Found in You (Page 19)

Found in You (Fixed #2)(19)
Author: Laurelin Paige

“Paul Kresh.”

My heart stopped. Literally stopped for the space of two beats. Paul Kresh, the man I’d stalked and terrorized. God, oh god. He had a restraining order out on me. I couldn’t be within one hundred feet of him and there he was, standing a yard in front of me, his features frozen in a state of shock that had to mirror mine.

Fuck.

There went my affiliation with Party Planners Plus.

Julia carried on, unaware of anything odd between her boyfriend—that’s what she’d called him, anyway—and me. “Paul, this is Alayna, the…Wait.”

She paused and I worried she’d figured it out, that she’d pieced together his expression and my name. If she knew about me, that was.

But when she spoke again, her words were harmless. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know your title.” She laughed, and I blinked at the oddness of the sound in contrast to the panic that was rushing through my veins.

David and I had come up with my official title only the day before, but I was so stunned by Paul’s arrival and Julia’s obliviousness that it took me a second to respond. “Um, Events and Promotional Manager.”

I didn’t know if I should shake his hand or run. If I should act like an old friend or as if we’d never met.

Paul made the decision for me. Smiling stiffly, he held his hand out. “Pleasure to meet you.” His tone was steady. Not sure and commanding and unflinching like Hudson’s, but unfazed nonetheless.

I took his hand, my fingers wrapping limply around his. “No, the pleasure’s mine.” That’s what you say to new business affiliates when you meet them, right? Because nothing I could think of sounded correct or harmless. Did it sound like I was flirting? Because I was not. Was. Not. There wasn’t any interest in my body for him except to be far, far away.

I pulled my hand away first, unwilling to touch him longer than necessary.

“Paul, you’ve got to see this place. Can we repeat the tour?” She looked at me, wide eyed and expectant.

Hell, no. That’s what I wanted to say. What I should say. But I was numb and no response came at all.

Again, Paul came to the rescue. “Actually, honey, we’ve really got to get going.”

She took his wrist in her hand and twisted it to look at his watch. “Yeah, you’re right. We have a thing tonight. Last minute details and all. Mind if I use the little girl’s room before we take off?”

She blinked at me twice before I realized that the question was for me.

“Not at all, it’s back at the top of the ramp, to—”

She cut me off. “I remember.”

I watched as Julia climbed the ramp and disappeared around the corner. Then I found my voice. Words fell like the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. “Paul, I had no idea, I swear. I didn’t have a clue that Julia was your partner or that you worked at Party Planners Plus or that you’d be here today or ever. I would have canceled if your name was anywhere attached to the business website, and how the hell would I ever know that you’d become an event planner anyway? Because when I knew you, you were an accountant in that stupid firm on Forty-Seventh—”

“Stop, Alayna.” He let out a huff of air as he ran his hands through his hair. “I know you didn’t plan this. There’s no way you would have known.” I wasn’t sure if he was acknowledging my innocence in our meeting or reassuring himself. “I’m still an unofficial partner. I’ve been doing Julia’s accounting and we only recently decided…”

His hand dropped to his side. “Anyway, that’s not important. The important thing is—”

“That we absolutely don’t work together. I know.” As I said it, my heart sank, the ideas I’d had for teaming up with Julia rupturing like a popped balloon. “The restraining order was for five years, and I think there’s two years or so left.”

“A little less than two years,” he corrected. “But that doesn’t matter. We have to work together anyway.”

“What?” I think I actually jerked in surprise.

His hand went back to his dark blond hair, brushing through it like he always did when he’d been stressed or exasperated. “I can’t ruin this deal for Julia. She’s hired new people recently and she’s trying to expand the business. It’s a good time for her, but she needs connections like this club. Connections with people like Hudson Pierce.”

“But I can’t be anywhere near you, let alone working with you.” Hudson’s name in the air made me even more uncomfortable with being alone with Paul Kresh. I didn’t like Hudson being connected to my past mistakes. I was in serious violation of a restraining order that I’d already violated once. My hands balled at my sides, my fingernails digging into my skin at the thought of what would happen if the cops found out.

As if reading my mind, Paul said, “I’m not going to report you. You didn’t know. And going forward I’m not going to say a damn word.” His eyes narrowed. “Unless you f**king show up on my doorstep, or in my office—”

“I’m not!” I clasped my hands together and put them to my lips, calming myself before speaking again. I counted to ten in wicked speed. “I’m not like that anymore. I’m better. I got counseling. I haven’t even thought about you since…” Since the night before when I’d told Hudson about him. “Well, I’m better. And I’m with someone.”

I was so much better. There was a time where I would have been dizzy and heartsick over even the slightest thought of Paul Kresh. Now he was nothing but a mistake. A problem I couldn’t wait to go away.

“Good. That’s good to hear. I’m glad you’re better.” Paul looked me over. “And I believe you. You look better. I don’t know…healthy or something.”

“Thank you.” Getting emotionally and physically better had improved my physical being. I’d gained weight—mostly muscle—and my skin tone had improved.

Paul seemed to be taking those changes in and my stomach clenched with the urge to throw up.

He must have caught himself, because he suddenly turned away, gazing up the ramp where Julia had gone. “Look, Julia knows nothing about you or Melissa or that I was engaged before.”

“Nice. Secretive relationships for the win,” I said sarcastically.

He ignored my remark. “We’ll simply have to agree to keep all the past under wraps. Not a word that we’ve ever met before today. We can do that. I know you can.” His tone was caustic, as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. “You were always good at acting like things were just fine.”