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Authors: Emma Briar

Spoken For

BOOK: Spoken For
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COPYRIGHT

 

Spoken For (The Novel)

 

Published by Emma Briar
Copyright © 2015 by Emma Briar
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

 

1

 

 

SHE WAS MY best friend. The keeper of my secrets. He was the boy I loved. My all. They are gone. I did not deserve to be left behind.

 

Every morning, for the last four years, this is what I wake up to. The acid eating at my stomach. The lead weight pressing down on my chest, plunging the breath from my lungs. The impossibility of it all. The reality of it all.

This is not supposed to be.

This is not my life.

And every morning, I let it go.

Some mornings, it’s easier than others.

But without fail, I let it go.

Life marches on, right? The past holds back for none except the dead. Oh, yeah, that’s me, a bottomless pit of platitudes. My parents paid good money for that pit, and I guess it was money well spent because it’s working.

I’m marching on, one month at a time, one year after another. I’m surviving, one fuck-up after the next.

This morning, I only had to lie in bed for twenty minutes after my alarm went off, my eyes squeezed tight, the world crushing down on me, before I could breathe again.

Before I let it go for another day.

One day, soon, I will let it go for good.

Maybe tomorrow.

 

2

 

 

THE MOMENT HE stepped inside the bar, I knew.

Dark hair, silky, sliding over his chiselled jaw, slightly longer than expected when paired with that elegant charcoal suit. Maybe it’s in the way he moves, not graceful, too arrogant for that, too disregardful and careless…

I’ll call it elegant disgrace, I decide.

He moves through Finnegans with that elegant disgrace and slides onto a stool by the bar counter. Elbow on the top, hair falling over his jaw as he cocks his head and does that thing with his finger, the tap and point.

The guy behind the counter meets his eye and turns to snatch a squat, amber bottle from the rack behind.

Heated butterflies flurry low in my abdomen and I know. There, right there, is my first intentional one-night stand.

I’ve had a few of those, one-night stands, back to front like every other screwed up thing in my life. I do the friendship first. Sometimes a month, sometimes a year.  Just when things get too comfortable, I let my guard down and fall into the longing, warm arms to wrap me, hold me close. And when I wake the next morning, realise what I’ve done, what I can’t do, I run.

I know exactly what I do, how messed up it is.

Years of therapy have been good for that much. I can look at myself with open, honest eyes and see through all the bullshit down to the hot mess buried deep within. I see, but I don’t know how to change the pattern.

Or maybe I don’t want to.

I’m kind of stubborn that way.

But tonight…

My eyes cast across our table to Liam. Handsome, boy-next-door gorgeous, with floppy blond hair and pale blue eyes, a strong chin, a wide mouth that’s never shy of smiles. He’s also the one that came back.

We met my first year at college. We shared a bunch of digital design and media classes and, over time, our friendship grew.

Second year, we became too comfortable.

The next morning, I cut him off cold and he let me.

Six months later, he walked back into my life. Literally walked up to me and handed me my favourite rush of take-out coffee and started chatting as if that night had never happened.

Diamond Designs recruited us both straight out of college. Which means that for the last four months, we’ve been working together, sharing an apartment, and I’ve become too comfortable again.

It’s coming. I feel it in the little things.

Like when he pushes a door open and I brush against him as I pass.

Like now, when he looks at me with those warm blue eyes and that crooked grin.

“For the road?” Liam says, raising his shot glass with a wink.

I snag my glass and put it to my lips. “For the road.”

His gaze sinks into mine, so damn warm and friendly and comfortable as we tip back the Tequila and slam our shot glasses down in line with the others we’ve already collected.

The burn hits the back of my throat and coats my blood as I look into Liam’s eyes. It’s been more than a year since that night, and no one since, and my body yearned. Not so much for the sex. What I miss most is the closeness, the not being alone thing, the twin-beat of hearts lulling me to sleep. But then I’ll wake up to the wrong person lying next to me, and I’ll run and I don’t want that to happen with me and Liam again.

My gaze strays to Dark and Disgraceful.

He’s sitting with his back to the counter now, one hand cradling a crystal tumbler. We’re two tables over from the counter, close enough to indulge myself in the hardened edges of his face, the shadows that strike the hollows of his jaw, the small creases winging the corner of his stone grey eyes.

He is beauty ravaged, sin and gorgeous.

He’s the kind of man to make a girl change her mind, to break old habits.

“Ready?” Liam asks, pushing up from the table.

“Actually…” I stand, press my fingertips to the table to steady myself as that fifth shot of Tequila rushes to my head. “You go on ahead. I’ll see you at home, okay?”

“Kee?” His brow creases. “What are you doing?”

“Taking one for the team,” I say, turning to go. “I’ll be fine.”

My eyes lift to the gorgeous stranger and my pulse tightens when I find his hooded gaze on me. Maybe it’s the Tequila, maybe it’s the magnetic intensity of those grey eyes locked on me, but I’m moving without a second thought, threading a path between another table and the counter.

