Oui (The French Connection Book 1)(8)

By: Brooklyn Knight

Ryder’s blue eyes twinkled as he stepped closer. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Don’t push it,” I warned.

His bottom lip caught between his teeth. “Fine,” he agreed raising his hands. “I’ll take what I can get. After six months of not returning my calls and completely shutting me out, you’ve acknowledged me, and I won’t complain. Besides, I know that this is your way of saying thank you without actually saying it, but that’s okay. I did what I did this morning because it was the right thing to do and I wanted to prove to you that I am actually capable of doing the right thing.”

“Maybe I am trying to say thank you,” I said. The words were like sandpaper scraping the back of my throat. “But it’s still too little too late. Neither the vice president nor Mr. Hamilton cared about what I said. The impact had already been made.” I sighed and tried to erect my crumbling shoulders.

Ryder’s neck jutted back. “What are you talking about? They loved you, Laila.”

“What evidence do you have of that?”

“The look on Mr. Hamilton’s face when you were speaking... He’s was speechless. You’d have to be a fool not to notice.”

I cleared my throat as recollections of the intense exchange flooded me and I fought the urge to look up to where his office sat perched on the top floor.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “You’re right. What you did today was more than a sorry and I should acknowledge that, right?” I paused. “So, thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Lai,” he said. “When I heard the accolades Hamilton and Carter were giving me, I knew what I had to do to prove to you that I never meant to...” Ryder’s eyes softened, and he lifted his hand to push a loose tendril from my face. I eased out of his path and he recoiled.

He exhaled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Listen, Laila” he said through an emotional breath, “I have to be honest with you. For me, this is about more than e-Insurance and the internship.” He paused and sucked in air. “I really, really miss you. I miss what happened between us.”

My expression pinched. “Ryder, what are you talking about?” I whispered, looking around us. “We’re not allowed to talk about that.” I backed away from him.

“We haven’t talked about it, about us, but maybe it’s time that we do.” He pulled his shoulders up to his ears. “I can’t stop thinking about you, Laila. I can’t stop thinking about the six months that we were together.”

I shook my head, dead set against having this conversation with him. “Ryder, no,” I asserted. “We’re not talking about this. What happened between us was a huge mistake.”

“A mistake you made repeatedly for almost six months? Come on, Lai.”

“It was late. We had been working on that project all night...” The words fell away and I grew hotter as the details flew into my mind. “It was one glass of wine too many.”

“That was the first night,” he reminded me. “What’s your excuse for the second?” His eyes searched mine urgently. “Or the third?”

I had no answer.

He closed in on me again. “Lai, I know I messed up. I hurt you, I betrayed your trust, but I want to be able to try again.”

“We can’t.” My response was succinct.

“Why not?”

“Jennifer McMahon.”

Ryder’s brow furrowed. “Jenny McMahon?”

I raised an eyebrow. “The girl everyone said you were dating a few months ago? You were spotted going into The 541 with her.” I pointed a manicured finger in his face. “And don’t you dare deny it.”

“Okay, I won’t deny it,” he admitted slowly, “but I promise I can explain – ”

I cut him off. “Don’t bother. The best thing is for us to move on with our lives. After graduation in a few months, it will be a lot easier. We won’t have to see each other ever again.”

“You have no idea how much the very thought scares me,” he whispered. Ryder ran his hands down my arms, sending small waves of electricity pulsing through me. “Give me another chance, Laila,” he said, coming close to my face again. “Give me another chance to show you that I can be everything you need me to be. Let me take you to dinner,” he persisted. “We can talk about whatever you want. It doesn’t even have to be about us. Let’s just... spend some time together.”