Read The Trouble With Love Online

Authors: Lauren Layne

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

The Trouble With Love (9 page)

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
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Everything in her tone said she wasn’t a stranger to the feelings he’d just described. And when she spoke again, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

“I should go,” she said again.

Don’t. Please don’t.

The thought caught him off guard and he frowned.

But it was the first time in so long that she’d let him near her. The first time she’d talked to him, even if there seemed to be miles of distance between them instead of just a kitchen counter.

He didn’t want it to end.

“How’s Daisy?” he asked, desperate to keep her around.

Her gaze flicked up. Wary, at the mention of her twin sister. “She’s good.”

“I used to get Christmas cards from her, but they stopped a year or so ago. I figured maybe you’d forbidden her to contact me.”

She laughed. “Don’t flatter yourself. I didn’t care that much. But don’t take it personally. She quit sending Christmas cards altogether after her divorce.”

“Ah. I’m sorry. I hadn’t heard.”

He and Daisy had been friendly enough in college and during his and Emma’s engagement, but after the way he and Emma imploded, he figured it was pretty natural that Emma’s twin sister wasn’t exactly inviting him to dinner parties.

“Yeah, her ex-husband is a tool,” Emma said. “All Daisy ever wanted was to start a family, but Gary put her on hold for years, saying he needed to focus on launching his career. That he didn’t have time for a family. Then
bam,
out of nowhere, he files for divorce. Turns out he took up with his boss. Who was . . . wait for it . . . pregnant with his baby.”

“Ouch.”

Emma nodded. “Definitely. Daisy took it hard, but she’s bouncing back now. She always does.”

“And your father?”

Emma’s eyes went a little frosty at that. “I’m surprised you don’t know. He confided in you more than he
ever
has in me.”

Alex immediately regretted asking, because the shit of it was . . . Emma’s accusation was true.

Winston Sinclair cared about his daughters desperately, but he could also be a misogynistic ass who thought nothing of sticking his rich, well-connected nose where it didn’t belong.

Still, Alex had occasional kind thoughts toward the man. Not only because he’d helped a college kid with nothing but soccer to his name and gave him a chance at an actual career. But also because Winston had been the one responsible for Emma and Cassidy getting together, albeit by accident.

However, the man had
also
been the catalyst for things going to complete shit the night before the wedding.

For
that,
Alex’s thoughts were dark and furious.

“Emma—”

She held up her hand. “We don’t have to do this, Cassidy. Actually, let’s
not
do this.”

He told himself not to be hurt at the rejection.

“Still, there is something I’ve been wondering ever since you got to town,” she said, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Why New York? Why
Oxford
?”

He gave her a half smile. “You want to know if I knew you worked at
Stiletto
when I came to work for its brother magazine?”

“I have wondered.”

“No,” he said, simply. Honestly. “I didn’t know. In fact, I signed the contract months before my actual start date. Before you took the job.”

She helped herself to another glass of wine and shook her head. “I’ll buy that. Hell of a coincidence though, isn’t it?”

“It is. Although perhaps not so much when you consider our ambitions have always overlapped. You’ve always wanted to write; I’ve always wanted to be in print media.”

“Oh, I remember that well,” she said, lifting her glass to him in derision. “That’s the reason you got in good with my father, right?”

Shit.
He’d walked right into that one.

Emma widened her eyes as though just thinking of something. “Oh, wait . . . wasn’t that
also
the reason you agreed to go on a date with his daughter in the first place?”

“For someone who doesn’t want to go there, you’re certainly . . . going there.”

“You’re right,” she said, lifting her hands. “Let’s absolutely not. So tell me something else. I know you hightailed it out of North Carolina before the wedding cake went stale. Where’d you go?”

He smiled. “You didn’t look me up even once?”

“It hurt too much.”

Alex sucked in a breath at the unexpected admission. “Em—”

“Back then,” she corrected. “Back
then
it hurt too much. After a few months . . . I just didn’t care.”

Now his chest hurt for a different reason. But he didn’t have the right to be hurt. Not really. He’d held on to his anger for a long time. Couldn’t blame her for doing the same.

