. I wanted to convince him that he shouldn’t have a problem with Nick. I wasn’t sure if that was what I really thought, or if I just wanted Derek to like Nick so he wouldn’t get so mad if he found out about our rendezvous last night.
Nick and me. Me and Nick. The memories started flooding back again. I could still hear Nick’s heavy breathing as he fucked me against the pantry door. I shivered at the thought, biting my lip.
“Are you cold?” Derek asked, pulling me onto his lap.
I wasn’t. “Yeah.”
“Today was weird,” he sighed. “Let’s just act like it didn’t happen?”
I was more than okay with that idea. “Of course,” I agreed, maybe a little too enthusiastically.
“I missed you,” he said in a low voice.
He moved us so that I ended up lying back on the couch with him leaning over me. It wasn’t the most comfortable position but I tried to act like I wasn’t uncomfortable, still worried about him getting wise.
Derek stared into my eyes for the longest time before finally leaning down to kiss me. I’d always felt the classic sparks and butterflies when we kissed, but this time I felt nothing. Nothing but awkward, almost like it was forced. At first, I didn’t kiss back but pushed myself to go along with the gesture. I didn’t understand. This didn’t feel right. What was wrong with me? I tried to convince myself that the last lingering threads of my hangover were interfering with my emotions. I didn’t believe that though.
Usually I would jump at the chance to go to bed with him, but at the moment, all I could think about was the difference between Derek and Nick. Derek was forceful with his kisses, while Nick was gentler and his lips were softer. Derek was eager to take it straight to sex, while Nick seemed to like taking his time. At least I thought I remembered him taking his time.
Derek pulled back and stared at me with a frown. When I didn’t say anything, he sat back up and breathed out a heavy sigh.
“You’re not feeling this right now, are you?” he asked.
“I’m still not really feeling like myself,” I explained it away.
“Today hasn’t been my day.”
Derek nodded, leaving it at that.
I got up and started walking toward the bedroom, about to get ready for my date with Nick. I mentally slapped myself. It wasn’t a date. But what else do you call a man and woman going to dinner together when it has nothing to do with business? Even if it wasn’t a date -date it was still a date, right? Did that even make sense?
I wandered into my room, slipping my clothes off and sliding the black dress over my body. I was smoothing out my outfit when Derek walked in.
“You going somewhere?” he frowned, standing in the doorway.
“I have a meeting in a little while,” I lied, slipping my feet into the heels.
“With who?” Why did he have to ask that question?
“A client,” I said vaguely.
“One of the ones you missed this morning?” Derek watched me pull my blazer on.
“Yeah,” I nodded, thinking that was a good enough cover. “Mrs. Wembley is worried about the hearing.”
“Oh, so you talked to her after I left,” he said.
“Yeah,” I answered simply, glad that he was basically making up my story for me so I didn’t have to think of something on the spot.
“What time is your meeting?”
He padded across the room and flopped down, lying back on the bed. “When should I expect you back?”
Shit. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I didn’t have the slightest clue how long I might stay out. What if I ended up not coming home again? How was I going to explain that? No way Derek would believe I spent all night hanging out with Mrs. Wembley, and I didn’t think the Monica excuse would work again either.
Shit. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I didn’t have the slightest clue how long I might stay out. What if I ended up not coming home again? How was I going to explain that? No way Derek would believe I spent all night hanging out with Mrs. Wembley, and I didn’t think the Monica excuse would work again either.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “You know how long these things can last sometimes.”
“I doubt you’d be out passed ten. I don’t think a legal meeting is going to last more than an hour. Two hours, tops.”
“We might go for drinks afterward,” I said, hoping that didn’t sound too unlikely.
“Drinks?” Derek chuckled. “You and Mrs. Wembley? Good God, am I going to get a knock at the door from the police? That woman has no limits and based on last night, I’d say you’re not real aware of your own either.”
“Relax,” I said, fluffing my hair a bit. “It’ll be fine.”
“You’ll call me this time, I hope,” he raised his eyebrows.
I descended the stairs with Derek behind me and grabbed my phone, wallet and keys, ready to head out the door. Derek stopped me, placing a hand on my waist and pulling me back against him.
“I’m already miss you,” he said seductively. My discomfort returned with his words.
“Yeah,” I awkwardly smiled, waiting for him to release me.
His lips pressed to my cheek and then my neck. “A lot,” he insisted.
“Derek, I have to go,” I reminded him as he moved the collar of my blazer to the side, placing a kiss on my collarbone.
“Fine,” Derek groaned, letting me go.
And just like that, I was out the door heading to my silver SUV. It was a nice night, not as chilly as the previous evening. The light breeze felt wonderful on my face as I backed out of the driveway with my windows rolled down.
I drove through Tinley Park, headed for the interstate. The traffic was backed up pretty badly when I merged onto I-57. The man in the car next to me was eating a bowl of cereal while our vehicles barely crawled along at a measly six miles per hour. The woman in the Jeep on my opposite side was doing her makeup and texting. I rolled my eyes.
After several agonizingly long minutes, traffic finally started to flow normally again and I smiled at the sight of the bright, full moon over Lake Michigan as I made my way into downtown Chicago.
My phone lit up with a text from Nick as I took the exit for Lakeshore Drive.
“I’m here,” the text read.
I smiled at the message, making a left at the next intersection. Five minutes later I pulled into a parking garage across the street from the restaurant.
“So am I,” I texted back, rolling up my windows and unbuckling my seatbelt.
I turned off the engine, about ready to hop out when a tap on my back window startled me. I looked up to see Nick standing there in tight fitting black slacks and a white button up. He was too casual for a blazer, but he looked amazing.
“Hey,” he smiled and I swear I saw a twinkle in his eyes.
I took in his appearance. He looked so hot. Part of me almost didn’t want to go to dinner anymore, and have sex with him in my backseat instead. My stomach growling silenced that idea.
“Hi,” I smiled back, getting out of the vehicle.
“You look gorgeous, Carrie,” Nick said, letting his eyes slowly travel up and down my body.
“You don’t look too horrible either,” I giggled.
His grin widened and I was ready to drool. “Well I didn’t want to outdo you outfit-wise,” he chuckled.
We started walking across the parking garage toward the street and butterflies erupted in my stomach as I felt his arm snake around my waist and pull me closer to him. I leaned into his side as we walked down the sidewalk. The action reminded me of walking through the hotel garage with Derek the night before. Only this felt different. This felt better.
“Maybe we can get over there without dying,” Nick said, nodding to the restaurant across the busy road. “Let’s make a run for it.”
We dodged a couple cars, causing one to honk at us as we jogged across the street to the opposite sidewalk. I mentally cursed at myself for wearing heels, seeing as they’re not exactly the ideal footwear for running.
Nick’s arm never left my side as we walked into the restaurant. I looked around at the fancy white linen-clad tables and the candles burning in the centre of each. Everyone around us was dressed exceptionally well, but I had no doubt Nick was the most attractive person in the whole building. Maybe even the whole city.
“Reservation for Granger,” Nick said to the hostess who looked like she didn’t think he was too bad looking either.
“Right this way,” she smiled, blushing when she looked at him.
We followed her to a table in the back, thanking her in unison when she placed our menus in front of us.
“What would you like to drink?” The brunette asked us, staring at Nick who wasn’t giving her a second glance.
“Champagne,” he answered for both of us, eyes focused only on me.
I made a mental note not to drink too much. I didn’t want things to end up like the night before. I wanted to actually remember everything.
“So how was your day?” Nick asked me after the hostess left to retrieve our drinks.
I tried not to get too deep in thought about how odd it was that my one-night stand was asking about my day.
“Definitely could’ve been better,” I said with a light laugh. “But I’m glad to be here right now.”
“Oh yeah?” He cocked an eyebrow with a sexy smirk.
I nodded, watching the woman return with champagne.
“Your server is Ashley,” she smiled, still only looking at Nick.
“She should be over in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” we both said again as she went back to her podium.
“How ’bout you?” I asked. “How was your day?”
“Do you want the truth?” Nick asked.
“It wasn’t the best day I’ve had,” he sighed.
I watched his fingers tug at his shirt collar and suddenly became very aware of my lack of pants. Shrugging the thought off, I tried to keep things professional.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened and I felt like discussing the situation with you would be a good start to fixing it,” I explained.
Nick rested his elbows on the table. “I understand. I’m glad you called me.”
Ashley finally came by and took our order. I decided on a seafood alfredo and Nick ordered spaghetti.
“How’d your fiancé take the news?” Nick asked, watching the candle flicker between us.
“News?” I raised an eyebrow. “If you mean you and me, I didn’t tell him.”
He frowned and began to tap his fingers on the tablecloth rhythmically. “Why not? I thought you were going to. Here I was expecting him to come beat my ass all day.”
“I decided it was better if I just didn’t say anything for now,” I told him. “He was already pissed enough for my disappearing act, so I ended up telling him I was with my friend, Monica.”
Nick brushed his fingers through his thick, wavy bangs. “You know he’s going to find out eventually, right?”
I knew that. I dreaded it like hell. I couldn’t begin to imagine how that conversation would go.
Ashley returned with our entrees, setting them in front of us. I’d been starving for a couple hours and was ready to dive into my food. We spent a few minutes eating without conversation until Nick finally spoke up again.
“Carrie,” he said, twirling his fork in the spaghetti. “I think now is a good time to talk about us.”
My silverware hit the plate with a clang causing me to jump in my seat. I took in a sharp breath and ignored the sound of my pulse pounding in my ears. I had initiated this. I was the one who wanted to talk about it. I couldn’t chicken out now – no matter how badly I wanted to.
“Alright. Let’s talk,” I said, and folded my hands neatly on the edge of the table.
Nick set down his utensils, turning all his attention to me. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say here. I’ve never slept with a woman who was engaged before.”
“And I’ve never cheated in my life,” I nodded, able to understand how awkward he must feel.
“What is talking about it going to achieve?” His dark, neatly groomed brows were drawn together in a tight frown.
I thought about my memory, assuming it was real, of Derek and Christine. “Nick, I need to know for damn certain whether or not what happened between Derek and Christine actually happened,” I blurted out.
Nick’s frown softened to concern, and maybe even pity. I didn’t want his pity. He was equally guilty.
“Yes.” His answer was quiet, but the ringing in my ears wasn’t.
“Do you have any proof?” I questioned him. I could feel a migraine on the horizon. “Or am I supposed to go on your word? Because I can’t have the impending conversation with him and accuse him of infidelity he didn’t commit.” That would be the cherry on top of a very bad fruitcake.
He leaned back in his chair, the unbuttoned portion of his shirt showcasing more of his chest as a result. “I’m sure the hotel has security cameras.”
“What am I supposed to do? Go ask the front desk if I can watch their footage to find out if my fiancé’s a cheater? I seriously doubt they’d give me the time of day.” I could feel my cheeks beginning to flush; partially in frustration and partially in awe of the exposed part of Nick’s body I couldn’t keep my eyes off of
“What am I supposed to do? Go ask the front desk if I can watch their footage to find out if my fiancé’s a cheater? I seriously doubt they’d give me the time of day.” I could feel my cheeks beginning to flush; partially in frustration and partially in awe of the exposed part of Nick’s body I couldn’t keep my eyes off of.
Nick chuckled at my exasperation. “If it’s that important to you, I can talk to them about it for you,” he offered.
“Yes, because one one-night stand trying to find out if another one-night stand took place isn’t a bizarre thing at all to ask the concierge about,” I nodded sarcastically.
A sweet, cheesy smile played at the corners of his lips. “Just trust me. I know what to do.”
Soft jazz music teased my ears when Nick and I slipped through the revolving doors into the Hilton Hotel. We were the only people in the lobby aside from the bellhop and a tall woman with bright red hair behind the front desk. I followed Nick to the check-in counter, almost hiding behind him in a way. I was way out of my comfort zone. The equivalent of a baseball sent flying out of the park out of my comfort zone.
“Back already?” The redhead piped up with a giant smile.
I raised my eyebrows in Nick’s direction but he didn’t acknowledge me.
“Kelly.” He casually leaned against the counter, letting part of his bangs fall forward with a boyish smile. “I need a little help finding out some very important information.”
Kelly inched closer to him, her curiosity peaked. “What’s that?” she asked in a flirty tone.
Nick reached into his back pocket to retrieve his wallet. “I think this will help you better understand what I’m needing,” he said, opening the black leather card sleeve and revealing something that only she could see.
I stepped forward to catch a glimpse but he slapped his wallet shut as if he didn’t want me to see.
Kelly’s eyes widened but she maintained her composure, straightening her name tag which listed “manager” beneath her name, and nodding. “I can assure you that everything in this hotel is up to par,” she told him. “But I would be happy to assist you.”
Nick smiled. “Perfect.”
He gestured toward the door which read Employees Only behind her.
“Right this way.” She allowed him access behind the front desk but refused to let me pass when I attempted to follow. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I can’t let you back here.”
“It’s company policy,” she said sternly.
I didn’t care to argue and back away, watching them disappear into some back office. Ten minutes passed and my feet were beginning to cry out in pain from standing in heels too long. I sat down on a cream coloured chair in the lobby to relax while I waited. Ten more minutes passed and I’d begun to pace back and forth in front of the elevators. Surely it didn’t take that long to rewind a tape.
Finally, Nick and Kelly immerged. He shook her hand and smiled, thanking her for her help. I met him halfway across the lobby and he snaked an arm around my waist, leading me back out to the sidewalk.
“Are you going to tell me what that was all about?” I asked as we stepped out into the chilly night air.
He walked me to the passenger side of his Audi, opening the door for me, expressionless. He didn’t say a word until he’d taken his seat behind the wheel and turned the radio on so low I almost couldn’t hear it.
“I don’t know if this makes things harder or easier, but I wasn’t wrong,” he sighed, not looking at me. He kept his gaze focused on the BMW parallel parked in front of us, practically staring a hole through it.
He wasn’t wrong. I didn’t have to ask what he was talking about. I knew. It hadn’t been a lie. It hadn’t been my imagination. Derek had cheated on me.
“Oh,” was all I could manage. I felt tears pricking my eyes, threatening to spill down my face. I refused to cry though, blinking the feeling away. I joined Nick in staring blankly at the BMW. I had no idea how I was supposed to act. I wanted to get mad, hunt Derek down, scream at him for breaking my heart. But I couldn’t. I had done the same thing. I couldn’t decide if we had every right or no right to be furious with each other.
“How do you feel?” Nick asked softly, still looking straight ahead. He had an elbow resting on the window ledge and his chin resting on his fist.
“I really don’t know,” I said in almost a whisper. “Hurt.”
“You know, this – you and me – it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t cheated first,” he said. His eyes finally met mine and in the dim lighting, I could see clear as day the guilt in his expression. “But I keep telling myself that to feel less shitty cause I know I shouldn’t get an easy break here either.”
If that’s how Nick felt, I wondered how Christine might feel. Had she been drunk too? Had Derek just taken advantage of how many drinks she’d had? I wondered if she even cared. What if that hadn’t been the first time?
“I didn’t want to believe it could be true,” I mumbled, tugging my blazer tighter around my body. “At the same time, I’m kind of glad it wasn’t just me. That makes me an awful person, doesn’t it?”
Nick shook his head, his hair softly moving with the motion. He reached across the console and pulled me closer to him. I breathed in his scent. He smelled like cinnamon with hints of coffee and peppermint. I liked it.