Liam is still talking, but I’ve blocked him out until he hisses loudly, “Keegan!”

I spin about.

“What?” I mouth, giving him a goofy smile and waving him off.

Go home or go mingle.

I’m not abandoning him in a crowded bar. Finnegans is located in the office park and we’re regulars along with half our co-workers. He has plenty of choices if he chooses the option to go mingle.

I spin about again before I feel the need to decipher the concern flattening his mouth. I really am doing this for us. Even if it’s no hardship, none at all, I admit as that stone grey gaze sucks me in, step by step.

Up close, he is a little more of everything.

His skin is naturally tanned and probably comes with a Mediterranean accent. A thin scar cuts through his left brow and sweeps beneath the hair gliding over his temple. His business suit is tailored to those broad shoulders, the kind of fit that doesn’t come off the rack.

Arrogance rides the ridges of his face, danger hides in the hollows.

He exudes money, power, success and sex.

“Is there something I can help you with?” A quirked brow accompanies the gravel, accented baritone.

The back of my knees go butter soft.

“Yes,” I say, my voice hoarse from the burn of Tequila and the effect this man has on me. “You can allow me to buy you a drink.”

His gaze lowers, travelling down the length of my body, taking his time to enjoy the journey.

I’ve come straight from work and I’m not dressed for a seduction.

My pick-up line sucked.

I’m not a stunning beauty that no man could ever say no to.

But none of that matters as I breathe in his scent, an earthy mix of male and expensive cologne. I’ve never done anything like this before and probably won’t ever again, but this is the holy trifecta. My blood is intoxicated on Tequila, an honourable cause and one smoking hot male.

“Thank you for the offer,” he drawls, his gaze dragging all the way up me with heated friction. He raises his glass. “But I’m good.”

I check his ring finger. Bare. My mouth curves into a sensual smile. “You’re meeting someone?”

“No.”

He’s playing hard to get, and I may be slightly drunk, but I’m not crazy. The air between us had thickened with desire, lust, and all kinds of other chemical reactions.

I reach out to straighten his perfectly straight silk blue tie, leaning in a bit, my eyes sinking into his. “Then perhaps I should allow you to buy me a drink.”

His hand closes over mine, a deliberate caress, his thumb stroking mine as he tugs me even closer, so close, his breath brushing my lips as he speaks. “I don’t think so.”

I blink out my trance.
What?

His hand leaves mine. He must have set his glass down at some point, because both his hands are free to land on my hips, turning me firmly away from him, prodding me out of his space. “Your friend over there, I believe, is desperate for your attention. I suggest you indulge him.”

Liam is as I’d left him, standing at our table, arms crossed, his scowling gaze boring into me.

A totally inappropriate giggle slips out as I teeter forward before finding my balance. Okay, maybe I’m more than slightly drunk. I’ve just been flat-out rejected. Liam is not amused. I’ve made a total ass of myself. And the whole situation is just so hilariously funny, I can’t stop the giggles as I make my way over.

“I’ve got your handbag.” Liam grabs my arm, pulling me into his side as he walks me through the bar and out the door. “What the fuck was that?”

“That was me bringing on my game.” I pinch his lips closed between my forefinger and thumb while giving him my most adoring look. “I’m not very good at it.”

“Keegan…” His scowl deepens. “You do know who that—”

I pinch his mouth again and the rest of his words come out in guppy-speak, which sends me into another fit of giggles.

He shakes his head at me, but the frown clears. “You’re completely wasted.”

“Thoroughly,” I agree, sagging into his side for effect. Anything to stop a lecture, because my giggles are suddenly less funny and more hysteria.

“Okay, but we’re talking about this tomorrow.”

 

3

 

 

MY HEAD POUNDS to a funky beat. It takes me a moment to recognise the sound of my alarm and hit the snooze button. Another moment to realise that had been too easy.

I squeeze one eye open to see my phone snuggled up on the pillow next to my head. Right, so not my first snooze this morning. The time blinks back at me and I shoot upright.

The alarm has stopped. My head is still pounding.

Bleary-eyed, I crawl out of bed, groaning and mumbling my way to the bathroom. A quick glance at my reflection in the mirror does not improve my headache or my grumbling.
Note to self: No more drinking on work nights. No more Tequila ever.

My mouth tastes like sour grit. Smudged mascara blackens my cheeks. Thank God for Diamond’s flexi-hours. I wouldn’t actually be late so long as I got in before ten, but that also meant I’d be at the office until after six.

I strip my shorts and camisole, step into the shower and let the hot water hammer down on me until I feel marginally human.

In no mood to get creative with my wardrobe, I pull on a basic black mid-thigh skirt, stiff white cotton shirt and three-inch black pumps. I scrape my damp hair into a loose knot and apply a layer of lip gloss.

Breakfast is a glass of orange juice and two Ibuprofens while scrolling through my text messages.

The usual from Mom,
Morning sweetie. Love you. Call me.
  Dana from the office,
Where r u.

