“That doesn’t mean that you need to be!”

“Come on, Gigi. Go with me,” he prodded.

“No! Are you hearing yourself?”

“Come on.”

“As a friend,” she countered. “Just friends, Clay.”

“You sure about that?” he prodded, still hoping to lose himself in the moment to forget the real issue. “I can be really charming.”

“I am not one of the girls you meet at the bar with your stupid friends. This doesn’t fix anything. Dealing with the issue fixes things.” Gigi crossed her arms over her chest. “You need to deal with this, not try to forget it between a pair of legs or down a bottle. So, I’ll go to the gala with you but only as friends.”

“I’ll have you know,” he said, sinking into the chair next to the door, resigned and heartbroken, “I’m no good at that.”

Gigi puffed out a breath and sat across from him. She tucked her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on top of them. “You’ve been doing just fine at it so far.”

“Thanks,” he said.

After a minute of silence, Gigi poured him a drink and took one for herself. She took a sip and then asked, “So, did she really turn you down?”

He shook his head. “No. I didn’t even ask her. She seemed so happy with him. I just couldn’t hurt her like that.”

Gigi squeezed her eyes shut for a second. “Damn. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “I was the idiot who thought it was a good idea. Didn’t realize what I had until I lost it.”

Chapter 16


The annual Cooper & Nielson gala was in full swing by the time Clay and Gigi arrived. She’d shocked the shit out of him when she appeared in makeup that accentuated rather than masked her freckles and a floor-length burgundy dress that hugged the curves she normally hid in her work clothes. He approved.

He’d gone with a tailored Tom Ford tuxedo for the occasion. Though he felt it was wasted effort. He wanted to be in and out of the event as quickly as possible. It had been a month since he’d seen Andrea with Bad Suit at the gallery, and being here just brought up all the memories.

He missed her.

It fucking sucked.

Three fucking months without her, and he was still thinking about her. But he wanted her to be happy, and as much as he wanted to beat the shit out of that douche, he couldn’t deny her the happiness she’d so obviously had. He just didn’t want to see or hear about it either.

He worried that would be difficult with Brady and Liz’s upcoming nuptials. He was in the bridal party, but with how close Liz had made it seem she and Andrea had gotten, he figured she would get an invite with or without him. That meant, going to his brother’s wedding was feeling more and more like anticipating a funeral he’d dug his own grave for.

He and Gigi had just returned from the bar with drinks and were walking around and schmoozing with all the right people. Some of their colleagues kept giving them sidelong glances. He and Gigi had been spending a lot of time together. More and more, he was glad that she’d stopped him from pushing for a relationship…just like he’d stopped it from day one.

It was better to keep their relationship business professional. Plus, it was nice to have a real friend. Someone he actually felt he could rely on. Someone he wasn’t trying to fuck. Well, at least not actively trying to fuck.

Gigi was going on and on with some guy beside Clay whom he had never met.

The man suddenly looked over at Clay and grinned. “Aha! A Maxwell. You were a lucky get for Cooper and Nielson!”

Clay laughed awkwardly.

“I’m surprised your brother didn’t go this route first. Though it didn’t seem to matter. He still got into Congress, didn’t he? If by the skin of his teeth.”

Clay decided right then he didn’t like this guy. Whoever he was. “Brady has always been exceptionally lucky.”

“He’d have to be to get reelected after that catastrophe.”

“Careful,” he said evenly. “That catastrophe is my future sister-in-law.”

“Of course, of course. I didn’t mean any offense. But what about you?” he asked, quickly changing the subject. “Do you have aim for the political arena? I wouldn’t mind investing in a young face, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” he answered blandly. “I’ve never had an interest in politics.”

For a moment, he wished that Andrea were here to navigate this situation with him. She knew what this kind of statement did to him…how manic it made him…how much he just wanted to lay into this guy.

“Come on, Gigi.”

Gigi hurried after him. She grabbed his arm as they veered toward a table for the dinner and silent auction portion of the event.

“Man, you were short with him,” she said.

“He shouldn’t talk shit about stuff he doesn’t understand.”

“I think he was totally harmless. If anything, it was a compliment that he wanted to back you if you ran. He’s a huge donor, you know?”

“I didn’t. Though I guessed. And it’s not a compliment,” he told her, staring her down. He’d forgotten how little people knew about the system when they hadn’t been in it their whole life. “He just offered to buy me for his interests, which means he’s already associated the Maxwell name with sellouts.”

Gigi gave him an uneasy look. “That’s not what he meant…”

“Yes, it is.”

“Okay. Well, even if it was, you clearly didn’t take his offer, so just ignore it.”

He shook his head and took his seat. He couldn’t explain to Gigi how much it bothered him. His father’s approval had always hung just out of his grasp. Brady had always had it, of course. But Clay had always been determined to get it outside of the political arena. To be good enough for dear old dad without the backing of political supporters and a carefully planned election. He’d keep on dreaming for that day to come.

Dinner seemed to take forever. Clay wasn’t in a mood to entertain, but he smiled and talked with the people they were seated with for the event. Soon enough, plates were cleared, and the silent auction began, raising money for the local orphan charity that Cooper & Nielson sponsored. At this point, people could walk around and mingle.