After This Night (Seductive Nights #2)(5)


by Lauren Blakely

But I wouldn’t change a second with you.

Wow. I just re-read my note. I think that’s the mushiest I’ve ever been with anyone. Damn, you did a number on me, and I’ve got it bad for you. I’m hitting send while I still have the guts in me to do so, even though I will probably regret it. Except this is all true.

Xoxo

Julia

He dropped his head in his hand, and cursed. A wave of frustration and longing rolled through him, and he knew he should turn the damn phone off and ignore her. But this woman, she was under his skin. He hated lies but he’d be lying to himself if he pretended he’d forgotten her in a day.

from: [email protected]

to: [email protected]

date: April 25, 7:12 AM

subject: Hi

I don’t hate you. The farthest thing from it.

He hit send before the regret washed over him, as it eventually would, he was sure.

* * *

By the end of the day he wasn’t feeling much. He was riding at the perfect levels of blankness. A day in the trenches had done wonders for him, and a night at the gym would drain him of any residual feelings that threatened to resurface.

The next day he did the same, burying himself in business, making sure every T was crossed and I dotted, that points were won, and clients weren’t just making more money, they were being protected in their business deals. His job was a hell of a lot more than wringing more dollars from networks, studios and producers. It was checking out the fine print, making sure clients were looked out for when it came to two, three, four years down the road in a deal.

His days followed that pattern for the next week, and the regular routine of work, gym, business drinks or dinner, sleep, then rinse, lather, repeat the next day turned Julia into a hazy blur in the rearview mirror. Soon, she’d migrated to the back of his mind, and the fact that she’d been relocated there pleased him immensely. A few more days of supreme focus and she would be a distant blip on the horizon.

At seven-thirty on the dot on a Wednesday night, he left his office and headed for Times Square, threading his way through the crowds of tourists in their I Love NY sweat-shirts and Property of NYFD nylon jackets, with pretzels and hot dogs in hand, as they snapped photos of the neon signs and the famous intersection. He walked past the St. James Theater, tapping once on the poster for Crash the Moon, feeling a surge of pride for that show’s quick success. His friend Davis had directed it, and it had become a smash hit in the first month alone, playing to packed houses every single night.

He crossed the street, dodging a cab stalled in traffic, as he made his way to the bright lights of the Shubert Theater where Liam was playing the Kevin Spacey character in The Usual Suspects. Michele waited outside the theater lobby, smiling when she spotted him, and Clay took some comfort in the reliability of a friend like her. She’d been here through the years, always available for a drink, always willing to chat, or to see a movie or show. She was a good one, steady, dependable, and patently honest. A warm feeling rushed over him with the reminder that there were people you could trust implicitly. She would never dance around the truth.

“Hey you,” she said, waving her fingers, and then giving him a quick kiss on each cheek.

“Are we French now?”

“Of course,” she said playfully. “We’ll grab baguettes and sip espresso after the curtain call.”

“That’d be nice,” he said, as they walked into the theater and he handed two tickets to the usher who led them down the aisle to some of the best seats in the house.

Michele raised an eyebrow. “Impressive.”

“Like this is a surprise? We always get the best seats. Your brother is a Tony-winning director,” Clay said, gesturing for Michele to take her seat.

“I know. And I don’t ever take that for granted. And you,” she said, wrapping her hand around his arm, and leaning in close, “are the man behind the scenes who makes this stuff happen, too.”

He waved off the compliment. He wasn’t in the business for compliments. “Tell me about your day,” he said, and listened as she shared the little details that she could, not breaking any client confidentiality but talking in general terms about her work listening to the woes of others as one of New York’s finest shrinks. Her voice was calming and soothing, so he barely noticed that she’d kept her hand on his forearm the whole time.

When the curtain rose at the start of the play, she stayed like that, palm wrapped around him. A few minutes into the first act, he almost asked her to move her hand, but then it wasn’t really bothering him, and they were old friends. Even if they’d kissed once back in college, it didn’t matter that she was touching him, shifting closer. Her shoulder was brushing his by the time the cast took their bows. She smelled nice, he thought. Some flowery scent to her hair, maybe jasmine? He’d never noticed it before.

“Did you like the play?” he asked as the theater rang with cheers for the actors.

“Loved it.”

“Never gets old, does it? Even when you know it’s coming, the Keyser Soze reveal.”

“It’s a brilliant twist,” she said, agreeing.

“I need to go see Liam.” He gestured to the backstage entrance. “You gonna come along?”

“Of course.”

Once backstage, Liam greeted him with a clap on the back and a hearty hug.

“Nice work. You were better than Spacey,” Clay said.

Liam beamed and pointed his index finger at Clay. “Flattery will get you everywhere.” Then he turned to Michele. “And who is the lovely lady on your arm tonight?”

Michele laughed nervously. “Oh, we’re not together. Just friends,” she said, extending a hand to shake.

Liam’s green eyes twinkled. “All the better for me,” he said, then ran a hand through his mass of dark hair. “Why don’t you come along to The Vitale then for a nightcap? It’s right next to the restaurant I’ll be opening soon.”

Clay wanted to roll his eyes. Could Liam be any more obvious? But Michele seemed to be enjoying it because she answered quickly. “I would love to.”

“I would love to take you.”

Liam was recognized a few times on the street, and again at the bar where he was amiable, and signed a cocktail napkin for a young woman who said she was a theater student at NYU and had always loved his work.