Oui (The French Connection Book 1)(2)

By: Brooklyn Knight

“Because what? Because you sent me an I’m-sorry email you’d been vindicated?” I scoffed. “Let me offer you some advice, Ryder Hanson. When it comes to me, try not to think too hard.”

“Laila – ”

“For you, thinking only works when you’re in a classroom or a business setting. It doesn’t have the same effect in social interactions. Ask me how I know.” I adjusted my posture, so it was ramrod straight, and lifted my chin.

His hand was still on my elbow, his fingers pressed gently against the bone. “I knew it,” he whispered, peering at me. “You haven’t forgiven me. Even though you said you had.”

“I said I’d forgiven you only to make you go away.”

“Yet I’m still here,” he retorted.

“So maybe I should say it again. Would it work this time?”

“Only if you meant it,” he said, “because despite what you say and the way you act, I’m not one hundred per cent certain you do.”

I opened my mouth to spit a comeback, but I was having difficulty stringing together a compelling retort. I swallowed rage. “Trust me, Ryder, there is no way on God’s green earth I’ll ever forget what you did to me.”

“I apologized,” he reminded me.

“And sometimes words are not enough.”

Ryder dropped my elbow and I glared at him, daring him to say something more. His mouth opened, but no words followed. A heavy silence dropped between us.

I tugged the hem of my suit jacket and took a step backwards.

Ryder took a step forward. “I don’t want to fight with you, Laila. God knows that was never my intention,” he said. His eyes darted before they landed on mine. The intensity behind them was enough to make my core throb in recollection of the time his lips had engaged it in intimate conversation. I squeezed its walls together, reprimanding it, disdained.

“Kinda makes a girl wonder what your intentions were then,” I shot back and lowered my voice. “I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded of how you stole my business proposal.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets. “You mean the one that we worked on together? Until the wee hours of the morning?”

“The one you took to the Johnson and Wales Business School Committee and presented as if it were you own, without even mentioning my name. Surely you remember vividly?” Hot tears stung the back of my eyes. I straightened my shoulders and lowered my voice, ignoring my tearful weakness. “The business proposal that landed you the one and only internship position available at this firm... Yeah, that one.”

“I have apologized to you over and over,” he pleaded. “Laila, it was a misunderstanding. I never meant for any of that to happen.”

“And when you had the chance to rectify the situation, you did nothing.”

Ryder groaned, running his hand over his mouth and chin.

My eyes blinked as tears collected behind them and my body started to grow hot. This was why I avoided Ryder Hanson. This was what he did to me. He had a way of pushing me to the brink of every emotion I owned. He had done it in the classroom, he had done it in his bedroom, and now he was doing it at Hamilton Associates.

Of all places.

This was why I hated him, and the reasons were multiplying exponentially. There was no hope of us ever being friends.

“Ryder, now is not the time or place to talk about this,” I advised him through my teeth. “I know exactly what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to throw me off kilter, take me off my game, so my chances of shining today will be reduced. You’re afraid that someone will notice me and offer me that internship position.”

“I’ve secured the only available spot. There’s no way that would happen.”

My jaw tightened. His striking gaze had not shifted, but his words sliced through me. It was the lowest of blows.

I swallowed the lump of emotion accumulated in my throat and turned on my heels.

“Laila, wait.”

“There’s nothing to wait for,” I said. “We’re about to be late.”

I stomped my way to the reception desk, fitting a composed and professional smile on my face. It was barely eight o’clock, yet the woman behind the desk was busy. Her auburn hair was arranged into an up-do and her red lips formed a bow as she looked up. The more I regarded her, the more I realized the smile was not for me.