“Carrie, you and I – we were drunk. Common sense was lightyears away. Derek and Christine – they knew damn well what they were doing and they did it anyway. You can’t compare the two.”
His arm wrapped comfortably around me, his hand giving my shoulder a gentle reassuring squeeze. I nuzzled into his neck, closing my eyes and breathing in more of his sweet scent.
“I just don’t know what to do.” My words were barely audible.
Nick breathed out, his hand rubbing up and down my arm in a comforting motion. “I’d answer that, but I probably shouldn’t.” His statement was frank, almost as quiet as mine had been.
There was a long pause before he finally spoke. “Honestly, Carrie, you could do so much better than Derek.”
“No. I’m serious,” he cut me off. “Any man who would cheat on you like that and then have the audacity to be pissed at you for disappearing – when I know he took advantage of your absence to fucking do it – he doesn’t deserve you, Carrie. He could at least own up and admit it.”
I pulled back from him, turning in the leather seat to get a better look at him. Despite the obvious anger in his tone, he still appeared fairly calm.
“That’s not entirely fair. I should at least own up and admit it too,” I sighed. “How could I have been so reckless? I should’ve-”
“Carrie, people make mistakes. I get that adultery is like the number one line you don’t cross, but you were in a vulnerable state when you witnessed him make the first move. I don’t think we would’ve done anything, had he not cheated first,” Nick reminded me.
“I’m not going to be immature about it and argue about who started it. It happened. I’m not proud of it. I’ve got to take responsibility for it.”
“I don’t think you understand the extent of Derek’s infidelity,” he said.
I cocked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“The manager let me run through the tapes. When I pointed out to her what I’d been looking for, she told me she sees them come in a lot. Apparently, he has a regular suite. She put it on a flash drive if you want to-”
“So last night wasn’t the first time?” I could feel all the air rush from my lungs as the realization hit me. If what Kelly had told him was true, Derek had been cheating on me for a while.
Nick nodded, pain in his eyes.
“God, I feel so stupid.” I started to cry, wiping at my cheeks with the back of my hand and the sleeve of my jacket.
leaned over the console, gently moving my hand from my face and rubbing his thumb softly over my dampened skin. “It’s going to be alright,” he soothed.
But it wasn’t. How could it? Derek was a cheater. I was a cheater. How do you fix something this fucked up? I couldn’t see a happy ending anywhere.
I didn’t have the energy to disagree and settled for a hardly noticeable shake of my hand. Nick’s thumb continued to stroke my cheek long after the tears had ceased and was now giving me goose bumps. It was so quiet in the car I could hear his breathing. Slow and steady. Soft and comforting. His gaze stayed fixed on me, making sure I was okay. This was something Derek had never done.
“I guess I should take you back to the restaurant now,” Nick broke the silence, turning his lights on to leave the parking spot. We’d left my SUV at the restaurant.
It was late, going on eleven-thirty, and I knew I should’ve been headed hour an hour ago. Derek might be waiting up. I checked my phone but no one had tried to contact me. Maybe he’d decided to call it a night early.
Despite common sense waving its flag, Nick’s hand holding mine on the console was tugging at my judgment. Part of me didn’t want to go home yet. Although I’d just found out a huge shocker about my fiancé and should’ve been bawling or enraged, my mind had wandered to a relaxing fantasy of going back to Nick’s and just hanging out, getting to know him better. If someone had told me a few hours ago that I’d be growing fond of Nick Granger, I’d have called them an idiot, but somehow between eight and eleven, we’d managed to go from one-night stand status to borderline friendship. It almost sounded like a fiction storyline when I thought it over.
Things like this just didn’t happen in the real world.
Still, I chose to defy my better judgment. “Nick?”
He glanced at me quickly, trying to stay focused on the traffic. “Hm?”
I studied the way his hand wrapped around mine, our fingers perfectly laced. Again, his thumb caressed my skin, rubbing over the back of my hand as he drove.
“What if we don’t call it a night just yet?” I suggested.
He didn’t look at me but I could faintly make out the inquisitive expression painting his face. “What do you have in mind?”
“What if we go to your place?” I said. “Hang out.” I added ‘hang out’ so he wouldn’t get the wrong idea.
Amusement curved his lips into a cute smile that quickly became a sexy smirk. “If that’s what you want to do,” he shrugged. “But what about your car?”
“I’ll worry about it later.”
A simple nod signalled his agreement and he veered right to take an exit in route to his place.
The moonlight shined on the hood of his car creating a bright glow. He rolled the windows down and a refreshing rush of cool spring air raced through the car. I stole glances at Nick, admiring the way he relaxed in the seat and the way his shirt flowed over his body. I wanted to drool over the way the wind whipped his hair around. He looked younger, less hardened, more carefree. It made me happy.
Pretty soon we pulled into the familiar driveway. This morning I couldn’t wait to get away from this house and now I was excited to be back.
“I’ll race you to the house,” Nick dared with a cheesy grin. He hopped out of the car before I had a chance to unbuckle my seatbelt.
I hurriedly chased after him but he’d already made it to the door.
“That’s not fair!” I laughed.
He smirked, opening the door and motioning for me to enter first. “Who said I played fair?”
The house looked the same as it had that morning. I followed
Nick into the kitchen where he sat two sodas on the breakfast table and we sat down to talk. Only this time it was a good talk, a fun talk. We weren’t weighing the options of how to work out the kinks in my relationship like we had at dinner. Now we were talking about anything but that, and I loved it.
“So what made you want to become an attorney?” I asked him. He knew the reason behind my choice in profession, but I had yet to know his.
He raked his fingers through his windswept hair, brushing it back. Something about that was too sexy.
He shrugged, glancing around the room. “Shoot, I don’t know. I guess I just like a challenge.”
Judging by his tone of voice, I was sure there was more to the story, but it didn’t sound like he wanted to elaborate. I decided not to press.
We’d been discussing everything from our political views – which was a surprisingly civil conversation – to our
childhoods, to how crazy some of our neighbours were. It had only taken a minute for him to make me smile, and since we’d sat down, I hadn’t stopped.
“Can I ask you something?” Nick began. “What made you want to come home with me tonight?”
A nervous feeling seeped into my stomach and I set my drink down, focusing all my attention on trying to read his eyes. I wondered if he thought less of me for this. Our conversation had taken a one-eighty and I suddenly felt like a criminal in an interrogation room.
“I…” I breathed in deeply, thinking over how to respond. I was afraid my answer might complicate everything more. “I’m having a nice time tonight, aside from the unpleasant news. I like spending time with you, Nick.”
It was the truth. I’d begun to enjoy his company. When he was making me laugh, I’d forgotten about the controversy hanging over our heads and allowed myself to dive into happiness, to smile, to ignore the impending struggles. It occurred to me Nick Granger wasn’t your average one-night stand. He was so much more than that, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I was glad. I wanted him to be more than that.
“I should get you back,” he said, standing up.
My mood fell at the sound of his words. I knew I should go, but I didn’t want to. At least not yet.
Nick lead me to the entryway where I’d laid my blazer. He held the garment up for me to slip over my arms, another thing Derek had never done. It was sweet. Chivalry was definitely not dead.
“You make this difficult, you know?” he chuckled, retrieving his keys.
“Taking you back,” he clarified. “It’s hard to end the night when I’m enjoying it this much.”
I was surprised by his words but kept my composure, though it was hard to do when he flashed me that knee-weakening grin. I didn’t want this night to end either. We’d been having a great time and I was loving getting to know him. He’d turned out to be a pretty interesting person. I was even willing to look passed the fact that he was a Brewers fan.
I watched him pick through his ring for the house key. His hands were steady. I remembered what they’d felt like on my hips. His collar hung lazily around his neck. My fingertips itched to unbutton the rest of his shirt. His bangs fell forward like a curtain, hiding half of his face. I longed to run my fingers through his hair.
“So don’t,” I said in almost a whisper.
His motions halted and he looked up from his keys. “What?”
“Ask me to stay.” I was testing the waters, unsure of where this was leading.
Nick’s eyes narrowed and he straightened his posture. He studied me almost long enough to make it awkward. The air held a thick cloud of tension between us. Though we’d been having a mostly light-hearted conversation all night, I had noticed the way he eyed my body and ran the tip of his tongue over his lower lip while he listened to me. The action had sent a chill up my spine and caused me to stutter mid-sentence. But he wasn’t the only one silently seducing. Surely he’d been aware of how often I glanced at his chest, and maybe a little lower. No doubt he’d watched the way I bit my lip when he spoke.
I wanted him to notice.
Nick took a step toward me, his eyes locked on mine in a heated stare. He reached out, touching my upper arm. Another step. He backed me up until my back was flush against the wall. He placed his hands on either side of my body, towering over me in the sexiest way. I could feel the heat radiating from his chest and suddenly became very aware of how close his half-unbuttoned shirt was to my own chest. I wanted to touch it, run my fingertips over the buttons. Hell, I wanted to rip the rest of the buttons off. But I stayed still as a statue, watching, waiting.
“I’m afraid if I do that,” he began huskily, resting his forehead against mine, still staring deeply into my eyes. “You’ll end up in my shirt again, come morning.”
My breath caught in my throat. I couldn’t speak. He was unravelling my self-control one word at a time.
“But then… I doubt you’d be complaining.”
The statement rolled off his tongue, caressing my ears like velvet. I gasped at the pressure of his hips against my own.
Before either of us could make the next move, my better judgment sent up its red flag reminding me of the previous night and dangling it in front of my conscience that I’d regret tonight as well if I didn’t put a stop to everything right now.
I stayed still. Didn’t speak, barely breathed. I couldn’t take my eyes off his. Those deep, rich chocolate orbs were stunning on their own, never mind the gorgeous man they belonged to. I spotted tiny flecks of gold and green sprinkled in. The longer we looked at each other, the more exposed I felt.
Maybe I would regret it in the morning. Maybe it would complicate everything more. Maybe Nick would be a two-night stand and I’d never see him again. I tossed my cares aside. I’d felt like hell before, but after hearing that Derek had been cheating on me for who knows how long… I didn’t feel so bad anymore. Yes, I’d have to own up to my actions, but so would he, and he didn’t appear willing to admit to anything any time soon.
Two could play at that game.
“Stay, Carrie,” Nick muttered against my lips.
Our eyelids fluttered closed at the onset of the first kiss. He tasted sweet, like sugar. His scent was intoxicating. His lips were like satin, deliciously sinful.
He pulled back to look at me. “Stay the night.”
It wasn’t long before he fell asleep. He looked so peaceful with the glow of the moonlight coming through the blinds and bathing us in a warm natural nightlight. Eventually I fell asleep to the sound of his heartbeat and steady breathing.
My peace was short-lived and I woke up, shaking my head at the memory of a strange dream. The digital clock that read 3:17AM and I groaned, hating waking up in the middle of the night. I rolled over trying to go back to sleep but having no such luck. I finally decided to get up and get something to eat.
Trying to keep quiet so I wouldn’t wake Nick, I slowly slipped out of bed and tiptoed out of the room. It had been warm under the sheets and I was starting to shiver as I walked down the hall. I wandered down the stairs, missing a step here and there, not fully awake, and walked into the kitchen, intending to look through the fridge for something I could snack on but something caught my attention on the arm of the couch. Something I hadn’t noticed before.
A dark blue jacket was folded neatly over the puffy arm. The letter F peaked my interest. I lifted the jacket, unfolding it to see what it said.
In big white letters on the back of the jacket were the letters F.B.I.
I stared, wide-eyed, at the heavy material in my hands. FBI? Why did Nick have a federal agent’s jacket? My curiosity ran wild provoking me to feel inside the pockets. There was nothing in the two front pockets but inside the jacket I found another pocket with something hard in it. I pulled the object out, realizing it was a black leather wallet. The same wallet Nick had flashed Kelly at the hotel. I had to know what had made her eyes widen like that.
I opened the wallet. Inside was the culprit: a shiny gold badge and an ID with big blue block letters that said F.B.I. It had a picture of Nick and below it was his name, Nicholas Granger.
I nearly dropped the wallet out of shock. What the hell had I just discovered? Nick was an FBI agent?
I quickly placed it back inside the jacket pocket and folded the jacket back over the arm of the couch just like it had been when I found it. I suddenly wasn’t hungry anymore.
Shock hummed through my veins. I thought I’d had enough on my mind, worrying about things with Derek. I thought
cheating was my biggest problem. Now I didn’t know what to think. If Nick was an FBI agent, why the hell was he working as an attorney for Hampton, Burns and Hampton? Was he undercover?
I wondered if the feds had an ongoing investigation that one of the firm’s cases pertained to. I wondered if Nick had been assigned to investigate an attorney or client. I wondered if it had anything to do with Derek’s firm at all. What if Nick was investigating the firm I worked for? Maybe that’s why he picked me out of the crowd when he could’ve had any other woman at that party – especially single women. But if that was the case, if Nick was investigating me or someone I worked with, it didn’t make sense to me why he would be working at Hampton, Burns and Hampton. Why not go undercover at my firm?
My head was spinning with questions but I didn’t dare let Nick know I knew, for fear he’d blow up at me for sticking my nose where it damn sure didn’t belong.
But what if all this – the sex, dinner, everything – was all an act to help him further his work? What if I was being played like a fiddle? What if Nick actually didn’t care about me at all
I decided to do a little investigating of my own. I remembered the texts I’d read on Nick’s phone the morning before where he’d been talking to a detective. I itched to get my hands on his phone again but I knew it was too risky to try sneaking it away from him when he could wake up any minute and catch me snooping. Instead, I opted for the next best thing.
I tiptoed down the hall to what appeared to be his at-home office and quietly turned the knob, trying to avoid making noise as I sneaked inside room.
There were two filing cabinets, a desk, a bookcase, and a nightstand being used as a printer table. My eyes zeroed in on Nick’s computer lying on the desk and I walked over to it, taking a seat and opening the computer.
Of course, his laptop was password protected. What did I expect? I knew it would be a miracle if I cracked the code, but I tried and tried until the system locked me out for too many unsuccessful attempts.
Thinking I might find something in one of the filing cabinets, I went to the first one, a tall oak unit with four drawers. Each one was labelled with letters in alphabetical order. I opened the first drawer, trying to be as quiet as possible. Inside were tons of manila folders. I tried to determine which drawer or file might have something to do with me. I picked up the first folder, flipping through the papers. It contained information on a homicide from three years ago. I put the file back in its place, feeling my stomach churn from seeing the gruesome photos. It seemed like Nick had everything ordered by the last name of whomever the file was on. I decided to look at the drawer with the letter D for my last name, Donovan.
I opened the second drawer from the top, finding the D’s and searching for anything that might have my name on it. Nothing. I couldn’t find a single thing. I was becoming more frustrated by the second.
Then I got the idea to search for a file on Hampton, Burns and Hampton.
I pulled open the third drawer, searching for anything that said Hampton on it. Bingo.
I was about to grab the folder when I heard the refrigerator close. I hurriedly shut the drawer but as I was about to sneak back into the hallway, Nick opened the door.
“What are you doing?” he asked sleepily.
“I… I was just exploring,” I lied. That sounded so stupid.
He leaned against the door, raising a suspicious eyebrow and yawning. “Why?”
“I couldn’t sleep so I decided to look around.” I started running my fingers through my bangs anxiously.
