Read Just Friends Online

Authors: Delaney Diamond

Tags: #seattle, #billionaire, #friends to lovers, #family series

Just Friends (7 page)

BOOK: Just Friends
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“And you’re not going to meet him.”

“Excuse me?” He must have misunderstood
her.

“I
said
, you’re not going to meet
him.”

“Why not?” Trenton demanded. He set down the
knife and fork.

Alannah turned to face him and placed her
hands on the edge of the counter behind her. “I don’t mean you’ll
never
ever
meet him, but you won’t right now. I really like
this guy and you know how you get—all big brother-ish on me.”

“Because I care about you. I have to weed out
the bad ones. Is that a crime?”

“Trust me, he’s a good one.” A beatific smile
filled her face, and his heart sank with the force and velocity of
an anchor in the sea. Was she really that much into this guy?

“If he’s a good one, let me meet him,” he
said.


No
. You’ll intimidate him. He already
knows we’re best friends, and he’s still interested. Most men can’t
handle when they find out I’m best friends with someone as stinking
rich as you are.”

He gritted his teeth. “Whose fault is that? A
real man wouldn’t fall back because the woman he’s interested in
has a rich best friend.”

She tilted her head at him. “You know good
and well that’s not true. You men have very fragile egos, and I
don’t want him to run off before we’ve even had a chance to really
get to know each other.”

Having lost his appetite, Trenton tossed his
napkin onto the counter. “Do you know how ridiculous you sound?
It’s as if you’d rather find out later that he’s a jerk than
finding out now. That’s why I have to screen these guys. I’m a man
and I know what to look for.”

She sighed dramatically. “You’re a man, and
you chase them off. Between your money and your good looks and the
fact that you can become
very
overbearing, it’s a wonder
I’ve been able to keep boyfriends over the years. And really,
they’ve only been the ones that you approved of. All the others
have run off.”

“Because they’re scared punks,” he bit
out.

“Because you scare them off,” she
corrected.

Trenton tapped his forefinger on the top of
the bar. “At least tell me this Negro’s name.”

Something flitted across her features that he
couldn’t decipher, and she bit the inside of her lip.

“What’s that look?”

“If I tell you his name you’ll end up doing a
background check, and I don’t want any negativity about him. I
really
like him, Trent.”

“Again, you sound ridiculous. As if you’d
rather find out the bad things
after
you’ve already fallen
for him. Can you at least tell me his first name? That won’t hurt,
will it? That way I can stop calling him ‘that guy.’” All he needed
was a first name. He already knew the competition—er, rather, the
other guy—worked at her job. He could easily figure out the
rest.

An odd expression came over face again, as if
she was hiding something. “His name is…Connor.”

“Connor?” Trenton frowned. Then he guessed
why she’d reacted so oddly when he initially asked for a name.
“Wait a minute, is he black?”

“There are black men named Connor,” she said.
Her eyes briefly darted away from his.

“But is
he
black?” he pressed.

“No, he’s white,” she said, and folded her
arms defensively across her chest.


He’s white?

“So what?” she asked defiantly.

“You’re dating white men now?”

“You’ve dated white women, or slept with
them”—she waved a hand dismissively—“or whatever you do with
women.”

He ignored her snide remark. “I have dated
white women, but…”

She placed a hand on her hip. “But what?”

His mouth clamped shut. He couldn’t think of
a valid argument against her dating interracially, but he couldn’t
hold his annoyance in, either. “You’re all over the damn
place.”

“Your ridiculous hypocrisy is showing,” she
said.

Trenton rubbed his forehead. He was getting a
headache. “I don’t understand what you’re doing.”

“I’m dating. I’m casting a wider net. It’s
really not that unusual.”

No, it wasn’t unusual, but that didn’t mean
he had to like it.

“I barely even know you anymore,” he
muttered. She was dating white men, cooking for them, and refusing
to let him meet them. A wave of anger crashed through him. Why
change the dynamics of their relationship? They had a good thing
going here. He jabbed a finger at her. “You know what, you’re
changing. Ever since you got your hair done and started working on
a new wardrobe, you been acting brand new.”

