A month has passed since Lucia and I got together, and since she had to work tonight, I’m attending a small art gallery opening as a favor to Grant.. He didn’t want to come by himself as there was a possibility of his ex-wife being in attendance and the last time they saw each other in public was not a good scene. Since then, he has done everything possible to avoid a repeat performance.
But that had been the least of my worries. I knew it the moment I saw Carmen Dallas, rumor shark and pain in my ass.
She’s been following me for the past few years. However, since my latest award win, she seems to have made it her mission to ensconce me as prime bachelor real estate. For Ms. Dallas, every aspect of my life has been fair game. She’s been trying to dig something juicy and tabloid-worthy on me for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, since my public life has remained uneventful, she’s had a hard time reporting anything of interest. That was until the baseball game and the fact I had a beautiful—and unknown—brunette on my arm who thankfully still remains nameless to them.
After thirty minutes, she’d successfully cornered me while I was admiring a beautiful abstract painting of a Napa Valley vineyard at dusk. I’d been mentally scanning my house for the right place to hang the art when she’d sidled up to me, her bright red lips curling into a predatory smile.
“Interesting approach to an atypical subject, don’t you think?” She’d mused as I’d caught her lifting a wine glass to her mouth. Turning fully toward her, I’d studied her trying to work out what her agenda was.
“Indeed. I have to say, I didn’t expect to see you at an event like this.”
Her face had given away a slight flash of annoyance before she’d schooled her expression. “Why’s that, Callum? You think arts and culture are beneath me?”
Her fake scoff had grated on me. “Something like that.”
“You wound me.” She’d reached up and placed her hand on my forearm, her faux laugh rattled around us, insincerity seeping from her pores, only serving to make me feel more on edge. More aware.
I’d politely but assuredly moved my arm away, causing her hand to drop. I scanned the room, looking for an escape. Or to be specific—Grant. Once I’d spotted him near the bar, I’d breathed a sigh of relief. Feeling emboldened and knowing that there was nothing she could or would find out about me, I’d downed my glass and decided it was time to take a stand.
“I sincerely doubt there is anything I could say or do to wound you, Ms. Dallas. I’d even go as far to say that it would be you, or more specifically, your column, that would inflict the most damage between the two of us. Now, I must rejoin my business partner. These events are all about networking, are they not?”
“Now, now, Callum. I thought we were friends.”
I’d tried to stifle the choking noise rising in my throat. I’d leveled her with a look, a knowing, ‘not willing to fall for her bullshit’ kind of look.
“We will never be classed as friends, Ms. Dallas. A drunken attempt to get in my bed does not make us friends. You are on one side of the invisible line; I am on the other. Never the two shall meet.”
“I’m just doing my job, Callum. The public wants to know more about you. The man behind the profile. The man behind the brilliant building designs and mysterious private life. The man that seems to have a different woman on his arm at every event, yet previous acquaintances report has a very healthy sexual appetite. Something very apparent by the frequent change in your plus ones.”
“And this is interesting to you because?” I’d adopted a stoic stance, the one that had served me so well in the past. The same one that had been on hiatus since Lucia had smashed her way through my guard the weekend before. “Carmen, I’m sorry to tell you, I’m still not interested.” I’d known I was coming across as egotistical, but she’d pushed me past the point of self-preservation.
“You are a person of interest. And what the readers want from me, the readers will always get.” The way she’d said it, her eyes flaring to reiterate her point, had unsettled me.
Looking over to Grant one last time, I’d nodded at him as soon as I caught his attention. “As always, Carmen, you’re nothing but eventful. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should really get back.” I’d moved to walk away, only stopping to leave a parting remark. “It’s been a pleasure.”
“Until next time,” she’d replied sweetly, too saccharine-tongued for my comfort. “Oh and Callum?” I’d turned my head when I heard my name, making sure to meet her eyes. “Tell Lucia I said hello. ”
Quick on my feet, I'd thankfully schooled my features to not reveal anything. I hadn’t been able to control the instant rigidity that swept through my body though. Not wanting to be in her vicinity any longer, I’d simply nodded back at her, refusing to dignify her sharp dig with anything other than silence.
Grant had immediately read my mood when I’d got back to him. Despite only being there for an hour, he’d downed his drink and dropped his glass back on to the bar, then clapped me on the back to signal our departure. “We’ve done our duty. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
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