“Why are you nervous?” Nick frowned.
Surely he knew I’d been up to something. I tried to keep calm and act like I wasn’t about to lose what little was left of my sanity.
“I’m not,” I attempted to laugh off his question. “I’m just tired. That’s all.”
Nick eyed me narrowly like he didn’t believe me. I wondered if he was experienced in interrogations and if he could see right through my act. He probably could.
“Right ,” Nick nodded slowly. “Why’d you come in here ?”
“I told you,” I breathed. “I was just looking around.”
Nick seemed to consider this for a moment before finally giving up and nodding. “Alright.”
He turned to leave the room and I followed as he walked to the kitchen. His jacket wasn’t slung over the couch anymore. I didn’t see it anywhere. I figured he’d hid it so I wouldn’t see it, probably thinking I hadn’t yet. I decided against mentioning anything about it.
“What time is it?” Nick yawned. He was getting a glass of water.
“I should be getting you back to the garage soon,” he said, leaning against the island. “You’ll need time to get ready and head to work.”
Right. My SUV. I’d forgotten all about it.
I dreaded the thought of going to the office. I just knew one of the partners would be furious with me and want to “have a word.”
“I wish it would be acceptable for me to call in sick today,” I groaned, lolling my head back and staring up at the ceiling.
“Well, because of our little incident the other night, I was so late for work and miserable, I ended up not going in and standing up like four clients,” I explained. “I’m not looking forward to hearing how my boss feels about it.”
I studied his expression. His brows were pulled together in a frown. He was leaning against the counter, nibbling on his bottom lip. He was obviously in deep thought.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked.
He sighed, running a hand through his bedhead. “Too much, babe. But I’ve got to go to work also, so I better take you to get your car soon.”
I wondered if Nick might come home for lunch or if he’d spend the whole day at work. I made a mental note to find the file on Derek when Nick wasn’t around.
Shortly after five, we left Nick’s house for the parking garage. It was a comfortable, peaceful morning. The sunrise had just begun with a thin line of light on the horizon. It was chilly, but I liked the cool breeze on my body as we drove back down Lakeshore with the windows halfway down. Neither of us said a word on the way. There was an awkward tension and I knew he was still wondering what I’d been doing in his office. Surely he didn’t buy my exploration story. I was still focused on the folder with Derek’s name on the tab. I wanted – no – I needed to get my hands on that file. I needed to know what the hell was going on. I started to wonder if Nick and Derek didn’t like each other because of work ethic differences, like they said, or if it was something more sinister.
I’d only known Nick for two days and I was already enchanted by his exceptionally good looks, charm, and stellar skills in bed, among other things. Before Nick, I’d always thought Derek was the most amazing man I could possibly meet. He was handsome, professional, sweet, and he usually had a decent sense of humour. But now here Nick was awakening senses in my body I didn’t even know existed. The whole thing was a mess, but the worst part was not knowing if he was playing me.
“I guess I want to make sure I’m not making a mistake,” I said, imagining the possibility that I could be miserable and regret leaving Derek if I did.
What if I left Derek and things didn’t work out with Nick or anyone else and Derek wouldn’t take me back? But on the other hand, what if I stayed with Derek, lost any thread of a chance with Nick, and then things went south with Derek and Nick wouldn’t give me a second chance? Either way, it seemed like I was screwed. It didn’t feel like I was going to get out of this without something shitty happening.
“This is all just so confusing and stressful,” I shook my head, covering my face with my hands.
The sun’s bright rays blasted through my driver’s side window as the flaming orb rose in the morning sky. There were very few clouds, giving off a mist look. I headed south on the interstate toward my suburb. I let my mind wander while I drove, thinking over the conversation I’d had with Nick just ten minutes prior. He’d tugged at my heartstrings telling me about when he knew he didn’t want me to be a one-night stand. The look in his eyes as he said it made the butterflies in my stomach go wild.
I connected my phone to the car via auxiliary cord, silencing the radio, and called Monica.
“Finally I hear something out of you!” Her voice came on the line, blasting through my speakers loud enough that I had to turn the volume down. “You have been so AWOL lately!”
“What? I don’t get a hello?”
“Hello, my ass,” Monica said, trying her best to sound angry at me but failing miserably.
“See, it’s nice of your ass to greet me!” I laughed.
“Oh God, what am I going to do with you,” she groaned. “Are you coming in to work today?”
“I’m about to be on my way. Just have to stop by my house and change,” I said.
“Stop by the house? Where have you been?”
I didn’t want to tell her yet. Monica was my best friend and I knew she’d support me through anything, but I was still worried about how she’d react. I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture. My head was already spinning fast enough. I didn’t need to turbo-charge it.
“Why don’t we get some coffee on the way to the office,” I suggested, bypassing her question as I turned onto my street.
Her tone seemed to brighten instantly. “Yeah, I’d love to!”
“Let’s meet at the cafe down the street,” I said. I knew she loved that place. “I’ll see you in about thirty minutes.”
“It’s a date!”
The first thing I noticed when I pulled into the driveway was Derek’s vehicle beside me. This couldn’t be good.
Once I stepped out of the vehicle, I realized he was sitting on the wooden bench on my front porch, and he definitely wasn’t excited to see me.
“Hi,” I muttered, shutting the door.
He didn’t say anything until I reached the porch. “We need to have a chat.”
“Okay,” I nodded, trying to sound casual.
I walked in the house, heading for the kitchen, and Derek followed behind me. I opened the fridge in search of a Coke. I was in desperate need of caffeine. Especially if I was going to have a pissy talk with Derek.
“Morning,” I said, popping the can open.
“So how was your meeting with Mrs. Wembley last night?” He got straight to the point.
I’d forgotten that I had told Derek I was meeting Mrs. Wembley. “It was good,” I yawned.
“What did you guys talk about?” Derek asked, crossing his arms.
“You know, that’s funny,” he said sarcastically. “Because I clearly remember seeing you with someone who most definitely wasn’t Mrs. Wembley.”
Oh, shit. I tried to maintain my story, acting like I had no clue what he was referring to. “What are you talking about?”
“You had dinner with Nick Granger, Carrie!” Derek snapped, throwing his hands up. “Why the hell did you have dinner with him? And why did you lie to me about it?”
I was stunned. Stunned was an understatement. How the hell did he know I was out with Nick? I wondered if one of Derek’s co-workers might have been at the restaurant and told him, but I dismissed that thought, thinking I probably would’ve recognized them.
“H-how did you-”
“How did I find out?” Derek clinched his fist.
I nodded slowly, able to speak.
“I didn’t believe your story when you said you were meeting Mrs. Wembley. You never wear a dress to a business affair. I don’t care how upscale the restaurant is,” he explained, becoming more angered by the second. “I wanted to see for myself if you were lying to me because it sure seemed like you were hiding something. I followed you to the parking garage and saw you talking to Nick Granger. Then I watched you have dinner with him. Oh, and let’s not forget, you went to a hotel with him! That was just real sweet to see my fiancé with another man! My co-worker, none the less! The man you know I fucking despise and you’re running around with him behind my back!”
I stood there in shock. It had never crossed my mind that Derek would even consider following me. I suddenly felt like I was going to vomit as pang after pang of anxiety shot through my stomach and a lump formed in my throat.
“Care to explain?” His words were laced with venom. “Cause I’d damn sure love to hear this!”
If he thought he was going to back me into a corner and make me the bad guy, he had another thing coming. If I was going down, I was dragging him with me.
I straightened up, placing my hands on my hips authoritatively. “Why don’t you tell me what you were really doing after I left the party Tuesday night?” I spat.
Derek’s frown deepened and a hint of worry flickered in his eyes.
“I told you, Carrie. I was looking for you.”
He was in for a very rude awakening if he thought I was going to let him play it that way.
“Were you? Were you really, Derek? Because I distinctly remember seeing you and Christine groping like baboons outside the ballroom!” I shouted.
Derek took a step back but his expression stayed the same. “Carrie, no. You were drunk. You don’t know-”
“What I’m talking about?” I finished his sentence. “I really fucking wish that was the case! I wanted to believe it was my imagination! But it’s pretty hard to dispute the hotel manager confirming my suspicions, Derek!”
His eyes widened to the size of saucers and his cheeks began to redden. He didn’t respond. I’d hit the nail on the head.
My worst nightmare was true. My fiancé was a lying, repetitive cheater. I sure knew how to pick ’em. How had I never suspected a thing this whole time? How long had he been renting hotel rooms behind my back?
“Why don’t you try telling me what’s really going on,” I continued. “And I want the truth this time.”
His chest rose and fell as he took in a deep breath. Still, he said nothing. A scowl was plastered across his face. He shoved his hands in his pockets and broke our eye contact.
“What the hell makes you think you’re so innocent either?” His voice was barely audible but he sounded heartbroken.
I wasn’t buying it. If it hurt him that much to see me with another man, how could he be content with fucking other women?
“Don’t play that card.”
His gaze snapped back to my face and his eyes darkened. “What gives you the right to be angry with me when you’ve spent the past two nights with him?
“Maybe because I haven’t been cheating for probably
months with God knows how many bitches behind my fiancé’s back with no fucking excuse whatsoever!” I countered.
“Hey! You didn’t have an excuse either!” he hollered back. Surely the neighbours could hear us by now.
Derek had a right to be pissed. I would be too if I were him. No one should cheat without repercussions. I knew it was going to bite me in the ass at some point. I just didn’t expect it to be like this. I didn’t expect to find out he’d been cheating too. I wasn’t prepared to feel so empty.
I sighed, running my fingers through my messy hair. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Derek reacted rather quickly, turning and slamming his fist against my pantry door, leaving a dent in the white painted wood. I jumped at the sound, my heartrate beginning to pick up.
Before I could say another word, he was out the door and flooring the accelerator out of my neighbourhood. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. Had we broken up without actually saying it? Would he come back or had he left for good? What the hell was I supposed to do now?
I leaned against the fridge for the longest time until my phone startled me out of my thoughts, vibrating in my pocket.
“Where are you? I thought we said thirty minutes,” Monica said before I could even say hello.
I groaned, slowly trekking to the bathroom to start the shower. “I’m sorry. Derek and I just had a fight.”
“What?” she shrieked. “But you guys never fight! What happened? Are you okay?”
I shook my head, staring at my miserable reflection in the mirror. “I’m fine.”
“Do you want me to meet you at your house with breakfast?” she offered.
I could just picture Monica trying to juggle two coffees and two iHop to-go boxes. It was pretty comical.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ll see you at the office in an hour. I’m sorry, Monica.”
“No. I totally understand. Take your time. I’ll have your favourite waiting on you when you get there!”
She really was the best friend a girl could ask for.
I dreaded going to the office but I had to face my boss at some point. There was no going around Claire White. She would hunt you down if necessary.
I rushed through my shower and half-assed my wardrobe. My motivation scale had hit zero and I couldn’t be bothered to even dry my hair, settling for a damp bun.
When I arrived at Taylor, Pickett, Barnes and Hough, I could feel my adrenaline kick in. I had been mentally preparing myself for being grilled and possibly fired the entire drive there. All I could do now was find out what type of punishment I’d be receiving. No doubt this would lessen, if not ruin my chances of becoming a partner.
As soon as I entered the lobby Monica was waiting for me, coffee in hand. “Claire’s waiting for you,” she rolled her eyes, patting me on the back.
I was all-too-happy to take the coffee, having had a severe lack of energy all morning so far. “Oh, goody,” I joked.
I decided to set my briefcase in my office before facing my boss, but I didn’t make it halfway down the hall when she called my name from behind her desk. My attempt at passing by unnoticed had not gone as planned.
“Yes?” I leaned in the doorway.
Claire White was my own personal version of Miranda Priestly. I looked up to her as an attorney, but aside from that, she didn’t thrill me too much. She was demanding and conceited. She was successful and she knew it. If you weren’t on her level, you weren’t worth her time usually. At least, that had been my experience so far.
“Take a seat.” She pointed to the chair across from her with her pen, not bothering to look up from her computer.
I did as instructed. “Good morn-”
“I swear, if one more cheery lunatic says good morning to me today,” she grumbled.
I almost apologized, but Claire wasn’t the type of woman you said you were sorry to without pissing her off more. It just didn’t happen.
“Now, Carrie.” She finally looked away from her work. “What’s wrong with you?”
I could feel my face getting hotter with embarrassment and angst. There was no right way to explain myself to her.
“I know you’re mad, Claire. I had no intention of-”
“Being a dumbass,” she interjected. She raised her thin, greying eyebrows disapprovingly. “I’m not going to bother lecturing you. I know you know you were stupid. However, I trust that you will fix your mistakes. I hired you because you’re a good attorney, Carrie, and I expect you not to allow some imbecilic man to alter that about you.”
My brows drew together and I opened my mouth to speak but was cut off again.
“Monica filled me in,” she clarified. “I could’ve told you that boy was wrong for you as soon as I heard the mention of Hampton, Burns and Hampton.”
“Oh,” was all I could muster. How was I supposed to respond to something like that?
“Yes. Well. I think it’s time you go to work now,” Claire shooed me out of her office.
I walked back to my office in a daze. I couldn’t believe Claire hadn’t immediately fired me or annihilated my potential partnership. Either she felt bad for me once she’d heard about Derek’s extensive infidelity, or Monica just had one hell of a way with words.
My Thursday morning consisted of three meetings with clients and a lot of caffeine. My last client of the day was Regina Evans, a gorgeous young blonde who was trying to acquire a protective order against her ex-boyfriend who didn’t seem to understand the meaning of the term “break-up.”
After six weeks of Regina telling him to leave her alone, Jared Kraft had become quite the stalker. He constantly showed up at her house in the middle of the night, called her so many times that she had to change her number, and sent flowers and love letters to her office on a daily basis. When Regina refused to take him back, Jared threatened to physically harm her. That’s when she contacted Taylor, Pickett, Barnes and Hough.
I had been reviewing Regina’s case file for twenty minutes when she knocked on my door, standing there awkwardly as if she wasn’t sure if it was okay to enter yet.
“Hey,” I smiled. “Come on in. Sit down. How are you doing?”
Her hair was pulled back in a high ponytail and I noticed she’d gotten soft brown streaks added since we’d last met. She looked great in her cute green vest and skinny jeans but I could see passed her façade. Her eyes were slightly reddened and puffy. She’d been crying but was trying to hide it behind a fake smile. I admired her effort.
“Do you think I have half a chance?” Regina’s voice was shaky, though she tried to sound confident. She’d been worrying about this protective order for weeks and it was obvious it was taking a huge toll on her lifestyle, and not to mention, her emotional wellbeing.
I believed she had a solid case though, and I was willing to back her one-hundred percent all the way until Jared Kraft became nothing more than a vague, shitty memory. He didn’t even deserve to be that much. It was too good for him.
“You’ve got a great chance, Regina,” I flashed her a warm, reassuring smile. “I just need to get a few more details from you and then I’ll have my assistant draw up some paperwork and you can fill out the forms and see the judge.”
I knew she was anxious to see the judge. She’d been fretting over it since our first phone call. Her biggest concern was that the judge wouldn’t believe her, but I couldn’t fathom that scenario.