The corners of her mouth tightened. “So you
don’t like anything about my makeover?”

“No, because you’re changing, and not in a
good way.”

Her eyes widened and she didn’t respond at
first. His accusation seemed to have surprised her. “I’m still the
same person. You’re the one acting different.”

“If I’m acting different, I’m feeding off of
the energy you put out.” It was always the two of them against the
world. “I’ve always been there for you. I take care of you. I
protect you,” he said, grasping at straws.

Their gazes locked, and tension bridged the
short distance that separated them.

“Maybe I don’t need you to protect me
anymore.”

The quietly spoken words squeezed the air
from his lungs. Trenton rested his forearms on the counter and
stared down at the plate of forgotten food. “That’s what I do.”
He’d been doing it for years, from the day they met.

Her slippered feet moved quietly on the
kitchen floor, and then she stood behind him.

“That’s not what I need from you anymore,”
she said thickly. Her voice reflected what he felt. Emotions
bubbling inside of him. A cosmic shift was taking place in their
relationship, and he couldn’t stop it. His stomach burned from the
unnatural fear that overcame him.

Alannah wrapped her arms around his torso
from behind and rested her head on his shoulder. “I feel like this
is a stupid argument, like you’re picking a fight with me. If
you’re worried about me replacing you, don’t be. We’ve known each
other too long and been through too much together. You know me
better than anyone else. I’ll always need you, Trent, just not in
the way I have in the past.”

Her words were meant to make him feel better,
but they were ugly. And they hurt. They gutted him.

“Things are different now. I’m different, but
you’re irreplaceable in my life. You’re my best friend, Trent. I
don’t want to lose you…I can’t.”

The sensation of her heart beating into the
muscles of his back provided a bit of comfort, and the sweetness of
her scent surrounding him eased his unrest.

Trenton swallowed the lump in his throat,
angry at himself for the irrational hurt and anxiety he felt. He
had no idea where it stemmed from.

He twisted in the chair and pulled her around
so he could cup her face in his hands. He saw the sadness in her
hazel eyes and hated being the cause, ashamed of the guilt he’d
heaped on her.

Then, as if his vision cleared, he didn’t see
only a friend he wanted to hug and console. He saw the woman this
Connor character undoubtedly saw—skin the color of a milky tea,
freckles, and coral-tinted, rosebud lips that invited a man to
kiss. The thought that this guy, who placed a smile of bliss on her
face so unlike any he’d seen before, would have the pleasure, sent
a heaviness into his abdomen.

“You won’t lose me,” Trenton promised. For
now, he wanted to reassure her and wipe the worry from her brow.
“I’ll always be here.” He pulled her into a hug. More for him than
for her. He held on tight, her soft body molding into the harder
planes of his.

He’d said the right words, but deep down, he
knew it was the beginning of the end, and his stomach tangled up
into knots. Foreign knots. Knots he’d never experienced before.

She would never lose him. But he knew without
a doubt…that he was losing her.

Chapter Eight

Trenton set down his pen and
rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t taken a break since he arrived at work
this morning, and it was now time for lunch. He was so hungry he
felt as if his stomach had turned on itself.

As the senior vice president of sales and
marketing, Trenton’s office was located on the executive floor of
the Johnson Enterprises building, the seat of his family’s
multibillion-dollar beer and restaurant empire. Decorated with dark
wood and leather furniture, the decor and dim lighting had prompted
his sister, Ivy, to tease that his office felt more like the VIP
room of a club or an exclusive lounge. Exactly the ambience he’d
wanted.

When people passed through the door for
business, he wanted them to transition into a relaxed state. Doing
so put him at a mild advantage and undoubtedly had aided him in
negotiating lucrative contracts for the family’s lines of beer.

Trenton exited his office and stopped at his
executive assistant’s desk. Diana, a plus-size sister with a short
natural and ass and breasts for days, sat at her computer, reading
an email that looked more like a dissertation. No doubt another
message from Dave, a sales rep who had lots of ideas for
improvements. While Trenton appreciated the suggestions, the young
man needed a lesson or two on how to not be so verbose.

“I’m going to lunch with Ivy,” he said.

