Read The Trouble With Love Online

Authors: Lauren Layne

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Coming of Age

The Trouble With Love (8 page)

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
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“Okay. I should go, too. Mitchell will be back any minute asking if I want to go for a run. It’s like he doesn’t know me at all. It’s time for cocktails, not
movement
.”

Emma smiled. “Go show him the way. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After saying good-bye, Emma put the pad Thai back in the microwave, but before she could start it, there was a knock at the door.

She went to answer it.

And of all the people who could have been on the other side of the peephole, this was perhaps the absolute
last
person she would have expected.

Emma opened the door. “Danielle?”

Cassidy’s girlfriend was wearing a sleek black pantsuit that screamed
Girl Power!
and made Emma briefly wonder what Danielle did for a living. Attorney? Broker? Advertising? Ninja?

But it wasn’t the clothes that captured Emma’s attention. It was the nervous, slightly embarrassed expression on the other woman’s face.

“Are you looking for Cassidy?” Emma asked, thinking maybe he wasn’t at home, and Danielle didn’t want to stand waiting in the hallway.

“No, I just came from his place actually,” Danielle said, licking her lips nervously. “Can we—can I come in for a sec?”

Uh-oh.

Emma thought for sure she and Danielle were going to be able to avoid the awkward chat about Emma and Cassidy’s thorny past, but what else could Danielle want to talk to her about?

Emma mentally readied herself for the
You have nothing to worry about—Cassidy and I are long over
talk, but Danielle beat her to the punch.

“What I’m about to ask you is beyond awkward, veering toward inappropriate,” Danielle said as soon as Emma closed the door.

“Um, okay,” Emma replied. “Do we need wine for this?” She gestured toward the kitchen.

Danielle shook her head. “I won’t take up that much of your time, but by all means, grab your glass.”

Emma didn’t move, and Danielle took a deep breath. “I just broke up with Alex.”

Emma blinked. It took her a second to register what Danielle was saying, and when her brain finally did process it . . .

Emma wasn’t at all sure how she felt about that bit of information. “Okay . . .”

“Not because of anything to do with you,” Danielle rushed to say. “At least not directly. I mean, he told me about you guys, but he said it wasn’t a big deal.”

Ouch.

Emma crossed her arms, feeling beyond weird. “So if it doesn’t have anything to do with me—”

Danielle laughed nervously. “Right. You want to know why I’m here. Okay, well . . . I’ll be perfectly blunt and say that while Alex is a great guy, I never got the sense that we were going to make it. He’s so . . . closed off, you know? We got along, but I never felt like I was reaching him. Not really. It’s
always
been like that, but in recent weeks he’s even further away than ever.”

I so do not want to be having this conversation. Should have grabbed that glass of wine.

“And then . . . oh, boy.” Danielle blew out a breath. “Okay, I’m just going to spit this out. That guy you went on a date with. Benedict? There were, um, sparks. Or something. Like when he looked at me, I felt like I was seeing him in a way Alex would never allow.”

Emma scratched her eyebrow. “Yeah. I sort of saw that happen.”

Danielle blushed. “I thought maybe you might have. And I wasn’t going to do anything about it, I swear. I’m not that girl. But then the other day, Alex had a bunch of
Stiletto
articles on his desk and he was asking my opinion on some of them, and I saw yours. . . .”

“Ah,” Emma said, beginning to understand. “And you learned that Benedict was very much still on the market.”

Cassidy’s girlfriend—no,
ex
-girlfriend—blushed. “You must think I’m terrible. Dumping one guy and five minutes later hitting up his ex about
her
ex. It’s just that . . . I’m thirty-four, and I want so badly to find someone—”

Emma smiled and held up a hand. “You don’t have to explain. I get it.”

Danielle broke off. “You do?”

“Sure,” Emma said with a shrug. “Finding someone you have sparks with is rare. And nobody should stay in a relationship that they don’t think is going anywhere. It wouldn’t be fair to you. Or Cassidy.”

Danielle tilted her head slightly. “You guys sure are mature about this. How is it possible that there’s no bad blood between you?”