We talked for fifteen more minutes while I jotted down bullet-pointed notes. I wanted to piece together the most rock-solid case possible to make sure we wouldn’t have to try again. I knew for sure the judge would grant the temporary protective order which would only last thirty days, but I was about eighty percent sure Regina would claim a victory on the second hearing. I didn’t like anything short of ninety-five and my gut feeling was usually right.
I continued to review the pile of paperwork scattered across my desk long after Regina had left. I glanced over the copy of the police report she’d provided me with from eight months prior when Jared had first slapped her. He’d been arrested, but at the time she was too scared to press charges.
I looked at my bullet points for the hearing, imagining how everything might go. I knew Jared would probably have a public defender on his side. I made a note to snoop around and try to determine who the attorney would be.
I was so wrapped up in reviewing the case that I didn’t notice the sound of the door opening until it hit the rubber doorstop, making a light banging sound.
I glanced up, startled. “Dear God!”
Nick chuckled, leaning against the door facing. “Nice to see you too, Carrie.”
Nick’s eyes scanned over the folder in my hands and then glanced around the room at everything inhabiting my office. Three tall bookcases, a fake tree by one of the windows, my large cherry desk, two filing cabinets, and a wall full of copies of my degrees, certificates, and various other accomplishments. I assumed he was sizing everything up the way the Bureau had probably taught him to do.
He looked good. Damn good. His dark blue jeans hung low on his hips and his green shirt fit him perfectly. His hair was still messy like he hadn’t combed or brushed it before leaving his house.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, wracking my brain to determine if I’d forgotten I was supposed to meet him for lunch or something, but I couldn’t remember making plans with him. Why had he come to my office?
“I wanted to talk to you,” he said simply, sauntering over to one of the two chairs across from me.
He appeared relaxed. There didn’t seem to be a reason for me to be nervous, but I was. I studied his features as he bent to sit down. Strong, perfectly sculpted, handsome, intimidating…
“What’s going on?” I straightened up in my chair, feeling my pulse quicken.
He shrugged and pushed his bangs back. He looked older that way but it was a good look for him.
“Carrie, I need to know something.” Uh-oh. “Are you sure you were just exploring in my house last night?”
He was analyzing me with squinted eyes like I was a criminal in an interrogation room and he was waiting for my murder confession.
I refused to break. I couldn’t let him know I knew. I still needed to get my hands on that file. To do that, I was going to have to act like I didn’t have a clue he was in the FBI.
“Of course,” I frowned as if I didn’t understand why he’d asked.
Nick shook his head, his bangs flopping back into his eyes as a result. “Are you sure?”
He was softly tapping his left heel on the floor and I was growing more anxious by the second. He was onto me. He had to be. I was screwed.
“Positive.” I acted like I didn’t understand.
He continued looking at me expectantly. I refused to tell him the truth – at least for now. I didn’t want to be the one to address that he was an agent. I wanted to wait for him to tell me. I didn’t want to have to pull answers out of him. I wanted him to prove that he actually cared about me and that he wasn’t just using me to gain information on Derek.
Nick crossed his legs, tapping his fingers on his knee. He looked out the windows at passing cars. My office had an impressive panoramic view of the city. Downtown Chicago, though busier than a hornet’s nest, was jaw-dropping from this angle.
“Why don’t I believe that?” He frowned, looking back at me.
I was so sure I was caught in my lie, I was about to give up. But then how would I find out the truth? There was zero chance of Nick divulging information about a federal investigation to me.
“I don’t know,” I said. I stared at the neighbouring skyscrapers, trying to focus on anything but him.
“I think you do.”
“Then think all you want!” I threw my hands up in frustration.
“Nick, you’re making it sound like you’re hiding something. Something you don’t want me to see. Is that what this is about?
I could tell I hit a nerve when his jaw tightened. I’d thrown the pressure back on him. He wasn’t about to admit his real profession to me, and I wasn’t about to let him think his assumptions about me snooping were correct.
He shifted uncomfortably in the chair. We stared each other down for what seemed like the longest time. His piercing gaze was knotting up my stomach but I refused to be intimidated by those taunting brown eyes.
Finally, he broke eye contact, standing up and rolling his shoulders to release tension. I had a sudden urge to give him a back rub. He sure looked like he could use one.
“I’m not hiding anything, Carrie,” he said softly.
“Hey, Carrie?” Monica knocked on my door as she entered.
Nick glanced at her for a couple seconds and then wandered closer to the window, turning his back to us to give us privacy. I knew he was still listening though.
I tried to give Monica the impression that nothing less than professional had just been going down. “What do you need?” I smiled, clasping my hands.
She raised an eyebrow, subtly tipping her head in Nick’s direction. I knew I’d be getting an earful when we talked later.
“I was just wondering if you could assist me with some… uh… filing,” she said, tripping over her words.
Now it was my turn to raise a brow. “Filing? That’s what we have file clerks for.”
“But this is something I really need your help on,” she insisted. “Please.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, alright.”
Monica bounced out of my office with a grin plastered across her makeup-clad face. She’d gone a little too heavy on the dark eyeshadow but it worked for her.
“Well, I’ve been summoned,” I joked, turning my attention back to Nick.
He nodded. “Guess you gotta go, huh?”
I frowned but shook his hand anyway. Within seconds, he’d vanished from my office and I was left standing there alone and perplexed. Had I done something wrong?
“You slept with this guy while you’re engaged to Derek. Derek slept Christine and who knows who else while he’s engaged to you…” Monica’s eyes widened as she put the pieces together.
I nodded, feeling so shameful. “I don’t know what to do, Monica. The whole thing is one big-ass migraine.”
“I can kind of understand being pissed over catching Derek and letting the alcohol take over, but I don’t understand Derek going through women like they’re potato chips,” she scoffed. “Who does he think he is, treating my best friend like that? fuck?”
We’d been inhaling giant spoonful of ice cream and talking about the sexual soap opera that is my life for a half hour and I was on the verge of either crying, vomiting, or both. I couldn’t decide. Explaining the situation to Monica felt like reliving the night I’d cheated. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t scolding me and lecturing me about how I should kick Nick to the curb and try to mend things with Derek. No doubt, that’s all anyone else would say. Monica seemed to understand how I was feeling though. The fact that she wasn’t unloading on me with disapproval made me feel slightly less guilty for sleeping with Nick.
I knew I should’ve marched over to Derek when I saw him with Christine. I should’ve given him a gigantic piece of my mind. I should’ve been responsible and taken the high road. But I’d run off with Nick Granger instead. What did that say about me?
Monica was ranting about her newly-developed hatred for my fiancé but I wasn’t listening. I’d tuned out, staring down at my left hand where the stunning silver band and sparkling four carat diamond sat on display. Seeing it made me feel worse. The ring brought a wave of happy memories with Derek to mind, but then quickly crushed them all with misery and regret. I began to wonder if Derek had been cheating on me before he proposed. I wanted to know just how long his infidelity had been going on. Had I just been deceived into thinking he loved me? Or had I done something to make him seek another woman’s bed?
Nausea set in. I slid the ring off my finger, placing it on the coffee table. I stared at my bare hand, holding it out in front of me while Monica continued her rant. I still wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t want to admit it – not even to myself – but I felt a sense of relief without that flashy diamond decorating my ring finger. Maybe it just isn’t meant to be, I thought. It sickened me that that was even crossing my mind
“He’s my fiancé,” I muttered. I wasn’t even sure if that was true anymore.
“By the way, Derek called me,” she spoke up.
My spoon clanged against the ceramic bowl and I felt my pulse instantly rev up. “Oh?”
“He wanted to know what we did Tuesday night. He said you told him you stayed the night at my house,” she frowned. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. If you’d told me about all this cheating shit sooner, I could’ve covered for you.”
The more I thought back to Tuesday night, the more I hated champagne. The more I hated champagne, the more disgusted I became with myself for drinking it. I was sick of my hormones and emotions running wild over two men. Part of me wished one of them would just make it easy for me and leave.
I wished I’d taken the time to vent all this to Monica before Derek had had a chance to call her. I wished I’d at least thought to text her and ask her to cover for me.
I sat at my desk typing up legal documents. It was just passed four in the afternoon and I’d been working since an hour after Monica and Nick left. I’d acquired one hell of a migraine early in the morning and decided to take advantage of not having anything on my schedule today and work from home.
Monica decided today was the day she would finally take some time to herself and splurged at the mall. Nick had hung around for another hour after Monica left. We’d eaten the entire box of doughnuts and talked about our favourite things to do in the summer, excited that warm weather was coming soon. I learned that Nick’s family owned a vacation home near the beach in North Carolina. He said he loved to go sailing and had a couple boats. I told him I’d never been on a boat but I’d love to learn how to sail one day.
With two bullet points left until my paperwork was finished, I breathed a sigh of relief, watching the hands slowly circle around the clock on the wall above my bookcase. I still hadn’t heard from Derek and I was starting to wonder if something had happened to him.
I could feel us growing apart and I’d begun to think it was only a matter of time until one of us officially broke off the engagement. I hadn’t put my ring back on since laying it on the coffee table the day before.
I’d stopped worrying so much about which guy was better for me and started realizing just how little Derek actually cared and how much more connected I felt to Nick. I wasn’t sure if that meant I was supposed to be with Nick or if I should wait awhile and see if my feelings changed or what, but I definitely didn’t feel near as strong of a bond with Derek as before I met Nick.
Just as I was emailing the files I’d been working on to my boss, my phone rang. I was hesitant to answer, seeing Derek’s name on the caller ID.
“Hey,” I answered hesitantly, hoping Derek couldn’t hear the nervous tone in my voice.
“Hey.” He sounded exhausted. “I’m getting off work in a few minutes. I was thinking maybe we could go grab a late lunch or early dinner.”
I briefly considered making up some excuse why I couldn’t see him but I decided I’d rather not make things worse by avoiding him.
“Okay. Sure,” I agreed. “What time?”
“I’ll come over when I’m finished up here,” Derek answered, hanging up.
I set the phone on the desk, leaning back with a groan. I wasn’t in the mood to go out to dinner with him. Something about it made me feel dirty, like it was the wrong thing to do.
I wondered what Derek would say when he saw I wasn’t wearing my engagement ring. I thought back to the day Derek proposed and how happy we’d both been. At the time, I’d been certain he was the one. I thought my life couldn’t be more perfect and everything was falling into place. Now everything was falling apart. I missed the comfort of knowing what to expect and planning on getting married and living happily ever after. My emotions were a mess. The whole damn thing was one big mess and I was sure one or both of these men was going to walk away any day now.
I went to the bathroom, taking a quick shower. About fifteen minutes later I heard the doorbell. Derek didn’t usually ring the doorbell or knock. He normally walked right in like it was his house too. I assumed he felt as awkward as I did about be around each other.
Derek was wearing his black slacks and red button up from work. His hair was tousled from the wind. It had rained off and on throughout the day, despite what the weatherman had said about a bright sunny week, and the wind seemed to continue picking up more and more.
“Ready?” Derek asked, motioning toward his car.
“One sec,” I hopped around on one foot as I put my shoes on.
I still didn’t want to go out. Part of me wanted to pretend Derek was Nick so I could maybe enjoy it a bit more, but I tried to put on a happy face. I hoped Derek couldn’t tell how uncomfortable I was. It really felt like we weren’t even in a relationship anymore. It felt like I was in a relationship with Nick and Derek was some stranger I barely knew.
We drive to the restaurant was short and awkward. Derek barely said a thing besides asking if I was cold due to his air conditioner running full blast.
We pulled into a narrow parking space in front of the local diner. Derek knew I loved that place because of their amazing comfort food but he’d never taken me there before. I’d always gone to lunch or breakfast with Monica at the diner. Derek was more of the five-star uber expensive restaurant type and rarely compromised to go to a place like this. He acted like it was beneath him if the food bill wasn’t a minimum two hundred dollars. I had always found that annoying about him. Of course, I enjoyed getting dressed up and going to fancy dinners here and there but sometimes I just wanted to go to a cute little affordable place with home cooking. I silently wondered if Nick was into that or if he preferred expensive restaurants as well.
I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I ordered a waffle with eggs and bacon. I knew the waitress, Michelle, and caught up with her for a few minutes while Derek sat across from me staring blankly out the window, obviously not interested in making conversation.
“Was there something you wanted to talk about?” I finally asked, cutting my waffle into several bite-sized chunks. “Or are we eating in silence?”
Derek poked his steak with his fork as if he was judging the way the chef had cooked it in comparison to the steaks he normally got at classier places.
“I thought we could talk about what happened the other day,” he said, referring to our argument in the kitchen.
“What about it?” I asked, spreading a combination of butter, whipped cream and strawberry sauce on my waffle pieces.
“Does this feel weird to you?” Derek asked, cutting into his steak.
“What do you mean?”
“Does our relationship feel weird to you?” he clarified.
Yes. It feels extremely weird. It feels so uncomfortable that I don’t even want to be here with you.
“I don’t know,” I lied.
“I guess you’re supposed to try to forgive and forget when the person you love cheats on you,” Derek said, making me feel shittier. “That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what I want us to do.”
“Okay…” I took another bite.
“It feels like you’re avoiding me,” he continued. “Like you don’t want to be around me now.”
I am avoiding you. I don’t want to be out with you at the moment.
“I’m trying to work through this just like you are,” I said. “We both fucked up, and yes, things are uncomfortable right now, but it takes time to work through that shit.”
“It’s awkward, right?” he asked, looking out the window at the traffic.
Derek frowned. “What do you want me to do?”
“What do you mean?”
I figured he was going to ask me if I wanted to break off the engagement. I was pretty sure at this point that I did. Part of me wanted to go ahead and get it over with so I wouldn’t have to worry about when it was going to happen. It didn’t seem like things were going to go back the way they were and I couldn’t shake the feeling of discomfort when Derek crossed my mind.
“Do you want me to act like this never happened?” he asked. It didn’t seem like there was a right answer to that question.
“I don’t know what I want, Derek,” I shook my head, hating how twisted my emotions had become lately.
For a long time after I answered we ate in silence, not even looking at each other. It wasn’t a calm silence either. I was ready for him to get the check and take me home. I didn’t want to be out anymore. I wanted to crawl in bed and sleep my emotions away.
“Carrie,” Derek finally spoke up. “I think I’m going to start spending most nights at my place.”
I wasn’t surprised. I could sense him wanting to avoid me just like I wanted to avoid him but I didn’t want to say anything. “Oh,” was all I could manage.
“At least for the time being,” he said, clearing his throat. “I think we both need some space.”
I felt horrible that this was happening to us and our once seemingly-perfect relationship but I also couldn’t suppress the relief that washed over me at the thought of us taking time to ourselves. Maybe it would help. Maybe it wouldn’t. But I sure could use a breather.
“I want things to work out between us,” Derek said.
He pushed his plate to the side, having barely touched his food. I stared blankly at the table, debating whether or not I should bring up his conga line of one-night stands. He had yet to give me a proper explanation for his actions and it was eating at me that I didn’t know why he’d been cheating on me or how long it had been going on. I wanted – needed – to know what I had done wrong to make him want to cheat. Sure, I still felt terrible for my own infidelity, but I hadn’t been renting hotel rooms on a regular basis with a parade of men. I wasn’t about to say what I’d done was justified, but I did feel like Derek had hurt me a lot more than I’d hurt him.
My phone rang, startling me so much that I fell off the couch. The caller was Nick.
