Oui (The French Connection Book 1)(4)

By: Brooklyn Knight

We fell silent for a few seconds. Suddenly I noticed Ashely’s eyes narrowing and a devilish glint in her pupils. “For example, have you seen Dylan Hamilton, the CEO?”

My neck straightened. “Oh my god, tell me you’re not serious,” I whispered. “You’ve literally gone from bad to abysmal. We are in the reception area of the man’s building and you’re talking about him like he’s the guy down the freaking street.”

“Honey, I am dead serious.” She looked at me and shook her head as if I were the crazy one. “Don’t act naïve, Laila. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve seen pictures of the man in magazines.”

My hand raked at the back of my neck. There was no way I should be entertaining this conversation. I should have been preparing myself for the battle. I should have been devising my comeback so that I could rub Ryder’s nose in the dirt.

“Ashley, we are not going to the place you’re trying to take us.”

She ignored me. “Okay, maybe you haven’t seen him,” she considered. Ashley took me by the shoulders and spun me around to view an extravagant portrait of the CEO of Hamilton Associates, Dylan Hamilton.

Sexy was a complete understatement.

The CEO was tall, tanned and toned, the perfect trifecta wrapped in an exquisite package. His brown eyes shimmered, even on canvas. A professional, yet trendy haircut made him come off as being all work, but the golden hairs of his goatee made you wonder what it would be like to play with such a man.

I moistened my lips, witnessing masculinity at its finest.

I needed to reel it in.

“Laila,” Ashely’s voiced pulled me back into the room. Her brow was wrinkled with concern. “All joking aside, I’m actually a little worried about you,” she said. “You’ve always been focused and serious about your success, but you used to be more lighthearted. You used to smile. Ever since what happened with you and Ryder, you’ve been different.”

I sighed, and my eyelashes fluttered.

“You haven’t dated since Ryder.”

“And that’s how I like it, Ash,” I said. “There’s no time for love. I have too many goals and aspirations and there’s no way I can allow myself to get off course. I tried relationships,” I reminded her. “I tried love, and in the end, it let me down. I was double-crossed. I can’t let that happen again.”

Ashley sighed. “I hate Ryder for what he did to you,” she whispered through her teeth.

“Well, so do I. Finally, we’re on the same page about something.” I squared my shoulders and adjusted my lapels.

The sound of Ryder’s confident laugh forced us to look in his direction. He was surrounded by female staff who seemed enthralled by whatever story he was telling. My jaw clenched.

“You’ve got to give it to him, Laila. He knows what he’s after and the likelihood of him not getting it is nil to none. I’m talking both professionally and personally, of course.”

I bristled.

“He’s not over you,” she continued. “I saw the two of you over there talking. The look on his face and his body language tell the story. He normally has it all under control, but when he’s around you, he crumbles.”

I looked at my watch.

“The man is in love with you, Laila. He’s hopeless.”

“Yes, he’s dreadfully hopeless and I have moved on. I’m a one-and-done kind of girl. I don’t give second chances. You know that. And if Ryder thinks he’s going to outdo me – again...” I let my words trail off as bitterness welled inside of me. “He’s got another thing coming.”

Finally, our conversation turned to something more appropriate when we sensed the presence of the Vice President. He was still several feet away from us, but his command was undeniable.

Ryder adjusted his tie as Mr. Carter approached, and we all turned to face him like synchronized swimmers without a pool, awed and mesmerized. We were aware of his accomplishments. We knew the contents of his resume, and we were knowledgeable of his capabilities. If I wasn’t intimidated before, I was now.

His booming voice was countered by a jovial expression. He clapped his hands, rubbing them together. “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to Hamilton Associates. My name is Max Carter and I am thrilled that you all have been selected by your professors to be here today. Your presence means you’re the top of the top and this opportunity is one which many students dream of. I reckon I’m looking at some of the future’s business powerhouses.”