Emma laughed. “It’s more like the blood froze. What you interpret as civil is more like . . . deliberate indifference.”

Deliberate indifference
—that was a good one. She liked it. Suspected Cassidy would, too. If they’d ever stay in each other’s company long enough to talk about it.

“Well, regardless, I guess I just wanted to double-check that I wouldn’t be moving in on someone else’s guy if I called Benedict.”

“I can’t promise that he hasn’t started seeing someone in the past couple weeks,” Emma said. “We haven’t spoken. But if he is seeing someone, it’s not me.”

“Okay,” Danielle said, taking a breath. “Okay, thanks. And now for the extra awkward part. . . .”

Emma smiled. “You want his phone number?”

The pretty brunette all but sagged in relief. “You’re awesome. Seriously.”

Emma retrieved her phone from the counter and scrolled through her received calls until she found where Benedict had called her to confirm their date.

She gave Danielle the number, and felt a little flicker of alarm that she didn’t feel the least bit weird in doing so. The flicker escalated to a flame as she realized that she was
happy
.

Happy that Cassidy and Danielle had broken up.

Uh-oh.

She knew her friends and sister thought she was emotionally closed off. Emma herself sometimes worried that she was partially dead inside.

Well, she definitely wasn’t dead inside now.

“Sorry I interrupted your evening,” Danielle said as she pulled her purse higher onto her shoulder and stepped into the hallway, having gotten what she came for.

“No problem,” Emma said, swallowing her panic and the flurry of emotions rolling through her. “Kept the night from being boring.”

Danielle glanced briefly at Cassidy’s door, her expression not so much sad as thoughtful. “You know the weirdest part of all this? I don’t even think Alex will mind. When I suggested that he and I end things, he was just . . .”

Danielle ran a palm down over the front of her face as though to indicate expressionlessness. “
Nothing.
Straight-faced, no reaction beyond a polite smile and a good-bye hug. It was like I was his sister, or something.”

“I’m sure he cared,” Emma said kindly. But even as she said it, she knew she was probably lying. Like Emma, Cassidy wasn’t cruel—he never meant to toy with anyone’s emotions, or lead women on. But, like Emma, he held himself back. From everyone.

Danielle shrugged. “Maybe. Okay, I’ll get out of your hair now. Thanks again for not throwing me out.”

Emma waved good-bye, and was about to shut the door when her gaze landed on Cassidy’s front door. How perfectly fitting that he got dumped on the same day he’d antagonized her by mentioning her exes.

Thank you, karma.

And then, because Emma apparently didn’t have any sense whatsoever, she listened to an urge she hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

She walked forward and knocked on the door of her ex-fiancé.

Chapter 9

Alex’s best guess as to who could be knocking on his door was Danielle.

Not that he thought she’d changed her mind. But the woman had forgotten her umbrella. Again.

But it wasn’t Danielle.

“Emma.”

For several seconds after he opened the door, they merely stared at each other. She was wearing gray pants and a white blouse unbuttoned just enough to hint at subtle cleavage. Her brown hair was loose and around her shoulders.

And her eyes? Unreadable as ever.

“You owe me a meeting,” she said finally.

“Do I?”

“Yes,” she said, sweeping past him and entering his apartment as though she owned the place. “I talked to Julie and she said that you had in-person discussions with the rest of the columnists about their December stories. I didn’t get the in-person part, or the discussion. A mandated story topic via email?
Really?

“Gosh, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to have this friendly chat in person,” he muttered as he shut the door.

Emma moved into the main living room area and looked around. The layout of his apartment was almost identical to Camille’s, but that’s where the similarities ended. Camille preferred fancy, fussy furniture and a billion pillows and pictures and lamps.

Alex was well aware that his own taste was classic minimalist bachelor. A sleek black sofa, basic coffee table, a bar-height dining table for two. He kept the lighting low. Liked the way it accentuated the city lights.

Emma ran a finger over the dark wood of his sideboard as she stepped all the way into the room. “Very . . . you.”

“You know what I like about you, Emma? How you can manage so much insult into just two words.”

She turned to face him, her only response a wink.

“Drink?” he asked.