“Hi,” came Nick’s voice, cheery and relaxed. “I just got done with some after work-work and I was wondering if you were busy. I thought maybe we could do something, if you want to.”
I listened to what sounded like him rifling through papers and I wondered if he’d been adding to Derek’s file. Maybe his after work-work was FBI stuff. Now was a good opportunity to see about going to his house and possibly getting a good look at that folder later in the night.
“Could we hang out at your house?” I hoped that didn’t sound too forward or suspicious.
“Sure,” he answered with the sound of a door closing behind him. “I can pick you up in-”
“I’ll drive over,” I cut him off. “I have things to do tomorrow. It would be easier if I had my car with me.”
I didn’t have anything to do the next day but if he caught me going through his filing cabinet, I could leave in a hurry, versus being stranded with him.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “It’s no trouble to drop you off in the morning.”
“I’m sure. I’ll be by soon.”
I hung up, going to the kitchen for a refreshing glass of water. I had the urge to splash cold water on my face. Seconds later I headed outside, wishing I’d grabbed a jacket when the chilly night air swept over me.
I turned onto the main road from my neighbourhood. It was an exceptionally dark night. The moon was nowhere to be seen and the street lights never seemed bright enough. At almost ten o’clock, there was still a fair amount of traffic and I drove for about thirty minutes until I reached Nick’s street. Every house in his neighborhood had their garage lights on. I pulled into the driveway, parking beside his Audi that shined in the dim light like it had just received a fresh wash and wax.
A dark figure stepped out from the shadows, startling me. I jumped in my seat, dropping my phone on the floorboard. I was relieved when I realized it was Nick standing by the crape myrtle in the flowerbed. His porch light wasn’t on, making it difficult to recognize him.
I released a heavy sigh, feeling my pulse start to relax again as I reached down to retrieve my phone.
“I guess you weren’t expecting a one-person welcoming committee,” Nick chuckled, strolling up to my door.
I rolled my eyes. “You’re trying to scare me to death.”
“Not to death ,” he grinned. “Just into a coma.”
“I’m offended!” His smile grew wider and he snaked his arm around my waist, walking me to the front door.
I felt good. For the short time we were outside, I’d completely forgotten about the real reason I’d come over. I’d forgotten about the file and the FBI and the whole thing altogether. Nick’s smile, laugh, the sweet tone of his voice… It was my aesthetic.
I began twirling the ends of his hair around my fingers. “Nick,” I said quietly.
He removed his lips from my neck, looking into my eyes like he could see my soul and read my thoughts. “Yes?” He licked his lips, causing all my attention to flood to the dampness on his mouth.
I lost all train of thought, losing myself in his chocolate eyes. Nick smiled down at me, the tips of our noses touching. I sighed deeply, feeling the emptiness take over when he slid out of me. I watched him sit up, stretching and getting up from the couch. I stared at his back as he jogged up the stairs. I instantly wanted him to come back. Without Nick hovering over me, I didn’t feel relaxed and pleasured. I just felt naked.
I entered into a dreamland, all warm and fuzzy at first, but I awakened in a panic, breathing heavily and glancing around the living room to make sure I was actually awake. Nick lay beside me, an arm slung over my side with his messy sex hair covering half of his face. I breathed a sigh of relief, seeing that I hadn’t disturbed his sleep. I had a pounding headache, most likely from the wine I shouldn’t have drunk. I desperately wanted water.
Slowly, trying to keep from waking Nick, I slipped out from under his arm and quickly sneaked out of the room. I opened the fridge quietly, trying not to make any noise, and grabbed a water bottle, refreshing myself as the cold liquid went down my throat.
Every muscle in my body craved lying back down with Nick, but I remembered the reason I’d come over to begin with. It wasn’t to have epic sex with him. It was to find that damn file.
I peeked around the wall between the living room and kitchen making sure Nick was still asleep. He was softly snoring against a pillow and I took that as the green light to make a beeline for his office. I tiptoed down the hall, reaching the room I’d been anxious to get back into since the last time I’d seen it.
The knob wouldn’t turn. It was locked. I hoped Nick hadn’t locked it because I was coming over. I hoped he wasn’t onto me. I tried to think of where he might’ve hidden the key and assumed it was probably upstairs in his nightstand. I dreaded the thought of having to sneak up and down the stairs when he could wake up any second and catch me, but temptation to get inside that room overpowered the fear of getting caught.
I tiptoed up the stairs, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Once inside his bedroom, I opened the top drawer of his nightstand to find his ring of about fifteen keys inside. I whispered a few curse words, cringing when the keys made a few clinking sounds when I picked them up. I clasped my hand around them tightly to silence the noise and headed back down the hall, peeking around the corner to see Nick still asleep.
When I reached the office door I started going through the keys, trying to unlock it. Most of them wouldn’t fit half the way in the keyhole and I was growing more impatient by the second. I had four keys left to try. The first two didn’t work. As I was separating the keys to try the third one, I fumbled the whole thing and they dropped to the floor with a loud clank.
My body stilled, my breath hitched, and my heart started pounding. I expected Nick to come around the corner any second. I waited in silence, listening. He never got up.
I slowly picked up the keys from the floor. “Just grand,” I whispered to myself when I realized I had no idea which keys I still had to try. They all looked too similar and in the dark, it was even harder to differentiate. I began the infuriating process all over again. Finally, halfway through the keys, the doors unlocked.
I made my way to the filing cabinet, opening the drawer I was all too familiar with, and picked through the folders until I found it. Derek Hampton.
Sitting down at Nick’s desk, I opened the file and found a picture of Derek paper clipped to the first page. It was the picture Hampton, Burns and Hampton used on their website, displaying their attorneys. I lifted it up, looking under the photo at the rest of the paper. It was an incident report from a police department. The next page was a general description of Derek along with all his personal information. The more pages I flipped through, the more worried I became.
As I read through the file, it talked about the FBI investigating the firm for criminal financial acts and then went on to say that they determined it was not Hampton, Burns and Hampton as a whole, but rather one person who worked there: Derek Hampton.
Derek was embezzling money. I recognized some of the things I’d seen on the spreadsheet when I’d looked at his computer. Listed before me were the same large amounts of money, the dates they’d been deposited into offshore accounts, and the banks that the accounts were with. Also in the mix was a page that listed prior offenses and I was shocked to discover that Derek had a rap sheet, and not a small one at that.
On one of the last pages was a discussion of working with the Chicago Police detectives to acquire the remaining evidence needed against Derek. This page also stated that Agent Nicholas Granger was undercover as a lawyer at Hampton, Burns and Hampton to be in close contact with the suspect and locate the information the FBI was still missing.
I was about to put everything back where I’d found it when I noticed my name at the end of the paper in my hands.
I stared at the paper in my hands for such a long time that my vision started to blur. There it was in black and white. My name. Carrie Donovan. I was listed as a suspect in connection with Derek’s embezzlement. I was shocked. No. That doesn’t even begin to describe my emotions. I felt like my heart had plummeted to my stomach, and my stomach felt like it was going to fall through my ass. How the hell did the FBI think I was involved in this?
I sat down at Nick’s desk feeling my blood pressure reach a new high. I started to wonder if Nick had only courted me because I’m a suspect. Maybe he thought if he got close to me I’d tell him incriminating information. Maybe he was just using me to solve his case.
I was glad I’d driven myself to Nick’s house. I needed to get out. I couldn’t stand to spend the night.
I started questioning whether or not I could trust him. I was pissed that he hadn’t told me I was being investigated. Why did I have to find out this way? Didn’t he know that you can’t hide anything from a woman because she’ll always find out? I wanted to march into the living room, wake him up, and demand some answers. But I knew if I did that, it would only make things worse. I decided instead to leave.
I quickly placed the folder back in the drawer, sneaking back into the hallway and locking the door like I’d found it. Luckily, I remembered which key was the right one this time. I retrieved my clothes from the kitchen floor, yanking my pants on in a rush and wadding the rest of my clothing into a ball. I didn’t want to waste time changing out of the sweatshirt I was wearing. I sneaked back up the stairs, placing Nick’s keys back in the nightstand drawer, and tiptoed through the house to leave. I cringed when the front door squeaked, freezing in place until I was sure the noise hadn’t disturbed him. I slipped out the door and ran to my Honda as fast as I could.
Even though it was the middle of the night and Monica was going to kill me for interrupting her beauty sleep, I dialed her number as I peeled out of the driveway. My heart was pounding like I’d just run from a bank robbery.
Even though it was the middle of the night and Monica was going to kill me for interrupting her beauty sleep, I dialed her number as I peeled out of the driveway. My heart was pounding like I’d just run from a bank robbery.
“I hope you have a real good reason for interrupting the dream I was having,” Monica said sleepily. “I was in a cabin in a heart shaped bed with Leonardo DiCaprio and there were roses and-”
“Monica, I need to talk to you. Now. It’s really important.”
“What happened?” her voice transformed from groggy to wide awake almost instantly. “What’s wrong?”
“I just left Nick’s house,” I said, trying to hold back the tears threatening to spill.
“Did he do something? Did he hurt you? I swear I’ll-”
“I’ll explain everything when I get there. I’m heading to your house right now. I can’t go back to mine because I know that’ll be the first place Nick looks for me when he realizes I left.”
“Jesus Christ,” Monica gasped. “I’ll unlock the door. Just come right in when you get here. I’ll make some coffee.”
I almost didn’t want to hang up. I felt compelled to look in my backseat and make sure no one was there. I kept glancing in my rear view mirror expecting Nick’s Audi to be tailgating me. A few heart palpitations later, I turned onto Monica’s street. It had become really cloudy. The sky was going to break with raindrops any minute. I pulled into the driveway, gathering my things and jogging to the door.
“Monica,” I said, stepping inside.
“In the kitchen!”
I locked the door behind me, walking to the kitchen where I found her sitting at the bay window that was my favorite part of her house.
“Hey,” she said sympathetically. She eyed me like I was going to fall apart any second.
I grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured some coffee. My hands were shaking. I couldn’t believe the FBI was investigating me. I’d never done anything wrong. I hadn’t known what Derek was doing and if I had, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a part of it. It sickened me to think Nick was only spending time with me because of this stupid investigation. Did I mean anything to him at all?
I sat down across from Monica, staring out the window at the trees. The wind had begun to pick up. It would start raining soon and that reminded me of the morning Nick had kissed me in the rain. I wondered if that had been an act.
“What’s going on?” Monica asked, pulling her knees up to her chest.
I hated that she couldn’t read my mind. I didn’t want to relay everything. “I found the file,” I said, watching her eyes widen.
“Oh my god.” Her mouth hung open. “What did it say?”
I pictured the papers. Derek’s name. My name. So many words that ran together in a giant blur. I thought about the incident report and the list of money transfers.
“Derek’s embezzling money,” I blurted out, releasing a deep breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding in.
Monica’s eyebrows shot up, almost disappearing into her hairline. “W-What? He’s what?”
“He’s been sending money to offshore accounts since last year,” I started explaining, staring a hole through one square of tile flooring. “Nick’s undercover as an attorney to get whatever evidence he still needs against Derek.”
“I also found out that Derek has a lot of priors.” I shook my head, hating that I’d let him fool me into thinking he was Prince Charming.
“Oh yeah,” I agreed sarcastically. “He’s got misdemeanors and assault charges.. I can’t believe I trusted him and he hid all this shit from me!”
I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. They came like a waterfall down my cheeks. I grimaced at the salty taste as tears ran over my lips when I opened my mouth to take a ragged breath.
“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” I sobbed into Nick’s sweatshirt.
Monica wrapped a comforting arm around my shoulders while I cried. I was surprised I hadn’t spilled my coffee with all the shaking I was doing.
She squeezed my arm reassuringly. “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t know what to do,” I breathed. I tried to wipe all the tears from my face with the sleeve of the sweatshirt.
“We’re going to get through this,” Monica tried to encourage me.
Even when I was completely miserable, Monica always managed to make me feel better. I couldn’t imagine having a better best friend. She knew how to make me laugh and that was exactly what I needed.
“There’s something else.” I dreaded saying it out loud because it would make it more real.
Monica raised an eyebrow. “What?” she asked cautiously.
“When I was looking through that file I saw my name,” I told her. I wished it was all a bad dream I’d be waking up from really fucking soon.
“Your name?” she frowned. “Why? What did it say?”
I felt the reality sinking in. The words stung when I said them aloud. “I’m a suspect.”
Monica gasped, covering her mouth. “Oh my god. What?”
“The FBI thinks I might be an accomplice,” I said, trying to remember exactly what was on the paper I’d read. “They think I’m helping Derek embezzle money.”
“Oh my god. Oh my god. This is so fucked up! What did Nick say?”
I imagined Nick waking up to see that I wasn’t there and wondering where I’d gone. I hoped he hadn’t gotten up yet.
“He didn’t. He doesn’t know I know. I snuck out while he was asleep.”
The clock on the microwave said it was just after five and I knew Nick would probably be getting up soon. He seemed to be an early riser.
“Are you going say anything to him?” Monica asked.
I didn’t have the slightest clue how I was going to handle the situation. I didn’t know if I should talk to Nick about it or if I should act like I had no idea I was being investigated.
I shook my head. “I don’t know what to do. I just want it to all go away.”
“Why do they think you’re working with Derek?
I had no idea. I was sure there were pages missing out of the file because it seemed like there would be more information in it. Nick had probably taken a few pages out.
“Probably because I’m his fiancé,” I groaned, glaring at my ring finger.
“When are you going say something to Derek?” Monica asked.
I wanted to avoid Derek at all costs but I knew I had to tell him at some point or he’d be thinking we were still together.
“I guess I have to talk to him sometime in the next couple days,” I sighed.
I knew he was going to flip out when I told him I didn’t want to marry him anymore. He was going to yell. Now that I knew about his assault charges, I worried he might hit me if he got mad enough.
“Do you think I should go to his office and tell him?” I asked, thinking it would be safer if I broke the news in a crowded area.
After I left Monica’s around nine with a stomach full of pancakes and blueberries, I decided to stop by the firm and grab some files from my office. I had a hearing to attend Monday morning and since I’d been off my game the past few days, I thought it would be a good idea to refresh my memory of the case.
It was a short drive to the office after I got off the highway. There were only two other attorneys working, judging by the lonely blue and white Toyotas in our section of the parking garage.
Once I reached my office I sat down at the desk and started picking through the folders I’d left beside my iMac. I pulled out Regina Evans’ file and set the rest aside.
I was in and out of the firm within six minutes, giving Claire an awkward wave on my way out. She looked down her nose at me through think-framed glasses, giving me a once-over and nodding. I trekked the long distance back to my SUV, tossing the folder into the passenger seat and pulling my hair into a sloppy ponytail while I stood beside the vehicle with the door open.
“You weren’t there when I woke up this morning,” came a deep voice behind me.
I stiffened, caught off guard. His boots created an echo through the garage when he moved toward me. How had I not noticed him walk up?
“I know,” I said simply, trying to sound calm and collected.
Nick stepped into view. His arms were crossed over his chest accentuating his biceps and forearms. He wore a tight fitting navy shirt and black pants. His shirt was untucked, covering an object on his right hip that I assumed was a pistol. Despite how irritated he looked, he seemed more hurt than anything.
“What did I do wrong, Carrie?” he asked, brows furrowed.