“I went to San Francisco,” he said. “Helped launch a couple start-up magazine publications there. Got familiar with the digital space. I didn’t think much about New York until a headhunter tracked me down for the
Oxford
position. What I lacked in editorial experience I made up for in digital content and vision.”

“Lucky us,” she muttered.

“What about you?” he asked, wanting to keep her talking. “Why New York?”

She glanced up. “Honestly? Because it’s huge. Because I wanted to escape to a place where I could be anonymous. You know . . . all the classic reasons small-town girls escape to the bright lights and big city.”

He smiled at that. “I think actually the cliché is that they run to the bright lights because they want to be a star. Not anonymous.”

“Whatever,” she said with a shrug, standing and taking her glass to the sink.

“You’re leaving?”

“I am. I haven’t eaten yet, and I’m starving,” she said, moving toward his front door.

It was on the tip of his tongue to suggest that she stay and eat there. To let him cook her some pasta or eggs or . . . no.

That would be foolish.

He didn’t even want that. Did he?

Alex followed Emma to the foyer and watched as she turned the doorknob.

Then she turned back. “Cassidy?”

“Yeah.” His voice was gruff, and he was shocked by how much he didn’t want her to go.

Her eyes found his, her expression unexpectedly vulnerable. “Do you ever think we broke each other? Because sometimes . . . . it’s like both of us are unable to
feel
.”

Alex was definitely
feeling
right now. But he knew what she meant.

“Yeah, Emma. I think that all the damn time.”

Her smile was sad. “Yeah. I think so, too. Probably best that we keep our distance, then, right? It feels . . . easier.”

Alex nodded in agreement, because it was what he was supposed to do.

She gave him another sad smile and was gone.

After she left, he found himself staring at the door.

Just an hour ago, he would have said that the wall of ice between Emma and him had been crucial. Even necessary.

But at the moment, he had the strangest urge to chip away at that wall. To see if the
real
Emma was still there.

Chapter 10

Generally speaking, inviting ex-boyfriends to one’s place of residence wasn’t the smartest of ideas.

But when you were facing a month of revisiting a
dozen
of your ex-boyfriends . . . well, that was a lot of painful coffee drinks or awkward dinner/drinks scenarios.

In the end, Emma decided it would be best to be formulaic about it:

Send each man an email or text message.

Ask if he had time to talk.

Invite them over one at a time to Camille’s place.

It wasn’t
as
bad as it sounded.

Camille’s place had a fussy formality about it that kept anything from feeling too intimate, and this way Emma could keep them all on the same playing field.

Emma had started with the easiest of the bunch. The partridge in the pear tree of her “Twelve Days of Exes” was Clint Macintosh, a publishing executive whose biggest crime in the relationship department was being the nicest guy alive.

And it took Emma all of five minutes of being in his presence to remember why they’d lasted only three months. There was such a thing as
too
nice.
Too
smiley.
Too
cheerful.

Or maybe that was just her. Yeah, it was probably her. Still, Sweet Clint was annoying as all get-out.

“So how does this work?” Clint asked, after they’d exchanged all the usual pleasantries, and after Emma had deliberately ignored Clint’s
five
mentions that he wasn’t seeing anyone at the moment.

“Well,” Emma said, glancing down at her notebook. “Basically, I’ve come up with three questions to ask each guy, and then I’ll sort of look for patterns, overlaps, et cetera. But you need to know that this isn’t about me bashing my previous boyfriends,” she said, keeping her voice kind. “It’s about
me
. And I’ll keep your names out of it, so I encourage you to be as honest as possible, even if it hurts my feelings.”

“I would never hurt your feelings, honey,” Clint said with a wide smile.

She forced a smile back. “Okay, you ready for this?”

He set down his coffee cup and leaned back in Camille’s living room chair. “Bring it.”

Emma took a deep breath. Even though it was just Clint, even though she’d thought she could be fully emotionally removed from this, it was harder than she thought to get the first question out.

She hadn’t expected to feel so . . . vulnerable.