And an essay from Liam, although today his text only fills one screen. He doesn’t shortcut either and I swear he spellchecks before he sends. But he was in a hurry this morning. An early meeting. He tried to wake me. Apparently I snore. And we need to talk. Urgently. I need to find him the minute I get in.

He stresses the ‘talk’ thing twice more before the end.

Dark, silky hair, bladed cheekbones and a gravel, Italian baritone rolls down my spine with a hot shiver.

“I’m a screwed up idiot,” I mutter to my phone as I grab my handbag from the hallway table and let myself out the door. “I don’t need you to tell me that.”

What Liam doesn’t know, is that I’ve been drifting along the edge of a cliff for weeks. One slip, and I’ll fall into him.

He’d never be that stupid again, I hope.

Liam likes my body, he likes sex as much as the next guy, he loves me, but he isn’t in love with me. He’d set me aside, gently, if I threw myself at him, but that was a thing in itself. I’d rather be rejected by some smoking hot stranger than by Liam. He is the closest I’ve ever come to another best friend, which is part of the problem.

Damned honesty. I see, see and see…but I’ve never once managed to stop the train wreck.

I’m trying now, though.

For the first time since my world broke into a million useless pieces, I’m trying.

Diamond Designs is a twenty-minute bus ride through Hammersmith, then a couple more minutes on the motorway to the office park on the outskirts. Five identical buildings ring a central, grassy knoll that will be shaded with elms and oaks once the young saplings have had their growth spurt. The development is only three years old. The same age as Diamond Designs, which is the second building around the ring. The front façade is sheer glass like the other buildings, except for the giant diamond logo frosted into most of it.

The office park is the last stop on the line and I’m not the only late arrival. I smile at a few of my fellow stragglers as we herd ourselves off the bus. The others separate toward the cobbled paths leading to their respective companies while I strike it out alone for the frosted diamond.

A quick time check shows I have a quarter hour to spare as I swipe my card and push through the glass doors into the stark, double-volume foyer. The reception desk has never been manned. Last count, Diamond Designs had thirty-three employees, mostly graduates with fancy degrees and little experience.

Another card swipe takes me into the open-plan layout of the ground floor.

Dana catches my eyes and scrambles up from her desk. My gaze shoots across the rows of desks to the meeting cubicles along the wall, searching for Liam. One has the blinds down, door closed. He’s still busy, but as I’m looking, the door opens and the man that steps out grabs my breath.

A hip bumps into me. “Nice of you to finally join us,” comes Dana’s mocking.

“Who is that?” I say breathlessly, my gaze shocked and locked across the room.

“Tell me about it,” she whispers huskily near my ear. “Doesn’t quite belong in an office park, does it?”

Just then, those stone grey eyes flash my way.

My head stopped pounding a while back, but now my pulse picks up the slack as Dark and Disgraceful pins me to the spot with a long range stare. Different suit, same cut. Hair tucked behind his ear instead of gliding those razor sharp cheekbones.

What is he doing here?

And more importantly, why do I suddenly feel like a tardy student caught slipping into the hall after the bell?

Only once he releases me, tilts his head to murmur something to the person at his back, do I breathe again. Long strides take him along the bank of cubicles and up the stairway leading to the top floor.

He doesn’t look back, not even a glance.

“No,” I say in a low voice to Dana, “I mean, who
is
that? What’s his name and what is he doing here?”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

My gaze swerves to the meeting room he stepped out from. Liam is just exiting, his head down, his eyes on the folder of documents in his hands. Harry and Simone file out behind him.

“Oh, God,” I groan. “He’s our new account, isn’t he?”

“Try Roman Rocchi.” Dana links her arm through mine, dragging me to my desk. “How can you not know this? I’ve been speaking of nothing else all week.”

“Rocchi?” I slump into my chair, limbs instantly boneless.

Dana throws her hands up. “Please tell me you’re at least aware of the takeover?”

“Of course I know who Rocchi is,” I mutter. I simply hadn’t known what he looked like.

Rocchi Enterprises bought out Diamond Designs shortly before I’d joined. It was just some bigger fish gobbling up a fledgling concern. I’d sat in the meetings, listened to Mr. Bellamore assure us things would only change for the better with the injection of investment capital.

Dana leans over my shoulder to give the mouse a shake, bringing my monitor to life. “What exactly did you think I’ve been drooling about all week?”

Nothing

I’d nodded, grunted in the right places and rolled my eyes at Dana’s theatrical dramatics. Roman Rocchi was just this week’s heartthrob. I had actually planned to take a look at the email she couldn’t shut up about. I just hadn’t gotten to it, yet.

“Do you ever read any emails?” she snorts, scrolling down hundreds of bold, unopened entries.

I flap my hand over the evidence. “Do you even see how much rubbish comes in?”

The email she opens is an internal memo, announcing the merger has been finalised. An enigmatic photo, cocked head, serious grey eyes, silky slides of black hair, stares back at me from the right-hand corner. Below the photo reads,
Roman Rocchi, Founder, Executive Chair, Rocchi Enterprises.

BOOK: Spoken For
10.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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