I looked at him confused. I’d up and left in the middle of the night and he was asking what he did wrong? I’d expected him to know what I’d done and scream at me for rifling through his things. I’d expected him to tell me how epically illegal it is for someone who isn’t FBI to see that file. Apparently he had no idea I knew and thought I’d left because he’d fucked up somehow.
“Nothing,” I shook my head, closing the folder I’d been looking through.
He began tapping his boot heel on the cement making a clicking sound. “Why don’t I believe that?” His words were laced with anger and guilt.
I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want him to think he’d done something wrong, but how could I possibly tell him what the real reason I’d left was.
“I don’t know.”
He cut me a glare, eyes darkening. “I thought you were staying the night. You could have told me you wanted to leave. You didn’t have to sneak out.”
“I’m sorry.” My words were barely audible.
“Are you?” He looked pained. “I felt like shit this morning because I thought I’d done something to make you leave. Did I?”
I shook my head slowly.
“Then what the hell happened, Carrie?” He threw his hands up. “Why’d you leave?”
This was it. I couldn’t fathom getting through this conversation without telling Nick the truth. I was sick of pretending I didn’t know and wishing I knew more. Now would have to be the point in which I discovered whether or not I was just a chess piece in the FBI’s game. I would find out if I actually meant something to Nick or if his actions had all been a façade.
“I went into your office last night,” I started. “I got the keys from your nightstand.”
His eyes widened and I could see his jaw tightening. He was worried. Worried that his secrets had been uncovered. Worried that I knew too much
“Those doors were locked for a reason,” he said in a voice that grew raspier with each syllable.
I nodded, leaning against the door. “Oh, I know. You didn’t want me to find your file on Derek. You didn’t want me to know the FBI is investigating him for embezzlement and that I’m suspected of being his accomplice. You didn’t want me to know that you’ve been playing me this entire time just to solve your stupid case!”
Nick looked shocked. He took a step back and I almost thought he was going to walk away. His eyes flashed an emotion I couldn’t decipher. He stayed quiet long enough to make me wish I’d waited until a better time to admit that I was onto him.
“You shouldn’t have gone through that folder,” he said quietly, looking down at his boots to avoid my gaze.
“When were you going tell me you were an FBI agent?” I snapped, slamming my door for emphasis.
Nick groaned and ran a shaky hand through his hair. “Carrie, you don’t-”
“Understand?” I raised my voice. “I understand fine, Nick! You lied to me. You used me. You fucked with my emotions and made me think you actually gave a damn for a day! All for some stupid investigation into my ex-fiancé that I didn’t even know about until Wednesday!”
He frowned, first in hurt and then quickly becoming confusion. ” Ex-fiancé?”
Was that all he’d paid attention to out of everything I’d just said?
“Yes.” I waved my hand, dismissing that subject.
Nick sauntered towards me, resting a hand on the hood of my SUV. “Carrie…”
“Why am I a suspect?” I demanded.
He leaned his side up against the vehicle, only the side mirror separating us. His eyes bore into mine for the longest time before he moved again. He reached out, placing his hands on either side of my waist and pulled me towards him. Contrary to my exasperation, I began to relax at the familiar feeling of his hands on my body. I tried to look anywhere but his eyes and focused on some graffiti decorating part of the garage wall to the right.
“You’re not,” he said in almost a whisper.
I frowned. That didn’t make sense. “But the file said-”
“I know what the file said,” Nick cut me off, squeezing my hips lightly. “You were at first. We know Derek has an accomplice. It’s customary to look into his significant other because that’s often who it is. I know you didn’t have any part in it though.”
I could feel my rapid heartbeat starting to relax once he said that. It was a relief to know the FBI wasn’t actively investigating me. I was still hurt, however.
“Was that the only reason you talked to me in the first place?” I asked, pulling out of his grasp. “Did you only pay attention to me so you could cross me off your suspect list? Did you pretend to care about me so you could finish your investigation?”
Nick’s eyes showed a flash of panic as he quickly shook his head. He inched closer so that we were just inches apart.
“No,” he breathed. “That’s not it at all.”
I stepped back, trying not to trip as I attempted to back away from him. I felt claustrophobic.
“Really?” I watched him step forward, matching each step I took back. “Because it sure feels that way. It feels like all you did was use me. Did you expect me to know everything and tell you all about Derek and his secrets?”
“The first day, and about half of the second day, yes,” Nick admitted. “At first, I thought you did know everything and I expected to pull some information out of you, but it didn’t take long for me to realize you had no idea what Derek was doing.”
“So you used me at first and then you stopped using me when you realized I was of no value to your investigation?” I snapped, continuing to back away from him.
“You make it sound a lot worse when you put it like that, but I guess so. Yes,” he sighed, hanging his head in shame. “But you mean-”
I could feel my blood start to boil. “If you say I mean something to you, I will smack the living shit out of you!”
“Go ahead,” Nick shrugged when I felt my back hit the cold cement wall behind me. “I won’t stop you.”
I had the sudden urge to slap him repeatedly until I couldn’t raise my hand anymore. I was so angry and so hurt. I felt like both Derek and Nick had only used me the entire time I’d known them. Derek with his cheating and Nick with his secrets… How could I ever know who to trust if everyone turned out to have some hidden agenda or fucked up past?
Nick placed his hands against the wall on either side of my head. “Carrie,” he breathed, nearly hypnotizing me with an intense, sexy stare. He grasped my hands, lacing our fingers and pinning my arms above my head.
I became lost in his gorgeous brown eyes. “Yes.”
I was so lost in him that I couldn’t even think about moving. I didn’t want to. I was captivated by the soft, loving expression on his handsome face.
“You do mean something to me,” he said, leaning in closer. “You mean a lot to me.”
I practically melted against him when he finally pressed his lips against mine in a slow, deep kiss that let me feel more passion in a few seconds than I had in my entire lifetime up until that point. This was the most meaningful kiss Nick and I had shared since meeting and I didn’t want it to end.
The more I got to know Nick and spend time with him, the more I liked him. He made me happier in a week than Derek had in three years. I didn’t understand how that was possible, considering I still barely knew the man, but I felt like I’d known him all my life. I really hoped our friendship or relationship or whatever it was continued to progress into something more. I didn’t want him to be a fuck buddy. It was obvious there were feelings between us and that we weren’t just having sex for the hell of it, but I wanted there to be more to it. I wanted to give a relationship a chance at some point. After Derek’s crap and how mad I was at him, I didn’t think it was going to take me that long to get over him. It occurred to me that I might never have even loved him. I might have just thought I did because he had me fooled.
I turned the corner at the intersection beside The Onion, a funky little restaurant Monica and her sister liked to go to when Annie came to town to visit. When I walked in, Monica was still at a booth not too far from the entrance, sipping on a margarita in one of the biggest glasses I’ve ever seen. I gestured to the hostess that I was going to sit with someone as I passed her, heading to the booth.
“This early?” I raised my eyebrows at her drink.
Monica grinned, poking the ice cubes with her straw. “It’s five o’clock somewhere, right?”
I shook my head, giggling and sitting down across from her. There was a tall glass of Coca Cola in front of me but no menu in sight.
“I ordered for you,” she said, answering my question before I said anything. “Seafood medley and a Coke. I know you so well.”
“This is why I love you,” I smiled, watching the waitress bring our food to the table.
“So how did-”
“It went great,” I grinned, knowing Monica was going to ask about the hearing. “We got the EPO. Judge Humphries was a joy as always.”
Monica giggled at my sarcasm. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“I have to type up some shit for Regina’s file and refresh my memory on some issues for a couple meetings I have this week,” I said, stabbing a piece of lobster with my fork.
“While you have the free time,” she said, digging into the lobster ravioli she always ordered. “You should go by Derek’s office.”
“If you want me to barf, please wait until after I finish eating,” I rolled my eyes at the thought of seeing Derek.
“Well, have you told him yet?” she asked, referring to my choice to call of our relationship.
I shook my head. “Maybe if I ignore him long enough, he’ll just magically disappear.”
“You know he’s not going to just poof and never be heard from again. You’re going to have to do something, Carrie. Personally, I think it would be hilarious if you officially dumped him in front of all his coworkers. Embarrass the fuck out of him.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“So what’s going on with Nick?” she asked, anxious to hear anything I had to say about Nick and me.
“He said he got some leads though. He’s going to tell me about it tonight.”
“On Derek’s thing?” Monica asked, eyes widening as she loudly chewed her food.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“You have to call me after he tells you,” she said excitedly. “You have to tell me everything.”
If any mature adult could act like an immature sixth grader in two seconds flat, it was Monica. Her personality cracked me up.
I was anxious to hear what Nick had to say, hoping he’d gained enough evidence to arrest Derek now. I briefly entertained the idea of telling Derek we were over as he sat in a jail cell. I knew Monica was right. I had to say something to Derek since he hadn’t technically broken up with me but I really didn’t want to be anywhere near him. It definitely sounded best to talk to him at work, though. Hampton, Burns and Hampton had a fair amount of security personnel and I knew they’d keep everything civil. I just didn’t want to piss off Derek and give him a reason to come banging on my door for revenge.
“Come on. You should feel confident and empowered,” Monica said in a sing-song voice, waving her hands in the air dramatically as I drove through the parking garage looking for a spot close to the elevators.
“You’re not listening to me,” she complained, poking my shoulder. “You’re supposed to be listening to me. I’m your best friend. I’m your personal cheerleader. I’m practically your fairy godmother and you just haven’t realized it yet!”
I giggled at her choice of words, maneuvering the SUV to back into a space next to a bright red Corvette. After lunch, we’d gone back to Monica’s house so she could drop off the massive amount of paperwork that was inhabiting her passenger seat. She’d begged me to take her with me to Hampton, Burns and Hampton, claiming she should be there for moral support. I knew she mostly just wanted to be there to watch me rip Derek a new one, though I wasn’t so sure that’s what was going to happen. The more I thought about it, the less confident I felt.
“Carrie,” she whined, tapping my arm rapidly.
“Do you feel confident?” Monica raised her eyebrows expectantly.
I nodded my head yes. “No.”
“That… well I’m thoroughly confused,” she frowned.
As we walked to the elevators, the nervous pit in my stomach continued to grow. I started regretting having seafood for lunch, knowing that was a bad combination with jittery nerves. After talking about it half the time we were eating, Monica had finally convinced me to go confront Derek. I wanted to get it over with but I also wanted to run the other direction and ignore him until he forgot who I was. Fat chance.
“You can do this,” Monica grinned like an idiot when we stepped inside the elevator. “You’re like the Hulk.”
I looked at her like she had four heads. “The Hulk?”
“I don’t mean you look like him,” she said, scrunching up her nose and frowning like she was rethinking what she’d just said. “I mean you should have his attitude.”
“Oh,” I nodded slowly. I wondered where on earth she came up with these things.
“Yeah,” she smiled and pressed the button for the forty-sixth floor. “Cause you’re not green.”
I groaned, feeling a headache in the works as I leaned against the wall, nauseous from the speed of the elevator carrying us to the executive floor.
The elevator doors opened with a ding . It had been awhile since I’d been to Derek’s firm. Derek didn’t like being disturbed during the work day so I rarely ever went to his office. I glanced around at the admins in their cubicles.
Walking toward Derek’s office, I told my nerves to shut the hell up. Monica followed a few feet behind. All the white plastic blinds were shut on the glass walls making it impossible to see inside Derek’s office. I reached up to knock on the door and heard a muffled sound from inside. I looked to Monica with a frown. She motioned for me to go ahead so I threw caution to the wind and swung the door open.
A loud bang startled several of the secretaries when the door hit the stopper. I stood there in disgust watching Derek and Christine jump apart. Monica’s jaw dropped in shock. Derek’s shirt was half unbuttoned, his belt unbuckled, and his hair looked like he’d stuck his finger in a light socket. Christine’s top was hanging from the lampshade on Derek’s filing cabinet.
I crossed my arms, glaring and leaning against the door facing. “So this is why you never wanted me to come by your office.”
Derek’s face turned beet red. He was hurriedly trying to button his shirt while Christine quickly pulled her top over her head, making her hair frizz with static. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. I thought Monica was about to have a conniption, staring bug-eyed at them with her mouth open and her up to her hairline. She was more surprised than I was.
I looked around noticing all the secretaries peeking over their cubicle walls to see what the fuss was about.
“This…” Derek ran a nervous hand through his hair, looking around the room at anything but me. “This is not what it looks like!”
“It looks like you’re banging your partner behind your fiancé’s back,” I said, earning gasps from a few women behind me.
I wasn’t nervous anymore. Now I just wanted to break one of those panel windows and push Derek out of it. And maybe Christine too.
“Baby,” Derek said, putting his hands up in surrender. “It’s nothing. You’ve got it all wrong.”
“No. See I don’t,” I told him, stepping into his office. “I know exactly what you’re up to and why. You may have had me fooled before but you don’t anymore.”
“I don’t know what you’re-”
“Talking about?” I laughed sarcastically. “You do. I won’t say it here though. I’ll let all your coworkers speculate after I leave.”
The crowd listening in was growing as employees from other floors came to see. Christine put her head down, looking at the pointy tips of her bright red heels while she tried to slip passed me out of the room. I reached out and rested my hand on the door facing to block her exit.
“How long has this been going on?” I demanded, staring her down.
“I… it…” Derek stuttered, looking from me to Christine to Monica.
“Long enough,” I answered my own question, turning around to leave.
I noticed Nick walking out of his office. I briefly considered kissing him in front of Derek just to be a bitch but decided it was probably best if I didn’t.
“Oh, by the way,” I said, turning back to look at Derek. “I came here to tell you the engagement is off. I guess you already got the memo, moving on to sluts though. And Derek? You might want to consider a password on your computer. Wouldn’t want anyone to see what you’re hiding.”
The color drained from his face when he realized what I was referring to. Monica was right. This did feel empowering and I did feel confident.
Nick was leaning against the wall, arms crossed with an amused smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. I ignored Derek’s calls behind me and walked toward Nick while Christine ran passed me to her office, slamming the door and closing all her blinds in an embarrassed frenzy. I could faintly hear Monica giving Derek a piece of her mind but I wasn’t listening.
Nick chuckled when I slumped against the wall beside him with a huff. “That was interesting.”
“It was a long time coming,” I groaned. I was ready for a stiff drink and some ice cream to put my overactive mind at ease.
“Should’ve punched him though, don’t you think?” he breathed a laugh, shooting daggers at Derek. He pushed away from the wall, stepping around me. “Excuse me one sec.”
I watched Nick casually walk up to Derek who was proceeding to tell Monica and one of the secretaries how he was the real victim and Christine had come on to him and I was such a bitch to him all the time that he just had to get away.
“Hey man,” Nick said, putting a hand on Derek’s shoulder.
Derek glared at him. “The fuck do you want?”
Before Derek could react, Nick’s fist collided with his jaw, sending him stumbling back against the door. The blinds banged against the glass making loud crashing sounds. A multitude of gasps sounded from the crowd watching.
Nick walked back to me with a laid back expression as if nothing had just happened. Derek was trying to get up, holding his hand over his nose where blood was pouring out. If looks could kill, Nick would’ve been dead right then.
“You alright?” Nick asked me.
I shrugged. “Too much excitement for one day. I think I’ll take Monica home and go get some rest.” My adrenaline was quickly dissipating.
“I’ll take her so you can go straight home and relax,” Nick offered. “You don’t mind, do you Monica?”