Diana looked up from the screen. “Don’t
forget your two o’clock staff meeting about the festival.”

Johnson Brewing Company, also known as JBC,
dispatched reps to the various festivals around the country and the
world, but Trenton never missed the Great American Beer Festival,
the Oscars for beer makers in the United States.

JBC employed some of the best brewmasters in
the industry, so they always brought home awards, but last year
they’d won a silver medal in the specialty beer category, where the
smaller craft breweries dominated. Having a commercial outfit of
their size take home second place had been an unheard of
accomplishment. This year they wanted a gold medallion to place on
the wall.

“I thought we pushed the meeting back,”
Trenton said.

Diana shook her head. “We couldn’t because
the conference call with the Chinese reps was moved up to
coordinate with the translators’ schedules.”

“Oh yeah.” Trenton checked his watch. He and
Ivy would barely have an hour for lunch, which meant they shouldn’t
leave the premises. “In that case, would you call downstairs to The
Brew Pub and tell them to reserve a booth for me and my sister?” As
he walked away, Diana was already picking up the phone to make the
arrangements.

Trenton strolled down the hallway to Ivy’s
office, the executive floor quiet, since half of the staff had
already left for lunch. Awards and framed articles about the
company’s accomplishments in the beer and restaurant industry hung
on the walls.

He passed by the empty desk where Ivy’s
assistant normally sat, knocked twice on the office door, and
entered. “Ready to go?”

His “sister” was actually his cousin. Trenton
had been brought into the family as a child, after his parents
died. From the beginning, his aunt and uncle had treated him as one
of their own children, and his cousins had welcomed him as a
brother. The fact that his skin was much lighter than their darker
tones made others outside the family pause, but had no bearing on
their closeness as a family.

Ivy shut her laptop and slowly rolled her
neck. “I sure am ready to go. I’m hungry. Starved, actually. Are
you?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t hear my stomach
from my office,” Trenton joked. “I have a meeting in less than an
hour, though, so we’ll have to eat downstairs.”

Ivy stepped around the desk in a navy-blue
pants suit, her long hair in a sleek bun at her nape. “Fine by me.
Today’s been a crazy day, so while I’m glad for the break, I have
plenty of work to keep me busy when I get back.” As the COO of the
family’s restaurant group, she oversaw the entire operations of
their casual dining chain, The Brew Pub, and the high-end
restaurants named Ivy’s.

Minutes later they’d taken the elevator to
the first floor and were nestled in a corner booth of the crowded
pub. The chatter of patrons mingled with the clatter of cutlery on
plates, and the aroma of hearty burgers, fries, and other pub fare
filled the air.

Trenton had a mug of Full Moon beer and a
huge steak sandwich in front of him. Ivy had chosen a glass of
white wine and a chicken sandwich on a brioche bun. They shared an
order of Wreck ’Em fries, the pub’s famous appetizer, covered in
chili, cheese, and jalapeño peppers. Occasional glances in their
direction signaled the building employees and outside customers
knew exactly who they were, but no one disturbed them.

“How are the wedding plans coming?” Trenton
bit into his sandwich.

His sister had recently become engaged to New
York Times Bestselling Author Lucas Baylor, the father of her
daughter and a man she’d lost touch with for many years, until they
reconnected last year.

“It’s coming. Not like this is my first
marriage, but Mother wants a huge society wedding, of course.”

“Of course.” Ivy’s first wedding had been a
rushed affair without the pomp and circumstance.

“The thing is, Lucas and I haven’t picked a
date yet, which is a bit problematic when planning something as
grand as Mother wants.”

“What’s the holdup?” Trenton sipped his
beer.

“I told Lucas that I didn’t want to get
married until we found his biological family, and I meant it.”
Lucas had grown up in the foster care system after being abandoned
as a child. “It’s the biggest day of our lives, and I want him to
have his family there.”

“How does he feel about that?” Trenton popped
a fry in his mouth.

“He pretends it’s not a big deal and says he
just wants to get married, but I know it hurts. He wants to know
where he’s from and he wants to know who he is.”

BOOK: Just Friends
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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