But
not
going through with this article would be letting Cassidy win.

And as civil as their shared glasses of wine had been the other night, there was no way in
hell
she’d let him have any impact on her present and future.

He’d already done enough damage on her past. And she on his.

“Okay, first question,” Emma said. “What was your first reaction when you got that email from me? Like we’re talking
gut
reaction. Lay it on me.”

“Happiness,” Clint said.

Emma all but rolled her eyes. From what she remembered, the guy was
always
happy. Again, it was a good trait—a
great
trait. But after a couple months with Clint, she’d begun to miss the nuances of, well,
moods
.

For Clint it had never been about the cup being half-full or half-empty. In his book, the cup was always overflowing, all the time.

“Surprise, of course,” Clint added to his initial statement. “It’s been what . . . four years? But I was happy to hear from you. I’m happy to hear from
anyone
who’s had a significant impact on my life.”

Emma wrote this down. His response was a little cheesy, but who knows? Maybe it would be a nice balm for her ego when she got to the guys who’d be a little less happy to hear from her.

“Okay, second question,” she said. “When you think of our time together, what do you most remember? It can either be a specific moment, or a general vibe, or just . . . whatever comes to mind.”

“I remember how much you made me smile,” Clint said.

She bit her lip to keep from asking if he was ever not smiling.

“But mostly,” he continued, “I remember how much I wanted to make
you
smile.”

That
caught her off guard. Emma paused in her note taking and glanced up.

Clint’s grin had turned just a little bit sad, and suddenly Emma was struck by the realization that maybe Clint
wasn’t
happy all the time after all. Maybe he was just really good at faking it.

“What do you mean?” Emma asked. She smiled. Didn’t she?

“Don’t get me wrong; you weren’t mopey or anything,” Clint rushed to explain. “There was just . . . your smiles had to be earned. And it was damn hard work.”

He grinned to soften the blow, but Emma felt strangely off-kilter.

She knew she could be . . . reserved. But she liked to laugh as much as the next girl. She could be happy and funny and all that. Right?
Right?!

“Okay, last question,” she said, suddenly anxious for this first interview to be over. “From your perspective, why did we break up?”

Clint leaned forward, his smile mischievous. “Ah, I wish I knew. See, Emma, darling,
you
dumped
me.
And I seem to remember the classic ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ at work.”

Emma tapped her pen on the notebook. She’d been planning for this. In all of her past relationships, Emma had done a
lot
of the dumping, so she’d known this was coming.

But the script she’d rehearsed in her head didn’t feel adequate when she was looking at someone she’d once cared about. Who’d once cared about
her,
even if it had been only for a couple months.

“Don’t worry,” Clint said with a wink. “I’m not holding a grudge about it.”

Emma smiled back. “Like that’d even be possible for you. Have you ever held a grudge?”

He laughed. “Good point. And no. I guess I try pretty hard to let things roll off me. Life is easier that way.”

Emma sat back a little and considered this. Maybe she and Clint weren’t as different as she’d once thought. They both did whatever they could to cope with the not-so-great parts of life. He added a deliberate happy spin to everything.

Emma’s approach was to keep her distance.

“Do you remember anything else about our breakup?” she asked. “Anything juicy for my story?”

He shrugged. “You were sweet about it. I appreciated that. Said you just weren’t in a place for a relationship, and I deserved someone who could give one hundred percent.”

Emma wrote this down, even though she didn’t have to. It was more or less the line she’d given every guy who’d been kicked to the curb.

“Okay, Clint, that’s it for my questions. Like I said, I promised this meeting wouldn’t take up much of your time, right? But if you want to go off book—add something you haven’t yet—this is your chance. Remember, no names, so it won’t trace back to you.”

He laughed. “You realize that you’re either incredibly crazy or incredibly brave for doing this?”

She smiled. “I know. I’m pretty sure it’s the first.”

He reached for his coffee cup, his expression going thoughtful. “You know, I don’t really have anything else to add. Maybe if we’d dated longer than a couple months, but I’m not really toting around any dark scars, you know?”

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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