Monica looked for my approval in the form of nod. “Sure. I guess I don’t mind.”
“Thanks,” I said tiredly, hugging Nick. “I just need to take a breather.”
While Nick was taking Monica home, I headed back to my house, exceeding the speed limit to get home faster. My thoughts were a tornado of frustration and exhaustion. It had felt great to tell Derek off but I wished it had never come to that.
I thought about Derek and Christine hooking up behind my back. I’d always thought Christine was really nice. I’d liked her. Until now. It surprised me that she of all people would do that to me when she knew how happy Derek and I had been together. It would have been different if she hadn’t known he was in a relationship, but for her to meet me on several occasions, always complimenting Derek’s and my relationship, and then do this. It just amazed me. Christine had some nerve!
I closed my eyes, shaking my head violently as if that would expel all the negative thoughts from my mind.
Nick shifted in his seat on the porch, setting his beer down. “I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I wasn’t really sure how to bring it up so I thought I’d just wing it.”
“Okay.” I hoped he didn’t have anything bad to say. I’d had a really good day and I didn’t want anything to dampen my good mood.
“How comfortable are you with testifying against Derek?” Nick asked with an unsure look, tapping his fingers on his thigh.
“Testifying against Derek?” I repeated, eyes widening.
Of all the things Nick could have to talk to me about, this one was at the bottom of my list as far as conversations I wanted to have went. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’d known it was going to come up sooner or later, but I’d been counting on the FBI having enough evidence that they wouldn’t need any witnesses. The last thing I wanted to do was see Derek again, much less testify against him.
“Yeah,” he nodded hesitantly. He probably expected me to say no, which was what I was leaning towards.
I sighed, feeling overwhelmed. “Nick, I don’t know…”
“If you consider it, I’ll consider taking you to the beach house next month,” he said.
He knew that would get my attention, even if he was bribing me. For the past two weeks we’d been talking a lot about his family, and part of the conversations had been about the Granger family vacation home in North Carolina. Nick had told me about the boats his family owned and the one he used to sail all the time when he was younger. He said it needed to be fixed up but he wanted to take it out on the ocean again at some point. I was deathly afraid of deep water because I’ve never been a good swimmer, but I was willing to ignore that pesky little issue when Nick suggested possibly going to Washington, D.C. to meet some of his family, and then taking a short summer vacation to North Carolina.
It had been ages since I’d had a vacation. The last time I’d gone out of town for something other than work was two years before when Monica and I had gone to Nashville, Tennessee on a road trip.
“Tempting,” I said, sipping my drink. “I’ll think about it. Is that all you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Actually,” he began, slouching back and crossing his ankles. “After we left the courthouse, I went to the field office.”
“And?” The suspense was killing me.
“And I trust you not to mention to anyone that a warrant is being issued tomorrow for Derek,” he told me with a smirk.
I stared at Nick wide-eyed, blinking a few times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Derek was finally going to be arrested? It felt like I’d been waiting forever to hear those words.
“Are you serious?”
I felt like I could burst into excited laughter any second.
“Don’t get too happy yet,” he sighed. “It’s going to be a long, frustrating road to indictment.”
“But you have all the evidence right?” I asked.
I knew that an indictment would only establish whether or not there is enough evidence to charge Derek with the crime. Once it was determined that there was enough evidence, Derek would then be tried and hopefully convicted by a judge or jury in a criminal trial. That would be the part to take the longest, mostly due to the defense stalling.
“I have enough, I believe,” Nick answered, taking a swig of his beer. “The problem is everyone’s ready to proceed even though I think I made it clear that I don’t have all the information I want to get before they pursue an indictment. I still haven’t figured out who the hell is doctoring the books for Derek. There’s someone else in on this and it’s not Christine. Once that person hears about the proceedings, they’re going to try to cover their tracks and I might not be able to catch the bastard. Or bitch. Whoever.”
Nick had a good point. If I was in charge of this case, I’d wait for Nick to get the rest of the evidence so there was no chance of Derek’s accomplices getting away with it. I thought it was common sense that you shouldn’t let the enemy know your plans, but here was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois about to tell Derek’s buddies that they had a target on their backs. It seemed stupid to give them a chance to get away.
“Do you have any leads on who could be working with him?” I asked.
Nick shrugged. “Some. But most of Derek’s files I can’t access without some special code.”
“A password? His passwords are easy to guess,” I frowned, assuming the FBI could easily hack in. “He doesn’t even have one for accessing his computer.”
He shook his head. “It’s encrypted. I can’t get in.”
I groaned. I could feel a headache beginning at the thought of it. “Unbelievable.”
My mind was a mix of emotions, psyched that Derek was going to be arrested, but pissed about the rest of the ordeal. I still couldn’t believe I’d spent three years with him. I couldn’t believe he’d had me so fooled into thinking he was such a great guy.
Leaving Chicago was pretty much the only thing on my mind the next morning while I watched on live local television as Derek was escorted in handcuffs out of the skyscraper that Hampton, Burns and Hampton called home. The channel five news team was all too enthusiastic about being first on the scene to break such a major story to the
public. I couldn’t get a good look at Derek due to the multitude of police and other people walking around, blocking the camera’s shot. From what I could tell, he looked like hell, and I was sure he felt like it too.
“This is awesome,” Monica said beside me as she poured another cup of coffee.
We’d been sitting in the break room at our office for twenty minutes watching the story unfold on the tiny TV screen bolted to the wall. I recognized the reporter, Jamie Hollis, a tall blonde with bright red lipstick. She was rarely on the news unless a big story was breaking. I had mixed feelings about what was going on. On one hand I was amused by the news stations filming Derek’s arrest, adding to his embarrassment and humiliation. On the other, I hated that his accomplices were being given a very public heads up to cover their trails and run. I wanted Nick to hurry up and find out who was helping Derek.
“It is nice to see him getting what he deserves,” I shrugged, leaving the room, tired of hearing Jamie’s voice and all the people yelling behind her.
I decided to take the rest of the day off, having lost my appetite for work after seeing the news. As I was gathering my things to leave the office, I remembered the night Nick had said he wanted to have a relationship with me. I remembered the amazing bubble bath I’d had and decided that was going to be the first thing I did when I got home. I deserved it. I needed to relax. Quite frankly, I was about to denounce my dislike for spas and let Monica take me to get a much-needed massage and spend half a day in a steam room like she’d been trying to get me to do with her for months. I needed a break. I needed a damn vacation.
“Carrie!” Our receptionist, Samantha, called from behind me as I was about to head out the door.
I turned to face her. “Yeah?”
“Do you have a minute? It’s kind of important,” she said hesitantly.
“Of course.” I gestured for her to follow me to the unoccupied boardroom. “What’s going on?”
I folding my hands on the shiny mahogany tabletop, watching as she fidgeted in her seat, glancing around the room and finally stopping to focus on the painting of the Rocky Mountains on the wall behind me. The girl who was usually so talkative and bubbly was suddenly someone I barely recognized.
“Your fiancé, Derek…” she began, trailing off and tucking her hair behind her ears.
“Ex -fiancé,” I corrected, touching my ring finger out of habit to make sure the ring really was gone.
Samantha seemed surprised by that. I assumed she wanted to talk to me about the breaking news. She was probably worried about me, thinking we were still together. I’d never known her to act so shy about anything before though.
“Your ex-fiancé,” she said, staring at her chipped pink manicure.
“Carrie, I did something stupid and I need to tell you before it drives me crazy.”
I nodded, becoming worried. “Okay.”
“I’ve been sleeping with Derek for five months,” Samantha confessed, instantly bursting into tears and covering her face.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. He was so-”
“You’re not the only person he was cheating on me with,” I said a little too calmly.
She peeked at me through her fingers, wiping her eyes which streaked black eyeliner and mascara across her cheeks. I felt sorry for her, but at the same time I was pissed that I’d trusted her and considered her a friend when she’d been sleeping with my fiancé.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffled, frowning when she noticed the black smudges of makeup on her hands. “He talked me into it and I-”
“Regardless of what the bastard did, I thought you and I were friends,” I said more sternly. “Last time I checked, friends don’t fuck friends’ fiancés.”
“We were!” Samantha cried, wiping more makeup on her grey sleeve. “We are…”
I crossed my arms, closing my eyes tightly as if that would wish it all away. All the pain and anger and lies. It was getting to be too much. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I wanted to walk away from everything and completely erase this whole episode from my memory.
“That’s not everything though,” she said, finally starting to calm down.
I groaned, resting my chin on my fist. “Oh, great. There’s more. Like a fucking bad infomercial.”
“Carrie, I’m sorry,” she sighed. She sounded sincere. “I know what I did was wrong and I’m sorry.”
I waved my hand. “I’ve heard that. What’s the rest?”
“Derek’s been arrested for stealing money right?” Samantha asked hesitantly, giving me the impression that she knew something.
“Yes,” I nodded slowly. “Why?”
A long drawn out silence filled the board room as I waited for her to tell me what was on her mind.
“Do the police know everything?” she asked quietly, staring at her hands on the table.
I knew this was leading to something interesting. I wished Nick was here. “Why are you asking?”
Samantha shifted anxiously in her seat, her hands starting to shake. “I did something really stupid.”
Yeah, Derek! My mind said sarcastically.
“What did you do?” I asked calmly. I hoped my nice, caring tone would persuade her to tell me anything she might be hesitant about.
“There are these files,” she said, taking a deep breath. “Derek gave me like eight folders…”
My eyebrows shot up. What I thought was going to be a normal conversation with a colleague had turned into evidence for Derek’s indictment. Now I really wished Nick was here. I considered calling him and asking him to come to the office so Samantha could tell him everything without me having to repeat her story, but I knew she’d change her mind about telling anyone by then.
“What are they for?” I asked, anxious to hear her answer but trying to keep my cool.
“I don’t know for sure. About two months ago, he came to my house in the middle of the night. It was like three in the morning. I was so mad that he’d decided to come over at random without calling or anything,” she started to ramble. “But he had all these blue folders with him and he seemed upset but he wouldn’t talk to me about it. He asked me to take his folders and keep them at my apartment.”
“Did he say why he wanted you to do that?”
“He wouldn’t really tell me anything. He just said he needed me to hang on to them for him. It was three in the morning and I was half asleep and he seemed mad so I just didn’t question it. I completely forgot about it and I didn’t even think about it until last night when Derek called me.”
“He called you?” I asked. “What for?”
“He wanted his folders back. I told him I could bring them by after work today or he could come get them,” Samantha explained. “It seemed suspicious, sure. I thought it was weird that he’d asked me to keep eight folders. I shrugged it off though. Chat MartinMartino on zero eight zero five five eight eight nine one eight three to be added to his WhatsApp group.I thought I was making something out of nothing until I saw the news. I watched them arrest him and I knew I probably needed to say something about the folders in case there’s stuff in there the police want.”
Relief flooded through me at the discovery of possible new evidence. I thanked Samantha for telling me everything and then went to talk to Monica about it. I didn’t want to make a huge deal of the news, thinking Samantha might get spooked at the thought of police talking to her and disappear.
“Oh my god,” Monica gasped. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to call Nick and then I’m going take one hell of a long bubble bath,” I told her.
As soon as I left the building, heading to my car, I dialed Nick’s number. I was irritated when he didn’t answer on the first try. I called him a second time and he finally picked up.
“I know it’s you,” I said, getting in the car.
“Hey, honey!” I could practically hear him smiling. “What’s going on?”
“I just found out something interesting,” I replied. “I need to talk to you.”
“So she might actually have the missing information I’ve been busting my ass to find?” Nick asked, sounding like he was typing something as I explained what Samantha had told me while I drove home.
“It’s possible,” I nodded, changing lanes and cutting off a black Jeep that was going too fast. “She didn’t seem to know what’s in the folders but I’m sure it has something to do with all this. Why else would he be so secretive about it and want someone else to hide the evidence?”
“Makes sense,” he said. “Can you text me Samantha’s address and phone number?”
I shook my head yes as if Nick could see me through the phone. “Yeah. Let me get off the highway first.”
I ended up not texting him until I got home, having forgotten that I didn’t know Samantha’s information by heart. Lucky for me, our firm had an employee contact list just like Hampton, Burns and Hampton’s. I pulled up the spreadsheet on my laptop and went down the alphabetized line until I found Samantha McHenry. I typed a quick message to Nick and double checked the number before I sent it. He sent back a simple “thanks.”
I’d always been a pretty private person. I didn’t talk much about my relationships to anyone except Monica. I liked my private life private and now I was preparing for my personal business to be scrutinized by complete strangers for the sake of television ratings. Oh joy!
I turned off the TV, already annoyed. I usually liked watching the evening news but now I wanted to avoid it. I stripped down and headed to the bathroom. Opening the door, the hot air hit me like a brick and I realized I probably shouldn’t have left the heater on so long. I turned it off and slowly sank down to a comfortable spot in the tub. The water was a little hotter than I expected but it was exactly what I needed. I closed my eyes, relaxing and attempting to clear my cluttered mind.
“I like coming over to find you naked,” Nick’s voice startled me and I opened my eyes to see him standing in the doorway.
“You look handsome,” I smiled, taking in his appearance.
He wore dark blue slacks, a grey button up, and his blue FBI jacket with a matching ball cap. His bangs hung over one of his eyes, squished under his hat.
“I think you need glasses, sweetheart,” he joked and walked toward me, taking a seat on the edge of the tub.
I smacked his thigh playfully. “What are you doing here? I didn’t know you were coming over.”
“I finished work and I wanted to come see you.”
“Did you see the news?” I asked, rolling my eyes at the thought of Derek and his publicized arrest.
“Oh yeah,” he chuckled softly. “I’m glad to see the fucker in jail but it won’t last long.”
Nick had a point. It was only a matter of time before some big shot lawyers got Derek out of jail. I worried about what he might do. Though he’d be surveyed constantly due to it being a high-profile case, it wouldn’t be the first time a criminal got out of jail and disappeared to another country or something. Until I watched a judge and jury nail Derek’s coffin, I was going to keep worrying about the possibility of him getting away with everything.
While Nick was downstairs occupying my home office, I spent another half hour enjoying my bath. Once the water got too cool for comfort I got out. I could hear him on the phone when I opened the bathroom door to go retrieve some fresh clothes.
“Are you sure that’s everything?” I heard Nick ask someone. “I want to make sure I’m not missing anything.”
I slipped on some red pajama pants and a matching hoodie, pulling my hair back into a wet ponytail.
“I’ll have to come by and have you write a statement,” Nick told the person. “I’ll pick everything up then.”
I went downstairs and started fishing through the freezer for something to make for dinner. I ended up with a box of chicken picatta for two. That sounded like something Nick would like.
“Thank you, Samantha,” Nick’s voice came again from the other room and my ears perked up at the mention of my coworker’s name. “Yeah, I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
After Nick left, I finished eating and decided to watch TV until he got back. Thankfully, the news wasn’t on. I didn’t want to hear another word about Derek. Hallmark was having a night of romance movies and I settled on that. My phone started ringing on the coffee table, startling me and causing me to spill some of my drink on my pants.
“Yes?” I answered, annoyed.
“You’re never going to believe this!” Monica’s overly-enthusiastic voice boomed through the speaker.
I cringed at how loud her voice was and turned down the volume. “What’s going on?”