“Yes, please. I had just poured myself a glass when I got derailed by a visitor.”

“Oh, yeah?” He pulled the cork off a bottle of open red on the counter and reached for two glasses.

“Yep.”

Her voice never lost its perfectly civil edge. Neither did his.

But when she announced that it was
Danielle
who had stopped by, Alex might have faltered while pouring the wine. Just for a half second.

“My girlfriend came to see you,” he said, handing her the glass.


Ex
-girlfriend from the way I heard it,” Emma said, lifting her eyebrows as she took a sip of wine.

He took a sip of his own wine and watched her. “So that’s the real reason you’re here. Rub salt in the wound?”

“Honestly?” she swirled her glass and watched the wine. “Yes. I had a . . . shall we say bit of
pique
about the way you forced a story on me via email. Thought this seemed like a good chance to get back at you.”

“Yeah, you’re really the picture of a woman bent on vengeance,” he said, taking in the haughty tilt of her chin and the coolness in her eyes.

Emma shrugged. “The revenge urged passed. Being petty wasn’t worth the effort.”

Alex was surprised by how much her disinterest bothered him. Just once, he wanted her to get riled. Just once he wanted to know how she felt . . .
if
she felt.

But even as he longed to shake her—to tell her to get mad or frustrated or sad about anything—he couldn’t do so without being entirely hypocritical.

Because, strangely enough, he suspected that he and Emma understood each other better than anyone else. They’d both spent an extraordinary amount of their energy keeping messy emotions at bay.

“Danielle wanted Benedict Wade’s phone number,” Emma said.

That made him choke on his wine. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely immune. He did have some pride, after all. “What?”

Emma nodded. “You
did
see what went on between them that night when he and I went on our date, right?”

“Damn,” Alex muttered. “I guess I thought it was odd, but I thought it was just a fleeting thing. What kind of woman leaves a stable relationship because of sexy eye contact with a stranger?”

“The smart ones,” Emma said, tapping her fingernails against her glass. “Trust me, you have
no
idea how rare it is to feel that kind of tug toward another person.”

“That why you have
twelve
exes to talk about in your next article?”

“Okay, about that,” she said pointing a finger at him. “If we do this story, I do it my way. You write it as I publish it. No interference, no power plays as my temporary boss, and no getting weird because of our personal history.”

“But you’ll write it?” he asked.

“Of course. If I
don’t
write it, won’t you manage to convince yourself that I’m trying to hide something?”

He watched her over his glass. “Trust me, Em, you’ve made it perfectly clear that I’m all but dead to you.”

She tilted her head. “Mutual though, isn’t it?”

“Of course,” he replied. Because he had to.

Their eyes held for a second too long, and suddenly he became all too aware that for the first time in years, he and Emma Sinclair were in the same room. Alone.

Making matters worse, he was recently single, she was available, as far as he knew, and between the wine and the dim lighting and the quiet jazz, the mood was . . . arresting.

No. The
woman
was arresting.

But that wasn’t what was eating at him. What burned at the corners of his consciousness was the realization that this could have been their path.
Would
have been their path had they not been two foolish kids who’d let pride and secrets rip them apart.

He’d used to dream about this. In college, when his life had mostly been a whirlwind of media attention for his soccer career and parties, he’d dreamed about what would happen after, when it was just the two of them, and he could just
be
.

Emma had been his place of calm. The one who’d centered him.

Right up until the point she’d left him.

She took another sip of her wine. “I should be going. You hardly look devastated over your breakup, so there goes all of my plans of making you cry yourself to sleep.”

He smiled. “I liked Danielle.”

“But?” she said, lifting her eyebrows.

“You really want to hear this?” he asked.

“Cassidy, give me a break. You’re going to be reading about twelve of my exes. I think I can handle hearing about
one
of yours.”

“Well,” he said, topping off their glasses, “I could imagine Danielle in my life just fine. She was smart. Pretty. Sweet.”

“But . . .”

He shrugged. “It was also pretty damn easy to picture my life
without
her. In fact, the thought of her not being there didn’t cause so much as a pang. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way.”

“No, it’s not,” she murmured.

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
8.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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