“You don’t have to respond. I get it. You’re with him.” He wouldn’t even say Hudson’s name.
“I am with him. Completely.”
“And if you’re ever not…” David had told me before that he’d be there if I decided things with Hudson weren’t working out. It was a ridiculous thing to promise. Especially because I was over him, and, even without Hudson, I wouldn’t fall back to David.
But I wouldn’t be that blunt about it to his face. He was already leaving. I didn’t need to hurt him further. So instead, we sat in awkward silence for several thick seconds while I debated what I could say that would be a gentle letdown.
Fortunately, I was saved by the ringing of my phone. I rushed to pick it up from the side table next to me, not even bothering to look at whom the call was from.
“Laynie!” Mira’s voice bubbled through the earpiece. “Are you busy? Can you talk?”
I stood and distanced myself from David. “Of course I can talk. What’s up?”
“I was wondering if I could ask a favor.”
“On top of being a model at your event?” I was only teasing. I’d do practically anything for the girl. She’d welcomed me into her family even before Hudson had. I owed her.
“A different favor. Man, I’m kind of needy these days, aren’t I?”
“How about I refrain from answering that until you tell me what the favor is?” Absentmindedly, I paced the room as we talked.
“Fair enough. Dad wants to have lunch with me tomorrow. And I don’t really want to be alone with his sorry ass. And I’d love to see you. So would you consider joining us?”
“I’d love to!” Thinking about Jack put a smile on my face. There was no way Hudson would approve of me seeing him on my own, but what could he say if I was with Mira? I’d be honest about it, tell him upfront and it would be fine. “But why don’t you want to be alone with him?”
“He’s trying to make up for all the crap with Celia. He doesn’t get that I’m not the one he needs to make up with. I don’t really give a flying fig what he did or didn’t do or should have done. I just want him and Mom to grow up and act like adults for half a second. I mean, wouldn’t that be so nice?”
Sophia and Jack grow up? “Keep dreaming.”
“I know, I know. Anyway, we’re meeting at Perry Street at one. I’ll call and add you to the reservation. Yay! You turned something dreadful into something I’m looking forward to!”
“I’m looking forward to it, too.”
I hung up and stuffed my phone in my bra then glanced over and saw David working at his desk. Or, rather, pretending to work. He kept sneaking looks at me and I wondered if he wanted to say more than he had. I hoped not.
Instead of waiting to find out, I announced that I had a few errands to run. They weren’t pressing, but after his declaration, the office felt stifling.
I stepped out into the summer heat and pulled my sunglasses on. Since I’d left spur of the moment, I didn’t have a chance to call Jordan for a ride. The stops I wanted to make were nearby anyway. I could walk everywhere I planned to go. Besides, it was a beautiful day and it was nice to be out in the fresh air.
I didn’t notice my follower until I’d nearly reached the first place I needed to go—a graphics shop a few blocks away from Columbus Circle. Perhaps I’d been too preoccupied with thoughts of David and the club. And Hudson—always Hudson. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have spotted her earlier. When I finally did notice her, I knew immediately it wasn’t a coincidence that she was walking down Eighth Avenue at the same time I was. I also knew that she meant to be seen. I was an experienced stalker, after all. With a little effort, it’s not that hard to remain unnoticed.
Celia wasn’t trying to remain hidden at all.
She stopped when I stopped. Started again when I started. All the time her eyes were pinned directly on me. My heart beat furiously, but I remained cool, keeping an even pace to my steps. When I went into the graphics shop, she thankfully didn’t follow. But she took her place outside the front window so that I could see she was there.
Celia hadn’t exactly done anything to me, hadn’t spoken to me, but her presence wrapped me in a blanket of fear. I knew without a doubt she was making a statement—I’m here. I see you. You can’t escape me. Was this what Paul Kresh had felt when I’d followed him around for weeks at a time? It was an awful feeling and the regret for my past actions had never been so heavy.
There was a line at the counter, so I was able to take a few minutes to collect myself before my turn at the cashier. My thoughts raced to Celia’s motive. Maybe she wanted to talk to me. But she could text or email. And if she’d wanted to talk, why hadn’t she approached me?
No, she had a different intent with her stalking. First on the boat, now here—would she ever leave me alone? Was this another trick that she meant to somehow turn back on me later? Or did she simply mean to scare me?
If scare was the goal, she’d achieved it. But unlike the last time she’d screwed me over, I was prepared. Now she didn’t have my trust. After I texted Jordan telling him where I was and asking him to meet me, I used my phone to click a picture of her—I wanted proof. She saw me take the picture, I was certain, but she didn’t leave or seem concerned. Next, I called Hudson’s office.
“He’s in a meeting,” Trish, his secretary, informed me. “I’ll have him call you as soon as he’s finished.”
That wasn’t good enough. I knew he’d want me to interrupt him for this, but Trish would never do it herself. Hoping he’d check his cell phone, I shot him a text. I’m on my way to your office. I need to see you.
I was calmer when it was my turn at the cashier. I collected the table cards I had ordered, took a deep breath, and headed out of the store. I was terrified to walk out with Celia so near the entrance, but I wouldn’t let her see that. Thankfully, just as I put my hand on the door to push it open, Jordan pulled up. Celia took off at a brisk pace down the sidewalk. If all it took to send her away was Jordan, I’d never go anywhere without him again.
I slid in the car before Jordan had a chance to get out and open the door for me. “Up ahead, on the sidewalk,” I said pointing toward Celia’s back. “Do you see her?” She was walking fast and I wanted someone else to see her before she disappeared in the New York City crowds.