“I just heard the most unbelievable shit!” she exclaimed. “I think Derek’s trying to say fuck you to you with this embezzlement case.”
“What do you mean?”
“I got a call from Brianna and she told me that someone told her that Veronica is going to be part of Derek’s defense team.”
Brianna Hollis was one of our litigation attorneys and the younger sister of Jamie Hollis, the reporter. Veronica Dashwood was a criminal defense attorney who had started working at our firm about six months ago, leaving Ross, Jordan and Flint, a firm we competed pretty intensely with.
I’d never really taken the time to get to know Veronica. She always seemed too serious and overly professional to the point of being completely unpleasant to be around. I never tried to approach her, assuming she wouldn’t be the friendliest person.
Brianna and I had been friends since I’d started at the firm. She was the first person to say hi to me and show me around. We instantly became coffee break buddies and went on shopping sprees together until Monica came to work for our firm.
“What the fuck!” My jaw dropped and I muted the TV to try to comprehend what the hell was going on. “Are you sure? Was she sure? What the fuck?”
“That’s what I said!” Monica yelled back. “She didn’t tell me who told her. I’m not sure if she even knew the girl. She did say it was a girl. But why the hell would Veronica do that? Doesn’t she know you two were together? That’s kind of a stab in the back.”
“I don’t know,” I groaned, resting my head in my free hand. “At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised by anything, but I’ve never done a damn thing to that bitch and she does this! She has to know this pisses me off!”
“Maybe Derek’s paying her a shit ton of money to work for him just to make you mad,” she speculated. “I don’t understand why else she would do this.”
I stared at the floor until my vision began to blur. “I’m going to talk to Brianna about this.”
“Call me back if you find out anything!” Monica shouted as I hung up, quickly dialing Brianna’s number.
I was livid. It was a huge slap in the face for someone from my firm to be a part of my ex-fiancé’s defense. Veronica had to know I’d have a problem with this, even if she’d never spoken to me. It just wasn’t okay. And besides that, from what I’d heard many, many times, Veronica Dashwood was one of the most successful defense attorneys in Cook County. I despised the thought of her being good enough to get Derek off the hook. He deserved to be indicted, convicted, and sent to prison for thirty years. He should have attorneys who were terrible at their jobs.
“Hello?” Brianna’s voice came on the line.
“Hey, Brianna, it’s Carrie,” I said, getting up from the couch. “I need to talk to you.”
“Is something wrong, Carrie?”
“I just talked to Monica and she said you told her that Veronica was going to be on Derek’s defense.”
Brianna paused for a moment, releasing a heavy sigh before she spoke again. “I didn’t want to be the one to tell you because I knew you were going to be pissed.”
“Who told you?” I asked. I wanted to know who said it to begin with.
“You know my sister, Jamie?”
“Her station assigned her to the story, so she’s getting as much information as she can from the courthouse and the sheriff’s department and whoever else,” Brianna explained. “She texted me earlier and said she’d just left Hampton, Burns and Hampton and a spokesperson for the Hampton family told her that Veronica Dashwood is going to be a part of Derek’s defense team. According to the spokesman, she was personally requested.”
That pretty much confirmed Monica’s suspicion that Derek had wanted Veronica on his team just to take a jab at me. I had Veronica’s number and it was taking every bit of self-control I had to keep from calling her and telling her off. In less than ten minutes, the coworker I’d never spoken to had gone from being just another face at the office to the top of my enemies list. I wanted to beat her with one of her fancy knockoff Prada heels. Actually I wanted to throw a whole closet full of stilettos at her.
Brianna and I talked a few more minutes and I typed a quick text to Monica after we hung up, letting her know that it had been Jamie who told Brianna, to which she responded with about thirty exclamation marks and angry emojis.
I was about to give up waiting and go to bed when Nick walked through the front door with a radiant smile that almost made me forget what I’d been pissed about.
“What’s got you so excited?” I asked, unable to keep from returning his grin. His smiles were contagious.
Nick pulled me into a tight one-armed hug and I realized he was holding a plastic bag full of folders. “I got the files.”
“Great,” I said, hugging him back. “I guess you’re going to go look through all of that?”
He shook his head, still smiling. “Already did in the car. I found it.”
“Everything I’ve been looking for,” he grinned.
“I really don’t want to see his face,” I groaned, slumping back in Nick’s passenger seat as we drove to the Cook County courthouse.
Nick reached across the console, grabbing my hand and giving it a soft reassuring squeeze. I’d made somewhat of a scene back when he came to pick me up. I was torn between wanting to go because I wanted to see Derek get indicted, but I also didn’t want to go so I wouldn’t have to see his face – except maybe on the six o’clock news. Nick had talked me into going though, reminding me that I basically had to go due to the prosecution planning to call me as a witness. So far, I wasn’t too thrilled about it.
I looked in the rearview mirror, seeing Monica’s car behind us. Brianna was with her due to the authorities not allowing the local news stations inside the courtroom during today’s hearing. Brianna was going to wait outside the courtroom with Monica for me to tell her what took place, and she would tell Jamie about it afterwards. Jamie wanted to be the first reporter to break the news that Derek had or hadn’t been indicted. She wasn’t going to reveal her sources though, which was the only reason I was helping.
I knew how this was going to go. Indictments are about as textbook at it gets. The suspect and their attorneys are rarely present. Prosecutors have the option to call suspects as witnesses, but they usually don’t. If the suspect is present, they almost always refuse to testify, invoking their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, not wanting to incriminate themselves even more.
Nick had presented to the FBI the evidence he found in Derek’s folders that Samantha had given him. The FBI had turned it over to the prosecution. I was surprised at how fast this case was starting to move. The US Attorney, Mike Flint, had made it pretty clear that he didn’t want Derek’s hot-shot lawyers finding a way to get him out of everything. He didn’t want to allow them the time to try. Hence today being the day a jury would decide whether or not to indict Derek, a week and a half after his arrest. To everyone’s surprise, Derek had not made bail. He’d been sitting in the sheriff’s department for ten days.
“I’m not exactly anxious to see the fucker either,” Nick said, slowing down due to the backed up traffic in front of us, all taking the same exit toward the courthouse.
The interstates around downtown had become slow moving parking lots. Ten in the morning looked like rush hour. It was cloudy and we were supposed to get thunderstorms by noon. It seemed ironic to me that the day Derek would most likely be indicted would be all dark and gloomy.
Due to Nick’s heavy involvement in the case, the prosecution also wanted to call him as a witness. It didn’t seem to bother him that his statements were going to be written down and the defense would most likely have access to the transcripts later. I didn’t like the idea of saying something on the stand that Derek and his attorneys would read. The last thing I needed was them being pissed at me.
The courthouse was a mile from the highway. Heading for the parking lot across the street, we passed four vans with satellites on top that belonged to some of the local news stations. There were two reporters standing in front of the courthouse, recording part of their evening news stories. I didn’t see Jamie anywhere.
Once we reached the courtroom, Monica and Brianna sat down on a bench outside in the hallway, while Nick and I found a couple spots close to the prosecution’s table. The old wooden benches were uncomfortable and my ass started to go numb within minutes. The hearing was supposed to have begun at ten-fifteen and they were running late.
The jury entered the courtroom, taking their seats in front of the windows. Outside it looked like it was about to start pouring. I studied each juror. They all looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. Hell, I’d rather be anywhere else.
I felt a painful lump form in my throat and my heart sank to my stomach when two deputies walked in, escorting Derek to the defense’s side. He was wearing his usual suit and tie, not wanting to be caught dead in the orange jumpsuit he’d been wearing for the past ten days. His hair was neatly combed back and his tie was a bit loose. I stared at the ugly grey carpet, trying to keep him from noticing me, only taking peeks through my peripheral vision. I tried to shrink back in my seat where I could kind of hide behind Nick’s arm but it obviously didn’t work the way I wanted when Derek’s gaze landed on me. He looked like he was ready to strangle somebody. I was glad he was in handcuffs.
I was mortified that Derek was there. That meant the prosecution was going to call him to the stand. More so, I was horrified at the idea of taking the stand in front of him, if they decided to call other witnesses too. I started contemplating whether or not I should plea the fifth for the sake of keeping my anxiety from skyrocketing. I didn’t want to make anyone’s hit list and I was pretty sure Derek knew people who could make sure I didn’t take the stand again. At the same time though, I wanted to rub it in his face that I was a witness in a case against him. I was just worried that the jury would decide not to indict him and then he would get revenge on me for speaking out against him. I was getting a headache just thinking about it.
Behind us, the doors squeaked as an attorney I recognized as George Deverman, a large bald man in a mustard-stained brown suit walked in, making his way to Derek. George said something to the deputy standing beside Derek and my discomfort increased as the deputy removed his handcuffs and walked across the courtroom to talk to the bailiff. I recognized the bailiff as the same man who was at Regina Evans’ hearing a couple weeks prior. I made a mental note to call Regina and see how she was doing.
I watched George and Derek whisper to each other, George taking a seat next to him and pointing out things that he’d written in a black binder. Anger settled in the pit of my stomach when I saw Derek smile wickedly in response to something George had told him.
I nudged Nick’s arm, gesturing to the conversation taking place between the two men. They were about thirty feet from us. He nodded, glancing around the room and tapping his thumb on his knee impatiently.
“I don’t like this,” I whispered, staring at Derek’s back. “I don’t think I want to testify anymore.”
Nick placed a comforting hand on my thigh, slowly rubbing back and forth in a soothing manner. “It’ll be alright. Just relax.”
“All rise,” the bailiff bellowed and everyone stood in unison as Judge Matthews, a man in his mid-forties with giant black eyebrows entered the room. He looked almost bored to tears as he took his seat at the bench and instructed us to be seated again.
I’d seen Judge Matthews enough times to recognize him but I’d never been in his courtroom or seen the way he conducted a proceeding. I hoped he would take this case incredibly seriously and not allow the Hampton family’s friendships with several judges and legislators to sway his decisions.
Sitting up in front of us was the prosecution team consisting of a tall, skinny man, a brunette woman I did not recognize, and the assistant district attorney, Emily Richards, with her bright red hair pulled back into a neat bun.
As Judge Matthews was about to speak, the courtroom doors slammed behind us. Nick and I turned to see a tall, thin woman about thirty years old with long brown hair and red highlights. Her black heels clicked loudly on the portion of flooring that wasn’t carpet as she walked toward the defense’s table in a form-fitting light grey blazer and black dress. She tossed the folders she’d been carrying on the table beside George’s binder, indicating to everyone that she had an attitude and she was proud of her not-so-fashionably late entrance.
“My apologies for interrupting, Your Honor,” she said in a tone that made it obvious she wasn’t sincere.
She sat down next to George who looked surprised by her demeanor. Judge Matthews didn’t respond but shook his head, not at all surprised by an egotistical attorney showing up late.
“Who is she?” Nick whispered in my ear, his breath tickling my neck.
I glared at the woman beside George, sitting with her arms folded and her legs crossed while she impatiently waited for Judge Matthews to speak. “Veronica Dashwood.”
Over the next two hours Emily, the ADA, spoke to the jury more than anyone else. She identified her partners on the prosecution as Michelle Lovetts and Randy Cartwright, who both worked with the DA. I envied Emily. She was beautiful and clearly talented and had the job that I hoped to someday have. She was also a Harvard graduate, like me. I was fairly confident that if I worked extra hard to achieve my goals, I might get to be an assistant district attorney someday. I didn’t want to be the DA, but I wanted to be pretty close.
Emily, Michelle and Randy gave a very detailed explanation to the twelve jurors who looked like they were all about to fall asleep. Nick had been intently listening the entire time and all I could think about was how badly I didn’t want to take the stand. Veronica and Emily had begun to argue over whether or not there was enough evidence presented to the jury to bring forth the charges that the prosecution wanted. I knew there was but I wasn’t allowed to speak up. Veronica decided to play the you’re a liar card, accusing the prosecution of falsifying evidence against Derek because they knew they didn’t have a case. This was obvious bullshit to everyone, but Veronica wasn’t ready to back down. By the looks of it, the judge was about to kick her out of the courtroom if she didn’t shut the hell up.
“There will be order in my courtroom!” Judge Matthews yelled, breaking up the argument. “We’ll take a forty-five-minute break for lunch. Be back here at 1:30. Do not be late.”I breathed a quiet giggle, amused by the judge glaring at Veronica when he instructed everyone to not be late. Nick and I stayed in our seats, waiting for everyone to get out of the way before we tried to leave the room. We met up with Monica and Brianna in the hallway, who had already gone to the makeshift food court down the hall and gotten sandwiches, chips and sodas. I was anxious to hurry up and eat and get back to the courtroom.
“I’m really surprised Matthews hasn’t kicked Veronica out,” Monica said between bites of her ham sandwich. “She’s unbelievably annoying. We could hear her out in the hall.”
Brianna began to giggle, gesturing for us to look down the hall where Veronica and George were talking. Veronica was glaring at us, having heard what Monica said. Monica continued to antagonize her, waving with a sarcastic grin.
“If she didn’t hate us already, she certainly does now,” I laughed.
Brianna and Monica followed Nick and I to get food. I really would have preferred leaving the courthouse to get a burger or a waffle and eggs, considering I hadn’t had time to eat breakfast before we left the house. I settled for a turkey sandwich. Nick got the same and paid for both of us.
The four of us sat down on a bench near the elevators and ate. Brianna and Monica went on about their opinions on the case while I tried to ignore the growing anxiety over the possibility that I might be called as a witness once recess was over.
Nick wrapped his arm around me, pulling me against him, and I rested my head against his chest, nibbling at the remainder of my sandwich. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wanted to go home.
Minutes later, everyone filed back into the courtroom. Veronica was sitting down, reading over the notes in her folder and glancing back and forth from her folder to George’s binder which appeared to have similar notes. Nick and I sat down in the same spot as before and watched as Derek was escorted back into the room. He didn’t take his focus off me until he sat down beside Veronica. George was nowhere to be found.
I started to tap my foot anxiously. Judge Matthews returned a couple minutes later looking like he wanted to get this over with so he could leave. I couldn’t blame him. I didn’t want to be in the same room as Veronica for that long either.
“I don’t understand. Isn’t the defense supposed to be absent for this part?” Nick whispered in my ear.
“Generally they are, but since it’s such a high-profile case, I’m sure George and Veronica are trying to cover every base,” I explained. “The judge isn’t usually here either, but he’s trying to keep everything civil. Probably the DA asked him to oversee the proceeding.” I slapped my mouth shut when Judge Matthews caught me talking.
Emily spent ages relaying evidence to the jury and Nick and I were about to start snoozing. I’d allowed my eyelids to fall shut, only listening to bits and pieces of the conversation until a loud scoff startled me out of my daze.
Veronica retrieved her folder and promptly pranced out of the courtroom. George whispered something in Derek’s ear and his face went white. I could feel my blood pressure rising, anxious to know what had the defense rattled.
Not long after Veronica’s episode, the proceeding came to a close and Nick went to speak with Emily while I went outside to wait with Brianna and Monica.
“What happened in there?” Monica immediately asked me. “We saw Veronica storm out. She looked pissed!”
“I wish I knew. Something’s got them uneasy.”
“That’s good for the prosecution though,” Brianna chimed in. “If she’s that upset to make a spectacle, that tells me the prosecution has the upper hand
big time .